Sunniside Local History Society

Chesters Roman Fort


Many Roman forts in northem England have 'chester' or 'chesters' in their name, from the Latin castro, used by the Saxons to refer to a Roman fortification. Chesters has become the only fort on Hadrian's Wall to be known by that name alone, as if in recognition of the outstanding richness of its remains. The Roman name for Chesters was Cilumum, meaning 'cauldron-pool', or possibly referring to a people (the Cilumigi) of northem Spain, the original homeland of the SOO-strong Asturian cavalry unit which was based at Chesters for more than 200 years.

The site of Chesters is low-lying, in the most green and tranquil of Northumberland valleys. Here Hadrian's Wall, started in AD 122, bridged the river North Tyne. The fort, which was built a couple of years later, straddles the Wall, with the northem half projecting beyond it. Chesters was occupied until the Romans left Britain in the early fifth century, with an extensive civilian settlement flourishing outside the fort in the second and third centuries.

Deserted for over I ,000 years, the fort now lies in the parkland of Chesters, once home of the antiquary John Clayton, who between 1843 and 1890 excavated almost everything that is now to be seen. These early excavations have left visible both the finest example of a Roman bath building in Britain and the remarkable bridge across the North T yne, while Clayton's finds from Chesters and other sites fill the museum with one of the best collections of inscriptions and sculpture on the Wall.



The emperor Claudius invaded Britain in AD 43, but 80 years were to elapse before another emperor, Hadrian. built a frontier wall across the island. Conquest was slow and the creation of a pacified province took time. The army did not penetrate northern Britain until AD 70. The high tide of conquest came with a victory in Scotland in AD 83. Roman forts extended all the way to the Scottish highlands, and it seemed as if the whole of Britain lay within Rome's grasp. But after AD 85 a series of barbarian invasions on the Danube frontier made it necessary to withdraw troops from Britain. Scotland was abandoned. By AD 105 the Romans had given up the last remaining forts north of the narrow neck of land between the rivers T yne and Solway. More forts were built along this line and it was firmed up into a military frontier.

On his accession in AD 117 Hadrian inherited severe problems left over from aggressive wars waged by his predecessor, Trajan (AD 98-117). Hadrian responded by keeping the empire within its bounds and securing its frontiers to protect the provinces. He toured the frontiers. visiting Britain (probably in AD 122), and the idea of fortifying the Tyne-Solway isthmus with a Wall may well have been his own.

BUILDING HADRIAN'S WALL The original plan was for a stone wall 10 Roman feet (3m) wide and perhaps some 20 Roman feet (6m) high, fronted by a great ditch. The Wall was to cut ruthlessly in long straight stretches across the countryside. Only on the higher ground of the crags in the central sector did it snake about to follow the cliff-tops. The only troop accommodation was to be in the form of small forts at mile intervals - 'milecastles', Regularly spaced between every two milecastles were two watchtowers (known as 'turrets'), The Wall was to be 80 Roman miles long, the western 31 miles being built of turf,

Construction began in about AD 122, the work being undertaken by the three legions based in Britain, Within a year or two there was a change of plan, For some reason - possibly warfare triggered by the building of the Wall it was necessary to add forts manned by non-citizen auxiliary units to the line itself. There were at first 15 forts along the line of the Wall. The earliest to be added were built straddling the Wall, with three of the main gates lying on the north side and only one to the south, Whatever had been built of the Wall and its structures had to be demolished, and the ditch filled, to make way for the forts, Two other changes came with the addition of the forts, The width of the Wall was narrowed to 8 Roman feet (2.4 m) or less, A ditch, flanked by mounds - known as the Valium - was dug to the south, marking the rear of the Wall corridor,

What Threats Did The Wall Face

Some archaeologists believe that the Wall's main functions were to regulate trade and immigration, collect customs, and detect bandits. But this does not explain why it was a defensible barrier, the most elaborate of all the frontier walls the Romans ever built. The Wall seems to have been more than a mere statement of imperial grandeur - it was intensively manned, and repaired and maintained for nearly three centuries. One Roman historian records that a hostile invasion succeeded in penetrating the Wall shortly after AD 180, implying that it was intended to prevent such incursions. Although it was not meant to withstand siege, the Wall could effectively hinder and help intercept both minor raids and larger barbarian invasions. We have no records of day-to-day operations on the Wall, but an inscription observed at Hexham Abbey in 1725 records that a cavalry unit, probably the ala 11 Asturum of Chesters, had 'wiped out a host of Corionototae' - an otherwise unknown but clearly hostile people.

Shortly after Hadrian's death in AD 138 his successor, Antoninus Pius, decided to invade Scotland once more, and to fortify the Forth-Clyde isthmus with a wall ofturf, It is not really known how thoroughly Hadrian's Wall was decommissioned at this time, The Antonine Wall in Scotland was short-lived: the Romans gave it up after only about 20 years, By AD 160 Hadrian's Wall had been re-occupied and the turf section was being rebuilt in stone, The Wall would remain the northern frontier of Britain until the Romans abandoned the province some two and a half centuries later,



In 1796 Nathaniel Clayton bought the estate. He had the ruins levelled and grassed over to form a park between his mansion and the river. His son John Clayton (1792-1890) succeeded to the property in 1832.

John Clayton is one of the most important figures in the 19th-century archaeology of Hadrian's Wall. He was a lawyer and for many years was the influential town clerk of Newcastle. He was fascinated by Roman antiquity, and carried out a programme of excavations in his grounds at Chesters over many years. He also acquired as many other sites in the central sector of the Wall as he could, and had a number of them excavated. The fort at Housesteads, and the lengths of exposed grass-topped curtain wall, partly rebuilt, which run along the crags of the Whin Sill owe their present appearance to Clayton's workmen. In obtaining these sites Clayton rescued them from erosion and destruction by farming. At Chesters, Clayton devoted every Monday to excavation, starting with the commanding officer's house and internal baths in 1843. He was still excavating just before his death in 1890. Clayton's chief workmen were William Tailford, who died in about 1860, and his son, also William Tailford, who dug at Chesters for 45 years.

After 1890 Clayton's nephew and heir, Nathaniel George Clayton, continued the work, excavating the barracks. He built the museum which houses the magpie's store of antiquities amassed by john Clayton. The present mansion, glimpsed through trees to the west of the fort, owes its form to Nathaniel George. The current appearance of the Roman site, with its disinterred fragments separated by large unexcavated areas, is entirely the product of the C1aytons; there has hardly been any digging since the death of Nathaniel George in 1895. The estate passed out of the Clayton family in 1929.

