Multi-period site on Brean Down


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


© Crown Copyright and database right 2021. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2021. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1008211.pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 07-Dec-2021 at 05:47:03.


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

Sedgemoor (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
ST 28790 58958

Reasons for Designation

Brean Down is unusual in preserving in good condition a wide range of archaeological remains and monuments dating from the Neolithic period to the Second World War. The Down has been the site of Neolithic and Bronze Age settlement, Bronze Age burial monuments, an Iron Age hillfort, a prehistoric field system, a Romano-Celtic temple, Romano-British settlement, a post-Roman cemetery, a medieval and post-medieval rabbit warren, post-medieval settlement, a Palmerstonian fort, a Victorian harbour and World War II defences. Besides containing remains and monuments which are of national importance in their own right, for example the evidence of Bronze Age occupation, the Iron Age hillfort, and the Romano-Celtic temple, Brean Down is important in preserving the relationships between a variety of different types of monument of varying date. The monument survives as both upstanding remains and buried land surfaces with water-logging in the inter-tidal zone. The site therefore contains archaeological and environmental information relating to all periods between the Early Prehistoric period and the present day.


The monument includes sites of several periods ranging in date from the Neolithic period to World War II and which represent the changing land use on Brean Down through time. It includes the following sites which survive as earthworks:

(ST29335880) 'The Potters Mound': a bowl barrow visible as a barrow mound 19m in diameter and c.1.75m high at its highest point. Although no longer visible at ground level, a ditch, from which the material was quarried during the construction of the monument, surrounds the barrow mound. This has become infilled over the years, but survives as a buried feature c.3m wide. The monument is considered to be the 'larger barrow' excavated in 1819 by B M Skinner. Finds from the excavation included Roman pottery. This, in addition to the six other barrows and a further three possible barrows surviving on Brean Down, represents the components of an extensive round barrow cemetery. The remaining barrows include: (ST29145891) A bowl barrow visible as a barrow mound 12m in diameter and c.1m high at its highest point. A hollow c.1m wide and c.0.5m deep on the southern side is the result of erosion from a public footpath. (ST28485901) A bowl barrow visible as a barrow mound 22m in diameter and c.1m high at its highest point. (ST28415903) A bowl barrow visible as a barrow mound 7m in diameter and c.0.3m high at its highest point. (ST28525901) A bowl barrow visible as a barrow mound 9m in diameter and c.0.5m high at its highest point. (ST28745894) A bowl barrow visible as a barrow mound 12m in diameter and c.0.6m high at its highest point. The profile of the mound is irregular, possibly the result of a previous excavation, although no details are known. (ST29235889) A bowl barrow visible as a barrow mound 9m in diameter and c.0.6m high at its highest point. (ST29285888) A possible bowl barrow visible as a barrow mound 6m in diameter and c.0.3m high at its highest point. (ST29235889) A possible bowl barrow visible as a barrow mound 6m in diameter and c.0.3m high at its highest point. (ST28715895) A possible bowl barrow visible as a barrow mound 9m in diameter and c.0.46m at its highest point. Although no longer visible at ground level, quarry ditches surround each barrow mound. These survive as buried features c.2m wide. (ST28855990) An Iron Age promontory hill fort defined by a turf-covered stone bank 5m wide and c.1.5m high running east to west for c.160m before turning north towards the cliff edge. The remains of a drystone wall of large irregular blocks one course high stand on top of the bank. An outer ditch which runs parallel to the bank is 5m wide and c.1.25m deep. Antiquarian accounts of the site describe the monument as a 'square enclosure'. Evidence of defences along the northern cliff edge and the eastern side have been removed by 18th and 19th century quarrying. A partial excavation in 1974 by I Burrow demonstrated that the defences consist of abutting rubble banks revetted front and rear with massive drystone walling. Finds from the site included Iron Age coarse pottery. The excavator suggested that the original size of the defended area was 0.5 hectares. (ST28605900) (ST29105890) A regular aggregate field system comprising at least twenty-six fields surviving in two areas clearly defined by banks c.0.5m wide and c.0.75m high at their highest point. The fields are generally rectangular with the length being approximately twice their width and ranging in size from 0.06 to 0.36 hectares. (ST29645884) A pillow mound surviving as a mound 16m long by 7m wide and c.0.6m high at its highest point and orientated east to west. The pillow mound may have been associated with rabbit warrens mentioned in 14th century documents and later in 1637. (ST28005930) A Palmerstonian Fort located on the end of Brean Down overlooking the Bristol Channel. A dry flat-bottomed moat c.7m wide at its widest point and c.8m deep is located on the landward side of the fort. A fixed bridge 4m wide provides access across the moat. To the north of the entrance, the former officers' quarters survive as an unroofed building of dressed limestone 210m long and 12m wide at the widest point. The barracks block to the south of the officers' quarters survives as an unroofed building of dressed limestone 380m long and 8m wide. The fort was originally equipped with seven 7 inch diameter rifled muzzle loading guns which were among the last produced by the Woolwich Gun Foundry. These were positioned in three main gun emplacements. Each emplacement had underground magazines for the storage of ammunition. The guns were pivoted on earlier Georgian cannons with the gun carriages running around a semi-circular racer rail. In 1900 a large explosion in the magazine in the south-west corner, thought to have been caused by a gunman firing his carbine into the magazine, severely damaged the fort and two guns were overturned. The fort was subsequently closed and the guns sold by auction. Later World War II defences have partly destroyed the remaining earlier emplacements. The fort was built in 1866 as part of a chain of defences which also included defensive works on Steep Holm, Flat Holm and Lavernock Point in South Wales, designed to protect the Bristol Channel from invasion by Napoleon III. It originally housed a garrison of 50 men and provided accommodation for 20 horses. (ST28805900) World War II defences including pillboxes, observation posts, gun emplacements and numerous Nissen hut bases.

