Northumberland is a county in the North East of England. The non-metropolitan county of Northumberland borders Cumbria to the west, County Durham to the south and Tyne and Wear to the south east, as well as having a border with the Scottish Borders council area to the north, and nearly eighty miles of North Sea coastline. Since the creation of Tyne and Wear in 1974, the county council has been located in Morpeth, situated in the east of the county; however, both Morpeth and Alnwick claim the title county town.
As the kingdom of Northumbria under King Edwin, the region's historical boundaries stretched from the Humber in the south to the Forth in the north. The historic boundaries of the county cover a different area, including Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the traditional county town, as well as Tynemouth and other settlements in North Tyneside, areas administered by Tyne and Wear since 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972. The historic boundaries of the county are sometimes taken to exclude Islandshire, Bedlingtonshire and Norhamshire (collectively North Durham), exclaves of County Durham which were incorporated into Northumberland in 1844.
Being on the border of Scotland and England, Northumberland has been the site of many battles. The county is noted for its undeveloped landscape of high moorland, a favourite with landscape painters, and now largely protected as a National Park. Northumberland is the most sparsely populated county in England, with only 62 people per square kilometre.
Once part of the Roman Empire and the scene of many wars between England and Scotland, Northumberland has a long and violent history. There are more castles there than anywhere else in England, including the castle of Alnwick, Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Warkworth.
The region of present-day Northumberland once formed the core of the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia, which was later united with Deira south of the River Tees to form Northumbria. Northumberland is often called the "cradle of Christianity" in England, because it was on Lindisfarne, a tidal island north of Bamburgh, also called Holy Island, that Christianity flourished when monks from Iona were sent to convert the English. Lindisfarne was the home of the Lindisfarne Gospels and Saint Cuthbert, who is buried in Durham Cathedral.
Bamburgh is the historic capital of Northumberland, the "royal" castle from before the unification of England under one monarch. The county town of Northumberland is now Morpeth, since Northumberland County Council's offices are in that town.
The lords of Northumberland once wielded significant power in English affairs because, as the Marcher Lords, they were entrusted with protecting England from Scottish invasion.
Northumberland has a history of revolt and rebellion against the government, as seen in the Rising of the North in Tudor times. These revolts were usually led by the then Dukes of Northumberland, the Percy family. Shakespeare makes one of the Percys, the dashing Harry Hotspur, the real hero of his Henry IV, Part 1.
The county was also a centre for Roman Catholicism in England, as well as of Jacobite feelings after the Restoration. Northumberland became a sort of wild county, where outlaws and Border Reivers hid from the law. However, the frequent cross-border skirmishes and accompanying local lawlessness largely subsided after the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England under King James I.
Northumberland played a key role in the industrial revolution. Coal mines were once widespread in Northumberland, with collieries at Ashington, Ellington and Pegswood The region's coalfields fuelled industrial expansion in other areas of the country, and the need to transport the coal from the collieries to the Tyne led to the development of the first railways. Shipbuilding and armaments manufacture were other important industries.
Today, Northumberland is still largely rural. As the least populated county in England, it commands much less influence in British affairs than in times past. In recent years the county has had considerable growth in tourism due to its scenic beauty and the abundant evidence of its historical significance.
The physical geography of Northumberland is diverse. It is low and flat near the North Sea coast and increasingly mountainous toward the northwest. The Cheviot Hills, in the northwest of the county, consist mainly of resistant Devonian granite and andesite lava. A second area of igneous rock underlies Whin Sill (on which Hadrian's Wall runs), an intrusion of carboniferous Dolerite. Both ridges support a rather bare moorland landscape. Either side of Whin Sill the county lies on carboniferous limestone, giving some areas of karst landscape. Lying off the coast of Northumberland are the Farne Islands, another Dolerite outcrop, famous for their bird life.
There are coal fields in the southeast corner of the county, extending along the coastal region north of the river Tyne. The term 'sea coal' likely originated from chunks of coal, found washed up on beaches, that wave action had broken from coastal outcroppings.
Being in the far north of England, above 55° latitude, and having many areas of high land, Northumberland is one of the coldest areas of the country. It has an average annual temperature of 7.1 to 9.3 °C, with the coldest temperatures inland. However, the county lies on the east coast, and has relatively low rainfall, between 466 and 1060 mm annually, mostly falling in the west on the high land. Between 1971 and 2000 the county averaged 1321 to 1390 hours of sunshine per year.
