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Prehistoric cliff castle and cairns on Shipman Head, Bryher

A Scheduled Monument in Bryher, Isles of Scilly

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Latitude: 49.9646 / 49°57'52"N

Longitude: -6.3598 / 6°21'35"W

OS Eastings: 87453.691853

OS Northings: 16272.811417

OS Grid: SV874162

Mapcode National: GBR BXPS.1QR

Mapcode Global: VGYBX.Q45Z

Entry Name: Prehistoric cliff castle and cairns on Shipman Head, Bryher

Scheduled Date: 25 September 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016174

English Heritage Legacy ID: 15495

County: Isles of Scilly

Civil Parish: Bryher

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Isles of Scilly

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The scheduling includes a later prehistoric cliff castle on Shipman Head and
the adjacent Badplace Hill, which together form the rocky northernmost
headland of Bryher in the Isles of Scilly. Within the cliff castle, two
earlier prehistoric kerbed cairns are located on Badplace Hill; a small ring
cairn is located beyond but near the cliff castle's outer rampart.
The cliff castle has two widely-separated ramparts, 260m apart, running
transversely across the headland and dividing the cliff castle into two areas
of similar size: one encompassing most of the Shipman Head promontory, the
other centred on Badplace Hill. The south eastern rampart defines the cliff
castle and its uneven rocky terrain from the broad shallow saddle of Great
Bottom to the south east. This rampart is visible over at least 51m north
east-south west extending straight down the steep slope to the headland's
south west coast from the high rocky outcrops of Boat Carn on the north east
coast. It measures 6m-10m across and to 0.9m high overall, surviving as a bank
of heaped rubble with larger slabs and boulders, incorporating a scatter of
massive natural boulders over its south western half. The rampart has a raised
central zone approximately 4m wide with a flattened surface, defined along
each side by a line of edge-set facing slabs; these are almost continuous and
0.3m-0.8m high along much of the south east side but along the north west they
are intermittent and generally 0.2m-0.4m high. Examination of the cliff
section at the surviving south west end of the rampart, coupled with pollen
analysis, has indicated the survival of an early soil layer preserved beneath
the rampart tumble.
The cliff castle's north western rampart runs ENE-WSW across the south eastern
tip of Shipman Head, now separated from Badplace Hill by the narrow and
precipitous inter-tidal channel of The Gulf but formerly linked by dry land to
the rest of the cliff castle in the pre-submergence landscape contemporary
with its use. This rampart is also visible as a large bank of heaped rubble,
approximately 30m long, 6m wide and 0.75m high. It follows a slightly curving
course linking the top edges of a row of small outcrops along a natural
slope-break separating gently rising land to the north and north west from a
steep scarp dropping towards The Gulf to the south east.
The two funerary cairns of earlier prehistoric date within the cliff castle
are situated approximately 15m apart on a north west-south east axis on the
small summit plateau of Badplace Hill, close to its eastern cliff. The south
eastern cairn survives with a low sub-circular rubble mound, 5m east-west by
4.5m north-south, rising 0.4m high along its southern edge but only 0.2m from
higher ground to the north. The mound is built around a natural bedrock
exposure, to 2.75m across and 0.7m high, which dominates the centre and
southern half of the cairn. Two kerb slabs, to 0.3m high, project from the
rubble on the west and north edges of the mound.
The north western cairn also has a low sub-circular rubble mound, measuring 4m
north-south by 3.5m east-west and 0.3m high, situated amidst extensive surface
bedrock exposures. Five larger slabs, to 0.9m long and 0.4m high, lie almost
flat on the mound's periphery at the south, south east, east, north and west,
forming a rough kerb and underlain by the mound's rubble in at least one case.
At the centre of the mound is a flat weathered slab, 1.3m long by 0.8m wide,
split north-south in half.
The ring cairn in this scheduling is located beside the headland's south
western coastal cliff, 10m outside the cliff castle at the point where its
south east rampart meets the same cliff. It is visible as a sub-circular
rubble bank, 0.5m-1m wide and to 0.2m high, defining an internal area 3.5m
east-west by 2.75m north-south. The bank includes a massive natural boulder,
to 2.7m across and 0.5m high, in its south west sector and now exposed in the
adjacent cliff face. The bank also includes some small edge-set slabs to 0.2m
high on its east side. The interior of the ring cairn slopes gently to the
south in conformity with the surrounding ground surface.
From 50m south east of this scheduling, the saddle of Great Bottom and the
Shipman Head Down plateau to its south contain an extensive prehistoric
cemetery of over 150 funerary cairns, many linked by boundaries of a later
prehistoric field system. These are the subject of a separate scheduling.

