Reasons for Designation
Round cairns are prehistoric funerary monuments dating to the Bronze Age
(c.2000-700 BC). They were constructed as stone mounds covering single or
multiple burials. These burials may be placed within the mound in stone-lined
compartments called cists. In some cases the cairn was surrounded by a ditch.
Often occupying prominent locations, cairns are a major visual element in the
modern landscape. They are a relatively common feature of the uplands and are
the stone equivalent of the earthen round barrows of the lowlands. Their
considerable variation in form and longevity as a monument type provide
important information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisation
amongst early prehistoric communities. They are particularly representative of
their period and a substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered
worthy of protection.
Medieval rural settlements in England were marked by great regional diversity
in form, size and type, and the protection of their archaeological remains
needs to take these differences into account. To do this, England has been
divided into three broad Provinces on the basis of each area's distinctive
mixture of nucleated and dispersed settlements. These can be further divided
into sub-Provinces and local regions, possessing characteristics which have
evolved gradually during the past 1500 years or more.
This monument lies in the Northern Pennines sub-Province of the Northern and
Western Province, an area characterised from the Middle Ages by dispersed
settlements, with some nucleations in more favoured areas. The sub-Provinnce
is formed by discontinuous high moorland landscapes; agricultural settlement
has been episodic, in response to the economic fortunes of adjacent
sub-Provinces. Other settlements have been associated with the extraction of
stone and other minerals.
In some areas of medieval England settlement was dispersed across the
landscape rather than nucleated into villages. Such dispersed settlement in an
area, usually a township or parish, is defined by the lack of a single (or
principal) nucleated settlement focus such as a village and the presence
instead of small settlment units (small hamlets or farmsteads) spread across
the area. These small settlements normally have a degree of interconnection
with their close neighbours, for example, in relation to shared common land or
road systems. Dispersed settlements varied enormously from region to region,
but where they survive as earthworks their distinguishing features include
roads and other minor tracks, platforms on which stood houses and other
buildings such as barns, enclosed crofts and small enclosed paddocks. In areas
where stone was used for building, the outline of building foundations may
still be clearly visible. Communal areas of the settlements frequently include
features such as bakehouses, pinfolds and ponds. Areas of dispersed medieval
settlement are found in both the South Eastern Province and the Northern and
Western Province of England. They are found in upland and also some lowland
areas. Where found, their archaeological remains are one of the most important
sources of understanding about rural life in the five or more centuries
following the Norman Conquest.
During the medieval period mining was necessary to procur a wide range of raw
materials. These included coal, and the ores of lead, copper and iron. A
variety of techniques were used including opencuts, hushes, shafts, adits,
bell-pits and shaftline rakes. Medieval coalmines with complex stall and
pillar structures have sometimes been found during modern quarrying
operations. Surviving medieval mines are rare because they have tended to be
destroyed by later mining operations.
Primitive iron smelting sites can date from the Iron Age to the end of the
medieval period (500BC-AD1500). 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 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 suply by covering the stack with earth and turf. Until about 1450
charcoal was made in pits; around that time charcoal-making evolved into a
largescale process and charcoal was made in larger quantities, on platforms.
This complex area of multiperiod archaeology contains well-preserved remains
of round cairns, early medieval settlement including farmsteads, field
systems and cairnfields, medieval mines, two bloomeries and several charcoal
pits. The round cairns form part of a wider prehistoric landscape in Upper
Teesdale. This includes evidence of Bronze Age settlement, burnt mounds,
cairns and Roman period native settlements and field systems.
The medieval settlements are part of a pattern of dispersed settlement in the
area. Their remains are well-preserved and apparently early in date.
The medieval mines, bloomeries and charcoal pits form an important part of the
medieval iron industry in the area, and will make a significant contribution
to the study of iron working of this period. The relative distribution of
medieval settlement and bloomery iron smelting sites may be significant.
