Elsdonburn Roman period native settlements and medieval shieling


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Elsdonburn Roman period native settlements and medieval shieling
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
NT 86937 28191

Reasons for Designation

In Cumbria and Northumberland several distinctive types of native settlements dating to the Roman period have been identified. The majority were small, non- defensive, enclosed homesteads or farms. In many areas they were of stone construction, although in the coastal lowlands timber-built variants were also common. In much of Northumberland, especially in the Cheviots, the enclosures were curvilinear in form. Further south a rectangular form was more common. Elsewhere, especially near the Scottish border, another type occurs where the settlement enclosure was `scooped' into the hillslope. Frequently the enclosures reveal a regularity and similarity of internal layout. The standard layout included one or more stone round-houses situated towards the rear of the enclosure, facing the single entranceway. In front of the houses were pathways and small enclosed yards. Homesteads normally had only one or two houses, but larger enclosures could contain as many as six. At some sites the settlement appears to have grown, often with houses spilling out of the main enclosure and clustered around it. At these sites up to 30 houses may be found. In the Cumbrian uplands the settlements were of less regimented form and unenclosed clusters of houses of broadly contemporary date are also known. These homesteads were being constructed and used by non-Roman natives throughout the period of the Roman occupation. Their origins lie in settlement forms developed before the arrival of the Romans. These homesteads are common throughout the uplands where they frequently survive as well-preserved earthworks. In lowland coastal areas they were also originally common, although there they can frequently only be located through aerial photography. All homestead sites which survive substantially intact will normally be identified as nationally important.

Shielings are small seasonally occupied huts which were built to provide shelter for herdsmen who tended animals grazing pasture on upland or marshland. These huts reflect a system called transhumance, whereby stock was moved in spring from lowland pasture around the permanently occupied farms to communal upland grazing during the warm summer months. Shielings vary in size, but are commonly small and may occur singly or in groups. They have a simple sub-rectangular or ovoid plan normally defined by drystone walling. Shielings are reasonably common in the uplands but frequently represent the only evidence for medieval settlement and farming practice here. Those examples which survive well and which help to illustrate medieval land use in an area are considered to be nationally important. The two settlement sites at Elsdonburn form well preserved examples of Roman period native settlements. The stone walls and earthworks of the enclosures can be identified, as can internal house platforms. The shieling also survives well and information on its relationship to the earlier settlements will be preserved. The whole complex is situated within an area of clustered archaeological sites of high quality and forms part of a more extensive zone of archaeological interest. It will therefore make a valuable contribution to the study of the wider settement pattern and land use during the Roman and medieval period.


The monument includes two native settlements typical of sites dating to the Roman period. The settlements are situated on a south east facing slope close to a stream. An adjacent medieval shieling is also included. The northernmost settlement has three enclosures, one large and two smaller, scooped into the hillside. The enclosure banks are made of turf covered stone and measure 4.2m wide and are a maximum of 1.1m high. The main enclosure measures approximately 27m by 26m internally. The entrance to this main enclosure is located to the south east and is 2m wide. A circular scooped house platform is located within it on the north side. It measures 10m by 14m. The two smaller enclosures are located to the north east. The northern one measures 22m in diameter and contains a further scooped house platform of 10.3m in diameter at the northern end of the enclosure. The bank survives to a maximum height of 1m and 1.7m wide. The third enclosure measures 16.5m in diameter and has an entrance facing into the main enclosure. The entrance is 2m wide. The bank measures a maximum of 1.7m wide and 1m high. Downhill to the south east is a second settlement located 16.5m away. This site includes one circular enclosure which survives as a ring of grass covered stone, and which contains another circular stone enclosure within it. The space between the two concentric enclosures is 2.5m wide. The outer circular bank contains an area measuring 19m in diameter and measures 0.79m high. The bank is 3.8m wide. The entrance is located to the south, facing the stream. The inner enclosure is built largely of stone and may have been rebuilt in more recent times. However, the foundations are original and the stonework has come from the site. It measures a maximum of 12.5m in diameter, has a bank 1.5m wide and 1m high. To the south east and attached to the settlement there are the remains of a later addition to the site, which is interpreted as a typical medieval shieling. The sheiling remains survive as slight rectangular banks measuring 12m wide and 14m long.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 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.

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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.

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