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HER Number:MDV7776
Name:Hembury Castle Hillfort, Buckfastleigh

Summary

Hembury castle an Iron Age hillfort with a medieval castle within. The main camp consists of an irregular area surrounded by a fosse and vallum with a small rampart on the outer side of the fosse covering about 7 acres. On the west side is a mound about 30 metres in diameter and about 20 feet high. This is surrounded by a level platform with a scarped edge descending to the level of the interior of the camp. This may be of a later date than the main ramparts. A bronze celt and some sling stones have been found within the area of the camp.

Location

Grid Reference:SX 726 684
Map Sheet:SX76NW
Admin AreaDartmoor National Park
Civil ParishWest Buckfastleigh
DistrictSouth Hams
Ecclesiastical ParishBUCKFASTLEIGH

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • National Monuments Record: SX76NW11
  • National Monuments Record: SX76NW7
  • National Record of the Historic Environment: 444797
  • National Record of the Historic Environment: 444811
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX76NW/1
  • Old SAM County Ref: 141

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • UNIVALLATE HILLFORT (Constructed, Iron Age - 700 BC (Between) to 42 AD (Between))

Full description

Donn, B., 1765, A Map of the County of Devon (Cartographic). SDV339776.

Shown on Donn's map.

Woollcombe, H., 1839-1850, Woollcombe Manuscript (Un-published). SDV16214.

Visited in September 1840. Irregular enclosure of circa 7 acres (circa 2250 feet by 230 feet) with second enclosure (circa 175 feet by 200 feet) and mound in the south-west corner. Ramparts entire on south, west and north, circa 40 feet wide. Finds of 'sling stones' of circa 3 inches diameter.

Davidson, J. B., 1861, Notes on the Antiquities of Devonshire which date before the Norman Conquest, 19 (Monograph). SDV123842.

Wilkinson, J. G., 1862, On British Remains on Dartmoor, 126 (Article in Serial). SDV277122.

Amery, P. F. S., 1873, Some Hitherto Unrecorded Hillfortresses near Ashburton, 265 (Article in Serial). SDV164509.

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

'Hembury Castle (Camp) (remains of)' shown on 19th century map.

Ordnance Survey, 1904 - 1906, Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map (Cartographic). SDV325644.

'Hembury Castle (Camp)' shown on early 20th century map.

Victoria County History, 1906, The Victoria History of the County of Devon, 617-8 (Article in Serial). SDV238214.

A kidney shaped earthwork consisting of two banks with a Medieval ditch. Bronze axe and sling stones have been found in it.

Allcroft, A. H., 1908, Earthwork of England, 415-6, Figure 132 (Monograph). SDV11975.

Pilkington-Rogers, C. W, 1932, The Date of the Dartmoor Antiquities, 385, Map (Article in Serial). SDV149513.

Royal Air Force, 1946 - 1949, Royal Air Force Aerial Photographs, 1890 4373-4 (Aerial Photograph). SDV342938.

Photograph taken on 10th December 1946.

Fox, A, 1950, Two Greek Silver Coins from Holne, South Devon, 153-5 (Article in Serial). SDV164514.

Fox refers to Hembury Camp and to its comparative wealth, probably as a result of trade, in Britain and with overseas traders, in tin, of which there are local deposits. She notes that the River Dart is navigable up to Totnes only 8 miles south of Holne.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1960, SX76NW7 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV171765.

An early Iron Age Camp (annotated record map, C & A. Fox, undated).
(27/05/1960) Hembury Castle camp is a contour hillfort, formed by a double rampart which extends for the whole of the perimeter though much of the inner rampart has been destroyed. The outer rampart on the counterscarp bank is weakest on the north-east where natural slopes afford some protection. A number of small causeways occur in the deep medial ditch. These are not modern and may represent the limits of sections of work during the original construction or subsequent deepening which may have taken place during a possible medieval phase of occupation.
The original entrance appears to be on the south east and is of simple type. Three other breaks in the defences, on the south-east, the north and the west are of much later date and carry footpaths in modern use. Surveyed at 1:2500.

