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HER Number:MDV14292
Name:Barnstaple Medieval Town Defences

Summary

The line of the medieval town walls, which were erected in the 11th or early 12th century, can still be traced in some of the property boundaries to the west of Boutport Street. The line of the walls from the south gate along the river front to the north gate, however, cannot be precisely defined. By the middle of the 16th century the town walls were described as 'almost clene faullen' although two of the gates survived into the 19th century. Excavations on the Green Lane Access site in 1979 across the proposed line of the wall, revealed a shallow robber trench about 3.0 metres wide. The town ditch was located about 10 metres outside the wall and may have originally been dug in the late Saxon period.

Location

Grid Reference:SS 558 333
Map Sheet:SS53SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBarnstaple
DistrictNorth Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishBARNSTAPLE

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit Site Code: Site 130
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS53SE/208
  • Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division: SS53SE13

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • TOWN WALL (Early Medieval to Post Medieval - 1066 AD to 1750 AD (Between))

Full description

Egeland, P., 12/11/1981, 127 Boutport Street (Worksheet). SDV342346.

The rear wall of the yard at 127 Boutport Street appears to be part of the original town wall.

Timms, S. C., 14/02/1978, Proposed Archaeological Rescue Investigation prior to the Commencement of the Green Lane Service Road, Barnstaple (Report - non-specific). SDV354432.

Griffith, F. M., 18/12/1985, DAP/FU, 1-6A (Aerial Photograph). SDV74027.

Cotton, R. W., 1823-1900, The Gates and Walls of Ancient Barnstaple (Un-published). SDV342348.

Gribble, J. B., 1830, Memorials of Barnstaple, 36 (Monograph). SDV342187.

Ordnance Survey, 1880-1899, First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map (Cartographic). SDV336179.

The probable line of Barnstaple's medieval defences is visible in many of the boundaries depicted on the 1880s-1890s 25 inch Ordnance Survey map.

Timms, S. C., 1976, The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft, 71-72 (Report - Survey). SDV341346.

The line of the medieval town walls, which were erected in the 11th or early 12th century, can still be traced in some of the property boundaries to the west of Boutport Street, although their existence has yet to be proved archaeologically. The line of the walls from the south gate along the river front to the north gate, however, cannot be precisely defined. By the middle of the 16th century the town walls were described as 'almost clene faullen' although two of the gates survived into the 19th century.

Markuson, K. W., 1979, Barnstaple: Green Lane Access Site, 10 (Article in Serial). SDV354902.

Markuson, K. W., 1979, Green Lane Access Road Site (Ground Photograph). SDV342345.

Photo showing the town ditch.

Devon County Council Conservation Section, 1979, Green Lane Access Road Site, Film 349, 395 (Ground Photograph). SDV342344.

Markuson, K. W., 1979, The Green Lane Access Site, Barnstaple, North Devon (Report - Interim). SDV350795.

Excavation on the Green Lane Access Site in 1979 gave an opportunity to investigate the medieval town defences on the eastern periphery of the town. The defences are first recorded in 1107. It is not known when they went out of use but in the mid 1540s Leley describes the wall as almost 'clene faullen' and Cambden writing in 1586 stated that there was hardly a trace left of it in his time. Excavation across the proposed line of the wall revealed a shallow robber trench about 3.0 metres wide containing a mixture of clay, rubble and mortar representing the remains of unwanted wall core dumped back in after the better stones of the foundation had been removed. The town ditch was located by geophysical survey about 10 metres outside the town wall. Subsequent excavation showed it to be 'V' shaped, about 4 metres wide and 1.75 metres deep, the bottom of which was lined with large stones set in clay suggesting that it was once water-filled. The lack of pottery from the ditch (a few sherds of late medieval pottery were found in the fill) may indicate that it was originally dug during an aceramic or near-aceramic phase. Barnstaple to date has produced no Saxon and very little Norman pottery. The shallow foundations and the nature of the ditch indicate that the purpose of the defences was not one of strength but to delimit the boundary of the town. Once the defences fell out of use the east side of Barnstaple was ready for expansion and development and documentary evidence indicates that buildings were being erected against the outside of the wall by the later 15th century. The line of the wall subsequently played a part in property alignments and boundaries.

Henderson, D., 1979, Town Wall Dig Will Yield Secrets of Barnstaple's Past (Article in Serial). SDV361447.

An eight week archaeological dig beginning next month in the centre of Barnstaple is expected to answer may questions about the town's ancient history.

The diggers will delve into an areawhere a service road is due to be built right across the line where the old town defences are thought to be. A length of wall was found in 1930 along the same line as what is believed to be the town wall.

