Local Historical Stories


Early in 1996 Alastair Robertson - one of our local historians was asked if he would write a couple of historical articles for the Alston Moor Newsletter. He thought he could manage three or four but in the event, over 20 years later, they were still going. Once, and only once, he received an unsolicited article from an outside source, this was the reminiscence of a school for wartime evacuees at Nent Hall that came from Mr. Michael Dickinson and it was gratefully included in the series.

They’re a real mixed bag, too random to put into a book, but they’re still worth keeping in a more permanent form, so the Historical Society website seemed the perfect place to have them.

Material for the articles came largely from local sources, from the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives, St. Augustine’s Church Records, Alston Library, the Cumbria County Records Office in Carlisle and the County Records Office Northumberland.

There has been editing in some cases that will be noted at the beginning of each item, otherwise the articles have been left as they were written, complete with occasional references to such things as cement lorries, the millennium, and foot and mouth disease, which are themselves now things of the past (?).
Read on …

Story No 8: ..and soe to the fells

soe to the fell
“… and soe to the fell”
The ‘Drift Roll’ of Alston Moor is one of two ancient codes of local law for this area, the other being the ‘Paine Roll’, or ‘Penalty Roll’, drawn up in the reign of Henry VII (1487-1509). They were copied in 1597 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and again in 1683 during the reign of Charles II. They were called ‘Rolls’ because that was the format of the document, the pages of parchment or more likely vellum, were in rolls rather than in book form.

            The Paine Roll is a list of fifty penalties for breaking fifty laws, which makes fascinating reading, as does the Drift Roll, the subject of this article.

            The Drift Roll laid down the routes by which each tenant farmer had to drive his stock to the fells for grazing. Today it seems incredible that the conditions set out, and the holdings that they applied to, should have remained constant for at least 300 years. The copy made in 1683, which was “a true Coppy”, was made because the roll of 1597 was “waxen and growne soe dimm that it was hard to be read”.

            In the days before the fells were enclosed, which started about 120 years after the latest edition of the Drift Roll, a farmer’s grazing was as sacrosanct as it is today. To keep another man’s livestock off it without the aid of drystone walls was a difficult problem and one that required strict regulation.

            The tenants had to take their livestock to the fells and stay with it, living in ‘sheales’ and not to move back down before the due time, on pain of 12 pence for every default.

            The route and in some cases even the days that were prescribed are very specific, for example:-
            “Item: The Tenement at Blagill shall drive over Grugill foote and soe to the fell and alsoe over at the seany syke and over to the grene gill mea and soe to the fell, and allsoe two days in the week and every third Sunday up by the New field side to the poole and soe forth to the grey Stones and soe to the fell.”

            There are a lot of spelling differences between now and then. Among the most prominent changes are that Skydes has acquired its ‘S’ since 1683. Ameshaugh is Elnsaugh and Spencey Croft is Spinster Croft.

            An idea of the distribution of the agricultural population can be gained by comparing the Drift Roll to a map. Most of the farmsteads can be found on maps of today and it is interesting to discover just where they are. In the Nent valley, nearly all the farms are on the north side of the river and tenants were allowed to drive their stock “over the water” to graze on Middle Fell, as well as on the moors to the north. The only tenement up the valley beyond Wellgill was “Briggall”, and on the south side of the valley there was nothing beyond “Over Skelgill” (High Skelgill?) except Galligill.

            Farms in the South Tyne valley were evenly distributed along both sides of the river. From Alston towards Garrigill the farms followed the old road to Annat Walls, through Bleagate along the valley side, past the Craigs to Garrigill and beyond. The furthest farm in the Manor was Crossgill after which was the separate manor of Priorsdale.

            The route to Cross Fell from farms on both sides of the Tyne around Garrigill was not the “Corpse Road”, or the Black Band Road, now the Pennine Way, but Crossgill, while on the other side of the Tyne there are tantalising references to a ‘fishwell’ on the way to Flinty Fell.

            Tenants on the north side of the valley further from Garrigill were also allowed to drive their stock over the Tyne in winter, and there is an interesting clause for the tenants of “ Nether Cragge” which reads, “And in winter in frost and snow to drive over Tyne through the head of Richard Renwicke field and when he breaks the dyke every year to pay fower pence”.

            The “head dyke” follows the valley. This was an ancient boundary, probably of Anglo Saxon origin between the inbye land and the outbye land. It had a hedge on the top of a man made earth ridge and tenants were bound by the Paine Roll to maintain it on paine, or fine, of 6d (2½p) for a default.

            Further down the river there was quite a community around Bayles, where five tenements were given instructions for driving their stock. But back up the valley near what we now know as Leadgate, “The Tenements betwixt Blackburne and Gillerrerburne (Gilderdale Burn) shall drive and leave every man within his owne drift every night within himself for dread of thieves and not on his neighbour’s (drift) upon the paine that is sett thereupon”. The paine was 6d (2½p).

            It would be an interesting exercise for today’s farmers to get together and map out the old drifts. They might know the place names mentioned and possibly the descriptions of the topography, for example “the dowkes of the close”, “the hurdstones”, “the green Snapp”, etc. Any takers?
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About Us
Alston Moor Historical Society was founded in 1973 and, due to the nature of Alston Moor, it is a member of both the Northumberland Association of Local History Societies and the Cumbria Federation of Local History Societies.
Alston Moor Historical Society
Alston Moor, Cumbria
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