Ancroft

Ancroft

Ancroft is a village within the Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed, in Northumberland, England. Prior to 1844, Ancroft lay within the Islandshire exclave of County Durham. It is south of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

There are several suggestions as to how Ancroft got its name. It might be an abridged version of "Aidan's-croft" - the croft of St Aidan who was the first Bishop of Lindisfarne (Holy Island). Alternatively, it might be that as the church is dedicated to Saint Anne, the village took its name from the church - "St Anne's croft". A third suggestion is simply that it means one croft or solitary croft - "ane croft".

There was surely more than one croft here when the church was built, probably towards the end of the 11th century. But in common with most of this region, the community declined in the latter part of the 13th century because of the continual border raids by the Scots. This turbulent history is reflected in the number of castles and peel towers in the vicinity, besides the peel tower that forms part of the church.

Because of the repeated incursions by Scots, this northern part of what we now call Northumberland was placed in the charge of the prince-bishops of Durham. They were powerful and wealthy men who had the resources to defend the border. That is why well into the last century this area was still part of County Durham.

After the accession of James I to the throne of England and Scotland in 1603 there seems to have been a return of people to the village. But in 1667 the plague struck Ancroft, The victims were carried out into the fields where they were covered with shelters made from branches of broom. After death both bodies and shelters were burned in a rudimentary and fruitless attempt to control the spread of the disease. To this day a field to the south of the village is called "Broomie Huts". In desperation the authorities of the day ordered that the plague-affected cottages should be burned to the ground. The mounds where the cottages stood, and the former village streel can still be seen in the field between the main road and the burn.

By the time of Queen Anne (1702 - 1714) the village was flourishing once more, with a population of over one thousand. The main industry, other than farming, was shoe and clog making. Sailors of the Royal Navy wore shoes or slippers from Ancroft. The naval specification required footwear with no metal parts - an obvious precaution to avoid sparks in a wooden ship loaded with gunpowder and tarred rope! Boots were also made for the British army - the Duke of Marlborough's troops marched to victory shod in Ancroft boots. A village tradition claims that each of the one hundred trees on the southern skyline represents a cobbler.

Several of the local settlements originated around coal mines, an industry which is being redeveloped in today's open cast sites.

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