MDE1223 - Old Burrow Roman Fortlet, Countisbury (Monument)

Summary

A square enclosure some 44 metres across within a subcircular enclosure 85 metres across. Excavations in 1911 and the 1960s suggest that the site was briefly occupied in the mid 1st Century AD.

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Type and Period (2)

Protected Status

Full Description

'Old Barrow' is marked on historic mapping. [1] The Roman character of this earthwork was established in 1911 by H.St.G. Gray. An excavation in 1911 established that the ditch was about 1.5 metres deep and had a V-shaped profile. [2] It consists of two concentric enclosures, 60 to 70 feet apart. The inner, which is rectilinear, measures 87 by 93 feet and is bivallate. The outer, which is more circular, is 295 feet in diameter, and univallate. A Denarius of Tiberius (AD 14-37) and of Claudius (AD 41-54) found in the cook-house area, plus other finds, indicate construction and occupation, probably 48-54 AD. [3] The rampart was recorded as being just over 4 metres wide at the base and about 1.5 metres high. A single gap of about 5 metres exists in this outer circuit on its southwest side. Excavation failed to locate any associated structure and it was suggested that this entrance was never defended. The outer enclosure either acted as an additional defence or provided a temporary defence whilst the inner enclosure was being constructed. Lying in the centre of the enclosure, and surrounded by a flat 15 metre wide strip of ground between it and the outer rampart, is the double ditched inner enclosure of the fortlet. This is square and its entrance faces seaward. The two ditches of the inner enclosure were excavated in 1963. Both were found to be V shaped; the inner ditch having a maximum width of nearly 2 metres and a depth of about 1.8 metres, whilst the outer ditch was narrower and shallower with a maximum width of 1.7 metres and a depth of under 1 metre. Behind the ditches was a 3 metre wide and 1.5 metre high rampart of soil revetted with turf. Excavation also revealed the post holes of a timber gateway which would have guarded the entrance to the inner enclosure. The entrance, which was formed by a causeway across the ditches, was metalled and about 3 metres wide. Unlike Martinhoe, which it predates, Old Burrow produced no Roman pottery, only native wares. Although occupation here was brief, it was for more than one season, as the large oven had been rebuilt after collapse. Lady Fox says 'The excavations have shown that the two fortlets (Old Barrow and Martinhoe, 11 miles to the west) were successive and not contemporary constructions. It is, therefore, less likely that either was part of a chain of signal-posts'. [4] Old Barrow, the Roman fortlet and signal station, is very well preserved apart from minor excavation disturbance mainly on the east side. It is under moorland vegetation. [5] Old Burrow was resurveyed at 1:2500. It was well preserved apart from minor excavation disturbance, mainly on the east side. Old Barrow and Martinhoe fortlets are not intervisible. [6] This site was surveyed by staff of RCHME in December 1993. [8] Further survey work was carried out by RCHME staff in August 1997. The site was surveyed at 1:500. The earthworks are in an excellent state of preservation, crisp and well defined except where excavation has taken place. The site comprises two elements - a square inner enclosure 25.5 metres across, defined by a prominent rampart with two outer ditches separated by a sharp narrow bank, 13 metres wide in total. The entrance is 3.5 metres wide on the north side. The outer enclosure is sub-circular, 80-90 metres in diameter, with an external ditch, 8-11 metres wide, on a more massive scale than the inner enclosure. The entrance is 3.5 metres wide on the south-south-west side. Excavators thought the outer enclosure was a primary feature, but it seems unlikely as it would have required similar, if not greater effort to build the more substantial outer earthwork. The survey shows how the two excavations have disturbed and blurred the form of the earthworks. Further damage has been caused by rabbit burrowing into the earthworks. The earthwork plan of the 1960s is based on an accurate survey, but depiction was influenced by results of the excavation and is not a reliable depiction of the physical form of the monument. A slight spread scarp is observed between the inner and outer enclosures, which was not identified before. It is possibly the result of making a level platform for construction of the inner enclosure. The site previously lay on heather moorland. It now lies in a field of improved pasture, surrounded by a management fence, which detracts from the setting as it follows the earthworks too closely, and in places impinging on archaeological remains. [13] The signal station at Old Burrow was excavated in 1963. It is situated on moorland overlooking the Bristol Channel. It consists of two enclosures; the outer univallate, the inner bivallate, which were entered on the landward and seaward sides respectively. As at Martinhoe, it was designed so that attackers would have to make a half-circuit of the defences under fire from the inner rampart. Two trenches were cut across the inner enclosure in 1911 by Mr St. George Gray. Finds included undated roman pottery and a Dolabra. Excavations revealed that the outer enclosure was the primary construction with its rampart rapidly thrown-up. Scattered patches of burning where the builders had made their fires within the enclosure were found. Defences of the inner enclosure were carefully constructed; the main rampart was revetted with turf on both sides with soil from the ditch tipped between. The entrance was by a metalled causeway, and the passage through the rampart was revetted with six large timber uprights, possibly supporting a tower (set in holes 600-900 millimetres apart and 150 millimetres deep). The gates would have closed on a sill-beam of which the emplacement was visible. The east half of the interior was cleared. No remains of timber barracks were found as at Martinhoe; only some scattered post-holes 75-150 millimetres in diameter indicative of tent poles. A well preserved cook-house