October 23, 2008

Daft Laddies - Lost farms of Tyne & Rede

Northumberland, farming, history, dialect, forestry, Daft Laddies

By Clive Dalton and Don Clegg

The forested North Tyne hills
The forgotten past
A ride up the upper North Tyne valley or the Rede today will tell you little of its past farming history. There’ll be no sight or sound of the heords, the hinds, the lambing men, the lowse men, the servant lassies or the daft laddies who worked and raised families on the ootbye farms. The blanket of Spruce, Sitka and Larch has covered over this great skelp of agricultural history.

The folk who were born ootbye or knew these farms well are now few and far between. There is little written history and few photographs of the lives of the people who heorded the Blackface and Cheviot sheep on these fells, educated their bairns at local schools, sold their stock at Bellingham mart, and supported the local agricultural shows.

This W.P. Collier photo of the Hott school in 1928 shows many of the young folk from the outbye farms that disappeared under the forest.  The furthest away children came by pony and bicycle, and closer ones walked.  The teachers are Miss Dagg (on right) and Miss Cousin ( by the door). The school is now the farm cottage for the Hott farm.

Europe’s greatest man-made forest has covered up their work place and with it a whole lump of Northumberland’s history. We felt it was important to remember these farms, famed for offering grand stock for sale at Bellingham mart.

Young trees on Chirdon, 1955

Birth of the Forestry Commission
In 1910 the Board of Agriculture & Fisheries saw Upper Tynedale as a likely area for forestation, and with the Forestry Commission’s birth in 1919, things progressed so that in 1926 they took out a lease on 45 acres of Smale at 2 shillings/acre for a trial. Initial results were satisfactory so this was the start of what today has become the largest man-made forest in Europe of approximately 50,000 hectares.

In 1930 with the death of the 8th Duke of Northumberland, further forest expansion took place with the sale of the estate’s Kielder farms to pay death duties. The Forestry Commission bought the land for planting and the rest is history. Now many of these areas have grown their second crop of trees.

Which farms were buried under the green carpet?
Here’s a list of nearly 100 - which to anyone who used to attend Bellingham marts in those early days or finds an old sale catalogue, will bring back memories, not just of the great sheep that used to loup into the ring as the gate was lifted, but of the great Northumbrians in their mart suits and caps, oiled Rogerson’s boots, polished leather leggings and grand dressed sticks who followed them in.

The hills before the trees. An old W.P. Collier photo - place unknown.

Comment from Richard Brown, MRICS, FAAV
The Office, South Bellshill, Belford, Northumberland, NE70 7HP
 Tel: 01668 213 546             Mobile: 07974 706 133

My family and I were brought up farming a place called Langleeford – a large hill sheep farm in the Cheviot Hills. Hence my interest in your article – I spent many a long day at Bellingham Mart as a boy!Perhaps someone may have contacted you already but I thought I should to let you know that the black and white image of a farm in your blog titled; “The hills before the trees. An old W.P. Collier photo - place unknown”…is in fact called Greenside Hill and is in the Breamish Valley approximately 5 miles west of a village called Powburn. The farm belongs to Lord James Percy (The Duke of Northumberland’s Brother) and is lived in by his head gamekeeper John Queen
 What I thought you may also be interested to know is the fact there are actually no trees planted at the farm nor anywhere near the property – still actively farmed land which is good.


 The farms are listed in broad areas in the table. On some farms only part was planted.


Lost flocks
It’s hard to estimate how many sheep went off these farms - maybe between 50,000 and 60,000 breeding ewes? But there are probably more sheep in these valleys today because of the way sheep farming has changed. Stocking rates (sheep/acre rather than acres/sheep) have changed and so have breeds. There’s more sheep now on the better land producing more lambs, which are fattened on the farm. In the old days this didn’t happen and they were sold as stores for fattening down country – and doon sooth!

At Bellingham mart in 1938, Messrs Iveson and Walton held a special sale of 6,700 Blackface ewes and the Hexham Courant reported that the previous day there had been “a very large company of buyers with a sheep sale and show acknowledged to be the best ever seen this side of the Border”. Uncrossed ewes sold for 22s.6d to 25.10d each. (£1.12p to £1.30p).

In contrast, at the Bellingham mart in September 1995, Hexham and Northern marts offered 16,655 sheep of which 3,985 were Blackface and Swaledale ewes; but these sheep were from a vastly wider area than in those early days. They didn’t have to waalk te the mart! Prices ranged from £22 to £69. But clearly the old Blackie yowe has suffered a mass evacuation from the North Tyne, Wark’s Burn and Rede.

In the early days on ootbye farms no artificial fertilisers were used. The byre and hemmel muck was used on the hayfields and maybe a bit of lime now and again so the stocking rate on these hard hill farms was very low.

The late Willie Robson, whose family farmed Willow Bog, said the hill farms were stocked at one sheep to 2-2.5 acres. Willow Bog had 60 score including hoggs on 3,200 acres. Shilburnhaugh had 15 score on just over 560 acres. Sheep stocks which were usually “tied” on the farm were counted in scores. (1 score = 20 sheep).

The final drowning
In 1980 the Kielder dam drowned the remaining sheep farms at Yarrow, Shilburnhaugh haughs, Emmethaugh, Whickhope, Otterson Lea Haughs, Mounces, Wellhaugh, the low end of Plashetts Farm, Bewshaugh and part of Gowanburn.


Charlton, Beryl. (1987).  Upper North Tynedale. A Northumbrian valley and its people.
Published by Northumbrian Water.
ISBN 0 9512337 1 8.

Owen, S.F. (1996). Northumbrian Heritage 1912-1937.  The photographs of W. P. Collier of
Bellingham.  ISBN 1-899506-25- X.  Keepdate Publishing.

Owen, S.F. (1996).  North Tyne Traveller 1912-1937.  The photographs of W. P. Collier of
Bellingham. No ISBN number.  Publisher: Keepdate.

Gard, R. (1978). Northumberland Yesteryear.  An album of photographs of life in Northumberland between 1860 and 1930.  ISBN 0-85983-107-8.  Northumberland Local History Society.  Publisher: Frank Graham.

Gard, R. (1981). Northumberland Memories. An album of photographs of life in Northumberland between 1860 and 1950.  ISBN 0-85983-191-4.  Association of Northumberland Local History Societies.  Publisher: Frank Graham.

Wilson, K; Leathart, S. (1982). The Kielder forests. A Forestry Commission Guide. ISBN 0-85538-099-3.
Stoker, D. (1982).  A short history of Kielder Water Scheme. Publisher: Northumbrian Water Authority.

McCord, N. (1982). An introduction to the history of Upper North Tynedale.  Publisher: Northumbrian Water Authority.

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