MSO8633 - Prehistoric settlement and field system on Withycombe Hill (Monument)


A multi phase site including a hut circle settlement and possibly late prehistoric field system is visible on aerial photographs and has been subject to field survey.

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Type and Period (2)

Protected Status

Full Description

ST 0015 4104. British Village (NR) (Site of) (NAT). [1] An ancient British settlement lying on the southwest declivity of the hill above Withycombe, under the eminence called the Fire beacon, and close to a cottage known as Higher Dumbledeer. The huts were built side by side, in the circumference of a circle of about 480 feet and 160 feet in diameter. The hut circles, about 21 feet in diameter and built with stone, are in some cases perfect in outline, while others are vestigial. Considerable stone robbing has taken place for field drains. The aspect and position of the settlement resembles those found on Dartmoor. A pound was previously thought to be a stone circle. [2] The occupation area represented by the field system centred at SS 999 412 extends for about 450 metres east to west and 100 metres north to south, utilizing a natural south facing platform near the foot of Withycombe Hill. There has been considerable agricultural clearance in the area and in part investigation is hampered by long bracken and brambles. At ST 0005 4109 there is a circular enclosure formed by a stoney bank 0.3 metres high. In the northern part of this enclosure are unsurveyable traces of an inner concentric bank with structures in the interspace. In the vicinity are several mounds which seem to be the result of field clearance. Centred at SS 996 412 are a group of four huts with stone and earth walls approximately 0.5 metres high and one possible hut (SS 9969 4121). All are in a pasture field and have been heaped with clearance stone. No entrances are visible. Interspersed are other clearance mounds. This group was noted by Mr. A.D. Hallam. The settlement is presumably of Iron Age date but there are no records of associated finds, although neolithic scrapers have been found nearby. Surveyed at 1:2500. [3] SS 996 412. Examination of this site in the field showed it to be a multi phase site with small stone built hut remains and platformed fields. There is also evidence to suggest that existing elements in the landscape, like Stapling Lane, may be prehistoric in origin. [4] The earthwork remains of an extensive area of later prehistoric field system survive on the southern and southwestern slopes of Withycombe Hill, centred at ST 0000 4120. The remains cover an area of 24 hectares, from SS 9930 4160 to ST 0035 4105. They survive on both enclosed and common land, and represent an important and remarkable survival. The field system was first recognised as early as 1840 in Savage's "History of the Hundred of Carhampton." [6] He records that Withycombe Hill was common land, but that it had been cultivated in the past, as ridges were evident. "Most of the estates in this parish have rights of common on this hill, and as formerly the occupiers of estates having rights of common used in many instances to cultivate certain parts of the same, there can be little doubt but such was the case here, which accounts for the ridges and decayed mounds that might have been boundaries, which are still to be seen.". In 1855 Jones [2] visited the site and saw the enclosure and stone clearance heaps. He interpreted the latter as hut circles. The field system was surveyed at 1:2500 scale using differential GPS in March 1999 by the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England as part of the Exmoor Project. It comprises 24 hectares of regular field system, surviving mostly on enclosed land. The best preserved part lies between SS 9930 4160 and SS 9985 4125, where 12 rectangular or square fields (about 80 metres square) are defined by spread stony banks or lynchets. Some of these lynchets are substantial features, with a height of 1.2 metres. On the western edge, the boundaries are considerably flattened by later ploughing, but one survives very well as it has been fossilised as an existing field boundary. Very faint plough marks can be discerned, centred at SS 9950 4140, these may well be contemporary with the field system. Some of these field boundaries continued up into the unenclosed land on Withycombe Hill. The vegetation is a particular problem here: much of the area is covered with a dense carpet of particularly prickly gorse. Immediately to the north of a disused stone quarry an L shaped bank is centred at SS 9975 4143. Air photographs [7] show that this was more extensive, but the gorse effectively masks much of the remains. Poaching by cattle near the fence at the top edge of enclosure and the stone quarrying have also made recording and interpretation of features in this area difficult. There is an area of field clearance centred at SS 997 412. There are several stony mounds heaped upon the field boundaries themselves, together with 11 discrete clearance mounds. Although some of these mounds have been interpreted as hut circles in the past [2-4], their morphology suggests that they are all the result of stone clearance. The hollows in the centre of most of the mounds result from the removal of stone, perhaps occurring at the same time as the stone quarries on Withycombe Hill were in use. The location of some of the mounds inside one of the square fields suggests that they are later features rather than contemporary with the field system. The eastern part of the field system lies on the unenclosed land of Withycombe Hill between ST 0010 4110 and 0034 9904. Here, both the vegetation (bracken, gorse and bramble) and poaching by cattle have made the survey and interpretation of the field remains difficult. The general layout corresponds roughly with that to the west. The field banks are slight and stony, with an area of stone clearance centred at ST 0020 4102. Several of these heaps, particularly those close to the edge of the enclosed land, are post medieval in date (a high proportion of concrete and brick is visible). The dating of the whole field system is difficult. It is far more extensive than those which survive on the central moors of Exmoor, such as Honeycombe Hill and Great Hill. These are generally associated with unenclosed settlement and are dated to the Bronze Age. More extensive field systems lie on Codsend Moor, these are of several phases and show both unenclosed and enclosed settlement. The general association of the enclosure with the field system on Withycombe Hill suggests a date of the 1st millennium BC. However, the exact relationship of the enclosure and field system cannot be ascertained due to vegetation and disturbance by cattle. The general layout, size and shape of the fields suggests a later prehistoric date, probably Iron Age and/or Romano-British. This fits with the general context of the area, which is notable for its concentration of Iron Age/Romano British enclosures and hillforts. As such it is the only known example of extensive Iron Age/Romano British field system on Exmoor. [5-9] The field system is clearly visible on aerial photographs taken between 1947 and 1964. The system extends west as far as SS 9945 4138 where several low spread lynchets can be seen. These lynchets resemble both this field system and that north of Withies Brake (MSO9113). It is possible that the field system at Withies Brake is in fact contemporary with this. At SS 9974 4147, close to the summit of Withycombe Hill, an H shaped enclosure is visible as a low earthwork. This enclosure is of a similar construction to that which forms the main area of the settlement, at SS 9968 4122. It is cut by the extant pathway, and may form a previously unknown area of the field system. [10-12] Complex of low and broad banks with a mound and two small circular banks (hut circles?) east of Withes Alders. Probably Iron Age settlement and field system. [7, 17, 18] Series of stone banks forming platforms and lyncheted field boundaries on the northwest side of Withycombe Hill. They average 0.5 metres high with the lynchets 1 metres high The site is divided by a fence with Crown land to east.There is a group of hut circles in the area of SS 996 411 made of small and medium stones. Marked "Settlement" on OS 1:10,000 map with five mounds shown. [19] In private ownership. [20] Likely to be a multi phase site. Hut circle 1: SS 9970 4126 substantial stone mound with slight central depression and well defined entrance onwest side. Unless the stones have been cleared from the field to the mound it seems likely that the walls must have been wide and high. Interior diameter 5 paces, exterior 14 paces, walls 0.75 to 1.0 metres high. Hut circle 2: SS 9971 4125 stony mound with irregular depression and a suggestion of an entrance on southwest side. Built of medium stones, fading in the southeast quadrant. Internal diameter 4 paces, external 13 paces and 0.8 metres high. Three further small mounds to the south which are field clearance heaps. Hut circle 3: SS 9965 4121 roughly circular ring of medium sized stones with no discernible entrance. Internal diameter 4.5 paces, external 11 paces and 0.5 metres high. Hut circle 4: SS 9966 4120 irregular circular mound with offset hollow and possible entrance on the upslope side. Dimensions 4.5 paces, 9 paces and 0.8 metres high. Hut circle 5: SS 9969 4121 group of irregular depressions set on a platform of regular height that is built of the field bank. May be huts or quarries. [21] This record was enhanced as part of the National Record of the Historic Environment to Exmoor National Park Historic Environment Record data transfer project. [22]

