MSO7898 - Porlock Stone Circle (Monument)


A prehistoric stone circle about 24.5m in diameter on Porlock Allotment. The circle was suggested to have originally consisted of 43 stones. 21 were recorded in 1928 of which 14 now remain. Of these, 7 are standing and 7 are recumbant.

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Type and Period (1)

Protected Status

Full Description

Stone Circle (NR) [1] The stone circle on Porlock Allotment, to the west of the road from Porlock to Exford discovered by Mr. E. T. McDermott, is 80 feet in diameter. The stones would probably have stood originally about 6 feet apart, suggesting an approx. number of 43. The remaining stones consist of 10 standing stones and broken off stumps, and 11 prostrate stones. [2] The site was discovered in 1928 by E.T MacDermot and is 80 foot in diameter. There are 10 stones standing and 11 prostrate. The Probable approximate number of stones is 42 - others have been found by digging. The stones are of local green micaceous sandstone. Several stones are out of alignment. This can be explained by soil creep or military activity. Digging was carried out systematically at intervals of c.1.83m as well as on targeted stones. A 'little excavation' was also carried out in the centre of the circle. No published record exists of where exactly these diggings took place, though the stone-by-stone descriptions that serve as an appendix to the report indicate specific cases of probing and digging. [2,25] Some of the fallen stones illustrated by St. G. Gray have been removed but all the earthfast stones remain. The tallest upright stone is 0.8 metres high, but the largest stone is a recumbent stone (St. G. Gray's No. 13) which is 1.9 metres long and 0.7 metres wide. The mound shown by St. G. Gray at SS 8453 4467 is a robbed and overgrown cairn. It has a maximum height of 0.4 metres and is listed by Grinsell as Porlock No. 3. Surveyed at 1:2500. [2-4] (SS 84514466) Stone Circle (NR) (SS 84534468) Cairn (NR) SS 844447. [5] This circle was greatly disturbed during the 1939-45 war. Many of the stones have fallen around a 24.4 metres circle, one about 1.9 metres at the south south east. [6] Stone circle, Porlock Common. Scheduled. [7] Additional Bibliography. [8,9] Porlock Stone Circle SS 8451 4466. This monument is situated towards the south edge of Porlock Common, on flattish ground just above the gentle southwest slope to Colley Water, which rises 300 metres to the East-South-East. There are views to the south and west across Porlock Allotment. Of 21 stones in an earlier survey [2] only 14 remain. Seven are standing, seven are fallen. Three stones have fallen since the earlier survey. Most noticeable is the disappearance of five stones from the south-west arc. One stone appears to be modern. All are of local sandstone. The fallen stones appear to lie close to their original positions; together with the surviving uprights they form a true (though not perfect) circle of circa 24.5 metres diameter. The majority of the stones are quite small but typical of Exmoor, only the fallen stone reaching unusually large proportions. The standing stones all have their major axis aligned around the circumference of the circle. The status of the central stone, Grays `central picket' is not at all certain. Central stones do occur elsewhere but are not common [6] and in this case unconvincing. A cairn formerly recorded with this circle is now recorded separately as SS 84 SW 129. It lies only 20 metres north-east of the circle centre. `Recumbant stones' north-east of the circle [13] could not be identified. There is a general scatter of stones around the site but none which can be reliably connected. [10-12] The disappearance of one third of the stones since 1928 is alarming. The site is close to a gate and cattle pens and persistently trampled, vehicles pass close by and two stones have been recently chipped. [13] Some of the stones may have been removed but the earthfast ones remain. The tallest is 0.8 metres high but the largest is recumbent, 1.9 metres long and 0.7 metres wide (Gray's no 13). [14] Scheduled as AM 201 but not yet visited by HBMC Field Monument Warden. Other stones and mounds nearby may be connected ((MSO7926, MSO7924, MSO7925, MSO11544). [15] Mr St George Gray was informed by ET MacDermot of the existence of the stone circle in 1928. It was found to be eighty feet in diameter and the survey shows 21 stones remaining, some very small, the largest (now recumbent) 6.3 feet in length. When the survey was made, there were 10 standing stones and stumps remaining, and 11 stones prostrate, all of which fell pretty accurately on the line of the circle except those on the south and southwest. But during the war it is believed that the circle was somewhat disturbed in military training. The stones are green micaceous sandstone, presumably of Devonian age and probably of local origin. [16] HBMC FMW reports indicate rapid deterioration of the ground surface around the site 1988-9. [19] One