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Historic England Research Records

The Beacon

Hob Uid: 34615
Location :
Devon
North Devon
Martinhoe
Grid Ref : SS6630049340
Summary : The spread earthworks of a Roman fortlet are visible at ground level and on aerial photographs, comprising an inner square enclosure 40 metres across, within a sub-circular outer enclosure about 80 metres across. The fort is situated in a prominent position on a north-facing cliff top and is believed to have been the location of a beacon intended to be visible at sea. The earthworks have been substantially reduced by ploughing and are at serious risk from coastal erosion. The site was excavated by Fox and Ravenhill in the 1960s with the excavations revealing the footings of three ranges of buildings. The artefacts suggested a brief occupancy in the 1st century AD.
More information : (SS 66304933) The Beacon (NAT) Roman Signal Station (R) (1)

Roman fortlet at Martinhoe, much reduced by ploughing.
Excavations in 1960/61 showed it to bear some resemblance to Hod Hill, consisting of a small central enclosure surrounded by a rampart and two ditches, and an outer enclosure formed by a rampart and ditch terminating on the cliff edge at each end. Within the outer enclosure, near the edge of the cliff and below the hill crest, was the site of a series of bonfires, indicating a beacon intended to be visible at sea rather than inland. The interior of the fortlet contained a rectangular building thought to be an armoury and two barrack-blocks with accommodation for a century. Finds of Samian and coarse pottery and two coins of AD 64-8, indicated that occupation commenced in the reign of Nero and probably continued until the foundation of Caerleon circa AD 75. The excavation showed that Martinhoe succeeded the temporary fortlet at Old Burrow (SS 74 NE 4) and it therefore seems less likely that either formed part of a chain of signal posts. They were clearly placed to command an extensive view across the Bristol Channel and alert patrol-ships in the event of activity by the Silures (2-3)

The fortlet at Martinhoe replaced in more permanent form the fortlet at Old Burrow with the same function of watching for landings across the Bristol Channel. (4)

The fortlet is as described. The interior excavation has been infilled; the second rampart is traceable to the north and west as a bank and to the east and south as a scarp. The outer rampart is best preserved on the west side. Neither the inner nor outer entrance can be traced as a surveyable feature.

In poor condition. Resurveyed at 1:2500. (5)

SS 6631 4934. The fortlet is basically as described by previous authorities. The whole site is now in a rather poor condition. It has been cleared and fenced but, being ungrazed, the bracken and thistles are slowly returning. As stated the area has been much reduced by ploughing and the scarps are not quite as clear as the OS plan suggests. The internal dimensions of the central sub-rectangular enclosure varies from about 14m E/W to 22m

McDonnell (6) refers to an enclosure defined by a low bank, visible on Air Photos (7), as being larger than that shown by the OS. This low bank is the outer rampart around the western side and the OS plan (5) was checked and found to be accurate. The reconstructed plan of the fortlet (3) is not a true survey and gives a false impression of uniformity and symmetry. (6-8)

Martinhoe Roman Fortlet was surveyed at 1:500 scale by RCHME staff in July 1997. The earthworks of the inner square enclosure have been spread by ploughing, and have also been distorted into a parallelogram shape (see plan). The inner enclosure now survives as a substantial flat-topped mound with very spread scarps. Its entrance could not be located on the ground.
The outer enclosure survives best on the west and south-west, where it is visible as a well-defined bank with traces of an outer ditch. Along the south and east, it becomes gradually fainter.
The northern part of the outer enclosure was either never constructed or has slipped over the cliff edge.
The site is now fenced off separately from the surrounding fields and is subject to low level management by the National Trust, which includes strimming and mowing the sward on the earthworks. (9)

The fortlet at Martinhoe is visible on aerial photographs as a series of low earthworks comprising the structures described above. There are no traces of any interior structures visible on the photographs. Due to the extent of plough damage the features are best viewed on oblique photography. The site is clearly also at risk from coastal erosion, and it appears from the aerial photographs that the northern bank and ditch of the outer enclosure have already been lost over the cliff edge (10-11).

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Annotated Record Map
Source details : OS 6" 1963
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Source Number : 2
Source : Devon Archaeological Society Proceedings
Source details : photos (Fox and Ravenhill)
Page(s) : 13-35
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Vol(s) : 24 (1966)
Source Number : 11
Source : Vertical aerial photograph reference number
Source details : MAL 76057 125 4-AUG-1976
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Source : Old Burrow and Martinhoe
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Source : Martinhoe Roman Fort/ink survey
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Source : Martinhoe Roman Fort/pencil survey
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Source Number : 3
Source : South-West England, 3500BC-AD600
Source details :
Page(s) : 138
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Source Number : 4
Source : Britannia : a journal of Romano-British and kindred studies
Source details : 1967 93 (S Frere)
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Source Number : 5
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 MJF 21-AUG-72
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Source Number : 6
Source : Externally held archive reference
Source details : McDonnell R. in Devon County SMR SS64NE 2.
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Source Number : 7
Source : Aerial photograph
Source details : RAF 106G/UK1655/3161-2, Jul 1946.
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Source Number : 8
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Sainsbury I.S. 8-JUN-1993
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Source Number : 9
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : R Wilson-North & H Riley 16 July 1997
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Source Number : 10
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR SS 6549.2 (15604.32) 14-JAN-1997
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Roman
Monument End Date : 410
Monument Start Date : 43
Monument Type : Fortlet, Signal Station
Evidence : Earthwork

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Devonshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 2022
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : DV 40
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : ViewFinder
External Cross Reference Number : 15604/32
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : NBR Index Number
External Cross Reference Number : RCH01/111
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : NBR Index Number
External Cross Reference Number : 1269150
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SS 64 NE 2
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, MARTINHOE BEACON
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1960-01-01
End Date : 1960-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SS 64 NE 2
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1972-08-21
End Date : 1972-08-21
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