Keys to the Past


Starting with M - 60 Glossary entries found.

In this section of the website you can find out more about specialist and technical terms archaeologists sometimes use. There is also lots more information about famous people and historic events in the north-east.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Z 1-9


A metal staff carried by civic officials, such as a Mayor. This signifies a Medieval right to something - such as the ability to hold a market. Maces are also weapons that could be used to hit an attacker.

Macehead; Mace head

A stone or piece of antler with a central hole, which is rounded and edged straight. Apparently functionless these are thought to be status symbols.


A store for gunpowder and ammunition. These have many anti-spark devices to prevent any explosions. Hoists are made with wooden parts. Ventilation shutters are staggered so as to stop any sparks reaching the gunpowder. These are found near barracks, ranges and quarries. They may be partly underground to minimise the effects of an accidental explosion. An example at Berwick upon Tweed dates to the 1740s AD.


See geophysical survey.

Maltings; Malt house; Malthouse

A maltings or malting house is where barley was malted to make beer or whiskey. Malting involves letting the grain start growing slightly. It is then heated so that the growing stops. This helps to make the drink easier to make and taste better. Malt houses usually contain large wooden floors on which the grain was allowed to begin to grow. They also have large ovens where the grain was then heated.


The land held by a lord - perhaps as payment for services or as a reward. This entailed various customs and obligations to and from the lord. The lord could expect his tenants to grind their crops at his mill; he would also have the pick of crops and livestock. In exchange the lord was to serve his superiors - as well as dispense justice at his own gallows and annual court. The lord would leave at a manor house. A manor is usually all within one parish - but need not be exclusively so.
Since many of these customs have been lost the term may only apply to the land or the central house where the lord lives.

Manor house

See manor.


The residence of a priest (especially a Presbyterian priest).

Marching camp

A camp built by the army (usually) by the side of a road whilst on the march. These could have been used for just a night or many times. Roman examples are usually regular rectangles or squares. Defences were provided by a ditch and rampart around the edge and at the gates. The entrances were defended by a clavicula or titulum. The sizes of marching camps has been used to estimate the size of the army on the march. Such Roman camps are hard to date due to sparse finds, general forms and style. It is possible to generally date some marching camps within the Roman period where they overlap one another, e.g. as at Chew Green, Northumberland. A good sequence of marching camps can be seen along Dere Street in Northumberland from north of Corbridge to the Scottish Border.
Marching camp

Market Cross

The place where a market was held. They may have decoration on - which might refer to specific religious themes. Civil announcements were often made from market crosses.

Market charter

The charter issued by a monarch allowing a market to be held by a lord or civic body at a certain place, at a certain time. A toll of Stallage could be levied on those who wished to sell goods and produce. A proportion of the stallage will have gone to the monarch for granting the licence. Stallage money could be used with other tolls to (re-)build bridges or town walls. Charters were often re-confirmed to individual lords as each monarch was crowned. However, it is noted that some common commodities, e.g. grain, are rarely mentioned, the charters are only a point in time and the charters were copied town for town (regardless of its actual intended applications).
Markets in 1293AD of Northumberland and Durham were; Wark (on Tweed), Norham, Wooler, Chatton, Bamburgh, Embleton, Alnmouth, Alnwick, Warkworth, Rothbury, Harbottle, Elsdon, Netherwitton, Morpeth, Newbiggin, Newcastle, Ovingham, Corbridge, Hexham, Durham, Hartlepool, Darlington and Barnard Castle.

Marl pit

A pit from which marl, a mixture of clay and carbonate of lime, is excavated. Marl is used as a fertilizer.


A person put to death for their religious beliefs. These people have usually been canonised to become saints. People were put to death in the Roman period for their religion, (usually Christianity), by a number of means by others who believed in different gods. In Medieval period and the Reformation people were put to death as heretics, for examples Bishops Thomas Latimer and Hugh Ridley at Oxford, by burnt at the stake - by people who shared the same God, but had a different Catholic or Protestant viewpoint.

Mason's marks

A small carved symbol used by a mason to identify his work. They can sometimes be seen on stonework on medieval churches and other buildings.

Master cup

A small cup or metal container used to contain a set of weights.


A chamber designed to act as a burial place. These could be elaborate buildings erected by, and for the sole use of, a family. They might include hatchments. An extreme example is that Seaton Delaval Hall, Northumberland.

Mean high water mark

The point to which an incoming tide will normally reach. It has often been used as a legal boundary.

