We were asked about the history of Hulne Park Wall. We thought it would be a straightforward question, but it wasn’t. The story is complex, and there are inconsistencies between different accounts.
Today a forest is an area of dense woodland, but in the medieval world a forest was an area used for hunting, where animals and their habitat were protected. The term ‘forest’ described the way land was used, not the vegetation.
Land selected for the hunt might be woodland, moorland, or heathland. Land that was densely populated was unsuitable and there were better ways to use good farming land.
Large areas of England were under Forest Law, which did not allow people to collect fallen timber, harvest berries, cut turf, or put swine out to pasture. The baron could hunt smaller animals, but only the king was allowed to hunt deer or wild boar.
There were three areas of Royal Forest in Northumberland: one to the south of Rothbury, another between the Coquet and the Aln, and a third to the north of the Aln. These fell within the barony of Eustace de Vescy (1170-1215). He might have felt far enough from the king’s reach to still enjoy use of the forest, but he became one of the most prominent of the barons who pressed for Magna Carta in 1215, then one of the twenty-five barons appointed to monitor the king’s conduct.
After Magna Carta, in 1217, King Henry III applied his seal to the Carta Foresta. This summarised elements in Magna Carta relating to the Royal Forest. It obliged the King to roll-back the boundaries of Royal Forests, but by then Eustace had been killed at a siege of Barnard Castle.
By the middle of the thirteenth century the Royal Forest was being divided up. Eustace de Vescy’s son, William de Vescy (died 1253) was probably first to start enclosing the deer parks. A combination of ditch, bank and wooden paling allowed deer from outside to leap into the park, but stopped deer inside the park from jumping out.
William didn’t need all of the land. He gave privileges on Alnwick Moor (a.k.a. Haydon Forest) to the burgesses of Alnwick. Alnwick Abbey had already been founded, and he founded Hulne Priory, in 1240. The Knights Templar are thought to have had land around the top of Clayport.
In 1253, William was succeeded by his son, John (1244-1289) and King Edward I came to the throne in 1272. Forest Law no longer applied, but Edward’s military campaigns stretched the national finances. Forests were a potential source of revenue and in 1281 a scheme of disafforestation was drawn up for Northumberland, with annual rental of 17 marks for forests south of the Coquet, and 23 marks for forests north of the Coquet.
When John de Vescy died in 1289 the barony passed to his brother William. He died in 1297, leaving no legitimate heir and the barony fell to Antony Bek, Bishop of Durham. In 1290 Henry Percy bought the Barony for 10,000 marks. The Percy family was acquiring estates in Sussex, Yorkshire, Cumberland and elsewhere in Northumberland. Many of these had a pair of deer parks. In Alnwick, Cawledge Park lay to the south-east. Sometimes Hulne Park and West Park were managed separately and sometimes together.
In each park deer were contained by wooden palings and as well as the hunt, the parks were a source of timber and bark (for tanning). Stone was quarried. Cattle were a target for Scottish raiders, so there were enclosures where livestock could be protected. Towers were constructed at Hulne Priory and Heiferlaw, to be used both as watchtowers to defend against raids, and as hunting lodges with observation platforms so that spectators could follow the hunt.
Henry Algernon Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland (1477-1527) was known as “The Magnificent” because of his extravagent lifestyle. At the time of his death he owed £17,000 (about £17 milion today). His pastimes were centred on his deer parks, and under him they reached their most advanced state. In 1513 in Hulne Park and West Park he had 215 stags, 410 does and 199 fawns. In Cawledge Park he had 131 stags, 339 does and 148 fawns. By now Hulne Park was enclosed by a stone wall, said to be twenty miles long (but probably less). The boundary of Cawledge Park was six miles long. Hulne Park was described as well replenished with fallow deer, and well set with underwoods for cover and preservation of the deer. “a very stately park-like ground”. Cawledge Park, on the other hand, was only partly enclosed with a pale “which is in great decay, and hence there is no great plenty of deer”.
Part of the pale of the Hulne deer park can still be seen as a ditch and bank near Cloudy Crags, crossing the 19th century wall at an angle.
