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HER Number:MDV42590
Name:Medieval Harbour at Seaton

Summary

The medieval harbour at Seaton was seriously affected by silting of the estuary which had occurred by 1450. Digging for saltworkings in the 18th century exposed numerous remains of boats.

Location

Grid Reference:SY 251 907
Map Sheet:SY29SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishSeaton
DistrictEast Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishSEATON

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • National Monuments Record: 449631
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SY29SW/249
  • SHINE Candidate (Yes)

Monument Type(s) and Dates

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

Full description

Stukeley, W., 1776, Itinerarium Curiosum, 159 (Monograph). SDV120084.

Davidson, J., 1843, Church Notes on Devon. Volume 1. East Devon, 304 (Un-published). SDV348541.

The remains of a harbour may still be traced at Seaton in the form of a ditch which runs from the beach about quarter of a mile inland as far as the church and is called Merchants Roads. On sinking a well near this towards the beach several successive layers of beach and mud were penetrated which seems to prove that the harbour was choked by several irruptions [sic] of the sea beach. Other details: s726.5/DEV/DAV U.

Parkinson, M., 1985, The Axe Estuary and its Marshes, 20, 24-26, 44 (Article in Serial). SDV122290.

The earliest name for the estuary is Axe Haven indicating its status as a stopping point for vessels. Land north of Seaton Church was known as Merchants Roads, supporting anchorage evidence for the west side of the haven. By 1346-7 Seaton was a big port, providing 2 ships and 25 men for the expedition against Calais. The port was in decline by 1450 when Bishop Lacey granted indulgences to those contributing to repairs at the haven. Leland refers to there having been 'a very notable haven' at Axmouth. Referring to the saltworkings in 1723, Stukeley stated that when dug 'they find innumerable keels and pieces of vessels, with nails, pitch, anchors etc 6 or 8 feet deep, because if was formerly part of the haven'.

Griffith, F., 1988, Devon's Past. An Aerial View, 52-53 (Monograph). SDV64198.

Turton, S. D. + Weddell, P. J., 1993, Archaeological Appraisal of the Salt Industry on Seaton Marshes, East Devon, 3-4 (Report - non-specific). SDV120092.

Turton, S. D., 1994, Archaeological Assessment of Proposed Axe Estuary Local Nature Reserve, 6 (Report - Assessment). SDV120094.

Seaton ranked as a major port in the mid 14th century but massive deterioration had occurred by circa 1450. The silting of the estuary may have been precipitated by the great storm of 1377. Attempts at reconstruction failed and constriction of the river resulted in the formation of salt marshes.

Dixon, T. + Turton, S. D., 1995, Archaeological and Historical Appraisal of the Town of Seaton, East Devon, 5 (Report - non-specific). SDV120095.

Bourn, R., 2000, Land off Harbour Road, Seaton: Archaeological Desk Based Assessment, 10 (Report - Assessment). SDV120104.

ARCA, 2008, Axe Estuary Wetlands, Seaton, Devon. Geoarchaeological and Bioarchaeological Assessment (Report - Scientific). SDV347895.

Data collected from a series of boreholes across the marshes indicated a rise in sea level leading to the formation of a bay, the historically attested Axe Haven, corresponding with the Roman and Medieval periods, and possibly also the Iron Age. The data also indicated a subsequent return to salt marsh conditons in the Medieval and Post Medieval periods. This was caused by falling relative sea level perhaps due to the formation of a gravel spit across the mouth of the Axe. The project demonstrated that the northern extent of the marine embayment was situated between transects 2 and 3 and it was suggested that further borehole sampling be done to establish this. A radiocarbon date on shell from sands infilling Axe Haven indicated that marine deposition was ongoing as late as AD470-490 in the vicinity of transects 1 and 2. It is possible, therefore, that marine deposition continued until 1377 although the present data did not allow for any further conclusions to be made as to whether the storm in 1377 closed the mouth of the Axe. However, additional radiocarbon dating of specific samples may be able to confirm this.

Clarke, C., 2011, Land Adjacent to Harbour Road, Seaton, Devon. An Archaeological and Geoarchaeological Investigation Report, 5 (Report - Evaluation). SDV348253.

