MDE1192 - Shoulsbarrow Castle (or Shoulsbury Castle) on Shoulsbarrow Common (Monument)


A rectangular hillslope enclosure of Iron Age or Roman date, covering 1.6 hectares, on the slope of a southwest projecting spur.

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Type and Period (2)

Protected Status

Full Description

Shoulsbarrow Castle (Camp) (NR). [1] Centred SS 705 391 Shoulsbury Castle. The camp is square - somewhat irregular in the north - with sides of 480 feet and surrounded by a vallum from 4-7 feet in height. From 50-100 feet beyond, another vallum 3 feet high protects the east and north sides, and half of the west, in the centre of which is the only entrance. The southern side is defended by a sudden fall in the ground. In the northeast corner was a mound about 80 feet in circumference which was opened some years ago with barren results. A tradition is current that Alfred the Great held the camp against the Danes. Two 17th Century rapiers have been found here. [2-3] The earthwork consists of a fairly strong stone-cored bank with outer ditch situated on a hill top with land falling fairly steeply to the south and gently to the southwest. Elsewhere the land is almost flat and here the enclosure has a further defence consisting of a weak bank with outer ditch. The bank is strongest in the south where it is of Iron Age type. The ditches are silted and are largely marshy. Probable original entrances occur in the west and south-east They are 8 metres and 4 metres wide respectively. A circular mound at F has a diameter of 11.5 metres and a height of 0.5 metres with an interior hollow with a diameter of 4.5 metres and a depth of 0.7 metres. It has neither the apppearance of a hut circle nor of an excavated barrow. The entire area is under grass and no trace of habitation was found. No information was obtained upon the present whereabouts of the rapiers referred to above. [4] Lady Fox, who visited the earthwork in 1957, thinks it may be an Iron Age 'B' hill-slope fort. The mound in the northeast corner is possibly a herdsman's hut. With a few hurdles the site could even now be used as a cattle enclosure. [5] SS 7058 3910 Mound 12 paces in diameter and 1 1/2 feet high. This may be either a barrow or hut circle. [6] Shoulsbury Castle : Early forms of this name include Solsbury (Westcote 1630), Shorsbery (Risdon 1630), Salusbury (1815), Shoulsbury (1819), Showlsborough (1890, Page), and Shoulsbarrow (present Ordnance Survey map [perhaps 1970?]). It is locally pronounced Shoulsbury; Shoulsbarrow implies a sepulchral mound. Sited on a southwest spur, it is of sub-rectangular plan and is bivallate excepting on the south where a steep scarp makes a second rampart unnecessary. Original entrances may have been in the middle of the west side of the inner rampart, and near its southeast corner. Within the northeast corner R R Clarke noted a circular mound about 11 yards in diameter which he conjectured might have been the base of a watchtower if it is not the remains of a round barrow. The similarity of the plan with that of the Roman fortlets at Martinhoe and Old Barrow and the slightness of the rampart cause us to wonder whether it is Iron Age or Roman. [7] Field invesitgation in 1973 noted the site was as described in the sources above. The date of the site was uncertain, but if Iron Age it would seem to have Roman influence. Well preserved. The name Shoulsbarrow Castle is not in common use. TheVictoria County History, Grinsell and the Ordnance Survey 1 inch map of 1972 agree on the historic Shoulsbury Castle. The site was surveyed at 1:2500. [8, 3, 7, 9] Shoulsbarrow Castle - c. 2nd to 1st Century BC. [10] SS 705 391 Shoulsbarrow, Shoulsbury. This site is listed in Hogg's 1979 gazetteer of British hillforts as a multivallate hillfort with widely spaced ramparts covering 1.6 hectares. [11] SS 706 391 Shoulsbury Castle. A description with plan was published in the Devon Archaeological Society Proceedings. Whybrow suggests the site to have been an uncompleted structure intended to serve as a stock enclosure. [12] SS 7055 3909 Shoulsbarrow Castle is a rectangular hillslope earthwork. It is prominently situated about 465 metres above sea level, on the southwestern end of the hill ridge between Shoulsbarrow Common on the north and Castle Common on the south. It lies in rough grass and scattered heather-covered enclosed ground on a gentle southwest facing slope. It appears to have been purposely constructed off the summit of the hill and dominates the upper valley of the Bray to the south. It also has panoramic views southwestwards to Barnstaple Bay and south to Dartmoor however the view to the northeast is blocked by the rising ground of the hill crest which is occupied by an Ordnance Survey Triangulation Pillar some 150 metres away. The Challacombe/High Bray Parish Boundary runs through the centre of the earthwork from southwest to northeast. A barrow (MDE20186) lies inside the northeast corner. Shoulsbarrow (sic) Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, Devon County Number 49 but it is not