MDE1223 - Old Burrow Roman Fortlet, Countisbury (Monument)
Please read the caveat document.
Type and Period (2)
'Old Barrow' is marked on historic mapping.  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.  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.  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'.  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.  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.  This site was surveyed by staff of RCHME in December 1993.  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.  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.  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.  Measurements of the earthworks are given. There is also a small mound exactly in the centre.  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.  The fortlet is illustrated in Wilson. The outer rampart, enclosing a stores compound, is less regular than that of the fortlet proper.  There is a comparison with a fortlet near Penrith.  The possible trace of an outer work to the northwest is shown on aerial photography.  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.  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.  Sscheduled Monument Consent was granted for infilling of hollows and reseeding.  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.  The outer defences are defined by a rampart and ditch, forming a near circular enclosure, some 98 metres in diameter.  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).  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.  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.  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.  The Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment of 2009 gave the site a survival score of 8.  This feature is visible on the c. 1841 Countisbury Tithe map.  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.  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.  A paper suggests that the landscape position of the fortlet implies it was intended to strengthen preexisting measures to counter coastal raiding.  The site has extensive views of the Bristol Channel but only a limited view inland and is not intervisible with Martinhoe Beacon (MDE1020), with which it may or may not be contemporary. Jones disputes that the forts were positioned to deal with a naval threat and notes that visibility at both sites often does not allow a good view of Wales apart from in the very best weather conditions. He instead suggests the sites may have acted as observation posts or headland warning beacons, with nearby safe haven protection and possibly with a "lighthouse" capability. 
- <1> SEM7220 Map: Ordnance Survey. 1962. 6 Inch Map: 1962. 1:10560.
- <2> SMO7158 Article in serial: Gray, H.St.G.. 1912. A Survey of Old Burrow Camp, Exmoor. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 44. Plan and Sections, P.703-717, Pl.1 - 5.
- <3> SDE340404 Article in serial: Fox, A. + Ravenhill, W.. 1965. Martinhoe and Old Burrow. Antiquity. 39. P.253-258.
- <4> SEM7057 Article in serial: Fox, A. + Ravenhill, W.L.D.. 1966. Early Roman Outposts on the North Devon Coast, Old Burrow and Martinhoe. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Society. 24. P.3-39.
- <5> SMO5308 Verbal communication: Various. Various. Oral Information. The Owner, Glenthorne Estate, Countisbury.
- <6> SMO5103 Unpublished document: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Field Investigators Comments. Fletcher, M.J.F., 30/09/1974.
- <7> SMO4730 Monograph: Frere, S.S. + Joseph, J.K.S.St.. 1983. Roman Britain from the Air. Cambridge University Press. P.137 - 139, Photo.
- <8> SMO5111 Unpublished document: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. Field Investigators Comment. Wilson-North, R. 14/12/1993.
- <9> SMO5831 Collection: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. Exmoor Project.
- <10> SMO4896 Survey: Old Burrow Roman Fortlet / Ink Survey. 1:1000. General: Permatrace. Pen and Ink.
- <11> SMO4897 Survey: Old Burrow Roman Fortlet / Pencil Survey. 1:1000. General: Permatrace. Pencil.
- <12> SMO4898 Overlay: Riley, H. & Wilson-North, R.. 1993. Old Burow Roman Fortlet / Excavation Overlay. 1:1000. General: Permatrace. Pen and Ink.
- <13> SMO5111 Unpublished document: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. Field Investigators Comment. Wilson-North, R. 11/09/1997.
- <14> SMO5075 Survey: Riley, H. & Wilson-North, R.. 1987. Old Burrow / Ink Survey. 1:500. General: Permatrace. Pen and Ink.
- <15> SMO1750 Photograph: Gray, H.St.G.. Excavation of Fortlet / Signal Station. BB72/01038. B/W.
- <16> SMO6075 Collection: Victoria History of the Counties of England: Illustrations and Proofs.
- <17> SMO1747 Photograph: Gray, H.St.G.. Excavation of Fortlet / Signal Station. BB72/01035. B/W.
- <18> SMO1748 Photograph: Gray, H.St.G.. Excavation of Fortlet / Signal Station. BB72/01036. B/W.
- <19> SMO1749 Photograph: Gray, H.St.G.. Excavation of Fortlet / Signal Station. BB72/01037. B/W.
- <20> SMO1751 Photograph: Gray, H.St.G.. Excavation of Fortlet / Signal Station. BB72/01039. B/W.
- <21> SMO1754 Photograph: Gray, H.St.G.. Excavation of Fortlet / Signal Station. BB72/01042. B/W.
- <22> SMO1776 Photograph: Roman Fortlet / Signal Station to keep watch on the Silures. BB74/04420. B/W.
- <23> SMO1752 Photograph: Gray, H.St.G.. Excavation of Fortlet / Signal Station. BB72/01040. B/W.
- <24> SMO1753 Photograph: Gray, H.St.G.. Excavation of Fortlet / Signal Station. BB72/01041. B/W.
