Reasons for Designation
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-Province 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
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.
Cremation burials are known from both the early and late Iron Age (700BC-400BC
and 100BC-AD 50). During the middle Iron Age inhumation was predominant.
During the the early Iron Age the ashes of many cremations are believed to
have been scattered or buried without urns, barrows, or grave goods. The
remains of such burials are thus rare, but a few sites where urned or unurned
cremations were placed under small barrows grouped in cemeteries are known, as
at Ampleforth moor, North Yorkshire. Unenclosed Iron Age urnfields dated to
the late Iron Age are known in south-eastern England. They are burial grounds
without a delimiting boundary, comprising two or more cremations and
occasionally inhumation burials. This form of cemetery represents a return to
the predominance of the cremation burial rite during the late Iron Age and
beyond. Visible surface traces of burials are rare, although some low circular
grave mounds are known. Iron Age monuments in general are rare, and Iron Age
cremation cemeteries therefore constitute an important source of information
about the social structure, beliefs and economy of the time. Although this
Iron Age cemetery at Middle Hurth Edge does not conform exactly to other known
types, it is a long mound with cremations which have been firmly dated to the
Iron Age period, and it will therefore retain important information about Iron
Age practices in the north of England.
The early medieval enclosure, medieval farmstead and associated features are
well-preserved and will add to the sum of knowledge relating to medieval land
use and settlement in the North Pennines.
The monument includes an Iron Age cemetery, an early medieval enclosure and a
medieval farmstead with a long boundary and other related features, near
Middle Hurth Edge.
The Iron Age cemetery consists of a long, low mound and has the early medieval
enclosure on its east end. They lie in the north corner of a field just north
of the limestone scar known as Middle Hurth Edge. The long mound is about 60m
long and 8m wide and has rather irregular edges. It survives to a height of
about 0.5m and is aligned approximately east-west. The circular bank-and-
ditched enclosure, 17m in diameter, overlies the mound near its east end; the
ditch cuts into the mound. The bank is about 2m wide and 0.5m high.
Partial excavation of the site in 1978-1979 revealed fragmentary remains of at
least one cremation burial in a slighted cairn at the east end of the long
mound. This was radio-carbon dated to the Iron Age. Small deposits of charcoal
and burnt bone were found elsewhere in the top of the mound, and were
interpreted as the remains of further cremation burials.
Partial excavation of the circular enclosure revealed that the bank may have
been faced with limestone slabs, several of which survived on the west side of
the enclosure. Charcoal from an old ground surface below the enclosure bank
was radio-carbon dated to the early medieval period.
The excavation also produced a large quantity of mesolithic flint from within
the soil forming the long mound. This was considered to have been present in
the topsoil which was used to make the mound.
The medieval farmstead consists of the remains of a building attached to a
earth and stone banked boundary at the top of Middle Hurth Edge, just south
of the long, low mound. The building is aligned north west to south east and
is 15m long and 8m wide. The walls survive as limestone rubble banks 2m wide
and 0.4m high. An earth and stone banked boundary extends south from the
building, towards Middle Hurth Edge, and north towards the Iron Age cemetery
mound. About 100m north of the building, in the next field, is a bank and
ditch running along the south west side of a line of shakeholes. This runs
south east to a modern track before turning south and passing under a modern
field wall. It then continues southwards for 250m, passing under another field
wall as it does so, before turning south west and continuing for 300m, ending
at the edge of a small stone quarry. The bank of this long boundary is
typically 2m wide and 0.3m to 0.5m high. The ditch lies mostly on the outer
edge of the bank, away from the medieval building, and is very variable; in
some stretches, particularly the southern 300m it may have been reused for
drainage in more recent times. Other parts of the boundary appear double,
suggesting slight realignment. A few metres east of the long boundary, near
its north eastern corner, about 30m east of the modern track, is a small earth
banked enclosure, 12m by 10m, with banks 2m wide and up to 0.6m high. This is
interpreted as a stackstand.
Near the south end of the long boundary, just west of the modern track, a
second bank and ditch joins the first at right angles. A small banked
enclosure 9m by 7m lies within the angle, on the west side of a shakehole.
Another small enclosure 8m by 6m is attached to this second boundary a little
further south, at the west edge of the modern track. The boundary continues
west for 10m from the south corner of this small enclosure.
The modern field walls and the track surface are excluded from the monument,
although the ground beneath these features is included.
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.