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More about Catcleugh Reservoir
Today, Catcleugh Reservoir is still an important source of water for people living and working in Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead, and some surrounding areas.
It forms part of a wider network of reservoirs connected by tunnels and aqueducts that run northwest to southeast – Catcleugh Reservoir, Colt Crag Reservoir, Little Swinburne Reservoir, Hallington Reservoirs, and Whittle Dene.
The reservoir also supports a thriving wildlife population thanks to its location close to Whitelee Moor National Nature Reserve. Expect to see buzzards, ospreys and herons, as well as otters, red squirrels, badgers, roe deer and bats.
Catcleugh Reservoir is privately owned but during the summer months Northumberland National Park Authority often runs guided tours of the site, including the Black House, and the church and school that were built to support the hundreds of workers and their families that lived in the area.
An interesting fact: the land on which Catcleugh Reservoir is built was bought from several landowners, including the Duke of Northumberland. In the 19th century, the Duke of Northumberland owned over 6,000 acres of land in the upper Redesdale valley.
There are lots of popular walking and cycling routes in and around Catcleugh Reservoir providing stunning views of Northumberland National Park.
Amid the Hills of Redesdale – an audio drama by Northumberland writer Rachel Cochrane
Inside St. Francis’ Church, you might have seen the stained glass window commemorating the 64 men, women and children who died during the building of Catcleugh Reservoir.
The reservoir was constructed between 1891 and 1905, holds 1.5 billion litres of water, and still supplies drinking water to Newcastle, Gateshead and surrounding areas today.
Northumberland writer, Rachel Cochrane, remembers the forgotten army of workers and their families who came from near and far to build the Catcleugh Reservoir, in this audio drama, Amid the Hills of Redesdale.
Performed by residents of Redesdale and inspired by artefacts and photographs left behind by those who were part of the Catcleugh story, the drama unfolds through a series of monologues, with characters telling their imagined stories of joy and tragedy against a backdrop of brutal hard work and danger.
The play drew on extensive research carried out by Northumberland National Park volunteer, Tony Evans, author of They Danced, They Drank and They Built a Reservoir. The play is also dedicated to the memory of Beryl Charlton, local author, historian and archaeologist, who played the part of Dorothy Temple in the play, and who sadly passed away in July 2021, shortly after recording.
Due to Covid restrictions and lockdown in March 2020, rehearsals were held online via video calls which not only helped the progression of the radio play and kept people safe, it also brought people together virtually and kept spirits high, in what was for many a lonely and difficult time.
The play was recorded in May 2021 at Elsdon Village Hall, with Covid safety measures in place; the young participants recorded their monologues from home.
More about the Black House
This is the last remaining dwelling that was built to house the Catcleugh Reservoir construction workers and their families in the late 19th century.
Two small towns of wooden huts, housing up to 600 people, once stood on the north and south banks of the River Rede, and were nicknamed ‘Newcastle’ on the north bank, and ‘Gateshead’ on the south. The huts were coated in tar to make them waterproof, giving rise to the name ‘The Black Houses’.
After Catcleugh Reservoir was complete, the Black Houses were demolished – except for this one, which has served as an office and a store room over the years.
It’s now been lovingly restored and its living room, bedrooms, pantry and wash-house contain artefacts that would have been used in everyday life in the 1800s. Tours of The Black House take place several times a year; find out more here.
Chattlehope Farm excavation
In September 2019, a group of volunteers from North of the Wall Tynedale Archaeology Group (NOWTAG) and Revitalising Redesdale Landscape Partnership led a Community Archaeology Landscape Survey of Chattlehope Farm in Redesdale.
Part of the Lost Redesdale community archaeology projects, the Level 1 survey of approximately 43 hectares of land found 27 sites of potential archaeological interest. A detailed survey report by Phil Bowyer, Andy Curtis and Martin Green outlined some of the group’s findings.
LIDAR and aerial photographs suggest that much of the area to the south of the Catcleugh reservoir was ploughland in the medieval era. A dwarf-walled building found on the site is most likely the remains of a medieval farmstead in use around the 13th century.
Elsewhere, areas of land with reasonable quality grass that have been cleared of stones suggest use in prehistoric periods when the weather was better than later eras; in particular the Bronze Age around 1,500BC when arable farms could be sited at altitudes above the later head-dykes.
In the East of Chattlehope Farm, a scooped enclosure from what is believed to be the Iron Age sits high above a plantation enclosure.
The detailed survey, which is available to view here, suggests the landscape around Chattlehope Farm was inhabited by humans dating as far back as prehistoric times. It also shows examples of continuity and change through medieval and post-medieval eras.
The excavation of Chattlehope Farm is part of a series of projects looking at the remains of ancient settlements and farming systems in Redesdale. It provides volunteers, students and Young Archaeologists’ Clubs with the opportunity to participate in archaeological surveys and excavations, developing skills and experience. Read more about the project here.