Western Times, 1979, Traces of Medieval Town Wall Uncovered (Article in Serial). SDV361446.

Traces of Barnstaple's medieval town wall and the foundations of an ancient building have been discovered in the town centre.

The excavators found traces of a deep trench abut 9ft wide indicating that this section of the medieval wall had been robbed, that is the existing wall below ground level was excavated in the past and the stones reused probably elsewhere in the town.
The excavations also brought to light the foundations of a building of dressed sandstone.

Henderson, D., 1979, Traces of Old Barum Wall Unearthed (Article in Serial). SDV361606.

An archaeological team discovered remains of Barnstaple's medieval town wall. Clay bonded wall with no mortar used. Work was conducted in a small area between Boutport Street and Green Lane.

Markuson, K. W., 1980, Barnstaple Survey (Un-published). SDV356766.

The ditch may have originally belonged to the late Saxon period. By the 15th/16th century the defences had gone out of use and buildings were erected over them, representing the first phase of extra-mural development on the east side of the town. The site, on Bull Court Lane, excavated in 1979 also produced evidence for a pottery industry as far back as the 14th/15th century.

Markuson, K. W., 1980, Excavations on the Green Lane Access Site, Barnstaple, 1979, 67-90 (Article in Serial). SDV342340.

Excavation on the site of the Poltimore Arms, which was demolished in advance of a new road scheme, in 1979 revealed evidence of Barnstaple's medieval town defences. A ditch was located about 12 metres to the southwest of Boutport Street which measured 3 metres wide and was 1.2 metres at its deepest. A robber trench 3 metres wide by 0.65 metres deep which signified the line of the wall was exposed circa 13 metres to the west of the ditch. Between the ditch and the wall was a berm circa 8 metres wide. These features were interpreted as part of the defences of the Saxon burh, sited here, rather than at Pilton. They were certainly in use by the 12th century, the time of its earliest documentary reference and went out of use between the 13th and 15th centuries. The town wall, possibly built over an earlier ditch, was also in existence by the 12th century, but had been destroyed piecemeal by the end of the 13th century. Its line continued to be employed as a rubbish dump and for industrial use, and probably as a property boundary. No building activity occurred until the late 14th to early 15th century and by the 17th century the extra-mural development on the line of Boutport Street was complete. Barnstaple's medieval wall had four principal gates. The South and East Gates disappeared without record perhaps in the 17th century. The North and West Gates were not destroyed until the 19th century. Part of one of the arches of the South Gate survives in a shop at the corner of High Street and Boutport Street and the eastern abutment of the North Gate is incorporated into a building on the east side of 55 High Street. A 15 metre section of the wall was exposed on the west side of Boutport Street early in the 20th century and a short length was uncovered in 1930. This wall was circa 2 metres wide and rested circa 1 metre below the natural ground level on a cobble foundation. The line of the medieval wall has long been suspected to have survived as an intermittent property boundary extending between the North Gate at SS55693347 and the South Gate at SS55873308. The first reference to Barnstaple's defences was in the 12th century Foundation Charter of the Cluniac Priory of Mary Magdalene. A grant of land given to the priory by Judhael described 'all the land outside the wall from the North Gate to the East Gate together with the ditch as far as the adjoining road'. The town defences are also mentioned in the 15th and 16th centuries by which time the wall had virtually disappeared and was described as 'clene faullen'. Property boundaries respected the line of these defences into the 20th century.
Much of the pottery found during the excavation was unstratified. However, an excellent stratfied group medieval pottery came from the wall robber trench dated to from the late 13th/early 14th century to the 15th century. This represented mainly the dumping of industrial waste but some domestic rubbish was a;sp included. Three types of vessel were represented; of the rims, 55% were from cooking pots, 36% jugs, and 9% bowls. There were also a large number of crested ridge tiles. The industrial rejects, presumably from a nearby kiln were mainly from glazed jugs. The domestic pottery showed evidence for soot marked from an open fire on the sides and bases.

Webster, I. E. + Cherry, J., 1980, Interim Report, 250 (Article in Serial). SDV342339.

Excavation by Markuson on line of town defences in Green Lane in Barnstaple in 1979. The line of the town wall was located, which was separated from the ditch by a berm 10 metres wide. The wall had been robbed out, and its line used as a dump for kiln waste. The ditch was backfilled some time in the late Medieval period. Soon after the defences went out of use, buildings were constructed over them: first a post-hole structure built obliquely to the line of the wall, indicating the extra mural settlement pattern had not then taken shape. In 16th to 17th centuries this pattern was fully developed when 2 clay bonded stone structures were constructed over the area.

