MDE11225 - Medieval field system on South Down (Monument)


A rectilinear field system on the gently sloping north-west spur of South Down covers some 24ha, and comprises at least 12 fields marked by low turf-covered stoney banks.

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Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

A length of field bank running along the parish boundary and low banks defining a group of sub rectangular fields were noted on aerial photographs on South Down. [1-3] Further aerial photographs show more detail and clarity. [4] The remains of this rectilinear field system cover an area of some 24 hectares of the gently sloping northwest spur of South Down at about 250 metres Ordnance Datum. (See 1:2500 Plan). Though the name South Down is shown on the 1842 tithe map [5] the area is blank suggesting that it was untithed moorland. It is shown as such on the 1890 Ordnance Survey map [6] and only by 1904 [7] does the eastern part of the Down start to become enclosed, so it was probable that it was not until after the war that the whole Down was finally ploughed (probably in about 1945 when Martinhoe Common was ploughed) [8]. The system consists of about a dozen rectangular and linear fields, generally oriented in a north to south direction, marked by low turf covered stony banks, 0.2 metres to 0.3 metres high and from 2 metres to 2.5 metres wide. In some places the banks peter out completely and in others they appear more like lynchets as they cross the slopes. In the west the banks continue for a short distance over the crest of the steep slopes that run down into the Heddon Valley, this area is now obscured beneath dense bracken and coniferous plantation. The banks are clearly visible on aerial photographs. [9] Within the system a few banks, which are also discernable on aerial photographs [9], were not visible on the ground at time of survey but may be evident under better light and vegetation conditions. In the southeast of the area a post 1890 and pre 1904 enclosure wall cuts across the system and little remains to the east of this wall. However to the northeast of Beacon Castle a linear feature, an apparent bank, is evident on aerial photographs [9] running eastwards from the northeast angle of Beacon Castle some 30 metres parallel to the Martinhoe/Parracombe Parish boundary. This feature is less well defined and difficult to trace on the ground due to scrub, gorse and probable soil slip/erosion but it appears to be a fragmentary turf covered stony scarp. There is a similar feature parallel to it some 20 metres futher down the slope. These may be no more than natural shelving but it is possible, due to their alignment more than their physical appearance, that they are remains of old field banks associated with this system. Further north the field has been more intensively improved and no features are evident on the ground now but the continuation of at least one field bank can be seen on an aerial photograph [10]. There is little doubt that the parish boundary is built on top of, at least part of, an original field bank of this system: at SS 6640 4604 a low field bank continues westwards form the angle of the boundary a few metres after it crosses the enclosure wall. This is mirrored in a short parallel length of bank some 80 metres to the south and the boundary itself running parallel some 100 metres to the north. At SS 6611 4616 another bank joins the boundary on the same alignment from the north, though in this case the actual boundary feature is no longer discernible on the ground. At SS 6642 4633 and SS 6633 4627 are two short lengths of hollow ways, each about 5 metres wide and 0.6 metres deep, which may be contemporary with the field system. No evidence of settlement was found associated with the field system which appears to be of one period though this period is uncertain. The fact that one of its banks is overlaid by a boundary bank which in turn overlies the Beacon Hill Settlement suggests that the field system must post date it. (NB. A stone clearance heap & quarry situated at SS 6616 4603 are modern). [11,12] The banks described above are clearly visible on a number of aerial photographs from the 1940s onwards. Situated on the south and west slopes of South Down, the banks form a number of rectangular fields of varying shape and sizes. The irregular, almost piecemeal pattern of enclosure suggests a medieval enclosure attempt, which was perhaps abandoned prior to the publication of the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey [6]. As stated above, two of the banks parallel the route of the Martinhoe/Parracombe parish boundary; since both parishes date to the medieval period, this again suggests a medieval date for the system. [13-14]

Sources/Archives (15)

  • <1> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. RAF/106G/UK/1655.3189 (July 1946).
  • <2> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. MAM/2670 (June 1978).
  • <3> Unpublished document: McDonnell, R.. 1980. Gazetteer of Sites in the Exmoor National Park Identified through Aerial Photography. SS6646B.
  • <4> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR SS6646:SF1459 448 and 450 (1 March 1979).
  • <5> Map: 1842. Martinhoe Tithe Map and Apportionment.
  • <6> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1868-1901. County Series; 1st Edition 25 Inch Map. 1:2500. 1890, Devon 6(3).
  • <7> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1902-1907. County Series, 2nd Edition 25 Inch Map. 1:2500. 1904, Devon 6(3).
  • <8> Monograph: Bridle, H.. 1991. Woody Bay. Finial Publishing. p86.
  • <9> Aerial photograph: Aerial photograph reference number . NMR SF1459 SS 6646/1/447-456 (1 March 1979).
  • <10> Aerial photograph: Aerial photograph reference number . NMR SS 6646/5 5634/6 (Oblique)..
  • <11> Unpublished document: Sainsbury, I.S.S. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 19 August 1993.
  • <12> Collection: RCHME Exeter. 1993-1999. Exmoor Project.
  • <13> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR OS/72065 180-81 (15 April 1972).
  • <14>XY Archive: Exmoor National Park National Mapping Programme: SS 64 NE. MD002172. [Mapped feature: #46707 ]
  • <15> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 915509, Extant 2 November 2021.

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Devon SMR (Devonshire): SS64NE/46
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 17932
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE20546
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MMO320
  • Local List Status (Unassessed)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 64 NE59
  • National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 915509



Grid reference Centred SS 663 462 (554m by 620m)
Map sheet SS64NE

Finds (0)

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Related Events/Activities (2)

Record last edited

Nov 2 2021 12:04PM


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