An Interesting Historical Perspective on the Farm and the Village

 

We live in a village called Whitfield in an area of SW Northumberland referred to as Tynedale. Local tradition suggests that St. Cuthbert's body rested in these parts when the monks of Lindisfarne fled before the marauding Danes.  Our isolation from Danish attack could have provided a measure of safety, as can be inferred from the name 'Quitfield, whether its Anglo-Saxon meaning was 'quiet place' or more probably 'white land'  meaning open pasture land.

 

In the period directly before the Norman conquest Whitfield belonged to the Saxon Earls of Northumbria.  One of whom was created Earl of Huntingdon and Northampton as part of the defensive measures of 1065.  When his daughter Matilda married King David I of Scotland, Whitfield was listed among the possessions she brought to her husband.  Prince ("Earl") Henry, their son, married the Countess Ada, by whom he had two sons who eventually succeeded to the Scottish throne as Malcolm III 1153-65, and William the Lion, 1165-1214.  Countess Ada is said to have resided at Eads Hall a fortified house that stood near the current road in one of the fields we farm.  There is documentary evidence that Whitfield belonged to her and that with her consent and that of her sons' she gave half of Whitfield to her chaplain, for 'one soar hawk' and half to the ancient abbey of Hexham for 'a pound of pepper'.

 

The farm that we occupy is called 'Old Town' it is first referred to in documents dating from the reign of Henry II 1165-74.   The title of the farm derives from the fact that in ancient times it was a center of population.  All that remains of the old settlement are the mounds that show the sites of the 60 - 100 houses.  My family has been farming here since 1905. Until 1989 we operated a medium sized dairy unit, commercial beef (AAxFriesian cows running with a Charolais bull) and sheep (Mule ewes) enterprises.  Our ewes are Swaledale x Hexham Leicester.   This is the best type of commercial ewe because they have greater scale, and produce more milk.   They are crossed with a Texel or Suffolk Tup.

 

 

The picture above is an 18th century print showing part of Old Town Farm with St John's Church in the Background.

 

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However, due to our location, economies of scale and the EU subsidy structure we decided to disperse our dairy herd and expand our Angus herd on a strictly commercial basis.   We breed more than half our cows to a Limousin bull.  This means that we only breed our replacements from  the best cows and produce high quality commercial calves from the rest.

  

Whitfield is a scattered farming community in an area of outstanding natural beauty. The road into the village is a steep descent down a series of hairpins; writers refer to this area as 'Little Switzerland'. Larch and Fir trees in the form of 'ER II' were planted to commemorate the Queen's coronation. At the other end of the valley a similar planting shows 'GR VI' for her father. The village is a small nucleus with a shop, inn and parish hall.  The major town of the area is called Hexham. One of its main attractions is Hexham Abbey which dates from Anglo-Saxon times and tends to be a tourist trap during the Summer months.  To the west is Alston the highest market town in England and in the last century the center of large lead mining industry.   To the north is the only  standing section of Hadrians Wall a world heritage site.   Recently the British Automobile Association selected  the A686 (Haydon Bridge - Penrith) the main road through Whitfield as one of the top ten best roads to drive in the world. 

 

 

Select Bibliography

 

Parish of Whitfield - Rev. A. F. Donnelly

History of Northumberland - Rev. John Hodgson

Pedigree of the Scottish Kings can be found at www.familysearch.org

 

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