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Historic England Research Records

Dunkery Beacon

Hob Uid: 35990
Location :
Somerset
West Somerset
Cutcombe
Grid Ref : SS8910041500
Summary : Five cairns of probable Bronze Age date are visible on the summit of Dunkery Beacon. The cairns were surveyed by English Heritage in August 2004 in response to a request by The National Trust and have been transcribed as closely as possible during the Exmoor National Mapping Programme survey. The group was previously recorded as both UID 35995 and 35990, but have now been combined into 35990 utilizing Grinsell's numbering scheme and with a concordance with the Scheduled Monument numbers.
More information : (SS 89134160) Dunkery Beacon (NR) (1)

Dunkery Beacon, a large cairn about 150ft. E. and W. by 90 ft N. and S. The flattened top, from the S., is about 12ft in height on which asecond cairn [about 5ft high and probably modern] has been erected.
(2)

Dunkery Beacon and adjacent mounds. Listed under `Burial Mounds' Scheduled (3)
[`Adjacent mounds' - see SS 84 SE 15].

Dunkery Beacon is a cairn, listed by Grinsell as Cutcombe 5. It is now surmounted by a modern, conical monument erected by the National Trust.
Against its western side and confluent with it are what appears to be the remains of another cairn. This is now robbed and very disturbed.
See GPs AO/65/136/5 & 6.
Re-surveyed at 1:2500. (4-5)

SS 89124159. Cutcombe 5. Dunkery Beacon - probably in origin a sepulchral cairn with later additions for beacon and "tourist" purposes. It is shown on a map of 1687 crowned by a fire beacon in the form of a round tower (d) and was perhaps dug into without result 2nd November 1807 (b).

SS 89114159. Cutcombe 5a. Rim of probably robbed cairn adjoining Dunkery Beacon on West [listed with reference to OS record]. (6-9)

There are remains of beacons amongst the large scatter of loose stones on top of Dunkery. The ruins of three fire-hearths about 8ft square built of rough unwrought stones form an equilateral triangle, in the centre of which is another hearth considerably larger than the rest. From these beacons the hill aquired the name Dunkery Beacon. About a mile away and more than 200ft lower are the remains of two other hearths. (10)

Detailed description in SMR. (11)

SS 89124162. Cutcombe 5b, north of Dunkery Beacon, diameter 17m.
Vowles claimed traces of four concentric circles, which are shown on his plan.
SS 89154156. Cutcombe 6, south east of Dunkery Beacon, diameter 18m.
Vowles claimed a stone retaining circle and traces of an outer circle, both shown on his plan.
The circles around 5b and 6 have probably since been removed by vandals.
SS 89114160. Cutcombe 5c, diameter 3m and height 0.3m. A very small
cairn, on Vowles plan. (12-13)

