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The History of Northumberland

A History of Northumberland, issued under the direction of the Northumberland County History Committee. Vo!. VIII. The Parish of Tynemouth. By H. H. E. Craster, M.A., Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. Pp. xiv, 457, demy 4to. Newcastle-upon-Tyne : Andrew Reid & Company, Limited, 1907. £2 2s. nett,

The members of the Northumberland County History Committee have added to their laurels by the production of the eighth volume of the great series which will ultimately embrace every district of the county of Northumberland. It is no disparagement to the work expended on previous volumes to say that the history of the parish of Tynemouth has established a record for a well-digested and exhaustive review of the historical materials at their disposal.

One of the causes which have contributed to make this volume a notable member of the series must be ascribed, without a doubt, to the accomplishments of the editor, who has brought to his task a trained scholarship for the tackling of historical problems, and a literary skill for their exposition and presentation. The subject, too, must be reckoned as contributory in some measure to this excellent result, for the volume is confined to a single franchise which has occupied a conspicuous place in northern history. Mr. Craster has been fortunate in succeeding to the editorial chair at the very juncture, when a stage in the enterprise was reached which afforded him such a fine opportunity for the display of his critical abilities and historical knowledge. Northumberland has produced several topographical writers of the first rank who have placed their gifts at the disposal of their native county, and there is no sign that the genius of the race has been exhausted. It should be mentioned, also, that the editor is assisted by a county committee, with the Duke of Northumberland at its head, all the members of which are well-known antiquaries distinguished in some department of Northumbrian history. In any case, to whomsoever special credit may be due, the sum of their united labours is making the history of their county a model for the rest of the English shires.

The history of the priory is marked at every period by careful research. There is no need to keep in mind the caution of Dugdale’s editors that, ‘as far as the Saxon period goes the reader must form his own judgment from the testimonies adduced.’ No such uncertainty accompanies us in the perusal of these pages. There's no attempt to write history where history does not exist. Nor is there a dogmatic repetition of venerable legends: a sound critical judgment points us to the most trustworthy sources. The same remark may be made about such difficult matters as castleward and cornage, and other institutional and economic problems, about which there is room for divergence of opinion. Intelligent reasons have been given for the conclusions favoured by the author, and the reader is left to accept or reject them as he thinks fit.

There is one epoch, however, and that not the least important of the history of Northumberland, which does not appear to have been so fully emphasized as its undoubted obscurity required. No clear distinction has been made in dealing with institutions in their relation to native as distinguished from feudal law, and the gradual absorption of one by the other. Northumbria had characteristics of early law and custom which differentiated it from the rest of the kingdom, and tenaciously resisted the inroads of Norman ideas. The danger is that these archaic survivals should be interpreted in the light of feudal prepossessions. For instance, Mr. Craster says (p. 214) that, ‘as the lands of the monastery were held in frankalmoin, they were free from the feudal obligations of military service.’ But he did not tell us that freedom from military service was not originally inherent in tenure by frankalmoin. Feudalism made it so, or rather it grew to be reckoned as such under that influence. Nothing is clearer than that all the land of Northumbria was obliged to contribute to its own defence. If religious men held their lands free from that obligation, it was because the original donor had burdened the rest of his land with the quota due from that which he had alienated. There is a classical illustration of the usage among the Coldingham charters (No. 21) when King David I. broke through the crystallizing process by transferring the military burden of some of the lands of the monastery, held in free alms, from the shoulders of the donor to those of the beneficiaries. Then, too, what is the meaning of the next sentence, where it is stated that, ‘on the other hand the prior maintained the castle of Tynemouth at his own cost and so contributed to the work of national defence. His men were not required to go out with the fyrd, except in cases of actual invasion of the earldom.’ Now, if the prior’s lands were held in frankalmoin, which meant freedom from military service, why was he obliged to maintain a castle, and why did he enjoy immunity of the fyrd, except in a certain specified contingency? Is there not confusion here? Is not the author mixing up cornage with knight’s service? It is becoming more and more evident that the traditional view, to which some scholars cling with superstitious idolatry, is not sufficient to explain the problems of early Northumbrian institutions.

The chapter on the manor is of great interest and value. Few single manors could be discussed with such fulness. There is, of course, a sameness about manorial customs everywhere, but especially within the ancient kingdom of Northumbria, but we do not fail to meet with fuller explanation of obscure points in individual manors, not to be expected in all of them. Where can we look for this guidance if not in a great ecclesiastical franchise where agricultural economy had reached a high standard? The student will not be disappointed in his perusal of this section of the work. Seldom has it been one’s good fortune to meet with such a comprehensive survey, thanks to the clearness of the scholarly narrative, no less than to the abundance of the material.

English county volumes hare, as a rule, little attraction for students of Scottish history, but tne history of Northumberland is an exception to this rule, and no English county can compete with it for close connexion with the national history north of the Tweed. In order to prove what a mere platitude this statement is, the Scottish antiquary has only to consult this volume. So long as the great repository of Durham continues to pour out its unrivalled store of early evidences, no worker in Scottish history can afford to shut his eyes to what the English side of the Borderland can teach him. In addition to these, the Register of St. Alban’s (Cott. MS. T ib. E. vi.), the mother house of the priory of Tynemouth, has been ransacked for charters bearing on the franchise with the most happy results for Scottish history. It would be tedious to enumerate particularly the scope of the editor’s diligence in this respect. The abstracts of early Scottish charters, embodied in the notes, are a sufficient indication of what has been accomplished.

The eighth volume, like its fellows in the series, is enriched with many illustrations of seals, charters, ground plans, elevations, views, maps, old prints, drawings, and other miscellaneous antiquities, all of which are conceived and executed in the best style. In this connexion it should be noticed that the descriptive narrative on the architectural features of the monastic buildings is due to Mr. W. H. Knowles, who superintended excavations in 1904-5 for the purpose of ascertaining the Norman plan of the conventual church. Technical articles on such subjects as geology, coal-trade, and sea-fisheries have been supplied by competent contributors, while the pre-Conquest stones at Tynemouth have been described by the veteran expert, Dr. Greenwell, and the pedigrees have been prepared by Mr. J. C. Hodgson, the editor of previous volumes of this history. Not the least valuable and welcome service to the reader has been performed by Miss B. M. Craster, who has furnished a full and trustworthy index. The typography of the volume is a credit to the Newcastle press.

Jakes Wilson.

As Northumberland is on the Border of Scotland and had a lot to do with Scottish affairs we thought we'd make this 11 volume series available for you to read in pdf format.

Volume 1
The Parish of Bamburgh
Volume 2
The Parishes of Embleton, Ellingham, Howick, Long Houghton and Lesbury
Volume 3
Hexamshire Part 1
Volume 4
Hexamshire Part 2 (Hexham, Whitley Chapel, Allendale and St. John Lee) and The Parish of Chollerton, The Chaperly of Kirkheaton and The Parish of Thockrington 
Volume 5
The Parish of Walkworth with the Chapelry of Chevington, The Parish of Shilbottle, The Chapelry or Extra-Parochial Place of Brainshaugh
Volume 6
The Parish of Bywell St Peter, The Parish of Bywell St Andrew, The Chaperly or Parish of Slaley
Volume 7
The Parish of Edlingham, The Parish of Felton, The Chaperly or Parish of Brinkburn
Volume 8
The Parish of Tynemouth
Volume 9
The Parochial Chapelries of Earsdon and Horton
Volume 10
The Parish of Corbridge
Volume 11
The Parishes of Carham, Branxton, Kirknewton, Wooler, and Ford

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