The fact that almost all the visible remains at Chesters were unearthed between 1843 and 1895 means that there is much about them that today cannot be understood, by trained archaeologist and casual visitor alike. This is because at that time there was no concept of archaeological stratigraphy. Where a modem archaeologist would try to understand how the layers and structures on the site had built up over time, the Victorian excavators simply dug until they reached remains solid enough to display, collecting any spectacular finds along the way. Hardly any systematic record was kept of the excavations or of what was removed. Only at the site of the bridge has there been extensive recent excavation and survey, and as a result this structure is now better understood. Our knowledge of the fort interior is incomplete and will remain so until further excavations using modem techniques take place. This is not to belittle the achievement of pioneers such as Clayton: without the trail they blazed, our current archaeological techniques could not have developed.


The Barracks (pictured above)

The two most completely excavated barrack blocks in the north-east part of the fort face each other across a street, a recurrent anrangement in Roman forts. Each block could accommodate a ‘turma’ or cavalry troop of 30 men. Only the eastern halves have been excavated. The barracks that we see today probably date to the later second or early third century AD.

Each block consists of a row of rooms, a simple translation into permanent materials of the row of leather tents that would have been used on campaign. Until recently it was believed that the troopers lived in the barracks, with the horses stabled elsewhere. Recent discoveries at other Roman forts have now established that the barracks accommodated the horses too. Taking into account the unexcavated portion, the barracks were over 50m long - providing sufficient space for ten rooms shared by three men and their horses.

Each of the rooms was divided into front and back parts. At Chesters the partitions are not visible today, but in two rooms of the northern barrack flagged walkways survive, leading from the front door to the position of a door in the partition, which led into the rear part. Three men slept and ate here. Their three horses were tethered in the front part, where an underfloor pit provided drainage.

Each cavalryman had a deduction made from his annual salary - about one-fifth - to cover the cost of his horse, and he would have to pay this again if it was lost. This is one good reason why the mounts were kept where the troopers could keep a close eye on them, in combined 'stable-barracks'. There is evidence that each trooper had a slave who acted as a groom; the slave probably slept in the roof-space of the barrack.

At the rampart end, projecting into the street, is the house for the Decurion, the officer in charge of the block. The functions of the individual rooms in the Decurions' houses cannot be identified, but they would have included offices, rooms in which to sleep, dine and cook, and stables. Surviving column bases show that a colonnade ran along the front of each barrack, offering cover for tethering or grooming horses in the open air. A big rainwater drain, which would also have helped disperse urine from the horses, runs along the centre of the street.

South of these barracks are the remains of a row of stone buildings, probably also barracks, but seemingly rebuilt during the course of the third or fourth century, resulting in a confused plan. Remains of late Roman rebuilds probably also existed over the main visible pair of barracks, but were either removed by 18th-century ploughing or without record during the 19th-century excavations.


The Roman Cavalry at Chesters

Although legionaries (citizen troops) built the Wall and its forts, the nearest legionary base was at York. The units stationed at Chesters and elsewhere on the Wall were auxiliaries. These non-citizens were originally recruited from warrior peoples that Rome had encountered in her frontier wars. They were valued for military skills which the legions lacked, such as fighting on horseback.

Auxiliaries were organized into cohorts of infantry and alae - 'wings' - of cavalry (and many mixed units), mostly SOD strong. From the beginning Chesters was base to an ala of cavalry, the most prestigious and highly paid kind of unit in the auxiliary army. In the early empire a SOD-strong ala consisted of 16 troops (turmae) of about 30 horsemen, each led by a decurion (equivalent to an infantry centurion). Unlike the legions, auxiliary units were not commanded by men of the highest senatorial class: the ala was in the charge of a prefect, typically a young Roman aristocrat of the equestrian order, from a city in the Mediterranean lands, who took up the post as part of his progress through the ranks of the imperial service. Cavalry equipment

The standard equipment for patrols and military operations included helmet (pictured above found on site in 2010), mail armour, a sword a The spears. The rider had no stirrups; he was held firmly in place by four pommels at each corner of the saddle. The decorated harnesses and trappings for his horse can be reconstructed from depictions in sculpture and finds of the metal connecting parts. Horseshoes were not used on cavalry horses.

When arrayed for their training exercises, wearing masked helmets with the faces of gods and mythological figures, the horsemen of an ala must have been one of the spectacular sights of the ancient world.

The Soldiers of the Wall

The soldiers of the Wall were perhaps outnumbered by civilian men, women and children. With its well-paid and prestigious cavalry garrison, the fort and vicus formed a particularly large and vibrant mixed military and civilian community. It was closely linked, economically and culturally, to the Mediterranean world, receiving, for example, large quantities of olive oil in Spanish amphorae (pottery containers), and Samian pottery manufactured in Gaul.

The members of the vicus community had diverse origins. There is little evidence to suggest that they came in any significant numbers from the local native population: as with the fort, the style of building and the objects found in such settlements suggest an immigrant population, perhaps isolated from indigenous society, rather like civilian contractors at a Western military base in a Middle Eastern country today. One inscription shows that a veteran lived at Chesters with his family. He was probably one of a sizeable community of veterans. A German named Lurio buried his sister, his wife and his son at Chesters; they must have lived in the vicus, as might families and dependants from the Spanish recruiting ground of ala 11 Asturum.

There must have been priests of the many religious cults attested. An inscription from another Wall-fort mentions a society (collegium) of slaves. The majority of inhabitants were traders or craftsmen, perhaps originally from southern Britain, Gaul, or other parts of the empire from which trade networks extended to the northern frontier.



From the baths it is a short walk to a viewing platform overlooking the site of the west end of the Roman bridge, rightly described as 'the most remarkable feature on the whole line of the Wall. Much more is to be seen of the bridge by following a path from the modern bridge at Chollerford to view the superb remains uncovered by John Clayton in the 1860s on the eastern side of the river.

The North T yne has moved westwards since Roman times, leaving the eastern abutment (the masonry apron that projected into the river and protected the end of the bridge from the force of the water) high and dry. Conversely, the abutment on the fort side is now under water, but can sometimes be glimpsed when the murky river is low.

There are in fact remains of two successive bridges. Most of the visible masonry belongs to the second, larger bridge. The first, built under Hadrian, carried the Wall only, and was the same width as the originally planned Broad Wall: 3m, or 10 Roman feet. The lozenge shape of one of its piers, with cutwaters upstream and downstream, can be seen embedded in the later abutment. Its stones were locked together with dovetail-shaped clamps that are not used in the later bridge. The abutment of this early bridge was where the tower of the later bridge stands. The fact that the Wall bridges the river suggests that it had a walkway along its top: on the Continent, Roman frontier walls without walkways simply stopped when they reached rivers, and resumed on the other side.

