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HER Number:MDV17015
Name:Braunton Marsh


Braunton Marsh was reclaimed in the early 19th century, and divided between the tenants and freeholders of the Great Field.


Grid Reference:SS 472 345
Map Sheet:SS43SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBraunton
DistrictNorth Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishBRAUNTON

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS43SE/39
  • SHINE Candidate (Yes)

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • FIELD SYSTEM (XIX - 1801 AD to 1900 AD)

Full description

Historic England, 05/10/2015, Braunton Marshes, Braunton, North Devon (Correspondence). SDV359230.

An aerial photograph interpretive survey of the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
(AONB), along with a small contextual area including the Taw and Torridge estuaries up to Barnstaple and Bideford, was undertaken by AC Archaeology and Devon County Council Historic Environment Team
between December 2011 and February 2013. One of the principal aims of this National Mapping
Programme project was to improve understanding and inform decisions with regard to the management and preservation of the historic environment of the AONB. To this end, eight sites were put forward for designation whilst a further three scheduled sites were recommended for amendment. Braunton Marsh, a former salt marsh that was reclaimed and enclosed for cattle grazing in the early C19, is one of the sites put forward for designation assessment. Although the marsh does not lie within the AONB, proposals have been put forward to extend the boundary to include it. A large section of the marsh is subject to Entry Level Stewardship.
Braunton Marsh, which lies to the south of the Great Field and separated from it by a hedge, is an area of grazing land which was probably partially reclaimed in the medieval period from the tidal waters of the River Taw. In the early C19, a Mr Charles Vancouver visited Braunton whilst preparing a report for the Board of Agriculture and recommended the complete reclamation of the Marsh. The local landowners, including the Lords of the Manors of Braunton Gorges, Braunton Abbotts, Braunton Arundel and Saunton, commissioned James Green, the County Surveyor, to prepare a scheme. An Act of Parliament authorising enclosure was granted in 1811. A substantial embankment, known as the Great Sea Bank, was erected on the east side of the marsh, running for a distance or some three miles from Broad Sands in the south to Marstage Farm in the north. Constructed from stone boulders, the embankment has a footpath at the summit and is divided into five grazing sections by stone walls with access provided by stiles; three of the stiles are listed at Grade II. A series of clay-lined ditches, totalling some 16 miles in length, were constructed to drain the marsh and clear water flowing down from the high ground between Saunton and Lobb. The water levels are maintained by a series of sluices controlling drainage from the north and from the River Caen via a canal from Velator Bridge. The ditches collect and discharge via the Great Sluice (listed Grade II) positioned in the Great Sea Bank. Green also incorporated the main salt marsh creeks into his new drainage system, and the name 'pill', which specifically refers to a tidal creek, is still used for some of the drains. His boundary drain followed almost exactly the limit of the marsh. The work was carried out between 1811 and 1815 at an estimated cost of £20,000 and reclaimed some 382ha (945 acres) of marsh. Construction of around 30 linhays is believed to have started almost immediately after the initial enclosure was completed whilst strict rules for the management of the marsh, particularly in relation to water management, were laid down with Marsh Commissioners and Inspectors being appointed.
In the 1850s a second sea wall was constructed to reclaim the newly-accreted Horsey Island to the south. A new cut was also made from Braunton Pill and a further series of linhays were built. With the works being completed in 1857, it brought the total area of enclosed marsh to some 485ha (1200 acres).
During the early C20, many tenanted, small parcels of land reverted back to their landlord and the size of individual holdings increased as fields were amalgamated. Many of the linhays subsequently become redundant and fell into disrepair.
On 1 October 1944, the Marsh Inspectors’ powers of drainage were transferred to the Braunton and
District Drainage Board, now referred to as the Braunton Internal Drainage Board (IDB). The Board
brought about an advance in technology with the initial introduction of a Priestman Cub Excavator (an
early predecessor of a modern swing shovel) to help clean out the drains. In the post-war years, field sizes continued to increase as small fields were merged to create large land holdings. As a result, the
extensive length of walls and hedges which once divided the marsh into small fields fell into disrepair
whilst the linhays, now virtually redundant due to the introduction of modern agricultural practices,
continued to decay. In the late-1980s the boundary drain was re-profiled by the IDB. Today, the marsh is
still predominantly used for cattle grazing.
While Braunton Marsh is an interesting example of an early-C19 land drainage and reclamation scheme, it is not recommended for scheduling for the following principal reasons:
Period: as its system of clay-lined ditches and sluices are common for agricultural drainage
systems it does not display any particular technological distinction for the period, especially as drainage
schemes undertaken at this time were often assisted by new technology, particularly steam engines;
Potential: with the special interest of the site was recognised in 1985 when ten linhays, three stiles
and the Great Sluice were listed at Grade II, its potential to yield further nationally important archaeological information is considered to be low, particularly as it is unclear as to whether the original form of the drainage ditches have been altered by over 100 years of maintenance;
Alteration: the amalgamation of land holdings from the early-C20 onwards has eroded the original
field pattern whilst the re-profiling of the boundary drain in the late-1980s has compromised the integrity of the drainage system;
Management considerations: it is considered that scheduling is not the most appropriate form of
protection for the marsh as its strict controls would interfere with beneficial land management practices which are essential in maintaining it as grazing land, particularly the maintenance of the drainage ditches.
Although it is acknowledged that Braunton Marsh is of local importance as an early-C19 land drainage and reclamation scheme, it is not recommended for scheduling. It is believed that the archaeology may be appropriately dealt with under the provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012), section 12, Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment and through Environmental Stewardship.

