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Historic England Research Records

Monument Number 188620

Hob Uid: 188620
Location :
Somerset
Somerset West and Taunton
Withycombe
Grid Ref : ST0015041040
Summary : The earthwork remains of a later prehistoric field system and possible settlement are visible on the southern and south-western slopes of Withycombe Hill. The layout of the field system, size and shape suggests a probable Iron Age/Romano-British date, which fits with the context of this area. As such this is the only known example of extensive Iron Age/Romano-British field system on Exmoor.
More information : [ST 00154104] British Village (NR) (Site of) (NAT) (1)

An ancient British settlement lying on the S.W. 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 ft., and 160 ft., in diameter.

The hut-circles, about 21 ft. in diam., 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. (2)

The occupation area represented by the field system centred at SS999412 extends for about 450.0 m. E-W., and 100.0 m. N-S.,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 00054109 there is a circular enclosure formed by a stoney bank 0.3 m. high. In the N. part of this 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 996412 are a group of four huts with stone and earth walls approximately 0.5 m. high and one possible hut (SS 99694121). 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 I.A. date but there are no records of associated finds.

Surveyed at 1/2500.(3)

SS 996412. 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 south-western slopes of Withycombe Hill, centred at ST 0000 4120. The remains cover an area of 24ha, from SS 9930 4160 to ST 0035 4105. They survive on both enclosed and common land, and represent an important and remarkable survival (5)

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." (Authy 6, page 274). Savage also mentions the circular enclosure, now recorded separately as ST 04 SW 70.

In 1855 Jones (Authy 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 RCHME as part of the Exmoor Project. It comprises 24 ha 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 80m square) are defined by spread stony banks or lynchets. Some of these lynchets are substantial features, with a height of 1.2m. 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 (Authorities 2,3 and 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. Sveral 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 (7-9).

The field system described by Authorities 7-9 above is clearly visible on aerial photographs taken between 1947 and 1964. At the eastern end of the system, approximately SS 9968 4122 several circular and sub-circular features can be seen, which were described by previous authorities as hut circles but are now believed to represent field clearance mounds.
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 (see NMR UID 1119404). 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 (10-11).

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1904
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Source Number : 2
Source : Somerset archaeology and natural history : the proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society
Source details : (Rev. A. Jones)
Page(s) : 06-Aug
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Vol(s) : 6, 1855
Source Number : 11
Source : Vertical aerial photograph reference number
Source details : RAF 543/2821 (F64) 135-136 27-APR-1964
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Source Number : 3
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 NVQ 06-JUN-65
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Source Number : 4
Source : Somerset archaeology and natural history : the proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society
Source details : (R McDonnell, Western Arch Trust)
Page(s) : 65-6
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Vol(s) : 126, 1982
Source Number : 5
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Riley H 1999 RCHME Field Investigation
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Source Number : 6
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Savage, J 1840 History of the Hundred of Carhampton
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Source Number : 7
Source : Aerial photograph
Source details : Air photograph 1947 CPE/UK/1980, 3016, NMR Collection.
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Source Number : 8
Source : Dumbledeer/ink survey
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Source Number : 9
Source : Dumbledeer/pencil survey
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Source Number : 10
Source : Vertical aerial photograph reference number
Source details : RAF CPE/UK/ 1980 4251-52 11-APR-1947
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Iron Age
Display Date : Iron Age
Monument End Date : 43
Monument Start Date : -800
Monument Type : Field System, Settlement
Evidence : Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Later Prehistoric
Display Date : Later Prehistoric
Monument End Date : 43
Monument Start Date : -4000
Monument Type : Field System, Settlement
Evidence : Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Roman
Monument End Date : 410
Monument Start Date : 43
Monument Type : Field System, Settlement
Evidence : Earthwork

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Somerset)
External Cross Reference Number : 34264
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : HER Number (Exmoor National Park)
External Cross Reference Number : MSO9083
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : ST 04 SW 18
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 1230649
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON ST 04 SW 18
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1965-06-06
End Date : 1965-06-06
Associated Activities : Primary, ENGLISH HERITAGE: EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK NMP
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 2007-04-01
End Date : 2009-07-01