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Prehistoric to post-medieval settlement, cultivation, industrial and funerary remains on Fyfield, Overton and Manton Downs

A Scheduled Monument in Preshute, Wiltshire

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Latitude: 51.4371 / 51°26'13"N

Longitude: -1.8081 / 1°48'29"W

OS Eastings: 413435.070545

OS Northings: 170918.505541

OS Grid: SU134709

Mapcode National: GBR 4WR.ZMR

Mapcode Global: VHB45.L4ZN

Entry Name: Prehistoric to post-medieval settlement, cultivation, industrial and funerary remains on Fyfield, Overton and Manton Downs

Scheduled Date: 9 March 1927

Last Amended: 24 November 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019190

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33951

County: Wiltshire

Civil Parish: Preshute

Traditional County: Wiltshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Wiltshire


The monument, which falls into three separate areas of protection, is
situated across Fyfield and Overton Downs and on the northern edge of Manton
Down and includes extensive remains from successive phases of prehistoric to
post-medieval activity. The downs comprise a south facing high chalk plateau
which overlooks the Kennet valley and is bisected by a north west to south
east orientated dry valley. The remains include prehistoric field systems,
boundaries, trackways, and associated settlements together with six barrows
and a series of worked stones indicative of funerary and religious activity.
Roman occupation of the Downs is represented by at least five settlements or
farmsteads. Early medieval pastoralism produced a series of sheepcotes, whilst
three medieval and post-medieval farmsteads and areas of ridge and furrow
cultivation overlying earlier field systems relate to subsequent agricultural
practices. Evidence of medieval and post-medieval industry is visible in the
form of the extensive quarrying and working of the sarsen stones, sandstone
periglacial deposits which originally covered much of the area.
Although the overall complex of remains comprise a range of components, they
are chiefly characterised by a series of rectilinear field systems, the long
term cultivation of which led to the accumulation of soil against the field
boundaries, creating characteristic banks or steps in the landscape called
lynchets. In places the lynchets survive to a height of 3m, in many cases
completely burying the original walls or boundary banks but preserving their
outline. A fragmentary series of lynchets on the eastern edge of Fyfield Down,
on Manton Down and on the western side of Overton Down represent the earliest
system and define rectangular plots with their long axes orientated
approximately NNW to SSE. The manner in which these fields avoid adjacent
barrows suggests that the two elements were broadly contemporary and together
formed components of a Bronze Age planned landscape.
At least six barrows are clearly visible within the scheduling, with possible
traces of up to five more. The most westerly is a disc barrow on Overton Down
situated immediately east of the Ridgeway, with good views across the Kennet
valley and Avebury. Its central mound is 13.5m in diameter and is surrounded
by a level berm 8.3m in width, a quarry ditch and an outer bank. Partial
excavation in 1960 revealed a Bronze Age urn containing a cremation and showed
that the outer ditch had become infilled during the Roman period when the
adjacent fields were returned to cultivation. A round barrow situated 400m to
the south east survives as a low mound 7m in diameter, whilst a third barrow
250m SSE is 10m in diameter and up to 0.6m in height. Both have been disturbed
and show the extensive use of sarsens in their construction. Two further
barrows, situated 15m apart on an east to west axis are located 1km to the
east on the lower slopes of Fyfield Down. The western barrow is 15m in
diameter whilst the eastern barrow is 19m in diameter and produced a single
sherd of Early Bronze Age pottery. More recent fieldwork has indicated the
existence of an additional barrow on the northern edge of Fyfield Down. The
barrow survives as a low oval mound disturbed by subsequent activity, part of
which involved the removal of a sarsen from its edge and an unsuccessful
attempt to shape it as a mill stone.
In addition to the funerary monuments, further evidence of prehistoric ritual
activity on the Downs is visible in the form of a series of worked sarsen
stones. A recumbent tabular stone 1.4m in length situated on the northern edge
of Overton Down includes grooves and a dished area consistent with its use
for the shaping, whetting and polishing of Neolithic stone axes. Excavation
around the stone in 1963 demonstrated that it had originally been upright,
whilst an iron wedge and a coin showed that it had been split in the 13th
century AD. The stone is situated immediately north of an east to west
orientated ditch approximately 200m in length and 9m in width. Partial
excavation of the ditch indicated that it was a major prehistoric boundary or
landscape division reused as a trackway in the later Romano-British period.
The ditch continues west of the Ridgeway, and this section is also included in
the scheduling. An original entrance in the eastern portion of the ditch gave
access to the adjacent field system, within which another recumbent sarsen
shows evidence of 20 circular indentations or cup-marks. These markings are
not the result of natural geological processes and are interpreted as symbols
applied in the Early Bronze Age. Their precise purpose is unknown but from
similarly decorated stones found elsewhere they appear to have functioned as
landscape markers. Sarsens were extensively used from at least the Bronze Age
onwards to define and revet field boundaries, but in two areas on Overton Down
geometric arrangements of boulders bear no relation to the fields within which
they are situated and may reflect prehistoric religious practices.
The majority of the surviving field systems on the northern and western sides
of the monument, covering an area of approximately 150ha, are orientated
north west to south east. A series of partial excavations across their
boundaries suggested that the fields primarily date from the Mid- to Late