The Dunkery group of cairns is recorded in the N.A.R. under two site numbers, SS 84 SE 14 and 15, an action which has led to some uncertainty in the past. To avoid this and also the inconvenience of a split site, all five cairns are considered as a single group, utilizing Grinsell's numbering and with a concordance with the S.A.M. features (49a,b,c) within the group. The east to west ridge of Dunkery is 4.5 kilometres long. The western part rises from 470 metres to 510 metres O.D.; eastward of this there is a slight saddle beyond which the ground rises to the knoll of Dunkery Beacon, at 520 metres. The highest point in Somerset, it possesses the most wide ranging views in the south west, extending to Dartmoor, the River Severn, and the Brecon Beacons.
Geologically of Middle Devonian sandstones, the ridge is now covered with a thin layer of peaty soil supporting a dense growth of heather. Surface stones are in evidence where there has been erosion. There are a number of cairns on the western part of the ridge, spaced in linear fashion, but none in the area of the saddle. On Dunkery Beacon the group is compact, occupying less than 0.25 hectares, with two on the spine of the ridge, and the others to north and south below the crest.
SS 8914 4159. Cutcombe 5, (S.A.M. 49a). The largest cairn of the group and that which now forms the highest point. It is of oval plan with diameters of 34 metres north east/south west and 27 metres north west/south east, with a flat circular top 15 metres across. The cairn is between 1.4 and 1.7 metres high, surmounted by a beehive shaped memorial cairn, erected in 1935. This, of cemented stones, is 5.5 metres in diameter and 3.3 metres high. An O.S. triangulation pillar is on the west part of the cairn and a small stone pillar with a distance is on the south east part of the top. The surface consists of compacted smallish stones, much trampled by visitors but there are indications of larger stones beneath though no evidence of any formal structural elements.
SS 8912 4158. Cutcombe 5a. A cairn 20 metres in diameter and 0.5 metres high, with a flattish top 16 metres across which merges into the west side of 5. The surface comprises smallish stones compacted and trampled. Two rectangular structures have been constructed on the top, one measuring 4 metres by 3 metres, the other 6 metres by 4 metres. Their walling, of unmortared piled and coursed stones, is from 0.4 to 0.8 metres high and includes horizontally laid slabs, apparently not robbed from the cairn. Both appear to be fairly recent and made as some form of "shelter".
SS 8914 4161. Cutcombe 5b. A circular patch of close packed stones immediately north of 5. It has an approximate diameter of 20 metres and is flat, save for 20 metres of the northern perimeter, which is demarcated by a short but distinct scarp 0.2 metres high, and a 5 metre length of residual bank in the south east quadrant. This, of compacted stones, is 1.5 metres wide and 0.1 metres high, but is coincident with the proposed diameter. The eastern side of the cairn has been destroyed by the intrusion of two large and relatively modern pits. Vowles (8a) noted four concentric circles in this cairn, and a relic of these may be a single orthostat, 0.2 metres high and tightly
packed, 5 metres from the centre in the south east quadrant. The area has been used for bonfires to judge from the quantity of burnt nails scattered over it, and has been so trampled that holes resulting from the removal of stones would soon be infilled. However, the stones may have been of a size suitable for the "shelter" constructions on 5a.
SS 8912 4160. Cutcombe 5c. A small cairn of tightly packed stones, mostly about 0.1 metres across. It is 2.7 metres in diameter and 0.3 metres high, the north and west sides rather straight. The stones would need levering out and consequently the cairn has withstood the ravages of visitors. Not conspicuous, it is incongruous considering the size of the other cairns in the group but may be prehistoric. Certainly its situation, below the crest, precludes use as a marker cairn.
