Sweetworthy Iron Age defended settlement


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


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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 89050 42534

Reasons for Designation

During the Iron Age a variety of different types of settlement were constructed and occupied in south-western England. At the top of the settlement hierarchy were hillforts built in prominent locations. In addition to these a group of smaller sites, known as defended settlements, were also constructed. Some of these were located on hilltops, others in less prominent positions. They are generally smaller than the hillforts, sometimes with an enclosed area of less than 1ha. The enclosing defences were of earthen construction. Univallate sites have a single bank and ditch, multivallate sites more than one. At some sites these earthen ramparts represent a second phase of defence, the first having been a timber fence or palisade. Where excavated, evidence of stone- or timber-built houses has been found within the enclosures, which, in contrast to the hillfort sites, would have been occupied by small communities, perhaps no more than a single family group. Defended settlements are a rare monument type. They were an important element of the settlement pattern, particularly in the upland areas of south-western England, and are integral to any study of the developing use of fortified settlements during this period. All well-preserved examples are likely to be identified as nationally important.

The enclosure at Sweetworthy survives as a good example of its class in an upland area, despite some robbing and alteration of the defences. It is associated with two smaller examples and forms part of a close group of prehistoric and medieval deserted settlements which is one of the most important groupings of such monuments in the region.


The monument includes an Iron Age defended settlement enclosure situated in the upper corner of a large natural terrace on the northern slopes of Dunkery Hill.

The enclosure is formed of a bank and outer ditch surrounding a sub-circular area of 0.3ha, with the earthworks formed of almost straight sections. The interior has been levelled to form a platform.

The site slopes down to the north, and the earthworks on the upper sides consist of a bank and ditch originally c.1m high and 1m deep, though now exaggerated by the formation of a pond in more modern times, and on the lower side a bank 0.4m high with external scarp 2m high and an outer terrace 6m wide. Part of the defences on the south east are missing, with only a low scarp to the interior and a small earthfast stone remaining to trace their course. It is likely that the earthworks here have been robbed to construct the later field hedge-bank which runs close by.

The inner platform is defined by a curving scarp 1m high cut into the slope inside the defences on the south west, and by a scarp 1.2m high protruding above the slope inside the defences on the north east.

The entrance to the interior is on the north west, where the exterior ground is level with the platformed interior, and consists of a slightly raised causeway across the ditch and a 5m wide gap between slightly inturned ends of the bank. There may have been a similar opposite entrance uphill on the robbed south east stretch, where there is a 7m gap between the end of the surviving bank and the start of the small scarp.

On the south west the earthworks have been utilised probably in the 19th century to construct a pond or reservoir, now dry. A dam with a sluice has been built across the ditch, and the ditch behind recut and the bank heightened. This was fed by a leat from the south east, and tapped by a leat running north west from the ditch below. On the east of the enclosure a post-medieval trackway runs along the bottom of the ditch and has deepened it.

There is a small gap in the bank on the lower side of the enclosure, probably made in more modern times for drainage. Stony mounds within the interior of the site appear to be the result of old tree root damage, but indications of occupation platforms and hollows are also present.

MAP EXTRACT 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.


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

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Sainsbury, I.S.(part), NMR Monument SS84SE12, (1987)


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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