Anchorages are recorded at both Axmouth and Seaton in the medieval period. Three wrecks of possible medieval date have been recorded in the Axe estuary. The Calais Roll of 1346 records that Seaton provided two ships and twenty five men as its contribution of manpower to the wars with France. By the 16th century the Axe appears to have been declining as a haven, possibly due to silting of the estuary which had increased following the collapse of part of Haven Cliff during heavy storms in the 14th century which resulted in the formation of a shingle bar across the estuary.

Pink, F., 2014, South Devon Coast Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey Desk-Based Assessment (Interpretation). SDV357736.

Unknown, Unknown, James Davidson [MS] Collections for East of Devon: The Fisheries & Saltponds at Bere & Seaton, WCSL sDEV/0001/DAV (Un-published). SDV358608.

Reference to the remains of a harbour being traceable at Seaton (in 1450 ?) in the form of a ditch called 'Merchants roads' running from the beach to the church. A well sunk near this feature, towards the beach, revealed successive layers of beach and mud, indicating choking of the harbour.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV120084Monograph: Stukeley, W.. 1776. Itinerarium Curiosum. Itinerarium Curiosum. Photocopy + Digital. 159.
SDV120092Report - non-specific: Turton, S. D. + Weddell, P. J.. 1993. Archaeological Appraisal of the Salt Industry on Seaton Marshes, East Devon. Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report. 93.93. A4 Stapled + Digital. 3-4.
SDV120094Report - Assessment: Turton, S. D.. 1994. Archaeological Assessment of Proposed Axe Estuary Local Nature Reserve. Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report. 94.72. A4 Grip Bound. 6.
SDV120095Report - non-specific: Dixon, T. + Turton, S. D.. 1995. Archaeological and Historical Appraisal of the Town of Seaton, East Devon. Exeter Archaeology Report. 95.69. A4 Grip Bound. 5.
SDV120104Report - Assessment: Bourn, R.. 2000. Land off Harbour Road, Seaton: Archaeological Desk Based Assessment. CgMs Consulting Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. 10.
SDV122290Article in Serial: Parkinson, M.. 1985. The Axe Estuary and its Marshes. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 117. A5 Paperback. 20, 24-26, 44. [Mapped feature: #91448 ]
SDV347895Report - Scientific: ARCA. 2008. Axe Estuary Wetlands, Seaton, Devon. Geoarchaeological and Bioarchaeological Assessment. ARCA Report. 0809-2. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV348253Report - Evaluation: Clarke, C.. 2011. Land Adjacent to Harbour Road, Seaton, Devon. An Archaeological and Geoarchaeological Investigation Report. AOC Archaeology Group Report. 30841. A4 stapled + Digital. 5.
SDV348541Un-published: Davidson, J.. 1843. Church Notes on Devon. Volume 1. East Devon. Manuscript. 304.
SDV357736Interpretation: Pink, F.. 2014. South Devon Coast Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey Desk-Based Assessment. AC Archaeology Report. ACD618/4/3. Digital.
Linked documents:1
SDV358608Un-published: Unknown. Unknown. James Davidson [MS] Collections for East of Devon: The Fisheries & Saltponds at Bere & Seaton. Photocopy. WCSL sDEV/0001/DAV.
SDV64198Monograph: Griffith, F.. 1988. Devon's Past. An Aerial View. Devon's Past. An Aerial View. Paperback Volume. 52-53.

Associated Monuments

MDV42587Part of: Saltworks on Seaton Marsh (Monument)
MDV16660Related to: Axmouth Harbour (Monument)
MDV42595Related to: Medieval Harbour at Axmouth (Monument)
MDV66265Related to: Merchants Roads, Seaton (Monument)
MDV42591Related to: Roman Harbour at Seaton (Monument)
MDV14040Related to: Saltworks on Seaton Marshes (Monument)
MDV42596Related to: Unknown Wrecks in Seaton Marshes (Maritime)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV5342 - Geoarchaeological Survey of the Axe Estuary Wetlands, Seaton

Date Last Edited:Mar 26 2021 1:55PM