MDE1022 - Beacon Castle, South Down (Monument)


A late Iron Age or Romano British univallate hillslope enclosure constructed on a gentle slope to the north of, and below, the crest of the summit of South Down.

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Type and Period (2)

Protected Status

Full Description

(SS 6646 4600) Beacon Castle Earthwork (NR). [1] An oval univallate earthwork, which could be described as a hill spur fort, enclosing about an acre. Most of the outer ditch is visible and the bank varies in height from 3 to 5 feet. The original entrance is probably at the west end. [2] This sub-oval univallate earthwork is situated on a north slope just off the crest of Beacon Hill. Most probably an Iron Age pastoral settlement. [3] Generally well preserved, although the entrance in the west side has been mutilated. Resurveyed at 1:2500. [4] Second bank or ditch visible on aerial photographs on north east side. [5,6] SS 6646 4601. Beacon Castle, a univallate earthwork enclosure which measures 58 metres east to west by 55 metres internally (about 0.28 hectare area). Probably an Iron Age pastoral settlement. This subcircular enclosure has been deliberately constructed on a gentle slope some 50 metres north of, and below, the crest of the summit of South Down at about 300 metres above sea level. There are no obvious obstructions or reasons to have prevented occupation of the summit. It was most likely so situated to offer protection from the prevailing southwest winds, to facilitate drainage, or give visibility or observation from the west around to the northeast. The turf covered earth and stone rampart is up to 6.7 metres wide in the south. Its top is some 0.7m above the interior and about 1.1 metres above the bottom of the external ditch. Around the northern side there is no evidence of an inner scarp to the rampart, here there appears to have been only an outer scarp, about 5 metres wide and 1.6 metres at best. On the inner scarp of the rampart in the south-west at SS 6644 4599, is an amorphous mound 0.8 metres high and about 5 metres east to west by 4 metres. This appears to be the result of mutilation or robbing of the rampart rather than a constructed feature. The ditch varies in size but at best, in the east, it is about 4 metres wide and 0.5 metres deep. There is no evidence of a counterscarp to the ditch. It is doubtful if the ditch actually continued around the northern side where it appears to have taken the form of a gently sloping terrace with outer scarp merging into the natural slope. McDonnell (5) refers to a second bank or ditch being visible on Air Photos [6] on the northeast side of the enclosure. The slopes here become very steep and there is no evidence of a second ditch which would have been both impractical and superfluous. However on aerial photographs [7] a linear feature, an apparent band, is evident running from the north-east angle of the enclosure some 28 metres parallel to the boundary bank towards a fence cutting off quarry workings to the southeast. This feature is difficult to trace on the ground due to scrub, gorse and probable soil erosion but it appears to be fragmentary turf covered stony scarp. There is a similar feature parallel to it some 20 metres further down the slope. These are probably the remains of manmade banks but it is possible they are no more than natural terraces. The Martinhoe/Parracombe Parish boundary, here mered to a turf covered stony bank about 2.6 metres wide and 0.5 metres high, bisects the enclosure centrally from east to west. A few metres south of this boundary in the west is a disturbed area of rampart. It is not clear if, as suggested, this 'break' was definately the original entrance. It has not, as stated by [12] been "spoilt" by the boundary as the boundary bank clearly misses the break. There are some small amorphous hollows here but they seem more likely to have been caused by robbing or a crude attempt at excavation. The rampart has been cut away leaving a clear edge on the inner side which appears to be unbroken by any depression or hollow as might be expected if it had been in use for any length of time as an entrance. Also the outer scarp of the ditch here, though very slight appears to be continuous with no evidence of a break for a causeway. What could have been interpreted as part of an entrance inturn is a pile of debris, or spoil, set on the north side of the disturbed area. However the whole of this area is now mutilated and in such a poor state of preservation that exact interpretation is now infeasible. Where the boundary cuts through the rampart in the east the end of the rampart on the south side (some 1 metre high) does not appear to be a later cut but a true butt end or terminal suggesting the boundary bank may have utilised an original entrance. The north side is not so apparent as the boundary is constructed up against it thus obscuring any possible terminal of the rampart. There is no obvious causeway. In the west the boundary bank can be clearly seen to overlie the rampart. It would seem logical that if there had been a break here for an entrance the boundary bank builders would have utilised it as they appear to have done in the east. This again seems to imply that there was only one break, or entrance, and this was in the east. The gently sloping interior is now covered in rough grass, scrub and gorse. There is no indication of internal occupation. A series of about six terraces cutting east to west across the interior may be cultivation terraces or remains of ploughing referred to by [12] which could have destroyed any trace of occupation. The overall impression of this site is not of a defensive structure but one sited for prominence and visibility primarily towards the north. As suggested, it is most probably an Iron Age pastoral settlement, a hillslope enclosure similar to that at Voley Castle (MDE1019) which is clearly visible from this site some 900 metres to the west across the valley of the River Heddon. Published Survey (1:2500) Revised. [9] The Iron Age hillslope enclosure known as Beacon Castle is clearly visible as a series of well defined earthworks to the north of the summit of South Down. The enclosure has been bisected from east to west by the Martinhoe-Parracombe parish boundary, which is also visible on aerial photographs (10) Beacon castle, fort. Small ringwork on an isolated hill on n slope just below the crest. Interior ploughed. Crossed by a parish boundary bank which has spoilt the entrance. Probably an iron age settlement. Fair condition. [12] Beacon castle (camp) marked on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map. [13] The Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment of 2009 gave the site a survival score of 4. [20] Following gorse clearance under the 2007/8 Monument Management Scheme the gorse stumps were treated in 2009 to prevent regrowth. [21] The site was surveyed in June 2015 as part of the 2015 Exmoor Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment. It was given a survival score of 7. [22] Monument record reviewed as part of NRHE to HER pilot project. [23,24]

