Ancient Monuments

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Melbury Beacon and circular enclosure on Melbury Hill

A Scheduled Monument in Melbury Abbas, Dorset

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Coordinates

Latitude: 50.9768 / 50°58'36"N

Longitude: -2.1821 / 2°10'55"W

OS Eastings: 387308.848001

OS Northings: 119730.70018

OS Grid: ST873197

Mapcode National: GBR 1XX.M4Y

Mapcode Global: FRA 669J.KPL

Entry Name: Melbury Beacon and circular enclosure on Melbury Hill

Scheduled Date: 4 October 1961

Last Amended: 10 August 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016893

English Heritage Legacy ID: 31070

County: Dorset

Civil Parish: Melbury Abbas

Traditional County: Dorset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Dorset

Church of England Parish: Melbury Abbas St Thomas

Church of England Diocese: Salisbury

Details

The monument includes the remains of Melbury Beacon and a circular enclosure
surrounding it, on the summit of Melbury Hill, a prominent hill on the edge of
the escarpment.
The beacon site has the remains of a hearth, a hollow, 8m in diameter and 0.5m
deep, surrounded by a protective bank, possibly a buried stone wall, with what
appears to be two flues, on the southern and eastern sides, extending outwards
3.4m. Both flues have kinks at the end presumably to facilitate through
draught. The beacon is mentioned in a letter concerning the county defences in
1588, Armada year, which stated that Melbury was to be fired to warn
Wiltshire's inhabitants of impending attack. Hutchins in his History of
Dorset, 1774, lists the beacon and it is shown on Greenwood's map of about
1825, suggesting continued use. Surrounding the beacon and the summit of the
hill is a circular enclosure, 120m in diameter, with a bank, 2.5m wide and
0.3m high, and an internal ditch 1m wide and 0.2m deep. There is no visible
entrance but the bank has been disturbed on the south east side of the
enclosure. The date and function of this enclosure is not known, and its
relationship to the beacon is uncertain. However, the association is integral
developing a full understanding of the monument.
All fence posts and the triangulation pillar are excluded from the scheduling,
although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT
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

Beacons were fires deliberately lit to give a warning, by means of smoke by
day and flame by night, of the approach of hostile forces. They were always
sited in prominent positions, usually as part of a group, chain or line which
together made up a comprehensive early warning system covering most of the
country.
Beacons were extensively used during the medieval period. Their use was
formalised by 1325 and although some were used later, for example at the time
of Monmouth's Rebellion in 1685 or during the Napoleonic wars, the system was
in decay by the mid-17th century.
Beacons were initially bonfires of wood or furze, but later barrels of pitch
or iron fire baskets mounted on poles were used. The poles were occasionally
set on earthen mounds. Access to the fire basket was by way of rungs set in
the pole, or by a stone ladder set against the beacon. More unusual beacon
types include stone enclosures and towers, mainly found in the north and south
west of England. Some beacon sites utilised existing buildings such as church
towers.
Beacons were built throughout England, with the greatest density along the
south coast and the border with Scotland. Although approximately 500 are
recorded nationally, few survive in the form of visible remains. Many sites
are only known from place-name evidence. Given the rarity of recorded
examples, all positively identified beacons with significant surviving
archaeological remains are considered to be of national importance.

Melbury Beacon is a well preserved example of its class and is unusual in that
some evidence of the structure appears to survive. It will contain
archaeological deposits providing information relating to date and structure
of beacons and aspects of medieval defence. Although of unknown date and
function the circular enclosure is well preserved, crowning the top of a
prominent hill, and its close association with the beacon is important to the
understanding of the site.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Sumner, H, The Ancient Earthworks of Cranborne Chase, (1988), 68

Source: Historic England

Other nearby scheduled monuments

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