St Andrew’s day – Scottish law in Northumbrian manors

As Northumberland is the most northerly English county the history of its manors is tied very closely to Scotland and its history. War has shaped the fortunes of many manors, but this is also the case with cooperation between the two countries. The connection between them is local, not just national, and Northumberland’s manors have played a role in that history. The whole picture is far too detailed and interesting to deal with in a short blog post, with so many wars, conflicts, rebellions and raids, but we can look at what impact the relationship had on the way manors were run and the terms they used.

Wark-on-Tweed manor has a fascinating cross border history, and has changed between being English and Scottish at different times in its history.
Wark-on-Tweed manor has a fascinating cross border history, and has changed between being English and Scottish at different times in its history.

Early in manorial history many manors were owned by the Scottish Kings and noblemen. For example in 1279 the kings of Scotland rented two thirds of Bellingham Manor to the Bellingham family by a Serjeanty, or condition, where the Bellingham family acted as the king of Scotland’s forester in Tynedale forest. Eleventh and twelfth century conflict between the countries changed this ownership. The king of Scotland’s portion of the manor was seized by Edward I during war with Scotland and was later given with other lands to Edmund earl of Cambridge, later duke of York, by his father Edward III. Edward III forced the Scottish king and nobles to give up the southern counties of Scotland in 1334, and nobles forfeited their estates in England, including Patrick V earl of Dunbar whose manor of Middleton Hall was granted to Henry Percy.

Warfare damaged the crops in many manors, bringing no income for the lord of the manor and famine for the inhabitants. A number of manors were expected to provide soldiers and equipment in peace and war, such as Corbridge which had to provide one man! A lawsuit of 1579 over a small holding at Burton shows that land tenure in Northumberland still came with a requirement to serve in protecting the border. Peles and other fortified dwellings were often built by the lords of manors for safety. Even manors a good distance from the border were vulnerable, with Longhoughton described as ruined and waste after wars in 1368, and from cattle raids in 1573. Border reivers operated from both sides of the border, and watches would be kept for reivers in many places. One example from the Order of watches in 1552 shows a night watch was kept between Hitchcroft in Shilbottle to Rugley in Alnwick by ten men from Shilbottle, Whittle, Sturton Grange, Birling, High and Low Buston, Wooden and Bilton townships.

However it is the everyday business in manorial documents that show the connection – Scottish law and terminology was sometimes applied across the border. We have below a few Scottish terms we have found in the manorial records.

We found ‘Grassum’ was paid in what is known as the West Water manors (the manors of Melkridge, Henshaw and Ridley & Thorngrafton). This was paid every 21 years from 1758-1885 for some of the leasehold tenements, and recorded in one book for the purpose (ZBL 66). Looking at a few Scottish law sources this can be a sum paid by a tenant at a renewal or grant of a lease, or a single payment made in addition to a payment such as rent or feudaty. It might be comparable to the English term premium. It is hard to say why Grassum would have been paid there, or for how long the practice was carried out. The key may be right back in the early history of the manors, when they were owned by the Kings of Scotland and leased to a number of noble Scottish families such as the earls of Athol and earls of Badenoch.

As covered in a previous post, there were numerous jobs associated with the manorial court, and Scottish roles were similar to many in the English manor courts. For example in Norham, now a small English village on the banks of the River Tweed overlooking Scotland, we find the Scottish term ‘Land liners’ used. Within Scottish burghs, as in the English equivalent, Boroughs, the inhabitants (burgesses) were entitled to a ‘burgage plot’ of land. Whilst in an English manor a ‘fence-looker’ would check the legality of such boundaries, in Scotland and Norham, the term ‘land liner’ was used for this official who measured out and checked the size of the burgage plots.

Our project is continuing to compile the history of each manor at a time and through doing so will be continuing to post about the interesting terms and stories we find.



The Northumbrian County Histories Volumes I, V, and XV have been of great use in the preparation of this blog, as have The Concise Scots Dictionary and Law Basics: Glossary of Scottish Legal Terms (O’Rourke and Duncan).

First World War Stannington – John Atkin’s story

During the First World War Stannington Sanatorium continued to run, but there is no doubt the lives of those there were affected by it. We can gain an excellent insight into that time through the lives of a family closely connected with it, the Atkin family. Here we will look at the Philipson Farm Colony manager John Atkin’s wartime farm, and will follow this with another post that will look at his son Robert’s war and a project exploring the men of Stannington village in WWI, and unveil sanatorium nurse Hilda Currie’s (Robert’s wife) album of photographs.


John Atkin from Hilda Currie's photograph album (NRO 10361/1/286).
John Atkin from Hilda Currie’s photograph album (NRO 10361/1/286).

