Delhi, Blagdon Hall

Project Profile

Project Title :

Delhi, Blagdon Hall,

Client :

H. J. Banks and Company Limited

Type of Work :

Watching Brief, Excavation

Project Gallery 

Delhi under excavation   Delhi roundhouse  
Delhi roundhouse under excavation   Delhi roundhouse group  
Delhi under excavation   Bead  


Delhi, Blagdon Hall

Prehistoric settlement and land boundaries

NAA undertook an archaeological watching brief and excavation at the site of an extension to an opencast coal and clay extraction site at Delhi, Blagdon Hall, Northumberland (centred on NZ 218 763). The site lay within the Registered Park and Garden of Blagdon Hall and consisted of approximately four hectares of arable land, some of which contains 20th century opencast workings. Earlier archaeological investigations carried out by NAA to the west and south-west of the proposed extension area had already revealed a series of partially collapsed mine galleries, some 12m below ground, and a number of parkland features associated with the former Blagdon Hall estate.

There is quite extensive evidence for prehistoric occupation within the coastal plain landscape surrounding Delhi and the investigations identified significant archaeological remains dating from the prehistoric to modern period across all the areas designated for monitoring. Prehistoric remains were encountered in four of the five areas and provided evidence for settlement, land division, agriculture and probably small-scale industry dating from the Bronze Age onwards. It was clear that the remains were part of a more extensive landscape complex of settlement and agriculture extending beyond the boundaries of the opencast site and that the various shifts and realignments of structures and boundaries revealed a long history of occupation.

The earliest feature was a Bronze Age pit-alignment which formed a distinct linear boundary or land division. Some of the pits displayed evidence of having been cleaned out and the evidence for gradual silting suggested that the pits had been maintained as open features within the landscape for a long period. There was little dating evidence although a flint flake of Neolithic or early Bronze Age date was recovered from a secondary fill of one pit and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating of soil samples from the same feature gave a date of 735BC ± 75 ± 220, which would date the infill deposit to the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age. The existence of the pit-alignment and the evidence for maintenance in the form of cleaning out and re-cutting is indicative of community activity and suggested the presence of a substantial settlement within the vicinity. Pit alignments often predate ditched field systems, being intentionally discontinuous and often part of networks of boundaries. Investigations elsewhere in the country suggest that alignments may have been more than purely land divisions. At Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire for example, the pit alignments followed the line of a stream channel and separated the funeral/ritual area from the settled agricultural landscape of the late Neolithic and Bronze Age.

Continuation of activity into the Iron Age was evidenced by the identification of three distinct complexes of Iron Age settlement remains. These included a complex of unenclosed structures which represented multi-phase settlement remains with associated storage structures and possible industrial activity. The evidence suggested that the unenclosed phase of settlement had been fairly long-lived with evidence of rebuilding and realignment of structures. It included two roundhouse structures, one of which appeared to have been used for domestic accommodation and the other possibly for storage or for animals. The walls of both structures had probably been constructed in timber and wattle and daub and were ringed on the outside by drip gullies, but no internal features were apparent. The doorway of the dwelling faced east and the store house may have had opposing entrances. Settlement of a later Iron Age date was also represented by an enclosure containing two roundhouses. The roundhouses again appeared to be constructed of timber walls but had some evidence of internal postholes and gullies. These features possibly reflected internal partitioning dividing the inner and outer areas of the house and may be indicative of divisions between public and private space. The finding of a coloured glass bead within the drip gully of one of these two roundhouses provides a small, but rare, insight into the life of the individuals living at the settlement sometime between 400BC to 100BC.

The prehistoric features had been badly damaged by an extensive medieval field system that had probably succeeded a medieval enclosure relating to animal husbandry. The majority of features dating to the post-medieval period across the site appeared to form part of the designed landscape of the Blagdon Hall estate and comprised parkland features relating to formal planting and drainage. A later post-medieval field system overlay the garden features and by the modern period all activity across the site was associated with coal extraction.

The excavation at Delhi represents one of the larger areas of investigations of part of a prehistoric landscape within the region. The later remains relating to the parkland design provide an insight into the early 18th century landscape garden associated with Blagdon Hall.