The second bridge is now thought to date from the 160s, the time when the Military Way was built along the Wall. This bridge was correspondingly wider and more massive to carry the road, with a tower to guard it at each each end. Many blocks from this bridge were surveyed and studied in 1982-3 and are displayed in a stone park. Some are from the decorative cornice that ran above the arches. These are heavily footworn and grooved, not for timbers, as was once thought, but for a stone parapet. This shows that the second bridge was also of stone, carrying the Military Way across the North Tyne on four graceful arches some 10m wide. The 18th-century Chollerford bridge, half a mile upstream, gives a good impression of the scale of its Roman predecessor. The Military Way was raised to the level of the bridge via a ramp (no longer visible). It is now known that the road ramp skirted the south sides of the towers rather than passing through them, as once thought. The parapet of the bridge was adorned with columns; the lower half of one lies on the abutment.

The abutment was constructed of massive unmortared blocks, locked together by tight jointing, iron clamps and continuous channels filled with molten lead. The Romans inherited this ancient construction technique from earlier civilizations; it is seen, for example, in the Parthenon. It is rarely encountered in Roman Britain and its use at Chesters shows that the bridge was a prestigious imperial building project. The rectangular slots in the top of many of the blocks are 'lewis holes' to take a lifting device so that the stones could be lifted into position by a crane. The pivot hole for the crane, 300mm ( I ft) in diameter, is visible on the south wing of the abutment. On the face of the northern wing is a fine carving of a phallus, intended to ward off the destructive forces of the river.

At some date the southern wing of the abutment was extended southwards, with projecting toothed masonry to break up the force of the river. Later still, but within the Roman period, a massive water channel was driven through the tower and across the back of the abutment, possibly to feed a mill (as yet undiscovered) downstream.

The photograph left, Shows a reconstruction of the bridge at Chesters in the time of Hadrian, when it was designed to carry the Wall alone on nine narrow (4m wide) arches.

The photograph right shows the second bridge, built in the 160’s. It was wide enough to carry the Military Way across the Tyne on four arches and contained guard towers on each bank.


Roman Military Religion

Inscribed altars, of which many examples can be seen in Chesters museum including the one pictured above set up by Tertulus to the non-Roman god Vitiris, remind us that ordinary soldiers and high-ranking officers alike made sacrifices to the gods. Two kinds of deities were worshipped. There were the official gods of the Roman state, including jupiter, juno, Minerva and Mars. Their statues and altars stood in the fort headquarters, and the same detailed calendar used by army units allover the empire laid down the occasions when these deities were to be honoured.

The birthdays of long-dead emperors, who were deified after their death, were also celebrated. Then there were the unofficial cults: those of native gods which remained local, or cults such as that of the popular Mithras, which spread through the army from distant parts of the empire. The Romans often identified local gods with their own, resulting in hybrids such as Apollo Maponus (from Britain) and jupiter Dolichenus (from Syria). These unofficial cults had their own priests and temples which were usually outside the fort

The headquarters was the centre of official religion. The prefect presided over the ceremonies, and among those soldiers excused menial tasks because of their specialist duties were priests (haruspices) who foretold the future from their inspection of the entrails of sacrificed animals.



There has not been enough modern excavation for us to know if there was any pre-Roman settlement at Chesters. At present the story begins in AD 122 with Hadrian's Wall, laid in a straight east-west course across the site, and the building of a bridge to carry the Wall across the North Tyne. When the decision was taken, probably in about AD 124, to build a fort, the Wall ditch was filled and a recently built turret demolished. Its remains (not visible) were found in 1945 outside the north-east corner of the headquarters.

The defences and principal buildings were built of stone. An inscription of Hadrianic date found in the bank of the North Tyne as recently as 1978 shows that the unit stationed in the new fort was the 500-strong ala Augusta ob virtutern appellata - the cavalry unit named Augusta on account of its courage. This unit would have required 16 stable-barracks, which were probably made of timber. Nothing is known of their plan, as excavation has never gone deep enough to reach these early levels, but it is likely that eight barracks lay in the front part of the fort and eight in the rear.

The only time in its history that Chesters might not have been a cavalry fort was during the confused years of the mid-second century. It is uncertain whether Chesters was fully occupied while the Antonine Wall in Scotland was held (AD 142-60). At some point in the reign of Antoninus Pius (AD 138-61) legionaries carried out a programme of building work. A building inscription, probably of the period AD 138-80, was left here by an auxiliary unit, cohars I Delmotorum (first cohort of Dalmatians). It is unclear whether or not this infantry unit was stationed here on any more than a temporary basis while carrying out building work. A commander of a further auxiliary unit, the first cohort of Vangiones (raised in the Rhineland) buried his daughter at Chesters. Her tombstone dates to after AD 160, but it is uncertain whether this unit was ever based at the fort.

An inscription naming Ulpius Marcellus, the governor of Britain in AD 178-84, confirms that by this time the fort was once again the base of a cavalry unit, ala 11 Asturum (second cavalry unit of Asturians). The Asturians, originally raised in northern Spain, were to have a long association with Chesters, remaining there until the end of the Roman period.

The visible barracks are part of a complete rebuilding of the accommodation of ala 11 Asturum probably in the later second or early third century. There was not room inside the fort for I 6 of these new barracks, suggesting that the number of subdivisions (turmae) of the ala was reduced to 12 or 14 by the early third century. At other forts on Hadrian's Wall in the third century, irregular units of Germanic barbarians supplemented the old auxiliary units; at Chesters a recently discovered inscription of AD 286 possibly refers to symmachari (allied irregular troops). In the third century, former barrack space was sometimes taken up by other kinds of buildings: an aisled structure appearing in the southern part of the fort on the Victorian plan could just possibly be a cavalry drill hall.

As at all Roman forts in northern Britain, the period AD 180-250 was the heyday of the civilian settlement lying outside the fort walls, as military pay, and buying power, were increased. In these years all such external settlements or vici reached their greatest prosperity and extent. The vast majority of the inscriptions from the site date to this time, recording building projects, declarations of loyalty to the emperor, religious ceremonies, and burial of the dead.



