Bells of the Borders
The Bell name has expanded in the border area of England & Scotland and to date the largest number with the Bell surname reside in the area today. In 1881, areas most populated by the Bells were in Cumbria, Northumberland and Dumfries & Galloway and they continue to be found there. although their geographical distribution has been to the north and south of the Borders. The highest concentration of Bells per million people is still Carlisle, in Cumbria.
It is in the Borders area that from the 14th to the 17th century the Bells were active, being involved in the regular wars between England & Scotland that led progressively to the area becoming very lawless, violent and dangerous. Lawbreaking was mostly the preoccupation of the Border Reivers whose principle activity was invading property, stealing livestock and whatever else they could lay their hands on. For over 350 years the Border Reivers carried out their bloodthirsty raids in which victims lost their homes, their cattle and sometimes their lives.
Some of the worst culprits for the plundering activities on the Borders were the Bells, being one of the most powerful Border Reiver’s riding families, who lived in the ‘Debatable Land’ in the west of the border uncontrolled by Scotland or England. Families like the Bells lived as a brotherhood with their own laws. It was a turbulent area, the Bells being the most feared of the inhabitants there. The Reivers left a lasting testament to the English language as many a greiving widow was left ‘bereaved’ and many families were ‘blackmailed’.
Well known Bells include Ian b.1982, one of England’s cricket top batsman; Gertrude [1868-1926] writer archaeologist and spy whose activities in the Middle East had her described as the female Lawrence of Arabia. Martin b.1938, he was a war reporter who dramatically deposed as an Independent the Conservative MP Neil Hamilton. Last but not least, Bell’s whiskey, the UK’s best selling brand, that was originated by Arthur Bell of Perth in the 19th century.
Have you ever suspected your relatives as being a load of villains? Well you can have your worst fears confirmed at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery in Carlisle which is set between the Cathedral and the 12th century Carlisle Castle.