THE remains of a burial mound perhaps 4,000 years old have been found on the site of a proposed housing development to the west of Darlington.

Millennia of farming, though, have flattened the mound so that only the keenest archaeologist could spot it, but it still gives a fascinating glimpse into life in our area in the early Bronze Age.

The finds are in a couple of fields near Low Coniscliffe, on the A67 opposite the Baydale Beck pub. A planning application has recently been lodged with Darlington council to build 33 houses on the fields near the River Tees, but the archaeologists are recommending that if the scheme goes ahead, there should be further investigation of the remains first.

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There are two concentric circular ditches, the widest being 45 metres in diameter, and in the middle was once a stone cairn which contained the remains of a locally important person. He could have been an elder or even a chief, and he could have been buried in a kist – a stone coffin – or his body could have been cremated and the ashes swept into a funerary urn before being placed in the cairn. Some of his descendants may have followed him into the cairn, but there were no human remains found on the site.

The mound dates from between 2,400BC and 1,500BC, and shows the pastoral people of the time had developed an attachment to the Low Coniscliffe area.

“They used burial mounds as territorial markers,” says Alan Rushworth, director at the Archaeological Practice in Newcastle, which carried out the investigation. “It was as if they were saying ‘this is our piece of land, our ancestors are buried here’. It was about tribal ownership of fertile land by the river.”

However, over the centuries, whoever was buried in the mound became forgotten.

“By the Iron Age, it would appear that they weren’t bothered with it, it was just a hump on the landscape and they flattened it,” says Mr Rushworth. “It probably wasn’t a huge mound so it was relatively easy to level. It looks as if the stones from the cairn was pushed into the circular ditches, and then you have got Iron Age farm ditches running across it.”

The Iron Age runs roughly from 1,200BC to 500BC, but then, to complete the agricultural picture, there are medieval ridges and furrows running over the landscape, all of which has been flattened by modern farming methods.

“It may have been more prominent then, perhaps sitting on a terrace above the river and visible from a distance,” says Mr Rushworth.

There are the remains of an estimated 10,000 burial mounds with ditches in Britain. “There are quite a few in the country but it’s still nice to get one in our area,” says Mr Rushworth. “They’re locally rare and regionally not common.”

But because the remains have been so badly damaged, there doesn’t seem to be enough to scupper the housing estate.

“Before they can build the houses, archaeologists will have to go back and do some more work,” says Mr Rushworth. “It is an interesting monument but it isn’t significant. It doesn’t warrant being preserved in situ, but it will be preserved through record.”

WE don’t know where the people who created the burial mound were living at Low Coniscliffe, but the oldest part of the village is probably close to the A1 motorway to the south-west of the current houses. Here, in a field once known as “hallgarth”, may be the remains of a medieval manor house from which the two villages were ruled by the Barons of Greystoke.

In 1293, it is recorded that Baron John had been granted the right of free warren in “Cunoisclyve” – this meant he had the king’s permission to help himself to the game – and also the right of gallows and “infangthief”. This wonderful word means “the thief within”, and it means that Baron John had the right to try, and even execute, any felon he caught within the manor of Coniscliffe. Indeed, it means he had the right to take the possessions of the man he had just executed.

There is a tradition that a field on the opposite bank of the river is called Gallows Hill, and on that high land overlooking the village, the Greystokes very visibly meted out their justice.

Around the time of Baron John, Bishop Antony Bek of Durham ordered a tower be built at Coniscliffe, perhaps on to the Greystokes’ manor house, but no one really knows.

By the 15th Century, the manor house was gone, although excavations in the Hallgarth field 50 years ago located the site of the house’s dovecote.

Instead, the main residence of the Coniscliffe area seems to have become Thornton Hall, a couple of miles to the north on the B6279 between Darlington and Staindrop. It is possibly the borough of Darlington’s oldest domestic property, dating back to at least 1550.

By happy coincidence, its marvellous gardens are open tomorrow (SUNDAY MAY 14) from 1.30pm to 5pm as part of the National Garden Scheme. Admission is £6.

A FINAL Low Coniscliffe note. It is a two-lane village. The planning application says the housing development is just off Gate Lane, and the other lane to get a name is Back Lane. Back Lane is obviously the back lane behind the main lane, Gate Lane, which gets its name from the turnpike gate that once stood on the A67 near the Baydale Beck pub.

In 1747, the Government granted permission for a turnpike trust, comprising local wealthy people, to take ownership of the road from Stockton to Barnard Castle. The trustees spent money repairing the road and were then able to charge people for using it – it was a very early form of privatisation.

The trustees collected their tolls at the turnpike gates.

They also marked out their roads with milestones which, after 1880, were replaced by metal mileposts. Memories, as regular readers will know, has a thing about milemarkers. On this stretch of the road, there’s an elderly stone nearly buried beside the Tees Cottage pumping station; there’s a beautifully tended milepost, surrounded by daffodils, in Merrybent, and at the entrance to High Coniscliffe there should be a milepost lost somewhere in a thicket of brambles. It would be fantastic if some brave person were to clear it out and cherish it as they have done further along the turnpike road at Gainford.

OUR journey along the A67 takes us into Barnard Castle where we were struck by the bold boast on a blackboard on the side of the Golden Lion Inn. “Probably the oldest pub in County Durham (definitely the oldest in Barnard Castle)”, it says. We must have walked past it thousands of times without questioning it, but last week Memories was visiting Fore Bondgate in Bishop Auckland where we parked opposite the Bay Horse Inn.

The date on the Golden Lion says 1679; the Bay Horse claims to go back as far as 1530 – even its Twitter address is @bayhorse1530, so it must be true. If there is anything original standing of the Bay Horse, it would appear to be the front-runner in the race to be the oldest pub in the county. Certainly, it is 149 years ahead of the Golden Lion.

Any information on either pub’s credentials would be welcome – as would tip-offs on any other seriously old drinking establishments.

AND finally, a stroll into the beautifully green Deepdale Woods on the Startforth side of the River Tees. Deep into Deepdale we tumbled across a lost building – an old stone barn with a reinforced concrete ceiling and gallery outside it. It appears as if the soil and butterburs were deliberately heaped up once to conceal the gallery from view. It looks like a Second World War construction, but hopefully someone will be able to tell us more. Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk on this, or any other topic in today’s Memories.