Prehistoric cliff castle and cairns on Shipman Head, Bryher


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016174

Date first listed: 25-Sep-1997


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric cliff castle and cairns on Shipman Head, Bryher
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2018. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

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 - 1016174 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 17-Dec-2018 at 10:16:15.


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

District: Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Bryher

National Grid Reference: SV 87436 16115


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 man-made features. Cliff castles date to the Iron Age, most being constructed and used between the second century BC and the first century AD. Cliff castles are usually interpreted as high status defensive enclosures, related to the broadly contemporary classes of hillfort. The inner area enclosed at cliff castles varies with the size and shape of the promontory; they are generally in the range 0.5ha to 3ha, but a few much larger examples are known, enclosing up to 52ha. 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 sub-rectangular 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 generally restricted to the coasts of north Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Around sixty cliff castles are recorded nationally, of which forty are located around the Cornish coast. The three cliff castles recorded on the Isles of Scilly form the western limit of the national distribution. Each has 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 contribute to our understanding of how society and the landscape was organised during the Iron Age and illustrate the influence of landscape features on the chosen locations for prestigious settlement, trade and industry. All cliff castles with significant surviving archaeological remains are considered worthy of preservation.

The Shipman Head cliff castle survives well, showing clearly the strong influence of local landforms on the communities that built and used this class of monument. The widely-spaced ramparts creating a subdivided interior present an unusual plan and the effects of land's gradual submergence have produced only limited loss of the original area. The cliff castle has not been excavated but observation and pollen analysis of the south east rampart's cliff face exposure have confirmed the presence of valuable deposits and environmental data earlier than and contemporary with the building of the cliff castle. The prehistoric cairns within and adjacent to the cliff castle also survive well and, together with the extensive cairn cemetery and field system to the south, they illustrate the development of land use in this exposed terrain through the prehistoric period. By their incorporation of natural bedrock exposures and boulders, two of the cairns also demonstrate the importance of natural features in the detailed organisation of prehistoric ritual activity.


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


The scheduling includes a later prehistoric cliff castle on Shipman Head and the adjacent Badplace Hill, which together form the rocky northernmost headland of Bryher in the Isles of Scilly. Within the cliff castle, two earlier prehistoric kerbed cairns are located on Badplace Hill; a small ring cairn is located beyond but near the cliff castle's outer rampart. The cliff castle has two widely-separated ramparts, 260m apart, running transversely across the headland and dividing the cliff castle into two areas of similar size: one encompassing most of the Shipman Head promontory, the other centred on Badplace Hill. The south eastern rampart defines the cliff castle and its uneven rocky terrain from the broad shallow saddle of Great Bottom to the south east. This rampart is visible over at least 51m north east-south west extending straight down the steep slope to the headland's south west coast from the high rocky outcrops of Boat Carn on the north east coast. It measures 6m-10m across and to 0.9m high overall, surviving as a bank of heaped rubble with larger slabs and boulders, incorporating a scatter of massive natural boulders over its south western half. The rampart has a raised central zone approximately 4m wide with a flattened surface, defined along each side by a line of edge-set facing slabs; these are almost continuous and 0.3m-0.8m high along much of the south east side but along the north west they are intermittent and generally 0.2m-0.4m high. Examination of the cliff section at the surviving south west end of the rampart, coupled with pollen analysis, has indicated the survival of an early soil layer preserved beneath the rampart tumble. The cliff castle's north western rampart runs ENE-WSW across the south eastern tip of Shipman Head, now separated from Badplace Hill by the narrow and precipitous inter-tidal channel of The Gulf but formerly linked by dry land to the rest of the cliff castle in the pre-submergence landscape contemporary with its use. This rampart is also visible as a large bank of heaped rubble, approximately 30m long, 6m wide and 0.75m high. It follows a slightly curving course linking the top edges of a row of small outcrops along a natural slope-break separating gently rising land to the north and north west from a steep scarp dropping towards The Gulf to the south east. The two funerary cairns of earlier prehistoric date within the cliff castle are situated approximately 15m apart on a north west-south east axis on the small summit plateau of Badplace Hill, close to its eastern cliff. The south eastern cairn survives with a low sub-circular rubble mound, 5m east-west by 4.5m north-south, rising 0.4m high along its southern edge but only 0.2m from higher ground to the north. The mound is built around a natural bedrock exposure, to 2.75m across and 0.7m high, which dominates the centre and southern half of the cairn. Two kerb slabs, to 0.3m high, project from the rubble on the west and north edges of the mound. The north western cairn also has a low sub-circular rubble mound, measuring 4m north-south by 3.5m east-west and 0.3m high, situated amidst extensive surface bedrock exposures. Five larger slabs, to 0.9m long and 0.4m high, lie almost flat on the mound's periphery at the south, south east, east, north and west, forming a rough kerb and underlain by the mound's rubble in at least one case. At the centre of the mound is a flat weathered slab, 1.3m long by 0.8m wide, split north-south in half. The ring cairn in this scheduling is located beside the headland's south western coastal cliff, 10m outside the cliff castle at the point where its south east rampart meets the same cliff. It is visible as a sub-circular rubble bank, 0.5m-1m wide and to 0.2m high, defining an internal area 3.5m east-west by 2.75m north-south. The bank includes a massive natural boulder, to 2.7m across and 0.5m high, in its south west sector and now exposed in the adjacent cliff face. The bank also includes some small edge-set slabs to 0.2m high on its east side. The interior of the ring cairn slopes gently to the south in conformity with the surrounding ground surface. From 50m south east of this scheduling, the saddle of Great Bottom and the Shipman Head Down plateau to its south contain an extensive prehistoric cemetery of over 150 funerary cairns, many linked by boundaries of a later prehistoric field system. These are the subject of a separate 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.

Legacy System number: 15495

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Ashbee, P, Ancient Scilly, (1974)
Ratcliffe, J , Straker, V, The Early Environment of Scilly, (1996)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7276.02, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7277.01, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7277.02, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7278, (1988)
Ratcliffe, J & Parkes, C/CAU, Fieldwork in Scilly: September 1989, (1990)
Ratcliffe, J & Parkes, C/CAU, Fieldwork in Scilly: September 1989, (1990)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map: SV 81 NE Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 81 NE Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing