Riding Mill – A Visible History
Riding Mill stands on the south bank of the Tyne sixteen miles west of Newcastle and five east of Hexham. In its present form the village is really a Victorian creation, incorporating the ancient hamlets of Broomhaugh and Riding, on the east and west banks of the March Burn (which flows down from the south-west to join the river) respectively.
Prehistoric man was clearly active in the well-wooded and fertile middle Tyne valley, and the Romans settled hereabouts as well, having built a rather major wall a few miles to the north with its major supply-base at Corbridge, only three miles to the west. Their road from Corbridge to York – Dere Street – passes through the village; it can be traced as a grassy bank in the fields to the west. The so-called ‘Roman Bridge’ across the March Burn is really a 16th or 17th century packhorse bridge, although there was probably a real Roman one nearby. The oldest visible feature near the village is the Norman motte-and-bailey castle of Styford on the north bank of the river, now just a grassy hump. but once the power base of the Barony of Bolbec. As the centuries passed the earthwork castle seems to have been replaced by Styford Hall quarter of a mile to the east; the village of Styford grew up on the low-lying land near the Hall.
Meanwhile, on the south bank, the hamlets of Broomhaugh and Riding developed during the medieval period, not the happiest of times – there were periodic visits by Scots who had unfortunate incendiary tendencies. Even after the Union of the Crowns brought peace between the nations in 1603, local lawlessness and family feuds continued. Bastle houses – thick-walled defensible farmhouses in which the owner lived on the first floor – are testimony to this period. Two survive in Broomhaugh – Broomhaugh Farmhouse and Stable End – and the oldest part of the Dower House in Riding is probably one as well. The Manor House is also of 17th-century origin, and the Wellington Inn – once the Riding House – is dated 1660, and was built by Thomas Errington (although its doorhead initials of ‘T.E’ were later altered to T.B.’ ). It became notorious a few years later as the claimed meeting places of covens of witches – a lurid account of their meetings was given at the Morpeth Quarter Sessions in 1673 , but the accused ladies were apparently acquitted. The building was altered and enlarged in the 18th and 19th century; its original windows have lost their mullions, but two good 17th-century fireplaces survive on the first floor. Little survives of the complex of farm buildings on the north, which had a gingang or horse-engine house. Riding Farm, at the west end of the village, retains a fine example. The Mill that gave its name to the village faces the Inn; there was a corn mill here since at least the medieval period but the present building, converted into a house in 1972, is of late 18th or early 19th century date.
The great flood of 1771 seems to have destroyed the village of Styford; its inhabitants probably moved to Broomhaugh, set more safely on higher ground on the opposite bank of the Tyne beyond a ford, which finally fell out of use when the construction of the modern pumping station a few hundred yards downstream raised the level of the river by a couple of feet. The village street of Broomhaugh was once known as ‘Styford Street’, and retains some attractive old buildings. Outside Broomhaugh Farmhouse is a whalebone arch erected by a 19th-century mariner; over the road is the 1860 manse that went with the former Baptist chapel, whilst further south older cottages remodelled as stables for Broomhaugh, now houses again, face the brick Ford Terrace of 1907 and then, beyond a footpath representing the old east-west road on this side of the valley, Yew Tree Cottage facing the Methodist Chapel has its doorhead dated 1699 with the initials M.V. and T.V. – the ‘V’ is actually the ‘U’ of Usher. The Ushers were a Baptist family; when one of their babies died in 1708 it was refused burial at the then-parish church of St Andrew, at Bywell. As nonconformists of the time tended to do, the Ushers responded by opening a burial ground on their own property, opposite their house. A chapel was eventually built on it in 1843, being transferred to its present Methodist congregation in 1965.
What made Riding Mill the village it is today was the coming of the railway with the Newcastle to Carlisle line, the first coast-to-coast connection in the world. Riding Mill Station opened in 1835, and the original building still stands; the road bridge a little further east is of the same date. Commuting into Newcastle began early; the houses of Hollin Hill Terrace, built in 1864, would not be out of place in Jesmond; thanks to the train, the town had come to the country. And thus came about the late-19th and 20th century growth of the village, and the linking together of the old hamlets in a new settlement – steadily growing from c 150 souls in the mid-19th century to c450 in 1901 and c 900 today – that takes its name from the Mill and Station.
Riding and Broomhaugh used to be in the parish of St Andrew’s Church at Bywell, three miles downriver. The Anglican church of St James was only built, as a chapel-of-ease to Bywell in 1868; as the village and its congregation grew a rather more spacious transept and chancel were added eleven years later. In the trees on the hill above the church is Oaklands built in 1860 by Thomas Wilson, a playful Gothic house that seems to have been the prototype for the grander Shotley Hall (Shotley Bridge) also built by Wilson three years later. At the east end of the village are also two slightly later Victorian houses in a more Italianate style, Broomhaugh House (later a hotel, but now an engineering business, Osbit) and Underwood (now Wentworth Grange residential home).
Peter F Ryder Some information taken from ‘Riding Mill, a Village History’ by Marion Cooke 1987, now out of print