Unknown, 1824, Q/RR1/12/G12 H4 (Record Office Collection). SDV341103.

Inclosure Award for Braunton Marsh.

Parkinson, M., 1976, Braunton Marsh, 48 (Article in Serial). SDV341099.

Green (the engineer) incorporated the main salt marsh creeks into his new drainage system, and the name 'pill', which specifically refers to a tidal creek, is still used for some of the drains. His boundary drain followed almost exactly the limit of the marsh, as shown on his map of 1809. Other details: Plates 1 + 2; figure 1.

Turpin, J. W., 1982, Braunton Great Field and Marshes, 7 (Report - non-specific). SDV341027.

After reclamation some of the marshland was sold to pay for the enterprise, but the main salt marshes were divided to recompense some 130 claims for common rights. Private farmers of the village were awarded fields in the southen part near Flats Pill. Manorial tenants were similarly rewarded but the tithe to their plots was the property of the lord of the manor, and the land reverted to him after 99 years. Care was taken to group the lord's lands and the results can be seen in the larger 6 hectare (15 acre) fields.

Dennis, A. J., 1983, Braunton Marshes Linhay Survey (Archive - Survey). SDV341136.

Annotated survey drawings and photos of linhays and other buildings.

Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit, 1994, Braunton Great Field Management Study (Report - non-specific). SDV341059.

The second grazing area was on Braunton Marshes, some 900 acres which were enlosed in 1824, and divided between the manorial tenants and freeholders. Other details: Section 1.

Timms, S. C., 1995, Braunton Marsh (Personal Comment). SDV341101.

Braunton Marsh was reclaimed in 1811-15 following an act of parliament of 1811. The marsh had complex manorial ownerships, and with the extinction of common rights over the marsh in 1815, the reclaimed land was divided up and leased out in small units. This accounts for the distinctive pattern of small narrow fields on the marsh. Barns and linhays were erected in many of these fields. Those shown on the tithe map of circa 1840 are recorded separately. The marsh was bounded by Braunton Burrows on the west, the Great Field on the north and a sea wall built in 1815 on the south east side. The historical ecology of the area is described in detail by Parkinson. Braunton marsh is a SSSI.

Wade-Martins, S., 2000, The Farmsteads of Devon: A Thematic Survey, 25 (Monograph). SDV351739.

Devon's main group of filed barns is on Bruanton marshes. As well as a seven-bay linhay with a fold yard, there are two cattle shelters, erected between 1815 and 1820. Other, less complete examples survive. Those on Horsey Island were built after 1850. None are Listed. This is regrettable as their importance to the success of the reclamation scheme as a whole was emphasised by Whitley in his 1861 article which includes a detailed description of the cattle shelters.

