Beadnell, Northumberland

Beadnell occupies a unique position on Northumberland’s coast, being the only west facing harbour in the county. Today the harbour is a popular tourist attraction, but the village has a surprising industrial past that was dominated by lime burning, quarrying and the fishing industry.

 

Beadnell harbour, Northumberland
Beadnell harbour, Northumberland

The extant harbour was constructed in the late 18th century by John Wood, a local land owner who was also responsible for building the large lime kilns to the rear of the harbour. Today’s harbour at Beadnell has been rebuilt several times since John Wood’s day and it now incorporates remains of World War Two anti-landing defences in the form of anti-tank blocks.

Modern harbour wall constructed from anti-tank blocks
Modern harbour wall constructed from anti-tank blocks
The restored limekilns on Beadnell harbour
The restored limekilns on Beadnell harbour

Beadnell limekilns

John Wood ordered the construction of the harbour some time after 1798 when he leased the rights to coal and lime in Beadnell to Richard Pringle, who was also given permission to build a limekiln on the new pier and complete the construction of the harbour. A total of three abutting kilns were eventually constructed, with the central one apparently built first. When the kilns were in use crushed limestone and coal were loaded in layers into the top of the kiln, which would then be lit; after firing the resulting quicklime would be shovelled out of the base of the kilns into waiting ships. The quicklime was used in a wide range of businesses from agriculture to building; with much of the quicklime produced in Beadnell being sold in Scotland (Porteous 2013, 8). By 1822 the kilns were no longer used to produce quicklime and had been converted in to a smokehouse to cure some of the many herring caught by local fishermen (Northumberland County Council Historic Environment Record, HER Id: 5790).The 18th-century limekilns on Beadnell harbour were restored by the National Trust in the 20th century

CITiZAN volunteers record one of the Dell Point limekilns
CITiZAN volunteers record one of the Dell Point limekilns

Although the most obvious of the limekilns in Beadnell those constructed by Pringle are not the only ones located along the local coastline. The oldest known limekiln in Beadnell is located on Ebb’s Sneuk, a short distance north of Wood’s harbour. This limekiln was archaeologically excavated in the mid-1990s after it had been exposed by fierce storms during the 1980s. When it was excavated it was found to be a well-constructed kiln with two flues, which were filled with a mixture of sand, ash, lime and charcoal. The heat affected material recovered from the kiln was archaeomagnetically dated to the late-15th century (Williams 1995, 6). A third limekiln found slightly further north again can be seen eroding from the southern side of Dell Point. This limekiln is marked on a map drawn in 1759 and is shown as one of four kilns on the headland. The remains of the limekiln were recorded by CITiZAN in August with the help of our volunteers.

The remains of the Ebb’s Sneuk limekiln
The remains of the Ebb’s Sneuk limekiln
A characteristically-tiled salt cellar roof
A characteristically-tiled salt cellar roof

A thriving fishing industry

Possibly the oldest industry in Beadnell is fishing with several references in the medieval period referring to “Bidnelfysh”, including the prior of Holy Island sending Bidnelfysh to the monks of Durham in the early-15th century (Craster 1956; Fraser 1968). Scattered throughout the village are remains of the post-medieval fishing industry that once thrived in Beadnell, including bark pots, where tar would have been produced to treat nets and salt cellars, where salt to preserve the days catch was stored (Porteous 2013, 21 and 42).

The remains of the medieval and later fishing industry can be extremely difficult to spot on the foreshore around Beadnell, which is why we are fortunate that the eminent local historian Katrina Porteous has been so kind in guiding us around the area. You can read about some of Katrina’s excellent research on Beadnell in the blog she wrote for us on the village’s reading room.

Of particular interest to CITiZAN’s northern team are the hullies found cut into the bedrock on the foreshore. Known locally as Bratt Holes (Bratt is a Northumberland name for Turbot) these rock-cut troughs were originally lidded and used to store live cod, lobster and oysters in order to keep them fresh before they were transported south to market (Porteous 2013, 48).

