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Prehistoric to Romano-British field system and settlement at Higher Town, St Agnes

A Scheduled Monument in St. Agnes, Isles of Scilly

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Latitude: 49.8941 / 49°53'38"N

Longitude: -6.3411 / 6°20'28"W

OS Eastings: 88338.016499

OS Northings: 8355.27216

OS Grid: SV883083

Mapcode National: GBR BXQY.XZF

Mapcode Global: VGYC4.1XKL

Entry Name: Prehistoric to Romano-British field system and settlement at Higher Town, St Agnes

Scheduled Date: 4 October 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015003

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15456

County: Isles of Scilly

Civil Parish: St. Agnes

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Isles of Scilly

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a prehistoric to Romano-British field system extending
north and north west from Higher Town on the north east of St Agnes, the south
western inhabited island in the Isles of Scilly. The field system incorporates
a settlement containing at least two habitation sites and a midden of
occupation debris.
The field system survives over most of the summit area of a low hill
immediately north of the present hamlet of Higher Town; further traces extend
down much of the hill's north east slope. The field system is defined by low
turf-covered banks, generally 1.5m-2m wide and 0.3m-1m high. Where they follow
the contour, most appear as lynchets, having a distinctive stepped profile
reflecting the movement of soil on the slope against their uphill sides and
away from their downhill sides, a process accelerated by the effects of early
cultivation. An electricity cable trench cut through one lynchet in 1985
revealed the bank was formed from heaped rubble, considered to derive from
stone clearance of the plot interior.
At several points the field system's lynchets and banks meet field corners of
the modern enclosures or have their courses extended by wavering lengths of
modern field boundary, denoting an earlier boundary continuing beneath and
influencing the course of the modern boundary, contrasting with the
predominantly straight-line boundaries laid out in recent centuries. The
combined pattern of the field system's exposed and overlain banks and lynchets
defines a network of at least seven small plots ranging from 0.1ha to 0.3ha
each, though several are truncated by recent enclosure around the limits of
the monument. The plots are generally subrectangular, laid out on the slope
with upper and lower boundaries roughly following the contour; those plots at
the summit of the hill and extending to a natural rocky outcrop to the north
west have a polygonal shape and are defined by more curving boundaries than
elsewhere in the monument.
Settlement remains within the field system are focussed around the summit of
the hill. A hut circle is located 50m ENE of the hill's summit and is built
against the uphill side of a north west - south east lynchet in the field
system. The hut circle is blanketed by turf but is visible as a circular bank,
7.5m in external diameter and 0.25m high, defining a slightly hollowed
internal area, 4m in diameter, much infilled by soil deposits developed since
its abandonment. A second habitation site was discovered in the 1960s during
ploughing and subsequent excavation, 50m west of the hut circle and a little
north of the hill's summit. The ploughing revealed a type of slab called a
`post-holed stone', bearing a distinctive small hollow in one surface and
considered to have formed a pivot-base for a door; limited excavation around
the slab revealed a stone-lined drain. The slab and drain were left in place
and re-buried with soil. The combination of post-holed stones and stone-lined
drains are characteristic components of Romano-British settlement sites in
Scilly and west Cornwall; their discovery here is considered to indicate one
such site lying undisturbed in the close vicinity of the area previously
Early occupation, especially of Romano-British date, is further indicated by
finds of artefacts and occupation debris within the monument. An enamelled
copper-alloy brooch datable to the 2nd century AD has been found in the field
immediately north of the site of the post-holed stone and drain, while several
fragments of Romano-British pottery were recorded from fields within and
adjacent to the monument on the east side of the hill's summit during
electricity cable trenching in 1985. Close to the early settlement focus on
the summit of the hill, limited excavation in 1960 revealed a midden of early
occupation debris containing bones of sheep, cattle, pig, seal and red deer.
Beyond this monument, a prehistoric field system and settlement also survives
from 50m to the north west on the coastal land bordering Porth Killier and
Kallimay Point, with further such remains from 300m to the north east on
northern Gugh, visible from this monument across Porth Conger. These
prehistoric field systems and settlements are the subjects of separate
The modern electricity cable trench and its contents, all modern fences, gates
and their fittings are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath
them, including hedgebanks, is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west
England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains
from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the
islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English
Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many
unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social
development of early communities.
Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the
islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its
exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change
against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of
archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands'
The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually
expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post-
medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic
location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works
reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the
mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post-
medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard
for the nation's shipping in the western approaches.
The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has
long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of
documentation, including several recent surveys.
Irregular field systems are one of several methods of field layout known to
have been employed in the Isles of Scilly from the Bronze Age to the Roman
period (c.2000 BC - AD 400); closer dating within that period may be provided
by the visible relationships of the field boundaries to other classes of
monument with a shorter known time-span of use, or by their relationship with
an earlier recorded sea level. They comprise a collection of field plots,
generally lacking in conformity of orientation and arrangement, containing
fields of varying shapes and sizes, bounded by rubble walls or banks, often
incorporating edge- or end-set slabs called orthostats.
Some irregular field systems on the Isles of Scilly contain a distinctive
association, rarely encountered elsewhere, whereby certain of their field
boundaries directly incorporate or link cairns, entrance graves and cists in
some groups of prehistoric funerary monuments.
Although no precise figure is available, irregular field systems form one of
the three principal forms of prehistoric field system, along with regular
field systems and some groups of prehistoric linear boundaries, which survive
in over 70 areas of the Isles of Scilly. They provide significant insights
into the physical and social organisation of past landscapes and they provide
evidence for the wider contemporary context within which other nationally
important monuments were constructed.

The prehistoric to Romano-British field system in this monument survives well,
showing clearly the form of prehistoric and later enclosure, and the influence
upon it of the underlying terrain. The habitation sites contained within the
field system illustrate the nature of early settlement, especially relevant to
the Romano-British period, and the limited investigations and chance finds
made over recent decades have confirmed the good survival of buried
structures, artefacts and occupation debris within the monument while causing
minimal disturbance. The substantial lynchetting that has affected most of the
field system's boundaries will also preserve valuable structural and
environmental evidence contemporary with the field system's construction and
use. In a wider context it complements the surviving early field systems on
Porth Killier and Gugh, forming a key element to assist our understanding of
prehistoric and later land use over a far wider area than the confines of the

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Ratcliffe, J, Lighting up the Past in Scilly, (1991)
Ratcliffe, J, Lighting up the Past in Scilly, (1991)
Ratcliffe, J, Lighting up the Past in Scilly, (1991)
Turk, F A, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Notes on Cornish Mammals in Prehistoric and Historic Times: 1, (1968), 73-79
Turk, F A, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Notes on Cornish Mammals in Prehistoric and Historic Times: 1, (1968)
Ratcliffe, J & Straker, V, Land Use and Environmental Change in the Isles of Scilly, 1995, Unpubl draft, July 1995, pp 58-62
Ratcliffe, J & Straker, V, Land Use and Environmental Change in the Isles of Scilly, 1995, Unpubl draft, July 1995, pp 58-62
Ratcliffe, J & Straker, V, Land Use and Environmental Change in the Isles of Scilly, 1995, Unpubl draft, July 1995, pp 58-62
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8808
Source Date: 1980

Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7034.01, (1988)
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7034.02, (1988)
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7034.03, (1988)
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7034 & 7034.04, (1988)
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7034, 7034.01-.03, (1988)

Source: Historic England

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