John Atkin

John was born on the 28th March 1858 in Rothbury. On the 1861 census we find him living with parents Robert and Joanna in Corbridge. Robert was a Blacksmith from Corbridge, and Joanna was from Rothbury. John had a sister, Isabella, and his 11-year-old uncle Adam lived with the family. This would be a big and busy household as Robert and Joanna would go on to have another six daughters and five sons, and apprentices and visitors also shown on the census. John followed his father into the Blacksmithing trade, and married Margaret. The couple are found on the 1881 census living in Stargate, near Ryton, with John working as a colliery Blacksmith. Their son Robert was born there in 1882, though the family had moved to Scotswood-on-Tyne by the birth of daughter Minnie two years later.

However the family were divided on the 1891 census. John was living at Newburn Hall, Lemington, the sole occupant of a house, and was working as a Blacksmith. Margaret is harder to locate, but it is likely she was a patient in the Royal Infirmary in Newcastle at the time. During her stay there Robert and Minnie had gone to stay with their grandparents Robert and Joanna in Corbridge, the house still busy with aunts and uncles Joanna, Minnie, Matthew, James and Jane, and three visitors.


A 1910 photograph of the Atkin family of Corbridge kindly sent to us by John's Great-granddaughter. John and Margaret are 4th and 5th from left at the back, with Robert on the far right.
A 1910 photograph of the Atkin family of Corbridge kindly sent to us by John’s Great-granddaughter. John and Margaret are 4th and 5th from left at the back, with Robert on the far right.

John became the farmer at Whitehouse Farm in 1900, and on the 1901 census Margaret, Robert and Minnie are all present at Whitehouse, with Robert employed as a farmer’s son. However John was not there. He was boarding with the Nylander family at Newburn Hall, and working as a Blacksmith. Perhaps this was a transition, or he was supporting the family while the farm was still being set up. Five years later the Philipson Farm Colony was established by the PCHA, and John was asked to remain and train the boys in agricultural skills. John grew crops, raised livestock, and he and Minnie kept hundreds of chickens, with the eggs sold to the sanatorium. They also supplied the sanatorium with milk, and sewerage from the sanatorium was used as manure on the fields.

John gave a talk to the Newcastle branch of the Rotary Club, published as an article in the August 1918 volume of the Rotary Wheel magazine, in which he described his endeavour to maximise yield from the farm. At the end of the First World War this was vital as the country became affected by food shortages. John argued these were caused by the farmers’ preference for producing only sheep or cattle, though he felt “they could hardly be blamed for adopting a system that pays them best”. A reliance on imported wheat meant:

“The doctrine of the cheap loaf has carried the day, and we are now paying for it in millions – the neglect of this most important industry has brought us almost within measureable distance of defeat.”

He then described how he had taken on and run Whitehouse farm. The first year’s profits were entirely used in rates, taxes etc., perhaps suggesting why John had found work Blacksmithing again. He turned over more fields to hay, and made a 100% profit on poultry farming. The fields, once drained, produced better crops, and in eight years the yearly value of the farm’s produce rose from £400 to £1200. This was with the help of the boys from the farm colony, and they took the ideas learned from John with them into their adult careers, and even overseas.

John felt that “Well-cultivated land is a national asset, and at any time like the present is equal in value to many Dreadnoughts”. He felt the war would revolutionise farming, and though it did not bring many ‘back to the land’ as he suggested it did bring about greater use of machinery: “In many farm operations the motor will supersede the horse”. However his most important argument for farming to help the war effort lay in the diversity of stock and crops he had introduced in his own farm:

“We scour the world for eggs that might be produced at home … Organisation, co-operation and modern appliances will, I am convinced, make the farming of the future an industry such as it has never been in the past in our country”.

This seems to have worked, as the National Farmers’ Union statistics show that only 50% of eggs and 19% of wheat consumed in Britain originated here in 1914, compared to 87% and 83% in 2013.

John beside an apple tree from Hilda Currie's photograph album (NRO 10361/1/233).
John beside an apple tree from Hilda Currie’s photograph album (NRO 10361/1/233).

The family moved to The Birches in Tranwell Woods, and John built the family a home there in 1910, named White House after the farm. The family lived there for many years. Robert’s granddaughter recalls her father’s memories of following John around his different pursuits, such as beekeeping (never wearing a hat) and growing apples for shows. He also won trophies for shooting with the Hexham Volunteers. His huge greenhouse in which he grew tomatoes and chrysanthemums was destroyed during the Second World War.

We will continue the story with Robert, Helen and Helen’s photograph album in a future post.

This Week in World War One, 17 November 1916

Berwick Advertiser title 1915






The inhabitants of Lowick and the near vicinity have reason to remember these last two months, because the horrors of the great war has never been brought so closely, when five of its gallant young lads have since September, paid the extreme sacrifice by giving their lives in the great struggle for existence. Although they did not reside in the village, their homes were so near that a great deal of their leisured time was spent in it. They all had most of their schooling in the village schools, and it seems but yesterday since we remember them playing in the streets. We have watched them grow from youth to manhood, and also when they went forth at the call of duty, loyal to the core, and thoroughly determined to assist the motherland to conquer and defeat the treacherous enemy who has steeped Europe in blood. In the days to come Lowick will be proud of her heroes and proud of the noble sacrifices they have made. Today there is nothing but sorrow and anguish, and the sympathy of the whole village and district, where they were so well known, goes out to the bereaved parents.