Further evidence of human activity surviving as buried features and land surfaces is known from partial excavations on Brean Down. These can be described as follows: (ST29505870) Neolithic occupation recorded by A M ApSimon in 1961 and subsequently by M Bell between 1983 and 1987. A curving gully 0.6m wide and 0.22m deep which was truncated at either end by the cliff-face was found and possible cultivation marks were recorded. Finds from the site included decorated pottery, bone and flint artefacts including a leaf-shaped arrowhead. The main focus of activity is thought to be either seaward and now submerged or further inland. (ST29525874) A pit exposed in the inter-tidal zone by a gale in 1936 and subsequently excavated by H Taylor and E E Taylor. Finds from the site included two Beaker or Early Bronze Age ceramic vessels associated with charcoal. The excavators interpreted the pit as a Beaker burial site. (ST29505870) Evidence of Early to Late Bronze Age occupation defined by three distinct buried land surfaces recorded by M Bell's excavations between 1983 and 1987. A building with a funnel-shaped entrance facing south-east and internal dimensions of 3m by 4.5m was recorded in the Early Bronze Age level. Finds from this site included pottery, fragments of briquetage - a coarse pottery used in salt processing - and a flint scraper, knife and piercer. Middle Bronze Age occupation was represented by two roughly circular buildings; only a third of the westernmost structure survived, the rest having been removed by coastal erosion. The building was originally c.4m in diameter constructed of stone on a terrace cut 0.7m into the slope of the Sandcliff. An entrance to the building faced north-west. The easternmost structure had an internal diameter of between 5.6m to 6m and was constructed of stone and wood on a terrace cut up to 0.7m into the dune. Finds from the site included quantities of pottery, briquetage, loomweights, bone pins, decorated bronze and bone awl. Late Bronze Age occupation was represented by a series of banks and a ditch which were thought to define fields at the edge of tilled land. Two gold bracelets, found on 6th May 1983 by K Crabtree in the face of the Sandcliff, are believed to have originated from part of the ditch fill. In addition to the bracelets, finds from the site included worked bone, worked shale, a spindle whorl, a loom weight and twenty-nine worked flint artefacts. (ST29355882) The remains of a Romano-Celtic temple. The central cella or 'body' of the temple was 4.9m square with an antechamber 2.8m wide along the front of the temple. An ambulatory or walk-way 2.6-2.7m wide on the north and south sides and 3m wide on the west side ran around the cella. The walls are built of limestone and are generally 0.5m thick. At some time before 387- 388 AD the temple was augmented by lateral annexes giving it a 'T'-shaped plan and a front porch was added. The north annexe has external dimensions of 5.2m wide and 5.9m long. The southern annexe is 4.9m wide and 5.8m long. Internal doorways 1.5m wide led to the ambulatory. The site was partially excavated by A M ApSimon in 1957-58. The excavator suggested that the temple was constructed soon after 340 AD and was in use for twenty-five to thirty years before being abandoned. After abandonment the temple passed through a phase of dilapidation and squatter occupation during which time a smelting furnace was constructed in the south annexe and the annexe use for iron working. The building was demolished around 390 AD and the building material used for a small building to the south. Finds from ApSimon's excavation included quantities of pottery, coins and building debris. All finds from the site are in the Weston-super-Mare Museum. (ST29355882) Evidence of Romano-British occupation surviving as buried features including the remains of a building 3.7m wide and 4.5m long orientated east to west and located immediately south of the temple site. The building was used for domestic habitation. The monument was partially excavated by A M ApSimon in 1957-58. He suggested that the building was constructed around 390 AD using building material from the demolition of the adjacent temple. (ST29505870) A cemetery including ten burials excavated in the 1950's and eight further burials excavated by M Bell in 1983-87. The burials date to sometime between the collapse of Roman Britain around 410 AD and the eventual Saxon conquest in the second half of the 7th century AD. Of the eight burials recorded by M Bell there was one infant, two juveniles, four