Maxton Scotland
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Maxton Nature Watch

The Early Peoples of Maxton Parish


There is no set date when anyone can say that people first stayed in the area. History has been divided into named periods purely to make reference easier, so I shall use the conventions of ‘ages’ which are accepted. Ages overlap, and all dates are approximate, and in early times very approximate.
In simple terms:

Stone Age – (mesolithic) from 8500 to 6000 years ago.
Stone Age – (neolithic) from 6000 to 4500 years ago.
Bronze Age - from 4500 to 2500 years ago.
Iron Age - from 2500 to 1900 years ago.
Roman Age - from 1900 to 1400 years ago.
Early Medieval - from 1400 to 700 years ago.
Medieval - from 700 to 500 years ago.

Most environmentalists and conservationists use the expression ‘take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints’. Fortunately the early peoples left more than that, otherwise we would have no record of them at all.

Mesolithic peoples were hunter-fisher-gatherers who lived in very small groups and who were basically nomadic. They tended to live near the water and spent most of their time food gathering. They ate the fruits and berries, fished in the rivers and pursued the animals of the forests which clad the area. Trees such as birch, hazel, elm and oak formed the forests through which they roamed. Their success at hunting, initially, was probably little more than scavenging, but as their techniques improved with communal drives and better tools, they could tackle bigger prey. Because they were nomadic they had to carry everything with them so weight was of the essence; their containers were probably of leather and basketry. Their tools were made of stone and flint. These they used not only as barbs on arrows, but also mounted onto shafts for use as sickles and other cutting tools. They also used stone axes for woodworking.

Recorded Finds in this area from this period are naturally few, as there were no centres of population.

Rutherford farm (NT 6430) turned up a retouched flint which is now in Wilton Museum in Hawick.

Neolithic peoples are associated with the first attempts at farming, and the need to settle in one place to allow for proper farming. They cleared areas of woodland, built more substantial homes and started to use pottery, because they were not having to move all their chattels every day. Hunting camps on riverbanks, which were used regularly, became more common. The groups became larger and villages began to appear, and, with them, the first village chiefs start to appear. They were becoming a society. The cultivation of cereals and the domestication of animals were necessary because of the pressures of the rising population in any one area. Flaking of flint and the polishing of stone tools made them more efficient. Textiles start to appear alongside the skins previously used for clothing.

Recorded Finds in this area:

Maxton village (NT 6130) turned up two flint scrapers which are also at Hawick.

Bronze Age people are so called because of their making of tools from bronze, a mixture of copper and tin. Copper tools existed in mainland Europe long before they reached here, but reach here they eventually did. Bronze was far harder than copper, was easier to cast and could be sharpened to a far better edge. Worn or broken tools could be melted down and recast into new ones. This development allowed for the production of ‘real’ weapons such as axes, swords and knives, as well as ornamental items such as pins and brooches. Access to tin and copper and the fuel for smelting meant that not everywhere was suitable for making bronze, so centres of excellence sprang up, leading to trade. Pottery containers for the storage of crops, in the villages in which they lived, proved more useful than the previous lightweight transportable ones.

As populations grew, the needs of agriculture brought about ploughing and with it the first signs of deforestation and soil erosion as land was in greater demand. The first signs of fortifications and hillforts begin to appear as groups defended themselves, their property and their land against neighbouring groups or tribes.

The ashes of the dead were now commonly placed in pottery urns and buried in cemeteries.

Recorded Finds in this area:

Near Rutherford Station road end two stone cists were unearthed during roadworks.

Close to Ploughlands Burn was found, at (NT 632307), a flat axe, which was purchased at a later date for Wilton Lodge Museum.

Rutherford Farm produced at (NT 64523055), a spear head in May 1899. This is now in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.

Iron Age people come from that time when iron replaced bronze for tools and weapons. Temperatures needed to melt iron were so high that they never managed to cast iron at all, but found it could be softened, beaten and tempered. Iron ore for smelting was relatively more easily obtained than were the ores of copper and tin. It needed no alloying and produced much better tools and weapons. It was however much more difficult to process, but after manufacture a very keen edge could be put on items. The change in process was such that bronze manufacture was continued for personal decorative items, alongside iron working for more practical items.

Hill forts are now common, and most hilltops in this area bear signs of habitation from about this time. Ploughed ‘fields’ and animal husbandry are the norm.

Wheeled transport has become available in some areas, so ‘roads’ are developed, with trackways joining major centres of population. Small kingdoms have now developed.

Recorded Finds in this area:

The Ringley Hall complex of forts (NT 668312) is the major iron age site in the parish, altho’ there is another (NT 632313), classified as a fortified domestic settlement, which was identified from aerial photographs, near Littledean Tower. The Ringley Hall site is easily seen from the road but is worth a visit on foot.

Near the village (NT 6130) was found an ornamental armlet made of glass, from the 1st century AD, which has been classified as the most southerly find of a type 1 armlet known.

Again near the village, on East End Farm at (NT 61442995), was found a brooch made of bronze.

