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Hillfort on Grabbist Hill, 275m south west of St Leonard's Well

A Scheduled Monument in Dunster, Somerset

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Latitude: 51.1832 / 51°10'59"N

Longitude: -3.4564 / 3°27'23"W

OS Eastings: 298302.118061

OS Northings: 143667.006127

OS Grid: SS983436

Mapcode National: GBR LK.5N6B

Mapcode Global: VH6GM.1JLB

Entry Name: Hillfort on Grabbist Hill, 275m south west of St Leonard's Well

Scheduled Date: 11 August 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021060

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35598

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Dunster

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset


The monument includes a univallate hillfort considered to be of Iron Age
date located on Grabbist Hill on the north eastern edge of Exmoor. The
hillfort is ovate in plan and aligned from north west to south east
following the contour of the steep narrow ridge which forms the eastern
end of Grabbist Hill. It is strategically positioned to take advantage of
the natural defences offered by the precipitous contours of the ridge and
is in a commanding position overlooking the Avill Valley to the south and
west, Gallox Hill to the south, and the Minehead coast to the north and

The hillfort is believed to be unfinished and is defined on the north side
by a single earthwork bank which ranges from between 1.3m to 1.9m in
height at the western end and gradually diminishing to 0.5m in height
towards the eastern end. It has been suggested that this low bank
represents a marker line laid out for the unfinished defences. The western
end of the hillfort, where the defences are strongest, is formed by a
ditch which has a counterscarp bank. The base of the ditch is between 2.2m
and 3m deep below the top of the bank and the defensive earthworks have an
overall width of 10m. The south side of the hillfort is defined by the
steep scarp of the hill which provides a natural defence and which is
particularly precipitous above the base of a hollowed area, formed by a
geological land slip, known as the `Giants Chair'. No artificial
earthworks are visible in this sector. A gap in the earthworks at the
western end of the hillfort is believed to be an original entrance, (a
common form of hillfort entrance) and it would originally have had a
corresponding causeway. The profile of the earthworks at the western end
has been partially obscured by the addition of a later field boundary
which extends around much of the inner edge of hillfort and which has also
disturbed an inner rampart which may represent part of the original
defensive circuit. This field boundary may be associated with an area of
medieval or post-medieval cultivation represented by traces of narrow
ridge and furrow located within the interior of the hillfort on the
eastern and south eastern side. A 30m length of bank aligned from north to
south and about 5m wide is visible in the centre of the hillfort and
probably forms part of this later cultivation activity.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: the
wooden bench located adjacent to the footpath on the east side of the
hillfort, together with the small area of hard-standing on which it is
set; and the small wood post and rail fenced enclosure on the north east
side of the hillfort together with all other fencing; the ground beneath
these features is, however, included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Slight univallate hillforts are defined as enclosures of various shapes,
generally between 1ha and 10ha in size, situated on or close to hilltops and
defined by a single line of earthworks, the scale of which is relatively
small. They date to between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (eighth -
fifth centuries BC), the majority being used for 150 to 200 years prior to
their abandonment or reconstruction. Slight univallate hillforts have
generally been interpreted as stock enclosures, redistribution centres, places
of refuge and permanent settlements. The earthworks generally include a
rampart, narrow level berm, external ditch and counterscarp bank, while access
to the interior is usually provided by two entrances comprising either simple
gaps in the earthwork or an inturned rampart. Postholes revealed by excavation
indicate the occasional presence of portal gateways while more elaborate
features like overlapping ramparts and outworks are limited to only a few
examples. Internal features included timber or stone round houses; large
storage pits and hearths; scattered postholes, stakeholes and gullies; and
square or rectangular buildings supported by four to six posts, often
represented by postholes, and interpreted as raised granaries. Slight
univallate hillforts are rare with around 150 examples recorded nationally.
Although on a national scale the number is low, in Devon they comprise one of
the major classes of hillfort. In other areas where the distribution is
relatively dense, for example, Wessex, Sussex, the Cotswolds and the
Chilterns, hillforts belonging to a number of different classes occur within
the same region. Examples are also recorded in eastern England, the Welsh
Marches, central and southern England. In view of the rarity of slight
univallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the transition
between Bronze Age and Iron Age communities, all examples which survive
comparatively well and have potential for the recovery of further
archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

The univallate hillfort on Grabbist Hill, 275m south west of St Leonard's
Well survives comparatively well despite some slight disturbance to the
bank on the west side by a later medieval or post-medieval field boundary.
It is a good example of an unfinished hillfort and is additionally
important as it provides a rare insight into, and valuable information
about, the construction methods of hillforts. It is one of only seven
hillforts distributed across the Exmoor region, all of which occupy
similar commanding positions overlooking the major river valleys.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Riley, H, Wilson-North, R, The Field Archaeology of Exmoor, (2001), 58-60
Dennison, E, 'Proceedings Somerset Archaeological & Natural History Society' in Somerset Archaeology 1986, , Vol. 130, (1986), 145-6
SS 94 SE 2, National Monuments Record,

Source: Historic England

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