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High Knowes palisaded settlements, field system, cord rig, linear boundary and enclosed settlement 600m west of White Gate

A Scheduled Monument in Alnham, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.4061 / 55°24'21"N

Longitude: -2.0443 / 2°2'39"W

OS Eastings: 397291.893216

OS Northings: 612463.962248

OS Grid: NT972124

Mapcode National: GBR G55X.6W

Mapcode Global: WHB08.KCQY

Entry Name: High Knowes palisaded settlements, field system, cord rig, linear boundary and enclosed settlement 600m west of White Gate

Scheduled Date: 29 October 1968

Last Amended: 10 October 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020254

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32775

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Alnham

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Upper Coquetdale

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of two palisaded
settlements, a field system, cord rig cultivation and part of a linear
boundary of later prehistoric date and an enclosed settlement of later
prehistoric/Romano-British date. The complex is situated on the south eastern
shoulder of High Knowes where it commands extensive views to the east. Further
settlements and cairns in the vicinity are the subjects of separate
The first and, most westerly of the two palisaded settlements, known as High
Knowes A, is visible as a roughly circular enclosure 45m in diameter, within a
double palisade. The inner palisade trench is a maximum of 1.2m wide and 0.3m
deep. An earthen mound 2m wide and 0.4m high separates it from the outer
palisade which is a maximum of 1m wide and 0.3m deep. There is an entrance 4m
wide through the eastern side of the settlement. Partial excavation of the
entrance in 1962-3 showed that it was originally 2m wide and that on either
side, each palisade trench terminated in a post hole. Two shallow depressions
on either side of the passageway were thought to have contained wooden hurdles
which served to close the gaps between the two palisade trenches; that on the
south side of the passageway was set back slightly and thought to indicate
that a gate was attached to that side of the entrance passage.
Within the interior of the palisaded settlement, there are the foundations of
at least four timber built hut circles. The most prominent, situated roughly
centrally, is visible as a circular enclosure 6m in diameter within a ditch 4m
wide. Partial excavation in 1962-3 revealed that this house contained a narrow
foundation slot around the outer perimeter of the ditch. Immediately to the
north, there are the remains of a second hut circle visible as a circular area
12m in diameter within a shallow groove about 0.5m wide. On excavation, this
house was shown to have been constructed with timber uprights placed in this
foundation slot, with two concentric rings of post holes forming internal roof
supports. The two smaller houses are visible as circular enclosures measuring
4m and 6m within similar shallow grooves which would also have held timber
The larger, and more northerly of these two houses was partially excavated in
the 1962-3. It too was shown to have been constructed with timber uprights set
within a foundation slot with a single concentric ring of post holes forming
internal roof supports.
The second palisaded settlement, known as High Knowes B, is situated 120m
north east of the first. It is visible as a roughly oval enclosure 42m east to
west by 65m transversely within a double palisade. Partial excavation in
1962- 3 uncovered part of the eastern side of the settlement and the palisades
were 1.5m apart; each palisade trench was 0.46m wide and deep. The site of the
entrance is thought to lie in the south west.
Within the interior of the settlement, there are the upstanding remains of at
least 19 timber built hut circles. Eleven of the houses are visible as
circular enclosures ranging from 5m to 8.2m in diameter within shallow grooves
which vary from 1m to 1.3m wide. Fragments of a further six incomplete
circular grooves are visible. Two further hut circles are visible as circular
enclosures measuring 7.2m to 7.5m in diameter within ditches up to 1.5m wide
and 0.4m deep. Partial excavation at one of the houses in 1962-3 revealed a
foundation slot or groove on the outer lip of the ditch.
In addition this excavation revealed the presence of later stone work and a
stone-founded hut circle overlying the east side of the settlement. The hut
circle was 4.3m in diameter within stone walls and an internal hearth was
revealed in the interior. Two slightly curving stone walls abutted the south
and west sides of the hut circle. The features were interpreted by the
excavator as the robbed remains of an enclosed settlement of later
prehistoric/Iron Age date. The excavation also showed that some time had
elapsed between the abandonment of the palisaded settlement and the
construction and occupation of the enclosed settlement. Small quantities of
hand made pottery were recovered from the excavation.
The remains of a field system are situated to the east and south east of High
Knowes B palisaded settlement. Although difficult to trace on the ground, the
field system is visible on aerial photographs as a series of boundary banks
running down slope from the settlement, dividing the area into linear and
radially planned fields. Two of the boundaries are visible as slight earthwork
features where a modern track crosses them 160m south east of High Knowes B.
Several areas of cord rig cultivation are also visible on aerial photographs
lying within the fields. Parts of these areas are visible as slight earthworks
separated by narrow furrows immediately adjacent to the north east side of
High Knowes B. As this cultivation respects the perimeter of the palisade, it
is thought to be contemporary with it.
Two of the banks which form the field system abut, and are contained by a
prominent linear boundary interpreted as the boundary bank of a prehistoric
farm unit. This feature encloses a roughly oval area some 38.5ha in extent
around High Knows where it contains the two palisaded settlements and
associated field system. A sample of this feature 285m long is included in the
scheduling. The bank stands to a maximum height of 0.5m and is 3.6m wide; a
slight ditch 0.2m deep is visible on the inner side but a similar ditch on the
outer side has silted up and is not visible above ground level.
Some 100m south of High Knowes B palisaded settlement, there is a stony scarp
running downslope which stands to a maximum height of 0.4m. This feature
which is thought to be a lynchet, is overlain by the linear boundary which
bounds the field system. The lynchet, which is included in the scheduling is
therefore thought to belong to an earlier phase of land use of uncertain
nature and date.

