Cliff castle on Penhale Point


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016991

Date first listed: 24-Sep-1999


Ordnance survey map of Cliff castle on Penhale Point
© 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 - 1016991 .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 16-Jan-2019 at 23:35:55.


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

District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Perranzabuloe

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 coast. 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

End of official listing