The Site - Post Mediaeval

Yeavering entered the Post-Medieval period as a small hamlet in a small valley; tucked in a corner of England which outsiders at least considered wild and dangerous. Its state was far removed from its former role as a political centre, though local traditions, and Bede, seem to have preserved some knowledge of this locally – while gone, its past was perhaps not exactly forgotten. Nonetheless, Yeavering seems to have followed a familiar trajectory for settlements in this area, of gradual shrinkage until it was just a single farm. It had certainly been a hamlet in 1507/8 when it contained about five houses, and a survey of 1541 records eight peasant farm holdings. By the end of the 16th century, however, there had probably been some decline, and certainly by 1693 there was only one tenant farmer there (Dixon 1984, 634). However, a hamlet is marked on a 1769 map of the county, and so some farmhands may have continued to live at the old village even after the all peasant farms had been merged together into one. It is possible that some uneven ground next to Old Yeavering farmhouse may be the remains of the deserted village. Throughout this process, Yeavering formed part of the estate of the Greys of Chillingham, who owned many of the townships in this part of the county. They let Yeavering to various tenant farmers. 

It would be easy to consider this process simply a decline, but that would probably be an oversimplification because of Yeavering’s location between the fertile Tweedside lowlands and the Cheviot uplands. Consequently, most of the township comprises the upland moors of Yeavering Bell, but also includes some relatively flat fields along the River Glen. Some of these fields flood, and thus are good meadow land. This combination provides everything necessary for livestock farming, of sheep or of cattle. The uplands would have provided summer pasture, perhaps overseen by shepherds who spent their summers in sheilings in the hills. The fields and meadows would have provided fodder for the winter. Some evidence for arable farming is present in the form of ridge and furrow near the river, while a sheep stell to the east of the Bell represents the remains of pastoralism. Pastoralism of this type is ancient in the Northumberland uplands (Butlin 1973, 124-127), but merging the medieval holdings into one farm would have allowed it to be practiced more intensively. It may be no coincidence that this occurred during the 17th century, when coal mining was beginning to emerge in the area, providing a ready market for meat (Bainbridge 1996). The disappearance of Yeavering village took place against a backdrop of increasing stability in the border area. This area had famously been subject to cattle raiding and fierce rivalries between families on both sides of the border, as well as periodic full-scale battles between England and Scotland including Flodden a few miles north in 1513, and even one at Yeavering itself in 1415. Such dangers served to slow the economic development of the northwest corner of Northumberland (Brassley 1985, 94). When James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of England, however, the situation stabilised, aside from a re-emergence of raiding during the Civil Wars of the mid-17th century, allowing increased investment in both farming and industry. 

Increased development in the area had an especially significant impact upon farms immediately north of Yeavering, where it was found that the climate and soils of Tweedside were especially suited to turnips, which were a key element of cutting-edge 18th century crop rotations, because they could be fed to livestock to increase manure production and thus grain yields. As a result, people interested in the new agricultural methods moved to the area to rent farms, including George Grey of Milfield and the Culley brothers of Fenton. In 1733 Yeavering had been sold by the Greys, so, because it no longer formed part of a major estate, we know less about how these events affected it than we would like. The improved farming of Tweedside is unlikely to have been taken up fully in Yeavering because it has so little arable land. However, it is likely to have affected Yeavering, as there was almost certainly a relationship between upland and lowland farms in this period. It would be easy to imagine stock raised on the uplands being sold to the lowlands for fattening, or fodder crops grown on the lowlands being sold to supplement those grown in the small upland valleys. Sadly, very little research has yet been done on the specifics of such relationships in Northumberland, so this must be speculative. It is also notable that the Culley brothers are primarily famous for improving the Cheviot sheep and so there must have been some interest in improving upland agriculture. 

Improvement continued well into the 19th century, when we know that the owners of Yeavering were involved, as they took advantage of government loans to drain their land, while the modern farmhouse was built just to the east of the township. During the mid-nineteenth century, the increased agricultural productivity and coal industry of Tweedside led to the improvement of roads for transporting goods out of the area, as evidenced by the Victorian milestones along the modern A697 and B3653. Finally, the Kelso branch of the Newcastle and Berwick Railway in 1849, and the North Eastern Railway in 1887, opened the area even further. This increased access aided farmers in marketing their produce, but also made the area attractive to the growing upper middle class, many of whom built mansions in the area to the north of Yeavering. They would have appreciated the opportunities for huntin’, fishin’ and shootin’ provided by the Cheviot uplands, including the trout in the Glen along the north boundary of Yeavering township, but also the mountain scenery and the Romance of the ancient palace and the border warfare. Indeed, the first edition of the Ordnance Survey took pains to mark the sites of the Battle Stone, the ‘Drudicial Remains’ on Yeavering Bell, and King Edwin’s Palace, though it placed the latter in the wrong location.