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Prehistoric settlements and cairnfield, medieval farmsteads, bloomeries and charcoal pits, 840m south of Cronkley on Bracken Rigg

A Scheduled Monument in Forest and Frith, County Durham

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Coordinates

Latitude: 54.6475 / 54°38'51"N

Longitude: -2.2105 / 2°12'37"W

OS Eastings: 386511.251713

OS Northings: 528066.670079

OS Grid: NY865280

Mapcode National: GBR FG0P.7S

Mapcode Global: WHB3W.0FNZ

Entry Name: Prehistoric settlements and cairnfield, medieval farmsteads, bloomeries and charcoal pits, 840m south of Cronkley on Bracken Rigg

Scheduled Date: 24 November 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017119

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33484

County: County Durham

Civil Parish: Forest and Frith

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): County Durham

Details

The monument includes two prehistoric settlements and a cairnfield, two
medieval farmsteads, and extensive evidence for early iron working indicated
by at least four bloomeries and at least 14 charcoal pits. It is situated in
Upper Teesdale, south of the Tees, on Bracken Rigg, and extends eastwards just
beyond Dry Beck onto the east end of Birk Rigg.
The western prehistoric settlement is on Bracken Rigg and consists of a single
hut circle within a complex of rubble-banked enclosures. Excavation of the hut
circle produced flint tools and pottery. Charcoal from that excavation gave a
radio-carbon date within the Bronze Age (c.2000-700BC).
The eastern prehistoric settlement lies at the foot of Bracken Rigg, between
Bracken Rigg and the foot of Skyer Beck. At least three hut circles can be
seen, within a complex of rubble banks and small cairns.
The cairnfield extends westwards from Dry Beck onto the east end of Birk Rigg.
It consists of at least 18 cairns, mostly between 2m and 5m in diameter. There
are also a few fragmentary lengths of rubble walling.
The western of the two medieval farmsteads is on the east end of Birk Rigg.
It consists of the remains of two rectangular buildings; one of which lies
just south of the wall called Fell Dike. It has two rooms with low rubble
walls. Each room has an entrance in the east side of the building.
The eastern building is crossed by Fell Dike. Its walls have been severely
robbed to make the dike; however, they are still visible as stony spreads
forming a rectangle 29m long and 8m wide.
The eastern farmstead is on the east bank of Dry Beck, north of Fell Dike.
There are the remains of two parallel rectangular buildings, eroded at their
west ends by the beck. The walls of the buildings survive as rubble banks
about 3m wide and up to 0.6m high. The farmstead is enclosed on its east side
by a slight ditch and bank.
The bloomeries are represented by partly grass covered heaps of iron slag.
Three of the bloomeries are to be found as follows: on the north flank of Birk
Rigg west of Birk Rigg farmstead, adjacent to Skyer Beck just north of Fell
Dike; on the west bank of Dry Beck near the Dry Beck farmstead; at the foot of
Skyer Beck. The slag heaps vary in size from 6m by 5m and 0.2m high, to 13m by
11m and 1.5m high. Some of the bloomeries have additional features associated
with them. The site at the foot of Skyer Beck has a rough revetment at the
edge of the stream, creating a level area south of the slag heap. This has
charcoal and slag visible in molehills, and may be the site of the bloomery
hearth. A level area with charcoal and slag is also present at the bloomery
site on the west bank of Dry Beck. The bloomery at Skyer Beck, just north of
Fell Dike has a track leading towards it on the south side of Fell Dike,
visible as a slight terrace in the slope.
A further bloomery is represented by a slight mound containing some iron slag
on the crest of Bracken Rigg, at the corner of a Bronze Age enclosure. Just
north of this is a redundant setting for a wooden Pennine Way marker, which
incorporates a large lump of iron slag.
Charcoal pits are spread over a wide area including the slopes of Bracken
Rigg, the east end of Birk Rigg, and and north and east of Birk Rigg, between
Fell Dike Sike and Dry Beck. They are visible as small circular hollows with a
slight ring of spoil around each one. Charcoal is visible in most of them
where animal disturbance has occured. Some of the charcoal pits are closely
associated with the bloomeries, but most are spread over a wider area and are
likely to reflect the former distribution of woodland exploited for the iron
industry.
All modern walls, fences, waymarkers, footbridges, wooden path surfacing, and
a hut on Bracken Rigg are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground
beneath these features is included.

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.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Stone hut circles and hut circle settlements were the dwelling places of
prehistoric farmers. Most date from the Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC). The stone-
based round-houses consist of low walls or banks enclosing a circular floor
area; the remains of the turf, thatch or heather roofs are not preserved. The
huts may occur singly or in small or large groups and may lie in the open or
be enclosed by a bank of earth or stone. Frequently traces of their associated
field systems may be found immediately around them. These may be indicated by
areas of clearance cairns and/or the remains of field walls and other
enclosures. The longevity of use of hut circle settlements and their
relationship with other monument types provides important information on the
diversity of social organisation and farming practices amongst prehistoric
communities. They are particularly representative of their period and a
substantial proportion of surviving examples are considered worthy of
protection.

