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Historic England Research Records

Shoulsbury Castle

Hob Uid: 35025
Location :
Devon
North Devon
Challacombe, Brayford
Grid Ref : SS7054039080
Summary : An unfinished rectangular hillslope earthwork thought to be of late prehistoric or early Roman date. The monument takes the form of an enclosure measuring 146m by 142m within an earth and stone bank c.8m wide and 1.5m high with an outer ditch. The entrance appears to have been at the centre of the western side accompanied by a causeway over the ditch. There may be a blocked entrance 35m north of the SE corner. A barrow (NMR UID 1050187) lies within the NE corner, probably the orignal "Shoul's Barrow" which gave its name to the common and the settlement.
More information : Shoulsbarrow Castle (Camp) (NR). (1)

(Centred SS 705391) Shoulsbury Castle. The camp is square-somewhat irregular in the north-with sides of 480 ft and surrounded by a vallum from 4-7 ft in height. From 50-100 ft beyond, another vallum 3 ft high protects the east and north sides, and half of the west, in the centre of which is the only entrance. The southern side is defended by a sudden fall in the ground.

In the NE corner was a mound about 80 ft in circumference which was opened some years ago with barren results. A tradition is current that Alfred the Great held the camp against the Danes. Two 17th cent rapiers have been found here. (2-3)

The earthwork consists of a fairly strong stone-cored bank with outer ditch situated on a hill top with land falling fairly steeply to the south and gently to the south-west. Elsewhere the land is almost flat and here the enclosure has a further defence consisting of a weak bank with outer ditch. The bank is strongest in the south where it is of Iron Age type. The ditches are silted and are largely marshy. Probable original entrances occur in the west and south-east They are 8.0 and 4.0m wide respectively.

A circular mound at F has a diameter of 11.5m and a height of 0.5m with an interior hollow diameter 4.5m and depth 0.7m. It has neither the apppearance of a hut circle nor of an excavated barrow. The entire area is under grass and no trace of habitation was found. No information was obtained upon the present whereabouts of the rapiers referred to above.(4)

Lady Fox, who visited the earthwork in 1957, thinks it may be an Iron Age 'B' hill-slope fort. The mound in the NE corner is possibly a herdsman's hut. With a few hurdles the site could even now be used as a cattle enclosure. (5)

SS 70583910 Mound 12 paces in diameter and 1 1/2ft high. Either a barrow or hut circle. (6)

Shoulsbury Castle : Early forms of this name include Solsbury (Westcote 1630), Shorsbery (Risdon 1630), Salusbury (1815), Shoulsbury (1819), Showlsborough (1890, Page), and Shoulsbarrow (present OS). It is locally pronounced Shoulsbury; Shoulsbarrow implies a sepulchral mound.

Sited on a south-west spur, it is of sub-rectangular plan and is bivallate excepting on the south where a steep scarp makes a second rampart unnecessary. Original entrances may have been in the middle of the west side of the inner rampart, and near its south-east corner. Within the north-east corner R R Clarke noted a circular mound about 11 yards in diameter which he conjectured might have been the base of a watchtower if it is not the remains of a round barrow.

The similarity of the plan with that of the Roman fortlets at Martinhoe and Old Barrow and the slightness of the rampart cause us to wonder whether it is Iron Age or Roman.(7)

As described above. Date uncertain but if Iron Age it would seem to have Roman influence.

Well preserved.

The name Shoulsbarrow Castle is not in common use. The VCH, Grinsell and OS 1" 1972 agree on the historic Shoulsbury Castle. Surveyed at 1:2500. (8)

Shoulsbarrow Castle - circa 2nd to 1st cent BC. (9)

SS 705 391. Shoulsbarrow, Shoulsbury. Listed in gazetteer as a multivallate hillfort with widely spaced ramparts covering 1.6ha. (10)

SS 706 391. Shoulsbury Castle. Description with plan. Whybrow suggests the site to have been an uncompleted structure intended to serve as a stock enclosure. (11)

