A cross-dyke from Birdsall Brow to Vessey Pasture Dale incorporating two bowl barrows and a cross-dyke extending from Water Dale


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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

North Yorkshire
Ryedale (District Authority)
North Yorkshire
Ryedale (District Authority)
North Yorkshire
Ryedale (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SE 82544 62317

Reasons for Designation

Cross dykes are substantial linear earthworks typically between 0.2km and 1km long and comprising one or more ditches arranged beside and parallel to one or more banks. They generally occur in upland situations, running across ridges and spurs. They are recognised as earthworks or as cropmarks on aerial photographs, or as combinations of both. The evidence of excavation and analogy with associated monuments demonstrates that their construction spans the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although they may have been re-used later. Current information favours the view that they were used as territorial boundary markers, probably demarcating land allotment within communities, although they may also have been used as trackways, cattle droveways or defensive earthworks. Cross dykes are one of the few monument types which illustrate how land was divided up in the prehistoric period. They are of considerable importance for any analysis of settlement and land use in the Bronze Age. Very few have survived to the present day and hence all well- preserved examples are considered to be of national importance.

Although partially altered by agricultural activity, the cross-dyke is well- preserved over most of its length and is thought to comprise a complete dyke which is part of an extensive system of prehistoric dykes which has been recorded on Birdsall Wold. The cross-dyke is directly associated with two bowl barrows, funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic to the Bronze Age. Bowl barrows were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or multiple burials. Although one of the barrows has been altered by agricultural activity, it was comparatively well documented during a campaign of fieldwork in the 19th century. They will contain significant information on the form of the barrow mounds and the burials placed within them. The monument is associated with other broadly contemporary monuments of similar type on Birdsall Wold. Parallels are also known from other parts of the Wolds and from the southern edge of the North York Moors. Such associations between monuments offer important scope for the study of the division of land for social, ritual and agricultural purposes in different geographical areas during the prehistoric period.


The monument includes a cross-dyke running from Swinham Wood across Birdsall Wold into Vessey Pasture Dale and two round barrows which are incorporated into the cross-dyke. Also included is a short length of a cross-dyke which ran from Vessey Pasture Dale to Water Dale. Although partially altered by agricultural activity and its use as a later trackway, about two thirds of the length of the dyke survives as an earthwork. The remainder is thought to survive as a buried feature, part of which has been observed on aerial photographs. The cross-dyke is also recorded on the OS 6 inch map series and a 19th century survey by J R Mortimer and it is thought that the monument includes the complete original length of the dyke. The part of the dyke which curves up Birdsall Brow from Swinham Wood comprises a parallel pair of 6m wide ditches, having an overall width of 20m. These ditches are now infilled and are not visible at the surface, except for a 100m stretch of the western ditch which survives as a modern field boundary. At the top of Birdsall Brow, the dyke runs eastwards for a short distance until it reaches the first bowl barrow. This is a mound 10m in diameter and about 1.5m high situated on the bank between the two ditches. The barrow was recorded by Mortimer but not excavated. The dyke then veers southwards, the western ditch running beside a modern farm track, and a 0.5m high bank lies between the ditch and the track and is a remnant of a bank which originally separated the ditches; the eastern ditch is thought to lie beneath the surface of the track. At the junction with the modern road, a quarry has altered the western ditch but the below-ground remains of the dyke are thought to continue beneath the metalled surface of the road. South of the road, the trackway follows the course of the eastern ditch, which has become a hollow way about 1m deep leading towards the head of Vessey Pasture Dale. The western ditch is thought to survive as a buried feature in the adjacent field. Mortimer recorded and excavated a bowl barrow which lay between the ditches and, although it has been considerably altered over the years, a 2m high mound of earth still remains just south of the road, on the west side of the track. The dyke continues into Vessey Pasture Dale, turning eastwards to follow the valley floor. At this point it becomes a single 10m wide ditch, 2m deep. Further down, as the valley broadens, the ditch becomes shallower and is flanked on the north side by a 0.3m high bank. It is joined from the south by a cross- dyke from Water Dale; although this dyke is thought to have continued into Water Dale, following the modern field boundary, there is no evidence that any features survive on the higher ground so only the best-preserved part of the dyke is included in this scheduling. The dyke comprises a broad 12m wide ditch which runs down the southern scarp of Vessey Pasture Dale to form a pond at the foot of the slope at its junction with the major cross-dyke. The main dyke continues down the Dale until finally, at the head of Back Dale, it meets with three more cross-dykes. (Two of these cross-dykes are indentified for the purpose of scheduling as 20473 and 20474). The four cross-dykes abut, but for purposes of clarity, they are being defined as four distinct cross-dykes, three of which are the subject of separate schedulings. In the bottom of Vessey Pasture Dale, the cross-dyke corresponds with the line of the modern parish boundary. Throughout its length, a 3m margin has been included on each side to allow for the survival of below-ground traces of outer bank. The metalled surfaces of roads and fences are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 3 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


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

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Mortimer, J R , Forty Years Researches in British and Saxon Burial Mounds of East Yorkshire, (1905)
Stoetz, K., RCHME unpublished survey,
Title: Ordnance Survey 6" Series Source Date: Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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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