Ancroft Village - A Brief History


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 St Anne, the village took its name from the Church, that is St Anne’s Croft and a third suggestion is that simply it means one 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 in Ancroft.

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 a fruit- less 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 street 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 1,000. 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 aboard 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 100 trees on the southern skyline represents a cobbler.

The main building in Ancroft is the Church which was one of four chapelries which the monks of Holy Island established to consolidate their estates on the mainland. The monks of Holy Island seemed to have built the church around 1089, and interestingly the stone for Lindisfarne Priory came from Cheswick in Ancroft parish. The church is dedicated to St Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary .

Ancroft did once have a pub called The Lamb. The sign can still be seen on the building in the village which is now several houses. Other significant buildings are the Manor House and the Town Farm.

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