Heiferlaw defended settlement and Second World War Zero Station, 100m north of Holywell


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Approximately 100m north of Holywell at NGR NU1805517698.


Ordnance survey map of Heiferlaw defended settlement and Second World War Zero Station, 100m north of Holywell
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Approximately 100m north of Holywell at NGR NU1805517698.
Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NU 18055 17698


A defended settlement of Iron Age date situated on the summit of a rise, incorporating the underground remains of a Second World War control station known as a zero station.

Reasons for Designation

Heiferlaw Iron Age defended settlement incorporating the underground remains of a Second World War control station is scheduled for the following principal reasons: * Survival: despite the fact that part of the interior has been disturbed by the insertion of the Second World War control station, the settlement is well preserved with double ramparts and traces of an outer ditch; the control station survives reasonably well despite the loss of its internal fittings; * Potential: it retains significant archaeological deposits representing more than one phase of prehistoric settlement, which will inform our knowledge and understanding of its construction, use and abandonment; * Group value: it is one of a group of Iron Age settlements in the region and will add greatly to our knowledge and understanding of prehistoric settlement and activity in the area; * Documentation: settlement sites of Prehistoric Britain are without contemporary documentation and hence the value of the archaeological remains as our main evidence of their social organisation and economy is enhanced; * Rarity: defended settlements are rare nationally and are normally scheduled; it is also considered that the Second World War zero station is a rare survival nationally.


Between about 800 and 700 BC, a variety of Iron Age defensive settlements began to be constructed and occupied in the northern uplands of England. The most obvious sites were hillforts built in prominent locations. In addition to these a range of smaller sites, sometimes with an enclosed area of less than 1ha and defined as defended settlements, were also constructed. Some of these were located on hilltops, others are found in less prominent positions. The enclosing defences were of earthen construction, some sites having a single bank and ditch (univallate), others having more than one (multivallate). At some sites these earthen ramparts represent a second phase of defence, the first having been a timber fence or palisade. Within the enclosure a number of stone or timber-built round houses were occupied by the inhabitants. Stock may also have been kept in these houses, especially during the cold winter months, or in enclosed yards outside them. The communities occupying these sites were probably single family groups, the defended settlements being used as farmsteads. Construction and use of this type of site extended over several centuries, possibly through to the early Romano-British period (mid to late first century AD).

Early in the Second World War (June 1940) GHQ Auxiliary Units (also known as the British Resistance Organisation) were set up as a secret organisation to train and deploy civilians to disrupt and resist German occupying forces, should Britain be invaded. In c.1941 the Special Duties (SD) Branch, an independent section of the Auxiliary Units, was created to serve an additional function in the event of invasion. Civilians in coastal areas, eventually numbering around 3,000, were trained as 'observers' or spies who would report on the movements and actions of enemy troops in their area. Their reporting lines and methods were clearly established. Observers would leave reports in secret 'letter boxes', which took a variety of forms that would not attract unwanted attention. The reports would then be retrieved by a go-between known as a 'cut-out' who would deliver them to a radio operator in an 'Out Station'. These stations were transmitter rooms established at numerous secret locations. A civilian radio operator would translate the report into a coded message, and transmit it to an 'In Station' also known as a Control Station; the operators of the latter would decode the message and communicate its contents to GHQ Home Forces, via Hannington Hall, Wiltshire.

Control stations comprised two separate structures, one above and one below ground, sited close to each other and usually within woodland for secrecy. The above ground structure was usually a hut with a transmitter and receiver and was used prior to an invasion; the below ground structure known as a Zero Station to be used in the event of an invasion, had its own broadcasting equipment. The transmission aerials from the station could then be secreted within a groove carved in a nearby tree trunk. The stations were manned by three AU signallers or three Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) subalterns. In Northumberland, the Out Station was located within Long Horsley Tower; its operators, a local solicitor and vicar, transmitted messages to the Heiferlaw Control Station.


Prehistoric defended settlement

The enclosure, roughly circular in shape measures a maximum of 63m in diameter within two ramparts of earth and stone and traces of an outer ditch. The main rampart measures on average 8m wide and stands to a maximum height of 1.3m. There are opposing entrances through the rampart 4m wide. A second rampart is situated 5m beyond the first which is 5m broad and stands to a maximum height of 1m; this rampart is fragmentary and is best preserved on the north west and south east sides. There are traces of an outer ditch 3m wide and 0.4m deep surrounded by a counterscarp bank on the south west side of the enclosure but this cannot now be traced on the other sides as the ditch has become infilled and the bank levelled. It is thought that the visible remains may represent more than one phase of activity. In 1867 the surveyor Henry Maclaughlan described the enclosure as being divided by internal walls and divisions and other observers have describe the existence of circular huts; today the only obvious internal feature is a wall 5m wide running from the western entrance in a southerly direction to form an internal compartment.

Second World War Zero Station

The underground Zero Station is situated within the interior of the hillfort, and its presence is indicated on the surface by some settling of the earth infill; an adjacent tree has an associated aerial cable concealed within its bark. The station is of standard rectangular plan measuring about 2.8m by 6.35m and comprising three separate chambers with a vertical access shaft at one end and a cylindrical escape tunnel 14m long at the opposite end; the latter exits into a second vertical shaft. The hide is of corrugated iron construction of 'Elephant' type form, and formerly painted white. It has a floor of concrete slabs and its internal partitions are of blockwork, plastered and painted white. Access is gained via a vertical entrance shaft, which enters directly into the first entrance chamber; within this room there are two metal tubes connected to a larger underground glazed pipe system. A small opening leads from this chamber to the main chamber, which has ventilation holes connected via two large concrete tubes in the escape room to a point outside the hide, as well as evidence for former wall-hung fittings. A number of wooden fixtures and fittings, not in situ, remain including three doors and a remnant of one of the shaft hatch covers. From the main chamber a second small hole leads to the third chamber, or escape room, from which the concrete escape tunnel leads; there are a number of small pipes considered to relate to the radio generator.


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

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Lampe, D, The Last Ditch, (1967, reprinted 2007)
MacLaughlan, H, Additional Notes on Roman Roads in Northumberland, (1867), 15
Tate, G, History of Alnwick, (1866), 7-8
Special Duties Branch, accessed from http://www.coleshillhouse.com/specialdutiesbranch/special-duties-branch-overview.php
Special Duties Branch locations around the UK, accessed from http://www.coleshillhouse.com/specialdutiesbranch/sds-bunker-locations.php
Ian Hall, Heifer Law Auxiliary Unit Hide: Survey Report, 2010,


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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