SS 8918 4157. Cutcombe 6, (S.A.M. 49b). A cairn 30 metres south east of 5. It has an overall diameter of 20 metres with much of the perimeter defined by a turf covered rim bank of small stones. This bank, 0.2 to 0.4 metres high, encloses a central platform at best 0.3 metres above ground level and mostly much less. The south east half is turf covered and the basal stones are concealed, elsewhere they are of small size, about 0.1 to 0.2 metres across. In the north east, and 1 metre inside the rim bank and concentric with it, there is an 8 metre arc of fairly contiguous stones. Generally 0.5 metres long, and between 0.2 and 0.3 metres thick, their tops are flush with the platform but distinctive in that they are much larger than the other material. A further line of five similar stones is 2 metres inside the previous arc, i.e. 5 metres from the platform centre, but these are irregularly spaced over a length of 5 metres. Both confirm Vowles claim to have seen two circles. At the centre of the platform a "shelter", 5 metres long and 4 metres wide, has walling of piled stones, up to 0.5 metres high, evidently robbed from the cairn and probably from the retaining circles.
SS 8917 4158. (X) (S.A.M. 49c). A squarish enclosure has been constructed on the north west side of 6. It has sides of 5 metres with 0.4 metres of coursed walling at the base, topped by another 0.4 metres of turf covered earth bank. The whole is 2 metres wide at the bottom, tapering to a narrow top. It is surrounded on all sides but the north west with a ditch 1 to 1.5 metres wide and up to 0.2 metres deep. On the south east the ditch impinges upon the cairn with the consequent destruction of the rim bank. There is no entrance and the turf covered interior seems raised about 0.1 metres above the general ground level.
It is not of recent date but its purpose is obscure. If originally a beacon hearth there is now no sigh of burning, and an ancillary building such as a store or watchman's hut would necessitate an entrance. The H.B.M.C. scheduling map suggests that this is S.A.M. 49c and this is confirmed by the field warden's description and measurements. Whether or not the structure was intended as a scheduled monument it is certainly not a cairn. The O.S. publication of "Cairn" applied to 6, not to this work, as is suggested by the S.M.R. (SS 84 SE 15/SMR 11).
The diameters of the Dunkery cairns, if not their height, has necessitated vast quantities of stones, only a small proportion of which were likely to have been available as surface material. The shortfall was evidently acquired by quarrying for the abundant periglacial stones just beneath the surface. Grinsell noted quarry pits at Joaney How, 2 kilometres north east of Dunkery (SS 907 275), and at the nearby Robin How they extend for 10 metres from the base of the cairn, at intervals around the perimeter. That it is also a
common occurrence on the Dunkery ridge seems to have been ignored by
field workers, e.g. quarries associated with the Rowbarrows (SS 84 SE
10). At Dunkery Beacon most quarrying is below the crest on the northern
side of the ridge, to within 30 metres of the nearest cairn but out of sight. At least 27 pits, centred at SS 8913 4165, extend as a contour following band 100 metres long and 25 metres wide. In form they vary from the sub-circular, 2.5 metres across, to rectilinear hollows, irregular, but about 12 metres long and 4 metres wide. Depths range from 0.3 to 0.7 metres, but since all have a covering of peaty soil and heather the working depth was clearly greater.
Northward again between 20 and 40 metres from the pits there is a sharp local drop on the hillside resulting in four more or less parallel scarps with some exposed stone. Each is about 80 metres long and 1.2 metres high with intermediate terraces. (These have not been surveyed.)
