Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group

The Angles and the Saxons began to raid the east coast of Britain from their homes in North Germany. They defeated Urien of Rheged at the battle of Lindisfarne in 590 and Cumbria became part of the powerful new Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. These new settlers were probably the first people to set up permanent homes on the Solway Plain.

The date of their arrival is uncertain but they were well established by 685. They lived in scattered farmsteads rather than villages. Their homes were made of wood with thatched roofs.

Painting of farming from the Anglo-Saxon callender

The Anglo-Saxons farmed in open fields. Each villager would cultivate a few strips within the enclosure.

The unusual field pattern around the village of Mawbray suggests that an open field existed here. On the map, the present boundaries are shown in black. The green area would be the original Anglo-Saxon field. The land was enclosed and the present boundaries established at some time in the 18th century.

Map of field pattern around Mawbray

The original Anglo-Saxon strips probably ran at right-angles to the present pattern. In this way each strip would be almost exactly one furlong (an eighth of a mile) in length. The word ‘furlong’ comes from furrow-long. It was the maximum length which a team of oxen could plough before having to be rested.

A similar pattern can be traced around Edderside where two open fields, one at each side of the village, seem to have existed. Here the fields were not enclosed until the mid-1800s.

Map of field pattern around Edderside

In these arable fields, the villagers grew oats, beans and barley, from which they brewed beer. Their livestock would be grazed on common land outside the fields.

As they cleared and drained more land, the farmers on the plain started to group their homes into hamlets. The landscape began to take on the appearance we see today and things settled down in the regular, quiet, seasonal pattern of farming life which continues to this day.

Cross from Brofield Church This cross, dating from the 10th or 11th century, is one of the few traces which the Anglo-Saxons left behind in the area.

It is located in Bromfield Church where it was found in fragments and reconstructed by the local vicar in 1888.

In the Anglo-Saxon period, when the Solway Plain was part of Northumbria, the kingdom became a centre of great learning. The monks at Lindisfarne, on the east coast, produced their famous gospels under the leadership of St. Cuthbert.

When the saint died, the monks carried his body and their precious gospels all over the north of England and southern Scotland. During his lifetime, St Cuthbert had visited Carlisle and many local churches, including the one near Mawbray, are dedicated to him.

Icon of St Cuthbert
Saint Cuthbert

version of this

Weststow Anglo-Saxon Village
BBC History - Anglo-Saxon pages
Detailed history of the Kingdom of Northumbria

Saint Cuthbert's last journey

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