MDE8573 - Holdstone Down (Place)


An oval knoll rising to a summit at 349 metres. The earliest settlement recorded is from the Bronze Age period.

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Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

This landscape account is intended to complement the monument descriptions given for individual NMR sites on Holdstone Down, centred at SS 620477. Holdstone Down lies at the extreme eastern end of Combe Martin parish: a remote and isolated position in terms of settlement within a parish. It comprises an impressive oval knoll rising to a summit at 349 metres and is composed of Hangman Grits of the Middle Devonian Age, characterised by erosional bedrock benches, giving a stepped appearance in places ([2]). It therefore forms a topographically distinct unit. On its north side it gives way to cliffs falling to the sea. On the east it is the unenclosed mass of Trentishoe Down and on the west it falls away into the steep valley of Sherrycombe, and thence rises towards the Great Hangman. On the southern side its lower flanks have been gradually encroached on by the enclosed landscape in the form of medieval holdings and by 19th Century inclosures ([3]). The earliest activity on the Down is represented by a very disturbed barrow group on the summit (MDE20202, MDE20203 and MDE20204 and see MDE1037 for an analogous group on Trentishoe Down to the east). This forms an important outlying group on the extreme north-west corner of Exmoor. In addition, an alleged stone row (MDE1041) is recorded on the Down. Other prehistoric activity is mainly concentrated on the extreme northern flanks of the Down and is represented by hut circles, linear clearance and clearance cairns (MDE1040, MDE8574 and MDE8961 on Trentishoe Down). These indicate a somewhat embryonic field system, but in Exmoor terms a reasonable level of settlement, around the 260 metres contour. Traces of linear clearance banks are traceable on the western slopes of the Down (MDE9013), but were only visible after burning off and are very slight and fragmentary. They perhaps point to a more extensive area of cultivation across the Down, the fragmentary nature of which may in part be accounted for by medieval and later activity which has obliterated all earlier traces. By the medieval period it is reasonable to assume that the Down was common ground. Rights of Turbary and Pasture are recorded there for the citizens of Combe Martin ([4]). One point of access to the Down is fossilized on the western side where a double hedge bank marks the course of a green road onto the open land. A number of earthen enclosures are visible on the north-western side of the Down (MDE9007) which clearly predate an existing field system, and seem to represent rye banks or temporary cultivation of open moorland. Activity on Holdstone Down in the Post Medieval and early modern period is intensively represented in the field archaeology of the area, but is dominated by two main events: Parliamentary Inclosure: - Inclosure on various scales around the fringes of the Down took place in several phases. In the 1870s, however, the Inclosure Commissioners formally inclosed the core of the Down (MDE21579), dividing it into a series of strips or allotments. These were not defined by banks; instead, numbered marker stones were placed at their corners. Some of these survive in various states of disintegration. Logistically it is difficult to reconcile this land division into strips with cultivation on marginal ground. It seems most likely that land ownership was a paper exercise and that in practical terms the Down looked much the same: it is impossible to say whether a system of communal grazing continued. It is also unclear how much land improvement took place at the time of Inclosure, and how this affected the field archaeology. The Holdstone Estate :- To offset the costs incurred by the Inclosure Commissioners, several parts of the Down were sold off to private individuals ([4]). One of these purchasers attempted to develop the northern swathe of the Down into a residential estate or holiday village from the late 19th century onwards (see MDE8962). Although the venture was largely unsuccessful (only two properties are now in existence), the main estate road - Sea View Road - is still visible as a track around the northern side of Holdstone Down. Plots were still for sale in the 1940s ([4]). Within the context of these two main episodes, a number of other events are represented on Holdstone Down. On the eastern lip of Sherrycombe at the west end of the Down are mining remains associated with the extraction of iron (MMO277). The Second World War is represented by mortar positions, the remains of a tank and an armoured vehicle, spent ammunition cartridges, and a local tradition that U-boats were accustomed to using Sherrycombe to replenish their water supplies (MDE8963). A number of structures and platforms are visible on the western side of the Down whose date and purpose is unclear (MDE9009, MDE9010, MDE9011). The history and field archaeology of Holdstone Down form a disjointed and complex palimpsest; an area of intense activity. For detailed descriptions of individual monuments see separate NMR accounts. Surveys at 1/1000 and 1/2500 of selected sites and areas. [1-4] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [5]

Sources/Archives (5)

  • <1> Unpublished document: Wilson-North, R.. Various. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 4 June 1993.
  • <2> Map: 1870. Inclosure map for Combe Martin Parish.
  • <3> Article in monograph: Beaumont, M.. 1989. Tithes and Enclosures. Out of the World and into Combe Martin. Combe Martin Local Histor.
  • <4> Verbal communication: Various. Various. Oral Information. M Beaumont.
  • <5> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 762125, Extant 4 November 2021.

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Local List Status (No)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 64 NW11
  • National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 762125



Grid reference SS 617 479 (point) Estimated from sources
Map sheet SS64NW

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (16)

Related Events/Activities (3)

Record last edited

Nov 8 2021 8:33PM


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