Prehistoric field system and settlement in Bathinghouse Porth, Tresco


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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

Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SV 89420 13561, SV 89551 13744

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. Regular field systems are one of several methods of field layout known to have been employed in the Isles of Scilly from the Bronze Age to the Roman period (c.2000 BC - AD 400); closer dating within that period may be provided by the visible relationships of the field boundaries to other classes of monument with a shorter known time-span of use, or by their relationship with an earlier recorded sea level. They comprise a collection of field plots defined by boundaries laid out in a consistent manner, along two dominant axes at approximate right angles to each other. This results in rectilinear fields which may vary in their size and length:width ratio both within and between individual field systems. The fields are bounded by rubble walls or banks, often incorporating edge- or end- set slabs called orthostats. Within its total area, a regular field system may be subdivided into blocks differing in the orientations of their dominant axes. Regular field systems may be associated with broadly contemporary settlement sites such as stone hut circles. Some regular field systems on the Isles of Scilly contain a distinctive association, rarely encountered elsewhere, whereby certain of their field boundaries directly incorporate or link cairns, entrance graves and cists in some groups of prehistoric funerary monuments. Although no precise figure is available, regular field systems form one of the three principal forms of prehistoric field system, along with irregular field systems and some groups of prehistoric linear boundaries, which survive in over 70 areas of the Isles of Scilly. They provide significant insights into the physical and social organisation of past landscapes and they provide evidence for the wider contemporary context within which other nationally important monuments were constructed.

The prehistoric field system and settlement in Bathinghouse Porth survive reasonably well, the field system clearly displaying its pattern and construction, and showing the influence of the underlying topography in its dominant axis. The differing character of the walling at each end of the bay provides unusual evidence for a considerable period of land use involving subdivision of the present inter-tidal zone. The hut circles provide valuable evidence for the nature and location of settlement in the now-submerged lower levels of the prehistoric landscape. Despite minor displacements by wave action, the extensive survival of these field system and settlement remains well into the inter-tidal zone confirms their overall long term stability against a considerable period of submergence. The wider contemporary land-use context of the prehistoric remains in this scheduling is well illustrated by the early settlement and field system survivals nearby around the coasts of southern Tresco.


The monument includes a prehistoric field system and hut circle settlement surviving across the middle and upper shore of Bathinghouse Porth on the south coast of Tresco in the Isles of Scilly. The remains of a post-medieval building also survive at Sea Carn, beside the north eastern end of the field system. The scheduling is divided into two separate areas of protection. Two areas of field system are exposed in Bathinghouse Porth; the larger area, which contains all of the prehistoric settlement remains, extends across the upper and middle shore towards the north of Figtree Ledge on the south west of the bay. A much smaller exposure of field walling is located on the upper shore at the extreme north east end of the bay behind the Sea Carn outcrop. In the south western area, the field system walls are visible as rows of closely spaced or continuous slabs, rubble and small boulders, frequently set on edge with their long axis usually along the wall line. The edge-set slabs are generally 0.3m-0.5m high and up to 0.7m long. The visible walls over most of this area indicate a rectilinear field system with a dominant WNW-ESE long axis that roughly matches the downslope axis of the underlying shore. Remains of at least four roughly parallel walls run downslope on that alignment, their courses between 5m and 13m apart, with exposed lengths ranging from 15m along the northernmost parallel wall, to 98m along the next wall to the south. This longest wall contains a 2m wide stagger in its course near the centre, to the east of which it adopts a slightly more east-west alignment. Contained against the north side of that stagger is a small hut circle, 4.5m in internal diameter and defined by edge-set slabs to 0.4m high, forming a continuous wall on the south east but well spaced around the rest of the interior. At right angles to the parallel downslope walls, the field system also contains remains of NNE-SSW walls. These exposures are mostly short, 2m-13m long, and while some occur as isolated fragments on the upper shore, others adjoin the downslope walls where they are considered to derive from cross-wall partitioning of the long downslope strips, giving plots about 30m-40m long. A much longer exposure of NNE-SSW walling, at least 29m long, occurs in the north of this area of field system and may reflect a change in the dominant axis of land-division towards the centre of the trough now submerged as the bay. A similar change in field system axis may also be indicated along the southern and western limits of the field system's known area, where three exposures of north east-south west walling occur on the higher shore beside the coastal cliff and across the middle shore. The settlement associated with this field system includes at least three hut circles. In addition to that contained in the wall stagger described above, the other two are located 12m apart, NNW-SSE, in the south of the field system's area, from 30m WNW of the outcrop rising from Figtree Ledge. Each has a wall roughly 1m wide and 0.5m high of rubble and slabs, including some edge-set slabs, defining a circular internal area 2.75m across in the NNW hut circle, and 3m across in the SSE example. A possible fourth hut circle of similar form is located 38m to the WNW. The smaller field system exposure at the north east end of the bay behind Sea Carn includes an angled wall, visible as a single row of end- and edge-set slabs, about 0.25m-0.7m wide and projecting 0.2m-0.5m above the upper shore when the wind and tide lowers the level of the surface sand. The slabs are frequently laid with their long axes across the wall line, presenting a different overall character to the walling in the south west of the bay. This, together with the higher level at which the walling is exposed, is considered to indicate a later construction date for the Sea Carn walling. The wall extends for at least 8m south east from the foot of the dune backing the upper shore. At a point 2m before the face of the Sea Carn outcrop, it turns north east and remains visible for a further 2m before becoming masked by recent blown sand. In favourable dispositions of blown sand during the 1970s and 1980s, further short lengths of walling on similar axes were noted in the small sheltered area between Sea Carn and the dune face behind it. Also within that area, those earlier records note the remains of a post-medieval building. Those remains, masked by blown sand over most periods since the 1980s, were described as of rectangular plan, 6.5m long north west-south east by 4m wide, with a wall 1m high built of large blocks and a subsoil-based material called cob. A clay platform is recorded extending north west from the building. Beyond this scheduling, further exposures of prehistoric field systems, some with settlement remains, occur nearby to the north east at Crab's Ledge and on the other side of Tresco's southern headland in Appletree Bay. The modern post-built windbreak behind Sea Carn is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included.

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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Ratcliffe, J, Fieldwork in Scilly 1991 and 1992, (1993)
Ratcliffe, J, Sharpe, A CAU, Fieldwork in Scilly Autumn 1990, (1991)
Ratcliffe, J, Sharpe, A CAU, Fieldwork in Scilly Autumn 1990, (1991)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entries PRN 7346.02 & .03, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7343, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7344, (1988)
Parkes, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7346.01, (1988)
RCHME, RCHME plan of field system at Bathinghouse Porth and Crab's Ledge, (1997)
RCHME, RCHME plan of field system at Bathinghouse Porth and Crab's Ledge, (1997)
RCHME, RCHME plan of field system at Bathinghouse Porth and Crab's Ledge, (1997)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; Cornwall sheet LXXXVII: 2 Source Date: 1888 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; Cornwall sheet LXXXVII: 2 Source Date: 1908 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 8913 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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