Mechanic's Institute

A place where lectures were held and reading rooms were provided for artisans to learn more about their trade, including its scientific and theoretical background.


See Overviews for details.

Meeting House

A place where Quakers meet for their services. They are not decorated as other religious buildings are following the group's principles.

Melon bead

A glass bead which is scored down the sides. This scoring makes the bead look like a melon skin. Such beads are commonly found on prehistoric and Romano-British sites, though may be of different colours.


See Overviews for details.


The room used by soldiers to eat in.


A dwelling house and its surrounding buildings and lands.

Metal detector; Metal detectorists

Metal detectors are machines that are able to detect metal objects beneath the soils. Looking for objects using these machines is a popular hobby. Most metal detectorists are responsible, recording the location of the objects they find and informing the local museums or the Portable Antiquities Officer. Their work has made valuable contributions to archaeology in the area.
However, a tiny minority have caused problems by detecting on protected land or on private land without permission of the landowner. This is theft. For further information about metal detecting see our Frequently Asked Question section on the Get Involved page.


See Methodist.


This is a religious revival organisation of the 18th century. The name is a nickname that has stuck. It was established in principle by John Wesley to provide a distinctive style of worship for people Wesley thought had no interests and aspiration in the 18th century church. The meetings included Sunday services as normal, but also further meetings as well. The main theme was on personal conversion and salvation - so any personal status or wealth meant nothing. Methodism was especially common in the industrial areas where people had little status or wealth. It was influential in setting up political parties. Though Wesley saw himself as a member of the church his followers carried on his work - this led to it being a separate organisation. (See also Primitive Methodists).

Methodist Chapel

A small, building where Methodists worship.

Methodist Church

A large, building where Methodists worship.


A very small flint tool, often less than 2.5cm long. They were used as barbs, tips of arrows, or placed edge-to-edge in a wood, bone or piece of antler called a haft. They date to the Early Mesolithic.


A rubbish heap - sometimes used as a place-name element.

Middle English

The English language spoken between roughly 1350 and 1485. It was the language in which some of the first great medieval works of English literature were written, such as the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.


A military base built in connection with Hadrian's Wall. These were (usually) regularly spaced at every Roman mile giving the name. At some points, such as the eastern section of Hadrian's Wall this is uncertain. These fortifications acted as based for small garrisons - though to be part of the larger cohort units.
Milecastles usually had two gateways; one, to the north, and one to the south through which a drain passed to remove effluent. Both gateways would have substantial doors in, beneath possible small raised parapets with battlements. Good examples of the gateways can be seen at Milecastle 37 (Housesteads, Northumberland). Above the gateways were inscribed stones to the Roman emperor giving the details of the legion building party. Some of the gateways can never have been used for they overlook cliffs, e.g. Milecastle 42 (Cawfields, Northumberland). Internal buildings would have included barracks, latrines and possibly a small stable.

There are varying forms of gateway and milecastle dimensions, which in the absence of other evidence have been used to suggest the legion builders. Outside of the gateways causeways allowed passage across the northern ditch and the Vallum. In the turf-wall sector of Hadrian's Wall the base of the walls were turf, though supplemented by the use of timber for the buildings and battlements. The milecastles have conventionally been number east to west for convenience.

Milestone; Milepost

A stone set up to record distances to and from different points. The Romans set up milestones that also recorded the date of their erection, (with the relevant emperors), though at Roman mile intervals. These were used as later markers.
Similarly mileposts were set up by turnpikes and toll roads. These might also be stone - but some metal shield-shaped examples survive.

Milfield Basin

The Milfield basin forms the largest physically contained alluvial flood basin in Northumberland. It also straddles two key communication routes running north-south and east-west with the entrance to Glendale forming the junction of these two axes. Immediately overlooking this naturally defined cross-roads is the most prominent hill of the northern Cheviot rim; Yeavering Bell. When viewed from the lower lying ground of the basin proper it is the twin-topped hill of Yeavering Bell that stands out most markedly against the southern horizon.

In the Mesolithic period groups were generally targeting settlement on well drained gravels and sandstones, preferably adjacent to the wetland habitats important for economic exploitation, and avoiding wetland and clay habitats for habitation, although smaller sites indicative of brief periods of activity are found on these geologies, probably due to short episode hunting activities.

