Keys to the Past

Local History

Scargill (County Durham)

Scargill lies in the south of County Durham to the south of the River Tees in what used to be North Yorkshire. The first inhabitants of Scargill were probably Mesolithic hunters, who headed up into the North Pennines in the warm summer months to hunt wild animals. However, they would have only lived in slight, temporary camps, which have left no traces today.

During the Neolithic farming first began to be introduced. Early farmers would have cleared simple fields in the lower lying areas. It is likely that the higher areas of ground such as Scargill Moor and Barningham Moor would still have been used for hunting. A number of carved cup and ring marks can still be seen in these upland areas. They probably date to the late Neolithic - they may have marked the dividing area between the lower areas which were farmed and the upland areas which continued to be wild and untamed. The best group can be seen at Black Hill Gate. These mysterious symbols may well also have had a religious purpose, although no-one really understands exactly what they were used for.

Farming would have become more widespread during the Bronze Age and Iron Age. The inhabitants of this area would have lived in simple round houses, probably with dry stone walls. In the Iron Age these small farmsteads would have usually been surrounded by stone enclosures.

When the Romans arrived in the 1st century AD they built a number of forts along the routes of the Stainmore Pass, including camps at Greta Bridge, Bowes and on the pass itself. On the whole there is little evidence that the army would have gone far into the uplands of the North Pennines. However, high on Scargill Moor are the remains of two small shrines with carved stone altars of the type put up by the Roman army. Quite why they decided to build a shrine in such a remote place will never be known. Perhaps it was built by a hunting party to ensure good luck. The temples have now mostly been destroyed by thenearby stream, but the altars can still be seen in the Bowes Museum.

In the medieval period there was a settlement at Scargill centred around the small fortified building known as Scargill Castle. This was built in the 13th century, and rebuilt in the 15th century. Edward II is reputed to have been entertained at the castle when he visited the area in 1323. The Castle and the manor of Scargill later passed to the Tunstall family of Wycliffe Hall, County Durham. Nearby stand the low earthwork remains of a possible medieval chapel. In fact Scargill Castle is the centre of a wider landscape of medieval (1066 to 1540) remains. Traces of medieval fields and earthworks can be seen in the surrounding area, and are probably all that is left of the medieval village. In the early 14th century was referred to as 'cum Rotherforde' (with Rotherforde). The village of Rutherford has now disappeared, although its placename still survives and traces of the earthworks can still be seen on aerial photographs.

Scargill stayed mainly a farming area throughout the medieval and post-medieval years. However, as in many other parts of the North Pennines lead mining became an increasing important part of the economy in the 18th and 19th century. Traces of lead mines can still be seen at Ellerbeck, Elsey Cragg and Scargill Low Moor. Other industries which grew up in the area included stone quarrying for building uses and for road stone. However, the lead mining declined in the late 19th century and there is little quarrying activity still going. The area has now returned to its peaceful farming life.

Reference number:D6874
Event(s):Heart of Teesdale Project Heritage Audit; North of England Civic Trust

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Please note that this information has been compiled from a number of different sources. Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council can accept no responsibility for any inaccuracy contained therein. If you wish to use/copy any of the images, please ensure that you read the Copyright information provided.