Iron Age cemetery, early medieval enclosure and medieval farmstead with a long boundary, Middle Hurth Edge


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019861

Date first listed: 09-May-2001


Ordnance survey map of Iron Age cemetery, early medieval enclosure and medieval farmstead with a long boundary, Middle Hurth Edge
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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: Forest and Frith

National Grid Reference: NY 86777 30416


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

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 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. 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.


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


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.

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: 34361

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Coggins, D, 'Upper Teesdale the archaeology of a North Pennine Valley' in Upper Teesdale The Archaeology Of A North Pennine Valley, (1986), 50
Coggins, D, 'Upper Teesdale the archaeology of a North Pennine Valley' in Upper Teesdale The Archaeology Of A North Pennine Valley, (1986), 35

End of official listing