SS 7055 3909. Shoulsbarrow Castle (12) is a rectangular hillslope earthwork. It is prominently situated about 465m above OD, on the south-western end of the hill ridge between Shoulsbarrow Common on the north and Castle Common on the south. It lies in rough grass and scattered heather-covered enclosed ground on a gentle south-west facing slope. It appears to have been purposely constructed off the summit of the hill and dominates the upper valley of the Bray to the south. It also has panoramic views south-westwards to Barnstaple Bay and south to Dartmoor however the view to the north-east is blocked by the rising ground of the hill crest which is occupied by an OS Triangulation Pillar some 150m away. The Challacombe/High Bray Parish Boundary runs through the centre of the earthwork from south-west to north-east. A barrow (NMR UID 1050187) lies inside the north-east corner. Shoulsbarrow (sic) Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, Devon County No:49 (13) but it is not clear if the barrow has been included in that scheduling.

The earthwork is about 146m E/W by 142m (almost 2ha or 5 acres in area) within an earth and stone bank about 8m wide and 1.5m high (where measured near the south end of the east side) with outer ditch. There is an outer bank and ditch on the north, east and part of the west side varying from 17m to 30m 'parallel' from the main bank. The entrance appears to have been at the centre of the western side accompanied by a causeway over the ditch. It is not clear if the break in the south-east corner is original.

A lowering of the main bank about 35m north of this south-east corner could suggest a blocked entrance about 16m wide, however the ditch along this side is heavily silted and has a modern drain down the centre and no accompanying causeway is evident. The 1889 OS 25" survey depicts a buried trig station adjacent to the western entrance gap which may account for some of the damage in this area. As suggested the earthwork is apparently of later prehistoric origin.
There is no obvious topographical reason why the work could not have been circular, as is the general trend for hillslope enclosures of this period on Exmoor, so its untypical plan could suggest influence from, or adaption to , the Roman style. It is also not clear why the outer bank and ditch should have terminated as they do. Perhaps this was merely an extra drainage feature. There is also no valid reason why the enclosure should not have been a symmetrically true rectangle, which tends to rule out a Roman origin. (12-15)

[The barrow has now been split from this entry and given the new NMR UID 1050187.]

SS 7054 3908. Shoulsbury Castle is a multivallate hillfort of late prehistoric date, probably Iron Age, with the inner rampart enclosing an area of circa two hectares. The monument lies within an area of rough grass and boggy moorland towards the western edge of Exmoor National Park, at approximately 460m above OD. The hillfort lies below the western edge of the main plateau of Shoulsbarrow common, with the ground falling sharply to the south and south-west. Shoulsbury Castle overlooks the upper reaches of the Bray Valley where a series of steep-sided combes feed water southwards into the River Bray.

The hillfort is almost square in form with rounded corners, measuring 147m E/W between its inner rampart tops. The monument comprises a rampart and external ditch with an outer rampart and ditch on three sides. The inner rampart is constructed of earth and stone and stands between 0.9m and 3.6m in height, with a maximum width of 1.3m. Its associated ditch survives to a maximum of 0.5m deep. A berm, circa 3m wide, is evident along the western, eastern, and northern sides of the inner rampart. Several stony mounds were noted sitting upon the berm and may be related to the construction of the rampart. The original entrance was located on the western side of the enclosure, slightly north of centre. A second breach in the rampart is located at the south-eastern corner but it is unclear whether this is original. The outer rampart and ditch runs along along the eastern, northern and part of the western sides of the enclosure, terminating just short of the entrance on the western side. The rampart stands a maximum of 1m high and the ditch survives up to 0.5m deep.

The natural topography has obviously influenced the shape and orientation of the enclosure. The southern rampart clearly lies parallel to the steep, south-facing slope of the upper Bray valley and the remaining sides have apparently been set-out in relation to this. The termination of the outer rampart on the western side of the enclosure is also probably related to the natural topography as the ground begins to drop steeply at this point.

