Alnwick Moor

Also called Hayden/ Haydene Forest/ Moor – modern Aydon Moor

Aydon Moor is a large tract of upland moorland/ farmland of some 3550 acres (prior to 1687), to the W and SW of Alnwick. The extent of the moor can be clearly seen in the map of Moor below.

The extent of Aydon/ Alnwick Moor and its coal mining activities (hatched black), Town of Alnwick top right (from the Alnwick Footways website).

An old document, preserved among the corporate archives, gives the boundary of the moor. It is entitled ‘A Copy of the Boundary of the Forrest of Hayden’, which seems to have been made in 1647, for in that year one shilling and fourpence were paid ‘for the copy of the bounder of the moor’.

Reference is made to it in 1669, when the four and twenty of the borough ordered ‘Cuthbert Chessman, John Falder and Matthew Alnwicke, to repair to counsel to advise in our townes interest as to our moor and other privileges, and that the towne shall bee at the charge of such suit as shall be necessary and advised for the maintaining our bounder according to a court of survey that is in the towne’s box’.  

Anciently, Aydon Moor consisted of Forest, primarily used for timber, hunting and the trapping of wild animals, such as deer, and skins formed an important part of the exports of the Mediaeval town, via its port Alnmouth, for many centuries. (Tate Vol. 1 p. 239)) The Forest was gradually cleared for timber and enclosed for farming, and at various times has been described as moorland ‘wast’ (i.e. waste). Even in 1825, much of the Moor, some 2600 acres was un-enclosed, and described as of ‘bleak, dreary and miserable appearance.’

The earliest names we have are clearly Haydene Moor (Mora de Haydene and Haydenmore), reflecting Hay + Dene/ Dean =the valley of the Hay, presumably inherited from one of its many denes. The name ‘Hay/ Hey’ is very common in English place names, and modern research indicates that it largely reflects the Anglo- Saxon and later Norman French word pronounced ‘hay’ meaning a fence/ enclosure, often associated in early Anglo- Saxon times with fenced clearings in woodland associated with the pasturing of domestic animals such as cattle, oxen, horses, goats and sheep. Hays were also often used in the trapping and capture of wild deer. They were often associated with the communal rights of pasture in early settlements of Anglo-Saxon England, which later came under threat as the centralised power of the nobles developed. Later Norman feudal lords often turned these hays into their own hunting grounds and deer parks (such as the local Hulne park).    

The Burgesses and Corporation of Alnwick have long claimed rights over the moor, which has resulted in several legal disputes with the Dukes of Northumberland in recent centuries. However the communal right of pasture of the township of Alnwick, was confirmed in 3 charters between the years of 1157/ 1185 to 1290, issued by the De Vescy Lords of Alnwick, and have certainly existed since that time.

The De Vescy Charters.

‘Whereas time out of mind the freemen or Burgesses of the Town and Burrough of Alnwick have had and now have the freehold and Inheritance of Alnwick moor or the forest of Aidon’ (from 1711 Tate Vol. 2 p. 273), these rights may well have existed for much longer back into Anglo-Saxon England, as the name Hayden itself may well testify. ‘Though this extensive moor was granted and confirmed by charters from the De Vescys, it by no mean follows, that the town or vill of Alnwick had not possession of it from Saxon times.’ (Tate Vol. 1. p. 101)

By the end of the seventeenth century agricultural improvement was changing the local economy. Until then Alnwick Moor had been used as common land, with no limits on how much stock each freemen could pasture, but in 1687 the corporation began to restrict its use. They imposed limits on how much stock the freemen could pasture, and raised money for the town by renting some of the land to others. By 1700 the freemen were inclosing farms on the moor.

The current boundary was settled in 1854 when the valuer for the Enclosure Acts made an award for the enclosure of Alnwick Moor. The parish secured eight acres as a place of exercise and recreation, 237 acres were awarded to the Duke in compensation for rent due, and 54 acres was awarded to the freemen, to cover legal expenses.

Once the bounday disputes were settled improvement proceeded. The cost of draining farmland fell significantly after drainage tiles were exempted from tax in 1826, and new extrusion technology brought prices down by 70% after 1845. In 1855 the Inclosure Commissioners authorised a loan of £5,000 for fencing, draining, clearing and levelling of the Moor; Thomas Rickaby collected the first potatoes, having prepared the ground the previous year, and the Alnwick Mercury reported that over 100 allotments were, “waving with corn, or blooming with potatoes in full flower”.

The Hexham to Alemouth turnpike had been built after 1752, with a toll booth near the junction with the road to Abberwick. The turnpike trust managed the road until 1872, when the Board of Health took over responsibility for the section to Lemmington Bank.

The story of the Red Road from St Margaret’s to Mossy Ford should be added here.