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Historic England Research Records

Monument Number 1029534

Hob Uid: 1029534
Location :
Somerset
Somerset West and Taunton
Exmoor
Grid Ref : SS7804039166
Summary : An earthwork of probable post medieval date is visible on Birchcleave, consisting of a wide flat-bottomed ditch cut into the slope of the hill with an external bank. The ditch measures between 0.4m and 0.8m deep and averages 20m wide. The field in which it lies is known locally as "Reservoir Field" and this would be a feasible explanation for the existence of such a feature. The land was acquired by John Knight in the 1820s and he undertook much land improvements to maximise its agricultural usage. It is therefore likely that the feature dates to this period and function.
More information : SS 7803 3915 - EARTHWORK ON BIRCHCLEAVE - SS 73 NE 46.

Recent maps show a pear-shaped enclosure defined by hedge banks within an area of regular rectangular fields. In 1887 (source 1) and 1891 (source 2) the area of the enclosure is shown as rough grassland when the surrounding area had been improved. However, by 1903 (source 3) the interior had also been improved. Air photographs from 1947 (source 4) show earthworks defining the perimeter of the enclosure.

The earthwork lies on the summit of a gentle hill to the north of the River Barle, east of Birchcleave Wood, at 375m OD and centred on SS 7803 3915. It measures 250m by 150m. The earthwork predates two phases of field banks, the first of which fossilises its perimeter; the second of which links the site with the surrounding field systems. This stratigraphy is visible at the eastern end of the earthwork where two mounds survive as remnants of the first field bank phase before it was extended to meet Winstitchen lane during the second phase when one of the mounds was cut by the later field bank. Within the north-eastern edge of the earthwork, in the ditch, there is an area of marsh. This was shown as a pond in 1887 (source 1), and was probably constructed to exploit a natural spring.

The earthwork consists of a wide, flat-bottomed ditch cut into the slope of the hill with an external bank which the first enclosure phase has fossilised. The ditch is between 0.4m and 0.8m deep and averages 20m wide. In the north-eastern corner of the earthwork, around the pond, the ditch is wider. This is probably due to natural erosion.

To the north and west there are beech tree-lined mounds of around 1.2m high which form the residual external bank of the earthwork. The fragmentary nature of this bank is due to differential improvement in the surrounding fields and to surface quarrying for slate. This is shown by the position of the field banks in 1889 (source 2) which enclosed the central area to the north where the bank is largely missing.

At the western end of the site, close to a gate, is a causeway. It is impossible to know whether this feature is contemporaneous with the earthwork or whether it is associated with the later quarrying activity or access to the field.

On the field bank forming the south side of the enclosure, directly to the west of some modern sheep pens, there is the remains of a field bank emerging from the hedge which is shown in 1889 (source 2) and 1903 (source 3).

Within the earthwork the surface is covered with the amorphous scarps including a U-shaped hollow to the north. The interior is very uneven although it reaches a summit in the centre with excellent panoramic views over the surrounding area.

Despite the shape and its topographic qualities the site does not appear to be prehistoric. It is not shown in 1809 (source 5) although at the time the area lay in the proximity of two roads. Also the scarps on the south-eastern edge seem too sharp and the ditch too levelled and wide for there to have been any great amount of silting up over time as would surely have been the case, particulary with the later improvement of the land.

Local information (source 6) suggests that the area is known as "Reservoir Field". While this name could apply to the pond rather than the entire field, it is feasible that the earthworks once contained water. The water from the spring as well as rain water could have been collected inside the ditch and retained by the enclosing dam. Water could then have been stored adequately until required. The water may have been used either to supply the people of Simonsbath, or for agriculture and for powering machinery. Despite the poximity of the River Barle, a hilltop reservior would have been potentially very useful for this. The dearth of nearby leats suggests that either the project was never completed, or that pipes could have been used to transport the water away.

The site appears to be a creation of John Knight who purchased the land in 1820 (source 7 p435). Despite the legislation for enclosure in Exmoor in 1815, the Inclosure Map of 1819, (source 7 between pp429-430) only shows lowland enclosure. Therefore one can assume that the area was still unenclosed in 1821. The peak of improvement activity by John Knight was during the 1820s and 1830s after which he concentrated on areas further from Simonsbath (source 7 p436). During this early improvement phase, work was concentrated on the south-facing slopes north of the River Barle between Cornham and Honeymeads (source 8 p61) - an area which includes this site. Therefore it appears that the earthwork was built and subsequently enclosed within John Knight's time. This short period of use suggests either that the project failed or was abandoned. This is suported by the fact that very little appears to be known about the site.

Surveyed at 1:2500 scale, 26th October 1994.

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Chapman H P & Wilson-North W R 26-OCT-1994 RCHME Field Investigation.
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Source Number : 2
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : OS 1st ed 6" - Somerset XLV. NW 1891 (surveyed 1887).
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Source Number : 11
Source : SS 73 NE 46/pencil survey
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Source Number : 12
Source : Vertical aerial photograph reference number
Source details : RAF 543/2821 (F63) 168-69 27-APR-1964
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Source Number : 3
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : OS 1st ed 25" - Somerset XLV/5 1889.
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Source Number : 4
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : OS 2nd ed 25" - Somerset XLV/5 1903.
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Source Number : 5
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : NLAP Sortie No. CPE/UK/1980 Frames 3454 & 3455 11-APR-1947.
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Source Number : 6
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : OS 1" Sheet 27/5 1809.
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Source Number : 7
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Stan Curtis, Stable Flat, Simonsbath, Somerset.
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Source Number : 8
Source : The history of the Forest of Exmoor
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Source Number : 9
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Burton R A 1989 The Heritage of Exmoor - Tiverton.
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Source Number : 10
Source : SS 73 NE 46/ink survey
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : Post Medieval
Monument End Date : 1901
Monument Start Date : 1540
Monument Type : Earthwork, Reservoir, Ditch
Evidence : Earthwork

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Somerset)
External Cross Reference Number : 35728
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : HER Number (Exmoor National Park)
External Cross Reference Number : MSO7058
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SS 73 NE 46
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: WEST EXMOOR PROJECT
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1993-01-01
End Date : 1996-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, ENGLISH HERITAGE: EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK NMP
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 2007-04-01
End Date : 2009-07-01