Northumberland

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Northumberland (/nɔrˈθʌmbərlənd/) is the northernmost ceremonial county and a unitary district in North East England. For Eurostat purposes Northumberland is a NUTS 3 region and is one of three boroughs or unitary districts that comprise the “Northumberland and Tyne and Wear” NUTS 2 region. It borders Cumbria to the west, County Durham to the south and Tyne and Wear to the south east, as well as having a border with Scotland to the north. Its North Sea coastline is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with a 64 mile (103 km) long distance path. Since 1981, the county council has been located in Morpeth, situated in the east of the county.

The historical boundaries of the county of Northumberland included Newcastle upon Tyne, the traditional county town, as well as Tynemouth and other settlements in North Tyneside, all areas transferred to Tyne and Wear in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972. The historical county boundaries are sometimes taken to exclude Islandshire, Bedlingtonshire and Norhamshire (collectively North Durham), exclaves of County Durham which were incorporated into Northumberland in 1844.

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Being on the border of England and Scotland, Northumberland has been the site of many battles. The county is noted for its undeveloped landscape of high moorland, a favourite with landscape painters, and now largely protected as a National Park. Northumberland is the most sparsely populated county in England, with only 62 people per square kilometre.

The area was once part of the Roman Empire and as Northumberland it was the scene of many wars between England and Scotland. As evidence of its violent history, Northumberland has more castles than any other county in England, including the castles of Alnwick, Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh, Newcastle and Warkworth.

The region of present-day Northumberland once formed the core of the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia, which was later united with Deira south of the River Tees to form the kingdom of Northumbria. The historical boundaries of Northumbria under King Edwin stretched from the Humber in the south to the Forth in the north, though it was reduced to having its traditional northern border of the River Tweed after the area from the Tweed to the Forth was ceded to the Kingdom of Scotland in 1018, including Lothian, the region which contains Edinburgh. Northumberland is often called the “cradle of Christianity” in England, because it was on Lindisfarne, a tidal island north of Bamburgh, also called Holy Island, that Christianity flourished when monks from Iona were sent to convert the English. Lindisfarne was the home of the Lindisfarne Gospels and Saint Cuthbert, who is buried in Durham Cathedral.

Bamburgh is the historic capital of Northumberland, the “royal” castle from before the unification of England under one monarch. In contemporary times, although Northumberland County Council’s offices are in Morpeth. Alnwick and Morpeth contest which of the two is the county town.

The Earldom of Northumberland was briefly held by the Scottish Royal Family via marriage from 1139–1157 and 1215–1217. Scotland relinquished all claims to the region as part of the Treaty of York. The Earls of Northumberland once wielded significant power in English affairs because, as the Marcher Lords, they were entrusted with protecting England from Scottish invasion.

Northumberland has a history of revolt and rebellion against the government, as seen in the Rising of the North in Tudor times. These revolts were usually led by the then Dukes of Northumberland, the Percy family. Shakespeare makes one of the Percys, the dashing Harry Hotspur, the real hero of his Henry IV, Part 1.

The county wasalso a centre for Roman Catholicism in England, as well as of Jacobite support after the Restoration. Northumberland became a sort of wild county, where outlaws and Border Reivers hid from the law. However, the frequent cross-border skirmishes and accompanying local lawlessness largely subsided after the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England under King James I in 1603.

Northumberland played a key role in the industrial revolution. Coal mines were oncewidespread in Northumberland, with collieries at Ashington, Bedlington, Choppington, Netherton, Ellington and Pegswood. The region’s coalfields fuelled industrial expansion in other areas of the country, and the need to transport the coal from the collieries to the Tyne led to the development of the first railways. Shipbuilding and armaments manufacture were other important industries.

Today, Northumberland is still largely rural. As the least densely populated county in England, it commands much less influence in British affairs than in times past. In recent years the county has had considerable growth in tourism due to its scenic beauty and the abundant evidence of its historical significance.

The physical geography of Northumberland is diverse. It is low and flat near the North Sea coast and increasingly mountainous toward the northwest. The Cheviot Hills, in the northwest of the county, consist mainly of resistant Devonian granite and andesite lava. A second area of igneous rock underlies the Whin Sill (on which Hadrian’s Wall runs), an intrusion of Carboniferous dolerite. Both ridges support a rather bare moorland landscape. Either side of the Whin Sill the county lies on Carboniferous Limestone, giving some areas of karst landscape. Lying off the coast of Northumberland are the Farne Islands, another dolerite outcrop, famous for their bird life.

There are coal fields in the southeast corner of the county, extending along the coastal region north of the river Tyne. The term ‘sea coal’ likely originated from chunks of coal, found washed up on beaches, that wave action had broken from coastal outcroppings.

Approximately a quarter of the county is protected as the Northumberland National Park, an area of outstanding landscape that has largely been protected from development and agriculture. The park stretches south from the Scottish border and includes Hadrian’s Wall. Most of the park is over 240 metres (800 feet) above sea level. The Northumberland Coast is also a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

There is a variety of notable habitats and species in Northumberland including: Chillingham Cattle herd; Holy Island; Farne Islands; and Staple Island.

