The Freemen have exercised their right to graze cows on the Moor from time immemorial, the right to do so having originated prior to the Norman Conquest. The Newcastle upon Tyne Town Moor Act 1988 states that the Stewards Committee shall decide the number of cows, not exceeding 800, which may be grazed. This number is dependant on the conditions and capacity of the areas available for grazing from year to year. In 2007, 549 cows were grazed.
Town Moor areas, as near as can be determined, are as below:
Nuns Moor (North, Central & South)
Other (allotments, playing fields, Little Benton and St. James' Park)
In many respects the prime value of the Freemen's rights is that they protect the open space, a wonderful asset for the City and its residents. This has been their main consideration over the last 250 years. Had there not been dual control over the Moors there can be no doubt, as highlighted by the schemes mentioned earlier, that the land would have been developed. It is an underlying principle of the Town Moor Act 1988 that the public of Newcastle should have the right of "air and exercise" on the Moor.
There have been some encroachments on the Moor by mutual agreement with the City Council. These have only taken place when the Freemen were satisfied that it was for the benefit of the public and the City. These include the Royal Victoria Infirmary, the former Fenham Barracks, various Parks, the University Halls of Residence, plantations and roads. Land exchange was taken in some instances, however, it must be said that this would be very unlikely to be the case today. Outlying areas are very difficult to manage and their identity lost to the public. (The largest area of 'exchange land', 30 acres at Little Benton, allowed the building of the University Halls of Residence on Leazes Moor.) The total taken out of Town Moor land since 1770 is approximately 210 acres leaving just under 1,000 acres. This is a fine record of preservation bearing in mind the pressures on open space, especially during the post war years.
The Royal Commission on Common land 1955-58 made several favourable references to the condition and management of the Moor in its Report. Describing the Moor as "an interesting example of a large area on the margin of a populous city centre where agricultural and recreational interests have been carefully married". They also stressed the necessity for proper grazing, without which land soon deteriorates and becomes derelict.
This very much agrees with the view of the Freemen as to the future of the Moor. To ensure that this remains a grazed open space it is vital that the 'dual control' system remains in place. The City Council is an elected body and a future Council may view matters in a different light. The Newcastle upon Tyne Town Moor Act 1988 protects the rights of the Freemen to this end and the Freemen are now in a stronger position to protect the open space from development. Various schemes are still proposed from time to time and the Freemen will remain vigilant in protecting the Moors. Changes to the pattern of use of the Intakes have been made, and will continue to be made as people's needs and interests change, but there is a strong determination that the acreage of the Moors will be strenuously defended. There can be little doubt that without their vigilance in the past and their courage to challenge authority there would be no Moors as we know them today. The commitment of the Freemen to protect the Moors, not just for future generations of Freemen, but for the City and citizens of Newcastle is paramount.
Is there another City with such an asset, often referred to as the 'lungs of the City' so close to its centre? It must be one of the finest urban open spaces in the United Kingdom.
Aerial Views of the Moor
Grazing and Land Management
Grazing is kept below the 'environmentally friendly' recommended level to support indigenous species of birds and wildlife. However it must be noted that the Town Moor is grazing pasture and without grazing there would be no open space.
The optimum pH level for grazing pasture is 6.5 and the natural grazing cycle keeps the balance within acceptable levels. However, soil tests are regularly taken to assess potash, potassium and nitrogen levels. Weather conditions can affect the treatment required. The pattern has been that none of the Moor requires annual treatment, over the last 10 years it has only been required, in varying levels, every third year. Pasture topping is kept to the very minimum and usually only carried out towards the end of the grazing season. (Due to Foot and Mouth Disease the pattern had to be adjusted in 2001.) The cow grazing the Town Moor is possibly the most efficient environmentally friendly recycling beast known to man. It mows the sward and returns the waste to the land in an easily absorbed material, sustaining the optimum pH level to support future crops of grass.
Occasionally top soil is imported to repair areas damaged by the holding of an event, these areas are re-seeded using a long term lay mixture containing, early, intermediate and late perennial ryegrasses, providing a balanced growth throughout the season. Also included are timothy, to give extra palatability and white clover to enrich the soil.
The open nature of Town Moor land supports many species not otherwise found in the normal urban City landscape. The Town Moor has a high skylark population and staff have observed a total of 46 species of birds over recent years.
During the grazing season a 24-hour emergency-only call-out is in operation. Contact Mr K. Batey, Town Moor Superintendent on 0779 877 1323.
The Hoppings is a major annual event in the North East; showmen travel from all over the country to attend. It is said to be the largest non-permanent fair in the world, perhaps because unlike many similar fairs held in streets, this one is in a large open space covering 28-30 acres. The amusements have changed from steam driven, ornately carved and decorated roundabouts to the white knuckle rides of today but the fair remains a temperance event. The fair is always held during the last full week in June.
Several origins have been suggested for the name. Most relate to dancing, the word 'hopping' meaning a dance in Middle English (Old fairs included dancing). Another idea stems from the clothing which the travellers use to wear - old, sack-like tops and pants. Clothing often became infested with fleas from the animals that travelled with the fair. People were often seen 'jumping' or 'hopping' about, itching from the bites which they received. Or the name may derive from the Anglo-Saxon word "hoppen" meaning funfair.