One of several rock-cut Bratt holes on the Beadnell foreshore
One of several rock-cut Bratt holes on the Beadnell foreshore
The possible Old Pier
The possible Old Pier

The 'Old Pier'

Perhaps the most intriguing feature to be seen on the foreshore is the remains of a stone structure, which lies in amongst a scatter of boulders to the south of the contemporary harbour. Robertson’s map of 1759 shows a stone-built feature running from the southwest corner of area of the modern harbour, which is labelled ‘old pier’ (Porteous 2013, 18). On the ground this feature can be difficulty to see, but luckily CITiZAN isn’t always earth bound and can call in air support when needed. As Peter Rauxloh, MOLA’s Director of Technology Solutions and resident drone expert, explains:

Our drones are an ideal tool for the CITiZAN team, whose work involves the monitoring and recording of features in the inter tidal-zone where the window of opportunity can be short and the footing treacherous.  In Beadnell we were here to answer the questions:  Did the material we can see protruding from the seaward side of the harbour at Old Beadnell in Northumberland, constitute a properly built feature, or was it only ever rubble?  Was the feature a simple dump of material, laid down to protect the fishing boats and vessels loading up with processed lime from the quay-side kilns?
 
Peter and Megan survey in ground controls for the aerial survey of the possible Old Pier
Peter and Megan survey in ground controls for the aerial survey of the possible Old Pier
Our work followed the normal process of laying out ground targets, over the beach area and stone rubble of the potential pier.  The precise location of these targets were then carefully measured.  We then flew the aircraft over the entire area in a tight pattern like a tractor ploughing a field.  In this case it was important to accurately capture the three dimensionality of the site, (rather than just its area), so we flew the aircraft across the foreshore too.  That is we ploughed up and down the field and then from left to right.  
The aerial survey technique relies on there being very high levels of overlap between successive images; typically 75-80%.  This is required because the process applied to the images needs to see the target from a variety of angles, and the criss-cross pattern increases that number.  By moving around the target we understand it’s structure, hence the computing approach being applied is known as structure from motion or SfM.
The flight took place at 40m above the ground, captured 171 images, in which each pixel represented 1.4cm on the ground.  This can be contrasted with the aerial photography you can see in Google maps, which typically has a 25cm per pixel resolution.The images and ground control targets were then processed to produce a single combined image, in which one is looking directly down over the entire area - a view that a single image cannot provide. In an orthomosaic like all digital pictures or TV screens, each cell shows a colour.However, the SfM processing also produced a plan of the area in which each cell, indicates a height.This Digital Elevation Model (or DEM) is incredibly detailed, comprising just over 1 heighted point for every 3 square centimetres.

This level of detail is crucial to unlocking the riddle of the pier, since it means we can not only see the height of individual stones, but also the form and slope of their surface. 

Back in the office Peter processed all the information gathered through the drone to produce these fantastic models in which the structure can clearly be seen.

The 3D models show the structure as a wide stone wall, with at least two courses of masonry surviving. The wall can be seen running east-west across the rocky foreshore and appears to kink to the northeast, heading back towards the shore. The model clearly shows that the feature exists on the ground, something not easy to see from eye height; however the function of the pier will have to remain a mystery for the moment. Did it act as a harbour wall protecting some of the fishing fleet of Beadnell? Or perhaps it acted as pier enabling passengers to disembark from their vessels at high tide? Hopefully time and tide will reveal more to help us understand this feature further.

References

  • Craster E 1956, ‘Beadnell in the 18th century’ Archaeologia Aeliana, Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, xxxiv, 161-174
  • Fraser M 1968, ‘The Northumberland Lay Subsidy roll of 1296’, Archaeologia Aeliana, Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, xxvi
  • Porteous K 2013, Limekilns and Lobsterpots: A walk around old Beadnell, Windmillsteads Books, 7-9
  • Williams E 1995, ‘Work on Beadnell Point’, Archaeology in Northumberland, 1999-1995, 6