Henderson, C., 1983, Barnstaple Local Public Inquiry. Devon Archaeological Statement. Appendix 6, 23 (Un-published). SDV357965.

North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit, 1986, An Excavation at North Devon Area Library Site, Barnstaple; Summary Report, Fig. 1 (Report - Excavation). SDV76038.

North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit, 1986, Archaeological Evaluation and Research Work, Barnstaple 1985-6, 7,11 (Report - non-specific). SDV342155.

Two substantial walls were observed in a 2 metre deep trench in Green Lane in Barnstaple in 1985. These were possibly associated with the town wall.

North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit, 1986, Interim Report on Small Sites Work, Barnstaple (Report - Interim). SDV90724.

Presumed line of town defences marked on sketch plan. Excavation of Trench 5 revealed a section of the defensive ditch.

North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit, 1986, The Guardian Royal Exchange Site, 27-28 Joy Street, Barnstaple, 3 (Report - Excavation). SDV342154.

Joy Street is believed to be Anglo Saxon in origin to the west of the medieval East Gate.

North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit, 1986, The Prudential Site, 65-68 High Street, Barnstaple: Interim Report, Fig. 1 (Report - Excavation). SDV342224.

Possible site of the eastern side of the medieval defences of Barnstaple.

Timms, S., 1987, The Archaeology of North Devon Towns, 3 (Un-published). SDV354573.

North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit, 1990, Archaeology in Barnstaple: 1984-90, 18-9 (Report - non-specific). SDV342524.

Foundation trench of the medieval town wall excavated in Bull Court in 1979. No evidence of the Town Wall was found during excavation between Boutport Street and Green Lane suggesting that the wall was never fully completed.

Lovatt, A. M., 1990, Excavations within a Medieval Town: North West Barnstaple 1985-1988, 26 (Report - Excavation). SDV64370.

North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit, 1991, North Devon Archaeological Site Code Index, Site 130 (Report - non-specific). SDV63429.

A possible fragment of the town wall was recorded in Boutport Street in 1986.

Dyer, M. + Collings, A. G. + Henderson, C. G., 1994, Archaeological Assessment of Proposed Extension to the North Country Inn, 128 Boutport Street, Barnstaple, 4 (Report - Assessment). SDV342316.

Property boundaries shown on the 19th century map suggest a possible line for the town wall circa 8 metres southeast of Boutport Street; but this alignment is less convincing than that confirmed on the east side of the town, and may be a coincidence. The excavated foundation trench for the town wall at Green Lane was circa 2.75 metres wide and 0.5 metres deep. The front of the wall would have been circa 28 metres from the southwest side of Boutport Street and 21 metres from the northeast side of Green Lane. The V-shaped defensive ditch which lay 8-9 metres in front of the wall to the northeast, was circa 1 metre deep. The ditch was traced further to northwest in the 1980s. At the Central Garage site the defensive ditch was circa 20 metres southwest of Boutport Street, where it was 2 metres wide and 0.75 metres deep. A ditch of similar dimensions and alignment was found in a trial trench behind 121 Boutport Street.

Cullen, B + Thompson, S, 2013, Joy Street, Green Lanes, Barnstaple, Evaluation, 4 (Report - Evaluation). SDV357185.

