MDE11247 - Multi period field system at Lee Abbey (Monument)


A substantial field system is visible on aerial photographs, at Lee Abbey representing the Bronze Age to the present day. However, some of the earthworks may relate to a golf course created at the site in the 20th Century (MDE24943).

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Type and Period (3)

Protected Status

Full Description

SS 698 492. The remains of a field system at Lee Abbey. The system was seen by McDonnell [1] as a miscellaneous group of earthworks, parchmarks, linear and ring shaped banks and platforms on aerial photographs [2] around Lee Abbey and thought to be possibly associated with a disused golf course. [1,2] SS 698 492. The fields around Lee Abbey are now under pasture and the much ploughed remains of earlier cultivation are visible as terracing and curvilinear lynchets (up to 1.5 metres high and 3 metres wide) in fields surrounding the main buildings. Also evident are several small levelled areas A-H. (See 1:1000 Survey for exact extent). A: SS 6952 4922. An almost rectangular levelled platform on a gentle west facing slope. It is 23 metres north to south by 4.3 metres internally and built up to 0.7 metres high at the front cut in to 0.5 metres at the rear. It lies parallel with surrounding cultivation terraces and could either be a small plot or a building platform, though there is no evidence of foundations. B: SS 6962 4927. Set on a slope the remains of an apparent circular platform about 9 metres in diameter and 0.9 metres high scarp around the front. The rear eastern side merges into the slope. C: SS 6966 4926. A similar feature to B but slightly larger at 10 metres in diameter with frontal scarp 0.5 metres high. D: SS 6957 4914 & E: SS 6959 4915. Two rectangular platforms about 34 metres east to west by 12 metres and 42 metres east to west by 10 metres respectively. They are set into the northern side of the road and their frontal scarps are only about 1 metre high at best. These may be no more than the lynchets of small fields cut by the line of the road and their fronts formed by small linear scarp of a former fenceline. F: SS 6956 4906. A possible building platform, about 6 metres east to west by 2 metres internally, set into the bottom of the steep wooded slopes. Its frontal scarp, overlaid by a large boulder, is about 1 metre high but its rear merges into the natural slope. Its southwest end is approached by an old path and a track skirts its lower front side. Probably relatively modern although no stonework is evident. G: SS 6961 4908. At the base of the same wooded slopes some 50 metres to the northeast is a subrectangular platform about 20 metres east to west by 7 metres internally. Its front and rear scarps are about 1.1 metres high and it is accessed at the open east end. H: SS 7003 4931. A rectangular platform, levelled into the slight slope, about 22 metres northeast to southwest by 6.5 metres within front and rear scarps 0.7 metres high. Stone could be probing the frontal scarp but none was evident above ground. Most probably a building stance. I: SS 7007 4935. The remains of a well ploughed circular platform about 10 metres in diameter within front and rear scarps 0.6 metres high. J: SS 7011 4944. A similar though less well defined circular platform approximately 10 metres in diameter. It is mainly evident as a curved frontal scarp about 0.7 metres high. The rear merges into the gentle slope. I and J mark the sites of two circular features shown on the 1946 aerial photographs [2]. They had been ploughed out by 1972 as they are not evident on aerial photographs [3] taken then. K: SS 6985 4908. A well defined modern rectangular platform 20 metres east to west by 9 metres. Its frontal scarp is built up 1.7 metres high onto the steep natural slope and it is cut in to the same depth at the rear. L: SS 6983 4911. A turf-covered stoney mound 7.5 metres diameter and 0.7 metres high. It appears to overlie a large lynchet on its northwest side and is probably a clearance heap. Summary: The precise date of these earthworks and associated features is uncertain. The area is first shown as enclosed fields on the 1840 Tithe Map [4]. However taking into consideration : 1) The morphology of the earthworks; 2) A leaf-shaped, basal-looped Bronze Age spearhead (MDE1030) found in the grounds of Lee Abbey; 3) A saddle quern (MDE1239) found at the eastern end of these earthworks; and 4) the remains of a prehistoric settlement (MDE1241) containing enclosures, hut circles and a field system, only 500m to the east of this site; it is almost certain that some of these remains, probably those to the northeast, are prehistoric in origin.The two circular features, I and J, may possibly have been hut platforms. Lee Abbey was the site of the manor (MDE1032) of the Wichelhalses from the mid 17th Century and elements of the earthworks, primarily those to the west and south may date from this period. From 1924 to 1939 Lee Abbey was used as a hotel, a golf course was constructed on the surrounding fields [5]. Though there is no clear evidence of this on the 1946 aerial photographs [2], some of these earthworks may relate to this period as well as to modern field boundaries only recently removed. The earthworks are therfore almost certainly multi period in origin showing remains of cultivation from the Bronze Age to the present day. (Note: These earthworks extend over the east edge of this plan into SS 74 NW but they have all been treated under this one site number). [6] The banks and earthworks are visible on aerial photographs, as are the circular features I and J, and the rectangular platform H taken in 1946; however, they do not appear on later photographs, and were most likely destroyed by ploughing and other improvement activities in the mid 20th Century. They are not depicted on the 1st or 2nd edition Ordnance Survey maps of the area. [9-11] An archaeological magnetometer and resistance survey was undertaken in May 2017, to inform this part of the England Coast Path route. A number of magnetic and resistance anomalies coincide with, and most likely represent, an extant prehistoric bank, elements of a relict bronze age field system, a section of post-medieval estate boundary wall, an extant ploughed over circular mound and an extant sub-circular platform. These last two features may have prehistoric or later origins, possibly relating to World War II search light emplacements. [14] SS 70101 49442 (Site J). Sites I and J have previously been interpreted as possible prehistoric hut platforms by [6]; however, these had not been ploughed over on aerial photographs dating to 1946 to 1948 [15], whereas Church Close has been ploughed from as least as early as the 19th Century. Platform J may represent a World War Two searchlight position. Features I and J are recorded under MEM24948 under this interpretation. SS 70076 49410. Several ploughed over banks and scarps, up to 1 metre high, represent the remains of a former field system. A small rectangular field lies in the southwest of Church Close, with two gently curving scarps to the east possibly the remains of a double lynchet trackway and a stub of bank to the northeast being the remains of a field boundary. These, together with the remains of several small fields are visible in the field to the south of Church Close, date to the Bronze Age. SS 70017 49419. A substantial, ploughed over bank, 65 metres long by 10 metres wide and up to 1.3 metres high on the west side of Church Close. It runs into a substantial lynchet on unimproved land to the north, suggesting it is prehistoric in origin. It was reused during the medieval and post-medieval periods to divide Great Church Close and Little Church Close. The boundary was removed in the mid 19th Century. The relict field system around Lee Abbey is clearly complex and multi-phase with prehistoric, medieval and post-medieval elements. The extent of these fields is not currently mapped. [16] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [17]

