Hillsborough Promontory Fort


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Centred on NGR SS 53262 47813
Statutory Address:
Hillsborough, Ilfracombe, Devon


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Statutory Address:
Hillsborough, Ilfracombe, Devon

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Centred on NGR SS 53262 47813
North Devon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


The monument includes a promontory fort of Iron Age date which occupies a coastal headland.

Reasons for Designation

Hillsborough promontory fort, Ilfracombe, which was constructed during the Iron Age, is scheduled for the following principal reasons: * Survival: it survives well despite some localised reduction of the earthworks and will retain evidence for the date and method of its construction; * Potential: the site will contain archaeological evidence which will contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the social organisation of the area during the prehistoric period; * Historic interest: the interest of the fort is enhanced by its adaptation and inclusion within a public amenity area, and it represents an important educational and recreational resource.


Promontory forts are a type of hillfort in which conspicuous naturally defended sites are adapted as enclosures by the construction of one or more earth or stone ramparts placed across the neck of a spur in order to divide it from the surrounding land. Coastal situations, using headlands defined by steep natural cliffs, are common while inland similar topographic settings defined by natural cliffs are also used. The ramparts and accompanying ditches formed the main artificial defence, but timber palisades may have been erected along the cliff edges. Access to the interior was generally provided by an entrance through the ramparts. The interior of the fort was used for settlement and related activities, and evidence for roundhouses can be expected, together with the remains of buildings used for storage and enclosures for animals. Promontory forts are generally Iron Age in date, most having been constructed and used between the sixth century BC and the mid-first century AD, and are broadly contemporary with other types of hillfort. They are regarded as the retreats of the social elite, and/or the focus of communal activities, probably occupied on a permanent basis, and recent interpretations suggest that their construction and choice of location had as much to do with display as defence.

The promontory fort at Hillsborough is located on a headland to the east of Ilfracombe and the site had been recognised as archaeological by the early C19. It is depicted on the first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1890 which shows two parallel banks or ramparts with an entrance towards their eastern end. A burial mound is also depicted in the northern part of the site on the 1890 map, but is now understood to be a natural outcrop. The earthworks of the promontory fort can be seen on aerial photographs from the 1940s onwards, but are obscured in places by vegetation; they are, however, clearly visible on images derived from a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) survey in 2007. A geophysical survey of parts of the interior was carried out in 2011 but did not identify any clear archaeological features. Hillsborough headland was purchased by Ilfracombe Urban District Council in 1895 as a recreation area for local residents and for visitors. Paths were laid out and some landscaping is believed to have been undertaken around this time. The area saw some military activity in the late C19 when a gun emplacement was established just beyond the northern extent of the promontory fort and a tented military camp was laid out beyond its lower slopes. The emplacement guns were removed in 1914.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS This Iron Age promontory fort has a commanding position on a natural headland at Hillsborough to the east of Ilfracombe. It is defined by the steep cliffs and slopes of the headland except on its south, landward side where a series of banks cross the neck of the promontory, enclosing a roughly triangular-shaped interior which rises towards the central spine of the promontory.

DESCRIPTION The enclosure is defined along the neck (south) of the headland, where natural defence is weak, by two artificially-scarped and roughly parallel banks, probably of earth and stone. They survive in some places as low scarps and diverge towards their eastern ends. They are aligned roughly north-west to south-east, following the natural topographic contours of the promontory, and are approximately 265m in length. The ramparts terminate short of the sides of the headland and the eastern end of the lower one has been removed by late-C19 quarrying. A LiDAR survey (2007) produced evidence for a ditch or secondary scarp below the eastern end of the lower rampart. Access to the interior was provided by an inturned entrance which cuts through both the upper and lower ramparts towards their eastern ends. To the south-west of the entrance, a geophysical survey (Substrata, 2012) identified a circular structure which has been interpreted as a possible roundhouse. It measures some 7.8m in diameter and will survive in the form of buried archaeological deposits.

The interior of the fort measures some 360m north to south by 310m west to east at its widest point. No excavation of the interior has been carried out, but three flint tools, now at the Ilfracombe Museum are said to have been recovered from the fort. A geophysical survey of part of the interior in 2011 did not identify any clear archaeological features, but this may be due to the underlying geology, and it is likely that features such as possible structures, ditches, postholes and pits may survive as buried features. A stone chamber, possibly a cist, was discovered in the upper rampart in 1937 and described as constructed of drystone masonry surmounted by a lintel. Although it can no longer be identified on the ground, the remains of a stone slab and possible evidence of slumping may mark its location.

EXCLUSIONS The Victorian shelter at the south-western edge of the site, the one close to the summit, and the ruined shelter to the north, the area of hard-standing for the former tea room, flagpoles, benches, interpretation panels, guide posts, metal railings and concrete posts, and the surfaces of all footpaths and steps are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath these features, however, is included.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
DV 414
Legacy System:


An Archaeological Gradiometer and Earth Resistance Survey, Land at Hillsborough Promontory Hillfort, Ilfracombe, Devon, Substrata, 2011
Archaeological Walkover Survey and LiDAR study, Hillsborough Promontory Fort, Ilfracombe, Devon by M Beamish, University of Leicester, 2011
Hillsborough Hill Top Enclosure geophysical survey report, Carey Consulting, 2011
Hillsborough Management Plan, Fiona Fyfe Associates and ULAS, 2011


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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