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HER Number:MDV14321
Name:Saxon Burh at Lydford


Saxon Burh at Lydford first mentioned in around the 9th century as Llidan in the Burghal Hidage


Grid Reference:SX 510 848
Map Sheet:SX58SW
Admin AreaDartmoor National Park
Civil ParishLydford
DistrictWest Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishLYDFORD

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX58SW/86
  • Old SAM County Ref: 392

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • BURH (VIII to Late Medieval - 701 AD to 1539 AD (Between))

Full description

Worth, R. N., 1879, Lydford and its Castle, 296 (Article in Serial). SDV336870.

Reichel, O. J., 1896, The Domesday Hundreds: Listone, 465 (Article in Serial). SDV2119.

Lethaby, W. R., 1904-1905, The Conqueror's Castles in Devon, 179-181 (Article in Serial). SDV342523.

Reichel, O. J., 1914, The Hundred of Lifton in the Time of Testa de Nevil, AD 1243, 217-9 (Article in Serial). SDV336448.

At the time of Testa de Nevil 1243, Earl Richard held Lydford together with the Forest of Dartmoor.

Alexander, J. J., 1926, The Early Boroughs of Devon, 276-7 (Article in Serial). SDV336875.

Alexander, J. J., 1929, 2nd Report on Early History of Devon, 135 (Article in Serial). SDV75185.

Finberg, H. P. R., 1947-1949, Lydford Castle, 386-7 (Article in Serial). SDV233004.

The Saxon Burh at Lydford. First reference to Lydford occurs in the Burghal Hidage (circa 900), in which Lydford is assigned 140 hides for its defense.

Hoskins, W. G., 1954, A New Survey of England: Devon, 427-9 (Monograph). SDV17562.

Addyman, P. V., 1963-1964, Second Interim Report (Un-published). SDV230800.

Although it was previously believed that the defenses of the burh only extended across the neck of the promontory, it has now been demonstrated that they enclose the whole town. Traces of the earthen bank (a timber strengthened turf bank) have been located at various points on the town's circumference: on the southern tip of the promontory beneath the Norman ringwork, and later castle bailey and on north-west edge of Lydford. It is possible that a double bank existed across the neck of the promontory. Most of the defenses are now in guardianship, or have been Scheduled. Excavations have taken place within the burh where it was demonstrated that the present grid street system is of Saxon origins, probably the result of a systematic laying out in the time of King Alfred when the burh was established. Within the burgage tenement boundaries (defined by ditches or palisades) have been found a sunken floored hut and timber buildings of presumed Saxon date, Devon being aceramic at that time. Saxon features also noticed in the area of Lydford Castle and Southgate Cottages. The burh also contained a mint. The borough of Lideforde was a royal borough at the time of Domesday. In the time of King Edward, it was held by the King in demense.

Whitelock, D., 1965, The Anglo Saxon Chronicle (Monograph). SDV233010.

The defences at Lydford formed an effective barrier to Danish raiders in 997.

Hill, D., 1969, The Burghal Hidage, 90 (Article in Serial). SDV339210.

Radford, C. A. R., 1970, Article in Medieval Archaeology, 94-6, Plan (Article in Serial). SDV336884.

Biddle, M. + Hill, D., 1971, Late Saxon Planned Towns, 83 (Article in Serial). SDV342518.

Beresford, M. W. + St. Joseph, J. K., 1979, Medieval England: An Ariel Survey, 200, Photograph (Monograph). SDV81678.

Griffith, F. M., 1988, Devon's Past. An Aerial View, 69 (Monograph). SDV64198.

The only side at Lydford lacking natural defences, the north-east, was protected in the Late Saxon period by a massive earthen bank, which can still be seen on the ground and in the photograph. A date in the 880s, in the reign of King Alfred, is the most probable for the construction of these defences, which are similar to those of other known promontory burhs.

Ancient Monuments, 1989, Lydford; Ringwork, Castle, Town Banks, Site of Saxon Town and Defences (Schedule Document). SDV351489.

Most of the site of the Saxon Burh at Lydford is enclosed within the Scheduled Monument area.

Newman , P., 2000, The Town and Castle Earthworks at Lydford, 4-9, Figure 5-8 (Report - Survey). SDV351534.

