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Prehistoric field system at Walls Hill

A Scheduled Monument in St Marychurch, Torbay

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Latitude: 50.4754 / 50°28'31"N

Longitude: -3.5034 / 3°30'12"W

OS Eastings: 293413.409076

OS Northings: 65037.635693

OS Grid: SX934650

Mapcode National: GBR QX.2KFQ

Mapcode Global: FRA 37KS.T32

Entry Name: Prehistoric field system at Walls Hill

Scheduled Date: 18 July 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019134

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33027

County: Torbay

Electoral Ward/Division: St Marychurch

Built-Up Area: Torquay

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Torquay St Matthias

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes part of a prehistoric field system of Late Bronze Age to
Early Iron Age date comprising a number of field banks and associated
clearance cairns all surviving as low earthworks situated on the plateau of a
gently sloping clifftop promontory overlooking the sea at Babbacombe Bay. A
wall and bank divides the plateau in two. These features are of uncertain
date but are clearly later than the prehistoric field system, which survives
only only intermittently on a south west to north east axis.
Former stone quarrying has removed parts of the promontory on its eastern and
southern sides so that the cliff edge stands further inland than would have
been the case in prehistoric times.
The ancient field system was recognised in the 19th century when excavation
established that the field banks were constructed of limestone rubble, but the
system was first recorded archaeologically in a survey of 1985 when a series
of connected linear banks were mapped. At the same time, several cairns
(stone mounds believed to result from prehistoric field clearance) which were
considered to be contemporary in date with the linear banks were noted. The
plan which was produced demonstrated the existence of at least nine small
fields set out within a pattern recognised as a regular aggregate field
system; essentially a prehistoric method of laying out fields in a consistent
manner, the major component of which are boundaries usually set along two main
axes set at right angles to one another. The surviving above ground remains of
the field system are almost exclusively confined to an area south of the later
boundary wall which traverses the plateau, although some traces of a
continuation to the north of it were recorded.
Distinguishable on the ground are two major field banks, one providing a
central axis running approximately north west to south east, and one running
almost due east out towards the tip of the promontory. The bank forming the
central axis is about 3m wide and 0.1m high, and this bank, like the others in
the system, has been reduced and spread by later cultivation. To the west of
the central axis three near complete rectilinear fields have been recognised
in outline. The most northerly is a long narrow rectangle whilst the other two
are squarer; they are all defined by low earthwork banks. A low clearance
cairn stands in the centre of the narrow field. Further fields extend to the
north and south of these three but their full extent has been lost to a
combination of quarrying and cultivation. On the east side of the central axis
is a long uninterrupted bank which stretches out towards the tip of the
promontory. It is on average 4.2m wide and 0.15m high. This bank also appears
to serve as a main division and it has at least two well-defined fields to its
south, these fields being divided by a further shorter bank with dimensions of
about 4.3m in width and 0.2m in height; it incorporates a clearance cairn at
its south western terminal which is 11m in diameter and 0.25m high. The centre
of the clearance cairn is hollowed, probably due to antiquarian investigation.
A larger and apparently undivided field to the north of the second main axis
is the largest of the group and it would have enclosed an area of over 1ha;
its eastern boundary has been lost to the quarried cliff face. It contains
within it at least four low clearance cairns which, on average, have
dimensions of 7m in diameter by 0.3m in height. The field system is considered
to date to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age, perhaps spanning the two
All fixed benches and information boards, and the modern public shelter at the
east end of the promontory are excluded from the scheduling, although the
ground beneath all these features is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Regular aggregate field systems date from the Bronze Age (2000-700 BC) to the
end of the fifth century AD. They usually cover areas of up to 100ha and
comprise a discrete block of fields orientated in roughly the same direction,
with the field boundaries laid out along two axes set at right angles to one
another. Individual fields generally fall within the 0.1ha-3.2ha range and can
be square, rectangular, long and narrow, triangular or polygonal in shape. The
field boundaries can take various forms (including drystone walls or reaves,
orthostats, earth and rubble banks, pit alignments, ditches, fences and
lynchets) and follow straight or sinuous courses. Component features common to
most systems include entrances and trackways, and the settlements or
farmsteads from which people utilised the fields over the years have been
identified in some cases. These are usually situated close to or within the
field system.
The development of field systems is seen as a response to the competition for
land which began during the later prehistoric period. The majority are thought
to have been used mainly for crop production, evidenced by the common
occurrence of lynchets resulting from frequent ploughing, although rotation
may also have been practised in a mixed farming economy. Regular aggregate
field systems occur widely and have been recorded in south western and south
eastern England, East Anglia, Cheshire, Cumbria, Nottinghamshire, North and
South Yorkshire and Durham. They represent a coherent economic unit often
utilised for long periods of time and can thus provide important information
about developments in agricultural practices in a particular location and
broader patterns of social, cultural and environmental change over several
centuries. Those which survive well and/or which can be positively linked to
associated settlements are considered to merit protection.

Despite some loss to quarrying and the reduction of the field banks and cairns
by later cultivation, the prehistoric field system at Walls Hill survives well
as low earthworks over the southern part of its extent (ie: that part included
within the scheduling). The system has been demonstrated by archaeological
observation and survey to possess a pattern of small fields, with their
associated clearance cairns, which respect major boundaries laid down to
provide principal axes. The field system is one of only a few recorded which
survive in anything like a complete state on the limestone geology of Devon.
The monument will retain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to
the agricultural exploitation of the land from the Bronze Age into the early
centuries of the first millennium BC and will be informative about the
agricultural practices of this period.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Blewitt, O, Panorama of Torquay, (1832), 203-4
Gallant, L et al, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in Ancient Fields on the South Devon Limestone Plateau, , Vol. 43, (1985), 23-37
Needham, S et al, 'Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society' in Assemblage Of Late Bronze Age Metalworking Debris From Dainton, , Vol. 46, (1980), 177
Colquhoun, F D, Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, (1950)

Source: Historic England

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