Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Union Chain Bridge: A World First (NT934510)


© Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for 

Spanning the River Tweed about a mile downstream from the border village of Horncliffe lies a little known piece of European engineering history in the shape of the Union Chain Bridge. When opened in 1820 it was the longest iron suspension bridge in the world and the first of its type to carry vehicles.

It stretches for a mightily impressive 449ft, linking England and Scotland, and does so quite majestically. It was built because there was a need for a river crossing at this point – primarily for the transportation of coal and lime (the latter for agricultural use). Financed by the local Turnpike Trusts, the commission for its design and construction was handed to retired naval officer, Captain Samuel Brown, who reckoned he knew enough about iron chains and links and such like to suspend a roadway across the considerable gap. And, at a knock-down price of £6,500 and an eleven month schedule, he delivered as promised.

When it opened on 26th July 1820, it was quite an occasion. Some of the most important civil engineers of the day were present (including Robert Stevenson and John Rennie, who both had some input into the scheme), and its strength was proven with the crossing of several loaded curricles and carts as well as 600+ pedestrians. The lengths of chain hung from two giant towers, and the bed of the bridge was made of wood.

The bridge’s upkeep was financed by tolls – until 1883, that is, when tolls were abolished. The essentially sound bridge has, of course, been patched up over the years – most notably in 1871, 1902 and 1974 – but it is now in need of around £5million’s worth of repairs to restore it to tip-top condition. And the campaign is on to do just that in time for its bicentenary in 2020 – see here.


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

How Many Stones at Duddo? (NT930437)


© Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse 

Originally there were seven (we think), then six, five and, inevitably, four. Then five again. And they are now known as ‘Duddo Five Stones’ – Northumberland’s equivalent of the mighty Stonehenge, you might say.

As has often been remarked, the ancient monument is one of Britain’s finest and enjoys a spectacular setting. The Cheviot and Eildon Hills loom to the south-west and west, respectively, with the stones themselves enjoying an elevated and isolated position to the north-west of the village after which they are named.

Until recently, no one knew quite how old the little stone circle is. It is a modest affair at around ten yards across with none of its components more than eight feet in height, and early speculation suggested a Druidical origin. In time, the locals assumed it to be a memorial laid down after a victory over the Scots in 1558 in which the Percies chased off a party of plundering invaders. Quite where and why this tradition arose no one knows, for the truth is that the landmark is, indeed, ancient, with investigations in 1890 revealing remnants of a cremation burial. In 2008, an archaeological dig at the site unearthed charcoal remains which were radiocarbon dated to around 2000BC. Furthermore, faint traces of man-made cup-and-ring marks have been found carved on the large east facing stone which seem to confirm its Bronze Age origins.

There were at least seven stones to begin with, six surviving into the nineteenth century. Two more seem to have disappeared or toppled over during the ensuing decades, after which they became known as the ‘Four Stones’. Then, in 1903, a fifth was re-erected to ‘improve the skyline’.

The Duddo Standing Stones are certainly a curious lot. They have been known in the past as ‘The Ladies’ (due to their tapering shape) and ‘The Singing Stones’ (perhaps a reference to the wind whistling through their weathered grooves). And, once more, they can be easily and freely visited by the casual passer-by.


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Lady Waterford Hall (NT947375)


© Copyright Martin Dawes and licensed for reuse 

The village of Ford has many historical items of interest, the most unusual of which is perhaps Lady Waterford Hall. And it all came to be following the transference of the ownership of the Ford Estate (on the death of her husband) to one Lady Louisa Waterford in 1859, when she set about the re-design and rebuilding of the entire village.

Lady Waterford was a talented artist and a great philanthropist, and it was her intention to carry out her ambitious project distinctly for the benefit of her tenants. In fact, she favoured the latter over the former to the detriment of her artistic career. Part of the scheme was the construction of a new school, a lovely little affair which is now known as Lady Waterford Hall. 

As useful as the public building was (it had as many as 134 children on its books in its heyday and remained in use until 1957), it provided her ladyship with a nice outlet for her watercolouring skills. For the interior of the hall is adorned with Biblical scenes for the education of her young attendees – painted over a twenty-two year period during 1862-1883. And the really fascinating fact about the whole thing is that the children themselves and many of the local villagers were used as models in the scenes depicted. Moreover, the names of these humble individuals are recorded for posterity – a great boon for any of their descendants who may be into family history!