This is a chart of trend of regional gross value added of Northumberland at current basic prices published (pp. 240–253) by Office for National Statistics with figures in millions of British Pounds Sterling.

Year Regional Gross Value Added Agriculture Industry Services
1995 2,585 130 943 1,512
2000 2,773 108 831 1,833
2003 3,470 109 868 2,494

A major source of employment and income in the county is tourism. The county annually receives 1.1 million British visitors and 50,000 foreign tourists who spend a total of £162million in the county.

At the Census 2001 Northumberland registered a population of 307,190, estimated to be 309,237 in 2003. Being primarily rural with significant areas of upland, the population density of Northumberland is only 62 persons per square kilometre giving it the lowest population density in England.

Northumberland is a unitary local authority area and is the largest unitary area in England. The County Council is based in Morpeth.

Like most English shire counties Northumberland had until April 2009 a two-tier system of local government, with one county council and six districts, each with their own district council, responsible for different aspects of local government. These districts were, Blyth Valley, Wansbeck, Castle Morpeth, Tynedale, Alnwick and Berwick-upon-Tweed. The districts were abolished on 1 April 2009, the county council becoming a unitary authority.

Northumberland is included within the North East England European Parliament constituency which is represented by four Members of the European Parliament.

Northumberland has traditions not found elsewhere in England. These include the rapper sword dance, the Clog dance and the Northumbrian smallpipe, a sweet chamber instrument, quite unlike the Scottish bagpipe. Northumberland also has its own tartan or check, sometimes referred to in Scotland as the Shepherd’s Tartan. Traditional Northumberland music sounds similar to Lowland Scottish music, reflecting the strong historical links between Northumbria and the Lowlands of Scotland.

The Border ballads of the region have been famous since late mediaeval times. Thomas Percy, whose celebrated Reliques of Ancient English Poetry appeared in 1765, states that most of the minstrels who sang the Border ballads in London and elsewhere in the 15th and 16th centuries belonged to the North. The activities of Sir Walter Scott and others in the 19th century gave the ballads an even wider popularity. William Morris considered them to be the greatest poems in the language, while Algernon Charles Swinburne knew virtually all of them by heart.

One of the best-known is the stirring Chevy Chase, which tells of the Earl of Northumberland’s vow to hunt for three days across the Border ‘maugre the doughty Douglas’. Of it, the Elizabethan courtier, soldier and poet Sir Philip Sidney famously said: ‘I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet’. Ben Jonson said that he would give all his works to have written Chevy Chase.

Overall the culture of Northumberland, as with the north east of England in general, has much more in common with Scottish Lowland and Northern English culture than with that of Southern England. Firstly both regions have their cultural origins in the old Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria, this is borne out by the linguistic links between the two regions, which include many Old English words not found in other forms of Modern English, such as bairn for child (see Scots language and Northumbria). The other reason for the close cultural links is the clear pattern of net southward migration. There are more Scots in England than English people north of the border. Much of this movement is cross-county rather than distant migration, and the incomers thus bring aspects of their culture as well as reinforce shared cultural traits from both sides of the Anglo-Scottish border. Whatever the case, the lands just north or south of the border have long shared certain aspects of history and heritage and thus it is thought by some that the Anglo-Scottish border is largely political rather than cultural.

Attempts to raise the level of awareness of Northumberland culture have also started, with the formation of a Northumbrian Language Society to preserve the unique dialects (Pitmatic and other Northumbrian dialects) of this region, as well as to promote home-grown talent.

Northumberland’s county flower is the Bloody Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) and her affiliated Royal Navy ship is her namesake, HMS Northumberland.

Northumberland has its own flag, which is a banner of the arms of Northumberland County Council. The shield of arms is in turn based on the arms mediæval heralds had attributed to the Kingdom of Bernicia (which the first County Council used until it received a regular grant of arms). The Bernician arms were fictional but inspired by Bede’s brief description of a flag used on the tomb of St Oswald in the 7th century. The current arms were granted to the county council in 1951, and adopted as the flag of Northumberland in 1995.

Having no large population centres, the county’s mainstream media outlets are served from nearby Tyne and Wear, including radio stations and television channels (such as BBC Look North, BBC Radio Newcastle, Tyne Tees Television and Metro Radio), along with the majority of daily newspapers covering the area (The Journal, Evening Chronicle). It is worth remembering however that although Northumberland, like many administrative areas in England, has been shorn of its geographical regional centre, that centre – Newcastle upon Tyne – remains an essential element within the entity we know as Northumberland. Newcastle’s newspapers are as widely read in its Northumbrian hinterland as any of those of the wider county: the Northumberland Gazette, Morpeth Herald, Berwick Advertiser, Hexham Courant and the News Post Leader.

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