The Coming of the Romans in AD 79, brought all the advanced technology which had developed in mainland Europe, and as they spread northwards they brought ‘modern’ techniques into almost all areas of life. This was the start of recorded history. As an invading force they made defence against attack by the local tribes, the Votadini and the Selgovae, a matter of great priority, so we find defended camps, large and small, all over the border area. With Trimontium at Newstead being one of the largest permanent camps in the country, there was constant coming and going in the surrounding area. As time went by, and the Romans and the locals learned to live together in some harmony, intermarriage was bound to happen, so some of those long-term locals in our community may have Roman blood in them!

Some of the best reminders of the Roman time here can be seen from the air as the camps show up in aerial photographs. Being one of the farthest north areas taken over by the Romans, and being north of Hadrian's Wall, we were also one of the first areas to be abandoned when they pulled out. This must have been a pretty nasty place to be sent, when you consider that many of the soldiers came from warm, sunny and dry southern Italy or Spain. A visit to the Trimontium exhibition in Melrose will give a wider view of Roman life; there are also artefacts to see, and field walks over the area of the camps.

Recorded finds in this area:

The main item has, of course, to be Dere Street, also known as Watling Street, which forms a boundary of the parish to the south west. Starting in York, it heads for the Forth, and along it, all the way, are the remains of the protective mounds and ditches which were built around the camps. It can be walked for most of its distance within the parish, as it is included as part of St Cuthbert’s Way, the long-distance walk.

On the riverside, below Glebe House at (NT 614304) there has been identified, again from aerial survey, a fortified marching camp. As there are other camps between here and Berwick it would seem obvious that soldiers travelled the length of the Tweed from Trimontium, although it was not a major transport route like Dere Street, and would most likely be a pathway rather than a major road.

In 1995, in a roadside field on Ploughlands Farm at (NT 628305) a coin, a denarius, dated between AD 125-134, was found by Bill Butler using a metal detector.

At Muirhouselaw, in the remains of the tileworks cottages (NT 62352757) there has been identified an inscribed stone built into one of the walls. This stone was possibly robbed from Dere Street, and is inscribed with ‘IX’ legion mark ‘HSP’.

In the field behind East End Farmhouse (NT 61433042), a Romano-British brooch fragment was discovered by a metal detectorist. It is now in the National Museum of Scotland.

In the same field a silver denarius has also been found.

In the field in front of the church have been found 3 Roman coins – a bronze faustina and two denarii of Caligula.

Early Medieval covers the period between the end of the Roman occupation of the area, about 165 AD until about 1000 AD. It includes the so-called Dark Ages when, with the loss of Roman control, tribalism re-emerged, and little cultural progress was made. With the takeover of the area by King Edwin, we became part of the Kingdom of Bernicia which was made up of the land between the Northumberland Tyne and the Forth, and ruled from Yeavering, in Northumberland. When Edwin became Christian in 626 AD, the Kingdom became officially Christian, so we benefitted from the influence of the development of Christianity, and the fact that religious houses were being built and that communities within them were growing. St Cuthbert is obviously a name well known to us all. Born about 634 AD, he entered the religious community at Old Melrose, which had been founded in about 630 AD, in about 650, where his saintliness was recognised by St Boisil who was prior at the monastery, and by Eata, abbot of Melrose. St Boswells is named after St Boisil, but the village was known as Lessudden until about a hundred years ago.

Recorded finds in this area:

In the field in front of the church have been found three interesting items from this period:

A copper-alloy ring, of the type known as a swivel-ring, dated to the 5th –7th century. (NT 60943015)

A small copper-alloy strap or tag end, dated to 9th century, making it Anglo-Saxon, found by a metal detectorist. (NT 61133030)

A fish brooch.

With the Norman invasion in 1066, many of the Anglo-Saxon noblemen fled from southern England to Scotland. William crossed the Tweed in 1072 to secure his northern boundaries, and placed his own noblemen in positions of power. Lands in the Borders were given for service to the cause, and some Norman names remain.

The Medieval period really begins for this area in about 1113, with the rise to power of the Earl of Cumberland who was to become King David I in 1124. He introduced a new feudal land-owning system, introduced the system of parishes, raised townships to free burgh status and founded new religious houses – the Border Abbeys.

Recorded Finds in this area:

Muirhouselaw moated homestead – probably a grange for Melrose Abbey.

Finds increase in number from this period onward as coinage was more in use and more often lost, stolen, hidden or mislaid. As one example, the field in front of the church has turned up 42 coins belonging to the period between the reign of Henry II (1154 – 1189) and Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603). Other fields round the village have a similar range of finds, if not in the same quantity. The village must, indeed, have been a place of some size, in area, at least, as it would appear to have covered an area from the church to the station and about the same ‘width’ as the present village. By far the greatest number of coins found in the fields surrounding the present village are from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, 46 bearing the head of an English king and 9 that of a Scottish king. There are no recorded finds from the glebe, which would suggest its not having been lived on at any point in post-Roman time; a haven from the hustle and bustle of village life.

It is about this period when the written records of happenings civil, military, religious and legal begin to be available in written form for the area. Although many of the records of the Abbeys were destroyed in the Border Wars and at the Reformation, many still, fortunately, remain for our inspection. It is from these that most of the rest of the story may be gleaned.

By the time David died in 1153, he had changed the face of the Borders.

Back to: Maxton Nature Watch

Date: 04/09/2009