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Durham University

Cities in History: Archives and Traces, 1100 –1700

Attorney General vs Newcastle (1622)

The National Archives, E 134/20Jas1/East18

This case concerns Newcastle’s rights to pasture cows over the winter (known as ‘eatage’) on the town’s common fields and to dig for coal - a notably different urban common right from that exhibited in Newcastle v. Anthony Errington. The first set of depositions, on behalf of the town, asserts Newcastle’s rights over the Castle Moor (also known as the Town Moor, to the north and west of the walled town), nearby Castle Field (also known as Castle Leazes) and the Firth (to the west of Newcastle, marked on the map in Newcastle v Anthony Errington). Deponent Peter Thompson asserted that the Moor was laid as a meadow annually, until 1 August, when ‘that day the free Burgesses ... used yerely to putt their kyne unto the same Castle feild and from the same day have the eatage of the same groundes wth their Cattle, till the fyve and twentieth day of March...’ There seems also to have been an active coal mine on the Moor, at least at the end of the sixteenth century, so the fact that the ‘Maior and Burgesses have dureing the time of his memory gotten and wrought the mynes of Coles, upon the more called the Castle More’ was highly significant for them. The Firth had a different use: ‘The Maior and Burgesses doe and dureing his tyme have used to Walke to the uttermost bounders of the said ground and Feild called the Firth in their perambulation, And it is the usuall place for their musters and trayning of their soldiers...’.

A particular highlight here is the crisis of the ‘very great dunghill’ in the Castle Moat, a problem that was no doubt exacerbated by Newcastle’s rapidly growing population. Local farmoners (farmers or tenants) had previously cleared this out for fertiliser, but ‘haveing found so great quantityes of dung neerer hand their dwelling, vizt att the outside of the said Towne that they did not these six or seaven yeres fetch any dung from the said dunghill’. In mitigation, ‘the Maior and Aldermen were inforced to cause build a Wall about the said dunghill, to kepe the people from casting any more dung thereon, As also to keepe the same dunge from falling into the heigh streate or paved Cawsey thereby to stopp the passages of the people’. But the dunghill had now fallen onto the walls of the Castle which, argued the Town, made it the Castle’s problem, and therefore the King’s, as it was administratively part of the County of Northumberland and not the Town and County of Newcastle.

What unites these spaces is that they were outside the walled town of Newcastle, but subsumed into the broader ‘liberties’ of the town - or conversely in the case of the dunghill, was inside the town walls, but outside the liberties.