The Burghal Hidage town of Lydford has been surveyed recording all the earthworks currently visible associated with the castle and the pre-conquest defences. The major evidence for the burh is the large defensive ramparts and topographically the street layout is reminiscent of other Alfredian burhs. The pre-conquest defences which are believed to have defined the edge of the promontory do not survive as earthworks and the only evidence of their existence was glimpsed during excavations.

GSB Prospection, 2011, An Archaeological Geophysical Survey on Land Adjacent to Lydford Castle (Report - Scientific). SDV359789.

Relatively strong well-defined archaeological type anomalies have been detected in the northern half of the survey area; the pattern suggests a possible small enclosure or land parcel immediately west of the churchyard, though interpretation is hampered by the presence of ferrous anomalies. A few other linear anomalies and weak trends in the central and southern parts of the survey grid may also be of interest, given the wider context; though these tend to be less coherent and the interpretation is more cautious.

Steinmetzer, M., 2011, Archaeological evaluation on land adjacent to Lydford Castle, Lydford, Devon (Report - Watching Brief). SDV359788.

Installation of a South West Water temporary works compound. Two trenches totalling 31 metres in length were excavated within the proposed compound, targeting a series of anomalies identified during an earlier geophysical survey.
None of the anomalies identified by the geophysical survey were found. The trenches revealed a consistently uniform layer sequence of modern topsoil and post-medieval subsoil, overlying an extensive earth bank. Although no pottery or other dating evidence was recovered the bank is likely to be of Saxon and/or Norman date, representing part of the town defences.

National Monuments Record, 2013, 440671, OSA SX 58SW3 (National Monuments Record Database). SDV233012.

The Saxon burh of Hlidan, the town now known as Lydford, lies on a wedge-shaped promontory, isolated on the south and west by the deep gorge of the Lyd and on the north-west by a very steep sided tributary valley. Finds uncovered during excavation have included Imported Mediterranean Ware, which may indicate there was an earlier post Roman settlement here. During the reign of Alfred the Great (AD 871-99) it is believed that the town was chosen, on account of its great natural strength, to form a unit in the scheme of national defence. It is claimed that it proved an effective barrier to Danish raiders in AD 997 and subsequently became a populous burh, with a mint which issued silver pennies continuously from the reign of Ethelred II (AD 976-1016) to that of Edward the Confessor (AD 1042-1066). After AD 1066, a Norman fort, remaining as earthworks, was built within the town boundaries followed by a late 12th century prison or keep. Lydford subsequently became significant as a centre for justice and administration of the Forest of Dartmoor and the Stannaries. However it declined in commercial terms after the 14th century before seeing a revival in the 19th century. The location of the town on a promontory meant that it required little artificial fortification except for the north-east sector. At this position there still remains a large curvilinear earthwork rampart, separating the original settlement off from the flatter land to the north-east. The rampart is in two sections with a 25 metre gap in the centre, which is thought to be the original entrance to the settlement, though it would have been much narrower in earlier times. There may well have been an external ditch to the rampart. The interior of the burh contains evidence of street layouts and property boundaries, which are believed to go back to Saxon times. The pottery found during excavations also included some Late Saxon wares. The site is in the care of English Heritage.

Steinmetzer, M., 2014, The reinstatement of the site compound adjacent to Lydford Castle (Report - Watching Brief). SDV357113.

