NT9923 : Aqueduct, Old Middleton

taken 8 years ago, near to North Middleton, Northumberland, Great Britain

This is 1 of 2 images, with title Aqueduct, Old Middleton in this square
Aqueduct, Old Middleton
Aqueduct, Old Middleton
This linear feature provoked much discussion among the walking group. It is very prominent from the far side of the valley, close to the ruined barn. From there it looked almost level, contouring the hillside. Close up, it has the appearance of a deep but narrow ditch, capped at intervals with irregular cap-stones. It appeared to dip gradually towards the valley below but there was no sound of running water. Where it approaches the track at its north end, the capping stones end, and the ditch is splayed out, and apparently disused NT9924 : Aqueduct, Old Middleton. What exactly was it for and when was it built?

Clearly engineered to carry water, and apparently in a direction to the south, towards the existing stream valley and the deserted village. Did it provide power for a mill? If so, why not use the copious supply of water flowing in the other direction in the main burn.

What we saw after rounding the corner on the track to North Middleton just increased the mystery and surprised us all.

Just round the corner beside the track which descends to North Middleton, a pipe gushes a strong flow of water into a ditch NT9924 : Water outlet, west of North Middleton

If the source of this water is the aqueduct, the water must actually flow in the reverse direction, towards, not away from, the photographer. Evidence comes from the current 1:10,000 OS Map which shows a short channel coming from the burn to the south-west with the label 'sinks', and the outlet by the track to the north, labelled 'issues'. It is presumably piped within the ditch and protected with the capping stones. At the top of the ridge, it must be cut deeper below ground, to avoid having to go up hill.

If this is the correct interpretation, it is a wonderful feat of hydraulic engineering. Old maps show that it used to provide a supply of water for a small pond (possibly a millpond) formerly situated just west of North Middleton farm. Proof will come with observation of the southern end of this watercourse about how water is fed from the burn close to Old Middleton deserted village. There is no evidence that a pump, or hydraulic ram, is in use.

The aqueduct and water supply must be regularly maintained, presumably because it is still actively in use as a farm supply.

If someone tells me the aqueduct was built to take water south as we originally proposed, I will of course eat my hat, and alter my description accordingly. I hope to return soon to have a closer look at its southern end where it joins with the burn, close to the path which goes south-east to South Middleton.

Middleton Old Town

The earthwork remains of the deserted medieval village of North Middleton are a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Aerial view: LinkExternal link

The remains of North Middleton medieval village lie each side of a tributary of Coldgate Water. There are two rows of small plots, with enclosures and platforms representing at least six buildings facing each other across a hollow way which runs east to west. The remains survive as earthworks, in places over one metre high. The exposed walls of some buildings show their construction of stone bonded with clay. The largest building is about 27m long and the smallest 8m. Other features of the village include a well, a possible kiln, and areas of ridge and furrow cultivation.

Old documents suggest this is the village of North Middleton, although it was originally called Midilest Middleton when first mentioned in 1242. Some of the documents help to give an idea of how many people may have lived here, for example in 1296 there were eight taxpayers and in 1580 there were eleven tenants. The settlement probably moved at the end of the C18th and only a few buildings were left standing here by about 1800.

There are two ruined modern cottages on the north side of the village.

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North Middleton Aqueduct :: NT9924

The farmer at North Middleton confirmed the interpretation discussed here NT9923 : Aqueduct, Old Middleton

The inlet, on the stream to the south, is actually higher than the outlet to the north. However, it certainly doesn't look it, a situation he describes as an optical illusion, and told me it surprised him when he first saw it. He described it as Cheviot's version of the 'Electric Brae' in Ayrshire NS2513 : The Electric Brae Experience.

The water is conveyed through the aqueduct in a pipe which in places may be quite deep below ground level, as running water cannot be heard directly above. It is undoubtedly a lot deeper where it cuts through the top of the ridge, as the water outlet on the far side is clearly lower than the top reached by the track.

The farmer told me that there are few problems apart from an occasional blockage of the grill directly where water leaves the burn in Old Middleton deserted village. Although he didn't know when it had been made, he thought it was likely to have been in the C19th, and provided a water supply to the millpond just west of North Middleton Farm. The old pond is now covered.

Large scale OS maps, from 1895 until present, show the south end of the aqueduct as an open channel leading off the main stream to a point below the low crags where the aqueduct cap stones start today. Much of its course has now been filled in but ran slightly further north to that followed by the now underground pipe. The course of the main stream appears to have been re-routed slightly south from a bend upstream, to provide a straight input into the aqueduct channel at a slightly higher level. An overflow from this new channel bent sharply north, to rejoin the former stream bed. Water flow could have been controlled at this point by a sluice gate. After 1923, this route was also altered, and the bend to rejoin the former stream bed is now further east.

Perhaps the stream had cut its own new channel in a time of flood or after the aqueduct had gone out of use. An aerial photo of Old Middleton deserted village taken by Tim Gates in 1977 clearly shows the channel at the south end from where it leaves the stream, to its dog-leg bend which takes it to the base of the crag line at the bottom of the slope. That it is a deep channel is clearly shown as it is crossed by a bridge which carries the track from the old village. The channel has been largely filled in and only traces of its former course are now visible.

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Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   © Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
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NT9923, 31 images   (more nearby search)
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Date Taken
Friday, 26 October, 2012   (more nearby)
Tuesday, 30 October, 2012
Geographical Context
Historic sites and artefacts  Uplands  Paths  Grassland  Rivers, Streams, Drainage 
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NT 9920 2398 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:30.5752N 2:0.8534W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NT 9920 2399
View Direction
South-southwest (about 202 degrees)
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