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Promontory fort on Seaton Down

A Scheduled Monument in Seaton, Devon

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Latitude: 50.7215 / 50°43'17"N

Longitude: -3.0858 / 3°5'8"W

OS Eastings: 323451.668508

OS Northings: 91883.167044

OS Grid: SY234918

Mapcode National: GBR PD.X0DF

Mapcode Global: FRA 47F5.FNP

Entry Name: Promontory fort on Seaton Down

Scheduled Date: 3 December 1951

Last Amended: 19 March 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017776

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29641

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Seaton

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Seaton St Gregory

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes a promontory fort of probable Iron Age date on a north
facing spur which overlooks Holyford Brook on the west side of the River Axe
near Seaton. The fort made use of the steep natural defences on three sides of
the spur with the defensive circuit completed by a cross-spur rampart and
ditch. Together the defences enclose a `D'-shaped area of approximately 6ha.
A shorter bank and ditch lay behind the southern defences further into the
The monument survives as a combination of both distinct and slight earthworks
recorded during field observations. The cross-spur rampart which provides the
outer defence on the southern side extends for about 200m east-west across the
neck of the spur on the only level approach from the south. It survives to a
height of between 0.7m and 1m and is about 3.8m wide. It is fronted on its
outer southern side by a ditch which is about 6.5m wide and 1m deep. At both
ends the rampart and ditch fade out and the defences on the remainder of the
circuit are completed by a naturally occurring break of slope. The original
entrance through the rampart has not been located with confidence although it
may have been sited where a gap exists about one third of the way along the
rampart from its western terminal. A bank and ditch lie in the interior of the
fort at a distance of about 150m behind the main rampart on a north west-south
east alignment; the bank is 40m long with a maximum height of about 0.6m.
It has a ditch on the southern side now infilled but visible as a depression
about 6m wide. Both the main outer rampart and the inner bank contain flint
nodules in their matrix. The relatively flat enclosed area of nearly 300m by
200m possesses some terraced platforms which suggest that the defended
interior was utilised either for habitation or cultivation.
Excluded from the scheduling are all fencing, gates, and gate posts, although
the ground beneath all of these features is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Promontory forts are a type of hillfort in which conspicuous naturally
defended sites are adapted as enclosures by the construction of one or more
earth or stone ramparts placed across the neck of a spur in order to divide it
from the surrounding land. Coastal situations, using headlands defined by
steep natural cliffs, are common while inland similar topographic settings
defined by natural cliffs are also used. The ramparts and accompanying ditches
formed the main artificial defence, but timber palisades may have been erected
along the cliff edges. Access to the interior was generally provided by an
entrance through the ramparts. The interior of the fort was used intensively
for settlement and related activities, and evidence for timber- and stone-
walled round houses can be expected, together with the remains of buildings
used for storage and enclosures for animals. Promontory forts are generally
Iron Age in date, most having been constructed and used between the sixth
century BC and the mid-first century AD. They are broadly contemporary with
other types of hillfort. They are regarded as settlements of high status,
probably occupied on a permanent basis, and recent interpretations suggest
that their construction and choice of location had as much to do with display
as defence. Promontory forts are rare nationally with less than 100 recorded
examples. In view of their rarity and their importance in the understanding of
the nature of social organisation in the later prehistoric period, all
examples with surviving archaeological remains are considered nationally

The defended spur at Seaton Down is an example of an inland promontory fort
where the natural defensive qualities of the site have been utilised to their
maximum effect with the result that only one side of the fort required an
artificial defence. The interior of the monument has a number of terraced
platforms indicating likely occupation activity while the fort will contain
further 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
Griffith, F M, Seaton Parish Worksheet, (1983)
Hutchinson, P O, Hutchinson Diaries, (1865)
Parkinson, M, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in The Axe Estuary and its Marshes, , Vol. 20, (1985), 117
Wall, J C, 'A History of the County of Devon (Victoria County History)' in Ancient Earthworks, , Vol. I, (1906), 625

Source: Historic England

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