An Archaeological History

Including my latest revelations of
previously undiscovered
Prehistoric Circular Enclosures,
and also a Roman Fort and Vicus at Picktree

Audrey Fletcher

Copyright 2013
Picktree is a small village which lies one and a half miles north of Chester-le-Street, situated on
the River Wear. Chester-le-Street is well known for its Roman Fort "Congangis" which was located
in the area of Church Chare, just behind the main street.

In the one thousand one hundred and eighty third year of the
Incarnation of our Lord at the feast of St. Cuthbert in Lent, Lord
Hugh, Bishop of Durham caused to be written down in his and
his men's presence all the returns of his whole Bishopric, fixed
rents and customs as they were then and had been before.
Coupled with Pelaw, Picktree is the seventh entry in "Boldon Book". .. the previous six entries
relating to Durham City, Plawsworth, Gateshead, Little Usworth, Biddick, and Chester (-le-Street).
Pelow' et medietas de Piktre
quas Walerannus de Cestria tenet reddunt ii maras.

Pelaw and half of Picktree,
which Walrann of Chester holds, yields 2 marks.
Boldon Book 1183
Noticeably, only "half of Picktree" is mentioned in "Boldon Book". And so the question arises as to
who owned the other half.
According to Robert Surtees in
"The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham:
volume 2: Chester Ward"
, published 1820:  
Picktre was one of the places which Bishop Hugh confirmed to
Thomas fil. William, “et Birthleie et Tribleie et dimidiam partem
de Pichetre .” The other half was held by Waleran of Chestre,
together with Pelawe, by two marks rent.
Robert Surtees 1820
The origin of the name of PICKTREE lies in its etymology.  "Pic", meaning pike is
considered to be of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is usually "hill" related. For example as "peak" or "pike"
in modern English. Unfortunately as this description does not fit the landscape at Picktree it is
necessary to look in another direction. The Reverend J. E. Hull in his capacity as Editor of
Vasculum: The North Country Quartely of Science and Local History"
 October 1923, suggested:
Picktree is quite ancient - probably
an Anglicized form of a British name
a house with a conical roof
(Welsh, pig, a point or peak; tref, a house).
Reverend J. E. Hull 1923
Hull's interpretation of Picktree as meaning "a house with a conical roof" captures the imagination,
possibly suggesting an Iron Age Round House (or earlier) on the site. Unfortunately he does not
expand upon his concise definition. However, in applying his translation I would suggest that if he is
correct then the Iron Age word for a round house would have been "pigtref".

In my own search for the origin of the name of PICKTREE I have looked to the Cornish
language, which, like Welsh, is derived from the pre-Roman Ancient Britons.

"Tre" is very popular in Cornish place names, for example: Tremaine, Trebarwith and Trewint. In
fact it is so frequent that there is a Cornish rhyme which goes:
"By Tre, Pol and Pen shall ye know
all Cornishmen".

Although the Cornish word "tre" is fairly close in meaning to the Welsh "tref", it does not relate
specifically to a house. Rather it refers to a
homestead or settlement.

Similarly the Cornish word
"pic" refers to a small enclosure.
Picktree is probably derived from
the language of the pre-Roman Ancient Britons, meaning
a homestead or settlement within a small enclosure.
pic, a small enclosure; tre, a homestead or settlement)
Audrey Fletcher 2012
Picktree: a homestead or settlement within a small enclosure
In 2006 crop marks revealed prehistoric settlement at Picktree. At top right A (dark green shaded
) the remnants of a wide ring ditch is clearly visible and at B the central area (shaded dark
) within the enclosure is clearly visible. As there doesn't appear to be any sign of settlement
within the area contained by the outer ditch
A, this would suggest a ceremonial purpose for this
enclosure, which I would suggest dates back to the
Bronze Age or earlier.

