Ancient Monuments

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Musbury Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Axmouth, Devon

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Latitude: 50.7424 / 50°44'32"N

Longitude: -3.0187 / 3°1'7"W

OS Eastings: 328215.378322

OS Northings: 94136.253722

OS Grid: SY282941

Mapcode National: GBR PG.LLK1

Mapcode Global: FRA 47K3.XDF

Entry Name: Musbury Castle

Scheduled Date: 26 June 1924

Last Amended: 21 January 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016793

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29659

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Axmouth

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Musbury St Michael

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes a large prehistoric univallate hillfort known as Musbury
Castle. The hillfort occupies a site at the end of a Greensand spur just to
the east of the River Axe above the village of Musbury. It has naturally
defended steep slopes except for a level approach from the north. It enclosed
a defended area of about 3.4ha.

The hillfort takes the form of a long narrow enclosure aligned with the
topography of the north east to south west spur on which it was built. It is
about 390m long with a maximum width of 130m inclusive of the defences. The
very steep natural slopes on all sides but the north east supplied a strong
defensive setting which may have been supplemented by the scarping of the
hillsides. The only level approach along the crest of the spur from the north
east was defended by two transverse ramparts set one behind the other about
40m apart; this is the only part of the defensive circuit thought to have been
multivallate. Each rampart was fronted by a ditch and the outermost one by an
additional counterscarp bank which now survives only at its north west end.
The outer rampart is 2.5m high whilst the inner one is about 2m high; their
respective ditches are still visible as depressions about 3m wide. The
interior of the hillfort is relatively flat along the crest of the spur but it
falls away on the two main long flanks of the defences. The southernmost 70m
long tip of the spur is cut off from the rest of the interior by a transverse
rampart about 2m high with an outward facing ditch. The main entrance was
probably from the north east and was defended by the set of double transverse
ramparts whilst a further original entrance is probable at the south eastern
corner and this may account for the presence of the southern stretch of
rampart and ditch in close proximity to the point where the angled entrance
way approached the interior. Outworks shown on a map of 1765 were probably
destroyed in the 19th century and their position on the ground can no longer
be located with any accuracy.

All fencing and fence posts, gates, gate posts and stiles are excluded from
the scheduling, 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

Large univallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying
shape, ranging in size between 1ha and 10ha, located on hilltops and
surrounded by a single boundary comprising earthworks of massive proportions.
They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and used
between the fourth century BC and the first century AD, although evidence for
earlier use is present at most sites. The size of the earthworks reflects the
ability of certain social groups to mobilise the labour necessary for works on
such a monumental scale, and their function may have had as much to do with
display as defence. Large univallate hillforts are also seen as centres of
redistribution, both for subsistence products and items produced by craftsmen.
The ramparts are of massive proportions except in locations where steepness of
slope precludes easy access. They can vary between 6m and 20m wide and may
survive to a height of 6m. The ditches can measure between 6m and 13m wide and
between 3m and 5m deep. Access to the interior is generally provided by one or
two entrances which often take the form of long passages formed by inturned
ramparts and originally closed by a gate located towards the inner end of the
passageway. The entrance may be flanked by guardrooms and/or accompanied by
outworks. 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. Large
univallate hillforts are rare with between 50 and 100 examples recorded
nationally. Most are located within southern England where they occur on the
chalklands of Wessex, Sussex and Kent. The western edge of the distribution is
marked by scattered examples in north Somerset and east Devon, while further
examples occur in central and western England and outliers further north.
Within this distribution considerable regional variation is apparent, both in
their size, rampart structure and the presence or absence of individual
components. In view of the rarity of large univallate hillforts and their
importance in understanding the organisation and regional structure of Iron
Age society, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed
to be of national importance.

The hillfort of Musbury Castle survives well in a commanding position above
the lower reaches of the valley of the River Axe and demonstrates the use of
the natural defensive qualities of the site to maximum advantage. It will
contain archaeological information relating to the construction and use of the
site, the lives of its inhabitants and the landscape in which they lived.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Fox, A, Prehistoric Hillforts in Devon, (1996), 44
Wall, J C, 'A History of the County of Devon (Victoria County History)' in Ancient Earthworks, , Vol. I, (1906), 584-5
Doon, B, (1765)

Source: Historic England

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