Within the cairn group two possibly original quarry pits occur within a few metres of 5c, to the north east and south east. These are 10 to15 metres across and up to 1 metre deep. To the east of 5b there is a recent quarry, perhaps to supply the large quantity of stones requiredfor the construction of the 1935 memorial cairn.
A curious anomaly affects cairn 5b. A cropmark around the cairn can be seen on two sets of A.P.s viz R.C.H.M.E. SS8941/1/1097-8, and Exmoor National Park 2249, an infra-red vertical commissioned from Hunting Air Surveys. Both were flown on the same day, 20.04.1982. No cropmark occurs on R.A.F., Ordnance Survey or Meridian A.P.s. The image consists of a light coloured band about 6 metres wide, 20 metres from the perimeter of the cairn and concentric with it from the south west, through the north quadrant to the south east. In the south west it ends on (or beneath?) cairn 5a, and on the south east ends against cairn 5. There may be a narrow break in the north but this is very indistinct.
The overall diameter is approximately 60 metres. The area is entirely heather covered and the mark cannot be corroborated by any ground evidence. Immediately north of 5b there is a 12 metre wide hollow or "ditch" up to 0.5 metres deep, and beyond a faint rise perhaps 9 metres across and 0.1 metres high. Although this rise or very low broad "bank" corresponds positionally with the cropmark it is traceable for only 30 metres and at the north north west end fades into a natural hollow of broad dimensions which occupies an extensive
area to the west and south west and is crossed by the A.P. mark. Around the north east and east sides of cairn 5b the ground is fairly flat with no bank or rise, and no inner hollow. If the band represents tightly packed stones at ground level it could disregard natural undulations and hollows but be quite undetectable in present conditions. Generous swaleing might provide an answer. It cannot be reconciled to any temporary recent feature such as a
pathway: the course is unnatural and even if specially mowed in the heather no visitor would keep to it. It is also crossed by old vehicle tracks.
Should the cropmark be found to have archaeological significance as a hengiform feature, if originally complete a constructional sequence may be postulated. 5b would be the first, 5 the second and 5a, which seems to spread over part of 5, the third cairn. Because of its size cairn 5 now dominates the landscape but is not necessarily on the highest point of the initial ground level of this compact group.
Grinsell (5, p19) records a map of 1687 on which Dunkery Beacon is
depicted as a round tower, while a century later Collinson refers to four beacon hearths on the top of Dunkery, three of them 8ft. square. All could have been accommodated on cairn 5 though any cairn would provide a reasonable base. Since 1935 the memorial cairn has precluded the use of the site as a beacon but there is ample evidence for the use of 5b, and to a lesser extent 5a and 6. No fire hearth structures are identifiable. (Collinson's reference to two other firehearths a mile distant might be to the Joaney How/Robin How area.) With the exception of the enigmatic 5c the group generally is in poor condition. Although unlikely to suffer great damage the popularity of the area is such that gradual attrition is unavoidable and rescue
excavation of cairns 5a-5c and 6 might be considered in the medium
term.
The (Somerset) SMR records three cairns under numbers 33485, 33486 and 33530 the last two being duplications of the same cairn, so far as can be deduced.
33486 gies the Grinsell numeration, Cutcombe 6, but only the S.A.M. group number 49. But incorporated is the warden's report on structure"X" with the apparently correct S.A.M. number 49c, though it is not the most south easterly monument; that is the adjacent Cutcombe 6, 49b.
33530 ignores the Grinsell number, Cutcombe 6, but gives the correct
S.A.M. number 49b.
It would seem that 33486 should refer only to 49c, structure "X", and the references to the cairn, Cutcombe 6, be transferred to 33530. (14)

