Smithy Beck prehistoric cairnfield, charcoal burning sites, a bloomery and associated earthworks 1.97km WNW of Low Gillerthwaite


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Smithy Beck prehistoric cairnfield, charcoal burning sites, a bloomery and associated earthworks 1.97km WNW of Low Gillerthwaite, Ennerdale, Lake District National Park.


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Smithy Beck prehistoric cairnfield, charcoal burning sites, a bloomery and associated earthworks 1.97km WNW of Low Gillerthwaite, Ennerdale, Lake District National Park.
Copeland (District Authority)
Ennerdale and Kinniside
National Park:
National Grid Reference:


A prehistoric cairnfield and a late medieval/early post-medieval iron working site with associated earthworks immediately north of Ennerdale Water at Smithy and Dry Becks.

Reasons for Designation

Smithy Beck prehistoric cairnfield, charcoal burning sites, a bloomery and associated earthworks 1.97km WNW of Low Gillerthwaite are scheduled for the following principal reasons: * Survival: they survive well and contain a wide range of features; * Potential: the relatively undisturbed nature of the monument increases the likelihood for the survival of artefactual and environmental evidence; * Group value: the monument is associated with other contemporary and non-contemporary monuments in the Ennerdale Valley; * Documentation: our understanding of cairnfield and the late medieval/early post-medieval iron workings and their contribution to our understanding of settlement in Ennerdale is significantly enhanced by the archaeological surveys undertaken here between 1995-97 and the geophysical survey undertaken in 2000.


Cairnfields - scattered heaps of stone and boulders dating from the second millennium BC although later examples are known - often represent the earliest examples of prehistoric unenclosed field systems and are generally found in upland settings where they result from surface clearance in advance of, or as a result of, agricultural activities.

Iron was first exploited in England about 2700 years ago. The first stage of iron working was smelting iron-rich stone known as ore, to extract metallic iron. The ore was often prepared before smelting by roasting it in a fire, breaking it to the required size and removing unwanted material. The earliest smelting method, known as bloomery smelting or the 'direct method' was used from around the C8 BC and continued into the post medieval period, but began to be superseded by blast furnace smelting, the 'indirect method', from the late C15. Bloomery smelting took place in a furnace built from clay and sometimes also stone. The design of furnaces appears to have varied chronologically and regionally but they all tended to have thick walls to retain heat. The particles of iron metal formed during bloomery smelting stuck together to form 'bloom' while the waste from this process was known as slag, often the most noticeable indicator of iron working at an archaeological site due to the prodigious amounts produced. During the smelting process slag was removed from the furnace by a variety of methods leaving the iron bloom which was then removed from the furnace prior to being consolidated and shaped by smithing (forging), either onsite or elsewhere. Charcoal was used exclusively as the fuel for smelting until the 1700s and the large quantities required meant that ironworks were generally located near to this source of fuel. Woodland management such as coppicing and charcoal burning sites were generally required to produce the necessary quantities of charcoal for the iron making process.

In 1925-6 the Forestry Commission began manual tree planting on almost 3640ha of land in Ennerdale.

The prehistoric and medieval remains on this part of Smithy Beck were scheduled on the 3rd October 1962 in recognition of their importance (Cumbria 76, Round barrows at Smithy Beck).

Smithy Beck prehistoric cairnfield, charcoal burning sites, a bloomery and associated earthworks form part of a multi-period historic landscape which represents long-term management and exploitation of the Ennerdale Valley from the Bronze Age to the present day. The remains were recorded during archaeological surveys of the valley between 1995-7 and in 2003. In 2000, a geophysical survey of the bloomery site was undertaken.


The monument includes the earthworks and buried remains of a small prehistoric cairnfield, up to six charcoal burning sites, a bloomery considered to be of late medieval or early post-medieval date, and a series of enclosures, structures and a hollow way associated with the bloomery together with the archaeologically sensitive ground between all these features. They are located 1.97km WNW of Low Gillerthwaite immediately north of Ennerdale Water; the cairnfield and charcoal pits lie between Dry Beck and Smithy Beck, the bloomery and associated features lie to the east of Smithy Beck.

The prehistoric cairnfield includes over 20 oval-shaped cairns up to 1m high and between 1.9m-6.7m long by 1.6m-6.6m wide. Within the cairnfield there are a small number of stone banks which appear to define the course of a short length of hollow way.

Four of the charcoal burning sites are located to the north of the cairnfield, one is located to the east and one within the cairnfield. They are typically earthen platforms or hollows cut into the slope with a prominent apron extending out from the slope, and were created in order to erect a timber pyramid which was burnt to produce charcoal for use in the iron smelting process.

The late medieval/early post-medieval bloomery adjacent to the valley-bottom road displays evidence of multiple phases of use and consists of an artificially raised flat platform constructed of bloomery waste bounded on the south side by a low bank of the same material. Upon the platform there is another raised platform, sub-circular in shape, with a hollowed centre which appears to have been the site of the latest furnace. The sheer volume of bloomery waste suggests that other furnace sites currently lie buried beneath the waste. Geophysical survey undertaken in 2000 identified the likely location of three separate furnaces here.

Some 140m to the north-west, amongst the cairnfield, geophysical survey recorded a hollow 3m in diameter and 0.5m deep that has been interpreted as a rare example of a medieval charcoal pit, attesting to a phase of charcoal production contemporary with the bloomery and earlier than the nearby charcoal pitsteads.

A short distance to the north of the bloomery, and possibly originally connected by a now fragmented stone bank, are a group of earthwork features at the centre of which is a prominent but disturbed stone mound considered to be the remains of a building. There are the remains of another building a short distance to the east with a small enclosure separating the two structures. Immediately to the north there are three sides of a large enclosure and slightly further north there are the well-defined earthworks of hollow ways running uphill alongside Smithy Beck before merging with a modern forestry track that leads to a hut settlement that is the subject of another scheduling. The hollow ways may have served as transportation routes for iron ore to be processed at the bloomery and/or stock movement routes. Their depth and spread of routes indicates a sustained and intensive period of use.

Extent of Scheduling The scheduling includes the upstanding and buried remains of the prehistoric cairnfield, the charcoal burning platforms, the bloomery and its associated earthwork features, together with the archaeologically sensitive ground between all these features as surveyed by Lancaster University Archaeological Unit between 1995-1997. The boundary of protection runs along the north shore of Ennerdale Water on the monument's south side, continues upstream along the east bank of Dry Beck on the monument's west side as far as a timber footbridge, then follows the south side of a way marked footpath and a timber footbridge over Smithy Beck. It then runs upstream along the east bank of Smithy Beck prior to running east, 10m beyond the northern edge of the hollow ways, to the west side of a forestry road. It then completes a circuit of the monument by continuing downhill along the west side of the forestry road on the monument's east side prior to following the west side of a footpath before projecting across the valley-bottom road to the lake shore.

A footbridge over Smithy Beck, the valley-bottom bridge over Smithy Beck and the surface of the valley-bottom road are all excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath the valley-bottom road and bridge is included.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
CU 76
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Crew, P, 'Cumbria 2000' in Cumbria 2000: Geophysical Surveys of the Ironworking Sites in the Lake District National Park, (2000)
Lancaster University Archaeological Unit, Ennerdale Forest, Cumbria. Archaeological Survey. Final Report, March 1998,
Oxford Archaeology North, Ennerdale, West Cumbria. Historic Landscape Survey, November 2003,


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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