There are many standing stones and barrows on the downs in north Devon, thought to date from the early Bronze Age, but there are very few traces of where people lived and worked. This drawing (left) shows some of the principal standing stones (in black) and barrow groups (in yellow), concentrated beside the local ridgeway network (1).
The standing stones at Mattock's Down were noted by Risdon and Westcote in the 1630's but the first local study was not until the early 1900's, when Worth and Chanter recorded 25 stones on Exmoor. In the 1930's Mervyn Palmer (the founding curator of Ilfracombe Museum) recorded nearly 40 stones around Ilfracombe; the most notable at Mattock’s Down, Holdstone Down, Woolacombe, Pilton and Lee. It is thought that there was once a stone row and/or circle on Mattock’s Down and there is a double stone row at Yelland which is submerged at high tide. Some of Palmer's standing stones were revisited in 1981 by S. Eva but the most recent survey of Ilfracombe's standing stones (some 86 sites) was published in 1993 (2).
The barrows of Greater Exmoor were investigated by the Devonshire Association Barrow Committee from the 1870's. The list was updated in the 1960’s by L V Grinsell (nearly 400 are now known). The main local groups are at Centery Lane and Berry Down, with smaller groups at Holdstone Down, Kentisbury Down, Mattock’s Down and Borough (now destroyed). Three barrows in the Berry Down group were excavated in 1883 and one contained a two handled urn, or beaker, inverted over a cremation, shown in this photograph (below left). It is similar to those from Trevisker in Cornwall, dating from the early Bronze Age (c2,000-c1,500 BC). A drawing of the urn, the right way up (below right) shows the detailed chevron pattern made by cord impressions. No local barrows have been excavated since, although a similar beaker was said to have been found in one of the Chapman Barrows near Parracombe in 1885 (3).
The standing stones and barrows are concentrated along the ancient ridgeway network. In Devon these routes have been extraordinarily successful; of the 679 miles of principal ridgeways traced by G B Grundy in the 1930's, 665 miles (or 98%) are metalled and still in use today. Locally, the Neolithic Great West Way extended west to Morthoe and there were northern branches off this to Combe Martin, Berrynarbor, Widmouth Hill and Ilfracombe. Strangely, although the Ilfracombe ridgeway continued south to within two miles of the Great West Way at Barnstaple, Grundy could find no obvious connection between them (4).
There must have been local settlements, but until recently no evidence of them been discovered. However, in 2003 a stone hammer head was found in Combe Martin, and excavations at Holworthy in 2003 and 2004 have revealed traces of a round house and several fragments of a domestic pot, with evidence of abandonment c1000BC. They were found within a 'hills-slope enclosure' - usually attributed to the Iron Age - perhaps this explains the apparent lack of Bronze Age settlements in north Devon (5).
The valley of Hele lies in the triangle between two branch ridgeways, one leading to Comyn Hill, the other to Widmouth Hill. Extraordinarily, these routes are still in use today (Old Barnstaple Road and Oxenpark Lane) and although they are now narrow single-track lanes, used mainly by local residents, they were the principal inland routes right up until the Turnpike Trusts of the late 19th century. They still form the basic boundaries to Hele valley and the later settlements that developed in the valley grew between them.