The five cairns on the summit of Dunkery Beacon were surveyed in August 2004 in response to a request by The National Trust to cover some of the monuments to protect them from further visitor damage. Scheduled. Three of the cairns have suffered superficial damage as the loose stones are regularly incorported into, and taken from, various stone piles and patterns. The largest summit cairn is suffering some structural damage due to visitor activity.
The new survey depicts the cairns as they were in October 2004 although even during the short time at the site changes were observed in the state of the stony mounds due to visitor actions. The report on the survey with comprehensive details of the cairns and comparisons with earlier surveys in 1987 and 2001 is entitled "A new archaeological survey of the summit cairns on Dunkery Beacon" by M Fletcher AI/27/2004. The RCHME 1987 is previously recorded in the record. The August 2001 "Survey of Prehistoric Burial Mounds on Dunkery Beacon" by Gemma Cutler was funded by the Exmoor National Park (15).

At least four of the five cairns of probable Bronze Age date on the summit of Dunkery Beacon are visible on aerial photographs as earthworks or structures. The cairns have been transcribed as closely as possible during the Exmoor National Mapping Programme survey, but in spite of their size they are not clearly visible, due in part to the vegetation cover of this area and the erosion caused by visitors to the site.
On aerial photographs of 1973 the scheduled sub-rectangular feature at SS 89174157, immediately to the north-west of Cutcombe 6 appears to be subdivided into two small enclosures. The function of this feature is unclear.
Approximately one metre to the south-west of this feature, also immediately to the west of Cutcombe 6, a pale circular area strongly resembles a cairn, but this may be the feature described by Quinnell as a pale area of rock, and not archaeological in origin, in record NMR UID 35995. Nonetheless, it has been transcribed until further work can clarify this issue.
To the north of Cutcombe 5, the possible cropmark feature described by the above authority as a `curious anomaly¿ encircling the cairn Cutcombe 5b (which is not clearly visible as an earthwork on any available aerial photograph) has been transcribed. However, it is unclear from the photographs alone whether this feature is indeed archaeological in origin, or simply an artefact created by the passage of visitor¿s feet or the vehicles which the above authority feels have left tracks across the `cropmark¿. That some of the vehicle tracks appear to cross the interior of the cairn with no corresponding tracks on the exterior may indicate the latter interpretation.
The possible quarry pits to the north of the cairn group has been partly transcribed, albeit in a schematic fashion; it is only partly visible on most vertical photographs, and although clearly visible on a number of oblique photographs, with limited control available these could not be fully rectified. (17-23)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1962
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Figs. :
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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 : No 6 (H St G Gray)
Page(s) : 123
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 78, 1932
Source Number : 11
Source : Externally held archive reference
Source details : Somerset C.C. SMR, dated 10.03 86
Page(s) :
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Source Number : 12
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Ms Notes: Supplement W and S Somerset Barrows (LV Grinsell) (forthcoming)
Page(s) :
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Source Number : 13
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Vowles 1946
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Source Number : 14
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F2 NVQ 05-AUG-87
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Source Number : 15
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : Fletcher M J 04-Oct-2004 EH Field Investigation
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Source Number : 17
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : SS 8941/3 (15431/17) 15-MAY-1996
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Source Number : 18
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : SS 8941/6 (15431/20) 15-MAY-1996
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Source Number : 19
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : SS 8941/9 (15450/13) 15-MAY-1996
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Source Number : 20
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : SS 8941/32-3 (24028/17-18) 09-AUG-2005
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Source Number : 21
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR RAF CPE/UK/1980 (F20) 4171-2 11-APR-1947
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Source Number : 3
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : List Anc Mon Eng & W 1961 81 (MOW)
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Source Number : 22
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : NMR OS/73109 956-7 29-APR-1973
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Source Number : 23
Source : Oblique aerial photograph reference number
Source details : ENPA Infra-red 2248-9 20-04-1982
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Source Number :
Source : Dunkery Beacon/ink survey
Source details :
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Source Number : 4
Source : Somerset barrows, part 1 : west and south
Source details : West Somer Barrows Mss (L V Grinsell)
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Source Number : 5
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 GHP 21-JUN-65
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Source Number : 6
Source : Somerset barrows, part 1 : west and south
Source details :
Page(s) : 16,19,21,29
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 113, 1969
Source Number : 7
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : A Tour in Quest of Genealogy ... By a Barrister 1811 137 (R Fenton)
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Source Number : 8
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Dunkery 1939 (A Vowles)
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Source Number : 9
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Hist of Hundred of Carhampton 1830 7 not 9 (J Savage)
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Source Number : 10
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Hist & Ants of the Co of Somer 2 1791 5 (J Collinson)
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Bronze Age
Display Date : Bronze Age
Monument End Date : -700
Monument Start Date : -2600
Monument Type : Cairn, Extractive Pit, Quarry
Evidence : Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Medieval
Monument End Date : 1540
Monument Start Date : 1066
Monument Type : Beacon
Evidence : Earthwork
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : Post Medieval
Monument End Date : 1901
Monument Start Date : 1540
Monument Type : Commemorative Monument
Evidence : Structure

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Somerset)
External Cross Reference Number : 33487
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : SO 49
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Somerset)
External Cross Reference Number : 33485
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Somerset)
External Cross Reference Number : 33486
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Somerset)
External Cross Reference Number : 33530
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Somerset)
External Cross Reference Number : 15350
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Somerset)
External Cross Reference Number : 15351
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Somerset)
External Cross Reference Number : 15349
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SS 84 SE 14
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 1473099
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 35995
Relationship type :

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : FIELD OBSERVATION ON SS 84 SE 14
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1965-06-21
End Date : 1965-06-21
Associated Activities : FIELD OBSERVATION ON SS 84 SE 14
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1987-08-12
End Date : 1987-08-12
Associated Activities : DUNKERY BEACON SURVEY : EH PROJECT
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 2004-10-04
End Date : 2004-10-04
Associated Activities : ENGLISH HERITAGE: EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK NMP
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 2007-04-01
End Date : 2009-07-01