A Brief Background
It is a common misconception that Hadrian's Wall marks the boundary between England and Scotland. In fact Hadrian's Wall lies entirely within England and has never formed the Anglo-Scottish border. While it is less than 0.6 miles (1.0 km) south of the border with Scotland in the west at Bowness-on-Solway, in the east it is as much as 68 miles (109 km) away.
The Border Marches of Scotland and england
Understanding My People
J. A. Rennie, in 'The Scotish People, their Clans, Families and Origins' writes on the Lowland Clans. He states, "In many ways the great families found on each side of the Border resembled the Highland Clans. The more prominent Scotish Border families had chiefs, clan badges, and slogans and wore bonnet and plaid. On the English side, few families were as powerful as those of the Scottish Barons; the families tended to be smaller and more localized. Families whose chiefs were landed gentlemen though not possessing baronies included ....Bell."
It all becomes a bit of a confusion as much of the history of the Bells was not proven but bear with me and decide if this is the theory you want to embrace for your Bells.
In "The Scotch-Irish," Vol II, by Charles A. Hanna, Baltimore Genealogical Publishing Co, 1968, the Bells are listed under the heading of Border and Lowland Clans in 1547 of Annandale. There is also a listing for Border Clans and Chiefs in 1597 including the Bells of Annandale.
Additional data regarding Clan status is that in 1596, thirty-seven hostages were taken from every division of the clans, including the Bells. (Caledonia, III., 112).
This old West Marche Clan, one of the eight great riding families of the Scottish Border since the early 1100s, were retainers of the Great House of Douglas and also allied with the best border families through blood and friendship. Their land holdings were extensive, and to survive, they engaged in the ‘reiving’ of the period and participated in many battles against the English. Our ancestors used to number their horses in the hundreds and their cattle and sheep in the thousands.
There were also Bells in Gilsland on the English side of the border. In the 1500s and 1600s, they had close ties with their Middlebie cousins, but today, none remain.
The Bells of Middlebie were quite well known, especially for their fighting skills. The raiding party which rescued Kinmont Willie Armstrong from the Carlisle Castle Gaol is identified as having four Bells, including our Chief William Bell, called Redcloak, of Blackethouse. Kinmont Willie and William Bell were said to be brothers-in-law.
Declared "unruly" by the Scottish Parliament, many of the Clan emigrated to the Ulster Plantation after 1610.
The Albie branch of the Bells, Pennersax Parish, was of considerable importance in the district and quite possibly among the first Bells to hold land in Middlebie Parish prior to 1300. From this branch of the clan sprang the holders of Blackethouse, Godsbrig (of Scotsbrig), Auldhall, Satur and Land. In the 1600s, Middlebie Parish encompassed approximately 40,000 acres and was populated by 31 major Bell families.
* The above information from Clan Bell International. A review of the Border Clan, its history and present day world-wide impact by William Bell.