< Neolithic Iron Age >
(1) Dwellings & field systems
"It is curious that Exmoor has no prehistoric monuments except burial mounds....It is true that Exmoor has no wealth of surface stone...and may not have attracted early settlers for that reason. There must have been some prehistoric farmers on Exmoor, however, or we should not have their burial mounds but in the absence of stone hut-circles it is impossible to discover how and where they lived" (Hoskins 1959 p1 5) Similarly in E Devon, Faraway Hill, are 60 mounds from 1400BC, "but there are no signs of where they lived and worked" (Hoskins 1959 p 16)
"Most of the prehistoric monuments in the Exmoor National Park can be dated from the Beaker Period, which succeeded the Neolithic around 2000 BC, or to the Bronze Age, which followed the Beaker period. The interested walker soon notices that, although there are hundreds of stone monuments and three or four hundred burial mounds in the Exmoor National Park and its immediate environs, there are few visible signs of habitation. This is especially noticeable in comparison with Dartmoor, where hut-circles outnumber barrows. On Dartmoor unlimited free stone, suitable for building, lies everywhere, but such stone is lacking nearly everywhere on Exmoor, and the walls of huts must have been built from turf or wattle-and-daub - either would quickly be assimilated into the ground once the building was abandoned." (Whybrow 1970 p 11)
"When Lesley Grinsell considered the archaeology of Exmoor in 1970 he was only able to locate a few possible earlier prehistoric field systems and hut circles on Exmoor (Grinsell 1970 p 50-51)...In 1980 a major study of air photographs located several potential areas of prehistoric field system and settlement on Exmoor....Both Dartmoor and Exmoor have evidence for extensive settlement in the 2nd millennium BC whereas on Exmoor only 10 prehistoric field systems, 20 fragmentary field banks and 45 hut circles or house platforms are currently known." (Riley & Wilson-North 2001 p 41-42)
(2) Standing stones
"While Chanter and Worth were examining barrows, they also encountered Exmoor's stone monuments. At first these were considered as mere adjuncts to the barrow groups, but Chanter and Worth soon realised that they were an important group of monuments in their own right. The results of their fieldwork, including plans and descriptions of 25 stone monuments were published in two important papers: The rude stone monuments of Exmoor and it's borders I and II (Chanter & Worth 1905 [TDA 37 p 375-397]; 1906 [TDA 38 p 538-552]). St George Gray carried on with this work of survey and record, detailing both of Exmoor's stone circles and a complex stone setting discovered as late as 1931 (Gray 1906 [The Stone Circle on Withypool Hill, Exmoor Somerset Archaeol Natur Hist 52 p 42-50]; 1928 [The Porlock Stone Circle, Exmoor Archaeol Natur Hist 74 p 71-77];1931 [Rude Stone Monuments of Exmoor (Somerset portion) part III Archaeol Natur Hist 77 p 78-82])" (Riley & Wilson-North 2001 p 8)
There are nearly 40 standing stones in the Ilfracombe area, most in a crescent shape running south of Ilfracombe with concentrations at Morthoe & Lee in the west; south of Mullacot to North of Bittadon in the centre; to East Down and Kentisbury in the East. They were recorded by M G Palmer in the 1930's. This drawing on the left was found in the Museum but not used in his article Palmer 1937 The Standing Stones of Ilfracombe, TDA Vol 69 pp 483-495 (Standing Stones folder, Ilfracombe Museum)
This is a cartoon of Mervyn Palmer in search of standing stones (right) in Ilfracombe Museum (from copy of ILFCM 25766 in Palmer box, original in Staff Photo's box, By M B 1938)
"West Somerset and North Devon are scattered with a great variety of stone monuments, most of which can with fair certainty be attributed either to the Beaker period or to the Bronze Age which succeeded it." (Whybrow 1970 p 12)
"Among the more notable standing stones which do not have any known Bronze Age round barrow in their immediate vicinity, may be mentioned numerous examples between Wollacombe and Ilfracombe, particularily the White Stone which has given the name to a farm between Lee and Ilfracombe, and is 9’ high and very thick; and the Grey Stone near Seymour Villas, Woolacombe, this being about 7’ high. The fine Long Stone at Pilton, NW of Barnstaple, is 8’ high and of an interesting local banded limestone. It has recently had to be removed a short distance from its original site. A standing stone on Knap Down, Combe Martin, may be the hangman Stone described by Westcote as being on the boundary between Combmartin and Trentishoe, and the subject of the usual sheep-stealing legend commonly attached to stones of that name. If so, its name seems to have been transferred to the hills known as Great Hangman and Little Hangman a mile or more to the N and NW." (Grinsell 1970 p 48)