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.
Cliff castles are coastal promontories adapted as enclosures and fortified on
the landward side by the construction of one or more ramparts accompanied by
ditches. On the seaward side the precipitous cliffs of the promontory provided
a natural defence, only rarely reinforced by man-made features. Cliff castles
date to the Iron Age, most being constructed and used between the second
century BC and the first century AD. Cliff castles are usually interpreted as
high status defensive enclosures, related to the broadly contemporary classes
of hillfort.
The inner area enclosed at cliff castles varies with the size and shape of the
promontory; they are generally in the range 0.5ha to 3ha, but a few much
larger examples are known, enclosing up to 52ha. The area of many cliff
castles will have been reduced by subsequent coastal erosion. The ramparts are
of earth and rubble, occasionally with a drystone revetment wall along their
outer face. Ditches may be rock- or earth-cut depending on the depth of the
subsoil. The number and arrangement of ramparts and ditches varies
considerably and may include outworks enclosing large areas beyond the
promontory and annexes defining discrete enclosures against the landward side
of the defences. Multiple ramparts may be close spaced or may include a broad
gap between concentric ramparts defining inner and outer enclosures. Entrance
gaps through the defences are usually single and often staggered where they
pass through multiple ramparts.
Internal features, where visible, include circular or sub-rectangular levelled
platforms for stone or timber houses, generally behind the inner bank or
sheltered by the promontory hill. Where excavated, cliff castles have produced
post and stakeholes, hearths, pits and gullies associated with the house
platforms, together with spreads of occupation debris including, as evidence
for trade and industrial activity, imported pottery and iron working slag.
Cliff castles are largely distributed along the more indented coastline of
western Britain; in England they are generally restricted to the coasts of
north Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Around sixty cliff castles are
recorded nationally, of which forty are located around the Cornish coast. The
three cliff castles recorded on the Isles of Scilly form the western limit of
the national distribution. Each has a markedly different layout from the other
two, emphasising the diversity of this class of monument even within such a
geographically restricted area.
Cliff castles contribute to our understanding of how society and the landscape
was organised during the Iron Age and illustrate the influence of landscape
features on the chosen locations for prestigious settlement, trade and
industry. All cliff castles with significant surviving archaeological remains
are considered worthy of preservation.

The Shipman Head cliff castle survives well, showing clearly the strong
influence of local landforms on the communities that built and used this class
of monument. The widely-spaced ramparts creating a subdivided interior present
an unusual plan and the effects of land's gradual submergence have produced
only limited loss of the original area. The cliff castle has not been
excavated but observation and pollen analysis of the south east rampart's
cliff face exposure have confirmed the presence of valuable deposits and
environmental data earlier than and contemporary with the building of the
cliff castle. The prehistoric cairns within and adjacent to the cliff castle
also survive well and, together with the extensive cairn cemetery and field
system to the south, they illustrate the development of land use in this
exposed terrain through the prehistoric period. By their incorporation of
natural bedrock exposures and boulders, two of the cairns also demonstrate the
importance of natural features in the detailed organisation of prehistoric
ritual activity.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Ratcliffe, J , Straker, V, The Early Environment of Scilly, (1996)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7276.02, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7277.01, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7277.02, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7278, (1988)
Ratcliffe, J & Parkes, C/CAU, Fieldwork in Scilly: September 1989, (1990)
Ratcliffe, J & Parkes, C/CAU, Fieldwork in Scilly: September 1989, (1990)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map: SV 81 NE
Source Date: 1980

Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 81 NE
Source Date: 1980

Source: Historic England

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