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Hut circle settlement and Civil War breastwork north east of Porth Minick, St Mary's

A Scheduled Monument in St. Mary's, Isles of Scilly

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Latitude: 49.9114 / 49°54'41"N

Longitude: -6.2943 / 6°17'39"W

OS Eastings: 91811.431577

OS Northings: 10087.294428

OS Grid: SV918100

Mapcode National: GBR BXVX.FQJ

Mapcode Global: VGYC4.VHB8

Entry Name: Hut circle settlement and Civil War breastwork north east of Porth Minick, St Mary's

Scheduled Date: 25 July 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015657

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15471

County: Isles of Scilly

Civil Parish: St. Mary's

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Isles of Scilly

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a settlement of at least five hut circles on the north
eastern coastal slope of Porth Minick on the south coast of St Mary's in the
Isles of Scilly. One hut circle was later enlarged to form a small platform
complementing a Civil War breastwork which extends along the edge of the
bay's coastal cliff adjacent to the settlement. Surface stone working during
the 19th century is also evident, partly impinging on the hut circle
The settlement is visible as a group of four closely-spaced hut circles on the
slope below the Inner Blue Carn outcrop; this group is separated by dense
surface stone from a fifth hut circle at a similar level approximately 15m to
the north west. The hut circles survive with circular or ovoid internal areas
generally ranging from 3m by 3.3m to 4.5m in diameter. One of the group's two
lower hut circles is more markedly elongated, 7.5m long by 3.8m wide, and is
considered to reflect modification during the Civil War by extending its rear
edge further into the slope to form a small gun platform or magazine
complementing the adjacent breastwork. The hut circle interiors are levelled
into the slope and defined on their downslope or south west sides by a slight
turf-covered bank. Their upslope or north east sides are defined by the steep
backscarps created by levelling the interior and rising variously 0.8m to 1.3m
high. The banks and backscarp faces incorporate frequent small boulders and
slabs, some edge-set, but the highest hut circle, at the north east of the
group of four, also includes a line of slabs, up to 0.5m high, revetting the
base of its backscarp.
Some slabs within the settlement show evidence of much later working of
surface stone. The rows of small drilled pits visible along freshly fractured
edges of several boulders indicate a method called tare-and-feather splitting
which appears c.AD 1800. One such boulder is displaced into the interior of
the north eastern hut circle, while complete removal of slabs is considered to
account for a small shelf in the backscarp of the separate north western hut
circle and for a 2m diameter hollow a few metres west of the grouped hut
circles. Of similar date is a drystone wall descending the slope and passing
between the lower two hut circles of the group.
The Civil War breastwork is visible as an earth-and-rubble bank, up to 2m wide
and 0.6m high, extending 200m WNW-ESE behind the north eastern coastal cliff
of Porth Minick. It is truncated at the ESE by an incursion of the coastal
cliff, and at the WNW by a modern path beyond which, and beyond this
scheduling, the breastwork is considered to underlie a curving field wall
continuing its line to the head of the bay. The breastwork bank incorporates
occasional boulders and edge-set slabs, up to 1m long and 0.7m high, mostly
facing its seaward side. This breastwork was intended to counter landings at
Porth Minick, which would give direct access to the important settlement at
Old Town, 200m to the north east and the main harbour and seat of medieval
secular authority on the Isles of Scilly, though rapidly becoming eclipsed by
the growth of Hughtown by the time of the Civil War. In addition to the
levelled platform enlarged behind the breastwork, this defence worked in
conjunction with a Civil War gun battery near Church Point, 280m ESE of this
scheduling, covering the approaches to Porth Minick and Old Town Bay.

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.

Stone hut circles are the remains of round houses of the islands' inhabitants
from the Bronze Age to the early Medieval period (c.2000 BC-AD 1066), though
they may be more closely dated within that long span by their association with
other shorter-lived forms of monument. They survive with rubble or
earth-and-rubble walls or banks defining circular or ovoid internal areas,
generally 3m-5m across. Excavation has revealed a range of domestic artefacts
and, in some later examples, evidence for metal-working. Deposits within and
around hut circles may also include quantities of midden material. Stone hut
circles may occur singly or in groups forming larger settlements. At least 136
hut circles are recorded on the Isles of Scilly, widely distributed but
biassed towards lower land, the coastal margins and the inter-tidal zone,
reflecting the subsequent submergence of much low-lying land that formed the
original landscape context in which many such settlements were built.
Stone hut circles embody a major part of our evidence on the economy and
lifestyle of the islands' past inhabitants. Their longevity of use and their
relationships with other monument types and the islands' rising sea level
provide valuable information on the developing settlement patterns, social
organisation and farming practices throughout a considerable period of the
islands' human occupation.
Their coastal bias in the present landscape leaves a number of hut circles in
close physical association with breastworks, one of the three main types of
Civil War fieldwork, along with batteries and platforms, which were raised on
the Isles of Scilly during military operations between 1642 and 1651. A
breastwork is an earth-and-rubble bank, up to 4m wide and 1.7m high but
generally much smaller, running beside the coastal cliff edge and usually
accompanied by a ditch along its landward side. Sixteen surviving breastworks
are recorded on the islands, where they served to provide infantry cover and
mask gun emplacements. As a result they tend to occur around potential landing
places or facing the main deep-water approaches to the islands, sometimes
incorporating or adjacent to gun batteries. The historical context of their
construction is recorded in contemporary documents, indicating most were
produced by the Royalist forces who controlled the islands for the entire
Civil War period except during 1646-8.
The Civil War fieldworks of the Isles of Scilly form a major part of the 150
surviving examples of fieldworks recorded nationally. They present an
unusually complete system of fortifications from this period, both in the
surviving range of fieldwork types represented and in the surviving pattern of
their strategic disposition.

Both the hut circle settlement and the Civil War breastwork north east of
Porth Minick survive substantially intact with only limited damage from 19th
century stone-splitting around the settlement and from coastal erosion on the
breastwork. Neither the settlement or the breastwork have been excavated. The
four intact hut circles show clearly their form and manner of construction,
with little disturbance to their internal or adjacent deposits. Although the
fifth hut circle was converted to a Civil War platform, that resulting feature
itself forms an important part of the islands' later defensive works. The
situation of the breastwork in this scheduling and its wider context as part
of the extensively surviving Civil War defensive system on Scilly demonstrates
clearly the strategic methods employed by the mid-17th century military forces
and the function of breastworks within them. This is given an added dimension
in this instance by the relationship of this breastwork with the important
settlement at Old Town.

Source: Historic England


Gerrard, S., English Heritage Book of Dartmoor, 1997, Forthcoming
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map, SV 8715
Source Date: 1980

Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 9110
Source Date: 1980

Title: 6": 1 mile Ordnance Survey Map; sheet LXXXVII SW
Source Date: 1908

Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7556, (1988)
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7557, (1988)

Source: Historic England

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