Until the advent of developer-funded archaeology, few roundhouses had been excavated in South Yorkshire, those at Pickburn Leys being amongst the first (Sydes 1993; Sydes and Symonds 1985). Examples are still not numerous. There have been no finds of the Bronze Age and late Bronze Age/early Iron Age roundhouses seen in West Yorkshire at sites such as Swillington Common South and South Elmsall (Howell 2001; Grassam 2010); or further south in Nottinghamshire at Holme Dyke, Gonalston (Knight and Elliott 2008). Instead, most if not all roundhouses excavated in South Yorkshire are later Iron Age or Romano-British in date, and usually only survive as curvilinear gullies and/or concentrations of postholes. Truncation by ploughing means that most internal features do not survive, and frequently only partial shallow curvilinear features or some postholes might survive. Roundhouses are rarely visible on aerial photographs, and often not in geophysical surveys.
In other regions including West Yorkshire, some deep, narrow and steep-walled roundhouse gullies were probably the slots for upright wattle and daub walls. In South Yorkshire, two roundhouses excavated at Pickburn Leys had steep-sided rock-cut gullies up to 0.5m deep (Sydes 1993) that were possible wall slots. Most ring gullies, however, were probably eavesdrip gullies, with shallow-dug scoops eroded further by run-off from roofs. Examples include Pastures Road, Mexborough (Williams and Weston 2008: 6, fig. 8), and at least three circular structures at Carr Lodge Farm (Stanley and Langley 2013: 14, fig. 6). To date, neither site is published. The internal diameters of 23 roundhouses in South Yorkshire are shown below (Figs 01-02). They varied between 4.5–17.5m in diameter, with the greatest number (4) at 9m across. Two size clusters are visible. This may imply that on some settlements there were primary roundhouses and secondary structures.
The best-preserved roundhouses in South Yorkshire have been excavated at Balby Carr and Topham Farm, Sykehouse. Both these sites were sealed underneath alluvium deposits, although they were disturbed by early modern and modern drainage and agricultural activity; and appear to have been truncated in the past. At Balby Carr, remains of at least ten roundhouses were excavated (Daniel 2016: 20, figs 2, 15, 18; Richardson and Rose 2005: 4.7, 4.16; Rose 2003: 4.7-4.9; Rose and Roberts 2003: 4.4-4.8), including two possible partial arcs of ring gully.
|Roundhouse diameters in South Yorkshire||Diameter (m)|
|Balby Carr D(ii) Harley Davidson (AS WYAS)||9|
|Balby Carr D1 Roundhouse A (AS WYAS)||Unknown|
|Balby Carr D1 Roundhouse B (AS WYAS)||4.5|
|Balby Carr D1 Roundhouse C (AS WYAS)||8|
|Balby Carr D1 Roundhouse D (AS WYAS)||7|
|Balby Carr D1 Roundhouse E (AS WYAS)||7|
|Balby Carr First Point (AOC Archaeology)||9|
|Balby Carr First Point Strip, Map & Sample Roundhouse 1213 (WA)||7.6|
|Balby Carr First Point Strip, Map & Sample Roundhouse 1173 (WA)||5.3|
|Balby Carr First Point Strip, Map & Sample Roundhouse 1061 (WA)||Unknown|
|Carr Lodge Farm 219/224/229/234 (On Site Archaeology)||9|
|Carr Lodge Farm 240/246/252/255/257/259 (On Site Archaeology)||6.5|
|Carr Lodge Farm 311/315/319/331/335/339 (On Site Archaeology)||13|
|High Street Shafton (AS WYAS)||8|
|Pastures Road Mexborough (AS WYAS)||6.4|
|Pickburn Leys Structure A (SYAU)||12.5|
|Pickburn Leys Structure B (SYAU)||9|
|Redhouse Farm Adwick-le-Street RH2||12|
|Topham Farm, Sykehouse Structure 1 (AS WYAS)||17.5|
|Topham Farm, Sykehouse Structure 2 (AS WYAS)||16|
|Topham Farm, Sykehouse Structure 3 (AS WYAS)||13|
|Topham Farm, Sykehouse Structure 4 (AS WYAS)||14|
|Topham Farm, Sykehouse Structure 7 (AS WYAS)||15|
|Topham Farm, Sykehouse Structure 8 (AS WYAS)||12.5|
|Topham Farm, Sykehouse Structure 9 (AS WYAS)||7.5|
Figure 2. Excavated South Yorkshire roundhouses and their internal diameters where known.
Roundhouse B on the Balby Zone D1 site was only 4.5 metres in diameter but was surrounded by a subcircular ring ditch c. 12m across with a south-western entrance. Within the Zone D(ii) (Harley Davidson) site at Balby, Roundhouse gully 13 was 9m in diameter with a central hearth pit and a possible internal partition. It was adjacent to a plank-lined pit (Richardson and Rose 2005: 4.7, 4.16, fig. 3). These were all enclosed by a more substantial ring ditch 15m in diameter, 1m wide and 0.80m deep. In addition to artefacts, this ditch produced daub with wattle impressions, and there may have been a wooden bridging structure on its eastern side.