The remains still lie within a private estate, but in 1946 the eastem bridge abutment, and in 1954 the fort and the Wall and baths (pictured above) to its east, together with the museum, were placed in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works. As successor to that body, English Heritage now cares for the remains and administers the museum, together with the Trustees of the Clayton Collection. Excavation and survey took place on the eastem bridge abutment in 1982-3, and at the westem in 1990-91. Otherwise there has only been occasional small-scale excavation, although much has been leamt from geophysical and other surveys. Despite the lack of recent excavation, Chesters is perhaps the most accessible and informative of all the Wall-forts. The setting alone would enchant any visitor: it has been said that 'Even a Cistercian could hardly have chosen a more beautiful place'. Meanwhile the grass conceals a rich depth of buried remains, awaiting the researchers of the future.



The line of the Anglo-Scottish Border roughly follows the trend of the Cheviot Hills pictured above that is north-east to south-west. From Berwick- upon-Tweed to the Solway Firth it wanders diagonally across the narrow neck of Britain, crossing some of the wildest and most beautiful country in the British Isles. It is a richly varied landscape made up of bleak salt marshes, deserted beaches and fertile coastal plains; broad rivers and tumbling burns give life and colour to green wooded valleys; spongy mosses, bent grass and peat bogs surround the rocky outcrops which thrust through vast tracts of heather- covered moorland; and always on the horizon arc the endless, rolling Cheviot Hills, which form the main barrier between the two countries and gave the Borderland its distinctive character. It is also a landscape which is constantly punctuated by reminders of fiercer times than ours. A multitude of Iron Age hill-forts overlook extensive Roman remains and Hadrian's Wall strides uncompromisingly from Wallsend to the Solway Firth. The great castles of Alnwick, Bamburgh, Caerlaverock and Carlisle stand here; and alongside them lie the silent battlefields of Otterburn, Solway Moss and Flodden Field; gaunt towers such as Smailholm, Elsdon, Oakrood and the Hollows still survive and, scattered across its hills and dales are squat Bastles and Peles with archaic names - Black Middens, Raw and the Hole. Starkly picturesque, they are grim reminders that this narrowly stretch of land was a medieval frontier of great military importance and has a savage and turbulent history. For, as the buffer zone between two of history's most fractious neighbours, this land became their battleground and the effect of their constant warring was to leave an indelible mark on the Border folk, creating a society that, by the beginning of the 16th century, had become a dangerous thorn in the side of both nations. For those men belonged to the great riding families; and with 'Lang Spear' and 'Steill Bonnet', they 'rode with the moonlight' and plundered the Borderland. Sporting such names as Nebless Clem, III, Drooned Geordie, Fyre-the¬Braes, Pikehood, Wynking Will. There were Armstrongs, Grahams, Bells, Charltons, Robsons, Nixons, Maxwells, Scotts, Milburns and others - history remembers them as the Border Reivers


A Perverse and Crooked People

With the exception of Berwick-upon- Tweed, which became part of England after its capture by Richard the Third in 1482, the Border line has remained more or less constant since the 11th and 12th centuries. After the Battle of Carham in 1018 the victorious Scots claimed all land north of the Tweed on the eastern side, and later, in 1157, William Rufus incorporated Cumberland, formerly part of Strathclyde, into England on the west, building Carlisle Castle to defend it.

Although the Borderline was constantly disputed, bearing in mind what was to come, relatively peaceful times followed. The two nations, however, continued to regard each other with suspicion and in order to install a bulwark against the ever-present threat of invasion, both governments actively encouraged settlement of their Border districts, offering land and low rents in exchange for military service, when required. As a consequence, the countryside became heavily populated, much more so than it is today. Overpopulation "as further aggravated by a system of inheritance known as 'gavelkind', "'hereby a dead man's land was apportioned in equal measures amongst his sons. In the case of large families, this practice often resulted in the inheritance of meagre strips of land which could not adequately support a man and his dependants. This state of affairs, combined with a lack of legitimate alternative occupations, soon gave rise to an ever-growing delinquent element in Border society. Theft became endemic and whilst travelling through the Borderland in 1547 Andrew Boorde, an English physician, noted that the country 'lay in much poverty and penury and that there were many outlaws and strong thieves, for much of their living standeth by stealing and robbing'. In spite of national differences, families on either side of the Border had much in common. Living off a harsh land with an inhospitable climate nurtured a tough, insular and contentious people.

A hardy mixture of landowners, tenants and hill farmers, they were it seems 'not aquainted with many learned or rare phrazes' , and it took little to offend them. Law and order in the form of central government was far away, and more often than not when a dispute did arise between them 'They expect no lawe but bang it out bravely, one and his kindred against the other and his; they will subject themselves to no justice, but in an inhumane and barbarous manner fight and kill one another; they run together in clangs [clans] as they term it, or names. This fighting they call Feides, or deadley Feides [feuds].' Religion, it would seem, did not prove to be a moderating influence on their behaviour either. 'Amongst these rude and superstitious people even the priests went with sword and dagger' and many Border churches were, by necessity, strongly fortified. What religion they did acknowledge was of the strictly practical kind. The Scottish historian, Bishop Leslie, whose history of Scotland was written between 1572-76, tells us that their devotion to their rosaries was never greater than before setting out on a raid, and on the Scottish Border it was the custom at christening to leave unblest the child's master hand in order that unhallowed blows could be struck upon the enemy!

In an attempt to regulate and govern the Border region more effectively, the two governments had reached an agreement in 1249 known as the Laws of the Marches. By its terms both sides of the Border were divided into three areas East, West and Middle Marches - each to be administered both judicially and militarily by a March Warden, the first being appointed in 1297


The Border Marches

The English East March, incorporating most of north Northumberland, stretched from the North Sea to the Hanging Stone on Cheviot. For much of its length, the Borderline here follows the Tweed and its fords were defended on the English side by the castles of Wark and Norham. Berwick, which was the residence of the vVarden and the 'utmost towne in England', was well fortified and described as 'the strongest holde in all Britain'. On the Scottish side, the Wardenship was usually held by the Home family who, from their fortress at Home Castle, guarded the richly fertile coastal plain known as the Merse. Due to the broad flatness of the coastal terrain, both East Marches offered an easy passage for invading armies and as a consequence suffered the thrust of many Royal incursions.