The influence of the Percy family waned after the fifth earl. It recovered briefly under the seventh (until he was executed for his involvement in the Rising of the North). After dissolution, others acquired the site of Alnwick Abbey and Hulne Priory, and the state of the parks varied as the fortunes of the Percy family rose and fell. By the 1530s the number of deer in Hulne Park and West Park had fallen from 824 to 160 and the number in Cawledge Park from 618 to 100. Hulne Park and West Park were still partly protected by a wall and partly by a pale.
Cawledge was protected by a pale but all were described as very decayed. Then a survey in 1570 found both Hulne Park and West park “for the most part enclosed with a stone wall”. In Cawledge, though, “the pale is not repaired”. In 1586 there was still a full complement of park officers. Hulne Park and West When the second duke took over in 1786 the condition of the boundary must have deteriorated. Tenants had been responsible for taking care of it, but it’s unlikely they did. By now deer parks were falling into disuse, and the land was taking on a more economic role. By 1605 Cawledge Park was farmed, but the Gunpowder Plot interrupted plans for the same approach in Hulne Park. The ninth Earl was suspected of having some involvement in the plot, and was confined to the Tower of London and fined. He needed to raise money so he commissioned Francis Mayson and Robert Norton to survey his properties. Their maps show both Hulne Park and Cawledge Park surrounded by wooden paling.
By the end of the seventeenth century agricultural improvement was having an impact. The corporation was inclosing farms on Alnwick Moor, restricting how much stock each freemen could keep, and raising money for the town by renting some of the land to others. Farming now accounted for less than half the income from Hulne Park, as quarries, corn mills and fulling were developed. Agricultural improvement meant that coal mining became important: for burning lime. But the Percy family saw litle benefit from these developments. They were absent landlords, rents were difficult to collect, and the management of the estate had become antiquated.
All this changed when Sir Hugh Smithson and Elizabeth Seymour inherited her father’s estate in 1750.
The new Earl brought experience of managing large estates, and political skill. Restoring the castle and improving the parkland was an effective way for him to establish his authority, stimulate the local economy, and hence earn support from the community. But the Earl and Countess were interested in landscaping the park, not expanding the boundaries. When they asserted their rights as landowners and brought a lawsuit against the town this was about clarifying the rights of the different parties. The most notable change to the perimeter of Hulne Park came when trees were planted at the South-West corner, on Brislee Hill. It is said that the Freemen got lost in the mist during their annual ride of the boundary. The Duke’s agent took advantage of the mistake to appropriate an extra 50 acres.
The next Duke had a military background, and a tidy mind. In some places he expanded the park. He acquired and demolished Alnwick Abbey around 1806, retaining the gatehouse as a new entrance. He also acquired Bassington Farm, and exchanged land with the freemen at the Stocking Burn. Following these changes, between 1806 and 1811, he defined the new boundary with a perimeter wall. Some say this was built by French prisoners of war, but in reality the work was carried out by estate workers, local masons, and David Stephenson, the Duke’s architect.
The third Duke added more land at Heckley, expanding the park to the east. But he also made a significant reduction. The old Eglingham road passed through the park, and this compromised its privacy. So when the Eglingham road was turnpiked in 1826 some 1,500 acres of the park was cut off, and a new wall built along the turnpike.
There were still outstanding disagreements over the boundary of Alnwick Moor, but these were settled in 1854 by the Alnwick Moor Enclosure Act. Under this, the parish gained a Recreation Ground, the Duke gained 237 acres as compensation for rent due, and the Freemen gained 54 acres to cover legal expenses. Once the boundary was settled the Duke planned a new entrance lodge and a wall from Stocking Gate to Cloudy Crags. Forest Lodge was designed by Salvin and built in 1854.
The new wall blocked an ancient footway from Stoney Peth to Cloudy Crags so the duke offered to build the wall six feet within his own land, leaving room for a public footpath along the outside of the park. It doesn’t seem to have been clear whether the Duke was proposing to provide the footpath, or just the land. By 1871 the wall was in place, but no path had been built, and the Board of Health felt that the town had been deprived of an ancient footway, without gaining a new one.
There have been no subsequent changes to the perimeter of Hulne Park. Any further work on the wall has been for maintenance or repair. For example, on 3 November 1900, about forty yards of the wall were washed down by water rushing into Shipley Burn.
In the 20th century, between the wars, we are told that maintenance work was carried out under a job creation scheme for the unemployed. We have not been able to find out more, but would welcome information on this, and any other parts of the story that we have missed.