It is now used as the village hall – and is surely one of the very best buildings of its type in the country! More info here (including a little video). 

© Copyright Martin Dawes and licensed for reuse 


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Cuthbert’s Foster Mum (NU010347)


A little off the B6525 to the NE of Doddington lies the hamlet of Wrangham. One may not immediately associate this rural backwater – now largely a collection of farm outbuildings – with anything too drastic, history-wise, but this lonely spot has a strong link with one of our most famous individuals.

St.Cuthbert needs little in the way of introduction to anyone with even the slightest interest in the history of our region, but biographical detail of his early life is scanty. Born in the Scottish Borders, he is believed to have come from a noble family – if for no other reason than he was raised by a foster mother (a common upbringing for such offspring). Amazingly, we know the woman’s name, Kenswith, and that she lived at a place called Hruringaham – reckoned to be the Wrangham in question.

At age eight, it seems, he was placed in her care, and became a shepherd boy in the surrounding hills. He was something of a gymnast, he and his friends impressing one another with feats of agility and stamina in their spare time. Then, aged 17, he began his religious training and moved away.

He briefly saw military service with the early Northumbrian armies before settling down to his well-known career path – initially via the newly-established monastery at Melrose. As his responsibilities and reputation grew we are told that he still found time to visit Kenswith ‘often’ from ‘the monastery’ – though we do not know which monastery! There used to be a Wrangham near Smailholm in the Borders quite near to Melrose, but the Northumberland option seems to be favoured by most historians.

And, besides, there is a ‘Cuddy’s Well’ and a ‘Cuddy’s Cave’ nearby, which seems to clinch it for the North-East, thank you very much!


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Josephine Butler (NT929344 & NT913302)



In net miles she may not have travelled very far – from her birthplace near Milfield to her grave in Kirknewton – but Josephine Butler (née Grey) was a North-Easterner whose influence stretched into the hearts and minds of millions of folk worldwide as both a pioneering feminist and social reformer par excellence.

Josephine Elizabeth Grey was born in 1828 at Milfield Hill House, a mansion which once stood a little to the north of Milfield, Northumberland. A cousin of the famous Earl Grey (Reform Act, Abolition of Slavery and, yes, tea), she was the seventh child of John Grey, from whom she inherited a belief in social justice and reform. In 1852 she married like-minded George Butler, an Oxford lecturer, and so began a husband-and-wife campaign against the wrongs of the world – slavery, social injustice and the rights of women.

Moving first to Cheltenham and then Liverpool, the Butlers championed their cause at every opportunity, often to the detriment of George’s career! After her husband’s death in 1890, Josephine moved to London – and even campaigned abroad for much of the time. Feeding off her own periodic bouts of depression and grief, she constantly sought out causes more desperate than her own. She was a staunch believer in education for women and campaigned ceaselessly for the rights of the female sex in this area – helping found Cambridge University’s first college for women, Newnham. Moreover, her campaigns on the taboo subjects of prostitution and sexual morality led to law changes in women’s favour across Europe – all from a devout Christian who didn’t baulk at upsetting anyone.

In her latter years the grand old woman returned to her North-East roots, settling near her son in Wooler. She died in 1906, aged 78, and was buried in Kirknewton Churchyard, three miles SW of her birthplace.


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Battle of Humbleton Hill (NT969294)


© Copyright Lisa Jarvis and licensed for reuse 

The Battle of Humbleton (or Homildon) Hill took place on 14th September 1402 on a site a couple of miles NW of Wooler. It pitched the Scots against the English, and was famously mentioned by William Shakespeare in his historical epic, Henry IV, Pt1. It resulted in a resounding victory for the English, but was not effectively followed up, suggesting that the loss of life was largely in vain.

The Scots were getting particularly ambitious at the time due to Henry IV’s preoccupation with the troublesome Welsh further south. An initial set-to at Nesbit Moor in Berwickshire in June 1402 had seen the Scots defeated, but they continued snapping away at the English heels. In August the Earl of Douglas led a 10,000-strong army south, devastating Northumberland as far as Newcastle. Turning back north laden with plunder, they set up camp at Milfield north of Wooler. The English, though, weren’t prepared to let them get away, and the Earl of Northumberland, assisted by his son, Harry Hotspur, cut them off and forced them into battle.

