Blackdown Rings prehistoric hillfort and medieval castle


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Blackdown Rings prehistoric hillfort and medieval castle
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Hams (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 72039 52040

Reasons for Designation

Slight univallate hillforts are defined as enclosures of various shapes, generally between 1ha and 10ha in size, situated on or close to hilltops and defined by a single line of earthworks, the scale of which is relatively small. They date to between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (eighth - fifth centuries BC), the majority being used for 150 to 200 years prior to their abandonment or reconstruction. Slight univallate hillforts have generally been interpreted as stock enclosures, redistribution centres, places of refuge and permanent settlements. The earthworks generally include a rampart, narrow level berm, external ditch and counterscarp bank, while access to the interior is usually provided by two entrances comprising either simple gaps in the earthwork or an inturned rampart. Postholes revealed by excavation indicate the occasional presence of portal gateways while more elaborate features like overlapping ramparts and outworks are limited to only a few examples. Internal features included timber or stone round houses; large storage pits and hearths; scattered postholes, stakeholes and gullies; and square or rectangular buildings supported by four to six posts, often represented by postholes, and interpreted as raised granaries. Slight univallate hillforts are rare with around 150 examples recorded nationally. Although on a national scale the number is low, in Devon they comprise one of the major classes of hillfort. In other areas where the distribution is relatively dense, for example, Wessex, Sussex, the Cotswolds and the Chilterns, hillforts belonging to a number of different classes occur within the same region. Examples are also recorded in eastern England, the Welsh Marches, central and southern England. In view of the rarity of slight univallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the transition between Bronze Age and Iron Age communities, all examples which survive comparatively well and have potential for the recovery of further archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

Ringworks are medieval fortifications built and occupied from the late Anglo-Saxon period to the later 12th century. They comprised a small defended area containing buildings which was surrounded or partly surrounded by a substantial ditch and a bank surmounted by a timber palisade or, rarely, a stone wall. Occasionally a more lightly defended embanked enclosure, the bailey, adjoined the ringwork. Ringworks acted as strongholds for military operations and in some cases as defended aristocratic or manorial settlements. They are rare nationally with only 200 recorded examples and less than 60 with baileys. As such, and as one of a limited number and very restricted range of Anglo-Saxon and Norman fortifications, ringworks are of particular significance to our understanding the period. Both the slight univallate hillfort and the ringwork and bailey are very well preserved monuments in a relatively isolated and elevated location where they have been free from later disturbance and development. Only a small number of hillforts were utilised in the medieval period as castles of the ringwork and bailey type. The close association of these two very different forms of defensive structures, together with evidence of later land use in the form of field boundaries and reuse of the ringwork as the site of a beacon in the post medieval period, demonstrates valuable archaeological evidence for the continued use and importance of this prominent site over a period of thousands of years.


The monument includes Blackdown Rings, the remains of a prehistoric hillfort with a medieval ringwork and bailey castle. Situated in the South Hams about 3.5km north of the village of Loddiswell, on a hill to the west of the River Avon, the monument takes the form of prominent and imposing earthworks. The hillfort is sited to the south of the hillcrest so that to the north its defences face onto slightly rising ground, to the east and west onto level ground, and overlooks the ground to the south. It occupies a roughly oval area of approximately 2.4ha, enclosed by an earthwork in the form of a rampart with an external ditch and a counterscarp bank. Material for the rampart and counterscarp was originally quarried from the ditch. The rampart is about 6m in width and between 1.2m and 1.7m in height above the internal ground surface. It has a gradual inner slope, flat top, and a near vertical outer face. Between the rampart and ditch there is a berm, consisting of a level area of up to 2m width, although in places it is absent and the face of the rampart is continuous with the inner side of the ditch. The ditch is about 8m wide and 2m deep with steep sides and a flat bottom, which in places is uneven, particularly on the north side of the hillfort, where it contains a number of large shallow hollows. On the outer edge of the ditch there is a counterscarp bank which is about 6m in width and 0.3m high. On the north side of the hillfort it is obscured by the road, and on the south side it is overlain by a substantial field bank. There are two original entrances into the enclosure, opposed in the east and west sides, each consisting of a causeway across the ditch and a gap in the rampart of about 8m width. The ends of the ramparts are curved inwards slightly, sloping down to end at low earth mounds. At the east entrance the causeway is offset slightly to the north of the gap in the rampart, and the counterscarp to the north of the entrance becomes a large curving bank, about 30m long by up to 9m wide, and 1.5m high at its northern end. In the north western part of the hillfort defences are the earthwork remains of a medieval castle, taking the form of a ringwork and bailey. The ringwork, which occupies the highest ground available within the hillfort, is represented by a substantial penannular earthen bank surrouded by a ditch. The bank is about 35m in external diameter at base (natural ground level), flat topped, and with sides that slope steeply both externally and internally to form a rampart up to 4m in height on its highest, northern, side. The bank would have originally supported a wooden palisade. The interior of the ringwork consists of a relatively small level area of some 7m diameter, and is offset to the south east of the centre of the ringwork towards a narrow entrance through the bank. At this point the bank is at its lowest at about 2m in height. The interior slope of the bank is very uneven, having been cut into several large scoops and gulleys. The outer face of the bank slopes directly into the encircling `V' shaped ditch which is up to 7m wide and 2m deep. In its north west quadrant the ditch is contiguous with the ditch of the hillfort. There is a low causeway across the ditch opposite the entrance through the bank, and the southern quadrant of the ditch is subject to seasonal waterlogging. The bailey lies adjacent to the south east of the ringwork and occupies a level area of approximately 0.2ha, measuring about 53m by 20m, enclosed by an earthwork rampart with an external ditch and counterscarp bank. The rampart consists of a steep-sided bank up to 8m wide and 2m in height. On its northern side the bailey rampart overlies the hillfort rampart and at this point is at its highest. The external face of the rampart slopes directly into a steep- sided ditch, about 6m wide and 1.2m-2m deep. Material for the rampart was quarried from this ditch which interconnects with the ditches of the ringwork and hillfort. On the outer edge of the ditch there is a low counterscarp bank of about 4m width, which is up to 0.6m high where the bailey rampart joins the hillfort rampart. The south east facing aspect of the rampart has two narrow gaps at a point where the rampart is at its lowest, and the northern gap has been interpreted as the site of the original entrance into the bailey. There is an area of raised ground in the ditch opposite the entrance which may represent a causeway. Adjacent to the bailey are the slight earthwork remains of later field boundaries. On the highest part of the ringwork there is a slightly wider area of level ground, about 4.5m by 3.5m in size. This is the site of a beacon shown on a plan of the earthwork dated to 1752. It is considered to have been a Pole Beacon consisting of an upright timber post set into the ground and braced with a timber framework, to support one or more iron cages holding the combustible material, probably gorse and pitch. Access to the cage or cages would have been by a permanent ladder. Excluded from the scheduling are the road surface, direction marker, interpretative panels and all fence posts, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

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Books and journals
Wilson-North, W, Dunn, C, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in The Rings, Loddiswell: A New Survey By The RCHME, (1990), 87-100
Wilson-North, W, Dunn, C, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in The Rings, Loddiswell: A New Survey By The RCHME, (1990), 87-100


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

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