Extending from the Hanging Stone to Kershopefoot in Liddesdale, the English Middle March included Tynedale, where Hexham had the dubious distinction of being home to the first purpose-built prison in England, and Redesdale, which was a 'wild and unruly' district where the 'Kings writ did not run'. For defence, it relied largely on its string of castles and towers on the River Coquet, stretching from Harbottle to Warkworth. Its Wardens, who, over time, included members of the Forster, Bowes, Eure and Percy families, resided at Alnwick or at Harbottle. The English Middle March was also protected to some degree by the Cheviots which made the passage of artillery difficult but proved no obstacle to raiders who knew the 'wastes', passes or ‘ingates', of which there were over 40. Facing this was the Scottish Middle March. Incorporating the Sheriffdoms of Selkirk, Roxburgh and Peebles, its judicial centre was Jedburgh where justice courts were held, and its Wardens, usually Kerrs, resided at their castles of Ferniehurst and Cessford. The Scottish Middle March was also the home of the notorious 'Limmers' or thieves of Teviotdale and Liddesdale. Infested with towers and 'strong houses' these grim little valleys were home to the Scotts, Elliots and Armstrongs, 'great surnames and most offensive to England', and it was men of these families who persistently launched some of the largest and most devastating raids into the English East and Middle Marches. No-one was safe from their plundering, Scots or English, and redress was hard to obtain.

Remote and inaccessible, Liddesdale in particular was a veritable robbers' roost and the blatant lawlessness of its inhabitants necessitated the ap¬pointment of an additional Warden, or Keeper. Residing in the forbidding and gloomy fortress of Her¬mitage Castle, 'the strength of Liddesdale', these Keepers, at the end of the 16th century, included the likes of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, and Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, dangerous rogues who were, more often than not, in deep collusion with the thieves and raiders they were charged to control, and 'wynked' at their nightly depredations. Incorporating Cumberland and Westmorland, the English West March ran from Kershopefoot along the Liddel Water to the Esk and down to the Solway Firth. Like the East Marches, the flat nature of the land provided a route for large-scale invasion, though the treacherous mosses and tides of the Solway made such enterprises a risky business, as armies of both sides found to their cost. Along with Naworth Castle, Carlisle was the key to the west door of England. A formidable castle, it was 'fortified with strong walls of stone' and as the seat of the Warden. This office was usually held by the Dacres and in later years by the Lords Scrope. Guarding the wastes to the north were Askerton, Scaleby and Bewcastle. Bewcastle, in particular, which stood in 'wild and solitarie country', was situated close to routes favoured by Liddesdale raiders, and its Captain was ever busy.

The Scottish West March comprised the Stewartries of Kirkudbright and Annandale, and included the Sheriffdom of Dumfries which served as both its judicial centre and the headquarters of the Warden, an office often held by members of the powerful Maxwell family. Its strength lay in the castles of Caerlaverock, a Maxwell stronghold situated at the mouth of the Nith, and Lochmaben, both fortresses being surrounded by a formidable system of moats. In addition, a Captain known as the Keeper of Annandale served at Langholm Castle, his duties being similar to those of his English counterpart at Bewcastle,

Lying on the boundary of these two Marches, and worthy of special mention, was the Debateable Land. Bounded by the riyers Sark, Lyne and Liddel Water, it was a tract of ground about twelve miles long by three and a half to five miles wide, its small area belying the enormous amount of grief it caused to both nations. First named in a truce document of 1450, the land was recognised as belonging to neither one side nor the other, and it had become the custom for both Scots and English to pasture their sheep and cattle on it. However, as soon as anyone attempted to erect a building, temporary or otherwise, violent disputes arose.

As neither country acknowledged responsibility for the actions of the inhabitants, justice was non-existent. Not surprisingly these conditions proved extremely attractive to the lawless elements in the Western Marches and it soon became a sanctuary for fugitives, 'broken men' (outlaws) and murderers. It also attracted Armstrongs, Littles, Bells and the predatory Grahams, who were 'very famous among the Borderers for their martiall disposition'. Taking full advantage of the situation, they used the Debateable Land as a base for their marauding and became equally famous for the fine impartiality with which they plundered and murdered Scots and English alike, their allegiance to both crowns changing as often as their circumstances.

As the situation became increasingly intolerable, 'Wardens on both sides fought fire with fire, issuing a proclamation that 'All Englishmen and Scottishmen ... are and shall be, free to rob, burn, spoil, slay, murder and destroy all and every such person and persons, their bodies, buildings, goods and cattle as do remain and shall inhabit the Debateable Land without redress to be made for same'. Eventually, in an attempt to solve the problem, the two countries set up a Commission to divide the troublesome strip of land and after much wrangling, this was achieved by the erection of an earthen rampart known as the Scots Dyke. Although the extent of each country's responsibility was now defined, the area still retained its name and in spite of all the Wardens could do, the inhabitants, undeterred, remained 'ane great company of thieves and traitors'.


Wardens and Keepers

Appointed by their respectiye governments, Wardens were backed up by Deputies, Keepers, Captains, Land Sergeants and Troopers and were ex¬pected to meet with their opposite numbers at monthly Truce Days, the intention being to administer the Border Laws, 'keep the wild people of the three Marches in order' and dispense justice accordingly.

In an effort to ensure some degree of impartiality on the English Marches, it was the custom to confer the office of Warden on gentlemen from the southern counties of England, thus supposedly assuring the appointment of men who bore no obligation to the feuding factions over whom they were required to preside. Though a few good men undoubtedly did their best, many fell foul to temptation and soon became as corrupt and lawless as the folk with whom they were obliged to live. When a local man was appointed to the Wardenship, the results were invariably disastrous, as illustrated by the infamous career of Sir John Forster, a natiye Northumbrian who, in 1560, became Warden of the English Middle March. A regular subject of Border correspondence, he was the target of frequent accusations ranging from collusion with the Scots and neglect of duty, to using his office as a cloak for thieving and skulduggery, his accusers further adding that Sir John's catalogue of shortcomings 'would fill a large book'. Most of this was in fact true and his protestations of innocence are somewhat less than convincing. It was evident, however, that by the 15th and 16th centuries the cost of war both at home and abroad had drained the resources of the Treasury and a Warden's salary was woefully inadequate, making it even more difficult to find the right man for the job. As a consequence, behaviour such as Forster's becomes understandable and any means by which a Warden could supplement his meagre income was fair game. 'Warden roades', official reprisal raids across the Border in order to punish habitual offenders, were often in reality large-scale, highly lucrative forays where large quantities of 'insight' (household goods), cattle, sheep, horses and weapons could be accumulated along the way. Prisoners too, were often taken and ransomed.