There are other crop marks within the enclosure
A (Heritage Listed) but these appear to be on top
of, and therefore later than, the original circular enclosure..
These crop marks at Picktree were recorded in 2006.
They reveal a massive circular enclosure which was probably used for ceremonial purposes.
Dating I would suggest as Bronze Age or earlier.
As this circular enclosure is
not Heritage Listed, as is the bottom half of the field,
it suggests that I have made a new discovery of archaeological importance.
Photo courtesy of Google
My New Discovery of a Grand Prehistoric Circular Enclosure at Picktree
The huge prehistoric circular enclosure, which was clearly visible in 2006 (above), was not visible in
1945. Instead a different prehistoric circle is captured on camera, possibly as early as Neolithic. This
structure is virtually bisected by the A1M ... not unlike how the Bronze Age (or earlier) Circles at
Mount Pleasant are virtually bisected by Cox Green Road. This prehistoric circular enclosure at
Picktree is no longer visible on aerial photographs as it is obscured by present day trees and

There is also a smaller circle to the northeast which may be a part of the same complex, and
therefore of the same date.

The crop marks which were visible at Picktree in 1945 indicate a prehistoric presence in the area,
possibly dating back to the Neolithic period. This Prehistoric Landscape is my latest discovery of
archaeological importance.

The pathways (represented by black spots) and smaller circle appear to cut into the original large
circle, and would therefore be of a later date. They are probably part of the central spokes within
that later prehistoric circle. The angles of these "wheel spokes" suggests that there would have been
six rather than the four illustrated.
The earliest reference to the name of PICKTREE is to be found in "Boldon Book" which
was commissioned by  Hugh du Puiset, Bishop of Durham to record the tenants' obligations to the
diocese. The survey of the Bishopric of Durham was completed and finally compiled in 1183.
Photo courtesy of Google
Looking closely at the 1945 photo below you will see crop marks in the shape of a coral necklace in
the lower centre of the first photo below. These could possibly be the footprints of buildings or
allotments forming a crescent. There is also the possibility that they may be graves. Plots of land
which tend to be square or oblong suggests to me a Roman post-Roman date.

Similarly there are "strings of pearls" in the top right and far left of the field but these appear to be
either plots of land with a built structure on them, or the dwellings themselves. That they are in
"streets" would suggest a Roman or post-Roman date. These "streets" are superimposed upon an
earlier prehistoric circle as seen in the photo. Alternatively they could be graves.
The crop marks which were visible at Picktree in 1945
indicate a prehistoric presence in the area, possibly dating
back to the Neolithic period.
This Prehistoric Landscape is my latest discovery of
archaeological importance.
The prehistoric landscape at Picktree
was recorded
in this aerial photo in 1945
I have highlighted the prehistoric circles
at Picktree, recorded in
the above aerial photo of 1945,
The prehistoric circular enclosures captured in the above photographs confirm the
etymology of the first syllable in the place name
Picktree   ...  "Pic" being derived from the
language of the pre-Roman Ancient Britons, meaning "a small enclosure".
These prehistoric monuments did not stand alone on the banks of the River Wear. They lie
in relatively close proximity to the massive prehistoric circles (2000 feet in diameter) at Mount
Pleasant which I discovered several years ago and incorporated in to my web page
"Worm Hill".
Moreover, in 1907
Bronze Age Cist Burials were discovered at Fatfield.
The etymology of the name Picktree is confirmed as being derived from
the language of the pre-Roman Ancient Britons, meaning
a homestead or settlement within a small enclosure.
pic, a small enclosure; tre, a homestead or settlement)
Audrey Fletcher 2012
The prehistoric circular enclosures at Mount Pleasant and Picktree suggest a Bronze Age Ritual
Landscape on the banks of the River Wear
The inhabitants would have lived
nearby in Bronze Age Villages, evidenced by the Early Bronze
Age Cist Burials at Fatfield.