Sources/Archives (24)

  • <1> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1963. 6 Inch Map: 1963.
  • <2> Monograph: Grinsell, L.V.. 1970. The Archaeology of Exmoor: Bideford Bay to Bridgewater. David and Charles Limited. P. 81-82.
  • <3> Article in serial: Whybrow, C.. 1967. Some Multivallate Hill-Forts on Exmoor and in North Devon. Devon Archaeological Society. 25. P. 13.
  • <4> Unpublished document: Fletcher, M.J.. Field Investigators Comments. Ordnance Survey visit, F1, 25 August 1972.
  • <5> Unpublished document: McDonnell, R.. 1980. Gazetteer of Sites in the Exmoor National Park Identified through Aerial Photography. SS6646a.
  • <6> Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. RAF 106G/UK1655, 3189 (July 1946).
  • <7> Aerial photograph: Aerial photograph reference number . NMR SF1459, SS6646/2/452-6 (1 March 1979).
  • <8> Unpublished document: Sainsbury, I.S.S. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 19 August 1993.
  • <9> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR OS/72065 181-182 (15 April 1972).
  • <10> Archive: Exmoor National Park National Mapping Programme: SS 64 NE. MD002172.
  • <11> Photograph: Probable IA Pastoral Settlement. BB74/04413. B/W. Negative.
  • <12> Index: Department of Environment. Unknown. List of Ancient Monuments.
  • <13> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1868-1901. County Series; 1st Edition 25 Inch Map. 1:2500.
  • <14> Aerial photograph: Cambridge University Collection. CUC/ANM 85 (28 April 1966).
  • <15> Monograph: Page, W. (editor). 1906. The Victoria History of the County of Devon. Archibald Constable and Company, Limited (London). 1. P. 608.
  • <16> Aerial photograph: Meridian Air Maps. 1977-1978. Infrared False Colour Aerial Photography. MAM/2670 (June 1978).
  • <17> Aerial photograph: Griffith, F.. 1980s-1990s. Oblique aerial photographs of the Devon part of Exmoor National Park. HX 6, 30 January 1987.
  • <18> Monograph: Fox, A.. 1996. Prehistoric Hillforts in Devon. Devon Books.
  • <19> Monograph: Walls, T.. 2000. Earthwork Enclosures in North East Devon and their Late Prehistoric Landscape.
  • <20> Report: Bray, L.S.. 2010. Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment 2009, Exmoor National Park.
  • <21> Report: Exmoor National Park Authority. 2009. Monument Management Scheme: 2008-9 Report. P. 7.
  • <22> Report: Gent, T. and Manning, P.. 2015. Exmoor National Park Scheduled Monument Condition Survey 2015.
  • <23> Archive: Historic England. 2016. NRHE to HER prototype website test. 34621.
  • <24> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 34621, Extant 28 April 2021.

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Devon SMR (Devonshire): SS 64 NE 12
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 2033
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 5618
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE20113
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE20184
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MMO15
  • Local List Status (No)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 64 NE4
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 34621
  • Scheduled Monument (County Number): DV 471



Grid reference Centred SS 6645 4601 (88m by 84m) (MasterMap)
Map sheet SS64NE

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (3)

Record last edited

May 3 2021 10:07PM


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