In the Neolithic period at least 9, and possibly as many as 15 henges were built here, forming a network of religious sites in the area. These were sited within in a complex arrangements of ditches and droveways. There are also many examples of prehistoric rock art in the surrounding area- the main groups of rock art along the route leading towards the Milfield basin are intervisible with one another, so that travellers might approach each of them in turn. It may be no accident that they are found in places where the vista changes, and where the next group of carvings along that route comes into view.

When viewed from the lower lying ground of the basin proper it is the twin-topped hill of Yeavering Bell that stands out most markedly against the southern horizon. Therefore, positioned at a key communication junction, and in the lee of the most prominent hilltop, Old Yeavering (Gefrin) clearly occupies a rather special place in the dramatic landscape of the Milfield basin. Positioned on a gravel terrace immediately above the frequently flooded alluvial basin, Yeavering remained high and dry on the fringe of a vast tract of fertile resources immensely attractive to hunter-gatherer and early farming communities. Stone-Age activity from the Mesolithic through to the Neolithic has been discovered both at Old Yeavering and more widely across the basin. However, recent research has indicated that the distribution of Stone-Age activity was tied to patterns of land-use that utilised different parts of the landscape in different ways. It is argued that through an understanding of the differential pattern of landscape exploitation in the basin across space and time we can glimpse something of the way stone-age inhabitants of the valley viewed and understood Yeavering and the wider landscape.

Military road

The route of the B6318 was originally built as a military road in the 18th century, and is believed to have been carried out under the direction of General Wade. Historical records suggest that the road was built over the top of the foundation course of the wall for a distance of around 10km and probably used stone from the wall itself. It was built to allow the general to easily move his troops around to allow him to fight a possible invading Scottish army during the 1745 rebellion.

Mill race; Millrace; Mill-race

A manmade channel which takes water, which may be controlled, from a gathering pond to a watermill. These channels can be excavated in, or raised above the ground.

Millstones; Mill stones

Usually a pair of flat cylinder shaped stones driven by some machinery to grind materials. These are large than quern stones. These are circular and have grooves cutting across the upper surface of the lower stone to aid the milling process. There were millstone extraction sites across the region, see especially Harbottle Common and near the Millstone Burn, Northumberland. A shape was pecked out and wedges inserted to lever the stone out - some failures may be still found uncompleted or by trackways. Millstones were a famous export of the northeast.

Mine shafts

See shaft.

Mine shop

A building at a mine in which the miners stayed.

Mining subsidence

The slumping of the ground caused by the collapse of rocks and soil into old mineworkings. This can be over large or small areas. Sometimes the type of the slumping can give evidence to the type of underground working, e.g. pillar and stall might produce parallel gullies. Such areas may be dangerous.


Large church which is not necessarily the base of a Bishop. These date from the Anglo-Saxon period onwards.


A place where coins are produced, so they are places of high importance. Examples include Bamburgh and Corbridge - which produced Scottish coins when Northumberland was a Scottish earldom in the 12th century AD. The Durham mint was operated by the Bishop of Durham from the 11th century to the mid-16th century. A further temporary mint was established from 12th to the 14th century at Newcastle, often being the centre for money used in fighting Scotland - which meant a loss in revenue to the Bishops of Durham, recorded in the 12th century Boldon Book. Individual mints can be identified for coins by mint marks - distinguishing features and inscriptions on the dies used, (equipment used to mark the blanks discs of metal as a coin).


A temple where Mithras was worshipped. The temples at Carrawburgh, Housesteads and Rudchester, (all Northumberland), were small so as to imitate the cave where Mithras killed the bull. Progress for the only male worshippers was obtained by undergoing particular trials - such as lying by a fire - which Mithras was thought to have undergone. The remains of these 'ordeal pits' can be seen at Carrawburgh. These temples had minimal light - but were coloured with a frieze of the bull killing in an apse behind the altars. A reconstruction of a Mithraeum is at the Newcastle Museum of Antiquities in Newcastle, based on the excavated Carrawburgh remains. It is thought that these temples were deliberately destroyed as part of Christian iconoclasm.


A Middle Eastern god who was adopted by some Romans. Such Romans included army officers in Britain,. His worshippers built Mithraea - see Mithraeum. Mithras was 'The Sun God', had been born from an egg and brought life by killing a bull in a cave.


A wide ditch surrounding a building, usually filled with water.

Moated site; Moated farmstead; Moated farm

A domestic site surrounded by a moat.

Mock Tudor

An architectural style from Victorian times (1837-1901) which mimicked the earlier Tudor styles from 16th century England.

Model farm

A farm building erected in the 18th and 19th century which were architect-designed rather than built in the local style.