As a rule, on the Scottish Border, the Wardenship generally fell to the 'heidmen' of the powerful riding families, the idea being that Border lairds such as these could at least exercise some degree of restraint over their unruly kinfolk. That the theory was sound and, to some degree worked is evident in the following observation by Lord Scrape in 1586, Writing from the English West March to Queen Elizabeth's secretary of state, Sir Francis Walsingham, his anxiety regarding the loss of firm control in the opposing March is clearly apparent. “I look to no justice from the opposite Border as I am told Maxwell has refused the Wardenry and every laird, gentleman and Borderer rides against the other. As the nights grow long and dark, I expect their accustomed insolencies against us will proceed afresh.” It was, howeyer, obvious that the kind of justice meted out by such powerful figures as John, 8th Lord Maxwell or Buccleuch, was very often of a partisan and dubious nature. Not surprisingly, it was felt by some that they should not be allowed to hold such office at all, being native Borderers who were 'extraordinarilye addicted to parcialitics' and 'favoured theire blood, tenantes and followers'. Simply by carrying out his duties amongst such lawless and vengeful people, a Warden would make many enemies and the office was no guarantee of personal safety. In 1537, Roger Fenwick, Keeper of Tynedale, was murdered in Bellingham by 'three naughty persons' and at a Truce Day in 1585 Lord Russell was 'suddenly shott with a gonne and slain in the myddest of his owne men'.

Truce Days were held at recognised points along the Border, such as Windy Gyle, Foulden Rigg and Kershopefoot, and generally lasted from 'sonne to sonne', Complaints and grievances, mainly concerned with the apprehension of murderers, 'broken men', stolen cattle, sheep and 'gear' (goods), were made in adyance of the Truce Day, and the respective Wardens would endeavour to present the guilty parties for punishment, or make them pay some form of compensation to the injured party.

Justice was often swift and lethal, and death by beheading, hanging and drowning in 'murder holes', was commonplace along the Border. Truce Days also prvided an occasion for the Border folk to meet one another, although the number from each side was supposedly limited to 1,000. Local pedlars and entertainers would attend and much drinking and carousing generally took place. Folk were expected to part company 'in all kindlie sort' but, not surprisingly, these affairs often degenerated into mass brawls with loss of life on both sides, particularly so at the Reidswire in 1575. A Warden also had other duties, including the maintenance of fortifications within his March, the setting of watches and beacons in order to apprehend raiders and the supervision of regular Courts and Sessions. When his March was raided, and the thieyes took off into the night, the Warden was expected to fire the beacons, muster his followers and give chase. He was also required to pass on to central government any intelligence which might come his way concerning the opposite realm.


Peel Towers or Pele Towers

Peel towers (also spelt pele) are small fortified keeps or tower houses, built along the English and Scottish borders in the Scottish Marches and North of England, intended as watch towers where signal fires could be lit by the garrison to warn of approaching danger. By an Act of Parliament in 1455 each of these towers was required to have an iron basket on its summit and a smoke or fire signal, for day or night use, ready at hand.

A line of these towers was built in the 1430s across the Tweed valley from Berwick to its source, as a response to the dangers of invasion from the Marches. Others were built in Cumberland, Westmorland and Northumberland, and as far south as Lancashire, in response to the threat of attack from the Scots and the Border Reivers of both nationalities. Apart from their primary purpose as a warning system, these towers were also the homes of the Lairds and landlords of the area, who dwelt in them with their families and retainers, while their followers lived in simple huts outside the walls.

The towers also provide a refuge so that, when cross-border raiding parties arrived, the whole population of a village could take to the tower and wait for the marauders to depart. In the upper Tweed valley, going downstream from its source, they were as follows: Fruid, Hawkshaw, Oliver, Polmood, Kingledoors, Mossfennan, Wrae Tower, Quarter, Stanhope, Drumelzier, Tinnies, Dreva, Stobo, Dawyck, Easter Happrew, Lyne, Barnes, Caverhill, Neidpath, Peebles, Horsburgh, Nether Horsburgh Castle, Cardrona.

Peel towers are not usually found in larger places which have a castle, but in smaller settlements. They are often associated with a church: for example Embleton Tower in Embleton, Northumberland, pictured above on the left, is an example of a so-called vicar's pele and the one at Hulne Priory is in the grounds of the priory. Hawkshaw, ancestral home of the Porteous family at Tweedsmuir in Peeblesshire, a peel tower dating from at least 1439, no longer stands but its site is marked by a cairn.

Some towers are derelict. Others have been converted for use in peacetime; Embleton Tower is now part of the (former) vicarage and that on the Inner Farne is a home to bird wardens. The most obvious conversion needs will include access, which was originally difficult, and the provision of more and larger windows.

Black Middens Bastle House, pictured above on the right.

Bastle houses is a type on construction found along the Anglo-Scottish border, in the areas formerly plagued by border Reivers. They are farmhouses, characterised by elaborate security measures against raids. Their name is said to derive from the French word "bastille".

The characteristics of the classic bastle house are extremely thick stone walls (1 meter or so), with the ground floor devoted to stable-space for the most valuable animals, and usually a stone vault between it and the first floor. The family's living quarters were on the floor above the ground, and during the times prior to the suppression of the reivers, were only reachable by a ladder which was pulled up from the inside at night. The only windows were narrow arrow slits. The roofs were usually made of stone slate to improve the bastle's fire-resistance. Bastle houses have many characteristics in common with military blockhouses, the main difference being that a bastle was intended primarily as a family dwelling, instead of a pure fortification.

Many bastle houses survive today; their construction ensured that they would last a very long time. They may be seen on both sides of the Anglo-Scottish Border.


Armed In Hostility

In 1286 Edward I, in pursuance of his ambitions for the complete annexation of Scotland, launched across the Border a series of devastatingly brutal incursions, plunging both countries into 300 years of warfare and earning him the sobriquet ‘Malleus Scotorum’ - Hammer of the Scots. With the intention of totally demoralising and subjugating the Scots, his invading armies passed through the Borderland putting whole communities to the sword. Castles, villages, hill farms and hovels were burnt or destroyed, cattle and sheep stolen, crops devastated and the inhabitants slaughtered,

Inevitably the Scots retaliated in a similar fashion and invading armies were met with scorched earth policies, each outrage provoking a brutal reprisal. As this terrible war of attrition continued, both governments encouraged their Borderers to constantly harass their neighbours across the line with incessant raiding. Under Robert the Bruce, Scotland eventually had her day at Bannockburn in 1314 and to reinforce the point, his victorious armies systematically savaged the Northern Marches of England. The repeated blows by both sides were largely absorbed by the Borderland, turning it into a charred and impoverished wasteland and, as a consequence, by the beginning of the 16th century, the Border Marches were in a pitiful state. No man, woman, child, beast or building was safe from the marauding bands of riders who swept down from the hills to murder, burn and steal. Caught up in a never ending cycle of violence, the Borderer quickly came to realise that due to the sudden and brutal nature of the conflict, the government who claimed his allegiance could provide him with neither justice nor protection and that his only strength and safety lay in his family, or clan, It was here, therefore, that his loyalty lay, and, living in what had virtually become a battlefield, it became unimportant to him which nation was in the ascendant. Survival became the most crucial clement in his uncertain life and riding with his clan, he too joined in the grim business of raiding', or 'reiving' from equally desperate neighbours across the Border. Inevitably as time wore on these 'forays' were supplemented by raids nearer home on his own countrymen.

