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HER Number:MDV9583
Name:Ash Hole Cavern, Brixham


A limestone cavern within which evidence for human use and occupation has been found from the Mesolithic period through to the 1800s. Most of the pottery, however, appears to date to the Middle Bronze Age. Human burials have also been found which are thought to be Roman in date. The human remains and artefacts are above a stalagmite floor which in turn seals a layer containing fossilised animal bone including rhinoceros, reindeer and polecat.


Grid Reference:SX 937 566
Map Sheet:SX95NW
Civil ParishBrixham
Civil ParishTorbay
Ecclesiastical ParishBRIXHAM

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX95NW/1
  • Old SAM County Ref: 602
  • Torbay HER: MTO9583

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • CAVE (Unknown date)
  • CAVE DEPOSIT (Middle Palaeolithic to XVIII - 40000 BC to 1800 AD (Between))

Full description

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, SX95NW9 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV318237.

Blewitt, O., 1830, The Panorama of Torquay, 32 (Monograph). SDV362566.

Blewitt refers to the cave.

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

Site visit 24th August 1840. Woollcombe refers to Mr Lyte discovering a cave below the fort with human skulls, bone, ivory instruments, pottery, a coin of Claudius and other Roman artefacts.

Lyte, F.M., 1852, Proceedings of the meetings of the Archaeological Institute, December 5, 1851, 93 (Article in Serial). SDV362486.

At the meeting Lyte exhibited 'relics of bronze and bone' together with 'numerous fragments of pottery' which he had found during his examinations of the cavern. The human remains and artefacts were above above a stalagmite floor, which in turn sealed animal bone, including those of rhinoceros, hyjena, elk, and reindeer, with bones of the horse, ox, and stag. The character of the cave is similar to Kent's Cavern.

Pengelly, W., 1870, The Ash Hole and Bench-Bone Caverns at Brixham, South Devon, 73-77 (Article in Serial). SDV362483.

Pengelly transcribes all previous notices of Ash Hole.

Worth, R. N., 1891, President's Address, 78 (Article in Serial). SDV158810.

In his note on the localities of Roman remains in Devon, Worth states that the connection of Romans to the area really rests on Lyte's interpretation of the artefacts found in Ash Hole Cave, which include an ivory instrument, pottery, and a coin of Claudius. Mr. Lyte's hypothesis was that the cave was the burial place of the Roman garrison.

Alexander, J.J., 1932, Proceedings at the 71st annual meeting, 42 (Article in Serial). SDV362482.

ApSimon, A.M., 1968, The Bronze Age Pottery from Ash Hole, Brixham, Devon, 21-30 (Article in Serial). SDV362485.

Between 1965 -1967 a Roman coin, a polished stone axe, flints and nearly 2,000 potsherds were recovered from the interior. Most of the pottery was of the regional (Cornish) Trevisker style, 1750-1000 BC, when the site was utilised as a rock shelter. Other material attested to Neolithic, Iron Age and Roman occupation. The burials found during earlier excavations were considered to most likely be Romano-British in date.

Evens, E. D. + Smith, I. F. + Wallis, F. S., 1972, The petrological identification of stone implements from south-western England, 269 (Article in Serial). SDV254826.

Stone implements listed.

Hawkins, M.R., 1973, Berry Head Management Plan, Zone J (Report - Interim). SDV362518.

Site visits since 1972 have noted the problems associated with easy access.

Pye, A.R., 1989, Berry Head Fort, Brixham. An Archaeological Assessment, 2, 3, 4, 29, 30, 43 (Report - Assessment). SDV362497.

Prehistoric and later finds were made by Revd Lyte in the 1830s, who concluded that it was the burying place of the Roman garrison at Berry Head.

Pye, A.R. & Slater, W.D., 1990, Berry Head Fort, Brixham, An Archaeological Survey, 3 (Report - Survey). SDV362493.

Evidence for early occupation found at Ash Hole Cavern.

Exeter Archaeology, 2010, Berry Head Hotel Brixham Part 1: Archaeological Assessment, 4 (Report - Assessment). SDV362409.

Revd Lyte, who lived at Berry House the former military hospital, carried out excavations at Ash Hole Cavern circa 1839.

Brixham Heritage Museum, 2016, Ash-Hole Cavern (Leaflet). SDV364432.