was found, constructed with a framework of upright 100 millimetres stakes, filled with watling and daubed over with clay. Old Burrow was a Roman military outpost, built for temporary use in the Claudian period (AD 48-54) to keep watch on the Silures. [26] The 1911 excavations produced a paucity of remains and gave little data with which to decide the periods of construction of the various parts of the site. [31] Measurements of the earthworks are given. There is also a small mound exactly in the centre. [32] The site lies in a field which is cultivated, but the Scheduled area has been safeguarded through management agreements. Finds from the 1963 excavation are on display in the Barnstaple Athenaeum. [36] The fortlet is illustrated in Wilson. The outer rampart, enclosing a stores compound, is less regular than that of the fortlet proper. [37] There is a comparison with a fortlet near Penrith. [43] The possible trace of an outer work to the northwest is shown on aerial photography. [46] This small earthwork on the North Devon coast was a look out for a detachment of the Roman Army, built soon after the conquest of the West Country, about AD 50-55. It is situated on a rounded hilltop 333 metres high at the head of the Coscombe Valley, which runs steeply down to the sea. The site commands an extensive view over the Bristol Channel. Excavations were carried out in 1911 by St. George Gray of Taunton Museum, and in 1963, by Fox and Ravenhill of Exeter University. The earthwork consists of two concentric enclosures 18-21 metres apart. Four large postholes cut 1 metre deep into the underlying rock, in the 3 metre wide passage between the ends of the rampart, indicated there had been a gate tower. No remains of permanent buildings were found in the fortlet, suggesting that the troops were living in tents. Cooking was done behind the southern rampart in an exceptionally large field oven, nearly 6 metres long and 1.25 metres wide. Coins and a little pottery from the excavations indicated that the fortlet was constructed at the time of the Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54). The occupation was brief, perhaps only three or four summers. [47] Wilson classes Old Burrow among his "2a" category of Roman forts: where an outer enclosure entirely surrounds the fort. He comments on the contrast between the square fort and circular enclosure, and suggests that the outer enclosure was used for beacon material and stores. [51] Sscheduled Monument Consent was granted for infilling of hollows and reseeding. [52] Allcroft gives a glowing account of the site. He makes passing reference to a series of enclosures outside the fortification proper, and to recent (in 1908) peat stripping outside the site on the south-east, which produced no occupation traces. [61] The outer defences are defined by a rampart and ditch, forming a near circular enclosure, some 98 metres in diameter. [66] Part of the interior of the inner enclosure was excavated in 1963. Built against the north rampart was a circular field oven and against the inside of the south rampart were the remains of a cookhouse which, from its burnt clay flooring, was interpreted as a large oven. Elsewhere, post holes and stake holes were interpreted as evidence for tents; no post trenches for timber barracks were located, although these could yet lie in the unexcavated areas. If the accommodation was tented then some form of protective framing might have been employed to offer shelter to the tents in such an exposed location. This might account for the postholes. An analogy with the fortlet at Martinhoe, where the remains of two timber barracks were excavated within a near total excavation of its interior, it seems possible that Old Burrow was designed to hold a similar unit, presumably of auxiliary troops. At Martinhoe, a total of 65-80 men was postulated. No evidence for a signalling beacon has been recovered in association with the fortlet at Old Burrow, unlike Martinhoe. Possibly occupied by auxiliary troops who accompanied Leg II Augusta. There are high levels of gorse at the site, which appear to have spread markedly from the situation in 1989, where the gorse was more confined to the north side (see Griffith aerial photographs). [68] Old Burrow Roman fortlet was constructed in the mid First century AD. It survives as a series of earthworks and buried remains, which comprise an inner fortlet defended by two ditches and a rampart, surrounded by a further rampart and a single ditch. Traces of a field oven and cookhouse were discovered within the fortlet, along with post- and stakeholes, interpreted as evidence for tents. [69] A ditch defined track or road, possibly associated with the fortlet, is visible as a faint cropmark on aerial photographs of 1974. The trackway is visible as parallel cropmarks approximately 2 to 3 metres apart, up to 2 metres wide. It is visible for a total of roughly 500 metres; 170 metres to the north-east of the fortlet, 340 metres to the south-west. The trackway to the south-west of the fortlet is visible at its western end as a soilmark, at which it becomes somewhat unclear. The north-eastern end of this section appears to be aligned on the entrance in the fortlet's outer enclosure. The cropmarks may be the remains of a narrow ditch defined trackway, or be forming over ruts worn by the passage of wheeled vehicles. [70] A new permissive path has been opened in order to give the public continued access to the site. At the same time minor repairs to the banks and ditches were carried out. [71] The Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment of 2009 gave the site a survival score of 8. [74] This feature is visible on the c. 1841 Countisbury Tithe map. [75] The site was surveyed in May 2015 as part of the 2015 Exmoor Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment. It was given a survival score of 9. [76] Lidar data for the site suggests that the area of the fortlet and the surface for a roadway were prepared prior to the construction of the ramparts etc. A possible regular, straight sided Roman Army construction camp was also noted to the southwest of the site (see MEM24533), as was the road leading to the site from the southwest. [80]

