Prehistoric settlement, Romano-British cist cemetery and Civil War battery in northern Toll's Porth, St Mary's


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric settlement, Romano-British cist cemetery and Civil War battery in northern Toll's Porth, St Mary's
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)
St. Mary's
National Grid Reference:
SV 90857 12346

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 were the round houses of early inhabitants on the islands from the Bronze Age to the early Medieval period (c.2000 BC - AD 1066) though they may be more closely dated within their long span by their association with other shorter-lived forms of monument. Stone hut circles survive with rubble or earth-and-rubble walls or banks defining rounded internal areas generally 3m-5m across. The walls may incorporate ground-fast boulders or outcrops and sometimes have edge-set slabs, blocks or coursed rubble along one or both faces. Deposits within and around hut circles may include quantities of midden material. At least 136 hut circles are recorded on the Isles of Scilly, widely distributed but biassed towards the lower land, the coastal margins and the inter-tidal zone; this reflects the subsequent submergence of much of the former low-lying land favoured for settlement. During the 1st to 4th centuries AD, in the Romano-British period, the dominant funerary rite on Scilly involved burial of a contracted corpse within a cist, a small box-like chamber sunk into the ground and walled with coursed rubble. These cists are called Porthcressa-type cists to distinguish them from generally larger, slab-built cists of earlier, Bronze Age, date. Subrectangular or ovoid in plan, the Porthcressa cists were covered by several flat slabs. The burials were sometimes accompanied by artefacts including brooches, beads or pottery. Discounting early antiquarian records of cists no longer known to be extant, at least four cists occur as isolated examples and there are three foci where they group as cemeteries; this is likely to be an under-estimate of their distribution because such cists generally only become known where exposed by natural erosion, usually along cliffs and shores, or by disturbance through later human activities such as ploughing or land redevelopment. Two of the known cist cemetery foci occur on St Mary's, behind Porthcressa Bay and on the coastal margin below Halangy Down, and the third is near Tresco Abbey; of these, the known remains at Hughtown were excavated before destruction by redevelopment. Civil War fieldworks on the Isles of Scilly were raised during military operations between 1642 and 1651 to provide temporary protection for infantry or to act as gun emplacements. Three main types of Civil War fieldwork have been recognised on the Isles of Scilly: batteries, breastworks and platforms, which could be deployed separately or in combination to form a defensive complex. Batteries are levelled areas, situated on a hilltop, spur or terraced into a slope, which served as gun emplacements. The fieldworks were designed to defend the deep water approaches to the islands, especially St Mary's where most examples are found and which was the military and administrative focus of the archipeligo. Their historical context is well-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 on Scilly form a major part of the 150 surviving examples of fieldworks recorded nationally, presenting 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. The three major elements in this scheduling, though separated by function and date, each show unusual features about their survival. The exposure of the hut circle settlement, though clearly affected by coastal erosion, implies a substantial extent of surviving structural remains behind the coastal cliff, where the thick overburden of later deposits will seal contemporary occupation floors and deposits that have not been subject to erosion and degradation suffered by many sites exposed on the land surface. The cists form a rare survival of a cist cemetery with extant remains, one of the cists retaining unexcavated internal deposits. Despite also being affected by coastal erosion, substantial remains survive and have done since the cist beneath the battery was first noted in 1949. Both the hut circle settlement and the cists complement the important prehistoric to Roman field system and settlement remains on the adjacent coastal slope of Halangy Down, demonstrating the wider nature of land use and its development through those periods. The much later Civil War battery survives well and is of unusual form. Its situation and relationship with the other nearby batteries and breastworks on this coastline of the island demonstrates well the strategic methods employed by the 17th century forces and the function of the various fieldwork types within them.


