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The Giant's Castle cliff castle, St Mary's

List Entry Summary

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.

Name: The Giant's Castle cliff castle, St Mary's

List entry Number: 1011935


The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.


District: Isles of Scilly

District Type: Unitary Authority

Parish: St. Mary's

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 07-Oct-1976

Date of most recent amendment: 16-Mar-1995

Legacy System Information

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

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 15354

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social development of early communities. Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands' settlement. The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post- medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post- medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard for the nation's shipping in the western approaches. The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of documentation, including several recent surveys.

Cliff castles are coastal promontories adapted as enclosures and fortified on the landward side by the construction of one or more ramparts accompanied by ditches. On the seaward side, the precipitous cliffs of the promontory provided a natural defence, only rarely reinforced by surviving artificial ditches. They date to the Iron Age, most being constructed and used between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD. Cliff castles are usually interpreted as high status defensive enclosures, related to the broadly contemporary classes of hillforts. Despite their coastal situation, many cliff castles occupy locations offering little scope for withstanding siege or conducting trade. These monuments relate rather to a series of monument classes in which high status was conferred on their occupants, or those with access to them, by the enclosure of visually dramatic elements in the landscape, in this case conspicuous rocky headlands. The inner area enclosed at cliff castles varies with the size and shape of the promontory, generally in the range from 0.5 to 3 ha, but occasional much larger examples are known, enclosing up to 52 ha. The area of many cliff castles will have been reduced by subsequent coastal erosion. The ramparts are of earth and rubble, occasionally with a drystone revetment wall along their outer face. Ditches may be rock- or earth-cut depending on the depth of the subsoil. The number and arrangement of ramparts and ditches varies considerably and may include outworks enclosing large areas beyond the promontory and annexes defining discrete enclosures against the landward side of the defences. Multiple ramparts may be close-spaced or may include a broad gap between concentric ramparts defining inner and outer enclosures. Entrance gaps through the defences are usually single, and often staggered where they pass through multiple ramparts. Internal features, where visible, include circular or subrectangular levelled platforms for stone or timber houses, generally behind the inner bank or sheltered by the promontory hill. Where excavated, cliff castles have produced post and stakeholes, hearths, pits and gullies associated with the house platforms, together with spreads of occupation debris including, as evidence for trade and industrial activity, imported pottery and iron-working slag. Cliff castles are largely distributed along the more indented coastline of western Britain; in England they are restricted to the coasts of north Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Sixty cliff castles are recorded nationally, of which around 40 are located on the coasts of Cornwall. The three cliff castles recorded on the Isles of Scilly form the western limit of the national distribution and each shows a markedly different layout from the other two, emphasising the diversity of this class of monument even within such a geographically restricted area. Cliff castles are of great importance in our understanding of how society and the landscape was organised during the Iron Age, especially in providing clear evidence for the influence of landscape features on the chosen locations for prestigious settlement, trade and industry. All cliff castles where coastal erosion does not pose a short-term threat to the preservation of substantial remains will be considered worthy of preservation. The Giant's Castle cliff castle has survived well. The World War II firing target and army cutting have caused only minor disruption to the outer rampart and ditch, while the cutting provided pottery evidence confirming the date of the monument. The rest of the monument's defensive system and interior remain unaffected and have not been excavated, surviving as a good example of a cliff castle with multiple, close-spaced ramparts. In conjunction with the two other differing cliff castles on the Isles of Scilly, the Giant's Castle shows well the diversity of this class of monument. The proximity of this monument to the earlier, Bronze Age, funerary cairns on Salakee Down illustrates the development of land use on this coastal margin during the later prehistoric period.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes an Iron Age cliff castle, called the Giant's Castle, situated on a small rocky promontory on the southern edge of Salakee Down, on the southern coast of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly. The monument also includes remains of a Second World War firing target built into the outermost rampart of the cliff castle. The cliff castle occupies a steep-sided promontory, 0.4ha in extent, rising 10m in height to natural outcrops on the summit from the foot of the Down to the north. The east and south west sides of the promontory and its southern tip are defined by near vertical sea cliffs, 15m-25m high, forming natural defences for the cliff castle. The cliff castle has a small irregular internal area measuring 25m east-west by 20m north-south, occupying the restricted area of almost level ground north and east of the promontory's summit outcrops. The internal area is defined to the south and south west by the cliffs of the promontory's southern tip. The north and north east sides of the internal area are defined by the innermost of the cliff castle's defensive series of four concentric ramparts accompanied by outer ditches. The ramparts and ditches occupy almost the entire steep northern slope of the promontory from the crest of its summit to the floor of the broad saddle linking the promontory with the foot of Salakee Down. The ramparts are visible as earth-and-rubble banks, frequently incorporating large natural boulders and outcrops, and surviving up to 4.5m wide, running 8m to 12m apart along the contour of the slope. The ramparts are truncated at both ends by the erosion surfaces and outcrops beside the east and south west cliff faces of the promontory, except where the World War II firing target, described below, has been built into the western end of the outer rampart. The inner two ramparts, uppermost on the promontory, are markedly asymmetrical in profile, forming scarps up to 2.5m high on the outer side, with upper surfaces running back to the slope, either level or rising in places to 0.1m high along their inner sides. The outer, lower, two ramparts are up to 1m high on their outer sides and 0.3m high on their inner sides. Ditches survive up to 2.5m wide and 0.2m deep along parts of the outer edges of the ramparts, the remaining lengths of ditch being infilled by silt and rubble washed down the slope. Two slight cross-banks are also present, running directly downslope and together forming a staggered line linking the inner three of the concentric ramparts in their western sectors. In addition to the surviving visible evidence of the cliff castle, fragments of Iron Age pottery were recovered from a cutting made by the army on the outer edge of the cliff castle during World War II. Also during World War II, a practice-firing target for military aircraft was built into the western end of the outermost rampart. The target is formed as an unroofed rectangular building, surviving with a turf-covered earthen bank, from 1m to 3m wide and up to 1m high, faced on its inner side by a tumbling wall face of rough, uncoursed rubble and slabs. This inner facing defines a rectangular internal area measuring 5m north east-south west by 2m wide, open at the south west end. A slight hollow, 1m wide, located near the north east end of the south east bank, marks the entrance to the target's internal area. Beyond this monument, over a dozen surviving funerary cairns of Bronze Age date are arranged as dispersed groups on Salakee Down from 150m to the west.