adults and one of undetermined age. Three of the burials, including that of the infant, were defined by limestone blocks forming a grave lining. Of these one burial was additionally covered by a large limestone boulder measuring 1.15m by 0.6m by 0.5m. All of the burials were extended and were orientated east to west with the head to the west. (ST29505870) A post-medieval habitation site comprising the demolition debris of a building recorded in the Sandcliff by A ApSimon in 1936-7 and 1957-9. Finds from M Bell's subsequent excavation in 1983-87 included 16th and 17th century pottery, approximately half of which was of local production. (ST28205930) The site of the Victorian harbour on Brean Down, surviving as the foundations of the pier in the inter-tidal zone. The Brean Down Harbour Company was formed in 1861 with a capital of 350,000 pounds. The foundation stone was laid and construction begun in 1864. It was intended that the harbour would provide a safe anchorage for mail ships between the mainland and Steep Holm and Flat Holm in the Channel. A passenger post for travel across the Atlantic was also envisaged. Disagreements within the company and the death of the contractor led to the abandonment of the scheme in 1868. Much of the initial construction was destroyed by exceptionally heavy storms in 1872. A covered reservoir in the eastern portion of the site, the buildings of the Brean Down Bird Gardens and the huts and caravans on Plots 1 to 6 are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Aston, M, History and Importance of the Fort, (1976)
Bell, M, Brean Down: Excavations 1983-1987 , (1991)
Bell, M, Brean Down: Excavations 1983-1987 , (1991)
Bell, M, Brean Down: Excavations 1983-1987 , (1991)
Bell, M, Brean Down: Excavations 1983-1987 , (1991)
Colt Hoare, R, History of Ancient Wiltshire: Volume II, (1821)
Fowler, P J ed, Recent Work in Rural Archaeology, (1975)
Knight, F A, Seaboard of Mendip, (1902)
National Trust, , Brean Down, (1900)
Phelps, W, History of Somerset, (1839)
ApSimon, A M et al, 'Proceedings of the Univ of Bristol Speleological Society' in The Strat. and Arch. of the Late-Glacial Deposits, , Vol. Vol 9, (1961)
ApSimon, A M et al, 'Proceedings of the Univ of Bristol Speleological Society' in The Strat. and Arch. of the Late-Glacial and Post-Glacial Deposits, , Vol. 9, (1961)
ApSimon, A M, 'Proceedings of the Univ of Bristol Speleological Society' in The Roman Temple at Brean Down, , Vol. Vol10(2), (1965)
Burrow, I, 'Proceedings of the Univ of Bristol Speleological Society' in Brean Down Hillfort, Somerset 1974, , Vol. Vol14(2), (1976)
Butcher, S A, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Excavations at Nornour, Scilly, 1969-73:the Pre-Roman Settlement, , Vol. 177, (1978)
Gibson, A M, 'BAR' in Earlier Domestic Sites: A Study of the Domestic Pottery, , Vol. 107, (1982)
Grinsell, L, 'Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeology and Natural Hist Soc' in Somerset Barrows Part II, , Vol. Vol 115, (1971)
Taylor, H, Taylor, E E, 'Proceedings of the Univ of Bristol Speleological Society' in An Early Beaker Burial? at Brean Down near Weston-super-Mare, , Vol. Vol 9, (1949)
Tratman, E K, 'University of Bristol Speleological Society' in Barrow Catalogue, ()
Tratman, E K, 'University of Bristol Speleological Society' in Barrow Catalogue, ()
Baker, E E, Old World Gleanings: Brean Down Coney Warren - Baker scrapbooks, 1919, in Weston-super-Mare Library (pag.172
Day and Masters, (1782)
Dennison, E, (1985)
Evans, J, (1990)
mss 33653 folio 176 05.08.1819, Skinner, B M, (mss 33653 folio 176 05.08.1819, (1819)
mss 33654 folios 104, 111 and 151, Skinner, B M, (mss 33654 folios 104, 111 & 151), (1819)
Ordnance Survey, (ST 25 NE 7),
Pagination 1 - 6, Bell, M, Brean Down Chalets: Archaeological Assessment, (1991)
Pagination 106-109, ApSimon, A M, The Roman Temple ... interim report, Proceedings of the Univ of Bristol Speleological Society, (1958)
Skinner Mss 33.653, Crocker, (1819)
SO 140, Porter, D K, (1991)
ST 55 SW 21, Ordnance Survey, ST 55 SW 21,
to D K Porter, McDonnell, R, (1991)


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

Your Contributions

User contributions are not fact checked and do not represent the official position of Historic England.

Request a correction of the list entry

Read the Enriching the List Terms and Conditions

For any other issue or if you need help, please email: [email protected]

Upcoming maintenance

Enriching The List will be unavailable on 7 & 8 December to allow us to prepare for the launch of an upgraded version.