The Bishop of Carlisle, writing of the English Middle March in 1518, reported that 'there is more theft, more extortion by English thieves than there is by all the Scots in Scotland' adding indignantly that 'in Hexham every market day there is four score or a hundred strong thieves' openly loitering. Those who could not defend themselves or were unfortunate enough not to belong to one of the powerful Border families, or 'graynes', were subject to extortion and blackmail, paying money or crops in exchange for protection against raiders, Many folk had little to offer and suffered accordingly. It is also worth mentioning that should a mutu¬ally attractive target present itself, raids were often undertaken in league with kindred spirits from across the Border. Help was also available in the furtherance of personal vendettas, such as the Maxwell-Johnstone feud on the Scottish side, as when the latter enlisted 'diverse Englishmen, treasonably brought within the realm, and armed in plain hostility'.

These cross-Border raiding alliances were complex, shifting affairs and inevitably provided to be a constant source of frustration to the March Wardens, marriage across the Border though it could incur the death penalty was commonplace and offered an unofficial kind of dual nationality" In a world of deadly feud, blackmail and murder, the advantages of being able to slip across the Border into the opposite realm when the forces of law and order were in hot pursuit, were obvious to miscreants on both sides of the line, As a harassed Border official, Thomas Musgrave, succinctly put it, 'They are people that will be Scottishe when they will, and English at their pleasure.

By and large, both Scots and English raiders conducted their business with an arrogant disregard for the forces of law and order, whose job it was to stop them. An indication of how confident they were is reflected in the desperation which is clearly evident in this account of repeated Scottish incursions into the English East March in 1590. 'In February last, 200 Liddesdale thieves burned Myndrome, the barns, corn and cattle, carrying off goods worth £300 or £400. I have had no day of truce with the Scottish Warden since last October, which is one great cause of the thieves boldness. These Liddesdale men are the most disordered in the Border they come in great bands through Tevedall and the "marc" (merse) into these Last Marches and return with their booty, going the same way without resistance ... Also, they dwell so far within their country from the East Marches that revenge by us is almost impossible. If authority seemed unable or unwilling to take direct action against such people, it is perhaps understandable when one considers the following report. Written by Sir Robert Carey, an English Border officer of the 1590s, it is ominously instructive. 'This country has become almost slaves to the Scots and dare do nothing to displease them. If the country rise against them when they are stealing in England and either kill one by chance or take him “with the bloody hand" delivering him to the officer for execution and if they be foot lownes and men of no esteame ,amongst them, it may pass unrevenged, but if he is of a surname ... or any they make accompt of, then he who killed or took him, is sure himself, and all his friends - especially those of his name - is like dearly to buy it, for they will have his life or two or three of his nearest kinsmen in revenge for their friends so killed or taken stealing here.'

That central government was well aware of this lamentable state of affairs is evident from the mass of correspondence they received from the March Wardens. Henry VIII, however, was content to keep his northern Border in a constant state of ferment, thus distracting the Scots and enabling him to pursue his military ambitions in Europe. This policy was clearly a reflected in the Duke of Northumberland's assurance that he would let slip them of Tynedale and Redesdale for the annoyance of Scotland and by Lord Dacre's intention to 'make a raid at least once a week while grass is on the ground'. As always the Scots responded with enthusiasm, were 'ever ryding' and generally managed to be 'most offensive to England'.

And so by the middle of the 16th century, as life in the south of England was beginning to reflect a degree of prosperity, the Anglo-Scottish Borderland was still locked in the grip of medieval warfare and had become a network of castles, towers, peles and strongly fortified farmhouses known as 'bastles'. Alongside them had evolved a formidable race of light horsemen, skilled in the art of raiding, scouting, ambush, feint and skirmish. Exasperated Border officials cursed them often as 'evell desposed people' who were 'inclined to wildness and disorder' and occasionally, with good reason, saluted them as being fine soldiers who were 'able with horse and harness', 'a military kind of men, nimble, wilie, and always in readiness for any service'.


To Chastise Those Borders 1603

In the last years of Queen Elizabeth's reign, lawlessness and raiding on the Border escalated to a point where, in desperation, a proposal was put forward to restore and rebuild the 'Pictish' or Roman Wall. Heavily fortified and costing in the region of £30,000, the reconditioned Wall would incorporate 'skonses' (castles) a mile apart, each of which would require 'a separate siege by an invading army', and would hopefully deter any further 'incurtyons or invacyons' by the Scots. Furthermore, it was cynically pointed out that the Wall and its fortified 'skonses' would also enable an English regular force to invade Scotland at any time! Though the idea was never actually taken up, the fact that such an enterprise was even proposed illustrates just how appalling conditions were becoming even when the two countries were supposedly at peace. The degree to which law and order had actually broken down was graphically underlined by Buccleuch's successful foray on Carlisle Castle in 1596, when he and a party of Armstrongs, Elliots and assorted Border ruffians broke loose the notorious reiver, Kinmont Willie Armstrong. Though the incident caused a political furore on both sides of the Border, Buccleuch justi¬fied his action by pointing out that Kinmont Willie had been taken prisoner by the English whilst attending a Truce Day, in blatant disregard of Border Law. Whilst this was true enough, it is easy to understand how a frustrated Warden like Scrope could not resist the temptation to arrest such an arrant freebooter, when all the legal means at his disposal had failed.

In keeping with the tenor of the times, a tradition existed in the Borders that in the time between the death of a sovereign and the proclamation of his or her successor, the rule of law and order became temporarily suspended, As a consequence, in the days following the death of Queen Elizabeth, which became known as ‘Ill Week', the Border erupted in a spasm of violence. Taking full advantage of the short time it took to proclaim Elizabeth's heir, James VI of Scotland, as James I of England, the Grahams, Armstrongs and Elliots launched a massiye raid into Cumbria, lifting nearly 5,000 cattle and sheep, Well pleased with themselves, they were little to know that they would suffer gravely for it, more so than they could ever have imagined. For that 'Ill Week' signalled what was the beginning of the end, and soon their turbulent way of life would be gone forever.