Manning, C., 2007, Braunton Marsh Management Study 2007, 22 (Report - non-specific). SDV341104.

Braunton Marsh and surrounding area make up a complex landscape of historical, cultural and environmental importance. The drainage system is managed for the provision of drinking water for cattle, and the linhays were constructed and maintained for the purpose of sheltering them. Ongoing changes in agricultural practices have led to a decline in the linhays and to changes in the grazing regime, therefore the economic viability of traditional farming practices is crucial for the maintenance of these features.

Wessex Archaeology, 2007, RMB Chivenor Flood Defence Scheme Barnstaple, Devon: Archaeological Desk-based Assessment, 10 (WA69) (Report - Assessment). SDV342125.

Collings, A. G. + Manning, P. T. + Valentin, J., 2007, The North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Phase 1. Archaeological Survey. Summary Report, No. 783 (Report - Assessment). SDV339712.


Unknown, Aug 1982, Braunton Marsh (Aerial Photograph). SDV357446.

Alford, C., c1907, View from West Hill (Ground Photograph). SDV357447.

Devon County Council Photographic Unit, Unknown, Braunton Marsh, ENG/8682 (Aerial Photograph). SDV357445.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV339712Report - Assessment: Collings, A. G. + Manning, P. T. + Valentin, J.. 2007. The North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Phase 1. Archaeological Survey. Summary Report. Exeter Archaeology Report. 06.22 (rev.1). A4 Stapled + Digital. No. 783.
SDV341027Report - non-specific: Turpin, J. W.. 1982. Braunton Great Field and Marshes. Devon County Council Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. 7.
SDV341059Report - non-specific: Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit. 1994. Braunton Great Field Management Study. Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV341099Article in Serial: Parkinson, M.. 1976. Braunton Marsh. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 108. A5 Paperback. 48.
SDV341101Personal Comment: Timms, S. C.. 1995. Braunton Marsh. Unknown.
SDV341103Record Office Collection: Unknown. 1824. Q/RR1/12/G12 H4. Devon Record Office Collection. Unknown.
SDV341104Report - non-specific: Manning, C.. 2007. Braunton Marsh Management Study 2007. Taw Torridge Estuary Forum Report. A4 Spiral Bound. 22.
SDV341136Archive - Survey: Dennis, A. J.. 1983. Braunton Marshes Linhay Survey. Braunton Marsh Linhay Survey. Digital + Mixed Archive Material.
SDV342125Report - Assessment: Wessex Archaeology. 2007. RMB Chivenor Flood Defence Scheme Barnstaple, Devon: Archaeological Desk-based Assessment. Wessex Archaeology Report. 67300.01. A4 Stapled + Digital. 10 (WA69).
SDV351739Monograph: Wade-Martins, S.. 2000. The Farmsteads of Devon: A Thematic Survey. A4 Grip Bound + Digital. 25.
SDV357445Aerial Photograph: Devon County Council Photographic Unit. Unknown. Braunton Marsh. Devon County Council Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper) + Digital (Scan). ENG/8682.
SDV357446Aerial Photograph: Unknown. Aug 1982. Braunton Marsh. North Devon Aerial Survey. Photograph (Paper) + Digital (Scan).
SDV357447Ground Photograph: Alford, C.. c1907. View from West Hill. Photograph (Paper) + Digital.
SDV359230Correspondence: Historic England. 05/10/2015. Braunton Marshes, Braunton, North Devon. Notification of Decision Not to Add Site to the Schedule of Monuments. Digital.

Associated Monuments

MDV16296Related to: Braunton (Monument)
MDV131401Related to: Building on Braunton Marsh (Building)
MDV4463Related to: The Great Sea Bank, Braunton Marsh (Monument)
MDV74673Related to: The Great Sluice, Braunton Marsh (Building)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV4490 - RMB Chivenor Flood Defence Scheme Barnstaple, Devon: Archaeological Desk-based Assessment
  • EDV6573 - Braunton Marshes Linhay Survey

Date Last Edited:Sep 25 2023 9:50AM