Burnley, colne and nelson

       Upland ArchaeologY project



It is widely recognised that the area covered by the East Lancashire town of Nelson has never been the subject of anything but the odd cursory attempt to uncover its ancient past.


To the south of the town are the Burnley uplands of Thursden, Extwistle, Worsthorne and Mereclough and within this combined district are a relatively large number of prehistoric features. These range from Mesolithic transient camps, probable Roman enclosures and Bronze Age burial barrows through to Medieval water mills.


However, as this upland area skirts Boulsworth Hill to the east the number of known prehistoric sites diminishes rapidly. Once the tumuli at Monk Hall, and the earthwork at Burwains Camp (both in Thursden) are left behind the next officially recognised feature is the Class A hillfort of Castercliffe, on the Nelson and Colne boundary.   



From its inception on the 5th January 2013 the Project has acquired 10 LIDAR tiles covering the area of Briercliffe (Burnley) and Nelson around the hamlet of Catlow, Southfield, Castercliffe and Shelfield.


The results from studying the LIDAR images have been nothing short of astounding!


It is fair to say that the results have yet to be officially qualified but there is firm evidence for the area surveyed to the end of January 2013 containing formerly unknown features in the shape of at least two minor hillforts, an Iron Age enclosure, two hilltop enclosures (possibly Bronze Age), a lost Medieval village, two lost Medieval farmsteads, two square enclosures possibly containing inner buildings (Roman?), a lost major roadway and numerous other features of interest.   


In short - one month has provided a wealth of  new archaeological evidence - extrapolation of this volume of lost features suggests that the LIDAR element of the survey will rewrite the history of our area!



It is a primary aim of the project to provide valuable evidence to enable a study of the movement and development of each individual culture through prehistory and, hopefully, through the early Medieval period.


Although it is apparent from flint working camps that communities of Mesolithic people moved in and out of our area following the Glacial period it is not clear when the transitionary adoption of more permanent settlement and land cultivation manifested within the Neolithic period.  


The Neolithic and Bronze Ages are reasonably represented in the Worsthorne area but  it is not clear from the extant evidence what the population levels of these periods would have been or to what spacial extent their territory covered.


The settlements to the south of Boulsworth Hill (Hebden Bridge etc.) appear to have practised the art of rock carving - many examples exist on the moorlands in the Yorkshire district. This is not the case in our subject area and this would suggest that a boundary existed on the routeway between Hebden Bridge and the peoples within our survey area.










50 SQ K

Burial and monument culture indicates certain patterns of prehistoric migration within Lancashire and the people of our highland area appear to have been distinct from our lowland coastal neighbours to the west.


What, then, was the level of Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age occupation of the land around Burnley, Nelson and Colne?


Where did these people live and farm? Was there a particular ‘Pendle’ culture in contrast to the known cultures within Lancashire?


What was the level of status within our local population - we assume that the defence of Castercliffe was built by the Iron Age people of the Nelson and Colne district to oversee the important routeway passing through here but was this to protect from invaders or simply to police a valuable trade route?


It is hoped that, in time, these questions will be answered to some degree at least. The aim of the Project, then, is to facilitate this process as far as is possible within the constraints of an unfunded venture.










The Survey Area covers some 50 square kilometers


An enclosure (Bronze/Iron Age?) in Nelson. This is one of the many early successes of the Project


LIDAR image © HMGov.



    Inception Date: 05 01 13


    Duration: Element A) 1 year


    Element B) 2 years


One of a number of apparent hill enclosures in the Catlow district. The left arrow indicates a settlement enclosure with entrances.

The right arrow shows a possible settlement enclosure.

This digitally manipulated LIDAR image indicates the presence of lost croft enclosures

(arrowed bottom) with streets, houses and a main enclosure (arrowed top).


This is possibly evidence for the first ever village of  Marsden (the Medieval predecessor

to the town of Nelson).

LIDAR image © HMGov.


LIDAR image © HMGov.


This site has been officially verified as an Iron Age minor hillfort (defended settlement) on the edge of Briercliffe.


Unfortunately 50% of the northern settlement area has been lost due to the

actions of  17th and 18th century lime extraction.


Here we see increasing evidence to show that the prehistoric settlement

pattern of the district would have been far more widespread than previously thought.

LIDAR image © HMGov.



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