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On 15th November 1619 the major freeholders of Cowpen gathered at nearby Horton Church to sign an agreement between themselves. It was an historic meeting with major implications for the future of the township.
Sir Ralph Delaval knight, Robert Widdrington esq, Lewis Widdrington gent, Tristram Fenwick gent, Martin Fenwick gent, John Preston, Cuthbert Watson, William Story and Robert Smith yeomen agreed to divide the common lands between themselves and create individual farms. They voted to appoint William Matthew, a surveyor of Newcastle, to "survey all the lands in Cowpen aforementioned and to allot and set forth every man's part according to the purport and quantity of his freehold". A number of the major landholders of the district were also present to witness the signing of the document and to settle disputes and act as commissioners, including Sir Thomas Riddle, Roger Witherington esq, Mark Errington esq, Thomas Ogle esq and Oliver Killingworth gent.
The partition took place on the 1st of March of the following year.
The lands of Cowpen had been farmed in common since at least the 13th century. This had been the usual method of farming in this district imposed upon the population after the Norman conquest. But this was a particularly archaic form of common, open-field farming called a run-rig system whereby the strips of land allocated to each tenant were scattered throughout the large, unenclosed, open fields. Unlike most areas farmed in common where the fields were more planned, some being periodically left to lie fallow and divided into arable and pasture areas, in the fields of Cowpen there was no distinction between arable and grass lands. Freeholders lands were mixed with those of the customary tenants. There was, however, some mention of individual tenements, or closes, having being formed in a piecemeal way by this date. Malvin's Close is the obvious example.
There had been initiatives shown by investors in coal mining in the area. These would be small-scale operations consisting of bell pits sunk to a depth of only 15-20 feet below ground, but even so, the shifting nature of landholding under the run-rig system was not conducive to colliery enterprise.
The Delavals had also by now acquired over half of the township, although they had held a substantial portion since the 13th century, but now wanted to improve and consolidate their holding.
The time was ripe to split the land into individual farms and enclose the fields with fences and hedges. This was a common practice throughout the country between the 17th and 19th centuries and it was perhaps the most important development to happen in any area. Smaller landholders were often unable to afford to enclose their land and would sell up. Tenants without security of tenure were often evicted to be replaced by labourers or the holding would be turned over to sheep farming.
The farms created in Cowpen were the ones which survived, more or less, until the 20th century. A small amount of exchange and consolidating of holdings took place, especially to create High House Farm and South Farm was created out of the undeveloped South Moor, so the exact dates aren't as yet known. The division was as follows:
North Farm and South Farm1619: allotted to Sir Ralph Delaval 394 acres of pasture and arable and 72 acres meadow in the East Division of Cowpen Township. This was made up from:
11 acres meadow at the Garth End, 60 acres arable in the East Field, 55 acres arable in Coupwell Close, Malvin's Close 66 acres, Cocklawe 80 acres, the East Close 104 acres, Long Weedes Close 188 acres, 104 acres arable and meadow in the South Moor.
1623: A windmill and land was purchased on behalf of Alice Delaval at the far end of Cowpen Township in the High House Farm area. Originally part of the Prior of Tynemouth's lands it had been granted to Braddock and Kingscote by the Crown. The windmill had been erected in 1598. This was owned by the descendants until 1865. A right of common on a small piece of land at Darewell Burn was also acquired.
1624: Sir Ralph granted the lands to his brother Thomas Delaval of Hetton-le-Hole to be bequeathed to the heirs of Thomas.
1629: Another brother of Sir Ralph, Robert Delaval, also held lands here from 1619 although not mentioned by name in the allotment document. He resided at Cowpen in a hall opposite where the Windmill Pub Grocery Shop and Greggs now stands. He died in this year leaving the property to his wife and on her death his daughters who continued to reside at Cowpen. The eldest daughter, Mary, married Sir John Mitford of Seghill. On his death she married Colonel Edward Grey, who was labelled a traitor during the English Civil War. He came to reside at Cowpen after the war ended. She died childless in 1649.
1650; The second daughter of Robert Delaval, Elizabeth, became the heir to the estate on the death of her sister. The lands were conveyed to her husband Sir Francis Bowes of Thornton and merchant adventurer of Newcastle.
1652: The lands originally held by Thomas Delaval of Hetton-le-Hole were surrendered in reversionary interest to Sir Francis Bowes who now became the sole landholder of the whole East Division of Cowpen. The estate was held by succeeding generations of Wanley-Bowes family. (History of Northumberland Vol 9 p330)
1779: Estate Jointly inherited between sisters Anne Wanley-Bowes, who married Thomas Thoroton, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Coldstream Guards and Elizabeth Wanley-Bowes married to Rev Robert Croft. Both families resided at York. Rev Robert Croft was the last surviving landholder and the estate was managed by trustees of the family after this date. Both ladies left issue.
1799: Two closes were purchased at Bucks Hill by Richard Hodgson from the Croft family to build a mill on this site.
Cowpen Town Farm
(History of Northumberland Vol 9 p347)
1874: The farm was sold to John Hedley of Blyth. He later became bankrupt and the receivers conveyed the property to the Standard Brick Company.
Home/Kit Kat Farm
Malvin's Close Farm
Red House Farm
Kitty Brewster Farm1619: Assigned to Robert Widdrington of Widdrington in the West Division 17.5 acres meadow in the North Field, 37 acres arable in the High Crofts, 55 acres arable in the Mill Field, 54 acres pasture in the Whins, totalling 164 acres.
1628: The lands were mortgaged to his brother John Widdrington of Plessey New Houses (5 miles to the West of Cowpen), who at a later stage came into complete possession of the estate. This also included Bucks Hill in the East Division.
1642: John Widdrington exchanged some lands with Cuthbert Watson of the neighbouring High House Farm to consolidate the lands into a single area.
1663: Held by William Widdrington of the family of Hauxley (10 miles to the North of Cowpen). Lands carried by marriage to William Fenwick who sold to Sir John Swinburne of Capheaton (19 miles to the west of Cowpen).
1687: Peter Potts purchased the estate of Robert Fenwick of Cowpen. The lands had been part of the small allotment made in the West Division to Martin and Tristram Fenwick. This could also be known as part of High House Farm.
1695: Sold to Peter Potts, who had also acquired Red House Farm in Cowpen. Potts was a Newcastle merchant and the probable builder of Cowpen Hall.
High House Farm