clear if the barrow has been included in that scheduling [13]. The earthwork is about 146 metres east to west by 142 metres (almost 2 hectares or 5 acres in area) within an earth and stone bank about 8 metres wide and 1.5 metres high (where measured near the south end of the east side) with outer ditch. There is an outer bank and ditch on the north, east and part of the west side varying from 17 metres to 30 metres 'parallel' from the main bank. The entrance appears to have been at the centre of the western side accompanied by a causeway over the ditch. It is not clear if the break in the southeast corner is original. A lowering of the main bank about 35 metres north of this southeast corner could suggest a blocked entrance about 16 metres wide, however the ditch along this side is heavily silted and has a modern drain down the centre and no accompanying causeway is evident. The 1889 Ordnance Survey map depicts a buried trig station adjacent to the western entrance gap which may account for some of the damage in this area. As suggested the earthwork is apparently of later prehistoric origin. [14] There is no obvious topographical reason why the work could not have been circular, as is the general trend for hillslope enclosures of this period on Exmoor, so its untypical plan could suggest influence from, or adaption to, the Roman style. It is also not clear why the outer bank and ditch should have terminated as they do. Perhaps this was merely an extra drainage feature. There is also no valid reason why the enclosure should not have been a symmetrically true rectangle, which tends to rule out a Roman origin. [13-17] SS 7054 3908 Shoulsbury Castle is a multivallate hillfort of late prehistoric date, probably Iron Age, with the inner rampart enclosing an area of circa two hectares. The monument lies within an area of rough grass and boggy moorland towards the western edge of Exmoor National Park, at approximately 460 metres above sea level. The hillfort lies below the western edge of the main plateau of Shoulsbarrow common, with the ground falling sharply to the south and south-west. Shoulsbury Castle overlooks the upper reaches of the Bray Valley where a series of steep sided combes feed water southwards into the River Bray. The hillfort is almost square in form with rounded corners, measuring 147 metres east to west between its inner rampart tops. The monument comprises a rampart and external ditch with an outer rampart and ditch on three sides. The inner rampart is constructed of earth and stone and stands between 0.9 metres and 3.6 metres in height, with a maximum width of 1.3 metres. Its associated ditch survives to a maximum of 0.5 metres deep. A berm, c. 3 metres wide, is evident along the western, eastern, and northern sides of the inner rampart. Several stony mounds were noted sitting upon the berm and may be related to the construction of the rampart. The original entrance was located on the western side of the enclosure, slightly north of centre. A second breach in the rampart is located at the southeastern corner but it is unclear whether this is original. The outer rampart and ditch runs along along the eastern, northern and part of the western sides of the enclosure, terminating just short of the entrance on the western side. The rampart stands a maximum of 1 metre high and the ditch survives up to 0.5 metres deep. The natural topography has obviously influenced the shape and orientation of the enclosure. The southern rampart clearly lies parallel to the steep, south facing slope of the upper Bray valley and the remaining sides have apparently been set-out in relation to this. The termination of the outer rampart on the western side of the enclosure is also probably related to the natural topography as the ground begins to drop steeply at this point. A 1:500 scale survey of the site was undertaken in April 2005 which was accompanied by an English Heritage survey report. [18] Shoulsbury Castle is mentioned as 'Shrowlsbury Castle' or 'Salusbury Castle' in a survey of the Royal Forest of Exmoor in 1815. A plan of the castle was produced by Henry Woollcombe in the early 19th Century and named 'Sholesborough, Shoresborough or Sashborough' and depicts the inner and outer ramparts of the hillfort. The sub-rectangular enclosure is a typical earthwork of the Iron Age using the natural topography. The southern ramparts are up to 3.6 metres high with the other lower sides suggesting an incomplete phase of construction. It was unclear why the outer ramparts splayed outwards towards the east and west ends but may relate to the entrances and unfinished nature of the hillfort. The prominent location suggests a symbolic focal role rather than permanent settlement and may account for the incomplete nature of the less visible ramparts. The excellent preservation and the monuments close proximity to early iron working sites add to its importance. [unknown source, possibly related to source 18] The multivallate hillfort described above can clearly be seen on a number of aerial photographs. It appears to be unfinished