Prehistoric field systems, settlement and cairns, with post-medieval boundary and shelter on Northwethel
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1016176
Date first listed: 25-Sep-1997
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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)
National Grid Reference: SV 89565 16306
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'
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.
Platform cairns and entrance graves are two of the main forms of prehistoric funerary monument on Scilly, whose combined date range extends from the later Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age (c.2500-1000 BC). They were constructed as earth-and-rubble mounds with flattened tops, often with a kerb of stones or edge-set slabs bounding the edge of the mound, platform surface or both. In platform cairns, burials were sometimes accompanied by pottery urns and placed on the old land surface, in small pits or occasionally within a box-like structure of slabs called a cist. Entrance graves are distinguished by their funerary chamber, built of edge-set slabs, coursed rubble walling or both, and roofed by large covering slabs. The chamber was accessible via a gap in the mound's kerb or outer edge and often extends beyond the centre of the mound. Each form of funerary monument can occur singly, in small groups or in larger cemeteries containing several types. They may also occur in close proximity to prehistoric field systems, displaying relationships of considerable significance for our understanding of the development of land use, funerary practice and settlement during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The associated field systems may be of various forms, irregular or regular, enclosing large blocks or small plots, and may include contemporary settlements of hut circles or house platforms. The diversity of overall pattern and detailed features of such field systems and settlements provides useful insights into the physical and social organisation of the prehistoric landscape. The prehistoric settlement and funerary elements on Northwethel survive well. The field systems show clearly their manner of construction and the strong influence of the underlying topography on their layout; the more extensive field system also survives sufficiently extensively to show its type and pattern of settlement foci. The cairns also show clearly the influence of the local topography on their siting and include a particularly unusual cairn form on Scilly in the embanked platform cairn. The prehistoric features in this scheduling contribute important information on the nature of early land use in the north of Scilly and can be set in their wider context by the survival of broadly contemporary settlement and funerary features on nearby islands. The presence of the post-medieval wall and shelter provides evidence of the roles which some of the smaller uninhabited islands have played in the islands' relatively recent history and economy.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The scheduling includes a prehistoric field system incorporating a
contemporary settlement and extending over much of the small island of
Northwethel in the north of the Isles of Scilly. A rocky ridge across the
south east of the island contains at least two prehistoric funerary cairns and
a post-medieval boundary and shelter. Traces of a second prehistoric field
system survive on the south east slope of the island.
The more extensive surviving field system encompasses the lower central part
of the island; it rises to the foot of bedrock outcrops crowning ridges on the
west and south east but its boundaries are truncated by the present coastline
on the south, north and north east. The field system is defined by banks
generally 1.75m-2.5m wide and 0.6m high; these are largely turf-covered with
occasional projecting boulders and slabs but below the western ridge some
survive as rows of near-contiguous slabs to 0.7m high, backed by a substantial
build-up of deposits called a lynchet resulting from prehistoric cultivation
on the slope. Where the banks are cut by the island's northern and southern
cliffs, their core is visible beneath the soil as a rubble wall to 0.9m high
and 1.5m wide. The area of the field system is subdivided by banks
approximately 20m-40m apart running directly downslope from the west and south
east ridges and from a bank along a slight crest behind the island's southern
coast between the ridges; these downslope banks are crossed by further
boundaries roughly along the contour, subdividing the overall area into a
network of small rectilinear plots whose downslope axis varies from south
west-north east in the west to roughly north-south in the east. Additional
banks run east-west across the narrow neck of the island's north eastern
headland and ENE-WSW along the spine of the south eastern ridge.
The south east slope of the south east ridge contains traces of a further
field system truncated by the present coast along the foot of the slope. These
traces are evident as a massive lynchet 1m-1.75m high following a north east-
south west line approximately 20m from the ridge's spinal outcrops and
substantially enhanced by much later deposits of wind-blown sand which have
produced irregularities along its surface and edge. At least one bank, similar
to those in the main surviving field system, extends south east to the coast
from the base of the lynchet.