Sources/Archives (22)

  • <1> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1888-1914. County Series; 2nd Edition (1st Revision) 6 Inch Map. 1:10560. 1904.
  • <2> Article in serial: Jones, W.A.. 1855. On the geological formations in the Neighbourhood of Dunster. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Society. 6. Part II, pp 138-148. P. 6-8.
  • <3> Unpublished document: Quinnell, N.V.. Field Investigators Comments. Ordnance Survey visit, F1, 6 June 1965.
  • <4> Article in serial: Burrow, I, Minnitt, S and Murless, B. 1982. Somerset Archaeology 1981. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. 126. P. 65-66.
  • <5> Unpublished document: Riley, H.. Field Investigators Comments. RCHME Field Investigation, 1999.
  • <6> Monograph: Savage, J.. 1830. A History of the Hundred of Carhampton. P. 273-4.
  • <7> Aerial photograph: 1947. LHL CPE/UK/1980. 3016, 3189, 3218 and 4285.
  • <8> Technical drawing: Riley, H. and Wilson-North, R.. 1999. Dumbledeer/pencil survey. Permatrace. Pencil.
  • <9> Technical drawing: Riley, H. and Wilson-North, R.. 1999. Dumbledeer/ink survey. Permatrace. Pen and Ink.
  • <10> Aerial photograph: Various. Various. Vertical Aerial Photograph. RAF 543/2821 (F64) 135-136 27-APR-1964.
  • <11> Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. RAF CPE/UK/ 1980 4251-52. 11/04/1947.
  • <12> Archive: Toms, K.. 2007-2009. Exmoor National Park NMP: SS 94 SE. MD002187.
  • <13> Monograph: Savage, J.. 1830. A History of the Hundred of Carhampton.
  • <14> Monograph: Page, J.L.W.. 1890. An Exploration of Exmoor and the Hill Country of West Somerset: With Notes on its Archaeology. P. 59, 80 and 204.
  • <15> Monograph: Dobson, D.P.. 1931. The Archaeology of Somerset. P. 221.
  • <16> Monograph: Phelphs, W. 1839. History of Somersetshire. 2. P. 116.
  • <17> Aerial photograph: September 19. HSL.UK 71-177 Run 99. 8804.
  • <18> Survey: Western Archaeological Trust. 1980s. Exmoor Aerial Photograph Survey. SS9941A.
  • <19> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1978. 1:10,000 SS94SE.
  • <20> Unpublished document: Somerset County Council. Various. Somerset HER parish files - Exmoor records.
  • <21> Survey: RCHME. Exmoor Survey.
  • <22> Digital archive: Historic England. Various. National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE) entry. 188620, Extant 18 May 2022.

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MMO256
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO11705
  • Local List Status (Proposed)
  • National Monuments Record reference: ST 04 SW18
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • NRHE HOB UID (Pastscape): 188620
  • Somerset SMR PRN: 34264



Grid reference Centred SS 9966 4139 (1217m by 858m)
Map sheet SS94SE

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (3)

Related Events/Activities (2)

Related Articles (1)

Record last edited

May 30 2022 11:48PM


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