- <25> SMO1755 Photograph: Gray, H.St.G.. Excavation of Fortlet / Signal Station. BB72/01043. B/W.
- <26> SDE29585 Article in serial: Barber, J.. 1965. 28th Report on Archaeology. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. P.102 - 104.
- <27> SEM7424 Article in serial: Fox, A.. 1964. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society.
- <28> SEM7425 Article in serial: Bushe-Fox, J.P.. 1932. Journal of Roman Studies. 22. P.71-72.
- <29> SEM7426 Article in serial: 1964. Interim Report, Journal of the Royal Society, 54. Journal of the Royal Society. 54. P.171.
- <30> SEM7427 Article in serial: Joseph, J.K.St.. 1953. Journal of Roman Studies. 43. P.81-97.
- <31> SEM7428 Article in serial: 1912. Devon: Burrow Camp, Exmoor, on the Eastern Side of Countisbury. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 18. P.238.
- <32> SMO4103 Monograph: Page, W. (editor). 1906. The Victoria History of the County of Devon. Archibald Constable and Company, Limited (London). 1. P.594 - 595, Plan.
- <33> SEM6707 Aerial photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. RAF/CPE/UK/1980.4039, - /4/1947.
- <34> SEM7408 Aerial photograph: Meridian Air Maps. 1977-1978. Infrared False Colour Aerial Photography. MAM/13/032, - /5/1977.
- <35> SEM7429 Article in serial: Radford, C.A.R.. 1934 - 1935. Roman Signal Stations in North Devon. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 18. P.214.
- <36> SMO5308 Verbal communication: Various. Various. Oral Information. Timms, S.C., 18/10/1982.
- <37> SEM7430 Monograph: Wilson, D.R.. 1982. Air Photo Interpretation for Archaeologists. P.100 - 101, Pl. 576.
- <38> SEM7431 Aerial photograph: National Monuments Record. SS7849/3/216, 01/03/1979.
- <39> SEM7432 Article in serial: 1931. Old Burrow Camp. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. 77. 1. P.70 - 72.
- <40> SEM7433 Article in serial: Gray, H.St.G.. 1947. The Rude Stone Monuments of Exmoor. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. 93. P.19 - 20.
- <41> SEM7434 Article in serial: Grinsell, I.V.. 1965. Somerset Archaeology. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. 109. P.60 - 61.
- <42> SEM7435 Article in serial: Collingwood, R.G.. 1924. Roman Milestones in Cornwall. Antiquaries Journal. 4. P.110.
- <43> SEM7436 Article in serial: 1931. Notes: A New Roman Fort in Cumberland. Antiquaries Journal. 11. P.70.
- <44> SEM7171 Aerial photograph: Griffith, F.. 1980s-1990s. Oblique aerial photographs of the Devon part of Exmoor National Park. DAP/B 8, 14/08/1983.
- <45> SEM7431 Aerial photograph: National Monuments Record. NMR SS7949.SF 1459/414, 01/03/1979.
- <46> SEM7431 Aerial photograph: National Monuments Record. NMR SS7849.SF 1459/406, 01/03/1979.
- <47> SEM7169 Leaflet: Fox, A.. 1989. Old Burrow, Countisbury: An Early Roman Fortlet. Devon Archaeological Society. Field Guide Number Six.
- <48> SEM7437 Aerial photograph: Cambridge University Collection. CUC/BAE 97-98, 26/11/1969.
- <49> SEM7437 Aerial photograph: Cambridge University Collection. CUC/BCU 72, 03/07/1970.
- <50> SEM7437 Aerial photograph: Cambridge University Collection. CUC/AW 71-73, 29/06/1948.
- <51> SEM7438 Article in serial: Wilson, D.R.. 1984. Defensive Outworks of Roman Forts in Britain. Britannia : A Journal of Romano-British and Kindred Studies. 15. P.53 - 55.
- <52> SEM7439 Unpublished document: Department of the Environment. Scheduled Monument Consent Letter. 15/04/1987, in Devon HER Parish file.
- <53> SEM7223 Map: Ordnance Survey. 1892-1906. County Series, 2nd Edition 6 Inch Map. 1:10560. 3NE & SE.
- <54> SEM7171 Aerial photograph: Griffith, F.. 1980s-1990s. Oblique aerial photographs of the Devon part of Exmoor National Park. DAP/LD 17-19, -/01/1989.
- <55> SEM7171 Aerial photograph: Griffith, F.. 1980s-1990s. Oblique aerial photographs of the Devon part of Exmoor National Park. DAP/LF 12-14, -/01/1989.
- <56> SEM6894 Report: Wilson-North, R.. 1999. Old Burrow and Martinhoe: The Roman Fortlets on Exmoor. P.3-6.
- <57> SEM7171 Aerial photograph: Griffith, F.. 1980s-1990s. Oblique aerial photographs of the Devon part of Exmoor National Park. DAP/QL 13-15, 15/03/1990.
