Harbottle : From 1600 To The Present Day
The 1604 Border Survey provides the clearest overview of Harbottle in the late 16th and early 17th centuries (see Selected Sources and Surveys). There were still 15 burger freeholders in 1604, who paid much the same sum as the burghers had always done. Their built property consisted of 23 houses and three outhouses. However it is likely that the centuries of disruption and turmoil had taken their toll on the fortunes of the community.
The settlement apparently no longer merited the title a market town, although that the weekly Tuesday market, which certainly still existed in 1495, apparently continued into the 19th century (Bulmer 1887, 736). Nor does the survey make any mention of the annual fair, although the fairground at west end of the village is marked on the earliest available detailed maps and two annual fairs are recorded by Parson & White’s trade directory in 1827 (Parson & White 1827, 475), so this may in fact have been maintained throughout the period. The township of Shirmondesden had declined to an even greater extent, as documented by the 1604 survey (where it is labelled Shermington and Charington):
Charington sometymes a township and nowe used as demeane to Harbottle and therin valued (1604 Survey, 117, cf. also 105)
By this time the township appears to have consisted of a single farmstead or hamlet, Peels, where the miller and burgher freeholder, John Wainbye had a house and 2 acre plot of land (op. cit., 91, 106). Presumably the actual cultivation or grazing of the former township's 820 acres was leased out to neighbouring farmers, yielding £41 per annum according to the 1604 survey (op. cit., 105).
Documents relating to the castle available for the last two decades of the 16th century show it was in a state of continuing decay, brought about by neglect of the structure, although a garrison continued to be stationed there, with 20 fresh horsemen arriving, for example, in March 1596 (CBP; 13 March 1596, no. 234). Precisely when the castle was abandoned is unclear, though its appearance in 1604 as "an old castle, much decayed" (1604 Survey, 105), suggests not only that no repairs had been carried out recently, but that some robbing may already have commenced by that time.
The Union of the Crowns in 1603 had finally made such border fortifications redundant and James I granted the manor of Harbottle to George, Lord Home of Berwick. Perhaps the last occasion that Harbottle fulfilled its old role as headquarters of the Middle March, occurred on the eve of the Civil War in 1639. Sir Jacob Astley wrote from there to Secretary Windebank in that year (Cal SP, Dom. 1638-39; cited by Hunter Blair 1932-34, 224):
At Harbottle the bordermen, about 150, came to me to present their services for His Majesty’s use, much desiring to have arms for their money to defend themselves; they were all short and broad-shouldered men , with broad swords and blue capes (or caps) all upon little nags; they are fit for times of war to burn and spoil and there is good use to be made of them. Mr Roger Widdrington holds them all at his command, and is entirely for his Majesty’s services.
The castle, demesne, park, tithes and water mill of Harbottle, and 23 burgages and three closes in the settlement, had come into the possession of Roger Widdrington of Cartington in 1635-7 (NCH XV (1940), 477). Widdrington subsequently built himself a new mansion, also called 'Harbottle Castle', at the east end of the village. This probably occurred soon after he acquired the manor.
In 1655, John Rushworth and John Brownell purchased the manor house and desmesne lands of Harbottle with a corn mill and fulling mill from the parliamentary commissioners, Robert's heir, Sir Edward Widdrington, having forfeited the land as a royalist in 1650. This would imply the hall was built between 1635-1650 and it is unlikely there was any building work whilst the Civil War was in progress. Elements of this 17th-century house are said to survive within the Dobson exterior of 1829.
The old castle, already in serious decay, may well have used as a quarry for the building stone. Analysis of the map evidence suggests that construction of the new hall on its present site swallowed up a large chunk of the borough's land, but the Widdringtons may have found willing sellers amongst the local freeholders. Moreover the return of a resident gentry lineage may have been provided some compensation and a boost to the local economy.
There are no detailed maps recording Harbottle in the 18th century. Armstrong’s map makes it clear the village had a similar layout in 1769 to that of the present settlement, with the Clennell’s mansion occupying the east end of the site, the ruined castle to the north. The village itself lined either side of the road which ran up the valley from Holystone to Alwinton, standing at the point where the road bent sharply round from south to west, just as today. Another track – again lined by buildings –branched off the main route and proceded eastwards, past the Clennells’ hall, to cross the Coquet by means of a ford and thence continued towards Peels and other outlying farmsteads.
The Militia List of 1762 records nine able bodied adult males in Harbottle Constabulary, in addition to the petty constable. These men pursued a wide variety of trades, showing that the village was the commercial and service centre for the surrounding neighbourhood rather than a purely agricultural settlement, a legacy, perhaps of its earlier status as a borough. These tradesmen included an innkeeper, a tailor, a couple of weavers, a cooper and his wheelwright, a shovelmaker and another wheelwright, with a hind servant making up the numbers.
In Peels Constabulary, or township, seven men were listed besides the petty constable. These pursued a more restricted and agriculturally biased range of trades, with two servants, a barnman and a husbandman residing there, along with a smith, a tailor and the miller (the latter demonstrating that the water mill at Peels was still functioning in this period).
A Presbyterian congregation, then known as ‘The Protestant Dissenting Congregation of Harbottle’, was first established in the village in about the year 1713 (Dixon 1903, 198). It numbered 250 in 1717 when it was known as the Coquetwater congregation (NCH XV (1940), 468). David Dippie Dixon has provided a detailed summary of the history of this congregation, including many primary 18th-century records (1903, 198-212).