"Hangman Hill [was] so called, some say, because there was once a gibbet there where sheep stealers were hung. Others say the name was given because a man, having stolen a sheep, slung it across his back and tied it around his neck, then rested it on the boundary stone. The struggling sheep slid over the other side of the stone and strangled the man. One would have thought he would have killed the sheep before tying it on his back." (Wilson 1976 p 43)
S Eva April 1981 visited some of the Ilfracombe area standing stones in 1981. A few were missing. The Pilton stone was 2' shorter than in Palmer's time. Eva later wrote an article about it in Heritage Photography Autumn 1989 issue 1 pp 13-19 (Ilfracombe Museum, Standing Stones box)
For a more recent list of standing stones see MJF Fowler TDA Vol. 125 1993 The standing stones of Exmoor, a provisional catalogue of 86 North Devon sites, pp 155 - 177
"It seems most likely that the stone monuments on Exmoor which first attracted the attention of Camden, Speed and other writers from the early c17th onwards were those on Maddock’s (or Mattock's) Down, described about 1630 by both Tristran Risdon and Thomas Westcote" (Grinsell 1970 p 37)
"Mattock's Down stone circle, if it ever existed, is now destroyed. Writing of the parish of East Down in which it was situated, Tristram Risdon said in about 1630 that ‘In this parish stand certain stones, circular-wise, more than the height of a man, which may seem to be purposely set for a memorial of some notable achievement there performed, the truth whereof time hath obliterated; only the field is known by the name of Madock’s Down; which many conjecture was in memory of one Madocke there vanquished; for no man will think that they were set in vain’. This was confirmed by ‘A Gentleman from Barnstaple’ who wrote in 1751 that near the large standing stone still visible was a circle of six stones. There is now no evidence of such a circle" (Grinsell 1970 p 41)
"This site ...is now largely destroyed, but what remains is impressive. Writing in about 1630, Thomas Westcote gave the following account of the site, mentioning two large stones standing 147’ apart and then adding ‘sixty-six feet on the side of these, is laid a ridge, a row or bank of 23 large (yet not equalling by half the other) stones, stretching out in length even with the other two, in straight and equal line, making a reciprocal figure, as having the sides equally proportioned, but double as long in length as square and more (which I am told is called a parallelogram).’ His description was accompanied by a drawing....It is odd that Westcote said nothing of the stone circle mentioned by Risdon, and Risdon was silent concerning the stone row mentioned by Westcote....writing in 1822, Daniel Lysons stated that only the two large stones were then visible, and the western and shorter one was already thrown down." (Grinsell 1970 p 45) This drawing (left) is from p 44.
The remaining stone [at Maddocks Down] is 9’ high The source was probably Stone Combe, 500yds to the SE. (Grinsell 1970 p 45)
"Another locally reputed ‘Ancient Monument’ stands on Mattock Down. This is a rock believed to be a ‘Gathering Stone’ around which chiefs and tribes of that part of Devon met in times of trouble, or when they had matters to discuss - the ancient equivalent of the modern Town Hall or Civic Centre. The stone is about 10’ high and 6’ wide. Between Berrydown Cross and Easter Close (which is on the old high ridge road to Kentisbury, Trentishoe, Martinhoe and other ancient settlements) the road crosses Mattock Down above Combe Martin and Berrynarbor. It is on this road that the stone can be seen when travelling from west to east. Look out to the right of the road and it can be seen at the end of a field" (Wilson 1976 p 88)
In June 2000 the stone was only 4-5’ high, around the base were many fragments that looked as though they had fallen off. I was told that it had been recently struck by lightning.
Yelland stone row
The finest stone row in North Devon, at Yelland, about 10’ below present high spring tide level. Its miraculous survival has been attributed to its position where there is hardly any current. It was discovered in 1932 by E H Rogers, and comprises a double row 113’ long, 6’ apart. The stones in each row are about 7’ to 7’6" apart, or multiples of this when stones are missing. There were probably 16 in each row, but only 9 were visible in 1932. Axis is roughly E to W. Excavations showed them later than Mesolithic flint implements which were beneath signs of submergence. An arrowhead found out of context is 1800-1300BC which is most probable date for the Dartmoor stone rows (Grinsell 1970 p 43) This drawing is from p 44.