- <58> SEM7171 Aerial photograph: Griffith, F.. 1980s-1990s. Oblique aerial photographs of the Devon part of Exmoor National Park. DAP/UA 13-15, 15/03/1991.
- <59> SEM7171 Aerial photograph: Griffith, F.. 1980s-1990s. Oblique aerial photographs of the Devon part of Exmoor National Park. DAP/UB 1-4, 01/03/1991.
- <60> SEM7171 Aerial photograph: Griffith, F.. 1980s-1990s. Oblique aerial photographs of the Devon part of Exmoor National Park. DAP/AAT 11-12, 23/07/1996.
- <61> SMO5064 Monograph: Allcroft, A.H.. 1908. Earthwork of England: Prehistoric, Roman, Saxon, Danish, Norman, and Mediaeval. Macmillan (London). P.42, 116-118.
- <62> SEM6795 Article in serial: Chanter, J.F.. 1906. The Parishes of Lynton and Countisbury. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 38. P.119.
- <63> SDE93444 Article in serial: Alexander, J.J.. 1933. The Beginnings of Ilfracombe. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 65. P.207-208, 211.
- <64> SEM7406 Unpublished document: McDonnell, R.. 1980. Gazetteer of Sites in the Exmoor National Park Identified through Aerial Photography. SS7332A, SS7432A, SS7849C.
- <65> SDE135893 Leaflet: Devon Archaeological Society. 1989. Hembury. Devon Archaeological Society. Field Guide 5.
- <66> SEM7440 Monograph: Riley, H. and Wilson-North, R.. 2001. The Field Archaeology of Exmoor. English Heritage. P.76.
- <67> SDE340401 Article in serial: Dix, B.. 2000. North Devon and Exmoor: Report and Proceedings of the Royal Archaeological Institute. Archaeological Journal. 157. P.407-466.
- <68> SDE93360 Report: Salvatore, J.P.. 2002. English Heritage Monument Protection Programme. Site Visit 18/04/2002. MPP 1444556. Salvatore, J.P..
- <69> SMO4073 Index: Scheduled Monument Notification . English Heritage Scheduling Amendment. 03/09/2002.
- <70> SEM7431 Aerial photograph: National Monuments Record. NMR OS/74179 009-010, 18/07/1974.
- <71> SEM6757 Article in serial: Wilson-North, R.. 2003. Roman Fortlet at Old Burrow. Park Life. 12.
- <72> SEM7125 Unpublished document: Exmoor National Park Authority. 2004. The Romans are Coming to Exmoor.
- <73> SEM7946 Technical drawing: Unknown. Unknown. Old Burrow Roman Fortlet.
- <74> SEM7402 Report: Bray, L.S.. 2010. Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment 2009, Exmoor National Park.
- <75> SEM8072 Map: <1841. Countisbury Tithe Map and Apportionment.
- <76> SEM8278 Report: Gent, T. and Manning, P.. 2015. Exmoor National Park Scheduled Monument Condition Survey 2015.
- <77> SEM7645 Projected and video material: Exmoor National Park Authority. 2004. Revealing Exmoor's Past: Old Burrow Roman Fortlet.
- <78> SEM8234 Article in serial: Caitling, C.. 2012. The Past From the Air: The origins of aerial photography. Current Archaeology. 272. 35.
- <79> SEM7100 Report: Wilson-North, R. + Cowley, J.. 2004. Exmoor National Park Monument Management Scheme 2003-4.
- <80> SEM8595 Unpublished document: Kaye, S.. 2018. RE: MDE1223 - Old Burrow Roman Fortlet; observations.
- <81> SEM8668 Article in serial: Symonds, M.. 2018. A composite coastal cordon on Exmoor? Exploring local influence on First-Century AD fortlet use. Britannia : A Journal of Romano-British and Kindred Studies. 49. 53-77.
- <82> SEM8798 Unpublished document: Jones, J.E.. 2004. Water transport in the Bristol Channel, Wales and the Marches, during the Romano-British period. 70-73, 75, 87, 144, 184, 188, 246-247.
|Grid reference||Centred SS 7874 4928 (527m by 264m) (Estimated from sources)|
|Civil Parish||COUNTISBURY, NORTH DEVON, DEVON|
Related Monuments/Buildings (1)
Related Events/Activities (5)
- Event - Survey: 2014: DBA - Exmoor Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey (EEM14294)
- Event - Intervention: Field observation on SS 74 NE 4 (EMO885)
- Event - Intervention: OLD BURROW CASTLE (Ref: EI 12222) (EMO4984)
- Event - Intervention: OLD BURROW ROMAN FORTLET (Ref: EI 12221) (EMO4983)
- Event - Survey: RCHME: Exmoor (EMO6590)
Related Articles (1)
External Links (1)
- http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=35112 (Pastscape entry: 35112)
- 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
Aug 17 2020 12:02PM
Your feedback is welcome. If you can provide any new information about this record, please contact us.