As the two armies circled one another, the Scots settled on the rising ground north of Humbleton Hill in the foot of the Cheviots. They moved into their ‘Schiltron’ formations – thus providing the deadly English archers with mightily easy targets. The victorious bowmen struck most probably from the high land around Harehope Hill, with most of the Scottish casualties finding their final resting places in the plain to the north and east as they sped for safety – and into the arms of the main body of their foe. Many thousands of Scots perished, with only a handful of English dead – and all in the space of an hour or so.

The English, though, didn’t push ahead with a full-scale invasion of Scotland, preferring instead to concentrate on their Welsh problem. The Percy family – Harry Hotspur and his father amongst them – wasn’t best pleased with the tame aftermath and eventually turned against Henry IV. Both father and son ultimately lost their lives in failed rebellions against the English monarch in the ensuing years.

The Bendor ‘Battle Stone’ has traditionally marked the spot of the 1402 conflict – though it is most likely a Bronze Age standing stone, ancient cists having been found thereabouts.


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Wooler and the New World (NT993283)


The town of Wooler may now be known as the ‘Gateway to the Cheviots’, but for one brief moment in time during the nineteenth century it offered locals a portal to a very different wilderness: the open expanses of the Canadian eastern provinces.

Whereas many folk were encouraged to move to or visit the town for its renowned health benefits (including famous names such as Grace Darling, Virginia Woolf and Sir Walter Scott), in the 1830s townsfolk were actively urged to make the long journey to New Brunswick, Canada, in an attempt to better themselves. A publicity drive by the New Brunswick Land Company in both North Northumberland and the Scottish Lowlands was launched “for the purpose of engaging families to settle on the company’s lands.”

The organisation was operating under British colonial rule which was encouraging such companies to open up large tracts of land for the purpose of “the profit of their colonial shareholders”. By chance, it seems, the residents of the Border area were targeted and information sessions were held at Ford Castle. In May 1836 the D’Arcy sailed from Berwick with its first batch of settlers – 110 in number – which had been drawn mainly from Lowland Scotland, plus a few from the Wooler area. They arrived safely and settled in Stanley in New Brunswick

Almost exactly a year later a further 137 followed them aboard the Cornelius, the majority of which this time came from Wooler and its environs. This second tranche again headed for New Brunswick, but instead (and after a dispute with the authorities) made for a virgin patch of ground and founded the little town of Harvey.

The emigrants were primarily farm labourers and their families, but included a sprinkling of tradesmen – just the sort needed in the New World. Of the Wooler contingent of the second party, two-thirds were labourers, one a teacher and eight were tradesmen: 2 millers, 2 carpenters, plus a mason, blacksmith, tailor and shopkeeper.

That was all a very long time ago, but, yes, both places still exist today. Stanley is a little to the north of Fredericton in the central area of New Brunswick, and Harvey is a few miles to the SW of the said town. As for the Wooler ‘stronghold’ of Harvey, well, it was a struggle initially, but in the decade or so after 1837 many friends and relatives arrived from Northumberland to join the first arrivals – and there are now thousands of descendants of these pioneers spread across North America. And in 2007, more than 100 of these descendants gathered at Ford Castle for the ‘Harvey Settler Reunion’ event.


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Messerschmitt Over Chatton (NU055287)


On the 10th May 1941, with World War II occupying the hearts and minds of every Briton, Billy Green, who was Head Observer for the Royal Observer Corps in Chatton, was off duty and at a loose end. Billy lived at West Lyham, which lies on the road leading north from Chatton, and as night fell he thought he’d have a wander off along the said road (Sandy Lonnen) to visit his pals on duty at the ROC post.

Hearing a disturbing noise from the heavens, he looked upwards into the gloaming and spotted the distinctive outline of a Messerschmitt ME110 flying overhead at great speed and at extremely low altitude (50ft). He did the right thing and reported it to ROC HQ in Durham, who reported it on further. The response, however, was a firm rebuttal, with the experts insisting this was impossible due to the aircraft’s fuel range. Billy firmly insisted in no uncertain terms that it was, indeed, a Messerschmitt, heading fast inland from the North Sea – and they presumably agreed to disagree.

But Billy was right. The aeroplane was again picked up at Milfield and several other posts besides, until it was reported as having crashed in Lanarkshire. The pilot, though, had ejected and was soon captured. He gave a false name and insisted on speaking to the Duke of Hamilton, for whom he had an important message. His mission was to discuss peace terms with the British.

