High Knowes palisaded settlements, field system, cord rig, linear boundary and enclosed settlement 600m west of White Gate


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020254

Date first listed: 29-Oct-1968

Date of most recent amendment: 10-Oct-2001


Ordnance survey map of High Knowes palisaded settlements, field system, cord rig, linear boundary and enclosed settlement 600m west of White Gate
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Alnham


National Grid Reference: NT 97251 12458


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

Reasons for Designation

In a densely settled and highly developed country such as England, the landscapes of all but the most bleak mountain summits are, to varying degrees, the product of centuries and millennia of human development. Except in areas today considered to be marginal, most traces of the earliest stages in this process have been erased or modified by later development and only survive in a fragmentary manner. The prehistoric settlement remains that survive beyond the margins of more recent cultivation in upland areas such as the Cheviots provide a rare opportunity to recognise the prehistoric shape of the landscape. The Breamish Valley is one of the main valleys draining the Cheviot Massif. Because of comprehensive field survey during the 1980s, it is also one of the best recorded upland areas in England. The field evidence for human activity within the valley is diverse and spans at least five millennia from the Neolithic to the post-medieval period. Of particular importance are the well- preserved and extensive upland prehistoric remains, including settlements, field systems and cairnfields. On the enclosed land within the valley, archaeological remains are more fragmentary, but they survive sufficiently well to show that human activity extended below what is now open fell land. Due to excellent state of survival, their archaeological integrity, and their rarity in a national context, most recorded prehistoric and later monuments within the Breamish Valley will be identified as nationally important.

A palisaded hilltop enclosure is a small defended site of domestic function dating to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age (c.550-440 BC). Their distribution is largely restricted to north eastern England, the Borders and southern Scotland. They are generally located on spurs, promontories or hilltops covering areas of less than 0.4ha. The boundaries of these sites are marked by single or double rock-cut trenches which originally formed the settings for substantial palisades. Remains of circular buildings are found within the palisaded areas, along with evidence for fenced stock enclosures. Palisaded sites are the earliest type of defended settlements recorded in the area and are thought to be a product of increasingly unsettled social conditions in the later prehistoric period. They imply an extensive use of timber, confirmation that large areas were heavily wooded at this time. Palisaded enclosures are a rare monument type with fewer than 200 known examples. In Cumbria and Northumberland several distinctive types of native settlements dating to the later prehistoric and Roman period have been identified. The majority were small, non-defensive, enclosed homesteads or farms. In much of Northumberland, especially in the Cheviots, the enclosures were curvilinear in form. In north Northumberland unenclosed settlement forms have also been identified which lack any form of enclosure wall around the stone round houses. Usually located on gently sloping ground, these unenclosed forecourt settlements comprise one or more round stone houses with entrances, which open into a large stone-walled forecourt or courtyard. These homesteads were being constructed and used by non-Roman natives before and during the period of the Roman occupation. Their origins lie in settlement forms developed before the arrival of the Romans. Cord rig is the term used to describe a form of prehistoric cultivation in which crops were grown on narrow ridges subdivided by furrows. Cord rig is frequently arranged in fields with formal boundaries but also occurs in smaller, irregular unenclosed plots varying between 30 sq m and 60 sq m in size. It often extends over considerable areas, and is frequently found in association with a range of prehistoric settlement sites and with other types of prehistoric field system. It generally survives as a series of slight earthworks and is frequently first discovered on aerial photographs. Cord rig cultivation is known throughout the Border areas of England and Scotland, where it is a particular feature of the upland margins. Less than 100 examples of cord rig cultivation have been identified in northern England. Linear boundaries are substantial earthwork features comprising single or multiple ditches and banks which may extend over distances varying between less than 1km to over 10km. They survive as earthworks or as linear features visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs or as a combination of both. The evidence of excavation and study of associated monuments demonstrate that their construction spans the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although they may have been reused later. The scale of many linear boundaries has been taken to indicate that they were constructed by large social groups and were used to mark important boundaries in the landscape or used to define and order the territorial holdings of those groups who constructed them. The development of field systems is seen as a response to the competition for land which began during the later prehistoric period. They comprise a variety of forms but commonly include boundaries (banks, stone wall, ditches, lynchets) placed at right angles to one another that divide the landscape into small regular or irregular plots or fields. The radial pattern of boundaries focussed on the palisaded settlement at High Knowes is unusual as it is uniaxial. The majority of field systems are thought to have been used mainly for crop production, although rotation may also have been practised in a mixed farming economy. Well-preserved prehistoric field systems are rare nationally. They provide important information about developments in agricultural practices in a particular location and broader patterns of social, cultural and environmental change over several centuries. The later prehistoric settlements, field system, cord rig and associated linear boundary on High Knowes are well-preserved. In spite of having been partially excavated, the two palisaded settlements are excellent examples of their type and further information on the form and method of construction of the houses and the nature of their occupation, including the recovery of pottery and artefacts, will add to our knowledge of this rare form of monument. The presence of the overlying later prehistoric/Romano-British settlement will contribute to our knowledge of changing settlement forms during the later prehistoric period. Although difficult to trace on the ground as earthworks, the associated field system and cord rig survive as slight features which will contribute to our understanding of the type of agriculture being practised by the people who occupied the settlements. Information on arable farming and animal husbandry, including the types of crops grown will also contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the period. The survival of a linear boundary marking the limit of field system is a rare feature and the recovery of material which could date its construction is an important aspect in determining its exact function. Taken together with the remains of further settlements and cairns in the vicinity, this monument will add considerably to our knowledge and understanding of the nature of prehistoric settlement and society in the Borders.