in that while the inner circuit is complete, the outer circuit is only visible on the east and north sides, and partially on the west side. It is possible that an outer bank on the south side was considered unnecessary, due to the steep slope, but according to Silvester and Quinnell [22], it seems that the defences on the west side were never started. Silvester and Quinnell argue that the outer circuit is an exaggerated version of a "marking-out" ditch and bank, intended to be much steeper. The aerial photographic evidence, particularly on the oblique photography, would seem to support this view. [19-22,43] Consists of an inner circuit, complete in that the defences can be traced on all sides and an outer circuit are visible only on the east, north and part of the west sides. The almost square appearance of the inner enclosure has led to previous interpretation as Roman military site. The south side is close to being a finished defence: 3 meters high with a now shallow ditch in front. However, as defences swing to the north - interrupted at the southeast corner by an evidently modern break - the bank starts to lose height and on the north side it is an insignificant feature less than 0.5 meters high. It is clearly unfinished. Gang practice can be seen in the ditch constrictions and bank undulations, and possibly in an abrupt kink in the north bank. The outer circuit is an exaggerated version of a marking-out bank and ditch. Whether or not an outer bank would have been deemed necessary on the south side, it is evident that on the west side the defences were never started. [uncertain source, possibly 22] Shoulsbarrow Castle is a rectangular hill top enclosure or camp situated on Castle Common and Shoulsbarrow Common. There is a tradition that Alfred held it against the Danes although its age and purpose are unclear. The site has rounded corners and is enclosed by a rampart and ditch. This is an unfinished enclosure, defined by a low rampart and ditch on the east, north, and northwest sides at a distance of 9.1 to 30.5 meters. The entrances to the main work are at the southeast angle and at the centre of the west side. There is one hut in the northeast quarter which was excavated by Chanter in 1906. The enclosure probably a pastoral keep for stock. [23] Aerial photograph investigation, undertaken by Mcdonnell noted two hut circles in the interior. The features are visible on photographs taken in 1947 and 1977. One of these may or may not be the barrow (MDE20186), as two appears to be the maximum number of features ever recorded within the enclosure. [24, 25] Allcroft gives a detailed description of the site, with an accompanying plan. This source suggests the steep natural scarp to the south was part of the defences. No date was suggested. [26] Rectangular enclosure of c. 4 acres, visible as a single bank on three sides, double bank with ditch on 4th side. There is a possible entrance in the west side. Plan in manuscript. The site was visited in September 1842. [27] Shoulsbarrow or Shoulsbury. Though always described as a hillfort, the site is somewhat enigmatic: its plan is squarer than the majority of known hillforts, and it is often suggested that the construction of the site was unfinished, since the western outer rampart does not extend right up to the edge of the steeper slope as would usually be expected. Classic hillfort siting. [28] The earthworks of the site contain a large area but are slight. The site is probably a stock enclosure. Its location on west edge of the moor with good access to surrounding area supports this interpretation. It is close to a major north to southeast ridge, which may have been an ancient route. Visited in 1995. [29] The site is visible on a number of aerial photographs, taken in 1953, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980. [30-37] This site was mentioned by Chanter in 1906. [38] Shoulsbury Castle is visble on a Royal Air Force aerial photograph taken in 1947; this shows the site clearly, but in a very ploughed down condition, with a broad bank. [39] A site report from 2006 discusses the site in detail. [40] A respondent to Dean Milles Questionnaire notes the earthwork as a large castle with the walls almost all gone, now at ground level. [41] Fox mentioned this site in her book on Prehistoric hillforts in Devon. [42] The site was visible on a black and white aerial photograph. [44] The Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment of 2009 gave the site a score of 4. [45] The site was surveyed in April 2015 as part of the 2015 Exmoor Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment. It was given a survival score of 4. [46] The site is depicted and labelled "Shoulsbarrow Castle (Camp)" on the 2020 MasterMap data. [48] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [49] Still aerial photographs were taken of the monument in October 2023 during a UAS photogrammetry survey commissioned by the South West Peatland Partnership in advance of nearby peatland restoration work. Shoulsbarrow Castle did not form part of the survey area. [50]