No topsoil was disturbed during the installation of the compound. This covered an area (30 by 30 metres) with geotextile and later stone, placed directly onto the existing ground. A small collection of unstratified finds were recovered, including fragments of iron slag and 18th-19th century pottery.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV17562Monograph: Hoskins, W. G.. 1954. A New Survey of England: Devon. A New Survey of England: Devon. A5 Hardback. 427-9.
SDV2119Article in Serial: Reichel, O. J.. 1896. The Domesday Hundreds: Listone. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 28. Unknown. 465.
SDV230800Un-published: Addyman, P. V.. 1963-1964. Second Interim Report. Digital.
SDV233004Article in Serial: Finberg, H. P. R.. 1947-1949. Lydford Castle. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 23. Unknown. 386-7.
SDV233010Monograph: Whitelock, D.. 1965. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle.
SDV233012National Monuments Record Database: National Monuments Record. 2013. 440671. National Monuments Record Database. Website. OSA SX 58SW3.
SDV336448Article in Serial: Reichel, O. J.. 1914. The Hundred of Lifton in the Time of Testa de Nevil, AD 1243. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 46. A5 Paperback. 217-9.
SDV336870Article in Serial: Worth, R. N.. 1879. Lydford and its Castle. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 11. A5 Paperback. 296.
SDV336875Article in Serial: Alexander, J. J.. 1926. The Early Boroughs of Devon. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 58. A5 Paperback. 276-7.
SDV336884Article in Serial: Radford, C. A. R.. 1970. Article in Medieval Archaeology. Medieval Archaeology. 14. Unknown. 94-6, Plan.
SDV339210Article in Serial: Hill, D.. 1969. The Burghal Hidage. Medieval Archaeology. 13. Unknown. 90.
SDV342518Article in Serial: Biddle, M. + Hill, D.. 1971. Late Saxon Planned Towns. Antiquaries Journal. 51. Unknown. 83.
SDV342523Article in Serial: Lethaby, W. R.. 1904-1905. The Conqueror's Castles in Devon. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 3. Unknown. 179-181.
SDV351489Schedule Document: Ancient Monuments. 1989. Lydford; Ringwork, Castle, Town Banks, Site of Saxon Town and Defences. The Schedule of Monuments.
SDV351534Report - Survey: Newman , P.. 2000. The Town and Castle Earthworks at Lydford. English Heritage. A4 Spiral Bound. 4-9, Figure 5-8.
SDV357113Report - Watching Brief: Steinmetzer, M.. 2014. The reinstatement of the site compound adjacent to Lydford Castle. Oakford Archaeology. OA1009. Digital.
SDV359788Report - Watching Brief: Steinmetzer, M.. 2011. Archaeological evaluation on land adjacent to Lydford Castle, Lydford, Devon. Exeter Archaeology. 11.46. Digital.
SDV359789Report - Scientific: GSB Prospection. 2011. An Archaeological Geophysical Survey on Land Adjacent to Lydford Castle. GSB Prospection. 2011/07. Digital.
SDV64198Monograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1988. Devon's Past. An Aerial View. Devon's Past. An Aerial View. Paperback Volume. 69.
SDV75185Article in Serial: Alexander, J. J.. 1929. 2nd Report on Early History of Devon. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 61. A5 Hardback. 135.
SDV81678Monograph: Beresford, M. W. + St. Joseph, J. K.. 1979. Medieval England: An Ariel Survey. Medieval England: An Ariel Survey. 200, Photograph.

Associated Monuments

MDV53821Related to: Burgage Plots in Lydford (Monument)
MDV28942Related to: Earthworks in field to east of Lydford (Monument)
MDV54075Related to: Hollow Way (Monument)
MDV14322Related to: Hut to west of St Petrock's Church in Lydford (Monument)
MDV21796Related to: Medieval Borough of Lydford (Monument)
MDV14324Related to: Medieval Houses exposed opposite Lydford Parish Church (Monument)
MDV5594Related to: Outer Defensive Bank to north and east of Lydford (Monument)
MDV14317Related to: Ringwork to west of Lydford (Monument)
MDV14318Related to: Saxon Defences west of Lydford (Monument)
MDV14316Related to: Saxon features at Lydford Castle (Monument)
MDV14323Related to: Saxon Settlement at Lydford (Monument)
MDV14319Related to: Section of Defensive Bank at Lydford (Monument)
MDV3249Related to: The South Gate, Lydford (Monument)
MDV3242Related to: Town Defences to north and east of Lydford (Monument)
MDV14153Related to: Two Earthwork Banks on east side of Lydford Village (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV6171 - Archaeological Assessment of Proposed Sewage Treatment Works at Lydford (Ref: 08.31)
  • EDV6180 - The Town and Castle Earthworks at Lydford
  • EDV6566 - Watching brief during reinstatement of the site compound adjacent to Lydford Castle (Ref: OA1009)
  • EDV7063 - Watching brief on replacement of electricity pole at South Gate, Lydford (Ref: ACD1416)
  • EDV7078 - Evaluation on land adjacent to Lydford Castle (Ref: 7486)
  • EDV7079 - Geophysical survey on land adjacent to Lydford Castle (Ref: 2011/07)

Date Last Edited:Sep 22 2017 2:30PM