School of History, Classics and Archaeology


Derwentcote Forge Cottages Project

Students on site for the Derwentcote Forge cottages project.

Built in 1719, Derwentcote near Lanchester, County Durham, is the earliest and most complete steel-making furnace in Britain.

Our five-year research project here (2012-2016) is investigating a row of cottages occupied by the families of Derwentcote workers.

The project is a University training and community-based excavation, sponsored by Newcastle University in conjunction with English Heritage.

The overall aim is to excavate the cottages site with a view to long term consolidation and display by English Heritage.

The project is directed by Jane Webster (Newcastle) and Rob Young (English Heritage).

The aim of the Derwentcote Forge Cottages project is to characterise the extent, condition, date range and sequence of construction represented by surface and sub-surface (structural) archaeological remains of the historically attested workers cottages and gardens at Derwentcote.

Survey work undertaken in 2009, and an evaluation by Time Team in 2010 suggested an 18th century origin for the structures, with continuing alterations until the mid 20th century.

The cottages (and associated structures) appear to have been in domestic use from at least 1856 onwards, with progressive subdivisions represented on successive Ordnance Survey maps. Their depiction on the 1856 edition suggests their use as two cottages, increasing to probably four by 1897.

The first season of excavation (July 2012) was preceded by recording work on, and consolidation of, the standing masonry. In 2012, we excavated the interior and exterior of the western-most dwelling in the cottage row.

We undertook a detailed survey of all the brickwork recovered, and research on the manufacturers of these bricks is helping us to build up a clearer picture of the construction history of the cottages. Large quantities of domestic occupation debris were also found, including 19th century ceramics and glass.

The project provides training in contemporary specialist excavation and post-excavation skills to undergraduate and post-graduate students from Newcastle University, but is also open to members of the local community and local schools.

We also provide a limited number of residential fieldwork placements for 6th formers who do not live locally but want to gain excavation experience before studying archaeology at University.

Local sixth formers are welcome to join us on a day-by-day basis. Please contact Jane Webster for more information on sixth form opportunities.