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.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
O'Neil, BH St J, Ancient Monuments of the Isles of Scilly, (1960)
Ratcliffe, J, Scilly's Archaeological Heritage, (1992)
Ratcliffe, J, The Archaeology of Scilly, (1989)
Ashbee, P, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Ancient Scilly: retrospect, aspect and prospect, , Vol. 25, (1986), 186-219
Sharpe, A, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Treryn Dinas: Cliff Castles Reconsidered, , Vol. 31, (1992), 65-8
17/1/1994, Information given by Jeanette Ratcliffe to MPP fieldworker, (1994)
17/1/94, Information given to MPP fieldworker by Jeanette Ratcliffe, CAU, (1994)
consulted 1994, CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7531; 7534; 7537; 7539; 7540, (1988)
consulted 1994, Waters, A., AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7536, (1988)
Mr Humphrey Wakefield, Newman House,St Mary's, Information told to MPP fieldworker, (1994)
Mr Humphrey Wakefield, Newman House,St Mary's, Information told to the MPP fieldworker, (1994)
Mrs Penny Rogers, Lunnon Farm, St Mary's, Information told to MPP fieldworker, (1994)
Mrs Penny Rogers, Lunnon Farm, St Mary's, Information told to the MPP fieldworker, (1994)
Rees, S., AM7 scheduling documentation for CO 1023, 1975,
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 9210 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 6": 1 mile Ordnance Survey Map equivalent to SV 91 SW Source Date: 1963 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

National Grid Reference: SV 92459 10078


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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 - 1011935 .pdf

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This copy shows the entry on 22-Sep-2018 at 01:41:14.

End of official listing