Ancient Monuments

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Belbury Castle

A Scheduled Monument in Ottery St. Mary, Devon

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Latitude: 50.7386 / 50°44'19"N

Longitude: -3.3111 / 3°18'40"W

OS Eastings: 307578.115835

OS Northings: 94043.07619

OS Grid: SY075940

Mapcode National: GBR P6.GZ9X

Mapcode Global: FRA 37Y4.9VG

Entry Name: Belbury Castle

Scheduled Date: 18 March 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017774

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29639

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Ottery St. Mary

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: West Hill St Michael the Archangel

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes a prehistoric hillfort known as Belbury Castle which has
a roughly oval defended area of nearly 1ha; the defences were provided by an
encircling rampart and ditch. The site is located on the relatively flat top
of a hill overlooking the valley and flood plain of the River Otter on its
western side and the steep contours of the hill provided natural defences on
all sides but the east.
The defended elongated oval of the interior of the hillfort is about 150m in
length north-south with a maximum width of 60m east-west. The earthen rampart
of the defences survives on the southern and western sides incorporated into
later hedgebanks. The rampart is less well defined on the northern side,
where a hedgebank marks its former course; the defences have been completely
levelled on the east. The height of the rampart on its southern section is
about 5.5m which represents the highest survival anywhere on the circuit.
This section is fronted by a ditch 7m wide which is partly infilled but which
retains a depth of 0.9m. The ditch, mostly infilled, may be traced fronting
the western rampart but it is no longer visible on the northern and eastern
sides where deliberate slighting of the rampart and levelling of the ground is
reported to have taken place in the late 18th century. An entrance on the east
side, on the only level approach, is reported to have once been visible. The
immediate area has attracted the place-names of Belbury Castle, Castle Copse,
and Castle Field, and the site is recorded as Bigulfesburgh on a charter of
AD 1061, all of which indicate the importance of the monument as a significant
and visible earthwork in former times.
A linear earthwork, running north-south, to the west of the monument has
sometimes been suspected to have been an outwork of the hillfort or an
associated dyke but its form is that of a hollow way and it was known in the
early 20th century to have been a sunken way extending further in both
directions than the now visible remains; it is not considered to be part of
the monument and is not included in the scheduling.
All fencing and fence posts and gates and gate posts, 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.
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

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.

Belbury Castle is a slight univallate hillfort in a commanding position
overlooking the River Otter. The levelling of part of the defences to even out
the hill top will have had the effect of sealing and protecting the underlying
archaeological deposits of the interior and the monument 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
Gover, J E B et al, The Place Names of Devon, (1932), 603
Hutchinson, P O, Diaries, (1874)
Hutchinson, P O, Diaries, (1861)
Kirwan, R, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Prehistoric Archaeology of East Devon, , Vol. 4 (ii), (1871), 648
Wall, J C, 'A History of the County of Devon (Victoria County History)' in Ancient Earthworks, , Vol. I, (1906), 585
Stone, (1977)

Source: Historic England

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