A history of Acomb

Acomb, in Northumberland is a village situated 2 miles upstream from Hexham on the south facing hill spur overlooking the Tyne Valley. The name derivative is Anglo-Saxon Old English Akum, meaning ‘where the oak trees are’. Acomb sits on the A6079 accessed from the A69 travelling west towards Carlisle.  Above Acomb the land stretches up to the Roman Wall.
Hadrian’s wall lies about a mile to the north-east of the village. There are lots of footpaths and bridleways to explore the surrounding area.

Acomb is in the parliamentary constituency of Hexham, Acomb Parish Council 

Acomb was a coal, lead mining and quarrying area with the Romans working the mining and quarrying at Fallowfield.

Acomb was part of Hexhamshire which was given in 674AD by the Northumbrian Queen  Etheldrid to St Wilfrid to support his newly founded cathedral. In the ensuing centuries the Bishops first of Hexham then of York granted pieces of it to be cleared and settled and to this day the route out of the village up towards the Roman Wall is called Bishops Hill. Acomb town was one of the constituent parts of the parish of St John Lee, the church of which stands conspicuous on a wooded spur between Acomb and Hexham and contains a Roman altar.  The Main Street is a Conservation  Area with many old stone houses dating from the 18th and 19th century. The Pant is the place of the ancient village green.

In 1694 change in cultivation from strips to enclosures resulted in increased prosperity and was reflected in the rebuilding of the village. Almost all the houses with date stones come from the succeeding 50 years .  The earliest dated house, Charehead Farmhouse 1661, remained as a farmhouse after enclosure as its block of land lay adjacent to it, but it acquired an up to date outfit of buildings in 1776.

The coal mine on Codlaw is mentioned as early as 1411 with Fallowfield Lead Mine being worked till1788.  Smelting took place on the Birkey Burn and below the caravan site , some of the ruins of which are still visible. The site was worked into the beginning of the last century and the engine house and engineer’s cottage in the former Longish Field are used as dwellings, the former conspicuous with its tall chimney and spoil heap.

The Water Mill present buildings date from 18th century, and the boat rake, a rope operated ferry across the Tyne, fixtures are still visible on Hermitage Bank.

Acknowledgement to Peter Kirsopp, Acomb, An Outline of History, from A Walk Through Acomb in the Year 2000.

The “Acomb Man”

The “Acomb Man” now displayed in Acomb village was found in 1970 on the banks of the North Tyne, just north of the Watersmeet at Howford.  A crudely executed frontal relief in Celtic rather than classical style depicts a smiling, bearded figure holding a club-like object upright in his right hand and another unidentified object in his left.  There is little doubt about the authenticity of this as a piece of the Roman period and it is not necessarily, or even likely to be, a native product.  Although unclassical, it has characteristics (like the lentoid eyes) found on similarly crude sculptures at Roman sites.  The club might suggest an identification as Hercules, but a local deity may just as well be in question.

The findspot at Howford has recently gained significance with the recognition of two Roman military camps only a few hundred yards to the south-east, now depicted on the new English Heritage Archaeological Map of Hadrian,s Wall.   The presence of these camps strongly suggests that this was the point where the main Roman route from Corbridge to Carlisle (The Stanegate) crossed the North Tyne.

The figure is carved on one end of an unworked and battered but roughly cylindrical piece of sandstone 0.86m long and about 0.40m in diameter which does not appear to be an architectural block.  The uncarved lower part could have been set into the ground.  It seems possible that the stone could have come from a shrine by the bridge or the ford by which the road crossed the river: alternatively it might have stood by the side of the entry to the ford/bridge, perhaps with a flanking companion piece, as a means of eliciting good fortune for those using the crossing.

Acknowledgement to Gordon Close, Acomb

The Pant
The Acomb Man
View from Millersfield
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