After the Romans

The rise of the Anglo Saxons

Over the next 150 years the new petty kingdoms fought and allied with one another until eventually the Anglo Saxon Kingdoms began to appear. By the early seventh century the kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira merged to form the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, for a time the most powerful in the country.

The kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira were reunited by Oswald at the battle of Heavenfield. Oswald had converted to Christianity while in exile in the Irish kingdom of Dal Riata in northern Britain and was at the head of a small army probably including Picts and Scots which defeated Cadwallon ap Cadfan, the king of Gwynedd. Cadwallon had been allied to the King of Mercia. After the battle Oswald got his compatriots to convert to Christianity and went on to found Lindisfarne. The episode illustrates how Britain then comprised of many small warring states ruled by Anglo-Saxons and Britons; and where the alliances don't always follow an Anglo-Saxon versus Britons divide. The battlefield at Heavenfield is on Hadrian's Wall a few miles east of Chesters and is marked by a small church.

The Wall was first described by the Venerable Bede (672 to 735 AD). He said that the Wall was eight feet broad and twelve heigh. By Bede's time the Wall was already a monument and would have already started to collapse, as it's now thought to have been fourteen to fifteen feet high.

The Border Wars with Scotland

Border Reivers reenactment at Birdoswald

After the Norman invasion the border regions of the North of England were often ravaged by the interminable border wars between England and Scotland, this allowed some people to make good use of the border by living one side and raiding on the other. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries these raiders known as the border reivers made the border a very dangerous place to live or visit. The Stanegate road was especially notorious. All this added to the underdevelopment of the border, and it wasn't until the Union of England and Scotland that the problem of the Reivers could finally be dealt with.

The early Historians

In the late sixteenth century the first historians started to explore the Wall. Camden visited the wall in 1599, although he couldn't visit the central part because of the troubles there. The length of the Wall was surveyed in 1708 and a chapter added to Camden's book

The Jacobite rebellion of 1745 again brought violence to the area. Carlisle was the last English city to be besieged when it's Jacobite garrison tried to hold out against the Goverment army. They were latter imprisoned in appalling conditions in Carlisle Castle. The rebellion also revealed a need for a road between Newcastle and Carlisle, as the army was unable to get across the country. The route chosen was along the course of Hadrian's Wall, using it's stones as building material. Today large sections of the Wall actually lie underneath the Military road

The Wall continued to be used as a convenient source of building materials right into Victorian times, and it was only then that people became aware of the need to preserve the Wall. Today many stones from the wall and sometimes carvings (even Roman alters) can be seen in the walls of houses and churches near to the wall, and it's worth taking a good look at some of the old buildings near to the Wall - Hexham abbey's crypt has an especially good selection!

Following the '45 rebellion people again started to explore the Wall. In 1801 William Hutton from Birmingham walked the Wall, probably the first visitor to do this. The journey then would have been far harder, but what makes it all the more remarkable is that William Hutton was 78 at the time. In the preface to his book 'The History of the Roman Wall' he wrote:

"Perhaps I am the first man that ever travelled the whole length of the Wall, and probably the last that will ever attempt it."

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