Sources/Archives (17)

  • <1> Unpublished document: McDonnell, R.. 1980. Gazetteer of Sites in the Exmoor National Park Identified through Aerial Photography. SS6949a.
  • <2> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. RAF 106G/UK 1655/3155-57 (11 July 1946).
  • <3> Aerial photograph: Aerial photograph reference number . Devon 'T'Blk1 / Somerset 'C'Blk2, 023, 15 April 1972..
  • <4> Map: 1840. Lynton and Lynmouth Parish Tithe Map and Apportionment.
  • <5> Leaflet: Purdon, R.. 1985. A Brief History of Lee Abbey.
  • <6> Unpublished document: Sainsbury, I.S.S. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 30 March 1994.
  • <7> Technical drawing: Sainsbury, I.. 1994. Lee Abbey/ink survey . 1:2500. Permatrace. Pen and Ink.
  • <8> Technical drawing: Sainsbury, I.. 1994. Lee Abbey/ink survey . 1:1000. Permatrace. Pen and Ink.
  • <9> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1868-1901. County Series; 1st Edition 25 Inch Map. 1:2500. 1889.
  • <10> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1902-1907. County Series, 2nd Edition 25 Inch Map. 1:2500. 1904.
  • <11> Archive: Exmoor National Park National Mapping Programme: SS 64 NE. MD002172.
  • <12> Collection: RCHME Exeter. 1993-1999. Exmoor Project.
  • <13> Aerial photograph: Meridian Air Maps. 1977-1978. Infrared False Colour Aerial Photography. MAM/2584 (June 1978).
  • <14> Report: Dean, R.. 2017. An archaeological gradiometer and resistance survey: Land at Lee Abbey, Lyton and Lynmouth, Devon.
  • <15> Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography.
  • <16>XY Report: Riley, H. 2017. Assessment and Metric Survey of Archaeological Features at Lee Abbey, Exmoor National Park Project Report. 6, LA1704, LA1705, LA1707; pp 12-14, 15-16. [Mapped feature: #47093 Figure 21, p 16]
  • <17> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 915664, Extant 2 November 2021.



Grid reference Centred SS 697 492 (691m by 512m) With reference to SMO7555 Exmoor NMP data
Map sheet SS64NE

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (5)

Related Events/Activities (5)

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Devon SMR (Devonshire): SS64NE/66
  • Devon SMR (Devonshire): SS74NW/52
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 17952
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 60577
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 60578
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 60579
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 60580
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 60581
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 60584
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 60585
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 60586
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE20501
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE20698
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE21643
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE21644
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE21645
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE21646
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE21647
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE21648
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE21649
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE21650
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE21651
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE21652
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE21653
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE21654
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MMO325
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 64 NE71
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 915664
  • Shoreline Management Plan 2 (0-20)
  • Shoreline Management Plan 2 (20-50)
  • Shoreline Management Plan 2 (50-100)

Record last edited

Mar 1 2022 11:49AM


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