Cliff castle on Penhale Point
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1016991
Date first listed: 24-Sep-1999
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: SW 75808 59078
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
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, although some were reused in the medieval
period. They 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 been
found to contain post holes 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 and Cornwall. Around sixty cliff
castles are recorded nationally, of which forty are located around the Cornish
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.
Although it has suffered some damage from mining activities and coastal erosion, the cliff castle at Penhale Point survives with its defences largely intact and in part preserved by mining waste. In the interior, mining waste will also have preserved buried prehistoric features such as the Iron Age round house which was excavated prior to the construction of the radar installation. The monument will therefore 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 an Iron Age cliff castle at Penhale Point which was
later incorporated into the area worked by the 19th century Wheal Golden lead
mine. The defended enclosure of about 1ha is protected by sheer cliffs on the
seaward side and by a double line of landward defences which run from cliff to
cliff across the neck of the promontory. Excavation within the interior
produced evidence of late prehistoric settlement. Penhale Point juts out from
the coastline dividing Holywell Bay to the north from Perran Bay to the south;
it has commanding views in all directions.
The double line of defences across the neck of Penhale Point comprise of two
close spaced ramparts each with a different construction technique but each
with rock cut ditches. The inner rampart, which is mostly of large rubble
stones, may originally have formed a bank with a stone front revetment; it is
about 2m high and 0.9m wide and is partly fronted by an outer ditch 1.5m deep
which has an average width of 7m. A gap in the rampart where the outer ditch
is missing, more or less at its centre, may mark the original inner entrance.
Forward of this line of defences is another rampart composed of finely broken
stone, about 1m high and 6m wide with an outer ditch averaging 5m in width and
0.8m in depth. Partly obscuring the ramparts where they meet the southern
cliff edge is a 19th century cinder dump which is considered to have masked
the original entrance. Four visible breaches in the ramparts have probably
been cut to allow access to the various mining works.
Excavation within part of the interior of the cliff castle in 1983, in advance
of the construction of radar installations, revealed the remains of a round
house consisting of a low wall enclosing a circular room with a diameter of
6.2m and a single entrance. A central hearth and a possible storage pit
provided evidence of occupation within the hut, radiocarbon dating of which
gave a date of occupation somewhere in the period 100BC-AD90. At the same
time, limited excavation of the defences found that the inner ditch between
the two ramparts was not continuous and that a causeway occupied part of this
space. This suggests an offset entrance for the cliff castle which, when
compared to known examples of this type of monument, would represent an
advance in design implying a very late Iron Age date for its construction. A
full report of these excavations was published in Cornish Archaeology in 1988.
Mining waste, which probably originates from the sinking of at least three
shafts, was discovered to be widespread over the interior of the cliff castle.
A substantial ring bank which probably enclosed a horse-operated windlass
(whim-gin) has a diameter of 18m and survives just behind the ramparts. A
reservoir was dug in the same area which fed processing floors sited in the
middle of the enclosure and which has a bank contiguous with the inner
rampart. The reservoir fed processing floors sited in the middle of the
enclosure. All of the mining activity is associated with The Wheal Golden lead
mine, the main engine house of which stood just to the south of the cliff
castle until demolition in World War II.
All radar and aerial emplacements, all modern tarmac surfacings, all modern
pipe and cable works associated with the radar emplacements, and all fencing
are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all 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: 29687
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Johnson, N, Rose, P, Cliff Castle at Penhale, Perranzabuloe, Cornwall, (1983)
Smith, G, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Excavation of the Iron Age Cliff Promontory Fort at Penhale, , Vol. 27, (1988), 171-199
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