Sweetworthy deserted medieval settlement


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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

Somerset West and Taunton (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
SS 88783 42383

Reasons for Designation

The village, comprising a small group of houses, gardens, yards, streets, paddocks, often with a green, a manor and a church, and with a community devoted primarily to agriculture, was a significant component of the rural landscape in most areas of medieval England, much as it is today. Villages provided some services to the local community and acted as the main focal point of ecclesiastical, and often of manorial, administration within each parish. Although the sites of many of these villages have been occupied continuously down to the present day, many others declined in size or were abandoned throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods, particularly during the 14th and 15th centuries. As a result over 2000 deserted medieval villages are recorded nationally. The reasons for desertion were varied but often reflected declining economic viability, changes in land use such as enclosure or emparkment, or population fluctuations as a result of widespread epidemics such as the Black Death. As a consequence of their abandonment these villages are frequently undisturbed by later occupation and contain well-preserved archaeological deposits. Because they are a common and long-lived monument type in most parts of England, they provide important information on the diversity of medieval settlement patterns and farming economy between the regions and through time.

The deserted site at Sweetworthy survives as a good example of its class, and together with Bagley nearby constitutes one of the most important areas of medieval remains in west Somerset. Its association with prehistoric settlement sites is of interest, as archaeological remains relating to the full span of settlement from prehistory to the medieval period are present.


The monument includes a deserted medieval settlement on the lower northern slopes of Dunkery Hill. The site consists of earthwork remains of building footings, a sub-rectangular enclosure and trackways, with a square enclosure a short way uphill. The settlement was formed of some eleven dispersed buildings, of which perhaps three or four were houses, the rest being barns and other ancillary structures. Apart from a yard and group of small buildings associated with the sub-rectangular enclosure, the settlement is open in layout. The remains lie on an east-west line across a north west facing slope, so that the eastern part is higher. The western part runs lower into a small, shallow valley, which is bounded by a stream gully running north, and a shorter tributary gully cutting back into the middle of the site. One feature lies on the far side of the western gully, which otherwise forms a natural boundary to the settlement. On the east, the features end on a third stream. The two sides of the site - the valley and the higher ground - were linked by an east-west hollow trackway running above the short tributary gully. From the mid-point of the trackway another hollow way ran up out of the settlement to the south, leading onto what is now moorland. The junction of these hollow ways, which was above the head of the gully, has been lost through erosion. Many of the buildings were footed into 'stances', level terraces cut back into the hillside, with a space around the end of the building. Stances and hollows also occur without traces of building footings, and these would have supported less substantial timber buildings. In most cases the building and its stance are set end-on into the slope, facilitating level and sheltered access to the side of the building. The upper area of the site lies on a natural shelf or terrace c.45m deep. The most prominent feature, on its outer edge, is a sub-rectangular enclosure, from each end of which wall-banks run, to the head of the stream on the east, and the top of the tributary gully on the west, enclosing the outer side of the terrace. From the southern side of the enclosure a wall-bank partially divides the area in two. The upper side of the terrace is delimited by a scarp along which a more recent track and hedge-bank run. The eastern part forms a yarded area with a cluster of buildings, associated with the enclosure. The wall-bank running from the west of the enclosure forms the outside of the hollow track leading toward the lower part of the site. The western area of the terrace ends on the uphill hollow way. Beyond this, the terrace curves away to the south west, around the head of the small valley and above the lower part of the settlement, which continues in an east-west line along the shallow slope below. The east-west hollow trackway turns down toward the site of a lower building by the side of the western stream gully. Below this, the valley closes to a point at the junction of the tributary gully with the western gully. On the upper eastern part of the site, the large sub-rectangular enclosure lies ENE-WSW on the outer edge of the terrace. It is 33m by 10m with slightly curving sides of a bank or lynchet c.0.5m high, and a hollowed interior. It has an entrance in the centre of the southern side to the yarded area on its south east, perhaps a smaller one on the east, and what may be a small entrance on the west end onto the hollow trackway. The function of this enclosure is unclear. If it were the footings of a timber building it would have been of unusual size and importance. To the south east of the enclosure the yarded area is divided from the rest of the settlement by the wall-bank running from the front side of the enclosure, so that the enclosure entrance opens to the yarded side. The wall-bank from the east end of the enclosure runs inwards diagonally up to a stream. The upper side of the area may have been defined by a scarp along the inside edge of the terrace. Within this area are the hollows of a building opposite the enclosure, 9m by 6m, with an upright stone slab set inside the entrance, and two or three smaller structures c.5m by 3m, all in alignment with the enclosure. A second building hollow with footings, 9m by 6m, is attached to the inside of the diagonal bank near the enclosure. Between this and the enclosure is a gap in the wall bank, providing access from the yarded area to the falling ground on the north, and the attached building also has its entrance to this side of the wall bank. On the other side of the dividing wall-bank, the western area of the terrace is defined by the trackway running west from the enclosure and the hollow way running south towards the higher ground. This area contains a building footing 12m by 6m in a stance, end-on to the slope, with an entrance to the north west, and there are two smaller building footings 8m by 4m on the west end of the enclosure, either side of the track running from it. The track runs around the end of the southern building between it and the enclosure and opens out into this area. The northern building on the other side of the track has an opening to the trackway. It is external to the wall bank along the terrace, and attached to the end of the enclosure; it appears to be primary to or overlie the end wall of the enclosure, suggesting a closely related construction and function. It is the only building with stone footings visible rather than banks. The main building on this part of the terrace was probably a house, and the southern of the smaller buildings an associated barn. The trackway today runs to a 3m deep gully. However, its route is continued the other side of the gully by a curving hollow leading to the lower part of the small valley. The hollow track running uphill to the south also runs into the head of the stream gully, and it is clear that these three trackways originally met at a junction which has been disturbed by erosion. All fences 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.

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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.

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