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Name:Sweetworthy Deserted Medieval Settlement
ENPHER Monument Number:MSO7346
Type of Record:Monument
Grid Reference:SS 8878 4244
Parish:LUCCOMBE, WEST SOMERSET, SOMERSET

Summary

The well-preserved earthwork remains of a deserted medieval farmstead near Sweetworthy Combe, visible as a series of rectilinear enclosures and depressions. The settlement may have contained three houses and half a dozen ancillary structures.

Images

Sweetworthy Deserted Medieval Settlement. 2009  © Exmoor National Park Authority

Sweetworthy Deserted Medieval Settlement. 2009 © Exmoor National Park Authority

Monument Types

Description

SS 88804245. Deserted farmstead of Sweetworthy. Although no buildings are shown on the 1841 tithe map, clear remains can be seen on air photographs. Richard McDonnell discovered the well-preserved earthworks of several medieval buildings and enclosures linked by a hollow way and these can be clearly seen on air photograph near the Sweetworthy ringwork (MSO7333). (1-3)

"The site, together with Bagley (MSO7338) forms the most impressive group of medieval farm sites in West Somerset, particularly since they are associated with several probable prehistoric ringworks (MSO7333, MSO7345, MSO7356) and a number of post-medieval waterleats and field banks". (4)

Centred at SS 8877 4242, at 330 metres Ordnace Datum., is an area of desertion covering 1.5 hectares of well grazed pasture. The east and west sides are bounded by deep stream courses, dry in summer, with a third intermediate and tributary one which effectively separates the settlement into two parts.
The eastern part, at SS 8882 4244, lies on a very slight south west slope. Most prominent is a rectilinear yard or enclosure 33 metres by 10 metres, formed by a turf covered earth and stone bank 0.5 metres high. From it similar banks extend east and west to the old stream cuttings, creating a northern boundary beyond which there is rough pasture on a 1 in 5 slope becoming precipitous towards East Water combe. The enclosure has an entrance gap of 3 metres at the centre of the southern side, flanked on the west by a remnant of bank 12 metres long. To the south east are four rectilinear depressions, 0.1 metres deep, each about 5 metres by 3 metres, open on the lower south west ends. A larger one 9 metres by 6 metes, and 0.2 metres deep, incorporates a single earthfast slab 1.2 metres long and 0.1 metres high. This is in the south west beside a probable entrance gap. 25 metres south east of the primary yard or enclosure a stance, 15 metres by 10 metres has been cut into the slope to a depth of 0.8 metres and contains traces of a structure 12 metres by 6 metres, with an entrance in the south east and access by a passage along the south west side. This seems to be the only house in this part of the complex, the other depressions denoting pens or outbuildings.
There are two incomplete enclosures abutting the south west end of the large yard. It is uncertain if these represent buildings and from one a track like depression 0.1 metres deep runs to the stream channel. Its purpose is obscure for although the stream evidently issued near this point the subsequent cutting is 4 metres deep with precipitous sides, certainly inaccessible to cattle. From near this end of the cutting a linear hollow, 4 metres wide and between 0.4 and 1 metres deep, extends for 35 metres to the south east with a cropmark continuation to the moorland hedge, beyond which there are no traces. Perhaps a hollow way but the possibility of a former spring line cannot be discounted.
From the northern end of the above mentioned hollow there is 15 metres of blank ground and then another angular hollow 20 metres long and 3 metres wide occurs, cut 0.5 metres deep into a local slope. If this is part of the hollow way the whole is oddly discontinuous and takes a curious route, but both ends seem deliberately rounded as if the feature is complete in itself. Desertion in the western part (in which the second hollow occurs), at SS 8874 4243, is on a north slope of 1 in 6, leading to the convergence of the intermediate and western dry stream gullies. In the south are two rectilinear stances, 19 metres by 6 metres, and 14 metres by 8 metres, cut into the slope to depths of 0.5 and 1 metres respectively. Each could represent a house site and the wider one has evidence of a structure 10 metres by 6 metres with a possible entrance near the north east corner. The narrower western stance is alongside the gully and within a few metres of a constriction that is now used as a crossing place for farm vehicles, but may have earlier origins. On the far side two north to south platforms have been terraced into the hillside on the west side of the gully, one above
the other in 1 metre steps. The platforms or terraces are 15 metres and 20 metres long and 4 metres and 7 metres wide, but show no evidence of structures.
Below the postulated house sites two east to west platforms about the gulley. The upper one, 15 metres by 6 metres, is poor; the lower is formed by a bank of earth and rubble 0.4 metres high externally but up to 1 metres high on the inner face. The interior 21 metres long and 7.5 metres wide has two partial subdivisions represented by parallel footings 2.2 metres apart rather in the nature of a stall. The building has an entrance gap 3.5 metres wide near the north east corner. Remarkably large, the building may have been roofed or even a yard with pens, and its unusually good definition may imply later use. Immediately to the south is another platform 18 metres by 10 metres, but of no distinction, and lastly, towards the convergence of stream cuttings an east to west platform is cut into a local slope to a depth of 1.5 metres. Overall it measures 15 metres by 8 metres but some slippage has reduced the flat interior to only 9 metres by 4 metres and it may be the site of an outbuilding.
The settlement may have comprised three houses and a half dozen ancillary structures of which the group in the eastern part are distanced from the house and clustered near the yard or paddock. Comparable small building sites seem absent in the western part of the complex. Houses and their stances do not conform by size or shape to the standard longhouse of Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor and may indicate a different and localised building tradition. All the visual evidence suggests desertion in the medieval period and it seems most unlikely there are no early references to the settlement unless it is the Hagley of the "Bagley and Hagley" steadings (SS 84 SE 21).
No rig and furrow can be seen in the vicinity; possibly traces have been destroyed by subsequent ploughing, and there has clearly been some improvement of the pasture since 1947, when A.P.s show numerous bushes over the field. Although the area is unlikely to become arable and much of the western part is too steep for anything but grazing land, scheduling seems a requirement. (5)

