MSO6903 - 19th Century circular tower at Great Ashcombe (Monument)


A circular tower north of Simonsbath, which may have been used as an agricultural building, a storage building, a shooting tower or a folly.

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Type and Period (4)

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Full Description

A circular building is shown on the 1978 Ordnance Survey 25 inch map. [1] The building comprises a cylindrical tower with a doorway of Victorian Gothic, window slits and a slate doorstep. Its precise function is unclear; it has been interpreted as either an agricultural building or a folly. [2] The Round House is a small building of 12 feet in diameter internally. The openings are not windows, but putlog holes for scaffolding. The holes in the doorstep indicate an iron gate. It was probably a store where things were kept under lock and key. It is believed to have been built by John Knight in about 1825, at the eastern end of the intended leat from Pinkworthy Pond, as part of his plans for an Exmoor railway, and was probably used by the surveyors. [3] This building may have been used as a shooting tower from which to kill deer. [4] Centred at SS 7695 4040 are the remains of a stone tower. The structure lies close to, and on the west side of the modern road running north out of Simonsbath. It is a circular structure 4 metres in diameter (wall centre to wall centre). The walls, which are of thin coursed stone with lime mortar, are 0.4 metres thick, and stand to a maximum of 3.2 metres on the eastern side and 1.1 metre high on the west. On the east is a doorway with an arched head of cut stone. It is 1.95 metres high and 1.15 metres wide. The threshold, which is 0.45 metres above the external ground level, comprises a single slab with two holes which presumably accommodated a wooden door-frame. Set in the wall directly over the arched opening is an edge set stone which may have carried a plaque or inscription; nothing is now visible on it. No internal features are visible within the tower, such as windows or a staircase. However, three square slots into the wall are visible 1.6 metres above the internal floor. The function of these is not clear, but they may be joist holes for an upper floor, although there does not seem to be sufficient numbers of them to have functioned in this way. The date and function of the tower is not clear. It seems likely to have been a folly or viewing tower, but of course this would not preclude its use in a hunting context. [5] A survey of the tower was carried out by Jonathon Rhind Conservation Architects in 3rd October 2011. Overall the survey found the structure to be stable but heavily weathered. The report recommends repointing of the weathered joints to protect the structure. [7] The report was updated June 2015 [8]. The round house was built by John Knight over 150 years ago. It has been suggested to be a corn store, toll house, game larder, lime kiln, or a butt or pill box type building from which the Knights' guests may have shot deer - however, these are suggested to be unlikely. The architecture suggests it housed people not animals, no windows are present and it may have had an iron gate and a roof, suggesting that something was held securely there. The author suggests that the building was constructed to house surveying equipment and would have been at the junction between the Pinkery Canal and John Knight's original railway, which was to have inclined planes (requiring water power). [9] An anecdote suggests this was known as the "old shooting tower". The fallow deer introduced by John Knight became a nuisance to, among others, the inhabitants of Warren Farm. In Frederick Knight's time the herd were systematically destroyed by shooting. It is suggested that the archway entrance in the tower would be perfect for shooting, providing a wide range whilst screening the marksman. Evidence suggests the banks flanking the road to the east were constructed in the 1920s, so the doorway would have good visibility towards a gateway in a long, imposing dry stone wall, possibly built at the same time as the tower. The author suggests the deer would leave the combe, enter through the gateway and then head towards the tower, from which they would be shot. A room in the tower may have existed for a loader or second marksman. [10] Davey suggests that a storage building [9] or shooting tower [10] are both unlikely uses for the building but instead, it may have been an explosives store. It is substantial, weather proof and close to a track - but sited away from other estate buildings, in case of accidents. Explosives set off were sometimes known as 'shots', which may account for the anecdote given in [10]. [11] The tower is depicted on modern MasterMap data. [12] The tower is also shown on the 25 inch 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map. [13] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [14]

Sources/Archives (14)

  • <1> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1978. Ordnance Survey plan. 1:2500. SS7640.
  • <2> Verbal communication: Various. Various. Oral Information. H Eardley-Wilmot, 19 January 1983.
  • <3> Monograph: Beazley and Peck. The Round House.
  • <4> Monograph: Burton, R.A.. 1989. The Heritage of Exmoor. Roger A. Burton. P.70-71 and plate opposite P.63.
  • <5> Unpublished document: Wilson-North, R.. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 9 August 1994.
  • <6> Survey: RCHME. 1996. Exmoor Survey. NMR site SS 74 SE.
  • <7> Report: Rhind, J.. 2012. Simonsbath, Exmoor: Condition Survey of Simonsbath Tower.
  • <8> Report: Julia Humphries. 2015. Condition Survey and Schedule of Works Simonsbath Tower, Exmoor.
  • <9> Serial: Exmoor Society. 1959-present. Exmoor Review. Volume 30 (1989), "The Round House at Simonsbath - what is it?", p47-9 (T Peck).
  • <10> Serial: Exmoor Society. 1959-present. Exmoor Review. Volume 31 (1990), "Simonsbath Round House, an alternative solution", p12 (E Mold).
  • <11> Serial: Exmoor Society. 1959-present. Exmoor Review. Volume 32 (1991), "The Simonsbath Round House - yet another solution?", p45 (T Davey).
  • <12>XY Map: Ordnance Survey. 2018. MasterMap. [Mapped feature: #46503 ]
  • <13> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1868-1901. County Series; 1st Edition 25 Inch Map. 1:2500.
  • <14> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 1102179, Extant 1 June 2021.



Grid reference Centred SS 7695 4039 (5m by 5m)
Map sheet SS74SE

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Related Events/Activities (2)

Related Articles (1)

External Links (2)

Other Statuses/References

  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 74 SE113
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 74 SE78
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 1038420
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 1102179
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 33184

Record last edited

Jun 1 2021 11:12AM


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