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

In a densely settled and highly developed country such as England, the
landscapes of all but the most bleak mountain summits are, to varying degrees,
the product of centuries and millennia of human development. Except in areas
today considered to be marginal, most traces of the earliest stages in this
process have been erased or modified by later development and only survive in
a fragmentary manner. The prehistoric settlement remains that survive beyond
the margins of more recent cultivation in upland areas such as the Cheviots
provide a rare opportunity to recognise the prehistoric shape of the
The Breamish Valley is one of the main valleys draining the Cheviot Massif.
Because of comprehensive field survey during the 1980s, it is also one of the
best recorded upland areas in England. The field evidence for human activity
within the valley is diverse and spans at least five millennia from the
Neolithic to the post-medieval period. Of particular importance are the well-
preserved and extensive upland prehistoric remains, including settlements,
field systems and cairnfields. On the enclosed land within the valley,
archaeological remains are more fragmentary, but they survive sufficiently
well to show that human activity extended below what is now open fell land.
Due to excellent state of survival, their archaeological integrity, and their
rarity in a national context, most recorded prehistoric and later monuments
within the Breamish Valley will be identified as nationally important.

A palisaded hilltop enclosure is a small defended site of domestic function
dating to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age (c.550-440 BC). Their
distribution is largely restricted to north eastern England, the Borders and
southern Scotland. They are generally located on spurs, promontories or
hilltops covering areas of less than 0.4ha. The boundaries of these sites are
marked by single or double rock-cut trenches which originally formed the
settings for substantial palisades. Remains of circular buildings are found
within the palisaded areas, along with evidence for fenced stock enclosures.
Palisaded sites are the earliest type of defended settlements recorded in the
area and are thought to be a product of increasingly unsettled social
conditions in the later prehistoric period. They imply an extensive use of
timber, confirmation that large areas were heavily wooded at this time.
Palisaded enclosures are a rare monument type with fewer than 200 known
In Cumbria and Northumberland several distinctive types of native settlements
dating to the later prehistoric and Roman period have been identified. The
majority were small, non-defensive, enclosed homesteads or farms. In much of
Northumberland, especially in the Cheviots, the enclosures were curvilinear in
form. In north Northumberland unenclosed settlement forms have also been
identified which lack any form of enclosure wall around the stone round
houses. Usually located on gently sloping ground, these unenclosed forecourt
settlements comprise one or more round stone houses with entrances, which open
into a large stone-walled forecourt or courtyard. These homesteads were being
constructed and used by non-Roman natives before and during the period of the
Roman occupation. Their origins lie in settlement forms developed before the
arrival of the Romans.
Cord rig is the term used to describe a form of prehistoric cultivation in
which crops were grown on narrow ridges subdivided by furrows. Cord rig is
frequently arranged in fields with formal boundaries but also occurs in
smaller, irregular unenclosed plots varying between 30 sq m and 60 sq m in
size. It often extends over considerable areas, and is frequently found in
association with a range of prehistoric settlement sites and with other types
of prehistoric field system. It generally survives as a series of slight
earthworks and is frequently first discovered on aerial photographs. Cord rig
cultivation is known throughout the Border areas of England and Scotland,
where it is a particular feature of the upland margins. Less than 100 examples
of cord rig cultivation have been identified in northern England.
Linear boundaries are substantial earthwork features comprising single or
multiple ditches and banks which may extend over distances varying between
less than 1km to over 10km. They survive as earthworks or as linear features
visible as cropmarks on aerial photographs or as a combination of both. The
evidence of excavation and study of associated monuments demonstrate that
their construction spans the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although
they may have been reused later. The scale of many linear boundaries has been
taken to indicate that they were constructed by large social groups and were
used to mark important boundaries in the landscape or used to define and order
the territorial holdings of those groups who constructed them.
The development of field systems is seen as a response to the competition for
land which began during the later prehistoric period. They comprise a variety
of forms but commonly include boundaries (banks, stone wall, ditches,
lynchets) placed at right angles to one another that divide the landscape into
small regular or irregular plots or fields. The radial pattern of boundaries
focussed on the palisaded settlement at High Knowes is unusual as it is
uniaxial. The majority of field systems are thought to have been used mainly
for crop production, although rotation may also have been practised in a mixed
farming economy.
Well-preserved prehistoric field systems are rare nationally. They provide
important information about developments in agricultural practices in a
particular location and broader patterns of social, cultural and environmental
change over several centuries.
The later prehistoric settlements, field system, cord rig and associated
linear boundary on High Knowes are well-preserved. In spite of having been
partially excavated, the two palisaded settlements are excellent examples of
their type and further information on the form and method of construction of
the houses and the nature of their occupation, including the recovery of
pottery and artefacts, will add to our knowledge of this rare form of
monument. The presence of the overlying later prehistoric/Romano-British
settlement will contribute to our knowledge of changing settlement forms
during the later prehistoric period. Although difficult to trace on the ground
as earthworks, the associated field system and cord rig survive as slight
features which will contribute to our understanding of the type of agriculture
being practised by the people who occupied the settlements. Information on
arable farming and animal husbandry, including the types of crops grown will
also contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the period. The survival
of a linear boundary marking the limit of field system is a rare feature and
the recovery of material which could date its construction is an important
aspect in determining its exact function. Taken together with the remains of
further settlements and cairns in the vicinity, this monument will add
considerably to our knowledge and understanding of the nature of prehistoric
settlement and society in the Borders.

Source: Historic England


NT91SE 11,
NT91SE 12,
NT91SE 171,
NT91SE 172,
NT91SE 18,

Source: Historic England

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