Medieval settlement and prehistoric hut circle settlement 870m north east of Washfold Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020949

Date first listed: 23-Apr-2003


Ordnance survey map of Medieval settlement and prehistoric hut circle settlement 870m north east of Washfold Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: North Yorkshire

District: Richmondshire (District Authority)

Parish: Bellerby

National Grid Reference: SE 10453 92769


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 gradually evolved during the past 1500 years or more. The Yorkshire Dales local region is broadly an extension of the lowlands into the hill mass of the Pennines, but increasing environmental constraints have ensured that each dale has developed particular and often wholly local characteristics. The villages and hamlets on the valley side terraces of the lower and middle dales appear to be of medieval foundation, while the surrounding farmstead sites vary greatly in date, from early medieval to 19th century.

The settlement at Old Bellerby is an example of a dispersed farmstead in an area characterised by both dispersed and nucleated settlement. Farmsteads, normally occupied by only one or two families and comprising small groups of buildings with attached yards, gardens and enclosures, were a characteristic feature of the medieval rural landscape. In some areas of dispersed settlement they were the predominant settlement form; elsewhere they existed alongside, or were components of, more nucleated settlement patterns. The sites of many farmsteads have been occupied down to the present day but others were abandoned as a result of, for example, declining economic viability, enclosure or emparkment, or epidemics like the Black Death. Farmsteads are a common and long-lived monument type; the archaeological deposits on those which were abandoned are often well-preserved and provide important information on regional and national settlement patterns and farming economies, and on changes in these through time.

The medieval settlement at Old Bellerby survives well and significant evidence of its original form and function will be preserved. The regular and highly planned form is unusual in the area.

Hut circle settlements were the dwelling places of prehistoric farmers. The hut circles take a variety of forms. Some are stone based and are visible as low walls or banks enclosing a circular floor area. Others were timber constructions and only the shallow groove in which the timber uprights used in the wall construction stood can now be identified; this may survive as a slight earthwork feature or may be visible on aerial photographs. Some can only be identified by the artificial earthwork platforms created as level stances for the houses.

Many unenclosed settlements have been shown to date to the Bronze Age but it is also clear that they were still being constructed and used in the Early Iron Age. They provide an important contrast to the various types of defended settlements which were also being constructed and used around the same time. Their longevity of use and their relationship with other monument types provides important information on the diversity of social organisation and farming practices amongst prehistoric communities.

Although obscured by the later medieval settlement the remains of the hut circle settlement at Bellerby survive well in an area otherwise devoid of significant prehistoric monuments. Taken together the monument offers scope for understanding land use and social organisation in two periods of history and provides information about the continuity of use in the rural landscape.


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


The monument includes earthwork and buried remains of a medieval settlement and underlying prehistoric hut circle settlement, known locally as Old Bellerby or T'old Ruins. It is located on gently sloping ground on a limestone platform on the south side of the shallow valley of Bellerby Beck, approximately 1km west of Bellerby village. The monument lies in an area of farmland which has been intensively used from the late medieval period onwards.

The medieval settlement takes the form of a series of square and rectangular enclosures laid out in a regular plan broadly orientated east to west. The enclosures measure up to 30 sq m and are formed by prominent linear earthwork banks standing up to 0.75m high and measuring up to 5m in width. The settlement extends over an area of approximately 100 sq m. The northern edge of the settlement is defined by the natural limestone scarp and the southern edge by a natural scarp slope rising up to the south by some 1.5m which extends east to west across the monument. This is a natural feature, which can still be traced extending across the fields further to the east. No earthworks have been identified in the area south of this feature and it is thought to mark the southern extent of the settlement as it would have afforded it a degree of shelter. The eastern edge is defined by the ruined wall which survives as a line of large tumbled stones on an embankment 0.4m high and up to 2.5m wide. It is not clear whether this ruined wall predates the medieval settlement and was related to the earlier prehistoric settlement. The western side of the medieval settlement is defined by the track known as Mains Lane. This route way dates to medieval times and the name is a corruption of desmene ie that land belonging to the manorial holdings which was worked directly for the lord.

The settlement remains are interpreted as a small isolated farmstead. Some of the enclosures would have contained buildings for both habitation and agricultural structures such as barns, stock houses and stores, the remaining enclosures being for stock management. The very regular layout of this settlement is unusual in an area otherwise characterised by nucleated settlements and irregularly planned dispersed farmsteads. It may be that it related to a wider, possibly monastic estate and could have operated on a seasonal basis related to stock management such as the corralling of sheep brought down from the higher fells to the north. It is not yet understood when or for what reasons the settlement was abandoned.

The remains of the prehistoric settlement lie beneath and are partly masked by the medieval enclosures. They include a series of at least 16 circular and sub-circular platforms defined by earthen banks. These are the remains of huts; the banks having supported a timber structure. They would have provided living accommodation as well as storage or working areas and possibly animal shelters. Archaeological evidence from similar sites elsewhere has shown that this type of settlement dates to between the second millennium BC and the second century AD. The hut circles at Old Bellerby measure up to 15m in diameter with the banks being up to 3m wide and standing up to 0.4m high. Some of the hut circles are clustered together but overall there is no obvious pattern to the layout of the settlement. In some cases the hut circles overlap one another indicating that there was more than one phase of construction and use. Some of the hut circles are situated within small curvilinear enclosures, which may have functioned as garden plots or paddocks. In addition to the cultivation plots around the hut circles the settlement would also have been supported by a wider agricultural system which would have included arable cultivation and animal husbandry: remains of this cannot be clearly identified in the surrounding intensively farmed land.

Incorporated in places into the field walls on the south and east of the monument are large, earth-fast boulders known as orthostats. These are often found as the foundations of ancient walls and here are thought to be the remains of a wider enclosure whose relationship with the hut circle settlement is currently unclear.

The field wall crossing the northern part of the monument is excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath it is included. The lower 0.5m of the field walls along the western and southern sides of the monument are included in the protection because some remains of the earlier wall associated with the settlement are known to survive and further remains are likely to be preserved below ground level. The upper parts of these walls are however excluded from the monument.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 35471

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
White, R, Yorkshire Dales, (1997), 17-34
Moorhouse S, Field survey, (1996)
Moorhouse, S, (2002)
Moorhouse, S, Site Survey, (1996)
Title: Yorkshire Dales National Mapping Project Source Date: 1995 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Morph database

End of official listing