There are stone circles at Hore Stones, Charles SS6873189 (probably natural); Mattocks Down SS601439 (now destroyed); Southacott, Bratton Flemming SS650387 (probably natural); stone rows & settings at Holdstone Down, row, SS620476; Kentisbury Down set 4 stones SS639440; Mattocks Down SS601438 (all but destroyed); Yelland SS490330 [corrected in pencil as 491329]; standing stones at Knap Down SS603469; East Pilton Long Stone SS554342; East Worlington Long Stone SS775159; Woolacombe Grey Stone SS463445; Heale Down SS654465; Ilfracombe Golf Links [should say Lee] SS470463, SS472464, SS470462; Kentisbury Down SS639440; Challacombe Long Stone SS705431; Mattocks Down SS600439; Parracombe Rowley SS653431; White Stone SS493462; (Grinsell 1970 p 189-199)
"There are 3 important groups of barrows between Ilfracombe and Lynton: the Narracott group, on both sides of Centery lane, is a group of at least 9, diameter 17-30 paces, height 2’ to 10’; the Berry Down group, also at least 9, two or three were opened in 1883 by George Doe who found in one of them the Cornish Trevisker urn. The Greenwell Corner group, Martinhoe, is 7-8 small barrows from 6-17 paces diameter and up to 3’ high. Three were opened in 1906 with little result." (Grinsell 1970 p59)
"The barrows in North Devon are all technically round barrows of the Bronze Age and perhaps occasionally later. ..many are cairns. A few have peristaliths or retaining walls, and a few have circumferential ditches...inhumations are rare, probably due to the acid nature of the soil which is not conducive to the preservation of human remains" (Grinsell 1970 p 97)
"Most noticeable of all Exmoor’s prehistoric monuments are the barrows which are so prominent on almost every skyline in the National park. These are the mounds which cover burials of the Beaker period and Bronze Age.- not every burial, but probably only those of chiefs or other important people. Many are marked on the maps as tumuli, a conveniently non-committal word meaning no more than ‘mounds of earth’ - exactly the same from which the Saxon word beorg from which the modern ‘barrow’ is derived. So it is worth noting that a barrow is not necessarily a burial mound.....The earliest man-made barrows in the Exmoor area cover the burials of the Beaker folk who entered SW Britain from France or Spain early in the 2nd millennium BC. These barrows tend to be small, many of them so small, indeed, as to have disappeared in the course of time.....They may be expected to cover a kist at or a little below ground level, in which the body was interred, usually in a crouched position lying on one side. The kist is formed of five flattish stones, the sides and ends being stood on edge to form a box in which the body and grave goods were deposited. The covering stone was then placed in position to protect the contents from the barrow material. The well-known Culbone burial, found by the roadside not far from Yenworthy [ss813478], contained among its grave-goods a beaker of a type (B1) which enables it to be dated. It is these beakers, found almost invariably in graves of the period, which give their name to the people and culture.....The Culbone kist and its contents were moved with great care to Taunton, where they are now well displayed in the county museum." (Whybrow 1970 p 22-23)
"The period during which inhumations or, later, cremations were covered by cairns or barrows, large or small, lasted for well over 1000 years. (No burial mounds of periods later than the Bronze Age are known in or near the Exmoor National park). It is therefore not surprising that there is considerable variety in the size and construction of the barrows and in the nature of the burial which they cover. Most of the barrows are of the bowl type, shaped like an inverted pudding basin in which the material of the mound was built right to the edge of the surrounding ditch. There are very few bell barrows, in which there is an appreciable berm, or flat space between the base of the barrow and the ditch; a good example is on of the Five Barrows group. ....The barrow or cairn covering the burial was by no means a simple mound of earth or stone. In the case of cremations the remains of the funeral pyre will usually be found to one side of the kist or grave which contains the inured cremated bones and the grave goods. Surrounding the grave and burnt material there may be a narrow circle of piled stones (the cairn circle) or perhaps a ring of upright stones. Surrounding the whole area is the circular ditch, which alone could not have yielded enough material to build the burial mound which it surrounds. The mound itself was usually built of carefully laid turf, apparently brought from some distance, which was covered by a thick layer of soil, the colour of which shows that it too, came from some distance away. Finally it seems that the exterior of many barrows was garnished with quantities of quartz pebbles, mostly of small size. The presence of a small barrow is often revealed after ploughing by the colour of its soil which differs from its surroundings, or by the scatter of quartz pebbles." (Whybrow 1970 p 23-24)