Approximately a quarter of the county is protected as the Northumberland National Park, an area of outstanding landscape that has largely been protected from development and agriculture. The park stretches south from the Scottish border and includes Hadrian's Wall. Most of the park is over 800 feet (240 metres) above sea level. The Northumberland Coast is also a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
This is a chart of trend of regional gross value added of Northumberland at current basic prices published (pp.240-253) by Office for National Statistics with figures in millions of British Pounds Sterling.
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Northumberland has a relatively weak economy amongst the counties and other local government areas of the United Kingdom. The county is ranked sixth lowest amongst these 63 council areas. In 2003 23% of males and 60% of females were earning less than the Council of Europe's decency threshold. As of May 2005 unemployment is at 2.3%, in line with the national average. Between 1999 and 2003 businesses in the county grew 4.4% to 8,225, making 0.45% of registered businesses in the UK.
Being primarily rural with significant areas of upland, the population density of Northumberland is only 62 persons per square kilometre giving it the lowest population density of any county in England.
Like most English shire counties Northumberland has had a two-tier system of local government. At present (2008) it still has a county council based in Morpeth and also has six districts, each with their own district council. These districts are, Blyth Valley, Wansbeck, Castle Morpeth, Tynedale, Alnwick and Berwick-upon-Tweed. The county and district councils are responsible for different aspects of local government.
However, the Department for Communities and Local Government have passed plans to reorganise Northumberland's administrative structure. Two proposals were looked at - one to abolish all of the districts to create a Northumberland unitary authority; and one to create two separate unitary authorities, South East Northumberland (the area now covered by Blyth Valley and Wansbeck), and Rural Northumberland (the area now covered by the other four districts). The proposal for a countywide unitary authority was approved in July 2007. The changes are planned to be implemented no later than 1 April 2009 as part of the 2009 structural changes to local government in England.
Northumberland has traditions not found elsewhere in England. These include the rapper sword dance, the Clog dance and the Northumbrian smallpipe, a sweet chamber instrument, quite unlike the Scottish bagpipe. Northumberland also has its own tartan or check, sometimes referred to in Scotland as the Shepherd's Tartan. Traditional Northumberland music sounds similar to Lowland Scottish music, reflecting the strong historical links between Northumbria and the Lowlands of Scotland.
The Border ballads of the region have been famous since late mediaeval times. Thomas Percy, whose celebrated Reliques of Ancient English Poetry appeared in 1765, states that most of the minstrels who sang the Border ballads in London and elsewhere in the 15th and 16th centuries belonged to the North. The activities of Sir Walter Scott and others in the 19th century gave the ballads an even wider popularity. William Morris considered them to be the greatest poems in the language, while Algernon Swinburne knew virtually all of them by heart.
One of the best-known is the stirring Chevy Chase, which tells of the Earl of Northumberland's vow to hunt for three days across the Border 'maugre the doughty Douglas'. Of it, the Elizabethan courtier, soldier and poet Sir Philip Sidney famously said: 'I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet'. Ben Jonson said that he would give all his works to have written Chevy Chase.
Overall the culture of Northumberland, as with the north east of England in general, has much in common with Scottish Lowland culture than each has with the rest of their respective countries. Firstly both regions have their cultural origins in the old Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria,this is borne out by the linguistic links between the two regions, which include many Old English words not found in other forms of Modern English, such as bairn for child (see Scots language and Northumbria). The other reason for the close cultural links is the clear pattern of net southward migration. There are more Scots in England than English people north of the border. Much of this movement is cross-county rather than distant migration, and the incomers thus bring aspects of their culture as well as re-enforce shared cultural traits from both sides of the the Anglo-Scottish border. Whatever the case, the lands just north or south of the border have long had a common history due to their common Northumbrian heritage and thus it is thought by many that the Anglo-Scottish border is largely political rather than cultural.
Attempts to raise the level of awareness of Northumberland culture have also started, with the formation of a Northumbrian Language Society to preserve the unique dialects (Pitmatic and other Northumbrian dialects) of this region, as well as to promote home-grown talent.
Northumberland has its own flag, which is a banner of the arms of Northumberland County Council. The shield of arms is in turn based on the arms mediæval heralds had atttributed to the Kingdom of Bernicia (which the first County Council used until they received a regular grant of arms). The Bernician arms were fictional but inspired by Bede's brief description of a flag used on the tomb of St Oswald in the 7th century.
Lionheart FM, a community radio station based in Alnwick, has recently been awarded a five-year community broadcasting license by OFCOM. Radio Borders covers Berwick and the rural north of the county.
Other notable births include: