Shires And The Concept Of The Multiple Estate
Thus we can recognise the major royal estate centre in Glendale and make some attempt to plot the extent of subsequent land grants to the church. These 'multiple estates' or 'shires', as they are generally termed, are considered typical of this period, representing large administrative districts cum landholdings composed of many separate communities which all rendered the larger proportion of their surplus produce and labour to a single, central lord's hall or caput, instead of to their local manorial lord, as in the high medieval period from the 11th - 12th centuries onwards.
Although there is much regarding the history and workings of such shires that remains contentious (cf. Kapelle 1979, 50-85), the individual rural communities, which must have made up such estates, are still more shadowy, particularly in the uplands. Little is known for certain of settlement patterns in the north Northumbrian uplands in the centuries following the collapse of Roman imperial authority. Nevertheless, is likely that the enclosed farmsteads which were such a feature of rural settlement in the preceding Romano-British period, continued to be occupied well into the early medieval era, but diagnostic dating evidence is lacking and at present it is impossible to say when they were replaced by a different type of settlement or what form that settlement took and in what way it was distributed.
By the 12th-13th centuries, when abundant documentary evidence becomes available again and archaeologically dateable pottery is found in significant quantities, communities were focussed in nucleated village settlements like Hethpool. However the formation of these nucleated settlements may be relatively late. Brian Roberts (1972, 33-56; cf. Taylor 1983, 133-47) has argued that the regular row plans of many villages in County Durham and North Yorkshire were part of a reorganisation of rural settlement and landscape instituted by the Anglo-Norman lords in the late 11th and 12th centuries, following the devastation wrought by the conquest of those areas. Dixon (1985, I) was more cautious with regard to the evidence for widespread replanning of the villages of north Northumberland and it is clear that the implantation of Anglo-Norman lordship occurred later there (not till the early 12th century) and in different, less violent, circumstances. Nevertheless such evidence as we possess does suggest that settlement in the northern part of the county from the 12th century onward was predominantly focussed on nucleated village communities with defined territories.
What form rural settlement took prior to that time, i.e. what constituted a ---tun before 1100, remains unresolved. There may conceivably have been something of a retreat from the uplands from the later 7th or 8th century onwards, perhaps affected by climatic deterioration, outbreaks of plague, widespread warfare and political upheaval following the Viking invasions - the same kind of factors which led to a similar retreat in the 14th century - with exploitation henceforth achieved by seasonal transhumant migration up to the highland pastures, as was pursued in parts of Northumberland in the medieval and early modern eras. In these circumstances permanent settlement may have moved off the Cheviot hilltops and slopes and become focussed on lower-lying sites to form township communities, designated villa in Latin documents.
It is noteworthy that the Romano-British settlements scattered along Glendale or the Breamish Valley, tend to occupy elevated sites overlooking the valley bottom, often indeed overlying the ramparts of the earlier hillforts, whereas the medieval villages sit at the foot of the hillsides on valley terraces just above the land likely to be periodically flooded. In this the villages parallel the location of the Anglian palace complexes. Both types of community - settlement and village - were probably exploiting the same mixture of resources, but they doing so in different ways.
The new township communities, whatever factors were responsible for their emergence, could have been based on village settlements, hamlets or groups of dispersed farmsteads. However aerial photography of Glendale or the Milfield Basin has not revealed substantial numbers of sites which might, even tentatively, be proposed as candidates for 8th - 11th century township settlements - aside from the major estate centres of Ad Gefrin and Maelmin, only the smaller complex at Thirlings (O'Brien & Miket 1991) and some sunken floored buildings (grubenhäuser) at New Bewick have been identified (Gates & O'Brien 1988), all of which could be slotted with the 5th-8th century timeframe rather than later. In part, the problem is related to the difficulty in actually identifying these classes of site from the air.
Even grubenhäuser are relatively hard to spot and rectangular halls constructed with posts set in individual postholes, rather than continuous construction slots, are almost invisible. More grubenhäuser sites may be in the process of identification as a result of the re-examination of existing coverage in the quest for other types of monument (T.G. Gates pers. comm.) and this in turn may lead to the identification of timber halls which are often associated with grubenhäuser, either on the same site or very close by.
Nevertheless, it is tempting to assume that the most successful settlements of the early medieval era, which may have formed the original township centres, lay on the same sites as the later villages and are as a result masked by the modern settlements or by the remains of the medieval period (cf. Dixon 1985 I). If this was the case, such proto-village, township settlements would have been nucleated, forming either hamlets or villages, but then many of the Romano-British settlements on the hilltops contain numerous round houses and represent sizeable communities, corresponding to villages or hamlets in scale, so there may actually may have been relatively little change in that regard.
Indeed, the very act of bounding the Romano-British settlements by an enclosure wall would have created a strong impetus to restrict the area occupied by such settlements, giving a misleading impression of their population size relative to the later villages. The suggested proto-villages might then, in turn, have been reorganised and formalised into regular village settlements by Anglo-Norman lords of the 12th century.