Grinsell, L. V., 1976, Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain, 96 (Monograph). SDV304171.

The defence of the fort was left to ladies who welcomed the enemy, took them to their beds, and stabbed them all in the night.

Silvester, R. J., 1977, Earthwork (Worksheet). SDV8568.

Hembury Castle primarily a defensive structure utilising strong natural position where topography and altitude outweighed economic considerations.

Silvester, R. J., 1979, The Relationship of First Millennium Settlement to the Upland Areas of the South West, 181, Figure 1 (Article in Serial). SDV177352.

National Trust, 1983, Hembury Castle (Report - Survey). SDV171777.

Survey drawing at (1:500) and profiles by National Trust.

Pearce, S. M., 1983, The Bronze Age Metalwork of South Western Britain, 459 (Monograph). SDV341822.

Bronze 'celt'. Found with sling-stones within the camp. No further details known.

Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, 1985, Aerial Photograph Project (Dartmoor) - Dartmoor Pre-NMP (Cartographic). SDV319854.

Recorded on RAF 1946 aerial photographs.

Department of Environment, 1985, Hembury Castle (Correspondence). SDV171783.

Scheduled Monument Consent granted on 22nd February 1985 for breaking soil and sowing grass following scrub clearance.

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, 1988, SX76NW7, I. S. Sainsbury (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV171764.

(21/07/1988) Hembury Castle, a kidney shaped univallate hillfort that occupies the SE shoulder of a southwards projecting hill spur at a height of 178m OD. It has a motte and bailey constructed on the highest part of its interior (See SE 76 NW 8).
Generally well preserved, the site has been partly cleared of trees and scrub by the owners - National Trust. The site is now crossed by a modern track (see illus. card, copy of archive plan at 1:1000). It covers an area of some 2.8ha and is approx. 250m E-W, by 140m.Its main defence has been the massive ditch with inner rampart and counterscarp bank of dump or glacis construction (for full description see NRHE archive account). Survey at 1:2500 produced.

Griffith, F. M., 1990, DAP/QG, 11-15 (Aerial Photograph). SDV144136.

Photographs taken on 14th March 1990.

Fox, A., 1996, Prehistoric Hillforts in Devon (DNPA Copy), 37-8 (Monograph). SDV360402.

Devon Archaeological Society, 1999, Hembury Castle, Buckfastleigh (Leaflet). SDV340355.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2006, Works at Hembury Castle, West Buckfastleigh, South Hams (Correspondence). SDV363501.

Application for scheduled monument consent dated 21st November 2005 for proposed works to replace rotten steps, repair of erosion scars and renewal of inerpretation boards.
The consented works shall be undertaken under the overall archaeological supervision of an English Heritage Officer.

Griffith, F. M. + Wilkes, E. M., 2011, In the Footsteps of Pioneering Women; Some Recent Work on Devon Hillforts (Article in Serial). SDV361500.

Griffith, F.M. + Quinnell, H. + Wilkes, E, 2013, Hillforts of Devon, 14-15 (Monograph). SDV352457.

Hembury Castle lies on a hilltop above the valley of the River Dart on the south-east end of a ridge. The defences enclose an area of about three hectares and consist of an inner rampart surrounded by a ditch with a second rampart beyond. The ditch has become silted up over time and would originally have been much deeper with steeper sides. A series of causeways cross the ditch at irregular intervals suggesting the ditch was never completely dug out or that it was deepened at a later date. There are several modern gaps through the ramparts but it seems to have had a single entrance in prehistoric times. This entrance gave acces to the River Dart emphasising the importance of the river to the hillfort. The entrance would have been protected by a timber gate tower linked to the palisade that ran round the crest of the inner rampart. The size of the interior space suggests the potential for accommodating a large number of buildings as well as pens for livestock, Surveys have revealed traces of at least four round houses. In the western part of the hillfort are the remains of a small medieval motte and bailey castle known as 'Dane's Castle'. It is not dated and could have been built in the later 11th or 12th centuries, possibly dating from William the Conquerors campaigns in Devon following the Norman Conquest of AD 1066. A 13th century document refers to Hembury as 'the old castle' suggesting it had long since been abandoned.