King James was determined to have a United Kingdom and one priority was to pacify the Border count and dismantle the structure of the now redundant frontier. Well aware of the depredations with which the reivers had greeted his accession to the throne, the new king on his arrival at Newcastle in April 1603, on his journey south to London, issued the following proclamation, 'to his messengers, Sheriffs and others: The late Marches and borders of the two realms of England and Scotland are now the heart of the country. Proclamation is to be made against all rebels and disorderly persons that no supply be given them, their wives or their bairnes and that they be prosecuted with fire and sword.' On reaching London he added an even more sinister footnote to the above, 'requiring all who were guilty of the foul and insolent outrages lately committed in the Borders to submit themselves to his mercy before 20th June under penalty of being excluded from it forever'. James further decreed that the Border Marches would cease to exist and that the office of Warden was to be abolished. He then 'prohibited the name of Borders any longer to be used, substituting in its place Middle Shires. He ordered all places of strength in those parts to be demolished except the habitation of noblemen and barons; their iron yettes to be converted into plew irnis (plough shares) and their inhabitants to betake themselves to agriculture and other works of peace.'


'Jeddart Justice'

Perhaps most significantly, James set up a Commission of ten men, five Scots and five English, to administer his policies for the pacification of the Borders Based in Carlisle, they were given what amounted to unlimited powers. The unique Border Laws, drawn up to suit a code of violence which had been 'wynked at' by both countries in the past, were now abolished and if any Englishman steal in Scotland or any Scotsman steal in England any goods or cattle amounting to 12 pence he shall be punished by death'. The most blatant offenders were immediately rounded up and served with what was known as 'Jeddart Justice', being summary execution without trial. Sir George Home was appointed to spearhead the King's crusade using whatever force he felt necessary and commenced his duties with ruthless efficiency, hanging' 140 of the nimblest and most powerful thieves in all the Borders'.

The reivers had endured such purges in the past, but this time their Border 'heidmen', seeing the wrting on the wall, joined in the proceedings and turned zealously on their own kinsmen. Buccleuch in particular seems to have fallen to the task with enthusiasm, hanging and drowning his erstwhile companions and drafting large numbers of them off to the 'Belgic Wars'. Many began to believe the days of the reiver were gone forever and whilst travelling through Northumberland, one of His Majesty's judges, accompanied by his young nephew Roger North, met some of the local heidmen in Corbridge. The young man informs us that, 'They were a comical sort of people, riding upon Nags as they call their small horses; with long beards, cloaks and long broad swords with basket hilts hanging in broad belts their legs and swords almost touched the ground.'He adds, rather patronisingly, that these people talked with my Lord Judge' who was 'well pleased with their discourse'. If, as it would appear, young Roger found these people rather amusing, he was being dangerously naive, for the reiving families bitterly resented the Commission's activities. In a show of utter contempt and disregard for the forces arrayed against them, a warband of these 'comical' people, mainly Armstrongs and Elliots from Liddesdale, mounted a raid on Redesdale and inflicted the following grisly catalogue of injuries on the inhabitants. 'Lyall Robson, of the Small Burne, shott in at the harte with a single bullott, and slaine. Elizabeth Yearowe, of Stannishburne shott with twoe bullotts through both her thighes, the right thygh broken asunder with shott and slaine. Mare Robson, wyfe to James Robson called Blackehead, is shott with fyve haile shott in her breasts, Rinyon Robson of the Bellinge is shot with a bullett and an arrowe out of a long peece and hurt in the handes. Many others were shott with bullettes through their clothes, but not hurte.'

In view of this kind of behaviour, the Elliots, Armstrongs and Grahams were singled out for special attention, many eventually being exiled to Ireland where they were abandoned and forced to scrape out a living amidst the moors and bogs of Roscommon and Connaught. In addition, 150 Grahams were pressed into military service in the Low Countries where they served out their days in the English garrisons at Flushing and Brill. The turbulent folk of Tynedale and Redesdale fared no better, large numbers of them being forcibly conscripted for service in Ireland with a further 120 being sent with a Colonel Grey to fight in the Bohemian Wars. It was also stressed that the death penalty awaited any who attempted to return.

The End of The Reiver’s

As one would expect, none of these measures, however draconian, were totally effective, and many Border stalwarts found ways of returning to their homelands. One such man was John Hall of Elsdon, in Northumberland (known as Long Parcies Jocke). In a survey of all notorious, lewde, idle, and misbehaved persons in Redesdale, Jocke was reported as returned out of Ireland by what passe we know not, a ryotous liver, ill reputed and much suspected, having nothing to maintain himself with but by keeping an alehouse'. Old habits die hard and though their kinships were broken, and even owning a good horse and carrying weapons was prohibited, the wilder spirits kept alive the traditions of reiving and feuding. But even their numbers eventually began to dwindle, for there were fewer and fewer places left for the reiver to hide. No longer could he cross a convenient Borderline and seek sanctuary when the King's troopers galloped in hot pursuit, and in time even the majority of his own people, desperate for peace and normality, turned against him. By the 1640s what was eventually left was a hard core of 'lawless persons', being 'mosse-troupers, theifs and uthers wicked and lawless men', who, operating in well organised gangs, terrorised the surrounding countryside by day and night with their repeated 'outrages, felonies and nefarious crymes'.

In an attempt to suppress their activities, the authorities in Northumberland reached back into the 16th century and appointed a County Keeper to enforce law and order. Based in North Tynedale notorious for its horse thieves he was backed up by a local peace-keeping force which was organised and paid for by local farmers and landowners. Unfortunately, it would seem this particular Keeper was in league with the moss-troopers and 'would connive at their stealing what they pleased in Scotland or in the adjacent Bishoprie of Durham and would prosecute no one save those who stole from his own district'. It all sounds depressingly familiar and even though the forces of law and order 'continued to search for their haunts' and took 'all opportunities to root out and destroy them' the fugitive moss-troopers continued to skulk in the wastes of Liddesdale, Redesdale and what had been the Debateable Land, until well into the 17th century.

Even though the reiver's conduct was, in the main, deplorable and the ruthless justice eventually dealt out to him was well deserved, his martial spirit seems to have remained undaunted. It is, therefore, somewhat satisfying to hear that even as late as 1648, at the height of the Civil War, 'English Cavaliers' along with some Malignants of Scotland' numbering over 70 horsemen with a small number of foot came to Carlisle with ladders, scaled the walls, entered the castle, broke open the gaol, released Moss troopers and other prisoners, wounded the gaoler and all marched off together into Scotland'. It must have made the 'Keen Lord Scrope' turn in his grave.