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The South East Northumberland Air Photo and Lidar Mapping Project survey to National Mapping Programme standards

This project will cover the most populous part of an otherwise sparsely populated county. Several centuries of coal mining and associated activities have had a major impact on this environment yet cropmark and soilmark evidence of possible Iron Age or Roman enclosures is also fairly ample. The early post war air photos reveal the remains of extensive medieval and post medieval agricultural landscapes. Residential and industrial development have both accelerated in recent decades so it is a significant task for this project to establish the current condition of these varied archaeological remains.

Colour map showing north-east England with county outline and coloured labelled blocks denoting previous NMP-type projects

Coal

There is a long history of coal extraction in this area and the physical remains of this activity are diverse. Low mounds and dark soilmarks mark the locations of late 18th century coal pits and wagonways near Seaton Delaval whilst large re-landscaping projects including Northumberlandia, ‘The Lady of the North’ indicate the magnitude of late 20th century opencast mining.

In the mid to late 19th century industrial scale mining proliferated across the area with a broadly common layout at each colliery:  shafts, pit heads, workshops, wagonways and railways linking internal areas, neighbouring pits and the wider rail network and workers housing and amenities on the periphery. The late 19th century Ordnance Survey maps provide a useful and consistent record of the collierys at that time.

The early post war air photos reveal changes since the 19th century. Many mines had expanded and in some cases their infrastructure and spoil heaps had begun to encroach on the residential areas. Around many mines accommodation had been increased but in some places whole terraces had been already been removed by the late 1940s.

Black and white air photo showing an industrial complex with spoilheaps, surrounded by fields and edged by rows of housing
Historical air photo of the Bebside Colliery taken on 27 June 1947, showing the colliery buildings, wagonways and spoil heaps hemmed in by the worker’s terraced houses and garden plots (RAF/CPE/SCOT/UK/221 RP 4420) Historic England RAF Photography

In the latter half of the 20th century many mines closed, their structures were demolished, their spoil heaps levelled and they were gradually subsumed by residential or light industrial development. Those that remained open flourished and expanded usually enveloping the earlier colliery and large tracts of the surrounding land. These were subsequently relandscaped and planted with trees and grass but they remain distinctive from the pattern of post medieval fields around them.

The network of wagonways and colliery railways, which was perhaps at its most complex in the mid-20th century, is largely gone but some routes are preserved in field boundaries, footpaths and roads.

Colour aerial photo showing some pit buildings and a more modern building with grass lawns and trees surrounding the site
Woodhorn Museum near Ashington photographed on 09 May 2016 (EHA28909_011) © Historic England Archive

Ridge and furrow cultivation

The historical air photos are revealing that ridge and furrow was fairly extensive across the project area. Some of these cultivation remains may be of medieval date, though some are more likely to be later. Images generated from the lidar data, where it is available, give an excellent indication of the survival of the plough ridges and other earthworks.

Greyscale image with varying strips of light and dark tone running across some fields indicating earthwork ridges and furrows
A lidar relief visualisation showing ridge and furrow in the fields to west and south of Hartley and in Hartley Square. These remains have been impacted by ploughing, brick clay extraction, small scale coal mining and housing. Generated from 1m resolution composite lidar DSM © Historic England: source Environment Agency 2017

Enclosures

Pre-development excavations in this area have revealed a considerable number of Iron Age or Roman period enclosures and this is reflected in the density of cropmark evidence for similar sites. In the approximately 85km2 mapped to date over 60 known or possible enclosures have been identified by this project on the air photos and lidar imagery. Although some reveal more detail than others they are remarkably similar in shape and size. It is hoped that once the mapping is complete an investigation into the distribution of these features, in relation to one another and to the topography, will prove to be fruitful.

A black and white air photo showing several large fields under crop with spoilheaps and other elements of the nearby colliery
A possible Iron Age or Roman enclosure adjacent to a former watercourse and close to the New Hartley colliery site photographed by the RAF on 08 July 1958 (RAF/543/318 f21 0134)  Historic England RAF Photography

Project

This project began in March 2017 and will end in September 2018. It is being carried out by Alison Deegan and forms part of the Historic England Action Plan, funded by Heritage Protection Commissions (7575).

The images used on this page are copyright Historic England unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project please contact the Historic England Archive.

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the  Historic Places Investigation Team please contact us via email using the link below.

 

Colour photograph of man in a hat

Simon Crutchley

Remote Sensing Development Manager

Simon is a landscape archaeologist and air photo interpreter at Historic England, with over 25 years’ experience of mapping and interpreting features of archaeological and historical interest visible on aerial photographs and other aerial imagery. He has worked in many areas of England including the World Heritage Sites of Avebury and Stonehenge. He has a special interest in “new” technology such as lidar and satellite imagery and its application to archaeological research and investigation.

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