BRO 1550-017 Lowick War Memorial
BRO 1550-017 Lowick War Memorial


Lance Corporal G. Stothart, son of Mr T. Stothart, Hetton Lime Works farm was the first to fall, and following closely on the fateful 15th September, private R. Foster, son of Mr R. Forster, Commercial Hotel, Lowick, and then Private James Fairbairn paid the toll. The photos and careers of these lads have already appeared in the “Advertiser,” and its it with great regret we publish this week the photos of Private T. Young and Lance Corporal W. C. Milburn, who fill soldiers’ graves.





November 14th, 1916


Sir, – I trust you will permit me a little space in your valuable paper, in order to bring to the notice of the public at large, the mean manner some farmers in the neighbourhood of Wooler are treating their men of eligible age for the Army. As is well known, when any man is engaged to a farmer for the ensuing year, the wage agreed upon is partly made up with extras, for instances- so many potatoes, corn, etc., and it is the custom, when the potatoes are lifted, for the man to receive the quantity agreed upon at once.

Glendale Area, Northumberland-john-box

Glendale Area, Northumberland (c) John Box

Instead of doing that, these farmers in the case of those military age, are keeping back several bags of potatoes in case they lose their services in January. This, sir, is what only can be termed “the limit of meanness, “ and have these same farmers lost anything by the war? Most emphatically – No! Rather they have gained, judging by all appearances. These few farmers, and we may be thankful that upon the whole they are in the minority, if they have a spark of decency left, will surely act in a sportsman-like manner and give their men their due at once. A few bags of potatoes surely won’t ruin these farmers, but it does mean a lot to the working man who has a hard struggle to make ends meet, especially in these times.

I am, yours etc.,




Russia’s Day – A handsomely carved mahogany, gilt, and enamelled bed plate is on exhibition in the window of Mr R. Robertson, guilder, etc., Hide Hill, Berwick. It is intended that this handsome plate, which symbolises the Borough seal and arms, and contains on a scroll a suitable inscription in Russian, should be affixed to the Berwick bed, which was gifted to Petrograd Hospital as a result of Russia’s Day collections in Berwick on April 15th, 1916. The plate bears the following inscription in Russian, “The gift of Berwick on Tweed to Petrograd.” The medallion plate was carved and decorated at the expense of the Committee of Berwick European War Relief Fund.

Efficacy of the “Berwick Advertiser.” – Just the other week the “Advertiser” was the means of bringing two local soldiers together in a ward at Wharncliffe Military Hospital, Sheffield. A Berwick lad had just finished reading his weekly copy when a cheery North country voice hailed him. The paper had caught the eye of a Scremerston lad, also an inmate of the Hospital, and with the readiness of the “Tommy” a friendship was soon set up. Not only, however, in the hospital and training camp can the “Advertiser” be found, but out in France within sound of the guns it is passed round amongst Border men as a general and personal message from home.

Interesting Connection with Berwick. – A paragraph which appears in a Newcastle daily paper this week, recalls an interesting connection with the ancient Border town. The paragraph alluded to refers to the destruction of illicit distilleries a hundred years ago, and is as follows: – On Saturday all the illegal distilleries on the islands in Loch Lomond were destroyed by the boats and crews of the Prince of Wales revenue cutter, and the new revenue boat stations at Luss. These distilleries have been wrought for years back and have employed above a hundred persons. It should be mentioned that Captain John Turner Curry was in command of the Prince of Wales revenue cutter referred to, and that he was a freeman and native of Berwick. It was he who built the house on the ramparts known as the Lions, and which is such a familiar edifice when viewed from the meadows or cliffs.

Mayor’s Sunday – Following the time honoured custom, the Mayor (Ald. J. W. Plenderleith) and the Sheriff (Mr Matthew Ross) attended divine service in the Holy Trinity Church, Berwick, on Sunday. There was a fair attendance of Aldermen, Councillors, officials and prominent townsmen present at the Town Hall, and at ten fifteen the gathering, headed by the Sergeants-at-Mace, marched in procession to the place of worship.

Berwick Parish Church (c) John Box
Berwick Parish Church (c) John Box


A large and representative congregation was present in the church, and listened to a most able and instructive address by the Vicar of Berwick (Rev. R. W. de la Hey). Seventeen pupils from the Boys’ National School were present and answered the customary questions from the Catechism. The boys examined in their knowledge were Andrew Fife, John Hay, Robert Henderson, George Henderson, Robert Jamieson, Peter Jameison, John Kerr, James Leitch, Wm. McCallum, Duncan McCallum, Wilfred Patterson, William Piercy, Edward Rutherford, John Scott, William Skelly, Frank Stothart and Geo. Swinbank. After the service the company returned to the Town Hall, when the Mayor in a few well-chosen words, thanked all for the pleasure of their company.