His name was Rudolf Hess.


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The Slaying of the Chillingham Bull (NU075255)



The wild white cattle which roam the huge expanse of Chillingham Park are perhaps the region’s most treasured natural curiosity. But they are not to be messed with, for they really are genuinely wild. Of ancient descent (no one knows quite how old), they have remained hemmed in and protected, yes, but you wouldn’t want to casually wander across the park amongst them… for there’s a pretty good chance they’d have a go at you.

Though they are undomesticated and quite often aggressive, they are very, very special specimens. Numbering around 100, they are rarer than pandas and genetically identical to one another, such is the depth of their inbreeding. They are the purest of pure-breds, and are therefore very carefully looked after and highly prized by us North-Easterners.

However, despite their importance they have not always been as well protected as they are today. Amazingly, as recently as October 1872, the prize Chillingham Bull was slain in the name of sport by Edward, Prince of Wales.

His Royal Highness was at the time being entertained at Chillingham Castle by The Earl of Tankerville, when it was announced that to mark the occasion he would shoot the ‘noblest specimen of the herd.’ So on the morning of 17th October 1872 he set out across the nearby park hidden in the hay cart that was carrying the poor animals their breakfast. As the herd congregated for their feed, it wasn’t especially difficult for the royal rifle to pick out the unsuspecting male in question, and the magnificent beast was soon exterminated:

His Royal Highness brought down the king of the herd by a single rifle shot, his bullet entering the neck and severing the spinal cord. It was a fine bull, seven years old, and weighing 70st.
[The Illustrated London News, Nov 16 1872]

It was, as was later reported, “scarcely a feat to warrant any unusual jubilation”, yet the ‘achievement’ was captured for posterity by a photographer when the beast was shoved under the royal foot on the castle lawn later that day. The sketch shown above was copied from the said snap and published in The Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore & Legend in March 1889.

The bull’s head was mounted and found its way to the hall at Sandringham in Norfolk. Is it, I wonder, still there?


Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Hepburn Bastle (NU071249)


© Copyright Russel Wills and licensed for reuse 

You don’t have to meander through the history of Northumberland for very long before you stumble over the terms bastle, pele tower and fortified house. The raiding Scots and the fraught inter-family feuding saw to it that anyone who had anything worth stealing would do their best to keep out the wandering baddies with the construction of these stone-built strongholds.

Hepburn Bastle, though, is a curious affair. Situated at the southern end of Chillingham Park, it has defied accurate categorisation since its (probable) late 14th century creation. Described now as a ‘bastle’, it is more accurately a ‘fortified medieval tower house’. Though ‘tower’ is stretching it a bit, fortified it most certainly is. To complicate matters, buildings were added to it in the 16th and early 17th centuries – extensions which have since disappeared. Though it may have been built in the 1300s, it first appears in the records in 1509 as, simply, a ‘hold’, then pops up as a ‘tower’ in 1542, and by 1564 it is described as a ‘mansion house’.

Its dimensions are impressive. It measures 16.6m by 10.8m, is still three levels high despite being a ruin for an awfully long time and sports walls which are 2.7m thick at basement level. The ground floor comprises a barrel-vaulted basement with a later fireplace in the north wall – almost as if it was originally used (as in a bastle) to protect livestock, then later converted for human use – and at the east end a doorway leads to a mural chamber. The first floor has/had three rooms, each with a fireplace. The attic level, now minus its roof, has traces of fireplaces, windows and a window seat. Both the upper floors had their windows added after the Border region had quietened down somewhat – and were connected by a spiral staircase.

Though it is now known as Hepburn Bastle the original name was almost certainly Hebburn or Heburn – as is evidenced by its description in a 1715 survey as “a handsome house bellonging to Robert Heburn, esq.” (the ‘p’ was, we think, somewhat mysteriously introduced by the Ordnance Survey). The structure appears to have fallen from use around 250 years ago after the last Hebburn male heir died.


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Mysteries of the Hurl Stone (NU039247)


 © Copyright Russel Wills and licensed for reuse 

In the middle of a farmer’s field a couple of miles to the SW of Chillingham stands the Hurl Stone, a ten-foot high rough-hewn obelisk of unknown origin yet steeped in myth and legend. Hard facts are difficult to come by, but who needs ‘em?