The extent of the medieval town is defined by the town defences now reflected in the alignment of Boutport Street to the east, North Walk and the River Yeo to the north and the River Taw to the west. The defences were first documented in the early 12th century as a wall and ditch and running along the eastern boundary of the town, between the North Gate and East Gate. The location of the defences was confirmed during excavations along the inferred line of the eastern wall. The associated ditch has also been identified in various locations, lying about 13 metres from the line of the wall. Documentary evidence suggests that the defences had fallen out of use by the mid 16th century.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, Unknown, SS53SE13 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV342347.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV336179Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1880-1899. First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map. First Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV341346Report - Survey: Timms, S. C.. 1976. The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft. Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology Report. A4 Unbound + Digital. 71-72.
SDV342154Report - Excavation: North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit. 1986. The Guardian Royal Exchange Site, 27-28 Joy Street, Barnstaple. North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit Report. 7. A4 Stapled + Digital. 3.
SDV342155Report - non-specific: North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit. 1986. Archaeological Evaluation and Research Work, Barnstaple 1985-6. North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. 7,11.
SDV342187Monograph: Gribble, J. B.. 1830. Memorials of Barnstaple. Memorials of Barnstaple. Unknown. 36.
SDV342224Report - Excavation: North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit. 1986. The Prudential Site, 65-68 High Street, Barnstaple: Interim Report. North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. Fig. 1.
SDV342316Report - Assessment: Dyer, M. + Collings, A. G. + Henderson, C. G.. 1994. Archaeological Assessment of Proposed Extension to the North Country Inn, 128 Boutport Street, Barnstaple. Exeter Archaeology Report. 94.27. A4 Stapled + Digital. 4.
SDV342339Article in Serial: Webster, I. E. + Cherry, J.. 1980. Interim Report. Medieval Archaeology. 24. Unknown. 250.
SDV342340Article in Serial: Markuson, K. W.. 1980. Excavations on the Green Lane Access Site, Barnstaple, 1979. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 38. Paperback Volume. 67-90.
SDV342344Ground Photograph: Devon County Council Conservation Section. 1979. Green Lane Access Road Site. Photograph (Paper) + Digital. Film 349, 395.
SDV342345Ground Photograph: Markuson, K. W.. 1979. Green Lane Access Road Site. Photograph (Paper) + Digital.
SDV342346Worksheet: Egeland, P.. 12/11/1981. 127 Boutport Street. Worksheet + Digital.
SDV342347Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. Unknown. SS53SE13. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV342348Un-published: Cotton, R. W.. 1823-1900. The Gates and Walls of Ancient Barnstaple. A4 Single Sheet + Digital.
SDV342524Report - non-specific: North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit. 1990. Archaeology in Barnstaple: 1984-90. North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. 18-9.
SDV350795Report - Interim: Markuson, K. W.. 1979. The Green Lane Access Site, Barnstaple, North Devon. Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV354432Report - non-specific: Timms, S. C.. 14/02/1978. Proposed Archaeological Rescue Investigation prior to the Commencement of the Green Lane Service Road, Barnstaple. Devon County Council. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV354573Un-published: Timms, S.. 1987. The Archaeology of North Devon Towns. A4 Stapled + Digital. 3.
SDV354902Article in Serial: Markuson, K. W.. 1979. Barnstaple: Green Lane Access Site. Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology Annual Report 1979. A4 Stapled + Digital. 10.
SDV356766Un-published: Markuson, K. W.. 1980. Barnstaple Survey. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV357185Report - Evaluation: Cullen, B + Thompson, S. 2013. Joy Street, Green Lanes, Barnstaple, Evaluation. Wessex Archaeology Report. 78942.03. Digital. 4.
SDV357965Un-published: Henderson, C.. 1983. Barnstaple Local Public Inquiry. Devon Archaeological Statement. Appendix 6. A4 Stapled + Digital. 23.
SDV361446Article in Serial: Western Times. 1979. Traces of Medieval Town Wall Uncovered. Western Times. 27/04/1979.
SDV361447Article in Serial: Henderson, D.. 1979. Town Wall Dig Will Yield Secrets of Barnstaple's Past. North Devon Journal. 22/02/1979. A4 Single Sheet + Digital.
SDV361606Article in Serial: Henderson, D.. 1979. Traces of Old Barum Wall Unearthed. North Devon Journal.
SDV63429Report - non-specific: North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit. 1991. North Devon Archaeological Site Code Index. North Devon District Council Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. Site 130.
SDV64370Report - Excavation: Lovatt, A. M.. 1990. Excavations within a Medieval Town: North West Barnstaple 1985-1988. North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit Report. A4 Grip Bound + Digital. 26.
SDV74027Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 18/12/1985. DAP/FU. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 1-6A.
SDV76038Report - Excavation: North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit. 1986. An Excavation at North Devon Area Library Site, Barnstaple; Summary Report. North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. Fig. 1.
SDV90724Report - Interim: North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit. 1986. Interim Report on Small Sites Work, Barnstaple. North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.

Associated Monuments

MDV106447Part of: Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV46527Related to: 116 Boutport Street, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV38823Related to: 125 Boutport Street, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV30865Related to: 26-29 Joy Street, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV14995Related to: Anglo Saxon Burh at Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV14994Related to: Anglo-Saxon Burh at Pilton, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV41593Related to: Medieval Ditch at 121 Boutport Street, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV38830Related to: Medieval Ditch to Rear of 101 Boutport Street, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV12510Related to: Medieval East Gate, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV12495Related to: Medieval North Gate, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV12509Related to: Medieval South Gate, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV12497Related to: Medieval West Gate, Barnstaple (Building)
MDV110240Related to: Presumed Line of Town Wall, Castle Street, Barnstaple (Monument)

Associated Finds

  • FDV3730 - POT (XIII to XV - 1201 AD to 1500 AD)

Associated Events

  • EDV4495 - Excavation at 27-28 Joy Street, Barnstaple
  • EDV4497 - Watching Brief at 85 Boutport Street, Barnstaple

Date Last Edited:Apr 23 2020 1:27PM