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An early lover of Chesterholm & its setting; "V.W.", 1833
Topic Started: Mar 31 2010, 07:46 PM (512 Views)
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Anthony Hedley built Chesterholm in 1830 from Vindolanda's tumbled stones. It quickly became a beacon for early Wall lovers. He welcomed visitors, who could stroll through the grounds and admire the Roman inscriptions -- and finds from Hedley's excavations -- in its makeshift museum. One early guest came away completely captivated by the home and its environs. Writing to the editor of The Gentleman's Magazine in 1833, he described the landscape in loving detail. He also included some rare (and to modern historians priceless) details about the fort, and some of Hedley's finds. Curiously, he signed his letter only "V.W." -- initials which don't mean anything yet to this author. (If someone knows who the mystery writer is, I'd love to know!)

[edit (8 April, '10): Have learned from Robin that "V.W." is the nom-de-plume of the Reverend John Hodgson, Vicar of Whelpington. Many thanks for solving that mystery!]

Below is a large excerpt from V.W.'s letter. The full version can be found at: http://books.google.com/books?id=HbUUAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA597&dq=vindolana. (It's worth the full read, as the first part gives some beautiful details of the wider Wall region within a few miles of Vindolanda; the end describes a curious Zodiac stone found in the farmhouse of Low Fogrigg just south of Vindolanda.)

Mr. URBAN, June 13.

...None of the water nymphs or elves of Northumberland has a wilder, a lovelier, or a more classic range of scenery to rove in, than the Chineley-burn. She collects her waters from streamlets that rise beyond the famous Roman barriers—the dyke of Hadrian, and the wall of stone attributed to Severus. One of her rills comes from the smooth osidian mirror of Craig-lough, one of the many moorland lakes, from which the district in which they lie is called the Forest of Lowes or Loughs. Craig-lough has a range of high basaltic cliffs, frowning over its southern margin, and which, many centuries since, were crowned with the turreted ramparts of the Roman wall, and are still deeply scarred with its foundations and ruins. This rill, soon after leaving the lake, passes "Bradley on the Marches of Scotland," where Edward the First, the "Scottorum Malleus," in his last expedition against that country, and in his last sickness, halted for two days in September, 1306, and tested different public documents.

Brooky-burn, a second branch of Chineley-burn, rises to the west of Craig-lough, on Lodum, another high basaltic hill, the brow of which is also traversed with the ruins of the Roman wall, of which, for considerable distances together, from five to seven courses of stones are still remaining in their original beds. From the top of this hill, the prospect to the west, through the Nine Nicks of Thirlwall, extends into Galloway, far beyond Dumfries, to the Criffell Hills; and along the coast of the Irish Channel as far as Whitehaven, all the plain, and the western mountains of Cumberland, and the line of the Roman wall to its utmost extremity at Tolway [sic] firth, lie mapped before you in this direction. To the north, Tarnbecks, at Irdinghead, appears seated in the centre of the broadest mosses and moors in England; and over it, the blue heads of Pearl-fell and Mid-fell, above Keildur Castle. On the east, the heights of the Moot-law, and the plantations of Minster Acres, bound the horizon. Crossfell, air-tinted and high, rises in the south; and, between it and the eye, you have a broad picture of the fine woods and meadows, and the great shining mirror of the South Tyne, about Lord Wallace's seat at Featherstone Castle. On the south side of Lodum is Snelgile, a deep and dark gash in the basaltic rock, which collects the first waters of this branch of Chineley-burn; and farther down its side, in the crevices of moist parts of the rock, allium schoenoprasum, chive-garlick, that never knew garden culture, throws out its blossoms in June. After crossing the military way, Brooky-burn begins to tune her harp, and hide her course under woody banks, as she speeds away to her nuptials with the nutbrown daughter of Craig-lough. A good way down her course, in a solitary place on her right bank, is a long scar of soft black schist, embedded with iron stones, some apparently of the septaria kind, and others flat and round, as if they had been the chambers of some antient species of Nautilus. This scar could not, I think, (but my examination of it was slight) fail to afford to the crucible, the blowpipe, and the microscope, interesting subjects of research.

Knag-burn, the third and most easterly source of Chineley-burn, rises also in the mosses beyond the Roman wall, which it crosses at Borcovicura, the Palmyra of Britain; and, after flowing through the ruins of the bath of that famous station, empties itself, at the distance of about a mile, into Grindon Lough, another of the lakes of the Forest of Lowes, out of which it finds its way by a subterraneous course of two miles at least, through a stratum of limestone, into Chineley-burn, a little below the junction of the Craig-lough and Brookyburns.