First of all there is its name. Some speculate that it is derived from the ‘Earl’s Stone’ – though the identity of the gentleman in question is not known. It may have been an ancient standing stone (or cross) at one point, possibly relocated to its present spot by someone or other. Everyone’s  favourite theory, though, is that it was literally ‘hurled’ there by the Devil himself, who, when perched high upon the Cheviot, saw pesky St.Cuthbert going about his pious wanderings in the distance and threw the stone at him in anger.

The Hurl Stone is supposed to be the haunt of fairies, too. An underground passage some sixteen miles in length is supposed to pass under the stone (linking Cateran Hole in the east to Henhole in the west), which, when it was once explored in times of old, revealed evidence of underground fairy-like activity immediately beneath the stone. The adventurers didn’t hang around long enough to investigate further and scarpered sharp-ish.

Sorry to disappoint, but chances are that the Hurl Stone was once a medieval Christian cross which lost its top and was then recycled as a folly (of sorts) by someone with nothing better to do. Some attribute the act to a Mr Jobson, a local farmer, and that a bolt of lightning accounted for the missing couple of foot or so. 


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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Old Bewick & its Cup & Ring Marks (NU075215 & thereabouts)


© Copyright John Haddington and licensed for 

There is so much ancient history lying in the landscape among the western extremes of Bewick Moor that it is difficult to know where to start. So we’ll begin with the biggest feature: namely, Bewick Hill, which stands out like a sore thumb from pretty much any direction you care to view it from.

Traces of human activity go back more than 5,000 years in these parts; and Bewick Hill is the site of one of the area’s more recent features – an unusual hillfort known as Old Bewick, which dates from the Iron Age. It consists of two small, semi-circular enclosures sitting next to each other, with their open sides set against a cliff edge. A larger rampart then surrounds these enclosures, with traces of further embankments nearby. The western fort contains a collection of hut circles, with its partner holding some less well-defined stonework. The site may well have been occupied into the Roman period.


 © Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for 

A little to the east lie an important collection of ‘cup & ring’ rock art panels – one of which, Old Bewick 1a (pictured), is one of the best examples of its kind in the UK. These extraordinary relics of our past date (it is thought) from around 4,000 years ago, and it was here at Old Bewick that such carvings were first recognised as a man-made phenomenon. Despite extensive study, no one has been able to work out with any degree of certainty what they mean and why they were created, and similar examples are scattered all across this corner of Northumberland.

In between, chronologically, the formation of the cup & ring etchings and the later Iron Age hillfort, the Bronze Age burial cairn was laid down at nearby Blawearie, a little to the north. First discovered in the 19th century, it is a substantial affair containing at least four stone-lined burials, along with pottery, a flint knife and a jet and shale necklace. More investigations were carried out in the 1980s, all of which raised more questions than answers.

Other stuff lies close by. A second hillfort can be found a little further east, the odd Iron Age farmstead has been revealed by cropmarks and there is evidence of activity through the Roman period and into the Anglo-Saxon era. There are even a couple of World War II pill-boxes built into Bewick Hill – all of which adds a little extra depth and interest to the atmospheric landscape hereabouts.


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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Henry Ogle: Not to be Messed With (NU104195)


Eglingham Hall, like most buildings of its type, started small and has been added to considerably over the years. It began as a pele tower and today looks like this:

© Copyright Stephen Richards and licensed for 

When its development was somewhere in between, one Henry Ogle lived there for a time prior to his death in c.1669. He was a staunch Parliamentarian, and was at his most boisterous – nay, cocky – during the days of Cromwell. Around 1649-50 he was involved in two instances for which we have precious little information, but which nevertheless provide a neat little window into what was, at the time, a pretty crazy world.

The first occurred in the wake of the famous Newcastle Witch Trials of 1649. From Thomas Oliver’s A New Picture of Newcastle-upon-Tyne of 1831:

1649 – The Magistrates of Newcastle sent to Scotland for a man who pretended to discover who were witches: on his arrival the bellman went through the town, crying “all persons who would bring in any complaint against any woman for a witch, they should be sent for and tried by the person appointed.” Thirty women were brought into the town-hall, stripped there, and had pins thrust into their bodies, and most of them condemned for witches!

