Alnmouth Burgage Holders

The information included here, along with some other information on this web site has been taken in original form from issues of "Alnmouth Common News", a publication produced by the Burgage Holders of Alnmouth Common. It is reproduced with full acknowledgement of the copyright notice.

Link to an extract from the official Alnmouth Common Register held by Northumberland County Council

The Burgage Holders three key aims:

to protect the Common and safeguard the legal rights of the Burgage Holders

to conserve the natural beauty of the Common for future generations

to welcome people to use the Common for quiet enjoyment and informal recreation

Going Back in Time

Sometimes people ask "What is the oldest building in Alnmouth?", which is not an easy question to answer.

There are two or three which probably date from the early 1700s, which may not seem that old, but they are approaching their third centenary. What is really old is the layout of most of the village, the settlement pattern and a number of property boundaries. People living their lives and going about their daily business have walked down Northumberland Street, the Wynd, Pease's Lane, Crow's Nest Lane and Garden Terrace, for at least five hundred years, probably for nine hundred, and in the case of Northumberland Street much longer.

Go for a walk up Northumberland Street from Pease's Lane to the Manor House, looking carefully at the buildings on your right hand (or eastern) side. You will notice that there are narrow gaps of an inch or so between some of the buildings, and the gaps run right down to Marine Road. These mark the boundaries of the burgages first set out by the Normans about 850 years ago, and note how they are at fairly regular intervals. Not all the boundaries show the gap in the buildings, but once you have picked up the rhythm you will be able to spot others by the significant changes in the buildings. Now walk down Chapel Lane and you will see that the wall on your right hand (southern) side cuts right down to Marine Road, and the small house near to it stands slightly away from it. Again this is a boundary line. If you stand and look around you will see that you are in the middle of an old burgage plot. The northern boundary is the back of the cottages on that side. The area is roughly a quarter of an acre, which seems to have been a common size for burgages in many parts of the country.

Imagine that you are the first proud owner of this burgage. Your dwelling would have a thatched roof and be made out of timber, wattle and daub or perhaps just turves. It would be set with the gable on Northumberland Street, rather like No 14 almost opposite, and the entrance similarly down the side. The rest of the burgage you would use for keeping hens, perhaps a pig or two, and for vegetables, domestic purposes and possibly a midden. You would have the right to keep a cow or two on the common and several strips in the two common fields.

Most importantly you had the right to use the port either free or at a much more favourable rate than anyone who was not a burgage holder.

You would have arrived!

(An article by Fred Bettess in Alnmouth Common News Number 3, Summer 2000)

Grazing on the Common

We've all used the term 'doing your stint', meaning doing your share (usually a chore).  But do you know where the word 'stint' comes from?  It's a term used in the rights and laws of Commons and it means an 'alloted share' or a 'portion'  So the registered Burgage Properties in the village have a fixed number of 'stints' alloted to them (usually two, but now sometimes only one or more than two if properties have been divided or amalgamated), meaning the Burgage Holder can graze that number of animals on the Common.  These 'stints' are listed in the Commons Register and they also appear in the deeds of the property.  In fact the common 'right' of grazing or to the herbage is one of the most frequent rights which exists on Commons.

From mediaeval times, the Burgage Holder or freeman of the village would keep a couple of animals (usually cows) in his garth or smallholding behind the house and had legal rights to graze the animals on the Common.  If you check the registered burgage properties, you'll see that they're all on the main street or the main street burgage plots; these are the original plots laid out and allocated to the new 'freemen' when Alnmouth was created hundreds of years ago.

Until quite recently, the Burgage Holders employed a 'Moorgrieve'  to manage the common, who in turn employed a 'Herd' (usually a young boy from the village); his job was to turn the animals out from the Nightfold each morning and bring them back in at night,  For example, in 1867, ' Robert Exley was appointed herd ... for the sum of seven shillings per week ... to cut the weeds thereon viz Yellow Tops and Nettles, also Thistles, and the cows to be landed in the village according to the ancient custom night and morning' (from the old minute books).  Seven shillings is 35p! And ragwort ('Yellow Tops') is not a new weed!  During the day, the animals grazed freely over the Common - some golfers still talk of having to avoid the cowpats on the greens!

Grazing is still an important use on the common - mainly horses and ponies now (but we do organize some sheep grazing to improve the land).  For practical purposes the grazing is confined to the Nightfold (and the Marden field, which is not part of the Common, but rented from the Alnwick Castle Estates).  Any animals grazed must be for a specified 'stint', with the permission and approval of the stint owner (Burgage Holder), and must be officially registered with the Burgage Holders committee.

There are 75 'stints' in all so 75 animals can be grazed, although this would be far too many for the Nightfold and Marden fields to support.  Fortunately, the number of 'stints' being used has never reached this level, although it does fluctuate depending on the number of riders in the village.

(An article in Alnmouth Common News Number 2, Spring 1999)