The earthworks were surveyed at a scale of 1:500 and located to the National Grid using GPs as part of the RCHME Exmoor project. The settlement was considered in its archaeological landscape and full details are given in the survey report. (6 + 13)

The well preserved earthwork remains of a deserted medieval settlement near Sweetworthy Combe are visible as a series of rectilinear enclosures, depressions and boundary banks on aerial photographs, centred on circa 887424. The extant remains have been thoroughly summarised by the above authorities and the 1:500 will provide a detailed plan of the settlement (5-6). The earthworks and their environs have also been transcribed as part of the Exmoor National Mapping Programme survey. This survey has identified further subtle earthwork evidence, for cultivation to the immediate west of the settlement in the form of field boundaries and possible ridge and furrow cultivation. Unfortunately many of these remains have been largely levelled, probably by recent agricultural improvement, or are on aerial photographs with insufficient control for rectification. Nonetheless, it seems probable the field system was associated with the settlement. (7-12)


Description from record MSO11347:
There is nothing marked on the tithe map (in contrast to Bagley) but APs show well spaced out and fairly rectangular enclosures and trackways defined by banks. (4)

Low banks forming small enclosures with possibly two building remains with holloway seen on APs. (17)

The remains of two rectangular buildings, house platforms and and an irregular banked enclosure, initially recorded from APs have been examined in the field. (19)

The settlement is formed of some eleven dispersed buildings, of which perhaps three or four were houses, and the rest barns and small ancillary structures; a large sub-rectangular earthwork, possibly a building footing; and hollow ways. Apart from a yard and group of small buildings associated with the sub-rectangular enclosure, the settlement is open in layout. The junction of the hollow way linking the two parts of the site, and the hollow way leading up to the moor has been lost to gully erosion. Many of the building footings are footed into stances end-on into the slope. The sub-rectangular enclosure lies on a terrace and is 33 by 10 metres with slightly curving sides of a bank or lynchet; if this were the footings of a building it would have been of unusual size and importance On the west end of this a small building is the only feature with stone footings visible. A prominent building earthwork set against the stream on the lower part of the site may be a mill site. Above the settlement is a zig-zagging lynchet, leading on the South West to a square enclosure defined by a shallow bank and ditch. There are no definite documentary references to the settlement and no buildings are marked on 1841 maps. Evidence on the ground suggests an early desertion as the buildings are without chimney stacks and the settlement is open in plan. (21)

