Corbridge is an exceptionally attractive village standing on the north bank of the River Tyne some 16 miles west of Newcastle upon Tyne, and a little over three east of Hexham. The village has been bypassed to the north by the A69 since 1977, and to the east by the A68 since 1982, so you will only find yourself in Corbridge if you actually want to be here. It is well worth the slight detour, whichever direction you are travelling in.
You can think of the centre of Corbridge as comprising two very roughly north-south streets, linked together by a series of (also very roughly) east-west streets. There are two fixed points essential to understanding the layout of the village. The first is the bridge over the River Tyne at the southern end of the village, and the second is the Market Place, at its heart. Several things come together to make Corbridge such an attractive place, but perhaps the most obvious are the age of many of its buildings and the fact that almost all are constructed of the same light coloured stone.
The Market Place is an excellent spot from which to start an exploration of Corbridge. At its centre stands the Percy Cross, a market cross paid for in 1814 by the Duke of Northumberland. This is very unusual in having a shaft and cross made of cast iron, and it stands on a circular stepped base. Also in the Market Place is the pyramid-topped Market Place Pant. This dates back to 1815 and was one of a series of "pants" or drinking fountains that once provided the village with fresh water. A number of these still survive in different parts of Corbridge.
Overlooking the Market Place on its northern side is St Andrew's Parish Church. A church has stood on this spot since 674, and some of the original Saxon nave remains visible today, despite the significant changes that have been made to the church over its enormously long life. Views of the church from the Market Place are interrupted by the stone lych gate, built as a memorial to those who fell in the First World War. On the south-east side of the churchyard, a little concealed by trees and other buildings, is a stone vicar's pele, a small defensive tower house to keep the vicar and his family safe. This was probably built in the 1300s, drawing heavily, like many of Corbridge's early buildings, on readily available stone from Coriosopitum, the Roman town that stood half a mile to the north-west. Close to the door into the tower is Corbridge's original market cross, whose shaft dates back to the 1200s, and whose base is the reused top of a Roman column.
Running north past the west end of St Andrew's is Watling Street. This reflects the Roman heritage of the area, but is a slightly confusing name as the best known Watling Street ran from Dover to North Wales. Built into the wall of the churchyard overlooking this street is The King's Oven. This is a communal oven first used in 1310 (and used as recently as the 1800s) intended to allow residents to bake their bread. The view north along Watling Street is closed off by The Wheatsheaf Hotel, one of a number of large inns and hotels in the village which reflect Corbridge's location at an important crossroads on the coaching networks of the 1700s. A yard behind the hotel is overlooked by a Roman statue in a squared niche high on one wall: presumably liberated from the Roman town at some point in antiquity.
The Wheatsheaf stands at one end of St Helen's Street, the most northerly of the four "cross" streets within the heart of the village itself. The street takes its name from the presence here of a (long gone) medieval chapel. Perhaps the most significant of the east-west roads is Hill Street, which runs along the north side of St Andrew's before broadening out. On the north side of its eastern end stands the Golden Lion, another large inn, while on the opposite side of the north-south Princes Street and closing views along Hill Street is Corbridge's Town Hall, built in 1887.
Heading (slightly south of) east from the Market Place is a choice of roads, Middle Street and Front Street. The Black Bull on Middle Street comes complete with an intriguing inscription on a window frame: "Marj, U.S EII 1755". We've no idea what some of it means, though the date is an obvious element and presumably indicates the date of construction of the inn. Middle Street and Front Street come together at the west end of Main Street, which heads out of the village towards Newcastle upon Tyne, forming what was until 1977 part of the A69.
The near end of Main Street is dominated by the Angel Inn on its north side, while a little further along on the same side is Low Hall, said to be Corbridge's oldest house and partly built in the years either side of 1400. If you turn right on reaching the near end of Main Street you can follow a continuation of Prince's Street down to Corbridge Bridge. The structure you see today is made up of seven arches with a total span of 146m. It was built in 1674 and widened in 1881. Major flooding struck the Tyne Valley in 1771, and Corbridge Bridge was the only bridge along the length of the River Tyne not to be destroyed. The bridge you see today is said to have replaced a medieval bridge built in 1235 which had become derelict by the 1600s. The River Tyne was first bridged by the Romans, and traces of their bridge can be found on the river bed to the south of the site of the Roman town and to the west of the later bridge and modern Corbridge.
As is clear from the above, the origins of Corbridge owe much to the Romans. Their town at Coriosopitum, now known as Corbridge Roman Town, stood half a mile to the north-west and large parts of it have been excavated and opened to visitors. The traditional wisdom is that Roman Corbridge simply fizzled out after the departure of the legions in the early 400s, and that the Saxon settlement of Corbridge then simply formed a couple of centuries later on a site almost immediately to the south-east of it. It seems much more likely that the residents of Roman Corbridge and their descendents never really left, but that with the coming of the church in the 600s, the focus of the settlement simply shifted from where it had been previously to where it is now.
Corbridge was attacked and destroyed by the Danes in 875. It again suffered badly during the two battles of Corbridge, in 914 and 918, which involved Northumbrians, Vikings and Scots in a historically slightly confused series of conflicts. In the aftermath it was recorded that only the stone church was still standing in the town. Corbridge was made a Royal Burgh by King John in 1201 and by the middle of the century was the second largest settlement in Northumberland after Newcastle. Things changed dramatically following an attack by Scots under William Wallace in 1296 which virtually destroyed Corbridge, and a visitation by the Black Death in 1349.
Corbridge remained a relatively small village until it began to service the coaching trade in the 1700s. Then, in 1835, a railway station opened half a mile south of the village on the Newcastle to Carlisle line. A mile and a half to the north-east of Corbridge as the crow flies is the fascinating Aydon Castle.