The villages would have been comprised of round houses within circular ditched or palisade
enclosures. As they moved into the Iron Age their implements may have changed but the
habitation remained much the same.
The Prehistoric Circles at Mount Pleasant
which I discovered several years ago
This Bronze Age Cist Burial was
discovered by workmen at Fatfield in 1907
With the passage of time people and politics changed, along with the landscape and its
ritual purpose. People began to settle the once sacred areas, building homesteads and possibly a
village in Picktree. They would have been farmers and possibly traders, being strategically placed
on the River Wear. After 42AD their lives were to change once again, with the
Roman Invasion
of Britain.
An example of a replica Bronze Age Round House.
Photo courtesy of Diane Earl
Prehistoric Settlement in Picktree Village
That there were Bronze Age and/or later Iron Age homesteads or settlements in the Picktree area
has been well established in the above photographs and graphics. However there are an
additional two homesteads in today's Picktree Village which stand on prehistoric circular
enclosures. They are shown on the following 1919 map.

Site A is a powerfully vivid image indicating the original prehistoric circular enclosure.
Site B is a little more unobtrusive, but nevertheless has the indications of having originally been a
prehistoric circular enclosure.
Note: There is a third circular enclosure indicated to the left of Site A.
It was only after the Ritual Landscape had fallen into decline and disuse, and became "lost" to
memory, that settlement occurred.  During the period that Picktree was an important part of the
Ritual Landscape, settlement would have been forbidden on the actual site. This is born out in the
historical landscape captured in the 2006 and 1945 photographs, where the early archaeology is
cut into by the later archaeology, revealing settlement.
Prehistoric Landscape at Picktree

The earliest Bronze Age Circular Enclosure (A-B above)
is cut into by later Bronze Age
and possibly Iron Age Enclosures.
These are considerations for the pre-Roman
homesteads or settlements within a small enclosure
after which Picktree was named.
The double ring enclosure with the X is very possibly a
Neolithic Henge, used in the celebration of Death
followed by Renewal and Rebirth at the time
of the Winter and Summer Solstices.
Prehistoric Landscape at Picktree
The Bronze Age Circular Enclosure, which today is virtually bisected
by the A1M , is cut into by later pre-Roman archaeology.
It is noticeable in the 2006 aerial photograph that what looks like a trench has been put in over the
outer circle nearest to the houses. I wonder what the results of the excavation revealed?
If you look really closely at this 1945 aerial photo you will be able to see
rectangular plots of land with homesteads set upon them. That this settlement is
laid out in "streets" would suggest a Roman or post-Roman date.
Alternatively they could be graves. This is complex archaeology.
There is also an eye-catching 5-pointed star shaped crop pattern meeting at a central point, at the
far right of the photo, which is not unlike the one in the centre. Earlier I identified Circle
B as a Solar
Cross. However in the case of Circle
C there is a possible connection with the observation of
Venus and its eight year Pentagonal Cycle. Venus is more commonly known as the Morning and
Evening Star ... even though it is a planet.

It would seem that there is every possibility that there was an
Astronomy Observatory in the
Bronze Age, and perhaps even in Neolithic times,
at Picktree. From Circle A could be observed
the movement of the Sun,  and from Circle
B could be observed the movement of Venus.

(A more prosaic suggestion, but one which I tend to discount, is that they were merely later field

The following 1945 photos have been extended to include additional prehistoric circles. The more
you look at this ancient landscape, the more you see.
This landscape of 1.6 hectares is
Heritage Listed:
Monument Number: 876885
Superimposed upon today's landscape this is the
approximate location of the
Grand Bronze Age Circular Enclosure at Picktree.
The Wheel or Solar Cross represents Renewal and Rebirth as
witnessed by the seasons. In the case of there being six "spokes"
these symbolize the four points of the rising and setting sun at the
time of the Winter and Summer Solstices
and the two points of the
rising and setting sun at the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes,
together with the traverse of the sun across the heavens.
The prehistoric enclosure at Site A is still clearly evident
in this aerial photo today, marked by the circle of trees.
Site B is more difficult to visualize
as a prehistoric enclosure.
That Picktree is derived from
the language of the pre-Roman Ancient Britons, meaning
a homestead or settlement within a small enclosure
has been confirmed.
pic, a small enclosure; tre, a homestead or settlement)
Audrey Fletcher 2012
The Romans in County Durham
The Roman presence in the North East of England is well documented. For example: the remains
of Roman forts have been found in Binchester, Lanchester, Whickham, South Shields and

The only one of these without an obvious Roman link to the name is South Shields. In the others
"chester" is the modern version of the Roman word " castra" meaning "camp", while "whick" is the
modern version of the Roman word "vicus" meaning "Roman settlement".

