Guyzance: A Local Landscape

Guyzance: A Local Landscape

The history of a county cannot be neatly summarised in a concluding chapter. What one can do is illustrate the intertwining of some of the themes in that history by looking at one small area, a landscape in miniature. Almost any locality in the county could be chosen, but one such landscape can be found on the Coquet a few miles east of Felton. A turning off the Al north of Felton leads down to a winding, wooded stretch of the river. The lands around this spot, north and south of the Coquet, constitute the modern parish of Acklington, but this was only created in 1859, and previously they were the townships of Acklington and Acklington Park and the chapelry of Guyzance or Brainshaugh.

Guyzance & Acklington
Guyzance & Acklington


The first record of this landscape is found in Symeon’s History of the Church at Durham, where he documents that in 737 Ceolwulf, the Northumbrian king, retired to become a monk at Lindisfarne, giving estates at Warkworth and Bregesne (Brainshaugh) to the Church. Acklington, farm of the Sons of Aeccel, is a fairly early Anglian settlement, sited on an outcrop above the clay. Guyzance, named after Guines, near Calais, is one of the few Norman place-names in the county. In Norman Northumberland the two sides of the Coquet were in different baronies: Guyzance was part of the knight’s fee the Tisons held from the de Vescis of Ainwick, and Acklington was part of the Clavering barony at Warkworth. In the early medieval period the Coquet formed a significant legal boundary: the county had two coroners, one for ‘citra Coquet’, south of the river, and one ‘ultra Coquet’, based at Bamburgh. Richard Tison in or before 1 147 founded a nunnery at Brainshaugh and gave this to the canons of Ainwick, together with some ploughiand ‘et cum haighe, ubi est ecclesia’, and with the haugh where the church is. The remains of this nunnery and its Norman architecture still stand in the haugh by the river. In 1306-7 Edward I confirmed the right of Guyzance nunnery to pasture their cattle on Edlingham moor.

Both Guyzance and Acklington had open-field agriculture. In 1248 the bondagers of Acklington each held 30 acres, but had to work three days a week on the demesne land that Roger Fitzjohn had in the village, and harvest the corn. On the north side of Guyzance the Cistercian monks at Sturton Grange grazed their sheep on the moor. In 1240 these monks came to a detailed agreement with Alexander de Hilton about their boundaries with Guyzance and Shilbottle. The coal for the monks’ forge came from Midilwood in Acton and was probably carted through Brainshaugh and Guyzance on its way.

Acklington, located on the plateau, had a windmill to grind corn, but Guyzance had a watermill on the Coquet. The 1336 subsidy roll lists Johannes molendinarius, John the miller, and in 1356 Sir Robert de Hilton obtained permission from Sir Henry Percy, who held Warkworth barony, to make a mill-race and weir across the river from the Guyzance bank to Whirleyshaws ‘pro duccione aquae usque ad molendinum fullonicum’, in order to lead water to the fulling mill (to  make cloth). A later document records that each tenant had to repair eight feet of the mill dam for each husbandland he held. A successor to these mills still stands, disused, and the weir still runs across to Whirleyshaws.

The Scots’ wars and Black Death affected the district. The latter may have destroyed the nunnery, and in 1352 at Acklington nine of the 35 bondage holdings were waste. Labour remained scarce, for in 1368 they were still waste, though used for pasture, and the 70 acres of demesne were rented out to tenants at 6d. (21/2p) an acre. The Craster family, whom we have traced through these chapters, appear even here. In 1498 a Robert Crawcester was a tenant in Guyzance and a William in Acklington, and in 1540-1 William Crawster was the Guyzance bailiff.

The south bank of the river wag set aside as a deer park by the . lords of Warkworth. In 1 248 it was described as a park with a perimeter of four leagues, stocked with ‘seven score beasts, specifically young stags and fawns, but not buck is to be found there; and there are seven or eight hinds and one hart of two or three years of age’. The park gradually became pastureland and farms, but remained well wooded. In 1585 there were 2,000 oak trees and 300 ash valued at £783.

