Burnt mound, cairnfield and bloomery at Eel Beck, 480m south of Blackmea Crag, Holwick Fell


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017122

Date first listed: 14-Dec-1999


Ordnance survey map of Burnt mound, cairnfield and bloomery at Eel Beck, 480m south of Blackmea Crag, Holwick Fell
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: County Durham (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Holwick

National Grid Reference: NY 89528 26240


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

A burnt mound is an accumulation of burnt (fire-crazed) stones, ash and charcoal, usually sited next to a river or lake. On excavation, some form of trough or basin capable of holding water is normally found in close association with the mound. The size of the mound can vary considerably; small examples may be under 0.5m high and less than 10m in diameter, larger examples may exceed 3m in height and be 35m in diameter. The shape of the mound ranges from circular to crescentic. The associated trough or basin may be found within the body of the mound or, more usually, immediately adjacent to it. At sites which are crescentic in shape the trough is normally found within the `arms' of the crescent and the mound has the appearance of having developed around it. The main phase of use of burnt mounds spans the Early, Middle and Late Bronze Age, a period of around 1000 years. The function of the mounds has been a matter of some debate, but it appears that cooking, using heated stones to boil water in a trough or tank, is the most likely use. Some excavated sites have revealed several phases of construction, indicating that individual sites were used more than once. Burnt mounds are found widely scattered throughout the British Isles, with around 100 examples identified in England. As a rare monument type which provides an insight into life in the Bronze Age, all well-preserved examples will normally be identified as nationally important.

Cairnfields are concentrations of cairns sited in close proximity to one another. They often consist largely of clearance cairns, built with stone cleared from the surrounding landsurface to improve its use for agriculture, and on occasion their distribution can be seen to define field plots. However, funerary cairns are also frequently incorporated, although without excavation it may be impossible to determine which cairns contain burials. Fragments of stone walls defining field boundaries or enclosures may also be found within cairnfields. Clearance cairns were constructed from the Neolithic period (from 3400 BC), although the majority of examples appear to be the result of field clearance which began during the early Bronze Age and continued into the later Bronze Age (2000-700 BC). The considerable longevity and variation in the size, content and associations of cairnfields provide important information on the development of land use and agricultural practices. Cairnfields also retain information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisation during the prehistoric period. Primitive iron-smelting sites can date from the Iron Age to the end of the medieval period (500 BC-AD 1500). The evidence for early iron smelting often consists of a heap of iron rich slag. Medieval iron smelting sites are frequently found near streams and are known as bloomeries. In the bloomeries iron ore was fired to about to about 1200 degrees Centigrade, using charcoal as fuel. This caused a chemical reaction, producing a mass of iron called a bloom, which was then hammered to remove any residual slag. Bloomeries were usually located close to a source of wood for charcoal making. The charcoal used in bloomeries was made by burning wood with a limited supply of air. This was done by stacking the wood either in a pit or on a platform, and by limiting the air supply by covering the stack with earth and turf. Until about 1450 charcoal was made in pits; around that time charcoal making evolved into a large scale process and charcoal was made in larger quantities, on platforms. The burnt mound, cairnfield and enclosure at Eel Beck, 480m south of Blackmea Crag Sike, Holwick Fell survive well. Together, they form part of the wider prehistoric landscape in Upper Teesdale which includes burnt mounds, cairnfields, burial cairns, settlements, enclosures and field systems. The medieval bloomery forms an important part of the medieval iron industry in the area and will make a significant contribution to the study of medieval iron working.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a burnt mound with an associated small cairnfield and enclosure, and a medieval bloomery iron smelting site on the upper Eel Beck, Holwick Fell. The burnt mound is on the north bank of the beck, at a sharp bend. It is visible as a low crescent-shaped mound 7.5m by 6m. Overlooking the burnt mound, south of Eel Beck, is the small cairnfield. This consists of three cairns up to 4m in diameter and about 0.5m high. The enclosure is a little east of the cairns. It is an oval 14m long and 9m wide. Although its function is uncertain, it is thought to be contemporary with the cairnfield. The enclosure walls consist of rubble banks, about 1m wide and 0.3m high. The bloomery is between the cairnfield and Eel Beck. It is visible as a conspicuous grass covered heap of iron slag, 12m by 8m, and about 1m high. The site of the bloomery hearth is not visible as a surface feature, but is probably located in the level area south of the slag heap.

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.

Legacy System number: 33488

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Laurie, T, Burnt mounds, (1999)
Coggins, D, 'Upper Teesdale the archaeology of a North Pennine Valley' in Upper Teesdale The Archaeology Of A North Pennine Valley, , Vol. 150, (1986), 143
cairnfield at Eel Beck, Laurie, T, Carnfield, (1999)

End of official listing