The history of Haswell

Brigantes to Boldon Book.

We know from Roman writers that at the end of the Iron Age most of the north-east was ruled by just two tribes. To the north were the Votadini whose land stretched as far north as Edinburgh. South of them were the lands of the Brigantes, who probably ruled as far south as the southern edge of the North York Moors. The East Durham Plateau was originally part of the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bernicia and was occupied by the quarrelsome and warring tribe of the Brigantes.

Early times

Sadly, very little is known about Haswell before the medieval period. There was certainly some kind of settlement here in the Anglo-Saxon period, as the name of the village is derived from the Old English 'Haesel Wella', meaning 'Hazel Well' or 'Hazel Spring'. However, the village was only first recorded (as Hessewella in 1131 and Hessewelle in 1155) in the 12th century.

The original village of Haswell was sited at High Haswell where only two farms, barns, outbuildings and a private dwelling house remain. Here the rounded hilltops offered an outstanding look-out place and also a strong defensible position. On Pig or Pick Hill, between High Haswell and Easington Lane, earthworks of a pre-Roman Iron Age settlement have been found.

The Romans were the first to make a significant and lasting impact on the county's settlements and communications. The Roman occupation began under the Emperor CLaudius in 43 A.D. At that time when southern tribes like the Cantii or men of Kent, were farming the land, clothing themselves and living in communities, the northern Brigantes hated the Romans and lived the lives of warriors. It is likely that at this time the area we now know as the Easington area was only sparsely populated.

When the Romans withdrew from Britain the shores were subjected to the attentions of raiders from Denmark and Germany - the Angles, Saxons and Jutes - who came in search of farmland and some sort of village life was established in the area. Many of the place names in the Easington District are of Saxon origin and at some point during this period the tiny vill of Haswell appeared.

In 1066 William Duke of Normandy defeated the Anglo-Saxon King, Harold II, at the Battle of Hastings and became King of England. The Norman conquest brought great misery for the North East. Much of the land was burned and laid waste during William the Conquerors infamous 'Northern Expedition' (1069/70) to avenge a Saxon rebellion against him. In 1085 England was again threatened with invasion, this time from Denmark. William had to pay for the mercenary army he hired to defend his kingdom. To do this he needed to discover who owned what, how much it was worth, and how much was owed to him as King. At Christmas 1085 William the Conqueror commissioned a great survey to discover the resources and taxable values of all the boroughs and manors in England. No one can be absolutely certain why the Domesday Book did not cover Northumbria and Durham although it is likely that the area had not recovered from the violence by 1086 when the survey was undertaken and consequently, like the rest of the district, there is no mention of Haswell in the records.

In 1183, Hugh de Puiset, Bishop of Durham, ordered a survey of customal accounts. This inventory listed the labour, money and produce owed to the Bishop. The first place to be described outside Durham was Boldon, and thereafter the phrase, 'they pay rent and work as at Boldon' appears regularly. At an early date the whole document became known as `Boldon Buke'. Unfortunately it is not a comprehensive survey since it only concerned itself with tenants of lands controlled by the church and freeholders are ignored. Although it gives a fairly comprehensive picture of the Bishopric at that time only seven places in the Easington district are mentioned and Haswell is not one of them.


43 AD The Romans landed in Kent, pushed aside all resistance, and the Emperor Claudius claimed Colchester as the capital of Rome's latest province.

61 AD Boadicea (Boudicca) led the Iceni tribe into battle against the Romans.

122 AD The building of Hadrian's Wall began and took some six years to complete.

410 AD - c 600 The Romans withdraw and the Dark Ages begin. The Anglo-Saxons invade and populate the south-east of England before extending their settlements and founding more kingdoms along the coastline until they hold most of the land.

793 AD The First Viking attack on Lindisfarne. This is the earliest recorded and the best known of the Viking raids on Britain.

871 AD Alfred the Great becomes King of Wessex

1017 AD Vikings triumph when Knut (Canute) becomes king of all England.

1066 AD The Normans invade and King Harold is slain. William of Normandy proclaimed conqueror and King

1086 AD The Domesday Book is commissioned.

1183 AD The Bishop of Durham orders the survey which results in 'The Boldon Buke'

Find out about the Domesday Book