The original meeting house was a converted dwelling house which stood on the site of Cherry Tree Cottage . Parson and White’s directory for 1827 records that a proper chapel was built in the village in 1756 (Parson & White 1827, 475) and this is supported by the contemporary documentation recorded and reproduced by Dixon (1903, 198-200). The 1756 meeting house ‘was a plain, square building, with a thatched roof, having eight windows and two doorways in the south front, according to the usual “Meeting-house” style of architecture in vogue at that period’. This typically austere 18th century non-conformist chapel was - equally typically - replaced by a much more ‘churchified’ edifice, in 1854 (see Ryder, Nonconformist Churches in the Northumberland National Park).
From the beginning of the 19th century the development of the settlement can be traced in detail using the map evidence and sources such as the enclosure and tithe awards and printed directories. Many of the village's present buildings were constructed during the late 18th - early 19th centuries. This may have been responsible for further robbing of the castle, but the majority of the settlement’s standing structures appear to have been built of more recently quarried stone composed of large, even, finely-dressed blocks of pale, biscuit-coloured sandstone, and any use of the ruins as a quarry had certainly ceased by c. 1830 when Hodgson's sketch shows the remains in much the same state as they survive today.
The hall was completely rebuilt in an austere classical style by John Dobson for Thomas Clennell in 1829. Comparison of the 1806 survey and the 1st edition Ordnance Survey shows that the rebuilt house occupies the same site as its predecessor and indeed adopts a very similar plan in outline, giving some credence to the idea that the building may preserve elements of its earlier fabric within the Dobson casing.
The other buildings in the surrounding grounds – the stables, the Garden Cottage, the icehouse , the ‘kennels’ and the old greenhouse and potting sheds - were probably belong to the same episode and may well also have been built by Dobson or by his Office. Much of the village may have been rebuilt at the same time (Grundy 1988, 178). Many of its buildings - for example Border House, Waterloo House, Wayside, Hernspeth and New Hall, as well as Garden Cottage and the stables mentioned previously - exhibit similar architectural details, notably the curious square finial at the top of the gable, which is characteristic of Dobson’s work on estate ancillary buildings elsewhere in Northumberland. This together with the beautiful stone and fine quality of the masonry used give the village an extremely pleasing harmonious quality.
A Free School was founded in the early 19th century by William Dixon who endowed it with a house in Newcastle which was sold to produce sufficient income to educate 16 scholars a year. Thomas Clennell paid for the education of a further 13 free scholars. The present school building was erected by public subscription, in 1834, as a Church of England National School, and remains in use today. In that same year, the National School Society became the first body to receive a government grant for public education. A schoolmaster’s house was also provided. The Presbyterian chapel rebuilt in 1854 at a cost of £600. This too still stands, though it is no longer used as a place of worship. Associated with the chapel was a hall, capable of seating 150 people, which was built in 1893 at a cost of £200 (Kelly 1910, 168). A fountain was erected by public subscription, in the centre of the village, in 1880, in memory of Mrs P. F. Clennell and her contribution to the life of the village
The upland common south of the village was enclosed in 1817, but even though common ownership may have ceased large tracts were left as open grazing land in the possession of particular landowners, principally the Fenwicke Clennells, rather than being divided up into individual fields. The trade directories still record a range of occupations at Harbottle in the 19th century and two annual fairs, for sheep etc., were still held at Harbottle on 8th July and 19th September during the early 19th century (Parson & White 1827, 475; Dixon 1903, 195). However Bulmer’s Directory noted, in 1887, that the weekly market, formerly held in the village on a Tuesday, had ‘been discontinued for some years’ (Bulmer 1887, 736), whilst Dixon, writing a couple of decades later, stated it had ‘ceased long ago’ (1903, 195). Dixon also reported that ‘the fair has been discontinued for several years’ (ibid.), though the memory of ‘the great event of the year in that upland district’ with all its customs, was still very much alive (op. cit., 195-6):
Harbottle fair was in days gone by the great event of the year in that upland district, at which all the farmers and shephers out of Coquet and Redewater foregathered, and not only were large numbers of hill sheep and cattle sold, but many other transactions of sale and barter, there took place. But Harbottle fair served another purpose most congenial to border men; it afforded a convenient opportunity, and was a favourite time, for the settlement of personal and family grudges, therefore many were the free fights that took place between men of Rede and men of Coquet.
The population of the township rose in the first part of the century from 128 in 1801, reaching a recorded peak of 181 in 1821. By the end of the century however the township’s population figures had declined. 113 were recorded in the 1901 census and 119 in 1911 a process which continued during the remainder of the 20th century. The range of businesses operating in the village now is much reduced.
The Presbyterian chapel has become redundant, but the school is still open and the Star Inn continues to offer a hospitable welcome. As with other villages in the Northumberland National Park, Harbottle’s reduced importance as a commercial and service centre for the surrounding area has been balanced by the greatly improved standard of living enjoyed by today’s residents and the much wider range of opportunities available.
The 20th century’s terrible wars left there mark on Harbottle, both in human casualties and, perhaps aptly, in the fabric of the ruined castle which watches over the village, when the top of the keep was used modified to installed a Royal Observer Corps observation post to spot German bombers during World War II. Some historical notices for the 19th and 20th centuries have been recorded in the school magazine, The Drakestone Star, but a detailed history of the village in the 20th century and above all the personalities who have enriched its life remains to be written, a task perhaps most appropriately undertaken by members of the local community.