Sources/Archives (81)

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  • <64> Unpublished document: McDonnell, R.. 1980. Gazetteer of Sites in the Exmoor National Park Identified through Aerial Photography. SS7332A, SS7432A, SS7849C.
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  • <68> Report: Salvatore, J.P.. 2002. English Heritage Monument Protection Programme. Site Visit 18/04/2002. MPP 1444556. Salvatore, J.P..
  • <69> Index: Scheduled Monument Notification . English Heritage Scheduling Amendment. 03/09/2002.
  • <70> Aerial photograph: National Monuments Record. NMR OS/74179 009-010, 18/07/1974.
  • <71> Article in serial: Wilson-North, R.. 2003. Roman Fortlet at Old Burrow. Park Life. 12.
  • <72> Unpublished document: Exmoor National Park Authority. 2004. The Romans are Coming to Exmoor.
  • <73> Technical drawing: Unknown. Unknown. Old Burrow Roman Fortlet.
  • <74> Report: Bray, L.S.. 2010. Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment 2009, Exmoor National Park.
  • <75> Map: <1841. Countisbury Tithe Map and Apportionment.
  • <76> Report: Gent, T. and Manning, P.. 2015. Exmoor National Park Scheduled Monument Condition Survey 2015.
  • <77> Projected and video material: Exmoor National Park Authority. 2004. Revealing Exmoor's Past: Old Burrow Roman Fortlet.
  • <78> Article in serial: Caitling, C.. 2012. The Past From the Air: The origins of aerial photography. Current Archaeology. 272. 35.
  • <79> Report: Wilson-North, R. + Cowley, J.. 2004. Exmoor National Park Monument Management Scheme 2003-4.
  • <80> Unpublished document: Kaye, S.. 2018. RE: MDE1223 - Old Burrow Roman Fortlet; observations.

Map

Location

Grid reference Centred SS 7874 4928 (527m by 264m) (Estimated from sources)
Map sheet SS74NE
Civil Parish COUNTISBURY, NORTH DEVON, DEVON

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Related Events/Activities (5)

Related Articles (1)

External Links (1)

Other Statuses/References

  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 671
  • Devon SMR: SS74NE/501
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 74 NE4
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • Pastscape HOBID (was Monarch UID): 35112
  • Register of Scheduled Monuments: 33033
  • Scheduled Monument (County Number): 39

Record last edited

Jun 4 2019 4:11PM

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