of the stones has been removed and taken from the site leaving a clean hole. [21] The missing stone is no 11. It is shown as a squarish 'post' on the RCHME plan, and there is a squarish hole (very fresh) at that location. [22,23] The Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment of 2009 gave the site a survival score of 7. [24] The site was visited in April 2011. A number of empty stoneholds and displaced stones could be seen but limited-scale excavation was not deemed viable because of Harold St George Gray's excavations in 1928 and the possibility that small-scale excavations could accidentally be placed within a disturbed area. The site was therefore subject to geopysical survey. Resistivity was undertaken on a 60 x 60 metre area, which revealed a number of anomalies, including three sub-rectangular high resistance features that appear to cluster around the circle (in a petal-like manner) with a fourth amongst the moor grass to the northwest. A pair of linked semi-circular high-resistance features in the southwest corner of the survey area also appeared to be structural. Unfortunately, there was no clear indication of any discrete trenching within the circle area and it was thought that only large-scale area excavation would provide evidence for previous excavations. A fluxgate gradiometry survey on a 40x60m subset was then focused on the stones but revealed little more than an apparently random spread of isolated magnetic anomalies, with the exception of two clusters of such anomalies (one adjacent to the southeast edge of the circle and one to the northwest) that could be indicative of more sustained disturbance. [25] The site was surveyed in May 2015 as part of the 2015 Exmoor Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment. It was given a survival score of 5. [26] A programme of targeted survey and excavation was carried out in order to investigate the surviving fabric of Porlock Stone Circle and a nearby stone row and determine the impact of early excavation and subsequent damage to these monuments. In more detail, fieldwork entailed geophysical survey alongside the production of a detailed drawn record of the surviving stones of the monuments and targeted excavation. It was noted in the report that the monument has both lost and gained stones during recent history, with some remaining original stones being toppled, moved or reerected. Geophysical survey noted a number of features around the circle, including three subrectangular high resistance anomalies that appear to mark the boundaries of a series of features leaving no surface trace whatsoever, radiating from the circle in a petal-like manner. Otherwise, apart from showing recent disturbance (possibly including the 1928 excavations), the survey provided little further information on the circle itself. Excavation revealed that a stone recorded as 19 by Gray has been replaced by another within the same socket and stone 23 was a completely new stone. A further two stoneholes were also recorded, one of which accepted a nearby recumbant standing stone and was probably its original hole. Further features included various cut features and several stakeholes, one of which still included a wooden stake pierced by a modern nail and probably indicated a recent date. No contemporary artefactual material was recovered. At the end of excavations, stones 19 and 23 were reinserted into their sockets and the prehistoric stone holes lined with terram and their respective assemblages of packing stones placed within it. It was noted that Porlock Circle as it exists today is an amalgamation of (presumably) prehistoric and wholly modern standing stones. The latter can be distinguished by the expedient way in which their shallow stoneholes have been created and the lack of packing to ensure stability. It was also noted that the Circle is likely to be part of a larger set of features that may well predate creation of the monument. Finally, it was suggested that that a very deliberate strategy with regard to the size and shape of the component stones was intended from the start. Rather than stumps or very small stones, those just poking above the surface may in fact be much more substantial stones that have been set to achieve precisely that effect. Likewise the leaning of the larger stone components and hints of patterning with respect to large/small stone placement. [27] One of two confirmed Stone Circles on Exmoor spanning 24.5m in diameter. The site is situated 40m northwest of the gate to Porlock Allotment, and is very close to the field boundary. Following the 2013 excavation and survey, 22 stones were identified in total. This survey identified 21 of those already recorded including an additional hollow (Stone 3), buried in thick rushes between Stone 4 and 2, and a potential location for a buried stone, Stone 27, between Stone 13 and 25. Overall the condition of the site is considered to be good. [28] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [30]

