Ancient Monuments

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Earlier prehistoric hillfort and round cairn at St Stephen's Beacon

A Scheduled Monument in St. Stephen-in-Brannel, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.3549 / 50°21'17"N

Longitude: -4.8691 / 4°52'8"W

OS Eastings: 196005.163521

OS Northings: 54489.083959

OS Grid: SW960544

Mapcode National: GBR ZS.9NBS

Mapcode Global: FRA 08P3.8X5

Entry Name: Earlier prehistoric hillfort and round cairn at St Stephen's Beacon

Scheduled Date: 1 February 1960

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1003091

English Heritage Legacy ID: CO 591

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: St. Stephen-in-Brannel

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: St Stephen-in-Brannel

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes an earlier prehistoric hillfort and round cairn, situated at the summit of the prominent hill called St Stephen's Beacon. The hillfort survives as a roughly oval enclosure surrounding the summit of the hill with an annexe to the north and is defined by a terrace or scarp of up to 7m wide and 2m high which has been partially fossilised in field boundary banks to the south. Other associated ditches, structures, layers, deposits and features will be preserved as buried features. The outer side of the terrace is partially revetted by large stones and marked in places by upright orthostats. The area of the hillfort has been the subject of mineral prospecting, evidenced by numerous pits. First noted in 1864 as being 'distinctly visible' and recorded variously as having between one up to three surrounding ramparts, the hillfort has been variously recorded as being of Neolithic through to Iron Age date. Within the enclosed area on the summit of the hill is a round cairn which was re-used as a beacon. It survives as a low, irregular spread of stones. The cairn was largely dismantled in 1853 when, according to Thomas, it actually measured up to 20m in diameter. The outer stone was removed and used to construct an engine house for Tin Hill Mine and, at this time, a lower platform of stones and a large cist containing ashes was found and left in situ. Its re-use as a beacon is largely inferred from its very prominent position and place-name evidence of 'St Stephen's Beacon', 'Foxhole Beacon' or 'Beacon Hill'.

Sources: HER:-
PastScape Monument No:-430107 and 430101

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Earlier prehistoric hillforts are large fortified settlement sites dating to the Neolithic period (c.3500-2000 BC). They may be recognized by single or multiple rubble walls or earthen banks enclosing all or part of a hilltop. The boundaries often vary in size, incorporate numerous small entrance gaps and commonly include substantial natural rock outcrops and scarps in their circuit. Ditches, sometimes similarly with intermittent breaks, occasionally accompany the enclosing banks. The hillfort enclosures, up to 10ha in extent, usually contain cleared and levelled house platforms. The few recent excavations of this class of monument have revealed numerous internal timber and stake-built structures and pits associated with large quantities of undisturbed Neolithic settlement debris. Excavations have also produced evidence for warfare at some sites. Extensive outworks are associated with most of these hillforts, either roughly concentric with the inner enclosure or connecting a series of related enclosures. Less than twenty earlier prehistoric hillforts are known nationally, concentrated in the uplands of south-western England. They are a very rare monument type, highly representative of their period and one of the major sources of information on social organisation and interaction during the Neolithic period. Earlier prehistoric hillforts sometimes incorporate small cairns, heaped rubble mounds, some of which may be contemporary, but most of which are Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC). These were constructed as mounds of earth and rubble up to 40m in diameter but usually considerably smaller. Sometimes a kerb of edge- set stones bounds the mound's edges or crest of the mound. Burials were placed in small pits, or on occasion within a slab-built box-like structure called a cist, set into the old ground surface or dug into the body of the cairn. Variations in cairn design include embanked examples surrounded wholly or partly by an earth and rubble bank, also kerbed on one or both sides in some cases. The considerable variation in form and associations of funerary cairns provides important information on the diversity of beliefs, burial practices and social organisation during the Bronze Age. Despite mining activity and reduction in the heights of the ramparts through past cultivation, the hillfort and round cairn at St Stephen's Beacon survive comparatively well and will provide archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the nature, development, function, longevity, social organisation, domestic arrangements and overall landscape context of the hillfort.

Source: Historic England

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