The name Chineley may be derived from the brook, near the junction of its three branches, beginning to cut off Borcum, a high hill on its left bank, from a chine or ridge, or backbone of land, that extends a great way to the west. After running between this ridge and Borcum, through a deep narrow gorge, and toiling as it passes in the wheels of Bardon Mills, it assumes the name of Bardon-burn, and under this metamorphosis, strikes its chords in still higher strains to the villagers of Millhouse; and soon after is hushed, and vanishes in the Tyne.

Just at the head of the gorge, and immediately below the meeting of the Craig-lough and the Brooky-burns, stands Chesterholme—in a lovely and a sequestered spot—"procul arte, procul forraidine novi." It is a sweet picture of mosaic work, inlaid upon an emerald gem: a cottage in the Abbotsford style, upon one of those charming green holms, or meadows, bordering upon a river, which in Northumberland are very generally called haughs. The Rev. A. Hedley, M.A., who built it about a year since, and now resides in it, was an intimate friend of the Great Talisman of Historical Romance. The heath-headed and pillar-crowned mountain of Borcum towers above it on the south-east. On the west, a steep green bank, shelved by parallel cattle-trods, hence, perhaps, called Skelf-me-delf, has its brow compassed with the ruins of the ramparts of the Roman station of Vindolana, and closes the prospect. On the north, the two woody denes, which branch off at a neat farm-house, snugly seated between the meetings of the Craig-lough and Chineley-burns, and one hundred yards or so above the cottage, soon steal out of sight, and wind away in different directions, through rising pasture grounds, which skirt the borders of the sky; and on the south, the united mountain stream glides from pool to pool, through broad crevices of dove-coloured marble, and under a rustic wooden bridge, till it is suddenly thrown aside by a high sandstone cliff, dappled with lichens, and overhung with variegated woods. All this enchanted bowl has sides as chastely ornamented with works of nature and design, as the shield of Achilles was with the works of art It is, indeed, like the bowls which Virgil speaks of, "asperum signis," crisply carved with figures. I do not know where I could take an admirer of simple scenery and antiquarian objects, better than to the cottage of Chesterholme. About its sunny garden, fragments of the pillars of antient baths and temples are entwined with roses or climbing plants. From one door you look down a covered passage built of stones carved by Roman hands, and opening upon the treefringed sides, and the rocky channel of Chineley-burn, where you have hazels and heg-berry, and alder, and broad plane trees, and the undying sounds of waters; and the sides of the passage formed of altars and bas-reliefs, and its cordon of broad stones, moulded in front, pierced in the upper surfaces with Lewis holes, and which once supported the battlements of the walls and gates of Vindolana. An arcade, too, has been here built for the reception of antiquities found in that station, which already contains some exceedingly fine altars, and other inscribed stones. One of them is dedicated, by an Italian prefect of the fourth Cohort of the Gauls, to Jupiter and the rest of the immortal Gods, and the Genius of the place, which Cohort the Notitia Imperii places at Vindolana, so that the altar and the Notitia unite in proving the identity of the station. There is also here another fine altar to Jupiter, the Genius, and the guardian Gods; and one, simply, "Sacred to the Genius of the Pretorium;" besides a small one, DEO NEPTUNO SARABO SINO, and another, VETEREBUS POS. SENACULUS.

Few places have been richer in inscribed stones than Vindolana. Camden and Cotton carried away one to the Syrian Goddess; others have been dispersed and lost; and it would be well if such as have been discovered in latter years, and in the generous warmth of friendship given to different collections before Mr. Hedley came to reside here, were restored to the classic arcade at Chesterholme. Formerly Vindolana was called, in English, The Bowers, and the Bowers-in-the-wood; and latterly its name has been Little Chesters. Much of its walls still remain; in one place, thirteen courses of them have been bared; and, both within and without them, the rich green-sward, that covers all their vicinity, has the custody of the carcases of numerous Roman buildings.

Chesterholm, too, has its Museum, formed, since the date of this paper, for the reception of cabinet antiquities, found in researches in Vindolana; and this, in January 1833, was enriched by a spearhead about a foot long, the umbo or boss of a shield, and nearly three hundred brass coins, found among the ruins of one of the towers of the western gateway. The coins belong to the Emperors Constantinus, Constantius, Constans, and the tyrant Magnentius, and were strewn over one of the moulded cordon stones of the tower, and intermixed with the soil above and about it.