Sources/Archives (30)

  • <1> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1962. 6 Inch Map: 1962. 1:10560.
  • <2> Article in serial: Gray, H. St. G.. 1928. The Porlock stone circle, Exmoor. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Society. 74. Part II, pp 71-77. P. 71-77.
  • <3> Article in serial: Grinsell, L.V.. 1969. Somerset Barrows. Part I: West and South. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. 113.
  • <4> Unpublished document: PITCHER, GHP. 1960s. Field Investigators Comments. Ordnance Survey visit, F1, 8 January 1965.
  • <5> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1978. 1:10,000 Map, 1978. 1:10,000.
  • <6> Monograph: Burl, A.. 1976. The Stone Circles of the British Isles. Yale University Press. P. 205-208, 300-301.
  • <7> Unpublished document: Various. Scheduled Monument Notification . DOE(IAM)AMs Eng 2 1978 117.
  • <8> Monograph: Dobson, D.P.. 1931. The Archaeology of Somerset. P. 59.
  • <9> Serial: Royal Archaeological Institute. 1844 onwards. The Archaeological Journal. Volume 107, 1950, P. 87.
  • <10> Technical drawing: Sainsbury, I. and Pattison, P.. 1990. Porlock Stone Circle/pencil survey . 1:200. Permatrace. Pencil.
  • <11> Technical drawing: Pattison, P.. 1990. Porlock Stone Circle/ink survey . 1:200. Permatrace. Pen and Ink.
  • <12> Unpublished document: Pattison, P. Various. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 22 January 1990.
  • <13> Report: Quinnell, N.V. and Dunn, C.J.. 1992. Lithic monuments within the Exmoor National Park: A new survey for management purposes by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England.. Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. P. 63 SS84SW10.
  • <14> Map: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1965. SS84SW. 10.
  • <15> Unassigned: Dennison, E, Somerset County Council. 24.04.84.
  • <16> Article in serial: Gray, H.St.G.. 1950. Porlock Stone Circle. Archaeological Journal. 107. 87-88. 87-8.
  • <17> Article in serial: Fowler, MJ. 1988. The Standing Stones of Exmoor. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. 132. 1-13 (Porlock 3).
  • <18> Monograph: Pevsner, N.. 1958. The Buildings of England: South and West Somerset. Penguin Books. P. 276.
  • <19> Index: 1990. English Heritage Scheduled Ancient Monument Record.
  • <20> Aerial photograph: 1990. DAP QP10,11 (1990) SCED.
  • <21> Monograph: Amy Giggs. 26/11/2003. Richard Huish College.
  • <22> Unpublished document: Wilson-North R, Exmoor National Park Archaeologist. 18/12/2003. email to HER.
  • <23> Map: RCHME. 1989. 1:500.
  • <24> Report: Bray, L.S.. 2009. Final Results Table: Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment.
  • <25> Report: Gillings, M & Taylor, J. 2011. The Miniliths of Exmoor Project: Fieldwork at Furzehill Common & Porlock Stone Circle, April 2011. 9-12.
  • <26> Report: Gent, T. and Manning, P.. 2015. Exmoor National Park Scheduled Monument Condition Survey 2015. Archaedia.
  • <27> Report: Gillings, M.. 2013. Excavation and Survey at Porlock Circle and stone row, Exmoor.
  • <28> Report: Fuller, J.. 2018. Exmoor Prehistoric Standing Stone Condition Survey: 2017-2018. MSO7898.
  • <29> Artwork: Maryan Green, C.. 2013. Dig Porlock 2013. Oil.
  • <30> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 36228, Extant 22 June 2021.

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO11540
  • Local List Status (Rejected)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 84 SW10
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 36228
  • Somerset SMR PRN (Somerset): 33935



Grid reference Centred SS 8450 4466 (27m by 28m) Centred on
Map sheet SS84SW

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Record last edited

Mar 2 2022 2:59PM


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