Ralston, I. + Lock, G., 2017, Atlas of Hillforts (Website). SDV360888.

Ordnance Survey, 2021, MasterMap 2021 (Cartographic). SDV364015.

'Hembury Castle Hill Fort' shown on modern mapping.

Historic England, 2021, National Heritage List for England, 1003859 (National Heritage List for England). SDV364016.

Hembury Castle Iron Age Hill Fort. This monument includes a slight univallate hillfort containing a motte and bailey castle situated on Hembury Hill the watershed between the Holy Brook and the River Dart. The hillfort survives as an elliptical enclosure measuring 250 metres long by 170 metres wide internally defined by a rampart, partially buried ditch and counterscarp bank. Within the hillfort is a motte and bailey castle. It survives as a circular mound up to 30 metres in diameter and approximately 6 metres high with a central depression, surrounded by a partially buried outer ditch. An elliptical platform up to 18 metres long by 10 metres wide lies to the south-east of the motte and is thought to represent a small inner bailey, with the hillfort being reused as the outer bailey. Hembury Castle appears on Donn’s map of 1765. A tradition tells of the castle being defended by women who welcomed their enemies then proceeded to stab them overnight.

Historic England, 2021-2022, NRHE to HER website, Accessed 23/05/2022 (Website). SDV364039.

[444811 / SX76NW11] Burt uses an account of the discovery of a Roman breast-plate; "At East Brent, a short time since, A Roman cuirass was dug up on the Knoll near which place is a large Roman Encampment," in support of an alleged Roman road from Exeter to Plymouth, through the parish of South Brent. In fact it was found in 1820 in the parish of East Brent, Somerset. (ST 35 SE 1), where it was recorded by Rutter. Davidson, following Burt, records the find both under South Brent, near an earthwork" a little more than a mile south of the village (SX 65 NE 38), and also under Buckfastleigh, after a description of Hembury Fort (SX 76 NW 7). Worth, in his turn, firmly identifies the find with Hembury, mentioning the East brent location with doubt (Sources 1-4).
1. N. T. Carrington's Dartmoor: A descriptive poem 1826 lxix (W.M. Burt's notes).
2. Delineations of NW Somerset 1829 88 (John Rutter).
3. Notes on Antiqs of Devon before the Norman Conquest 1861 20 73 (J. Davidson).
4. Transactions of the Devonshire Association, Vol 23, 1891, pgs 77-8 (R. N. Worth).

