The Ad Gefrin Site

About the Ad Gefrin site


For over 5000 years
 people have been drawn to the prominent plateau of sand and gravel lying between the foot of the largest hillfort in Northumberland, Yeavering Bell, and the River Glen. They came for religious ceremonies, to live and bury their dead and to meet their rulers.

The earliest evidence of human activity at Ad Gefrin is flint discarded as flakes by Mesolithic peoples between 8500 and 4000 BC. While it is likely that their presence was transitory, more permanent settlement around 3500 BC by early farming communities resulted in flint tools and pottery being deposited in pits dug into the surface of the gravel knoll.

A thousand years passed by, at which time a stone circle was constructed on the site, and another standing stone was raised nearby. Around this time a large open space was created, encircled by a ditch which in turn was surrounded by a bank. The development of this ‘henge’ monument points to the significance of the site as a centre for ritual and ceremonial activity during the early Bronze Age (2400-1800 BC).

For the next 500 years the crest of the knoll was used as a cemetery for the disposal of cremated human remains, sometimes deposited within decorated pottery vessels. 

During the Iron Age
 and Romano-British period, the ridge lay under the shadow of the fortified settlement of Yeavering Bell. 

With its double crown encircled by stone ramparts, it was the largest Iron Age hillfort in Northumberland, enclosing over 125 house platforms. Yeavering takes its name from the Celtic Gefrin, meaning Hill of the Goats.

In AD 548 native administration in north Northumberland fell under the control of an immigrant Anglo-Saxon family ambitious to establish a royal dynasty founded upon military conquest. Though the political centre of the kingdom at this time was at Bamburgh, the monarchy was peripatetic. People expected to see their king exercising royal power at important centres throughout the kingdom so the court moved between various royal residences, where they ruled on legal disputes, received tribute and were housed and feasted.

It was at this time that a royal settlement developed on the sandy knoll, providing a regional residence for some of the greatest kings and queens of the day: Aethelfrith, Edwin and Aethelburga, the saintly Oswald and his younger brother, Oswy. For a century this field became the stage for some of the most momentous events in early northern English history. Bede, writing his ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’ in his monastery at Jarrow in AD 731, recounts how, at a time when Edwin (AD 617-633) and his queen Aethelburga were residing at the settlement he calls ‘Ad Gefrin’, her Italian bishop, Paulinus spent thirty-six days:

‘Catechising and baptising; during which days, from morning to night, he did nothing else but instruct the crowds who flocked to him from every village and district in the teaching of Christ, and when instructed, he washed them in the water of absolution in the river Glen, nearby’