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North East England


The North East has long been a place people have passed through on the way to somewhere else. And I mean this in a good way. Ironically it is the places that people pass over or through, cross roads, bridges, ports, that give rise to the most important locations. In Roman times the north east was on a road that ran generally north to south. Hadrian's Wall was built, as a status symbol, and as a means of controlling trade moving north and south. The wall ended at an important fort on the site of what is now Newcastle. Following the Roman withdrawal the direction of travel changed, with much movement east and west between Saxon northern Europe and Ireland. Northumberland found itself sitting at a crucial position between the two. This resulted in a highly influential Christian civilisation in the late seventh and early eighth centuries. Evidence of this civilisation remains at Lindisfarne. In AD 735 the archbishopric of York was created, and was in no way subordinate to that of Canterbury in Kent. This was the age of a Northumberland monk known as the Venerable Bede, sometimes termed Britain's first historian. In the ninth and tenth centuries Northumberland was once again the focus of east west movement, this time between Scandinavia and Ireland.


The east west bias changed in the eleventh century with the Norman conquest. Now the currents started to run north to south once again, and the north in a sense started to become just that, the north. The traditional gateway to the north lies at Doncaster in north east England on the river Don. The north began at the point of no return for someone on horseback travelling away from London. With hard riding you could cover the one hundred and seventy miles from London to Doncaster in one day. Sir Robert Carey did just this on 24th March 1603 when he rode to take news of Queen Elizabeth's death to James of Scotland. Once a traveller went beyond Doncaster there was no returning until the following day, and the north had begun. Doncaster as the north's gateway has been significant since Roman times. The Romans set up a forward base here after driving a road to Doncaster. Later in history many important meetings between north and south took place at Doncaster. This is where northern nobles assembled in 1399 to proclaim Bolingbroke as King Henry IV. During the 1536 rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, north once again met south on the bridge over the river Don.


Warkworth Castle

North east England has a different character to the north west. This is in large part due to the main route north running through Doncaster and then on through Yorkshire to Carlisle. Lancashire in the west was bypassed, which resulted in this area becoming isolated. Lancashire was generally quieter and more peaceful, avoiding most of the insurrections that caught up the north east. The north west also avoided to a certain extent the long running struggle between England and Scotland, which focused more on the north east. In the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries war with Scotland was going through a particularly active phase. Many impressive castles in the north east date to this time: Lumley, Raby, Streatlam, Bolton, Sherrif Hutton and Wressle castles were all built around 1380. None of these castles saw much fighting, however. These grand buildings were a means of displaying wealth which northern nobles had made out of the war with Scotland. The real fortifications were pele towers, stark utilitarian structures with walls seven to ten feet thick. These towers were all built further north, close to the Scottish border. Examples of pele towers can be found at Preston, Corbridge and Dilston in Northumbria, and on Farne Island. There were, however, also a few older fighting castles situated to the north of the show castles- Alnwick and Warkworth castles are good examples.

There have been occasions through history when the north east had independent ambitions of its own. The last two hundred years of the Roman period saw the north of England being granted the status of a separate province, Britannia Inferior. The relationship between north and south then ran through a remarkably regular cycle, of independence and centralisation, fluctuating over periods of roughly two hundred years. The last major attempt by the north to impose its will by force occurred with the rising of the northern earls in 1569. The northern earls were not happy with the protestant Queen Elizabeth on the throne, and tried to ensure a catholic succession by marrying the Duke of Norfolk to Mary Queen of Scots. The rebellion was launched at Brancepeth Castle, seat of the Neville family. The Neville castle at Raby was also involved. This rebellion was a disaster for the north. About four hundred people were executed, and fines crippled the northern economy, which did not recover for two hundred years. The succession of James I in 1603 also had the effect of marginalising the north. As James was also king of Scotland the long running war came to an end. The north was no longer a vital border in the middle of a war zone: instead it was a marginal area.

The north's most recent period of dominance was during the nineteenth century Industrial Revolution. But this time focus shifted away from the traditional north east power base, to industrial towns and cities of the north west.






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