"Chanter was the rector of Parracombe at the turn of the century. He investigated many of Exmoor's barrows on behalf of the Barrow Committee, and his reports of this work form the first reliable accounts of excavations and recording of Exmoor's field archaeology (Worth 1905 [TDA 37 p 87-95]; 1906 [TDA 38 p 57-66]; 1907 [TDA 39, 82-3]; 1913 [TDA 45 91-2]). Chanter dug a total of eight large barrows; he also described and recognised the importance of Setta Barrow and Five Barrows." (Riley & Wilson-North 2001 p 8)
"They [barrows] are by far the most common prehistoric monument on Exmoor; more than 370 have been found, varying in size from 2m to 35m in diameter." (Riley & Wilson-North 2001 p 32)
"The chronology of Exmoor's barrows is uncertain. A chronic lack of full scale, modern excavation means that none of the major barrows are securely dated. Neither do archaeologists understand for how long the barrows are used. Traditionally they are considered to date from c2000 to 15000 BC (Todd 1987 [The South West to AD 1000 Longman, London & New York]) although recent work elsewhere in the country has shown that some originate in the Neolithic (Quinnell 1994 [New perspectives in Upland Monuments: Dartmoor in earlier prehistory Proc. Devon Archaeol Soc 52 p 49-62]). The truth is that the archaeological evidence of this on Exmoor does not exist. The closest modern dating evidence comes from an 8m diameter barrow on Bratton Down excavated by Charles Wybrow in 1971 and this yielded a radiocarbon date with a range from the late 2nd to early 1st millennium BC (Quinnell 1997 [Excavations of an Exmoor Barrow and Ring Cairn Proc. Devon Archaeol Soc 55 p 1-39])." (Riley & Wilson-North 2001 p 34)
"Both Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor have evidence for extensive settlement in the 2nd millennium BC, whereas on Exmoor only 10 prehistoric field systems, 20 fragmentary prehistoric field banks and 45 hut circles or house platforms are currently known." (Riley & Wilson-North 2001 p 42)
"There were round barrows at Borough, Morthoe - according to an c18th survey - ‘At Borough height, so called because it is ye highest hill in ye parish, there is a small tumulus about 6’ high which has been edged round with stones forming a circle 35’ diameter, with an entrance on ye north side, and a little further to the east is a circle of 20’ diameter edged with about 18 stones, and about 7 paces to ye southward of this is another circle adjoining which, on ye south, is a circle of 12 stones.’ (Dean Milles Questionnaire, West Country studies library) Unfortunately, during the 2nd world war, the Americans established a camp site there for thousands of soldiers practicing for D-day and major earth moving took place to accommodate them" (Reed 1997 p 3-4)
Three Barrows in the Berry Down group were opened by G Doe on 9th May 1883. The first, probably at 56684370, 35 yd dia, 6’ high, Scheduled Ancient Monument, contained ‘layers of fine clay streaked with charcoal’ only; The second, probably 56814354, 20 yd dia, 3’ high, construction similar to last. About 10’ south of centre and near the surface was a ribbon-handled urn of ‘Cornish’ type, of red ware, inverted over burnt human bones and a flint chip; The third was probably at 56774345, 25 yd dia, 31/2’ high just below surface, potsherds and burnt bones, evidently of secondary internment (Grinsell 1970a pp 109-129)
"The fragments of the urn from Berrynarbor parish were excavated from a barrow situated in a large field, originally part of Berry Down (SS 5668 84370). The pottery was found near the surface of the barrow, and about 10' away from the centre on the south-western side. The urn had been inverted, and the bottom was broken. Under the urn were found burnt bones comprising parts of a femur, forearm, skull and ribs (Doe 1883). A portion of the urn was illustrated by Abercromby (1912). It was discussed by Patchett (1946), and listed by ApSimon (1972). The pieces were presented to the City Museum, Exeter, in 1883 (Accession no. A6238). The barrow formed one of a pair, but the adjacent barrow apparently yielded nothing (Doe 1883). Both barrows were said to have been constructed of layers of fine clay streaked with charcoal (Grinsell 1970)." (Pearce 1973 p 45) This drawing of the Berrynarbor urn, shown above, is from Pearce 1973 p 46 (Used by kind permission of Exeter City Museums)
