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Blackdown Rings prehistoric hillfort and medieval castle

A Scheduled Monument in Loddiswell, Devon

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Latitude: 50.3544 / 50°21'15"N

Longitude: -3.8002 / 3°48'0"W

OS Eastings: 272031.052492

OS Northings: 52042.372452

OS Grid: SX720520

Mapcode National: GBR QG.01J8

Mapcode Global: FRA 28X3.CBV

Entry Name: Blackdown Rings prehistoric hillfort and medieval castle

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 23 December 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016258

English Heritage Legacy ID: 24853

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Loddiswell

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Loddiswell St Michael and All Angels

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes Blackdown Rings, the remains of a prehistoric hillfort
with a medieval ringwork and bailey castle. Situated in the South Hams about
3.5km north of the village of Loddiswell, on a hill to the west of the River
Avon, the monument takes the form of prominent and imposing earthworks.
The hillfort is sited to the south of the hillcrest so that to the north its
defences face onto slightly rising ground, to the east and west onto level
ground, and overlooks the ground to the south. It occupies a roughly oval area
of approximately 2.4ha, enclosed by an earthwork in the form of a rampart with
an external ditch and a counterscarp bank. Material for the rampart and
counterscarp was originally quarried from the ditch. The rampart is about 6m
in width and between 1.2m and 1.7m in height above the internal ground
surface. It has a gradual inner slope, flat top, and a near vertical outer
face. Between the rampart and ditch there is a berm, consisting of a level
area of up to 2m width, although in places it is absent and the face of the
rampart is continuous with the inner side of the ditch. The ditch is about 8m
wide and 2m deep with steep sides and a flat bottom, which in places is
uneven, particularly on the north side of the hillfort, where it contains a
number of large shallow hollows. On the outer edge of the ditch there is a
counterscarp bank which is about 6m in width and 0.3m high. On the north side
of the hillfort it is obscured by the road, and on the south side it is
overlain by a substantial field bank. There are two original entrances into
the enclosure, opposed in the east and west sides, each consisting of a
causeway across the ditch and a gap in the rampart of about 8m width. The ends
of the ramparts are curved inwards slightly, sloping down to end at low earth
mounds. At the east entrance the causeway is offset slightly to the north of
the gap in the rampart, and the counterscarp to the north of the entrance
becomes a large curving bank, about 30m long by up to 9m wide, and 1.5m high
at its northern end.
In the north western part of the hillfort defences are the earthwork remains
of a medieval castle, taking the form of a ringwork and bailey. The ringwork,
which occupies the highest ground available within the hillfort, is
represented by a substantial penannular earthen bank surrouded by a ditch. The
bank is about 35m in external diameter at base (natural ground level), flat
topped, and with sides that slope steeply both externally and internally to
form a rampart up to 4m in height on its highest, northern, side. The bank
would have originally supported a wooden palisade. The interior of the
ringwork consists of a relatively small level area of some 7m diameter, and is
offset to the south east of the centre of the ringwork towards a narrow
entrance through the bank. At this point the bank is at its lowest at about 2m
in height. The interior slope of the bank is very uneven, having been cut into
several large scoops and gulleys. The outer face of the bank slopes directly
into the encircling `V' shaped ditch which is up to 7m wide and 2m deep. In
its north west quadrant the ditch is contiguous with the ditch of the
hillfort. There is a low causeway across the ditch opposite the entrance
through the bank, and the southern quadrant of the ditch is subject to
seasonal waterlogging.
The bailey lies adjacent to the south east of the ringwork and occupies a
level area of approximately 0.2ha, measuring about 53m by 20m, enclosed by an
earthwork rampart with an external ditch and counterscarp bank. The rampart
consists of a steep-sided bank up to 8m wide and 2m in height. On its northern
side the bailey rampart overlies the hillfort rampart and at this point is at
its highest. The external face of the rampart slopes directly into a steep-
sided ditch, about 6m wide and 1.2m-2m deep. Material for the rampart was
quarried from this ditch which interconnects with the ditches of the ringwork
and hillfort. On the outer edge of the ditch there is a low counterscarp bank
of about 4m width, which is up to 0.6m high where the bailey rampart joins the
hillfort rampart. The south east facing aspect of the rampart has two narrow
gaps at a point where the rampart is at its lowest, and the northern gap has
been interpreted as the site of the original entrance into the bailey. There
is an area of raised ground in the ditch opposite the entrance which may
represent a causeway. Adjacent to the bailey are the slight earthwork remains
of later field boundaries.
On the highest part of the ringwork there is a slightly wider area of level
ground, about 4.5m by 3.5m in size. This is the site of a beacon shown on a
plan of the earthwork dated to 1752. It is considered to have been a Pole
Beacon consisting of an upright timber post set into the ground and braced
with a timber framework, to support one or more iron cages holding the
combustible material, probably gorse and pitch. Access to the cage or cages
would have been by a permanent ladder.
Excluded from the scheduling are the road surface, direction marker,
interpretative panels and all fence posts, although the ground beneath these
features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Slight univallate hillforts are defined as enclosures of various shapes,
generally between 1ha and 10ha in size, situated on or close to hilltops and
defined by a single line of earthworks, the scale of which is relatively
small. They date to between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (eighth -
fifth centuries BC), the majority being used for 150 to 200 years prior to
their abandonment or reconstruction. Slight univallate hillforts have
generally been interpreted as stock enclosures, redistribution centres, places
of refuge and permanent settlements. The earthworks generally include a
rampart, narrow level berm, external ditch and counterscarp bank, while access
to the interior is usually provided by two entrances comprising either simple
gaps in the earthwork or an inturned rampart. Postholes revealed by excavation
indicate the occasional presence of portal gateways while more elaborate
features like overlapping ramparts and outworks are limited to only a few
examples. Internal features included timber or stone round houses; large
storage pits and hearths; scattered postholes, stakeholes and gullies; and
square or rectangular buildings supported by four to six posts, often
represented by postholes, and interpreted as raised granaries. Slight
univallate hillforts are rare with around 150 examples recorded nationally.
Although on a national scale the number is low, in Devon they comprise one of
the major classes of hillfort. In other areas where the distribution is
relatively dense, for example, Wessex, Sussex, the Cotswolds and the
Chilterns, hillforts belonging to a number of different classes occur within
the same region. Examples are also recorded in eastern England, the Welsh
Marches, central and southern England. In view of the rarity of slight
univallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the transition
between Bronze Age and Iron Age communities, all examples which survive
comparatively well and have potential for the recovery of further
archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