The north western half of the more extensive field system contains a
contemporary settlement of at least four small house platforms situated close
to the prehistoric boundaries and scattered 25m-50m apart. They have rounded
or ovoid internal areas in the range 4m diameter to 5m by 4.5m across,
levelled into the slope to give a steep backscarp 0.4m-0.8m high. Their
downslope edges are defined by a slight turf-covered bank generally 1.5m wide
and 0.5m high; this bank is more extensive, including a large end-set slab in
the eastern house platform, situated on more level ground between the north
and north east coasts. The northernmost house platform has an entrance gap
0.75m wide facing north.
The cairns in this scheduling are located 47m apart along the spine of the
south eastern ridge. The south western cairn is on the higher central part of
the ridge and has a form known as an entrance grave. Its turf-covered mound is
6.5m in diameter and up to 0.8m high, defined along the west, north and east
by a line of closely-spaced kerb-slabs, to 1.2m long and 0.4m high. The mound
has a flattened upper surface, approximately 4m in diameter, containing a
funerary chamber 3.5m long, east-west. The chamber has slightly concave sides
tapering from 1.4m wide at its closed western end to only 0.5m wide at its
eastern entrance gap in the kerb line. The chamber is 0.5m deep, walled by
both edge-set and coursed slabs with a transverse slab closing the west end;
two large covering slabs, to 2m long, remain across the western half of the
The other cairn occupies a deep hollow between large outcrops at the north
east end of the ridge; it is formed as an embanked platform cairn with a mound
12m in diameter and up to 1.7m high, rising to the crest of a bank that
descends 0.6m internally around the perimeter of flattened upper surface
measuring 5m north east-south west by 6m north west-south east.
The north eastern platform cairn is over-ridden and almost bisected by a much
later drystone wall, 20m long north east-south west, linking the outcrops
that delimit each side of the hollow. The wall is of coursed granite rubble
and is generally 0.6m wide and 0.7m high, rising to 1m across the cairn's
central platform. Approaching the south western outcrop, the wall undergoes an
angled change of course to the SSW as it crosses the south west crest of the
At the north east tip of the island's south eastern ridge, a subrectangular
shelter has been created by a short curving drystone wall built across a
natural angled recess in the rock face at the foot of the outcrops. The wall
is 4.5m long, north east-south west, 0.4m wide and up to 0.8m high, built of
flat-laid coursed slabs. The rock face defines the south east side and south
west end of the shelter; the wall produces a roughly levelled interior 2.9m
long, north east-south west, by up to 1.35m wide, leaving an entrance gap
0.75m wide at the north east end. The wall is typically post-medieval in
style, perhaps a small shelter for shepherds pasturing their animals on the
island in summer, but the structure has been suggested as a shelter built by
Parliamentarian troops in 1651 during their re-capture of the Isles of Scilly
from its Royalist garrison. Those troops were initially misled into landing on
Northwethel in the belief it was the neighbouring inhabited island of Tresco,
and during the subsequent attack on Tresco, Northwethel served as a short term
refuge and a base for distracting fire from the enemy.
In the prehistoric landscape contemporary with their construction, the field
systems and cairns in this scheduling occupied raised ground formerly linked
by dry land to similar types of prehistoric sites which survive extensively on
northern Tresco and the nearby present islands of St Helen's and Tean.
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: 15497
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Bowley, R L, The Fortunate Islands: A History of the Isles of Scilly, (1968)
Grigson, G, The Scilly Isles, (1977)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7272 & 7272.03, .04 & .06, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7270, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7270.07, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7271.01, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7271.02, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7272.01, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7272.09, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107s for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7270.01-.06, (1988)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 81 NE Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; Cornwall sheet LXXXII: 16 Source Date: 1889 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey Record & Illustration Cards for SV 81 NE 37 Source Date: 1978 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey Record & Illustration Cards for SV 81 NE 37 Source Date: 1978 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Cairn A
Title: Ordnance Survey Record & Illustration Cards for SV 81 NE 37 Source Date: 1978 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Cairn J
Title: Ordnance Survey Record & Illustration Cards for SV 81 NE 39 Source Date: 1978 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey Record Card for SV 81 NE 55 Source Date: 1978 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.
End of official listing