The monument includes a prehistoric hut circle settlement on northern Toll's Porth and an adjacent Roman period cist-grave cemetery, partly overlain by the earthworks of a Civil War gun battery on a small coastal spur dividing Toll's Porth from Halangy Porth on the north west coast of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly. The prehistoric settlement contains at least two stone hut circles, 1.5m apart, surviving in and behind the cliff at the north of Toll's Porth. The cliff face extends along the western outer curve of the northern hut circle's wall, visible as a core of earth and rubble, to 0.8m high, faced externally by large edge-set slabs, to 0.9m long, 0.7m wide and 0.1m thick, now bulging outwards in the cliff exposure. The wall is exposed over 6.5m, its curve giving a projected external diameter of 7m for the overall hut circle; the rest of its walling and interior survives buried beneath later soil and blown sand deposits behind the cliff face. To its south the second hut circle has walling exposed over a similar length, incorporating blocks to 1m long by 1m wide, though cliff face erosion here encroaches into the fabric of the wall. Beyond this scheduling further prehistoric settlement remains occur in the coastal cliff 190m to the NNE, with prehistoric field systems and entrance graves on the coastal slopes of Halangy and Carn Morval Downs to the east and south of this scheduling. The monument contains at least two small box-like funerary structures called cists, with coursed slab walls and, where surviving, capped by flat slabs. These are of a Romano-British form known as `Porthcressa-type' cists, datable to the 1st-4th centuries AD and named after another site on St Mary's where their characteristic features were first fully defined. Each cist is exposed in the coastal cliff face; one is situated 1.7m apart on the north west of the coastal spur beneath the Civil War battery, the other is located 50m to the SSE and 5.5m south of the southern hut circle in the prehistoric settlement. The cist beneath the battery survives with a subrectangular interior, 0.7m long NNW-SSE, truncated at the NNW by the cliff face, and tapering from 0.8m wide at the cliff face to 0.6m wide at the intact SSE end. It is walled by three courses of small slabs giving an internal height of 0.6m; one covering slab remains intact over the southern corner, with a second fallen into the interior. A second cist has been recorded 1.7m north east of this cist but was found to have been destroyed by cliff erosion by 1996. The other surviving cist, along the coast to the SSE, retains its fill and is visible as a dark earth-filled cut extending 0.35m deep into the orange subsoil and 0.6m below the present turf. It has a flat base 0.9m wide, north-south, above which two coursed slabs are visible in the south of the cut, with a third displaced above them, considered to form part of the cist walling. These cists form the known surviving extent of a more extensive cemetery that has produced discoveries of cist-graves in the modern fields immediately east of this scheduling, broadly contemporary with the settlement and field system remains on the Halangy Down slope from 50m to the east. During the English Civil War, from 1642 to 1651 on Scilly, gun batteries were set up along the coasts of St Mary's flanking the main maritime routes into the archipeligo. Those along the north west coast of the island, including the battery in this scheduling, covered the approach from Crow Sound to the islands' main military and administrative focus on the Garrison, 2km to the south west. This battery occupies the northern part of the small coastal spur between Halangy and Toll's Porths and is visible as a sub-circular raised platform, 12m in diameter, rising 2m high to a flattened top 6m in diameter. The platform is built largely of sand with traces of revetment slabs on its slope. A slight bank, to 1.5m wide and 0.3m high, extends from the rear of the platform to form a short breastwork running north-south across the base of the spur, leaving a gap before reaching the northern coastal edge. The bank is accompanied on its east side by a ditch, up to 2m wide and 0.3m deep. In the Civil War defensive system, this battery complemented fields of fire of two further batteries behind Carn Morval Point, from 450m to the south west, and another behind Bar Point, 1km to the north east. The potential for enemy landings in Toll's Porth was countered by a breastwork along its southern flank, from 95m south of that in this scheduling.

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.

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Books and journals
Ashbee, P, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Halangy Porth, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly, Excavations 1975-76, , Vol. 22, (1983), 3-46
Ashbee, P, 'Cornish Archaeology' in The Porth Cressa Cist-Graves, St Mary's, Scilly: A Postscript, (1979), 61-80
Ashbee, P, 'Arch Journal' in Excavation of Cist-Grave Cemetery..., St Mary's, Scilly, 1949-50, (1955), 1-25
Ashbee, P, 'Cornish Archaeology' in The Porth Cressa Cist-Graves, St Mary's, Scilly: A Postscript, (1979), 61-80
Ashbee, P, 'Arch Journal' in Excavation of Cist-Grave Cemetery..., St Mary's, Scilly, 1949-50, (1955), 1-25
Ratcliffe, J & Sharpe, A, Scilly SMR entry PRN 7670, (1991)
Ratcliffe, J/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7445, (1988)
Ratcliffe, J/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7447, (1988)
Ratcliffe, J/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7448, (1988)
Ratcliffe, J/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7449, (1988)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 9012 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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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