Chester-le-Street fort, named Concangis, is only one and a half miles south of Picktree and is
considered to have been established between 79 AD and 100AD. It's purpose would have been to
guard the Roman Road now known as "The Great North Road" or "The Street" and also would
have served as a supply base for the area. Although today the River Wear is barely navigable up
to New Bridge, it is thought that in Roman times the Wear was navigable as far as
Chester-le-Street. Hence the establishment of the fort there for defence.

The Church in Chester-le Street is sited in the centre of the Roman Fort. The original church was
made of wood and erected in 883AD by members of the Lindisfarne Community who had been
given the Roman site by Guthred the Viking, King of York. The monks brought with them to
Chester-le-Street: The Linisfarne Gospels, the body of Saint Cuthbert and the head of King
Oswald the Martyr. The early wooden structure was later replaced by a stone church, using stone
from the Roman Fort. This is turn was pulled down and replaced by the current church.
On the following photo I have highlighted three major prehistoric circles at Picktree. The yellow
A is the original in the group as the cross markings of circle B are superimposed over it.

C appears similar to circle B, which I have identified as a Sun Wheel or Solar Cross,
representing Death, Renewal and Rebirth as witnessed by the seasons.

The smaller red circles are over small circular enclosures, or possibly Early Bronze Age burial
The prehistoric landscape at Picktree is possibly as early as Neolithic.
The three major circular enclosures are of similar sizes, however Circle A is the earliest.
I have likened Circles B and C to the Solar Cross.
The red circles are over small enclosures or possibly burial mounds.
A Geophysical Survey at Picktree in 2000. Findings.
Geophysical surveys at Picktree, Chester-le-Street, and Humbledon Hill, Sunderland
Series : Durham Archaeological… Issue : 17 (2003) Article

Pages & Document Description:
1 - 7; pls; figs
Hale, D N; Still, D C
Reports on two geophysical surveys by Archaeological Services University of Durham. At Picktree a cropmark
complex was confirmed as a large ditched enclosure of unknown date, along with part of a possible Iron
Age/Romano-British rectilinear enclosure and either ridge and furrow remains or fired clay land drains.  

Web page:
English Heritage. Monument No 876885
Cropmark features visible immediately northwest of Picktree Farm include a large sub-circular enclosure, a
ditched feature comprising two straight parallel ditches crossing the sub-circular enclosure, and a smaller
circular enclosure west of the first and immediately north of and adjacent to the parallel ditched feature. Various
interpretations have been offered, including ring ditch, henge, cursus, Iron Age or Roman settlement enclosure,
and ditched trackway.

NZ 280533 Picktree.

North Lodge 1. Ring ditch, possible barrow and circular enclosure.

North Lodge 2, ditched trackway and unrelated circular enclosure. (1)

