Late prehistoric walled settlement 200m south-south-east of East Mellwaters farmhouse


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Centred approximately 200m south-south-east of the farmhouse at East Mellwaters Farm, on the south side of Sleightholme Beck.


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Centred approximately 200m south-south-east of the farmhouse at East Mellwaters Farm, on the south side of Sleightholme Beck.
County Durham (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Late prehistoric (Iron Age to early Romano-British) settlement of hut circles within a walled enclosure with associated features, surviving as extant earthworks and buried deposits.

Reasons for Designation

The late prehistoric walled settlement 200m south-south-east of East Mellwaters farmhouse is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Rarity, period, survival: as a relatively rare form of late prehistoric settlement, the good level of survival allowing a clear appreciation of the layout of the site; * Potential: the substantial nature of its stoney earthworks and the site’s likely multi-phased development indicates a high potential for buried archaeological remains that will provide a valuable insight into life in the late prehistoric period; * Group value: the site also has group value with adjacent prehistoric settlement remains, although it is not known if they were contemporary or occupied sequentially with the walled settlement.


In Northern England, Iron Age and Romano-British native settlements take a variety of forms. The majority appear to have been small, non-defensive, enclosed homesteads or farms, the enclosures probably designed to protect valuable livestock over winter from predators, but in some cases perhaps also constructed as a mark of prestige. More obviously defensive enclosures (those sited on more exposed hilltops or spurs, often with poor access to water) are also found, generally thought to date to the Iron Age rather than the Roman period. Enclosures are generally defined by a bank and ditch, probably originally supplemented by a timber palisade or fence. In many areas, higher status enclosures were of stone construction, now, as at East Mellwaters, generally reduced to stoney earthworks, with timber-built variants being more common in the coastal lowlands. Enclosures typically contained one or more round-houses, normally sited towards the rear, facing the entrance. Sometimes these round-houses have additional cells added to the rear and sides, possibly forming multi-roomed buildings. Where excavated, enclosures are often found to contain pits or rectangular post-built structures for the storage of grain and other produce, evidence of an organised and efficient farming system. Most sites are thought to have been occupied by single family groups, although some appear to have been more extended with additional round-houses spilling out from the enclosure. Enclosures are usually curvilinear in form, with more rectilinear examples generally thought to date to the second to fourth centuries AD, illustrating the Romanising influence over the native population. Later sites also sometimes see rectilinear buildings in place of round-houses.

The prehistoric earthworks at East Mellwaters are extensive and are thought to represent a succession of settlement sites that were established and then perhaps abandoned in turn over the centuries. These earthworks have not been investigated by archaeological excavation, and there are no records of any datable finds. The monument lies about 2.5km to the west of the Roman fort at Bowes, and just south of the Roman road that runs westwards over Stainmore, thought to follow one of the principal prehistoric routes over the Pennines. The area was surveyed as part of the archaeological evaluation for the upgrading of the A66 in the 1990s (see Pip Robinson, 2001). The walled settlement enclosure was previously surveyed in detail by Tim Laurie (1984).

The walled settlement on the south bank of the Sleightholme Beck represents a substantial investment in terms of construction: the enclosing stone-faced wall is estimated to have originally been 3.5m wide by 2m high, the buildings inside the enclosure also being stone walled, the whole enclosure being terraced into gently rising ground. This site was interpreted by Laurie (1984) as dating to the Romano-British period, possibly developed from an earlier timber palisaded site. However its curvilinear form indicates that an Iron Age date for its construction is possible, it certainly suggests that the walled settlement predates the unenclosed settlement earthworks on the north side of Sleightholme Beck, described by Robinson (2001) as a platform settlement, this forming a separate scheduled monument. It is likely that the walled settlement remained in use for some time as the rectilinear annex on the east side is thought to represent a later expansion to the site. The settlement enclosure on the more defensible position on the scarp edge to the south-west, which is another scheduled monument, may represent the precursor to the walled settlement enclosure. Alternatively, it may have been contemporary, a satellite site that would have provided a wider lookout across the surrounding landscape in support of the main settlement in the more sheltered valley bottom.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: late prehistoric walled settlement enclosure including hut circles and other associated features surviving as upstanding stoney earthworks and associated buried remains.

DESCRIPTION: the monument lies on a river terrace forming the gently sloping valley floor on the south side of Sleightholme Beck, overlooked from high ground to the south. The main enclosure is sub-circular, some 45m east-west and 38m north-south, the enclosure wall standing up to 1.2m high, now spread as a stony bank up to 11m wide. Orthostats marking the base of the wall indicate that the original thickness was about 3.5m and that there were narrow entrances to the north and south and possibly to the east, however the eastern side of the enclosure has been heavily robbed, probably to build the L-shaped bield wall (a wall used for sheltering and gathering sheep) that is marked on the Ordnance Survey map. The western side of the enclosure is taken up with a set of stony hut circles, a large central circle with a 9.5m internal diameter, flanked by two slightly smaller hut circles with three possible further cells behind extending to the enclosure wall. The main hut circle has an eastern entrance and an interior that is 0.6m higher than the general surface of the enclosure. Remains of further structures survive along the south side of the enclosure. Immediately to the east of the main enclosure there are the lower earthworks of a smaller, more rectangular enclosure approximately 23m east-west by 17m north-south. This second enclosure includes three small hut circles and is cut through by a modern trackway on its eastern side. The L-shaped drystone wall, that cuts across the main enclosure, is a late C19 bield wall or sheep fold. Variations in the stonework of some sections of this wall, particularly to the centre and northern end, suggests that it incorporates earlier structural remains likely to be contemporary with the rest of the prehistoric remains. Because the bield wall may incorporate prehistoric remains, it is included in the scheduling. Extending southwards from the main enclosure to the foot of the scarp, there is a low, irregular bank that is interpreted as being part of an associated field system.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: this includes all of the earthworks noted above and has been drawn from aerial photographs. The earthworks of the outer boundary to the enclosure and annex are clear from a ground level view around the northern, western and southern sides. The eastern side is less clear because of the disturbance caused by a modern trackway, but the earthworks do extend slightly to the north and west of the trackway. To make allowance for this, the boundary of the scheduling has been drawn with an additional 5m margin beyond the bases of the clearly identifiable earthworks for the support and protection of the monument. This margin has also been applied to the southwards extension to the main area designed to include the low irregular bank that extends to the foot of the scarp to the south, this being interpreted as a surviving part of an associated field system.

MAPPING NOTE: the accompanying map to this record only shows the extent of this scheduling. It should be noted that there are further archaeological remains around East Mellwaters, some of which are protected as separate scheduled monuments.



This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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