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Hembury Fort

A Scheduled Monument in Payhembury, Devon

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Latitude: 50.8206 / 50°49'14"N

Longitude: -3.2614 / 3°15'40"W

OS Eastings: 311244.22825

OS Northings: 103102.514763

OS Grid: ST112031

Mapcode National: GBR LT.XPKR

Mapcode Global: FRA 461X.Z2L

Entry Name: Hembury Fort

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 16 November 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018850

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29660

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Payhembury

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Payhembury St Mary the Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes Hembury Fort, a small multivallate hillfort of Iron Age
date which occupies the site of an earlier Neolithic causewayed enclosure. The
location of the hillfort, on a narrow south facing promontory at the end of a
240m high ridge protruding from the Blackdown Hills, was almost certainly
chosen for its natural defensive qualities and its extensive views over the
Otter River valley and the surrounding countryside. The concentric multiple
ditch and rampart defensive circuit complemented the steep hill slopes and
enclosed a long, pear-shaped interior area of about 3.5ha. The only flat
approach to the hillfort was from the north, the two inturned entrances of the
hillfort were however located away from this on the west and east sides. The
site was later occupied by the Roman army.

Excavations at the site have revealed the presence of a series of elongated
ditches interrupted by causeways which cut off an area of about 0.8ha at
the southern end of the ridge which corresponds to the southern tip of the
later hillfort. Abundant occupation evidence recovered from the excavations
has demonstrated that this occupation was of the Neolithic period with an end
date in the third millennium BC, probably before 2500 BC. The traditional
interpretation of the site at this period is that of a causewayed enclosure.

The visible features of the later hillfort represent the final, probably first
century BC defences, of a site which was first defended in the Iron Age in the
middle of the first millennium BC. Excavations have shown that the first phase
of defences took the form of a box rampart revetted in timber. The second and
main phase saw the replacement of the box rampart with a triple line of
defences comprising ramparts, ditches, and a counterscarp bank which has been
artificially straightened on the east side where it forms a parish boundary.
At the vulnerable northern end an additional rampart and a 5m wide ditch
extending for some 80m were added although they were never completed across
the entire exposed neck of ground. The hillfort had dual entrance ways, one to
the north east and one to the west. Both entrance ways were inturned and
approached by embanked causeways no more than a maximum of 6m wide across the
ditch ends. Excavations have revealed the presence of post holes representing
the positions of timber revetments and palisades indicating that these
entrances were well defended. The relatively flat interior of the hillfort is
known to have supported at least one round house of 7m in diameter which was
located near the eastern rampart. Pottery forms recovered in excavation,
including upright jars and bowls decorated with curvilinear and geometric
designs (Glastonbury Ware), confirmed the Iron Age occupation of the site.

The Iron Age occupation of the hillfort may have ended prior to the erection
in the northern part of the monument's interior of a number of Roman timber
buildings which have been suggested to represent the workshops and
accommodation for a unit of the Roman army in residence during the middle of
the first century AD. This unit was perhaps connected with the known Roman
iron-working sites in the nearby Blackdown Hills whilst the Roman legionary
fortress at Exeter, first occupied at about the same time, lay only 25km to
the south west. The Roman occupation saw the rebuilding of the western gateway
but two transverse banks and ditches which serve to cut off the northern two
thirds of the interior of the monument, traditionally interpreted as Roman
works, have been demonstrated to be post-medieval.

All fencing and fence 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.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Small multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying
shape, generally between 1 and 5ha in size and located on hilltops. They are
defined by boundaries consisting of two or more lines of closely set
earthworks spaced at intervals of up to 15m. These entirely surround the
interior except on sites located on promontories, where cliffs may form one or
more sides of the monument. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been
constructed and occupied between the sixth century BC and the mid-first
century AD. Small multivallate hillforts are generally regarded as settlements
of high status, occupied on a permanent basis. Recent interpretations suggest
that the construction of multiple earthworks may have had as much to do with
display as with defence. Earthworks may consist of a rampart alone or of a
rampart and ditch which, on many sites, are associated with counterscarp banks
and internal quarry scoops. Access to the interior is generally provided by
one or two entrances, which either appear as simple gaps in the earthwork or
inturned passages, sometimes with guardrooms. The interior generally consists
of settlement evidence including round houses, four and six post structures
interpreted as raised granaries, roads, pits, gullies, hearths and a variety
of scattered post and stake holes. Evidence from outside numerous examples of
small multivallate hillforts suggests that extra-mural settlement was of a
similar nature. Small multivallate hillforts are rare with around 100 examples
recorded nationally. Most are located in the Welsh Marches and the south-west
with a concentration of small monuments in the north-east. In view of the
rarity of small multivallate hillforts and their importance in understanding
the nature of settlement and social organisation within the Iron Age period,
all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed to be of
national importance.

Hembury Fort survives in exceptionally good condition with a well defined
circuit of defences surrounding the entire monument. In addition to its Iron
Age usage, the monument has produced extensive evidence for its occupation as
a causewayed enclosure, which is a rare type of monument used for settlement,
defence or ceremonial purposes in the Neolithic period and as a base for a
unit of the Roman army operating in the middle of the 1st century AD. The
monument will therefore provide valuable archaeological information relating
to the lives, economy, and landscape of the Neolithic and Iron Age peoples who
utilised or inhabited the site as well as information relating to the Roman
military occupation of the South West.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Fox, A, Prehistoric Hillforts in Devon, (1996), 36-37
Oswald, A, Industry and enclosure in the Neolithic, (1996)
Liddell, D M, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Society' in Report on the Excavations at Hembury Fort, Devon, , Vol. 1, (1931), 90-120
Liddell, D M, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Society' in Report on the Excavations at Hembury Fort, Devon, 1930, , Vol. 1, (1932), 40-63
Todd, M, 'Antiquity' in Hembury (Devon): Roman Troops In A Hillfort, , Vol. 58, (1984), 171-74
Wall, J C, 'A History of the County of Devon (Victoria County History)' in Ancient Earthworks, , Vol. Vol I, (1908), 585-87

Source: Historic England

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