Cairnfields are concentrations of cairns sited in close proximity to one
another. They often consist largely of clearance cairns, built with stone
cleared from the surrounding landsurface to improve its use for agriculture,
and on occasions their distribution pattern can be seen to define field
plots. However, funerary cairns are also frequently incorporated, although
without excavation it may be impossible to determine which cairns contain
burials. Clearance cairns were constructed from the Neolithic period (from
3400BC) although the majority of examples appear to be the result of field
clearance which began during the early Bronze Age and continued into the later
Bronze Age (2000-700BC). The considerable longevity and variation in the size,
content and associations of cairnfields provide important information on the
development of land use and agricultural practices. Cairnfields also retain
information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisation during the
prehistoric period.
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
evolved gradually during the past 1500 years or more.
This monument lies in the North Pennines sub-Province of the Northern and
Western Province, an area characterised from the Middle Ages by dispersed
settlements with some nucleations in more favoured areas. The sub-Province is
formed by discontinuous high moorland landscapes; agricultural settlement has
been episodic, in response to the economic fortunes af adjacent sub-Provinces.
Other settlements have been associated with the extraction of stone and other
minerals.
In some areas of medieval England settlement was dispersed across the
landscape rather than nucleated into villages. Such dispersed settlement in an
area, usually a township or parish, is defined by the lack of a single, or
principal, nucleated settlement focus such as a village and the presence
instead of small settlement units (small hamlets or farmsteads) spread across
the area. These small settlements normally have a degree of interconnection
with their close neighbours, for example, in relation to shared common land or
road systems. Dispersed settlements varied enormously from region to region,
but where they survive as earthworks their distinguishing features include
roads and other minor tracks, platforms on which stood houses and other
buildings such as barns, enclosed crofts and small enclosed paddocks. In areas
where stone was used for building, the outline of building foundations may
still be clearly visible. Communal areas of the settlements frequently include
features such as bakehouses, pinfolds and ponds. Areas of dispersed mediaeval
settlement are found in both the South Eastern Province and the Northern and
Western Province of England. They are found in upland and also some lowland
areas. Where found, their archaeological remains are one of the most important
sources of understanding about rural life in the five or more centuries
following the Norman Conquest.
Primitive iron smelting sites can date from the Iron Age to the end of the
medieval period (500 BC-AD 1500). The evidence for early iron smelting often
consists of a heap of iron rich slag. Medieval iron smelting sites are
frequently found near streams and are known as bloomeries. In the bloomeries
iron ore was fired to about 1200 degrees Centigrade, using charcoal as fuel.
This caused a chemical reaction, producing a mass of iron called a bloom,
which was then hammered to remove any residual slag. Bloomeries were usually
located close to a source of wood for charcoal making. The charcoal used in
bloomeries was made by burning wood with a limited supply of air. This was
done by stacking the wood either in a pit or on a platform, and by limiting
the air supply by covering the stack with earth and turf. Until about 1450
charcoal was made in pits; around that time charcoal making evolved into a
large scale process and charcoal was made in larger quantities, on platforms.
The complex area of multi-period archaeology, 840m south of Cronkley contains
well-preserved remains of prehistoric hut circle settlements and a cairnfield,
medieval farmsteads, at least four bloomeries and several charcoal pits. The
prehistoric settlements and cairnfield form part of a prehistoric landscape in
Upper Teesdale. This includes evidence of Bronze Age settlement, burnt mounds,
cairns and Roman period native settlements and field systems.
The medieval farmsteads are part of a pattern of dispersed settlement in the
area.
The bloomeries and charcoal pits form an important part of the medieval iron
industry in the area, and will make a significant contribution to the study of
medieval iron working.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Coggins, D, Fairless, K, 'Durham Archaeological Journal' in Durham Archaeological Journal, , Vol. 1, (1984), 5-21
Coggins, D, 'Upper Teesdale the archaeology of a North Pennine Valley' in Upper Teesdale The Archaeology Of A North Pennine Valley, , Vol. 150, (1986), 118
Coggins, D, 'Upper Teesdale the archaeology of a North Pennine Valley' in Upper Teesdale The Archaeology Of A North Pennine Valley, , Vol. 150, (1986), 93
Coggins, D, 'Upper Teesdale the archaeology of a North Pennine Valley' in Upper Teesdale The Archaeology Of A North Pennine Valley, , Vol. 150, (1986), 58
Coggins, D, 'Upper Teesdale the archaeology of a North Pennine Valley' in Upper Teesdale The Archaeology Of A North Pennine Valley, , Vol. 150, (1986), 59
Coggins, D, 'Upper Teesdale the archaeology of a North Pennine Valley' in Upper Teesdale The Archaeology Of A North Pennine Valley, , Vol. 150, (1986), 145
Coggins, D, 'Upper Teesdale the archaeology of a North Pennine Valley' in Upper Teesdale The Archaeology Of A North Pennine Valley, , Vol. 150, (1986), 142
Coggins, D, 'Upper Teesdale the archaeology of a North Pennine Valley' in Upper Teesdale The Archaeology Of A North Pennine Valley, , Vol. 150, (1986), 143
Coggins, D, 'Upper Teesdale the archaeology of a North Pennine Valley' in Upper Teesdale The Archaeology Of A North Pennine Valley, , Vol. 150, (1986), 82
Coggins, D, 'Upper Teesdale the archaeology of a North Pennine Valley' in Upper Teesdale The Archaeology Of A North Pennine Valley, , Vol. 150, (1986), 142

Source: Historic England

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