Model village

A planned village or settlement, varying from picturesque arrangements of estate cottages to workers villages.


Used by archaeologist to describe the period after 1900.


Striving to be modern in appearance or style.


A religious community of men, as monks, or women, as nuns. (Very occasionally both men and women). These people devote their lives to religion and the service of others. Abbeys were controlled by an abbot, priories by a prior and establishments of nuns called a convent. In Christianity there were orders on how to organise physically and spiritually the life of the monastery - giving rise to different monastic orders. For both cases an ideal monastery was to be entirely self-supporting, using its granges as the basis for exchanges and subsistence. The earliest monastery in the region was that at Lindisfarne (Northumberland) established by King Oswald around 635AD.

Physically Medieval monastery buildings included a crucifix shaped church of nave, chancel and side arms of transepts. This was to imitate the crucifixion of Jesus and would face east. The remaining buildings were arranged around a courtyard called a cloister. To the south of the south transept were the slype - a passage from the cloister outside, and the chapter house. Other sides of the cloisters were made up of accommodation for the monks or nuns, lay staff and guests, (which might be pilgrims), and stores for produce for sale or use. Sometimes the accommodation was all on upper floors - so the stores were held in places called undercrofts. Other buildings may have included a watermill, hospital, prior's house and prison for the rule-breakers, separated at a distance from the main site. An enclosing curtain wall, sometimes with battlements, may also have been added. Beside a watercourse was a favoured location - so watermill wheels could be turned and waste washed away after being dropped in, from locations such as garderobes. In the case of convents a house for a priest was included, as the nuns could not take all the religious services themselves. In the cases of mixed orders, such as the Gilbertines, the basic plan was replicated - though one divided church was shared.

The community would have been expected to attend several services throughout the day and night. Stairs were provided between the accommodation and the main church, bypassing cloisters at night. These can be seen at Hexham, Northumberland where they remain. Both the plans and style of worship would have had minor differences from one monastery to another. This was because of affiliations to different Orders, which followed different rules. (See the entries for Augustinians, Benedictines, Cistercians and Premonstratensians). Some monasteries acted as private chantries, others were deliberately in remote or urban situations, as teaching colleges and as rest homes for busier monasteries. If the general public were allowed in, (for sometimes they were not), they could not do further than the nave

By the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Reformation some monasteries were well known for their pilgrimage relics and shrines, their wealth, manuscript collections, bells and ornaments. Such decorations would include stained glass and effigies in the various architectural styles. The things of value and the sites themselves were sold for King Henry VIII at Courts of Augmentation at the Dissolution of the Monasteries - though some were taken over as cathedrals and churches by the locals. This upset many and led to the Pilgrimage of Grace. Post-Medieval monasteries have been established - often in country houses, such as Ministeracres, Northumberland, or after the destruction of monasteries elsewhere. Ushaw, (County Durham), seminary is the successor to the monastery at Douai, Northern France, destroyed following the French Revolution (1788AD). It is too early to comment on historically on the monasteries established for other religions in the region, such as the Buddist monastery at Harnham, near Belsay, Northumberland.


A mixture of sand and cement used to hold bricks and stones together.

Mortuary Chapel

A small chapel at a cemetery in which funeral services were held.


A technique of using small coloured tiles to create pictures and patterns (either religious, symbolic or for entertainment) on a large scale. This would take a long time to make - so only high status buildings, monasteries, villas and churches have them. They were popular in the Roman period and in the Post-Medieval Oxford Movement churches.


The first castles built by the Normans often consisted of a steep-sided earthen mound with a tower built on it. The mound was known as a motte.
Diagram of a motte and bialey castle. Copyright Peter Ryder 2003.

Motte and Bailey

The first castles built by the Normans often consisted of a simple motte with a tower built on it. A motte is a large earth mound. This mound would often be surrounded by a larger outer, enclosure, known as a bailey. This might contain storerooms, stables and houses. Although castles continued to be built throughout the medieval period, mottes fell out of use by the 12th century.
Diagram of a motte and bialey castle. Copyright Peter Ryder 2003.

Mullions; Mullioned

Mullions are the vertical parts of Lead, or wood, which divide a window up. This was because it was hard to produce strong enough window glass in large single pieces in the past. Such a window is said to be mullioned.

Multivallate; Multivallate enclosure; Multivallate hillfort

Possessing many ditches, e.g. a hillfort. The term is usually reserved for places with three or more ditches. (Compare with bivallate).
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Z 1-9