Ringworks are medieval fortifications built and occupied from the late
Anglo-Saxon period to the later 12th century. They comprised a small defended
area containing buildings which was surrounded or partly surrounded by a
substantial ditch and a bank surmounted by a timber palisade or, rarely, a
stone wall. Occasionally a more lightly defended embanked enclosure, the
bailey, adjoined the ringwork. Ringworks acted as strongholds for military
operations and in some cases as defended aristocratic or manorial settlements.
They are rare nationally with only 200 recorded examples and less than 60 with
baileys. As such, and as one of a limited number and very restricted range of
Anglo-Saxon and Norman fortifications, ringworks are of particular
significance to our understanding the period.
Both the slight univallate hillfort and the ringwork and bailey are very well
preserved monuments in a relatively isolated and elevated location where they
have been free from later disturbance and development. Only a small number of
hillforts were utilised in the medieval period as castles of the ringwork and
bailey type. The close association of these two very different forms of
defensive structures, together with evidence of later land use in the form of
field boundaries and reuse of the ringwork as the site of a beacon in the post
medieval period, demonstrates valuable archaeological evidence for the
continued use and importance of this prominent site over a period of thousands
of years.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Wilson-North, W, Dunn, C, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in The Rings, Loddiswell: A New Survey By The RCHME, (1990), 87-100
Wilson-North, W, Dunn, C, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in The Rings, Loddiswell: A New Survey By The RCHME, (1990), 87-100

Source: Historic England

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