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Prehistoric field system on the cliffs above Littlecombe Shoot

A Scheduled Monument in Branscombe, Devon

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Latitude: 50.6885 / 50°41'18"N

Longitude: -3.1563 / 3°9'22"W

OS Eastings: 318411.78241

OS Northings: 88290.575974

OS Grid: SY184882

Mapcode National: GBR PB.NC92

Mapcode Global: FRA 4788.4EQ

Entry Name: Prehistoric field system on the cliffs above Littlecombe Shoot

Scheduled Date: 15 June 1972

Last Amended: 16 October 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020710

English Heritage Legacy ID: 33049

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Branscombe

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Branscombe St Winifred

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes the best surviving part of a prehistoric field
system, comprising a number of field banks and associated clearance
cairns, all surviving as low earthworks located on a gently sloping
clifftop overlooking Lyme Bay. Although not precisely dated, the fields
are small and roughly square which suggests an Iron Age origin, with usage
perhaps continuing into the Roman period, before the fields were
encapsulated within larger medieval or post-medieval field boundaries. The
fields lie just to the west of Berry Cliff Camp, a hillfort which is
believed to date from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, and the
subject of a separate scheduling (SM29637).
The field system is defined to the south by lynchets (field banks and
scarps resulting from prehistoric cultivation techniques). These lynchets
occupy a narrow strip of clifftop about 270m in length with a maximum
width away from the cliff edge of about 100m. Although it is likely that
the field system once extended further inland, modern farming techniques
have removed all upstanding traces apart from those close to the cliff.
The visible remains also include a series of scarps and banks with many of
the scarps lying parallel to the cliff edge whilst the banks lie for the
most part at right angles to it. Where surveyed in 1989 by the Royal
Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME), the banks were
found to be between 2m-4.5m long and 0.5m-2m wide. Together, the banks and
scarps define five or six small fields. Associated with the fields are a
number of stone cairns some of which lie on the field banks. These cairns,
of which there are about a dozen, are considered to be the result of field
clearance and are probably contemporary with the prehistoric working of
the fields; they survive as low earth covered piles of flint and stone.
Previous commentators have suggested that they might be prehistoric
barrows or burial mounds but there is no evidence to support this view.
The prehistoric fields have been worked at later periods, perhaps into the
medieval and early post-medieval periods, and incorporated into larger
rectilinear fields as is evidenced by a long field bank which runs from
the monument to a position to its east and a bank and ditch which clearly
cuts across the earlier prehistoric field system where it survives on its
western side.
All fencing, gateposts, and coastal path waymarkers 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

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.

The prehistoric field system on the cliff edge above Littlecombe Shoot is
one of only a very few to survive in the South West away from moorland,
and its partial survival is almost certainly due to its proximity to the
cliff edge which has resulted in less intensive agricultural exploitation.
The small size of the fields, typically no larger than 50 sq m with some
much smaller, are characteristic of Iron Age or Romano-British fields.
The monument survives well as a series of definable banks and scarps with
associated clearance cairns forming the recognisable remains of a
prehistoric field system. It will retain archaeological and environmental
evidence relating to the agricultural exploitation of the land in the
later centuries of the first millennium BC into the early years of the
first millennium AD, and will be informative about the agricultural
practices of this period.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Taylor, C, Fields in the English Landscape, (1975), 19-62
Grinsell, L V, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in The Barrows of South and East Devon, , Vol. 41, (1983), 29
Hutchinson, P O, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Report on the barrows near Sidmouth, , Vol. 12, (1880), 145-46
NMR details SY18NE21, Pattison, P, Earthwork Remains Of Multi-Period Field Systems, (1989)

Source: Historic England

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