Late prehistoric ditched, scarp-edge settlement 400m south-south-west of East Mellwaters farmhouse


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Earthworks centred 400m south-south-west of East Mellwaters farmhouse, at the top of the scarp overlooking the Sleightholme Beck to the north and west.


© Crown Copyright and database right 2020. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2020. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1459287.pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 23-Oct-2020 at 04:57:35.


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

Location Description:
Earthworks centred 400m south-south-west of East Mellwaters farmhouse, at the top of the scarp overlooking the Sleightholme Beck to the north and west.
County Durham (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Late prehistoric settlement, interpreted as an Iron Age homestead, focused on a ditched enclosure sited on a scarp-edge, surviving as extant earthworks and buried deposits.

Reasons for Designation

The late prehistoric ditched, scarp-edge settlement 400m south-south-west of East Mellwaters farmhouse is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Period, survival, potential: as a relatively well preserved prehistoric earthwork site retaining archaeological potential to provide an insight into life in the late prehistoric period; * Group value: with the adjacent prehistoric settlement remains, although it is not known if they were contemporary or occupied sequentially.


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 bank and ditch, probably originally supplemented by a timber palisade or fence. In many areas, higher status enclosures were of stone construction, now generally reduced to stoney earthworks as seen with the walled settlement to the east, 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 local farming economy in the Iron Age and Romano-British periods is thought to have been mainly pastoral, but supplemented with a small amount of arable including cereals.

Tim Laurie (1984) suggested that the ditched, scarp-edge site represented a stock enclosure associated with the much more substantial prehistoric walled settlement in the valley bottom to the east, this being a separate scheduled monument. Pip Robinson (2001) interpreted the site as a defended homestead, probably dating to the Iron Age: this interpretation is considered to be more likely, the site either being the precursor to the walled settlement that lies about 250m to the north-east in the valley bottom, or a contemporary satellite site, with its elevated position acting as a look-out for the walled settlement. Aerial photographs show that the land extending to the scarp edge is overlain by narrow ridge and furrow, evidence of post-medieval cultivation, probably just for a few years during the Napoleonic Wars which saw marginal land brought into cultivation. This is likely to obscure remains of Iron Age hut circles.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: small prehistoric settlement site (interpreted as an Iron Age homestead) surviving as earthwork and buried remains.

DESCRIPTION: the site lies at the top of a steep scarp overlooking the Sleightholme Beck to the north and west.

The main feature is a roughly square enclosure that is approximately 40m across. Its northern side is defined by the edge of the scarp. The east side is formed by a deep, irregular gully that is probably natural in origin, but appears to have been modified with low traces of banking to either side. The south side is marked by a definite ditch flanked by banks, that on the inner side being the more pronounced. The east side of the enclosure has a narrower ditch that is straight with just an inner, eastern bank. A second narrow ditch diverges from the junction of the western and southern ditches to form a triangular annex to the west of the main enclosure. At the rough centre of the main enclosure there is a clear terraced area cut into the rising ground. This is interpreted as a platform for a round house. A similar small terraced area lies approximately 20m to the east of the main enclosure.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: this includes the full extent of the main enclosure and western annex, and extends to include the second terraced area to the east. The southern boundary is drawn to follow a line 2m on the north side of the drystone wall which stands just outside the scheduled area. The boundary on the northern side follows the 305m contour line, this being around 2m downslope from the edge of the scarp. The eastern boundary of the main enclosure is a clearly defined gully flanked by low irregular banks, the outlying smaller terraced area lying 20m to the east. The eastern boundary of the scheduling is drawn as a straight line perpendicular to the southern field wall to include this terraced area.

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.


Books and journals
Robinson, P, 'The settlements and field systems at East and West Mellwaters ' in Vyner, Blaise, Stainmore : the archaeology of a north Pennine pass : an archaeological survey of Bowes Moor, Co. Durham, undertaken in conjunction with the improvement of the A66 Trans-Pennine Trunk Road , (2001), 61-70
Laurie, T, 'An enclosed settlement near East Mellwaters Farm, Bowes' in Durham Archaeological Journal, , Vol. 1, (1984), 35-39


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

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].