Sources/Archives (50)

  • <1> Map: Ordnance Survey. County Series; 2nd Edition (1st Revision) 25 Inch Map. 1:2500. 1905.
  • <2> Serial: Devonshire Association. 1862 -. Devonshire Association reports and transactions. Volume 55, p 47-8.
  • <3> Monograph: Page, W. (editor). 1906. The Victoria History of the County of Devon. Archibald Constable and Company, Limited (London). 1. Volume 1, p 595-6.
  • <4> Unpublished document: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Field Investigators Comments. F1, J Riggs, 24 November 1953.
  • <5> Unpublished document: Fox, A.. 1957. Letter. 23 September 1957.
  • <6> Article in serial: Grinsell, L.V.. 1970. The Barrows of North Devon. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 28. p 121.
  • <7> Monograph: Grinsell, L.V.. 1970. The Archaeology of Exmoor: Bideford Bay to Bridgwater. David and Charles Limited. p 84.
  • <8> Unpublished document: Fletcher, M.J.. Field Investigators Comments. Ordnance Survey visit, 7 March 1973.
  • <9> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1972. 1 inch map, 1972.
  • <10> Monograph: Nicholas Thomas. 1960. A guide to prehistoric England . p 86.
  • <11> Article in monograph: Hogg, A.H.A.. 1979. British Hillforts: An Index. Occasional Papers of the Hill-Fort Study Group; No.1. British Archaeological Reports. Number 62, p 194.
  • <12> Article in serial: Whybrow, C.. 1967. Some Multivallate Hill-Forts on Exmoor and in North Devon. Devon Archaeological Society. 25. p 1-18.
  • <13> Index: English Heritage. 1987. County List of Scheduled Ancient Monuments. Devon 16, County Number 49.
  • <14> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1854-1901. County Series; 1st Edition 25 Inch Map. 1:2500. 1889.
  • <15> Map: Ordnance Survey. County Series; 2nd Edition (1st Revision) 25 Inch Map. 1:2500. 1904 (Revised 1903), Devon 10:8.
  • <16> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1973. 1:2500. 1:25,000. SS7039 Archaeology Division FL2.
  • <17> Unpublished document: Sainsbury, I.S.S. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 1 August 1995.
  • <18> Report: Jamieson, E.. 2005. Shoulsbury Castle, Exmoor, Devon: An Iron Age Hillfort and a Stone Setting on Shoulsbarrow Common. English Heritage.
  • <19> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR OS/73109 1036-38 (29 April 1973).
  • <20> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Oblique Aerial Photograph. NMR SS 7039/27 15623/09 (14 Januray 1997).
  • <21> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Oblique Aerial Photograph. NMR SS 7039/33 18583/12 (12 October 1999).
  • <22> Article in serial: Silvester, R. J. + Quinnell, N. V.. 1993. Unfinished hillforts on the Devon moors. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 51. 27. p 17-33.
  • <23> Index: Department of Environment. 1957. Shoulsbarrow Castle. The Schedule of Monuments.
  • <24> Unpublished document: McDonnell, R.. 1980. Gazetteer of Sites in the Exmoor National Park Identified through Aerial Photography. Gazetteer number SS7039A.
  • <25> Verbal communication: Various. Various. Oral Information. F Glover? (was in text as 'FMG').
  • <26> Monograph: Allcroft, A.H.. 1908. Earthwork of England: Prehistoric, Roman, Saxon, Danish, Norman, and Mediaeval. Macmillan (London). p 113-5,171,210,367N.
  • <27> Unpublished document: Woollcombe. 1840-1849. Unknown : Manuscript. Site visit September 1842.