"The upper portion of the urn now survives to a depth of 382mm. There survived also two pieces of the base, one large and one small. Dimensions: rim 413mm, shoulder 465mm, base 175mm (conjectural). The urn is of convex shape, the lower part descending in a deep curve. It is made of reddish ware, showing black in fracture, and black on the inside. The fracture is irregular, and the paste shows inclusions of stone fragments. The rim is bevelled on the inside to a depth of approx. 22mm. The upper portion of the convex vessel is 143mm deep. There are two opposed handles, set just below the shoulder. The handles, 83mm and 87mm in length, are of solid oval section. Neither of them is pierced, although both ends of each handle show dimple impressions. The bevel is decorated with three rows of cord impression, apparently of the three-string plait variety. The upper portion bears, below the rim, three rows of similar cord impression. Below this is a band of elaborate and well-executed pattern formed of cord impressions forming ten rows of chevrons set in a staggered pattern so the each row descends gradually from the top to bottom of the decorated band. The upper and lower points of the chevrons are placed at an angle rather than immediately below each other. Below this pattern band are three further rows of cord impression. The handles are decorated with a row of cord impression along the upper edge of their long side, and a row along either narrow edge. The central part of the handles are decorated with cord impressed patterns of six double chevrons" (Pearce 1973 p 45 & 47)
"The urn from Berrynarbor has the greatest number of traits in common with those pieces included by ApSimon in his Trevisker Style 1 (1972) which co-relates broadly with Patchett's Class B (1946). It is of reddish ware and the paste is quite highly gritted. The internal bevel is decorated, and the urn's sole form of decoration is cord impressions. The shape, proportion and size of the Berrynarbor piece compare most closely with urn Harlyn III (Patchett 1946) and with Harlyn IV (Patchett 1946), which also had chevron decoration, although vertical, not horizontal. The urn from Tregeseal (Patchett 1950) is also very similar in form and decoration, although the Berrynarbor piece does not have a relief cross on the inside of the base. However, the Berrynarbor handles are not pierced but dimpled, which brings it into relationship with ApSimon's Style 2, of which he says 'Style 2 with its simplified shapes and its finger dimple handles, which are no more than a reminiscence of the pierced handles of Style 1, suggest a typological development from Style 1" (1972). In general, however, the urns unpierced handles seem to be smaller, of less well-defined shape, and overall of less handsome appearance than the Berrynarbor piece would seem to have been (Patchett 1946). It is worth noting, none the less, that the form of the Berrynarbor chevron decoration is most closely matched by the urn from Tresawsen which has very similar staggered zig-zags, and unpierced handles, although these are rather small. The Tresawen urn, also, has no internal bevel (Patchett 1946). On typological grounds it may be suggested that the Berrynarbor urn represents a developed stage in the Style 1 series. Urn Harlyn III was associated with a miniature accessory cup, a bronze dagger with rounded heel and two rivets, a bronze pin, a slate bone, and a holed object, and other urns of this series were also associated in barrows with objects characteristic of the developed Wessex phase of the early Bronze Age. There seems to be no reason to doubt that the Berrynarbor urn also belongs in this context" (Pearce 1973 p 48)
"A Barrow at Berrynarbor near the North Devon coast produced an imposing vessel which had originally been inverted over a cremation. With its flat bottom, biconical profile, broad band of impressed cord decoration in chevron designs, and little lug handles, it is typical of a range of pots known as Cornish urns (or Trevisker Style 1 urns from the Cornish site where this pottery has been most closely studied). These pots are neither Neolithic nor developed Beaker: Whether they are the result of Beaker influence on late Neolithic wares or of local development within the Celtic sea area, only more research will show." (Pearce 1978 p 46)
"Urn found inverted, as shown, over burnt bones in a barrow near Berryarbor, north Devon. The deep band of chevron ornament around the rim and the lug handles are typical of Cornish or Trevisker Style I urns. Height 382mm" Caption to photograph above of Berry Down Urn (Pearce 1978 p 46, used by kind permission of Exeter City Museums) The Berry Down urn is on display in the Museum of North Devon in Barnstaple.
