Musbury Castle


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016793

Date first listed: 26-Jun-1924

Date of most recent amendment: 21-Jan-1999


Ordnance survey map of Musbury Castle
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2019. 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 - 1016793 .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-Jan-2019 at 18:04:22.


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

County: Devon

District: East Devon (District Authority)

Parish: Combpyne Rousdon

County: Devon

District: East Devon (District Authority)

Parish: Musbury

National Grid Reference: SY 28202 94128


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

Reasons for Designation

Large univallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying shape, ranging in size between 1ha and 10ha, located on hilltops and surrounded by a single boundary comprising earthworks of massive proportions. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and used between the fourth century BC and the first century AD, although evidence for earlier use is present at most sites. The size of the earthworks reflects the ability of certain social groups to mobilise the labour necessary for works on such a monumental scale, and their function may have had as much to do with display as defence. Large univallate hillforts are also seen as centres of redistribution, both for subsistence products and items produced by craftsmen. The ramparts are of massive proportions except in locations where steepness of slope precludes easy access. They can vary between 6m and 20m wide and may survive to a height of 6m. The ditches can measure between 6m and 13m wide and between 3m and 5m deep. Access to the interior is generally provided by one or two entrances which often take the form of long passages formed by inturned ramparts and originally closed by a gate located towards the inner end of the passageway. The entrance may be flanked by guardrooms and/or accompanied by outworks. 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. Large univallate hillforts are rare with between 50 and 100 examples recorded nationally. Most are located within southern England where they occur on the chalklands of Wessex, Sussex and Kent. The western edge of the distribution is marked by scattered examples in north Somerset and east Devon, while further examples occur in central and western England and outliers further north. Within this distribution considerable regional variation is apparent, both in their size, rampart structure and the presence or absence of individual components. In view of the rarity of large univallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the organisation and regional structure of Iron Age society, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

The hillfort of Musbury Castle survives well in a commanding position above the lower reaches of the valley of the River Axe and demonstrates the use of the natural defensive qualities of the site to maximum advantage. It will contain archaeological information relating to the construction and use of the site, the lives of its inhabitants and the landscape in which they lived.


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


The monument includes a large prehistoric univallate hillfort known as Musbury Castle. The hillfort occupies a site at the end of a Greensand spur just to the east of the River Axe above the village of Musbury. It has naturally defended steep slopes except for a level approach from the north. It enclosed a defended area of about 3.4ha.

The hillfort takes the form of a long narrow enclosure aligned with the topography of the north east to south west spur on which it was built. It is about 390m long with a maximum width of 130m inclusive of the defences. The very steep natural slopes on all sides but the north east supplied a strong defensive setting which may have been supplemented by the scarping of the hillsides. The only level approach along the crest of the spur from the north east was defended by two transverse ramparts set one behind the other about 40m apart; this is the only part of the defensive circuit thought to have been multivallate. Each rampart was fronted by a ditch and the outermost one by an additional counterscarp bank which now survives only at its north west end. The outer rampart is 2.5m high whilst the inner one is about 2m high; their respective ditches are still visible as depressions about 3m wide. The interior of the hillfort is relatively flat along the crest of the spur but it falls away on the two main long flanks of the defences. The southernmost 70m long tip of the spur is cut off from the rest of the interior by a transverse rampart about 2m high with an outward facing ditch. The main entrance was probably from the north east and was defended by the set of double transverse ramparts whilst a further original entrance is probable at the south eastern corner and this may account for the presence of the southern stretch of rampart and ditch in close proximity to the point where the angled entrance way approached the interior. Outworks shown on a map of 1765 were probably destroyed in the 19th century and their position on the ground can no longer be located with any accuracy.

All fencing and fence posts, gates, gate posts and stiles are excluded from the scheduling, 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.

Legacy System number: 29659

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Fox, A, Prehistoric Hillforts in Devon, (1996), 44
Wall, J C, 'A History of the County of Devon (Victoria County History)' in Ancient Earthworks, , Vol. I, (1906), 584-5
Doon, B, (1765)

End of official listing