Haselgrove (above) appears to be implying an Iron Age or Roman date for the features listed above. Vyner (2)
claims that "At Chester-le-Street, on the River Wear, there is an interesting cropmark monument complex which
includes a substantial henge (NZ 280533)...". The "henge" is presumably the larger of the circular enclosures
visible as a cropmark on air photographs. The entire circuit is not perfectly clear, but it would appear to be circa
100 metres across, with a definite inturned entrance facing northwest. This is also presumably the circular
enclosure referred to by Haselgrove. The "ditched trackway" comprises two parallel lines of ditch running roughly
WSW-ENE, cutting across the circular enclosure's northwest segment. However, it is impossible to tell from the
cropmark evidence which of the two is the earlier feature. Thus interpretation as a cursus is also conjectural. The
ends of the ditched feature are not visible - to the east, it disappears beneath houses and to the west it runs into
the A1(M). A short distance west of the larger circular enclosure is another small circular ditched feature.
Presumably the ring ditch mentioned by Haselgrove, this may equally be the henge mentioned by Vyner. It is
immediately north of the parallel-ditched feature, and appears to contain internal features, possibly pits and an
internal concentric circuit. (1-3)
(1) edited by Peter Clack and Susanne Haselgrove 1982 Rural settlement in the Roman north
Haselgrove, C. Indigenous Settlement Patterns in the Tyne-Tees Lowlands [pp57-104] Page(s)67-8, 101-2

(3) J harding, R Johnston (eds) 2000 Northern Pasts: Interpretations of the Later Prehistory of Northern England
and Southern Scotland
British Archaeological Reports: British series Vyner, B. Lost Horizons: the location of activity in the later Neolithic
and early Bronze Age in north-east England [pp101-110] 302 Page(s)103

(3) Oblique aerial photograph reference number
NZ 2853/1-18 14-JUL-1994 TMG 15958/21-38

Web page: English Heritage Monument Number 876885
Other Observations on Picktree
Further evidence of the Romans in Picktree can possibly be found in the 2006 aerial
photo. It is plausible to suggest that the straight outlines of the building structures within and to the
west of the Prehistoric Circle are in fact Roman. Three suggestions of what these structures may
have been come to mind. Firstly they could be the footprint of a governmental administrative
complex, a
Praesidium, presiding over the fort and the immediate area. Secondly they could be
the footprint of a
Praetorium, where the Praetor, a Roman Magistrate, administered justice.
Finally they could form the footprints of
Roman Villas.  
The Romans in Picktree
That the Romans had a fort at Picktree has always been a part of local folklore. Approaching from
the Picktree Roundabout it was located at the entrance of the village on the left-hand side. The
footprint of a Roman Fort with the rounded corners can be clearly seen on the following 1945
aerial photograph.  Like the Washing Wells Roman Fort near Whickham, it is trapezoid in shape.
The church in Chester-le-Street is sited on the
centre of the Roman Fort, Concangis
Photo by Audrey Fletcher July 2011
It is interesting that both Binchester and Picktree are located just
above the loop of the River Wear. When I was writing my web page
"Worm Hill" and was considering who may have excavated one
third of it on the river side, it did actually occur to me that it may
have been the Romans ... in preparation for building a fort there.
Worm Hill is also situated just above a loop in the River Wear, at
Fatfield. It would have been an ideal location, especially for
strategic defence. The other location I considered was in the flat
field just north of, and adjacent to, Worm Hill.    
Audrey Fletcher
My latest discovery of the Roman Fort and Vicus at Picktree
is of enormous archaeological significance.
Aerial photo courtesy of Google
Like Binchester, the Roman Fort at Picktree is situated just above a loop in the River Wear. This
was a perfect strategic position for a fort. As the River Wear is tidal there would have been a ford
at Picktree during low tide. Moreover enemies of Rome could have navigated the river during high
tide. Picktree Fort was in the ideal defence location. In addition the road from Chester-le-Street to
Picktree, then on up to Usworth, Gateshead and Newcastle was an important Roman artery which
also needed defending.

On the positive side the Picktree Fort was well located to receive and disperse supplies by either
road or river. Supplies would have come in from overseas via Sunderland, then up the Wear as
far as Picktree Fort, where they would have been unloaded ready for distribution. They may have
even supplied the soldiers engaged in building Hadrian's Wall.

Picktree would therefore have been important both in terms of defence and as a supply fort, or
distribution centre.
A Roman Fort located on a river suggests that there would have been a wharf. However with the
vast amount of trees on the 1945 photo it is impossible to see. In addition there may even have
been a bridge.