The roundhouses investigated by AS WYAS at Balby Carr produced dates of 400–200 BC, with an open settlement pre-dating an enclosed phase (Daniel 2017: 7-8). Roundhouse 1213 at the Balby First Point strip and record site produced a radiocarbon date of 197–44 BC (Daniel 2016: 7, 20), and only one posthole and traces of a possible hearth were found. To date the various Balby Carr excavations have not been fully published. At Topham Farm, Sykehouse, seven roundhouses were identified, one within an oval rather than circular ring gully; along with two more ambiguous circular structures (Roberts 2003: 27-30, fig. 24). Only a few internal postholes and possible hearths survived inside them. Further to the west, excavation revealed a D-shaped or trapezoidal enclosure with an internal roundhouse that yielded a date of 50 BC–90 AD (Muldowney 2008: 2; Wilson 2006: 4). A partial ring gully of a roundhouse possibly c. 6.4m in diameter and associated with 1st century BC pottery was excavated at Parrots Corner, Rossington Bridge (Bishop 2010: 11).
The sites of several possible roundhouses are only suggested by clusters of postholes – examples include Barnburgh Hall (Richardson 2005a: 6.13), Billingley Drive, Thurnscoe (Neal and Fraser 2004: 24, fig. 14), Roundhouses 1 and 3 in Enclosure E1 at Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street (Meadows and Chapman 2004: 6-7); and two possible roundhouse structures within Enclosure 8 (Upson-Smith 2006: 4). No detailed plans have ever been published of the Redhouse Farm excavations, however. There were two possible structures identified from masses of postholes and pits at Roebuck Hill, Jump – one a possible circular building and the other interpreted by excavators as being rectangular in plan (Robinson and Johnson 2007: 8, 12, 18, fig. 6), though a circular structure would also fit. This site too is unpublished. Very fragmentary ring gullies, which might have been roundhouses but could also have been wind-breaks, were recorded at Croft Road, Finningley (MAP 2006a: 32, fig. 31), Enclosure E2 Trench 10 at Woodhead Opencast Site (Mudd and Webster 2001: 10, fig. 3, 9), Nether Moor Drive, Wickersley (Marot 2017: 13, fig. ); and perhaps at St Wilfred’s Road, Cantley (Daley 2007: 10, fig. 3).
The footings of possible stone-walled roundhouses similar to those from the Pennines and Peak District have been identified at Gosling, Long Heath and Whitley near Wharncliffe (Makepeace 1985), and Canklow Woods (Lee 2005); but to date, none have been excavated. At High Street, Shafton, however, a curvilinear ring gully 8m in diameter had stone wall footings, a south-east facing entrance defined by postholes, and remains of a possible flagged surface (Burgess 2001d; Howell 1999). It may have been Romano-British in date. Some timber roundhouses built and used in the Romano-British period include Barnburgh Hall (Richardson 2005a), and perhaps Roebuck Hill, Jump (Robinson and Johnson 2007: 8, 12, 18).
In some instances, there seems to have been a concern with rebuilding roundhouses on almost the same place, as at Topham Farm, Sykehouse (Roberts 2003: figs 4, 8). This does not seem to have been the repair of existing structures but rather the repeated replacement of them, suggesting that sometimes there was a need to retain ties to very specific places. There are similar Iron Age examples from across the midlands and northern England (Chadwick 2013b: 299-300, fig. 15.7), and this may have reflected seasonal re-occupation after periods of abandonment, but also a concern with identity and social memory.
Where only one roundhouse existed on a settlement this was probably inhabited by one extended family, but with two or more contemporary roundhouses additional structures could have been used by other members of the lineage, or by certain age or gender sets. Ethnographic evidence suggests that there could have been men’s houses and women’s houses, houses for senior men or women, for ritual specialists, for young unmarried men, or for women during menstrual or post-natal seclusion. Others might have been ancillary buildings used for a variety of craft or storage activities – one roundhouse at Carr Lodge Farm was almost certainly used for metalworking (Stanley and Langley 2013: 14). The two roundhouses at Balby within their own enclosures might indicate a different social status for the inhabitants – one enclosure had a quite large 9m diameter roundhouse within it, but the other enclosed roundhouse was only 4.5m across, the smallest recorded in South Yorkshire.
There has been considerable debate about roundhouse doorway orientations. Oswald’s ethnography-influenced study of roundhouse orientations (1991, 1997) appeared to show that the majority faced east or south-east, perhaps due to cosmological cardinal directions such as the equinoxes and the mid-winter sunrise. Such symbolic associations were also proposed by others, based on patterns of daily use and deposits of artefacts and human and animal remains sometimes found within roundhouses (Fitzpatrick 1994, 1997; Parker Pearson 1996, 1999; Parker Pearson and Sharples 1999). Traditions of construction, cosmology and inhabitation were passed down through everyday embodied movements and practices, and pragmatic and more spiritual ideas may have coexisted (Giles and Parker Pearson 1999). Pope (2003, 2007) argued that Oswald’s patterns were less clear-cut, however, and that the landscape setting of roundhouses was more significant.
An analysis of South Yorkshire roundhouse doorway orientations (Chadwick 2008a: 590, Fig. 3 below) was only based on 20 identifiable entrances from excavated examples, but this found that 12 faced east or south-east, with smaller numbers to the north-west and south-west. The distribution is still more restricted than one would expect with random patterning and appears to be independent of topography. This suggests that social conventions and traditions did influence doorway orientation, even if practical considerations of light and prevailing winds were factors.
Priorities and implementation