A 1:500 scale survey of the site was undertaken in April 2005 which was accompanied by an English Heritage survey report. (16)

The multivallate hillfort described above can clearly be seen on a number of aerial photographs. It appears to be unfinished in that while the inner circuit is complete, the outer circuit is only visible on the east and north sides, and partially on the west side. It is possible that an outer bank on the south side was considered unnecessary, due to the steep slope, but according to Silvester and Quinnell (20), it seems that the defences on the west side were never started. Silvester and Quinnell argue that the outer circuit is an exaggerated version of a "marking-out" ditch and bank, intended to be much steeper. The aerial photographic evidence, particularly on the oblique photography, would seem to support this view (17-20).

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1905
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Source Number : 2
Source : Devonshire Association reports and transactions
Source details :
Page(s) : 47-48
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Vol(s) : 55
Source Number : 11
Source : Devon Archaeological Society Proceedings
Source details :
Page(s) : 16-18
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Vol(s) : 25
Source Number : 12
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Sainsbury I S 01-AUG-1995 RCHME Field Investigation.
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Source Number : 13
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : Ordnance Survey 1904 (Revised 1903) 1:2500 Devon 10:8.
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Source Number : 14
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : English Heritage 1987 County List of Scheduled Ancient Monuments: Devon 16, County No:49.
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Source Number : 15
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : Ordnance Survey 1973 1:2500 SS 7039 Arch Div FI 2.
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Source Number : 16
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Jamieson, E 2005. Shoulsbury Castle, Exmoor, Devon. An Iron Age hillfort and a stone setting on Shoulsbarrow Common. Archaeological Investigation Report Series AI/13/2005
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Source Number : 17
Source : Vertical aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR OS/73109 1036-38 29-APR-1973
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Source Number : 18
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR SS 7039/27 (15623/09) 14-JAN-1997
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Source Number : 19
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR SS 7039/33 (18583/12) 12-OCT-1999
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Source Number : 20
Source : Devon Archaeological Society proceedings
Source details : Silvester, R.J. & Quinnell, N.V. 1993 "Unfinished Hillforts on the Devon Moors"
Page(s) : 17-33
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 51
Source Number : 3
Source : The Victoria history of the county of Devon : volume one
Source details :
Page(s) : 595-6
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Vol(s) : 1
Source Number : 4
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 JR 24-NOV-53
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Source Number : 5
Source : Oral information, correspondence (not archived) or staff comments
Source details : Letter (Lady A Fox 23.9.57)
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Source Number : 6
Source : Devon Archaeological Society proceedings
Source details :
Page(s) : 121
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Vol(s) : 28
Source Number : 7
Source : The archaeology of Exmoor : Bideford Bay to Bridgwater
Source details :
Page(s) : 84
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Source Number : 8
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F2 MJF 07-MAR-73
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Source Number : 9
Source : A guide to prehistoric England
Source details :
Page(s) : 86
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Source Number : 10
Source : British Hillforts: an index
Source details :
Page(s) : 194
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Vol(s) : 62

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Iron Age
Display Date : Iron Age
Monument End Date : 43
Monument Start Date : -800
Monument Type : Multivallate Hillfort, Enclosure
Evidence : Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Roman
Monument End Date : 410
Monument Start Date : 43
Monument Type : Enclosure
Evidence : Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : C17
Monument End Date : 1901
Monument Start Date : 1540
Monument Type : Findspot
Evidence :

Components and Objects:
Period : Post Medieval
Component Monument Type : Findspot
Object Type : RAPIER
Object Material :

Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Devonshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 732
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : DV 49
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Devonshire)
External Cross Reference Number : MDE1192
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SS 73 NW 6
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 1050187
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, SHOULSBARROW CASTLE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1905-01-01
End Date : 1905-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SS 73 NW 6
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1953-11-24
End Date : 1953-11-24
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SS 73 NW 6
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1973-03-07
End Date : 1973-03-07
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: WEST EXMOOR PROJECT
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1993-01-01
End Date : 1996-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, SHOULSBURY CASTLE
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 2005-04-01
End Date : 2005-05-01
Associated Activities : Primary, ENGLISH HERITAGE: EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK NMP
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 2007-04-01
End Date : 2009-07-01