North Duffield Conservation and Local History Society

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We are lucky that the Ellwood family have loaned us a piece of land upon which to build our roundhouse, very close to crop mark indications of a real Iron Age hut-circle.

Our first job was to fence the site for the roundhouse reconstruction and to level it out. We then set about sourcing the materials with the intention to use locally sourced materials as far as possible since that is almost certainly how the original occupants of North Duffield would have gone about it. There is no stone locally so our roundhouse was entirely organic. Some of the materials were brought to the site, mostly at little or no cost to the Society. This meant that  we had a reserve of funds That could be put to other uses.

Based upon visits to Butser Iron Age Farm in Hampshire, Ryedale Museum at Hutton-le-Hole, Heeley City Farm and St Wilfred's School, both in Sheffield, all of which have examples of roundhouses constructed on their sites  and a model of a roundhouse, constructed  by  Tony Stevens, we had a much clearer idea of the challenges that faced us.

Firstly we acquired lots of timber for the walls, posts and wall-plates from a clearance taking place in woods near Leeds.

Then we approached John Bramley who farms next to the Ellwood's and who grows willow for bio-mass. He was very obliging and not only helped us to harvest the withies but transported it to the site for us as well. We had to do three trips in the end.

Then an approach to Natural England resulted in their employee Fallon Mahon taking us to a site near Melbourne, East Yorkshires' answer to the Everglades. Here, after a challenging ride on John Ellwoods tractor and trailer we sawed down loads of alder for the roof purlins and transported them back to the site.

We stripped the bark from the timber and left it stacked on site to dry out before we treated it with wood preservative.

The first real construction started on 21st April 2012 when four of us dug the post pits and erected the wall posts to a diameter of 5 meters, our chosen dimensions. The work went a lot better than we expected. We also raised two longer posts for the doorway and started to joint on the wall-plates with scarf joints and hand-made wooden pegs holding everything together. The doorway, of course, faces South East.

Over the next few weeks we constructed the walls by weaving the withies in between the posts..

We were weaving the willow to make the wattle walls in bad weather. Wet willow for wattle isn't the best medium in which to work. Anyway, we worked away weaving the willow wattle walls until we ran out of willow to weave. What'll (wattle) we do now we wondered? We have wun out of willow to weave. We wandered about wondering what to do. We wished we had more willow to weave the wattle walls but we were out of wood. We decided to work another day when we had more willow to weave. We had also run out of words starting with 'W'!

And so the woundhouse, sorry, roundhouse, progressed.

We next measured the centre of the inside of the roundhouse and then erected a tripod of purlins tied together at the top and buried in the ground at their bottom end. These were then drilled and secured with hand-made oaken pegs, This gave us our shape and pitch of the roof.

We decided to include a porch at the doorway(see photos). Finally we ran further lengths of willow round the beams to support the thatch. The wooden framework is now complete and treated with preservative.

The weather hampered our attempts to harvest water reed for thatching although, we did managed to cut and transport a few sheaves or yealms.

On 11 December we took a tractor and trailer to The Brick Yard at Hemmingbrough where Plasmore kindly donated four tons of clay for the daub of the walls.

John Ellwood managed to find time to collect some miscanthus from a local farmer, Richard McNeil,who is growing it for bio-mass fuel. Miscanthus is more commonly known as elephant grass. It is not native to the British Isles but since Iron Age man would have used any materials that were available we are sticking to the spirit if not the letter of re-construction. See side column for the most up-to-date picture.

We started thatching despite snow and sub-zero(with wind-chill)temperatures.  We decided that, due to our inability to harvest Phragmites, due to the very wet period in 2012 we would use Miscanthus and reconsider the situation later with a view to thatching in Phragmites when a suitable source was found.With the thatching complete, we had a 'topping out' ceremony on 31st May 2013 and a 'house-warming' with our first fire in the hearth, bread and sausages cooked over the fire and the inevitable bottle(or two) of ale.

As part of the Celtic Festival we organised, I ran trips to the roundhouse which 600 people took advantage of!!

Finally, we had the schoolchildren from the local Primary School up to view the house and then they came up the week after to 'help' applying the mud and cow-poo daub. See photos to the left. I got bladdered in mud and since we walked there and it rained heavily on the way back, we got drenched as well. Think they enjoyed themselves nevertheless.

Although there is still some daubing to complete the walls the rest of the building is complete. It has been used several times in 2015 for school visits. The children come, accompanied by teaching staff. They are walked to the site from a nearby field by myself in Iron Age costume to give them a feeling of ‘walking back in time’. As they enter the site they are put into Celtic Tribes: Parisii, Brigantes, Iceni, Corieltavi, Dobunni, Cornovii, Trinovantes and Catuvellauni(all local to this area 2000 years ago)

They are then dressed in Iron Age costumes and taken into the roundhouse where the fire is burning in the hearth. They are told a few ‘House Rules’ and then split up into their tribes. They then have the change to mill grain using saddle and beehive querns, make and cook flatbread, which they then eat with honey, weave on a loom and using sticks, card wool and spin wool using drop spindles(spindles whorls), It is time for lunch and they go into the barn and sit on bales as they have their meal. After this they are armed with shields, helmets, spears and a sword(pipe-lagging) and a full scale battle commences between four opposing tribes, two on each side. They are encouraged to scream and shout at the top of their voices, not that they need much encouragement.

Finally, they are taken back into the roundhouse where they are told stories and given weaving cards to make woolen bracelets.


The construction was ‘experimental archaeology’, so we were learning ‘on the hoof’. We found that the sisal string we used to tie the beams and ring-beams together and secure the thatch rotted very quickly where it was exposed to the weather. We replaced it with tarred sisal but that suffered the same fate. This meant that the security of the thatch was comprised and during the high winds of late 2015, many strands of Miscanthus fell away leaving a hole on the west side.

A fortuitous visit of my wife and myself to Blacktoft Sands Nature Reserve for bird-watching in early 2015, resulted in me approaching Peter Short, the RSPB Site Manager. He immediately agreed on a joint project: the RSPB would donate the reeds, help to cut, gather and transport them and we would assist at all points and enter a joint publicity venture to highlight the Lottery Funded Projects of both organisations.

Consequently, on 3rd February, 2016, a team of volunteers from the Society plus Staff and volunteers of the RSPB, gather and bundled a huge pile of reeds which were then transported off the reed-beds on a Soft Track to where they could be loaded onto trailers provided by Rob Ellwood and the RSPB. Several loads of reeds were taken to Parkhouse Farm over the course of that week and now await combing ready for thatching starting very soon. I have repaired the roof ready for its new authentic skin but have decided to use binder twine as a more durable alternative to natural materials. Thank you RSPB for your generous gesture.


To keep up-to-date with progress visit this page from time to time and also see photographs under separate heading  'Archive'  

The Completed Compound

An army of workers building the roundhouse

Roundhouse as at 17th April 2013

View through the roof February 2013 , photographer laying down on the job!

Pupils from the Community Primary School daubing the Round House wall.

Pupils from the Community Primary School after a hard day’s daubing!