The settlement area related to a Roman Fort is called the 'Vicus" and fortunately this is distinctly
featured on the 1945 photo. The streets are clearly visible. Today the Picktree Vicus can't be
seen on an aerial photo because it has been planted over with trees. Perhaps surprisingly, the
field where the Roman Fort was located has not been planted over.
In this aerial photo of Picktree in 2006 the Vicus is no
longer visible. However the field where the Roman Fort
was located has not been planted over.
Photo courtesy of Google
There were possibly Roman structures built inside and to the west
of  the Prehistoric Circle, in the bottom right of the field at Picktree.
My suggestions are that they could be the footprints
of a
Praesidium, a Praetorium and/or Roman Villas.

There is possibly a
Roman Temple just beyond the NW boundary of
the Iron Age Circular Enclosure
Aerial photo courtesy of Google
Finally my year long journey into Picktree's Prehistoric and
Roman archaeological past has come to an end.
But for Picktree it is only the beginning.
The beginning of a new era in which we can
remember and honour our ancestors.  
Audrey Fletcher
Links to some of my
other popular historical
web sites
However many of these features are
not recorded on the Geophys Survey
done by D.N. Hill and D.C. Still in 2003

Updated 2016

* Please note that aerial photos are courtesy of Google.
An unexpected surprise in the field at Picktree ...Triple Ditches
This aerial photograph of the Picktree field, reveals a lot of otherwise hidden and long
forgotten archaeology, which possibly dates as far back as the Neolithic Age. I fully expected
the field being relatively flat; it had never occurred to me that it would be otherwise.
On this aerial photograph, courtesy of
Google, the field at Picktree is full of
ancient archaeology.
When I looked over the hedge from Picktree Lane into the field it was a glorious, inviting green
and looked to be flat. When I found the bottom entrance and looked across the field in a
westerly direction it looked flat. However looking across to the northeast revealed a surprise.
Our first glimpse of the field over the hedge  
The view from the entrance to the field
The bottom one third of the field, size approx 1.6 hectares, has been attributed Monument
# 876885 by English Heritage. Here the land is flat. The top one quarter of the field is also flat.
However the land in between reveals the surprise of a large triple ditch which stretches the
width of the field!  Having now seen the triple ditches I would suggest that they could possibly
be attributed to the two massive circular enclosures in the middle of the field, as shown in the
aerial photograph above. These enclosures would have been either Neolithic or Bronze Age,
depending on the dating of the henge which cuts into the southernmost one.
      The triple ditches can be clearly viewed from both the south and north ends of the field.
    They can possiblybe attributed to the massive circular enclosures
revealed in the 2006 aerial photograph.
Photos by Audrey Fletcher 2013
 Location of the Roman Fort at Picktree.
Like the Washing Wells Roman Fort near Whickham,
it is trapezoid in shape.
Aerial photo courtesy of Google
Yet the story of the Romans at Picktree does not end there. My final discovery regarding a
Roman presence of vast archaeological importance to Picktree is that I have discovered a
second and possibly later site of a Roman Fort and also the Vicus.
It was an unlooked for revelation. I had looked at the photo many times and seen neither this
second Roman Fort nor the Vicus. Of a sudden there they were. I was stunned. How had I
missed them?
An aerial photo of Picktree in 1945
Courtesy of Google        
The previously undiscovered second Roman Fort and Vicus at Picktree are dominant features
on the close-up of the above 1945 aerial photo.
I would suggest that this previously undiscovered Roman Fort was later than the trapezoid
Roman Fort just across the road. My reasoning is that it is larger, of regular shape and has a
Vicus next to it. Also it is in a slightly better strategic position directly above the bend in the
River Wear.
I would suggest that as the importance of the first, trapezoid shaped fort was recognized and
grew, it was realized that it was too small to cope with the increased demands. A new, larger
fort was needed.
The early and later Roman Forts at Picktree are clearly
defined in this 1945 aerial photo
Aerial photo courtesy of Google