The monument includes two early medieval settlements, a medieval farmstead and
field systems, mines, bloomeries, charcoal pits, two Bronze Age burial cairns
and cairnfields. These remains are in an area 1.69km long by 1.05km wide, on
rough grazing land south of Holwick, extending from 260m north west of Eel
Beck to 140m south east of Wash Beck.
One early medieval settlement lies near White Earth, extending along a grassy
limestone bench from Sand Force on Rowton Beck northwestwards beyond Eel Beck.
This settlement contains five farmsteads, lying within a complex of
subrectangular fields. Within these fields are a number of clearance cairns.
The settlement is bounded on the south west side by a long field boundary
extending from Rowton Beck to Eel Beck, along the top of the scarp. On its
north west side the settlement is bounded by a flat boggy area on the Whin
Sill. Further south west of the settlement a long field boundary runs south
east-north west from a waterfall on Rowton Beck to Eel Beck. Between this
boundary and White Earth settlement is a cairnfield with at least 12 cairns
partly enclosed by a rubble bank.
The second early medieval settlement is further east, extending south east
from Easter Beck on both sides of the water race to beyond Wash Beck. The
farmsteads of this settlement are much more widely distributed. Six of them
lie within a large field system with earth and stone banks; one lies on a
ridge north of this field system. The field system also contains at least 14
clearance cairns. Another more discrete group of at least seven clearance
cairns lies south of the field system on a low ridge north west of Wash Beck.
All the farmsteads in both settlements include the remains of at least one
long building between 11m and 23m long, and between 6m and 10m wide, most of
which have an entrance in the gable end. The walls survive as low earth and
stone banks. Many of the farmsteads have a yard or garth, usually attached to
one side of the long building; several also have one or more smaller buildings
in close proximity.
A more isolated farmstead, with its own field system, lies close to the
sheepfold on Stone Houses scar. The farmstead is represented by the
grass-covered remains of four rectangular buildings, three of which are ranged
round a garth, the fourth being a little further north. The field system
includes a large irregular enclosure attached to, and extending south east
from, the farmstead garth, and further boundaries extend north and west of the
farmstead. A small subcircular enclosure lies a few metres north west of the
modern sheepfold. Another, larger, subrectangular enclosure lies about 500m
south east of the sheepfold. Three small clearance cairns occupy the space
between this and the farmstead. An additional small area of medieval fields
lies at the foot of Stone Houses scar near Easter Beck. This consists of a
series of interlocking subrectangular and irregular rubble-banked fields. A
small D-shaped enclosure is attached to the south east boundary of this field
An area of medieval iron ore mining extends for about 270m north west along a
limestone bench from the White Earth settlement. The workings include
prospecting trenches, a prospecting hush, opencuts, barrow tips and several
small shaftmounds. An additional small opencut lies further south east, in the
limestone scarp north west of Easter Beck. The waste from this opencut
contains calcite, suggesting the presence of a mineral vein which may have
yielded iron or lead ores. Two shafts further up Easter Beck, on the other
side of the beck, south of the water race, may represent workings on the same
vein. The ore from the medieval iron ore mines was smelted at bloomery iron
smelting sites, one of which lies on Eel Beck, south west of the White Earth
settlement, and another on Rowton Beck, south of the settlement. The
bloomeries are visible as heaps of tap slag, 6m and 3m in diameter
respectively. Charcoal is visible in animal disturbance at both sites.
The charcoal for smelting the iron was made in small pits, several of which
are scattered across the monument between Eel Beck and Wash Beck. They take
the form of subcircular hollows between 2m and 3m in diameter and 0.3m to 0.4m
deep. They are often surrounded by a low ring of grass-grown spoil.
The two Bronze Age burial cairns are distinguished from clearance cairns by
their relative isolation and prominent positions. One lies on the crest of a
ridge about 100m south of Sand Force on Rowton Beck, and the other on a knoll
between Rowton Beck and Easter Beck, about 200m north of Stone Houses scar.
The first cairn measures 4m in diameter and is 0.3m high. The second is 6m in
diameter and 0.2m high.
The surfaces of tracks, the modern walls and fences and the modern sheepfold
at Stone Houses are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath
these features is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.