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Beacon Castle

Hob Uid: 34621
Location :
Devon
North Devon
Parracombe, Martinhoe
Grid Ref : SS6646046010
Summary : A univallate sub-circular earthwork enclosure is visible on aerial photographs and at ground level, constructed on a gentle slope to the north of and below the crest of the summit of South Down. As it does not lie on the summit it is assumed to be a pastoral settlement rather than a defensive one. The turf-covered earth and stone rampart is up to 6.7m wide in the south. There is no indication of internal occupation. It is most likely to date to the late Iron Age period.
More information : (SS 66464600) Beacon Castle Earthwork (NR) (1).

An oval univallate earthwork, which could be described as a hill spur fort, enclosing about an acre. Most of the outer ditch is visible and the bank varies in height from 3' to 5'. The original entrance is probably at the W end (2).

This sub-oval univallate earthwork is situated on a north slope just off the crest of Beacon Hill. Most probably an IA pastoral settlement (3).

Generally well preserved, although the entrance in the west side has been mutilated.

Resurveyed at 1:2500 (4).

SS 6646 4601. Beacon Castle, a univallate earthwork enclosure which measures 58m E-W by 55m internally (about 0.28 ha area). Probably an Iron Age pastoral settlement.

This sub-circular enclosure has been deliberately constructed on a gentle slope some 50m north of, and below, the crest of the summit of South Down at about 300m OD. There are no obvious obstructions or reasons to have prevented occupation of the summit. It was most likely so situated to offer protection from the prevailing south-west winds, to facilitate drainage, or give visibility or observation from the west around to the north-east.

The turf-covered earth and stone rampart is up to 6.7m wide in the south. Its top is some 0.7m above the interior and about 1.1m above the bottom of the external ditch. Around the northern side there is no evidence of an inner scarp to the rampart, here there appears to have been only an outer scarp, about 5m wide and 1.6m at best. On the inner scarp of the rampart in the south-west at SS 6644 4599, is an amorphous mound 0.8m high and about 5m E/W by 4m. This appears to be the result of mutilation or robbing of the rampart rather than a constructed feature.

The ditch varies in size but at best, in the east, it is about 4m wide and 0.5m deep. There is no evidence of a counterscarp to the ditch. It is doubtful if the ditch actually continued around the northern side where it appears to have taken the form of a gently sloping terrace with outer scarp merging into the natural slope. McDonnell (5) refers to a second bank or ditch being visible on Air Photos (6) on the north-east side of the enclosure. The slopes here become very steep and there is no evidence of a second ditch which would have been both impractical and superfluous.

However on Air Photos (7) a linear feature, an apparent band, is evident running from the north-east angle of the enclosure some 28m parallel to the boundary bank towards a fence cutting off quarry workings to the south-east. This feature is difficult to trace on the ground due to scrub, gorse and probable soil erosion but it appears to be fragmentary turf-covered stony scarp. There is a similar feature parallel to it some 20m further down the slope. These are probably the remains of man-made banks but it is possible they are no more than natural terraces.

The Martinhoe/Parracombe Parish boundary, here mered to a turf-covered stony bank about 2.6m wide and 0.5m high, bisects the enclosure centrally from east to west. A few metres south of this boundary in the west is a disturbed area of rampart. It is not clear if, as suggested, this 'break' was definately the original entrance. It has not, as stated by (8) been "spoilt" by the boundary as the boundary bank clearly misses the break. There are some small amorphous hollows here but they seem more likely to have been caused by robbing or a crude attempt at excavation. The rampart has been cut away leaving a clear edge on the inner side which appears to be unbroken by any depression or hollow as might be expected if it had been in use for any length of time as an entrance. Also the outer scarp of the ditch here, though very slight appears to be continuous with no evidence of a break for a causeway. What could have been interpreted as part of an entrance inturn is a pile of debris, or spoil, set on the north side of the disturbed area. However the whole of this area is now mutilated and in such a poor state of preservation that exact interpretation is now infeasible.

Where the boundary cuts through the rampart in the east the end of the rampart on the south side (some 1m high) does not appear to be a later cut but a true butt end or terminal suggesting the boundary bank may have utilised an original entrance. The north side is not so apparent as the boundary is constructed up against it thus obscuring any possible terminal of the rampart. There is no obvious causeway.

In the west the boundary bank can be clearly seen to overlie the rampart. It would seem logical that if there had been a break here for an entrance the boundary bank builders would have utilised it as they appear to have done in the east. This again seems to imply that there was only one break, or entrance, and this was in the east.

The gently sloping interior is now covered in rough grass, scrub and gorse. There is no indication of internal occupation. A series of about six terraces cutting E/W across the interior may be cultivation terraces or remains of ploughing referred to by (8) which could have destroyed any trace of occupation.

The overall impression of this site is not of a defensive structure but one sited for prominence and visibility primarily towards the north. As suggested, it is most probably an Iron Age pastoral settlement, a hillslope enclosure similar to that at Voley Castle (SS64NE 1) which is clearly visible from this site some 900m to the west across the valley of the River Heddon.

Published Survey (1:2500) Revised. (9)

The Iron Age hillslope enclosure known as Beacon castle is clearly visible as a series of well defined earthworks to the north of the summit of South Down. The enclosure has been bisected from east to west by the Martinhoe-Parracombe parish boundary, which is also visible on aerial photographs (10)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1963
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Source Number : 2
Source : The archaeology of Exmoor : Bideford Bay to Bridgwater
Source details :
Page(s) : 81-2
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Source Number : 3
Source : Devon Archaeological Society proceedings
Source details : (Whybrow)
Page(s) : 13
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 25, 1967
Source Number : 4
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 MJF 25-AUG-72
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Source Number : 5
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : McDonnell, R. CRAAGS Exmoor Air Photo Survey 1977-85.
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Source Number : 6
Source : Aerial photograph
Source details : RAF 106G/UK1655, 3189 Jul-46.
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Source Number : 7
Source : Aerial photograph
Source details : NMR SF1459, SS6646/2/452-6, O1-Mar-79.
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Source Number : 8
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Devon County SMR SS64NE12, 26-Apr-91.
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Source Number : 9
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Sainsbury, I.S. 19-Aug-93 RCHME Field Investigation.
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Source Number : 10
Source : Vertical aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR OS/72065 181-182 15-APR-1972
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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 : Enclosed Settlement
Evidence : Earthwork

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Devonshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 2033
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : DV 471
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SS 64 NE 4
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SS 64 NE 4
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1972-08-25
End Date : 1972-08-25
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