The cavern was described as an 'abyss of despair' by an 18th century sailor who ventured in while on shore leave. It was visited by several antiquarians and cave explorers in the early 19th century and sherds of what were considered to be Roman pottery recovered.
Excavations were begun in 1829 by Revd Lyte, Vicar of All Saints Church, Brixham and who lived at Berry Head House. A reconstruction of the stratified layers and deposits discovered by Lyte is given. About 4 feet down Lyte found a layer of food refuse, said to be the remains of meals of soldiers sheltering there in the late 18th century. Twenty feet below he found human remains overlying a layer of charcoal, ash and Roman pottery, below which were more skeletons, pottery and artefacts, pottery. It was thought that the cave had been used as a natural burial chamber during the Roman period. Further below was a stalagmite floor under which were fossilised animal bones including polecat and reindeer.
Excavations on behalf of Brixham Museum between 1958 and 1967 recovered evidence for occupation from the Mesolithic period through to the early 1800s. The largest quantity of pottery, however, was identified as Trevisker ware dating to the Middle Bronze Age.
[Finds from the cavern are on display at the museum]

Historic England, 2021, National Heritage List for England, 1019133 (National Heritage List for England). SDV364016.

The monument, known as the Ashhole Cavern, includes a main cave chamber, orientated east-west, and associated fissures and smaller chambers.
The entrance to the cavern lies at the base of a naturally formed sinkhole at the extreme east of the main cave chamber where deposits containing Bronze Age pottery have been excavated just within the entrance.
A forced breach of 19th century date within a quarry face on the northern side of the cavern… has subsequently provided the more usual route into the system.
Extending westwards and downwards into the chamber from the cavern entrance is a thick, concreted talus of light brown coloured cave earth. This cave earth, where excavated adjacent to the entrance by Lyte in first half of the 19th century, was reported to have contained pottery, bronze metalwork, and human remains above a stalagmite floor which in turn sealed animal bone deposits including those of now extinct species. Further quantities of pottery, flint, and a Roman coin were removed from the cave earth between 1965 and 1967. This material was reported on by ApSimon who found that the majority of the recovered pottery originated from the Bronze Age and could be assigned to the regional Trevisker style of pottery.
Neolithic, Iron Age, and Roman occupation of the cavern was also attested. Burials within the cavern which had been reported in the earlier excavations were considered by ApSimon to be most likely Romano-British in date. See schedule description for full details.
Date scheduled: 23rd November 1966

Sources / Further Reading

SDV158810Article in Serial: Worth, R. N.. 1891. President's Address. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 23. A5 Hardback. 78.
SDV16214Un-published: Woollcombe, H.. 1839-1850. Woollcombe Manuscript. Woollcombe Manuscript. Manuscript.
SDV254826Article in Serial: Evens, E. D. + Smith, I. F. + Wallis, F. S.. 1972. The petrological identification of stone implements from south-western England. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 38. Unknown. 269.
SDV318237Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. SX95NW9. OSAD Card.
SDV362409Report - Assessment: Exeter Archaeology. 2010. Berry Head Hotel Brixham Part 1: Archaeological Assessment. Exeter Archaeology. 10.05. Digital. 4.
SDV362482Article in Serial: Alexander, J.J.. 1932. Proceedings at the 71st annual meeting. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 64. A5 Hardback. 42.
SDV362483Article in Serial: Pengelly, W.. 1870. The Ash Hole and Bench-Bone Caverns at Brixham, South Devon. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 4 part 1. Digital. 73-77.
SDV362485Article in Serial: ApSimon, A.M.. 1968. The Bronze Age Pottery from Ash Hole, Brixham, Devon. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 26. Hardcopy. 21-30.
SDV362486Article in Serial: Lyte, F.M.. 1852. Proceedings of the meetings of the Archaeological Institute, December 5, 1851. Archaeological Journal. 9. Digital. 93.
SDV362493Report - Survey: Pye, A.R. & Slater, W.D.. 1990. Berry Head Fort, Brixham, An Archaeological Survey. Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit Report. EMAFU 90.10. Hardcopy + Digital. 3.
Linked documents:1
SDV362497Report - Assessment: Pye, A.R.. 1989. Berry Head Fort, Brixham. An Archaeological Assessment. Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit. EMAFU 89.04. Hardcopy + Digital. 2, 3, 4, 29, 30, 43.
Linked documents:1
SDV362518Report - Interim: Hawkins, M.R.. 1973. Berry Head Management Plan. Parks Committee of the County Borough of Torbay. Zone J.
SDV362566Monograph: Blewitt, O.. 1830. The Panorama of Torquay. The Panorama of Torquay. Hardback Volume. 32.
SDV364016National Heritage List for England: Historic England. 2021. National Heritage List for England. Digital. 1019133.
SDV364432Leaflet: Brixham Heritage Museum. 2016. Ash-Hole Cavern. Digital.

Associated Monuments: none recorded

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV7671 - Excavations at Ash Hole Cavern, Brixham, by H F Lyte -1839
  • EDV7672 - Site visit to Ash Hole Cavern by OS Field Worker - 1952
  • EDV7674 - Management Proposals for Berry Head Country Park 1972-73
  • EDV7675 - Site Visit to Ash Hole Cavern - 1999
  • EDV7829 - Salvage & Recovery by Graham Head 1965-67
  • EDV7830 - Site visit to Ash Hole Cavern - 2001

Date Last Edited:Jul 30 2021 1:55PM