  • <28> Monograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1988. Devon's Past: An Aerial View. 75. p 40.
  • <29> Monograph: Walls, T.. 2000. Earthwork Enclosures in North East Devon and their Late Prehistoric Landscape.
  • <30> Aerial photograph: South West Water. 1976. No 36612.
  • <31> Aerial photograph: MAM. 1977. MAM/14/053. Aerial Photograph.
  • <32> Aerial photograph: Ordnance Survey. 1973. 73/163/008-009. Aerial Photograph.
  • <33> Aerial photograph: National Monuments Record. 1979. SS7039: SF 1460 : SF 1460/59,64. 59, 64.
  • <34> Aerial photograph: National Monuments Record. 1980. SS7039 : SF 1748/416. SF 1748/416.
  • <35> Aerial photograph: Cambridge University. 1953. CUC/LX 35-36,39-40. Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photographs. 35-36, 39-40.
  • <36> Aerial photograph: Cambridge University. 1966. CUC/ANM 86-89. Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photographs. 86-89.
  • <37> Aerial photograph: Cambridge University. 1971. CUC/BHH 68-70. Cambridge University Collection of Aerial Photographs. 68-70.
  • <38> Article in serial: Chanter, J.F.. 1906. The Parishes of Lynton and Countisbury. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 38. 114-224. p 118.
  • <39> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. RAF/CPE/UK/1980 4143 (1947).
  • <40> Report: Dunkerley, T. + Knights, J.. 2006. A Probable Iron Age Hill-fort or Hillside Enclosure at Welcombe Farm, Charles. p 9.
  • <41> Unpublished document: Dodd, M.. 2004. Dean Milles Parochial Survey. Questionnaire (1747-1762).
  • <42> Monograph: Fox, A.. 1996. Prehistoric Hillforts in Devon. Devon Books. p 50-1.
  • <43> Archive: 2007-2009. Exmoor National Park NMP: SS 73 NW. MD002189.
  • <44> Photograph: Victoria County History. 1900-1974. Ia (2nd-1st Cent.) Hillfort - Roman Influence Evident. BB74/04428. B/W. Negative.
  • <45> Report: Bray, L.S.. 2010. Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment 2009, Exmoor National Park. Exmoor National Park Authority.
  • <46> Report: Gent, T. and Manning, P.. 2015. Exmoor National Park Scheduled Monument Condition Survey 2015. Archaedia.
  • <47> Article in monograph: Griffith, F.M. and Wilkes, E.M.. 2011. In the footsteps of pioneering women: some recent work on Devon hillforts. Recent Archaeological Work in South-Western Britain. Archaeopress. Pearce, S..
  • <48>XY Map: Ordnance Survey. 2020. MasterMap data. 1:2,500. [Mapped feature: #42057 ]
  • <49> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 35025, Extant 24 November 2021.
  • <50> Unpublished document: SUMO GeoSurveys. 2023. South Regis Common, Goat Combe and Hunger Gate, Devon: UAS Landscape Survey.

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Devon SMR (Devonshire): 500/01
  • Devon SMR (Devonshire): SS 73 NW/500
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 732
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE20083
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE20426
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MMO53
  • Local Heritage List Status (Rejected)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 73 NW6
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 35025
  • Scheduled Monument (County Number): DEVON 49



Grid reference Centred SS 270 139 (230m by 232m) Centred on
Map sheet SS21SE

Finds (1)

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Related Events/Activities (7)

Record last edited

Jan 31 2024 12:31PM


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