Bronze Age, but were cultivated episodically through to the Iron Age. A
complex network of both raised trackways and hollow ways running across the
systems also reflect the need to move stock between pasture and areas of
settlement. Despite numerous finds of pottery within field banks indicative of
nearby domestic activity, there is little visible evidence of prehistoric
settlement, which seems likely to have been obscured by later cultivation.
This was corroborated in 1965 by the excavation of a field bank towards the
top of the south western facing slopes of Overton Down which revealed a small
Iron Age farmstead showing evidence of five probably successive circular
structures, covering a date span of approximately 100 years in the period
around 700 BC. The first building was only partially excavated and was
identified by a series of post holes. The next building was more substantial
and had a circular bedding trench, as did the three succeeding structures. In
its second phase the farmstead was surrounded by a sub-circular embanked
enclosure. The settlement partially overlayed a small cemetery of the Early
Bronze Age and was itself re-incorporated into the surrounding field system
following its abandonment. A similar embanked enclosure on the edge of
Totterdown may indicate another broadly contemporary settlement, whilst the
location of a third has been identified by finds of Iron Age pottery and a
brooch within a rectangular enclosure bisected by the later Green Street.
A combination of factors including climatic deterioration and soil
impoverishment in the later prehistoric period are thought to have led to a
decline in cultivation across the Downs. Following a period of abandonment,
excavation has shown that the field systems within the scheduling were
cultivated intensively again during the early Romano-British period in the
first and second centuries AD, with cultivation gradually decreasing after
this time. At least five Romano-British settlements have been identified
across both Fyfield and Overton Downs. A series of rectangular enclosures
running north west to south east on the south eastern edge of Overton Down,
the northern edge of which are within pasture, overlain by medieval ridge and
furrow and included within the scheduling, relate to an early Romano-British
settlement. A number of low platforms 140m to the north west indicate a
farmstead, excavation of which in 1964 revealed at least five rectangular
stone buildings and coins and high status domestic items dating occupation to
the fourth and fifth centuries AD. Further platforms belonging to a similar
settlement are visible 100m to the west, and partial excavation of the later
enclosure at Down Barn revealed Romano-British occupation debris dated to the
fourth century AD.
There appears to have been a hiatus in settlement, and possibly cultivation
through the early medieval period, though pastoralism may have begun to take
on increasing importance. Medieval documentary sources make reference to a
series of sheepcotes across Fyfield and Overton Downs, with which rectilinear
and curvilinear enclosures on the eastern edge of Overton Down at Barn Down
and south of Wroughton Copse may be associated. A medieval road from London to
Bath, known locally as Green Street crossed the Downs from east to west. The
road had two main branches and survives as a series of ruts and sunken
trackways, particularly visible immediately south of Delling Copse. It
continued in use until approximately 1815 when it was abandoned following
Parliamentary enclosure.
A medieval settlement forms the second protected area and is situated within
the Beeches on the northern edge of Manton Down. It is represented by a series
of amorphous earthworks defined on their southern side by a ditch and bank
revetted with sarsens. Partial excavation in 1949 revealed large amounts of
pottery dating to the 12th and 13th centuries. In addition, medieval documents
and subsequent excavation have shown that two conjoined earthwork enclosures
situated south of Wroughton Copse mark the location of Raddun, a farmstead
known to have been occupied during the 13th and 14th centuries and which may
have replaced an earlier sheepcote. The enclosures contained six buildings,
five of which related to the farmstead and the sixth, dated to the
16th century, belonging to a later phase of habitation.
A rectangular earthwork 200m west of Wroughton Copse has been identified as
Delling or Dyllinge Enclosure, a farmstead referred to in a document of 1567.
The enclosure is up to 65m in length and consists of a narrow bank and
external ditch; pieces of brick in the north western corner which suggest the
location of the farm house. A low rectangular pillow mound 130m SSW represents
the remains of a medieval or post-medieval rabbit warren, the proximity of
which to both Delling and Raddun suggests that it is related to one of these
Documentary sources show that the sarsen stones originally covering much of
the Downs have been actively quarried from the medieval period until World War
II. Numerous extraction pits relating to medieval and post-medieval quarrying
are visible across the northern edge of Overton Down, to the west of
Totterdown and within Delling Copse, and many stones have been worked in some
manner or show signs of having been split using iron wedges.
The third area of protection includes a section of linear ditch which runs
east-west across Overton Down. This section of the ditch is 250m long and is
clearly visible as an extant monument. The ditch is believed to represent
a Bronze Age ranch boundary which was reused as part of a track system in the
Romano-British period and is a continuation of the ditch lying to the east of
the Ridgeway which is believed to have served the same purpose.
An experimental length of bank and ditch constructed on Overton Down in 1960
as part of a long-term study of the environmental processes affecting
archaeological deposits in chalk landscapes is also included within the
All fences, walls, buildings, modern services, release pens and associated
fixtures, feed and drinking troughs, ponds, display boards and the surfaces of
all paths and trackways 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