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


The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of two palisaded settlements, a field system, cord rig cultivation and part of a linear boundary of later prehistoric date and an enclosed settlement of later prehistoric/Romano-British date. The complex is situated on the south eastern shoulder of High Knowes where it commands extensive views to the east. Further settlements and cairns in the vicinity are the subjects of separate schedulings. The first and, most westerly of the two palisaded settlements, known as High Knowes A, is visible as a roughly circular enclosure 45m in diameter, within a double palisade. The inner palisade trench is a maximum of 1.2m wide and 0.3m deep. An earthen mound 2m wide and 0.4m high separates it from the outer palisade which is a maximum of 1m wide and 0.3m deep. There is an entrance 4m wide through the eastern side of the settlement. Partial excavation of the entrance in 1962-3 showed that it was originally 2m wide and that on either side, each palisade trench terminated in a post hole. Two shallow depressions on either side of the passageway were thought to have contained wooden hurdles which served to close the gaps between the two palisade trenches; that on the south side of the passageway was set back slightly and thought to indicate that a gate was attached to that side of the entrance passage. Within the interior of the palisaded settlement, there are the foundations of at least four timber built hut circles. The most prominent, situated roughly centrally, is visible as a circular enclosure 6m in diameter within a ditch 4m wide. Partial excavation in 1962-3 revealed that this house contained a narrow foundation slot around the outer perimeter of the ditch. Immediately to the north, there are the remains of a second hut circle visible as a circular area 12m in diameter within a shallow groove about 0.5m wide. On excavation, this house was shown to have been constructed with timber uprights placed in this foundation slot, with two concentric rings of post holes forming internal roof supports. The two smaller houses are visible as circular enclosures measuring 4m and 6m within similar shallow grooves which would also have held timber uprights. The larger, and more northerly of these two houses was partially excavated in the 1962-3. It too was shown to have been constructed with timber uprights set within a foundation slot with a single concentric ring of post holes forming internal roof supports. The second palisaded settlement, known as High Knowes B, is situated 120m north east of the first. It is visible as a roughly oval enclosure 42m east to west by 65m transversely within a double palisade. Partial excavation in 1962- 3 uncovered part of the eastern side of the settlement and the palisades were 1.5m apart; each palisade trench was 0.46m wide and deep. The site of the entrance is thought to lie in the south west. Within the interior of the settlement, there are the upstanding remains of at least 19 timber built hut circles. Eleven of the houses are visible as circular enclosures ranging from 5m to 8.2m in diameter within shallow grooves which vary from 1m to 1.3m wide. Fragments of a further six incomplete circular grooves are visible. Two further hut circles are visible as circular enclosures measuring 7.2m to 7.5m in diameter within ditches up to 1.5m wide and 0.4m deep. Partial excavation at one of the houses in 1962-3 revealed a foundation slot or groove on the outer lip of the ditch. In addition this excavation revealed the presence of later stone work and a stone-founded hut circle overlying the east side of the settlement. The hut circle was 4.3m in diameter within stone walls and an internal hearth was revealed in the interior. Two slightly curving stone walls abutted the south and west sides of the hut circle. The features were interpreted by the excavator as the robbed remains of an enclosed settlement of later prehistoric/Iron Age date. The excavation also showed that some time had elapsed between the abandonment of the palisaded settlement and the construction and occupation of the enclosed settlement. Small quantities of hand made pottery were recovered from the excavation. The remains of a field system are situated to the east and south east of High Knowes B palisaded settlement. Although difficult to trace on the ground, the field system is visible on aerial photographs as a series of boundary banks running down slope from the settlement, dividing the area into linear and radially planned fields. Two of the boundaries are visible as slight earthwork features where a modern track crosses them 160m south east of High Knowes B. Several areas of cord rig cultivation are also visible on aerial photographs lying within the fields. Parts of these areas are visible as slight earthworks separated by narrow furrows immediately adjacent to the north east side of High Knowes B. As this cultivation respects the perimeter of the palisade, it is thought to be contemporary with it. Two of the banks which form the field system abut, and are contained by a prominent linear boundary interpreted as the boundary bank of a prehistoric farm unit. This feature encloses a roughly oval area some 38.5ha in extent around High Knows where it contains the two palisaded settlements and associated field system. A sample of this feature 285m long is included in the scheduling. The bank stands to a maximum height of 0.5m and is 3.6m wide; a slight ditch 0.2m deep is visible on the inner side but a similar ditch on the outer side has silted up and is not visible above ground level. Some 100m south of High Knowes B palisaded settlement, there is a stony scarp running downslope which stands to a maximum height of 0.4m. This feature which is thought to be a lynchet, is overlain by the linear boundary which bounds the field system. The lynchet, which is included in the scheduling is therefore thought to belong to an earlier phase of land use of uncertain nature and date.

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: 32775

Legacy System: RSM


NT91SE 11,
NT91SE 12,
NT91SE 171,
NT91SE 172,
NT91SE 18,

End of official listing