Hut circle settlement and Civil War breastwork north east of Porth Minick, St Mary's


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015657

Date first listed: 25-Jul-1997


Ordnance survey map of Hut circle settlement and Civil War breastwork north east of Porth Minick, St Mary's
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)

Parish: St. Mary's

National Grid Reference: SV 91783 10110


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.

Stone hut circles are the remains of round houses of the islands' inhabitants from the Bronze Age to the early Medieval period (c.2000 BC-AD 1066), though they may be more closely dated within that long span by their association with other shorter-lived forms of monument. They survive with rubble or earth-and-rubble walls or banks defining circular or ovoid internal areas, generally 3m-5m across. Excavation has revealed a range of domestic artefacts and, in some later examples, evidence for metal-working. Deposits within and around hut circles may also include quantities of midden material. Stone hut circles may occur singly or in groups forming larger settlements. At least 136 hut circles are recorded on the Isles of Scilly, widely distributed but biassed towards lower land, the coastal margins and the inter-tidal zone, reflecting the subsequent submergence of much low-lying land that formed the original landscape context in which many such settlements were built. Stone hut circles embody a major part of our evidence on the economy and lifestyle of the islands' past inhabitants. Their longevity of use and their relationships with other monument types and the islands' rising sea level provide valuable information on the developing settlement patterns, social organisation and farming practices throughout a considerable period of the islands' human occupation. Their coastal bias in the present landscape leaves a number of hut circles in close physical association with breastworks, one of the three main types of Civil War fieldwork, along with batteries and platforms, which were raised on the Isles of Scilly during military operations between 1642 and 1651. A breastwork is an earth-and-rubble bank, up to 4m wide and 1.7m high but generally much smaller, running beside the coastal cliff edge and usually accompanied by a ditch along its landward side. Sixteen surviving breastworks are recorded on the islands, where they served to provide infantry cover and mask gun emplacements. As a result they tend to occur around potential landing places or facing the main deep-water approaches to the islands, sometimes incorporating or adjacent to gun batteries. The historical context of their construction is recorded in contemporary documents, indicating most were produced by the Royalist forces who controlled the islands for the entire Civil War period except during 1646-8. The Civil War fieldworks of the Isles of Scilly form a major part of the 150 surviving examples of fieldworks recorded nationally. They present an unusually complete system of fortifications from this period, both in the surviving range of fieldwork types represented and in the surviving pattern of their strategic disposition.

Both the hut circle settlement and the Civil War breastwork north east of Porth Minick survive substantially intact with only limited damage from 19th century stone-splitting around the settlement and from coastal erosion on the breastwork. Neither the settlement or the breastwork have been excavated. The four intact hut circles show clearly their form and manner of construction, with little disturbance to their internal or adjacent deposits. Although the fifth hut circle was converted to a Civil War platform, that resulting feature itself forms an important part of the islands' later defensive works. The situation of the breastwork in this scheduling and its wider context as part of the extensively surviving Civil War defensive system on Scilly demonstrates clearly the strategic methods employed by the mid-17th century military forces and the function of breastworks within them. This is given an added dimension in this instance by the relationship of this breastwork with the important settlement at Old Town.


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


The monument includes a settlement of at least five hut circles on the north eastern coastal slope of Porth Minick on the south coast of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly. One hut circle was later enlarged to form a small platform complementing a Civil War breastwork which extends along the edge of the bay's coastal cliff adjacent to the settlement. Surface stone working during the 19th century is also evident, partly impinging on the hut circle settlement. The settlement is visible as a group of four closely-spaced hut circles on the slope below the Inner Blue Carn outcrop; this group is separated by dense surface stone from a fifth hut circle at a similar level approximately 15m to the north west. The hut circles survive with circular or ovoid internal areas generally ranging from 3m by 3.3m to 4.5m in diameter. One of the group's two lower hut circles is more markedly elongated, 7.5m long by 3.8m wide, and is considered to reflect modification during the Civil War by extending its rear edge further into the slope to form a small gun platform or magazine complementing the adjacent breastwork. The hut circle interiors are levelled into the slope and defined on their downslope or south west sides by a slight turf-covered bank. Their upslope or north east sides are defined by the steep backscarps created by levelling the interior and rising variously 0.8m to 1.3m high. The banks and backscarp faces incorporate frequent small boulders and slabs, some edge-set, but the highest hut circle, at the north east of the group of four, also includes a line of slabs, up to 0.5m high, revetting the base of its backscarp. Some slabs within the settlement show evidence of much later working of surface stone. The rows of small drilled pits visible along freshly fractured edges of several boulders indicate a method called tare-and-feather splitting which appears c.AD 1800. One such boulder is displaced into the interior of the north eastern hut circle, while complete removal of slabs is considered to account for a small shelf in the backscarp of the separate north western hut circle and for a 2m diameter hollow a few metres west of the grouped hut circles. Of similar date is a drystone wall descending the slope and passing between the lower two hut circles of the group. The Civil War breastwork is visible as an earth-and-rubble bank, up to 2m wide and 0.6m high, extending 200m WNW-ESE behind the north eastern coastal cliff of Porth Minick. It is truncated at the ESE by an incursion of the coastal cliff, and at the WNW by a modern path beyond which, and beyond this scheduling, the breastwork is considered to underlie a curving field wall continuing its line to the head of the bay. The breastwork bank incorporates occasional boulders and edge-set slabs, up to 1m long and 0.7m high, mostly facing its seaward side. This breastwork was intended to counter landings at Porth Minick, which would give direct access to the important settlement at Old Town, 200m to the north east and the main harbour and seat of medieval secular authority on the Isles of Scilly, though rapidly becoming eclipsed by the growth of Hughtown by the time of the Civil War. In addition to the levelled platform enlarged behind the breastwork, this defence worked in conjunction with a Civil War gun battery near Church Point, 280m ESE of this scheduling, covering the approaches to Porth Minick and Old Town Bay.

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: 15471

Legacy System: RSM


Gerrard, S., English Heritage Book of Dartmoor, 1997, Forthcoming
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map, SV 8715 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 9110 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 6": 1 mile Ordnance Survey Map; sheet LXXXVII SW Source Date: 1908 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7556, (1988)
Waters, A/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7557, (1988)

End of official listing