Sometime after 1313  the nunnery had become a curacy of Alnwick, but after 1539 the buildings and lands, like much other monastic property, passed from the King through a succession of Newcastle and London merchants. By this time both villages were in Percy hands and detailed surveys were taken in 1567 and 1616, mapping out the open-fields and commons. These surveys gave the boundaries of the townships and many of these can still be traced on the ground, particularly the western boundary against Acton from the Morke Hawghe by the Coquet up the Mere burn and a pathway to the ‘hye Kyng’s streat’ or Great North Road. In Acklington a new area called Moore lands had been recently ‘taken of the common, and converted to arable’, and strips in this field had been allocated on a strict system: Henry Jackson was given the first, twenty-first and forty-first. The present road down from Acklington station runs through this land. ‘Whirleyshaws’, the survey said, ‘enclosed on ye one syde with ye pale of the parke envyrouned on two partes with the water Cokett, ys the beste and moste commodiouse parte of the commone’, but it was also eaten by the cattle from Guyzance and Brainshaugh, and the survey suggested that enclosure would be the ideal solution, but this could not be done because of ‘a common waye over at the forde of Brainshaugh which cannot be barred’.

The Earl’s surveyors recommended division of the lands in both villages, but this was not achieved until the late 1600s, though the increasingly commercial land management of the Elizabethan and Jacobean  period can be seen in the Percy estates here. Acklington Park was let leasehold as one large pasture farm, and rents like that for Guyzance Mill were increased: in 1581  the mill raised £1 6s. 8d. (X 1.33p) for the Earl, but by 1612 it was £5.

Agreement to enclose the village fields took place at Guyzance in the 1660s, probably under Percy pressure, and at Acklington early in the 18th century. This was followed by the later enclosure of the surrounding commons (such as Guyzance Lee to the west in 1760), and the building of farmhouses away from the villages at Bank House, Guyzance Lee and Kavel (Cavil) Head in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In the period of agricultural improvement and the Napoleonic Wars much of the farming land was devoted to arable: the 1801 crops returns for Warkworth parish (which included Acklington) had 1,441 acres recorded for wheat and 1,923 for oats, though only relatively small acreages of the turnips, peas and beans that the Glendale farmers emphasised. Chimney-stacks for the steam-driven wheat-threshers can still be seen at Kavel Head and Chesters farms in Acklington. The land was heavier, more clayey, than areas further north, and the farms benefited from the tile-draining of the 1840s and 1850s: by 1860 the Earl’s agents had drained 44 per cent. of the acreage of Acklington High Park. In 1861 54 per cent. of the farm was arable, but during the agricultural depression and after, the area became dominantly pastoral like so many parts of Northumberland. The local landscape is not one of large country houses, but at the end of the 19th century a substantial portion of Guyzance was bought by a leading Newcastle industrial entrepreneur and shipowner, J. D. Milburn (who had built Milburn House in the Side at Newcastle). During the Edwardian years he had one of the last country houses in the county built at Guyzance.

During all these changes to the local economy, the neighbourhood of Guyzance and Acklington was not cut off from wider political and economic events. The medieval Newcastle mayors and merchants, the Actons, came from Acton village on the west side of Guyzance. In 1569 George Horsley of Acklington Park was one of the foolish few who followed Percy in the Rising of the Northern earls, and John Rushworth, a later tenant of Acklington Park, was one of the clerks in the House of Commons in 1640 when Charles I tried to arrest the five members. Thomas Lisle of neighbouring Hazon joined his Catholic friend, William Ord of Sturton Grange, in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, though Thomas’s brothers stayed at home.

Industry has not radically affected this landscape. In 1715 the antiquary Warburton noted a colliery in Acklington village, but the major Victorian exploitation of the northern fringes of the coalfield took place just to the east of Acklingon, where the new mining villages of Broomhill and Radcliffe came into being after 1850. However, in 1775  a group of speculators had got a lease of land by the river in Acklington Park to build a tin and iron foundry and also to erect a dam or weir to provide power. These works can still be seen today, to the west of the bridge over the river, and the waterfall they constructed is a magnificent sight. The iron was marketed from the port at Amble, but the business did not flourish, because of distance from markets, and it was sold in 1791 with 45 years of the lease still to run. It was taken over by a Newcastle woollen merchant, John Reed, who early in 1796 was advertising in the Newcastle Courant for weavers. This mill was discontinued in 1884.

The area lay to the east of the major turnpikes, but the railway sliced through Acklington in the 1840s creating a small agricultural market at the station. However apart from the construction of an air force base (now a prison) on the south side of Acklington, the locality, and particularly the part near the river at Guyzance, has remained agricultural and unspoilt, and standing by ‘the haugh where the church is’ one is surrounded by elements of a landscape that is Bridge over Coquet at the result of over 1,200 years of Northumbrian history since it was part of an Anglian Royal estate.