As a result, fourteen witches and one wizard were executed. The account continues…

The witch-finder went from Newcastle to Northumberland, when [magistrate] Henry Ogle, Esq. laid hold of him and required bond to answer at the sessions, he escaped into Scotland, where he was apprehended, cast into prison, and condemned; when on the scaffold he confessed that he had been the death of 220 women in England and Scotland, for the gain of 20 shillings each!

No one knows for sure who this notorious witch-finder was, but it may have been the infamous John Kincaid (however, Kincaid was not collared and executed until 1662, so there may be some confusion here).

Henry Ogle of Eglingham Hall may have played a prominent role in the casting out from the region of the pesky witch-hunters, but a year later he had a run-in with his ‘hero’ Oliver Cromwell, who, on the way to the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, stayed over at Henry’s house. Legend has it that the next morning the two of them quarrelled (over exactly what we don’t know), and that they may even have duelled over the disagreement.

I should think that their differences were soon patched up, though, as Henry was elected MP for the county in 1653 and 1654. But the story of the little dispute lived on, and inspired the poem Cromwell’s Visit: An Eglingham Legend by James Hall … and if anyone out there has the text of the said ditty I’d like to hear from them!


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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Eglingham’s Wandering Cleric (NU106195)



Canon Henry Baker Tristram was an English clergyman, naturalist, Biblical scholar and traveller. Somewhat controversially for his time, he was an early convert to Darwinism, and spent many years attempting to reconcile the theory with his religious beliefs.

Tristram was born at Eglingham vicarage in 1822 – the eldest son of the vicar – and studied at Oxford. He was ordained a priest in 1846, but his fragile health (TB included) forced him to live abroad. He travelled widely, including a stint as secretary to the governor of Bermuda from 1847 to 1849, where an interest in birds blossomed – but on returning to UK shores found the winters too much for him. Several expeditions to Algeria followed, including exploration of the Saraha desert and yet more ornithological adventures – and wrote a book entitled The Great Sahara. He first visited Palestine in 1858, returning there several times, where he expanded his collection of birds and identified possible Bible sites. Amidst all of this he became canon of Durham Cathedral in 1873, though his travels continued, including the Middle East and also Japan where his daughter spent decades working as a leading light at the Church Missionary Society’s School for Girls.

His infamous link with Darwinism began in the late 1850s when he was seduced by the writings of the great evolutionist. Looking at his own collections of birds, he became convinced of the validity of the new-fangled theory, and penned articles in support of the same.

Tristram, who was a Fellow of the Royal Society, wrote books, papers and articles of all his various adventures, concerned mainly with naturalism and the topography of the Bible lands. His sizeable collections of birds and eggs ended up in Liverpool’s World Museum and the Natural History Museum, London. And as any ornithologist will know, a number of birds are now named after him … as well as a breed of gerbil!

He died in 1906 and has a window dedicated to his memory in the north aisle of Eglingham Church.


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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Percy’s Cross & the Bird in Thy Bosom (NU053193 & thereabouts)


 © Copyright David Clark and licensed for reuse 

There are two monuments which go by the name of Percy’s Cross in Northumberland. One commemorates the Battle of Otterburn of 1388; the other – and the subject of this article – is situated about 4 miles north of Glanton, near to the site of the Battle of Hedgeley Moor.

The encounter resulted in an important Yorkist victory over their Lancastrian foe in April 1464 during the Wars of the Roses – the triumph enabling the Scots to safely travel south to conclude an agreement with the Yorkists. Several nobles took to the field, of course, including one Sir Ralph Percy who had thrown in his lot with the wrong side.

As his aristocratic colleagues fled the field in the midst of their ignominious defeat, Percy carved a name for himself in history by refusing to join them. He and his men fought to the death in a brave show of loyalty to the Lancastrian cause. Surrounded, his horse stumbled and he was overpowered by the enemy. His last words were said to have been: “I have saved the bird in my bosom”…

This enigmatic utterance has kept the historians guessing over the years, but is now thought to have meant that he died an honourable death by remaining loyal to his cause until the very end – “keeping safe the bird in thy bosom” being a metaphor of the time for such shows of fidelity and allegiance in the face of adversity.  Curious, then, that Percy and his family should have so regularly switched sides during the wars!

Near the spot where Sir Ralph fell was thereafter erected a stone cross in his honour carved with Percy emblems, the head of which is now missing.


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