Just to the north of the station an antient Roman road, now called the Causey, and formerly Carlisle Street, passed from the North Tyne to Caervoran, the Magna of the Romans, which, as well as Vindolana, Borcovicus, and Aesica, is situated within the Parish of Haltwhistle. Here, between the meeting of the Craig-lough and Brooky-burns, is a large tumulus of earth, and by the side of it, a tall, round, but uninscribed mile pillar; and a mile further west, another similar pillar stood on the north side of the Cawsey, till it was some years since split into two posts, for the gate about thirty or forty yards to the west of its ancient site.

Below a rustic wooden bridge, and the Sandstone scar, which shut out the prospect to the south from the windows at Chesterholme, and amidst huge masses of fallen rock, that ruffle and befoam its winter torrent, Chineley-burn is fed with the underground stream from Grindon-lough. It boils up through wide chinks of the limestone, which forms the bed of the burn. Chaff thrown into Grindon-lough rises up here; and from this place, for nearly a mile below, the course of the burn is rapid, and its bistre-coloured waters, in floods, dash from side to side; and the rocky bank on the left is in some places clothed with wood, and in others, in spring, superciliated with the golden flowers of broom, and in autumn with deep fringes of withering fern. The right bank is generally more upon a slope, and interspersed with forest trees, and divided into small enclosures of pasture and meadow, by quickset hedges of unshorn hazel and hawthorn. Two farm-houses, too, though in secluded situations, enliven the solitude that reigns around them. One of these, called Low Foggerish, is at the lower end of a dene or dell, and has, at its west end, a thick grove of oaks, all overhung with ivy. Old apple and plum trees, luxuriant in growth, but wild and unpruned, and a garden filled with grosier bushes that have never felt the knife, half surround this lonely habitation....

-- V.W.
Edited by SacoHarry, Apr 8 2010, 08:24 AM.
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Dr Andrew Robin Birley
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For information - 'V.W' is John Hodgson, the Northumbrian historian - see page 42 of my Making of Modern Vindolanda. Best wishes - Robin B.
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Wow, that's brilliant -- and another must-add book for the library! Many thanks, to both of you.
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Mike McGuire
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I'm very fond of this particular article. Harry, sorry I've only just discovered you put it on WDV. I think it's very evocative and beautifully written by someone who was obviously delighted by Chesterholm and it's surroundings in Anthony Hedley's time.

Sylvanus Urban was the pseudonym of Edward Cave (1691-1754) who launched the Gentleman's Magazine in 1731 (see Cave's entry on Wikipedia). After Cave's death, subsequent editors of the GM took the same nom de plume. Hence Hodgson's article is addressed to "Mr Urban".

The article was reprinted in 1851 as an appendix to a book of reprints on the subject of Treasure Trove by John Fenwick. Although the article is just signed V.W., Fenwick comments that "I have no doubt of it's being from the eloquent pen of Mr Hodgson, the accomplished Historian of Northumberland".

A few comments about the text:-

Note that at this time it was still thought by many that Septimus Severus was responsible for the Wall. Only the vallum was thought to have been constructed in Hadrian's time.

The "Brooky-burn" is nowadays marked on maps as Brackies Burn but is known locally as the Cockton Burn. Cockton was a farmstead about 100m north of the burn at NY763668.

The "Crag-lough" burn is nowadays known as the Bradley Burn.

I have considerable doubts whether the water which bubbles up into the Chineley Burn below Chesterholm originates from Grindon Lough. Grindon Lough is above a different limestone stratum from that on which Chesterholm sits. Note that on maps this burn is marked as Chainley Burn, and I have seen yet other spellings.

What Hodgson refers to as the "Causey" or "Cawsey" we now call the Stanegate.

When Hodgson talks about the "pillar-crowned mountain of Borcum" he is referring to the Long Stone on Barcombe Hill. Robin Birley explained to me that the Long Stone was erected in the late 18th century as a memorial to a quarryman who was killed extracting stone for drystone walls during the enclosure of Thorngrafton Common. The date of the article (1833) is further proof that the quarrying fatality did not occur, as is sometimes thought, when the big Barcombe Quarry was re-opened in 1837.

Harry, thanks for all your work on the Vindolanda background material on WDV.

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