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Portfolio > North East England 2 > Copt Hill Barrow, Houghton-le-Spring 1                                    Click on an image below to reveal enlarged version

Copt Hill Barrow (Seven Sisters) Houghton-le-Spring, Tyne & Wear, UK

A round barrow of Neolithic origin, excavated by William Greenwell and TW Robinson in 1877. At the time, the barrow measured 66 feet in diameter and stood 7.75 feet high. The scheduled monument details (1998) describe it as 3 metres high and 25 metres in diameter, although in 1976 the Ordnance Survey found it to be 23 metres in diameter an 1.6 metres high on the uphill side. The excavations uncovered several disarticulated inhumations burnt in situ within a matrix of burnt limestone and charcoal, the area defined by a rectangular setting of boulders with signs of burning on its inner face. This setting, located circa 1.5 metres south of the centre, measured circa 10 metres by 1.8 metres, and was aligned east-west. Terminal pits with charcoal-rich fills were present to the east. The mound itself was composed of boulders and slabs and capped with earth and stones. There were apparently traces of a boulder kerb, although the Ordnance Survey could find no traces of this in 1974. Within the mound were a series of Early Bronze Age secondary interments including traces of a child inhumation in a stone-lined cist with capstone and paving slab; an inhumation with a food vessel at its head; a cremation beneath an inverted food vessel, within a stone setting; and other traces of cremations and inhumations. Near the summit of the mound was an extended inhumation within a stone cist, believed to be of Anglo-Saxon date. The barrow is known as Seven Sisters, after the trees which stand on it. Copt Hill round barrow measuring 66ft diameter and 7.75ft high excavated by Greenwell and Robinson in 1877. About 5ft S of the centre were the burnt and disjointed remains of an unknown number of Neolithic inhumations covered by a deposit of limestone and wood. Eight BA burials were also discovered. Four were cremations; including one deposited in a collared urn, and the remainder were inhumations. These included a child burial within a stone cist and another burial, accompanied by a food vessel. Near the summit of the mound, about 10ft SSW of the centre was an extended burial within a stone cist, thought to be Anglo-Saxon. Finds in the British Museum. 

Supposed Anglo-Saxon inhumation listed by Meaney. A round cairn about 23.0m diameter (though slightly encroached on by ploughing in the E) and 1.6m high from the uphill E side. It is now visible as a turf-covered stony mound with four trees on it. There is no kerb. The centre contains a roughly rectangular depression about 0.5m deep, 2.5m E-W by 2.0m, but there is no trace of any cist. A detailed description is given of the initial deposition and later burials found in this barrow. A large number of additional bibliographic references is given. 

A grass and tree covered cairn, false crest sited on the scarp slope of the East Durham Plateau. Excavated 20th Sept 1877 by Greenwell and Robinson. Revealed a primary interment in what Greenwell interpreted as a 'flue cremation', but which is probably a mortuary structure of Neolithic date. Bronze Age burials were also discovered. Grave goods now in British Museum. Site known locally as the 'Seven Sisters' because of the seven trees which grow on it. Storm damage was responsible for one of the tree's being damaged, so now there are only six remaining.

The Friends Of Copt Hill

The Friends of Copt Hill exist to preserve the monument for the wider community; to ensure that everyone has access to it and its environment; to investigate any history; to conserve artefacts and to improve the site for the enjoyment of all. In 1999 Sunderland City Council was approached by the Great North Forest to form a partnership to purchase the land at Copt Hill from a private landowner. The aim was to improve the site's nature conservation, geological and archaeological landscape, to develop public access and to improve the site's potential as an educational resource.

The Friends of Copt Hill (FoCH) group was formed in April 2001 in order to raise awareness of and to protect a scheduled prehistoric burial mound, known locally as "The Seven Sisters", at Copt Hill, Houghton-le-Spring. (The "Seven Sisters" are the beech trees planted on top of the barrow around the turn of the last century.) The project is significant because it is enthusiastically supported and carried out by local residents with the additional support of community groups and professional advice. In 2001 a geophysical survey by Geoquest Associates, for the Council, provided some startling results as it suggested that the barrow was surrounded by a complex of previously unknown features, of possible archaeological origin.

September 2002 marked the 125th anniversary of the first known excavation of the Copt Hill barrow by Canon Greenwell, of Durham Cathedral, and Captain Thomas Robinson, the son of a Houghton brewer. The FoCH organised "Unveiling Seven Sisters", an open day held at the site using some of the money they had been granted by the Local Heritage Initiative and Nationwide Building Society Community Award. It was a most successful day; the weather could not be bettered and local people, and those from further afield, filled the site for a wonderful day of activities and history.

In 2002 the FoCH asked textile and visual artists, creative writers and a storyteller to visit the young people of Gillas Lane Primary School. The children drew, wrote stories and poems and designed artwork, including screen printing, cloth collage and 3D sculpture, using natural materials from the site. The results of their artwork can be seen all around the site as the designs were used to decorate the backs of the 7 benches that are sited to take in the best views of the site and the surrounding countryside. Children were also involved that year, with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, to help plant a new hedge around the perimeter of the site to create a wildlife corridor and to attract a wider variety of flora and fauna.

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