A small number of areas in southern England appear to have acted as foci for
ceremonial and ritual activity during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age
periods. One of the best known and earliest recognised, with references in
the 17th century, is around Avebury, now designated as a World Heritage Site.
In the Avebury area, the henge monument itself, the West Kennet Avenue, the
Sanctuary, West Kennet long barrow, Windmill Hill causewayed enclosure and the
enigmatic Silbury Hill are well known. Whilst the other Neolithic long
barrows, the many Bronze Age round barrows and other associated sites are less
well known, together they define one of the richest and most varied areas of
Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial and ritual monuments in the country.
At one level the complex array of archaeological features across Fyfield and
Overton Downs, many of which also lie within the World Heritage Site, offer an
important dimension to understanding the development of the prehistoric
ceremonial complex at Avebury and its immediate environs. On another, the
remains are broadly representative of those visible across much of the
Marlborough Downs before changes brought about by intensive agriculture in the
20th century. Together they are an extremely rare and intact survival
representing an important landscape palimpsest, the diverse elements of which
contain evidence of changing settlement, agriculture and economy from the
prehistoric to post-medieval periods. Buried deposits will also contain
environmental evidence relating to the manner in which the immediate landscape
has been manipulated, and together with documentary sources from the medieval
period onwards will offer an opportunity to understand the mechanisms behind
these changes. In the 20th century the archaeological remains within the
monument were the subject of the longest and most intensive research project
in Britain, with the result that they have become an important educational
resource, and the inclusion of parts of the monument within the World Heritage
Site acknowledges its international significance.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Fowler, P J, Blackwell, I, The Land of Lettice Sweetapple, An English Countryside Explored, (1998), 37-39
Fowler, P J, Blackwell, I, The Land of Lettice Sweetapple, An English Countryside Explored, (1998), 74
Fowler, P J, Blackwell, I, The Land of Lettice Sweetapple, An English Countryside Explored, (1998), 81
Grinsell, L V, 'A History Of Wiltshire' in Earthworks, , Vol. 1,1, (1957), 251
SU 17 SW 049 ref 2a, R.C.H.M.(E), A ditch mentioned in a charter, (1976)
SU 17 SW 049 ref 3, R.C.H.M.(E), A ditch mentioned in a charter, (1976)
SU 17 SW 049 ref 6, R.C.H.M.(E), A ditch mentioned in a charter, (1976)
SU 17 SW 049, R.C.H.M.(E), A ditch mentioned in a charter, (1976)
SU 17 SW 102, R.C.H.M.(E), A ditch mentioned in a charter, (1976)
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW311,
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW314,
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW554,
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW714,
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW715,
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW716,
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW735,
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW774,
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW775,
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW776,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW103,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW154,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW200,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW202,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW208,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW306,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW315,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW318,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW450,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW451,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW525,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW526,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW555,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW556,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW613,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW625,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW626,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW627,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW628,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW642,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW644,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW645,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW650,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW651,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW652,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW678,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW679,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW680,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW684,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW685,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW687,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW688,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW690,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW694,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW695,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW696,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW697,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW698,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW700,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW701,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW714,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW718,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW719,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW720,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW721,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW722,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW723,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW724,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW725,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW727,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW745,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW748,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW751,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW774,

Source: Historic England

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