Reasons for Designation
Cross-dykes are substantial linear earthworks typically between 0.2km and 1km
long and comprising one or more ditches arranged beside and parallel to one or
more banks. They generally occur in upland situations, running across ridges
and spurs. They are recognised as earthworks or as cropmarks on aerial
photographs, or as combinations of both. The evidence of excavation and
analogy with associated monuments demonstrates that their construction spans
the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although they may have been re-used
later. Current information favours the view that they were used as territorial
boundary markers, probably demarcating land allotment within communities,
although they may also have been used as trackways, cattle droveways or
defensive earthworks. Cross-dykes are one of the few monument types which
illustrate how land was divided up in the prehistoric period. They are of
considerable importance for any analysis of settlement and land use in the
Bronze Age. Very few have survived to the present day and hence all well-
preserved examples are considered to be of national importance.
Dead Woman's Ditch survives as a good example of its class, covering a notable
distance of c.1km, and is associated with a hillfort and a number of other
broadly contemporary settlement, ritual and territorial monuments in the
The monument, which falls into two areas, includes a univallate cross-dyke,
over a ridge in the Quantock Hills.
The dyke is c.1km long, running from the head of a stream at Lady's Fountain
on the north, over the ridge and down to a stream on the south. It consists of
a bank up to 1m high with a ditch on its west side up to 1m deep. For a short
stretch on the north the main bank is very shallow, and there is an outer
counterscarp bank beyond the ditch.
The dyke follows a slightly wandering, sinuous course, partly dictated by the
topography. It has been cut through by later features in a number of places.
Near the top of the ridge it is crossed by a road and a series of hollow ways
(representing earlier lines of the road before it was formalised by tarmac).
It is cut by a banked leat or track on the north side of the hill, and on the
south by a 19th century enclosure bank and three forestry tracks, the lower
two of which have completely destroyed the feature.
The dyke is likely to be territorial rather than defensive, and together with
the two streams it seems to demarcate an area of land on the north-east of the
Quantocks. Dowsborough hillfort is situated above the north end and may relate
to the same territory.
The cross-dyke was in local folklore thought to have got its name from the
discovery in it of a murdered woman in 1789, whose husband John Walford was
hanged for the murder at Walford's Gibbet nearby. However, it has more
recently been found that the name appears on a map of seven years earlier.
Excluded from the scheduling is the road surface and a modern fence which
crosses the monument, though the ground beneath is 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.