Monument scheduled on 13/7/1994. (22)

The Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment records the deserted settlement as in moderate to poor condition. Different elements of the site have been affected by bracken to varying degrees, as such some parts of the site are considered to be at medium risk and other parts are considered to be at high risk. (25)

The site was heavily threatened by gorse and rabbit burrows. The gorse was cleared and the stumps treated in March 2009. It is hoped this will also address the threat from burrows. (26)

Sources and Further Reading

[1]SEM6707 - Aerial Photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 -1948. Vertical Aerial Photography. CPE/UK 1980 April 1947. 3174 & 4171.
[2]SSO235 - Aerial Photograph: 1971. HSL.71-177 Run 89. SCPO. 8668.
[3]SSO705 - Aerial Photograph: West Air Photography. Oblique Aerial Photograph. 27534.
[4]SSO742 - Article in serial: Aston, M. 1983. Deserted Farms on Exmoor and the Lay subsidy of 1327 in West Somerset. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Society. 127. P. 71-104.
[5]SMO5111 - Unpublished document: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. Field Investigators Comment. F1. Quinell, N. V. 11/09/1987.
[6]SMO5777 - Report: Riley, H.. 1996. The Prehistoric Enclosures and Medieval and Post Medieval Settlements at Bagley and Sweetworthy, Luccombe, Somerset.
[7]SDE60980 - Aerial Photograph: Royal Air Force. 1947. RAF/CPE/UK 1980. Royal Air Force Aerial Photograph. 3086. F20 3237-8. 11/04/1947.
[8]SMO4068 - Aerial Photograph: Vertical Aerial Photograph. NMR OS/79014 050-51. 17/04/1979.
[9]SMO4069 - Aerial Photograph: Oblique Aerial Photograph. NMR SS 8942/19 (23826/23). 19/02/2005.
[10]SMO4069 - Aerial Photograph: Oblique Aerial Photograph. SS 8842/39 (23826/24). 19/02/2005.
[12]SMO4069 - Aerial Photograph: Oblique Aerial Photograph. SS 8842/38 (23831/24). 19/02/2005.
[13]SMO5831 - Collection: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. Exmoor Project.
[14]SMO6274 - Collection: RCHME: Exmoor Pilot Survey, SS 84 SE, Somerset.
[15]SMO5443 - Survey: Sweetworthy Deserted Settlement/ink survey . 1:1000. General: Permatrace. Pen and Ink.
[16]SMO5717 - Survey: Hagley/ink survey . 1:500. General: Permatrace. Pen and Ink.
[17]SSO708 - Survey: Western Archaeological Trust. 1980s. Exmoor Aerial Photograph Survey. 8842.
[18]SSO202 - Aerial Photograph: May 1977. ENP MAM IRFC. 13,098.
[19]SSO856 - Article in serial: Burrow, I., Minnitt, S. + Murless, B.. 1982. Somerset Archaeology 1981. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society. 126. 85.
[20]SSO420 - Photograph: Somerset County Council Planning Department. Slide. 3.19.77, 3.19.83-84. March 1984.
[21]SSO1801 - Report: Preece, A.. 1993-1994. English Heritage Monument Protection Programme.
[22]SSO1121 - Unpublished document: English Heritage. 12/8/1994. English Heritage to Somerset County Council.
[23]SSO1853 - Map: RCHME. 18/7/1996. 1:500.
[24]SSO113 - Aerial Photograph: 10/1/1989. DAP LD28-34, LF17-19.
[25]SEM7744 - Report: Bray, L.S.. 2009. Final Results Table: Scheduled Monument Condition Assessment.
[26]SEM7897 - Report: Exmoor National Park Authority. 2009. Monument Management Scheme: 2008-9 Report. P. 13.

Other References

  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MMO154
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MSO11347
  • Monarch UID: 36049
  • National Monuments Record: SS 84 SE31
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • National Trust Land
  • SHINE Candidate (Yes)
  • Site of Special Scientific Interest
  • Somerset SMR (Somerset): 33703
Date Last Edited:Oct