Sources / Further Reading

SDV11975Monograph: Allcroft, A. H.. 1908. Earthwork of England. Earthwork of England. Unknown. 415-6, Figure 132.
SDV123842Monograph: Davidson, J. B.. 1861. Notes on the Antiquities of Devonshire which date before the Norman Conquest. Notes on the Antiquities of Devonshire which date before the Norman Conquest. Unknown. 19.
SDV144136Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1990. DAP/QG. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 11-15.
SDV149513Article in Serial: Pilkington-Rogers, C. W. 1932. The Date of the Dartmoor Antiquities. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 64. A5 Hardback. 385, Map.
SDV16214Un-published: Woollcombe, H.. 1839-1850. Woollcombe Manuscript. Woollcombe Manuscript. Manuscript.
SDV164509Article in Serial: Amery, P. F. S.. 1873. Some Hitherto Unrecorded Hillfortresses near Ashburton. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 6. Digital. 265.
SDV164514Article in Serial: Fox, A. 1950. Two Greek Silver Coins from Holne, South Devon. Antiquaries Journal. 30. Unknown. 153-5.
SDV171764Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1988. SX76NW7. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index. I. S. Sainsbury.
SDV171765Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. 1960. SX76NW7. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card. Card Index.
SDV171777Report - Survey: National Trust. 1983. Hembury Castle. National Trust.
SDV171783Correspondence: Department of Environment. 1985. Hembury Castle. Scheduled Monument Consent Letter. Letter.
SDV177352Article in Serial: Silvester, R. J.. 1979. The Relationship of First Millennium Settlement to the Upland Areas of the South West. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 37. Paperback Volume. 181, Figure 1.
SDV238214Article in Serial: Victoria County History. 1906. The Victoria History of the County of Devon. Victoria History of the County of Devon. 1. Unknown. 617-8.
SDV277122Article in Serial: Wilkinson, J. G.. 1862. On British Remains on Dartmoor. Journal of the British Archaeological Association. 18. Unknown. 126.
SDV304171Monograph: Grinsell, L. V.. 1976. Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain. Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain. Unknown. 96.
SDV319854Cartographic: Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. 1985. Aerial Photograph Project (Dartmoor) - Dartmoor Pre-NMP. Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England Aerial Photograph P. Cartographic.
SDV325644Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1904 - 1906. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Second Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV336179Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 1880-1899. First Edition Ordnance 25 inch map. First Edition Ordnance Survey 25 inch Map. Map (Digital).
SDV339776Cartographic: Donn, B.. 1765. A Map of the County of Devon. Unknown. Map (Paper).
SDV340355Leaflet: Devon Archaeological Society. 1999. Hembury Castle, Buckfastleigh. Field Guide. 13. Leaflet.
SDV341822Monograph: Pearce, S. M.. 1983. The Bronze Age Metalwork of South Western Britain. British Archaeological Reports. 120. Photocopy. 459.
SDV342938Aerial Photograph: Royal Air Force. 1946 - 1949. Royal Air Force Aerial Photographs. Royal Air Force Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Digital). 1890 4373-4.
SDV352457Monograph: Griffith, F.M. + Quinnell, H. + Wilkes, E. 2013. Hillforts of Devon. Hillforts of Devon. A4 Stapled + Digital. 14-15.
SDV360402Monograph: Fox, A.. 1996. Prehistoric Hillforts in Devon (DNPA Copy). Prehistoric Hillforts in Devon. Paperback Volume. 37-8.
SDV360888Website: Ralston, I. + Lock, G.. 2017. Atlas of Hillforts. https://hillforts.arch.ox.ac.uk/. Website.
SDV361500Article in Serial: Griffith, F. M. + Wilkes, E. M.. 2011. In the Footsteps of Pioneering Women; Some Recent Work on Devon Hillforts. British Archaeological Reports. 548. Paperback Volume.
SDV363501Correspondence: Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 2006. Works at Hembury Castle, West Buckfastleigh, South Hams. Application for Scheduled Monument Consent. Digital.
SDV364015Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2021. MasterMap 2021. Ordnance Survey Digital Mapping. Digital. [Mapped feature: #104685 ]
SDV364016National Heritage List for England: Historic England. 2021. National Heritage List for England. Digital. 1003859.
SDV364039Website: Historic England. 2021-2022. NRHE to HER website. https://nrhe-to-her.esdm.co.uk/NRHE. Website. Accessed 23/05/2022.
SDV8568Worksheet: Silvester, R. J.. 1977. Earthwork. Worksheet + Digital.

Associated Monuments

MDV7851Related to: Flint implements found near Hembury Castle (Monument)
MDV7777Related to: Hembury Motte and Bailey Castle, Buckfastleigh (Monument)
MDV7777Related to: Hembury Motte and Bailey Castle, Buckfastleigh (Monument)
MDV7777Related to: Hembury Motte and Bailey Castle, Buckfastleigh (Monument)
MDV7777Related to: Hembury Motte and Bailey Castle, Buckfastleigh (Monument)

Associated Finds

  • FDV5925 - AXE HEAD (Bronze Age - 2200 BC to 701 BC?)
  • FDV5924 - SLING SHOT (Iron Age - 700 BC to 42 AD?)
  • FDV7940 - CUIRASS? (Roman - 43 AD to 409 AD)

Associated Events: none recorded


Date Last Edited:May 23 2022 9:01AM