Probably one of Chapman Barrows, 69284349, 24 paces dia, 7’ high, scheduled, was opened by Thomas Antell 1885 to get stones for mending hedge walls. Inside, within retaining circle, was a cairn within which was a slab-roofed cist which contained a pot about 2’ high and 1’6" dia (said to have resembled that from Berrynarbor), later smashed. Antell said that it contained sheep bones but it may have contained burnt human bones. The cist cover was 2’ square. The internment may have been either primary or secondary. (Grinsell 1970a pp 109-129)
In Devon the main traceable ridgeways cover 679 miles of which 665 miles or 98% are represented by modern roads and lanes. These do not include the many local ridgeways (Grundy 1941-2 p164) The ridgeways in the drawing above, are from Grundy 1940-1 p 163 (left).
The Ilfracombe ridgeway - "The survival of its line as a modern road is remarkable because for 7miles it runs side by side with, and close to, the modern Barnstaple-Ilfracombe road. It is also remarkable that, though it gets within 2miles of Barnstaple, there is no branch ridgeway connecting it with that place" (Grundy 1941-2 p 144)
The pre-roman highways of Devon have been closely studied by Dr G B Grundy (Lyson ccxci). Many are Iron Age, some Bronze Age, but an Iron Age date is safer. He traces 679 miles of ridgeway in Devon, of which 665 miles are represented by modern roads and lanes (Hoskins 1954 p 145/6)
"The Phoenicians built it [the old Ilfracombe road to Barnstaple] when they came here to trade, they would take back Cornish tin to mix with their copper...the road is said to be 4,000 years old" (Wilson 1976 p 71)
(5) Settlements near the North coast
"One expert guess is that the population of the whole country reached some 40,000 by 1000BC, and that might mean perhaps 2000 in Devon" (Sellman 1962 p 10)
In recent excavations near the church in Combe Martin "Archaeologists found several imported flints, a stone hammer head from the Bronze Age, pieces of 4th century Romano British pottery, and remains from the Saxon-Norman, Medieval and Post-Medieval periods." Mr Dunkerley said "I have been very surprised that the limited excavation carried out so far has revealed such a time breadth of human habitation." (North Devon Journal May 29th 2003 p 6)
Two trenches were excavated in 2003 inside the Holworthy enclosure (SS687443) to cut a small internal rampart feature. Where the trenches met, "a number of small flint flakes and small thumbnail scrapers were found. These were the first evidence we had that might point to a prehistoric date. More was soon to come, however. In the central section of trench 2, the stones lay less densely and plough-soil was initially removed with a mattock. Working in this area, Alistair Miller noticed a soft spot. A probe with a trowel produced half a dozen fragments of thick, crumbly pottery and subsequent careful trowelling showed that we had the largely intact base of a vessel, the feel and fabric of which suggested prehistoric, specifically Bronze Age. The vessel appeared to have been sheared off by the plough, but fragments had not scattered far.......We are gratified to find that it is in fact the intact base of a vessel now identified by Henrietta Quinnell as Middle Bronze Age Trevisker ware and one of very few found in north Devon or Exmoor." (T Green NDAS Issue 6 Autumn 2003 p 7-9)
The Holworthy pot was a domestic item, not funerary and further excavations have revealed evidence of a 9m diameter round-house within the enclosure. So far it appears that the settlement was abandoned c1000BC. This colour photograph is reproduced by kind permission of Terry Green. (T Green, personal communication 1/12/2005) The Holworthy pot is now on display in the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon.
An article describing the restoration of the Holworthy Pot, with a monochrome photograph, can be found in "From the Bottom Up: Restoring the Holworthy Pot" Halena Jaeschke, NDAS Issue 7 Spring 2004 p15)
< Neolithic Iron Age >