For centuries there have been river crossings over the Tweed in Northumberland, two of the most important fords being at Norham – or Ubbanford as it was known in Saxon times.
Prior to this date, there is a strong indication that there had been a Roman presence here. Norham was the place where St, Aidan is said to have crossed on his way from Iona to Lindisfarne in AD 635. The first stone church in Norham was built by Bishop Ecgred of Lindisfarne in 830 AD, and was thought to be located beneath the Yew trees to the east of the present church. In the ninth century the monks from Holy Island rested the body of St Cuthbert here whilst evading the depravation of the Vikings, en-route to the final resting place of Durham Cathedral. The current parish church is dedicated to Saints Ceolwulf, Peter and Cuthbert. It was built in the 12th Century in the Norman style, and fortified by Robert the Bruce when he used it as his headquarters to lay siege to the castle in 1318 and again the following year. It was extended in the 17th and 19th centuries to the building which we see today. This is the only surviving church in the village, which previously hosted a Methodist Church, a Presbyterian Church of England, and the North and South churches which were combined to become the United Free Church and then the United Reformed Church in 1971.
By 1050 the village was called ‘Northam’ (North Homestead) in recognition of it being one of the most northerly areas of responsibility of the Prince Bishops of Durham. It was then an outpost of County Durham and as such was not really part of Northumberland at all. In order to give his people physical protection from cross border raiders Ralph Flambard began to build Norham Castle in 1121 – a motte and bailey, which was to become the most important fortress between Carlisle and Berwick. In 1158 Bishop du Puiset replaced the motte and bailey with a stone keep after King David of Scotland had razed it to the ground. In 1291 it is known that thirteen claimants to the Scottish throne met King Edward I of England at Norham on a river island below the castle, in order to present their petitions. Edward decided in favour of John Baliol, who in 1292 swore fealty to the English King in the church, thus resolving the issues of succession. In 1497 King James IV of Scotland attempted, and failed, to bombard the castle with the great cannon Mons Meg. The castle is now kept by English Heritage.
Norham thus had two main roles in history: as an ecclesiastical centre and a military stronghold.
The perils of the River Tweed at Norham should never be underestimated. A substantial wooden bridge resting on stone pillars was built across the Tweed in 1840, in memory of the surgeon, Walter Ainslie who three year previous, lost his life in his 37th Year, crossing the water on his return from tending a Scottish patient at Horndean. The wooden structure has long since gone, and been replaced by the current stone structure which cost the Tweed Bridge Trust the sum of £10,668 on completion in 1887.
Men from the village fought in the Great War and in the Second World War, where many suffered at the hands of the Japanese. Those who died are remembered on the War Memorial. The village was bombed and machine gunned in 1941 by a German aircraft.
Norham public hall, in the centre of the village, and overlooking the village green, was erected by public subscription in 1889 at a cost of £1000 and continues to play an important role in village life today. The Village Green – common land – is home to the cross which is believed to have been erected in c.1200 and restored in the 1870‘s, whilst the Millennium Clock standing proudly at the crossroads, was paid for by public subscriptions and unveiled on 1 st January 2000 by Annie Thom and George Straughen Snr the two oldest village residents at that time.
For much of its past, salmon netting has played a vital part in the economy of the village, but now the fishing shiels stand empty with the last fishery – Canny (near The Boathouse) closed in 2012. Until 1987 the vicar would ‘Bless the Nets’ at Pedwell on the first night of the fishing season in February, in a ceremony which included the.‘Pedwell Prayer’.
The railway station at Norham is located some ½ a mile outwith the Village. It was opened in 1849 along with a number of the associated buildings, but was closed in 1964 to passengers, and in 1965 to goods traffic. The associated buildings such as the stationmaster’s house, waiting rooms, ticket office and signal box still stand today and form the focus of the museum which the owners lovingly furnish and open to the public on a purely voluntary basis. Although the fisheries and railway line has closed, unlike many villages Norham still retains its shops, public houses and Village School at the heart of the community.
The above text is taken from the Norham Parish Plan 2007
© Norham Parish Council 2007
Buried and Written History.
Much has been written about the history of north Northumberland and Norham. There also much which may remain buried underground both inside the village bounds and around the surrounding area. A survey carried out in 2008 for Northumberland County Council contains much interesting information. It also has a useful bibliography for further reading.
To find out more visit our Norham and Ladykirk Local History Society Pages