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Medieval Solway

The Medieval period of history saw more dramatic changes which defined the landscape we know today as the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Between the Romans leaving Britain until the latter part of the 12th century, the control of the Solway was disputed between Britons, Anglians, Scandinavians, Scots and Normans. From the 5th century, the area appears to have belonged to the British kingdom of Rheged, but by the mid-7th century, its area was firmly under the control of the Northumbrians, a people of mixed Anglian and British origins.

It was the Normans in the late 11th century, who established baronies from which to control the local area and population. The Baronies of Burgh and Allerdale were two of these.

The Normans were masters of stone building and their efforts can still be seen today as they rebuilt many of the simpler Anglo Saxon churches that existed at that time, often recycling stone from Hadrian’s Wall and its forts to do so.

In 1150, Holme Cultram Abbey was founded and, from this time on, the landscape of the Solway Plain began to be defined by the activities of the monks.

Wool was a valuable commodity so they drained marshy wetlands to create fields suitable for grazing flocks. They grew crops, made leather and harvested timber and created new settlements according to the needs of their industry, like Salt Coates for the salt harvesting, Swinsty for their pig husbandry, and Calvo for their calf breeding. Bigger hamlets sprung up around the port the monks built at Skinburness and the abbey itself in Abbeytown.

Much of the framework of the present landscape was formed in the medieval period, with a small infield around each hamlet and then long outfields divided into strips belonging to individual tenants.

Architecture-wise, the 1400s saw the most defensive buildings created since the time of Emperor Hadrian. The king of the time, Edward I, unleashed his campaigns against the Scots which, in turn, resulted on attacks on English properties close to the border of the two countries. Fortified farmhouses called bastles and thick-walled churches that could double as safe havens for the poorer communities were built.

The other striking and traditional method of construction which began in medieval times on the Solway was the building of clay dabbins. This is one of the only places in Britain where these vernacular, or very local, buildings still survive. Some of them date back to the 1500s.