Early Christian enclosure on St Aldhelm's Head


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017308

Date first listed: 15-Oct-1924

Date of most recent amendment: 07-Jul-2000


Ordnance survey map of Early Christian enclosure on St Aldhelm's Head
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Dorset

District: Purbeck (District Authority)

Parish: Worth Matravers

National Grid Reference: SY 96071 75559


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

Reasons for Designation

Early Christian enclosures are a rare class of monument nationally, and are characterised by an enclosure which is roughly circular in plan. These were often located in remote or isolated areas and served a small religious community (or cell). Some enclosures were associated with a chapel building and/or a cemetery. Despite some limited disturbance by quarrying, the early Christian enclosure on St Aldhelm's Head represents a rare earthwork survival and will contain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the monument and the landscape in which it was constructed. The enclosure represents one of few such features known in Dorset. At least one burial has been identified close to the chapel (with another Christian grave lying outside) and it is possible that the enclosure contains a cemetery. The close association with the 12th century chapel is notable and the single compartment design, square plan and pyramidal roof of the structure are unusual features for a chapel of this date. These features might reflect the rebuilding in stone of an earlier timber building. The dominant position of St Aldhelm's Chapel means that it has become an important feature of the local landscape.


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


The monument includes an early Christian enclosure situated on the crest of St Aldhelm's Head, a coastal headland with panoramic views. The centre of the enclosure is occupied by a stone built chapel which is Listed Grade I. The early Christian enclosure has a sub-circular plan, with a maximum diameter of 46m. It is defined by a bank about 3m wide and about 0.5m high, with a possible entrance to the north east. The central area of the enclosure forms a slightly raised platform which supports the stone chapel, which is of 12th century origin. This has walls of coarsed rubble with ashlar dressing and a pyramidal roof covered with stone slates. The building could overlie an earlier timber structure. A gully within the south western area of the enclosure leads towards the chapel entrance; this may have resulted from drainage improvement work. The two small quarries on the inner edge of the southern bank are likely to be the result of post-medieval prospection. Two rectilinear terraces which occupy the south western area of the enclosure could represent building platforms, although no details are known. The Dorset historian J Hutchins records that human bones were discovered within a square hole in proximity to the chapel. A second grave identified 402m to the NNE of the chapel, lay beneath a large slab of Purbeck stone with a large cross carved in relief. This grave contained the remains of a woman and was associated with possible structural foundations which may also have related to the enclosure. The 12th century chapel was named after St Aldhelm, the first Bishop of Sherbourne, demonstrating an important link with a major religious centre in Dorset, where a comparable early Christian enclosure has also been identified (lying beneath Sherbourne Old Castle). Following the Dissolution the structure was retained as a `seamark', prior to 19th century restoration and reuse as a chapel. The chapel, which is in ecclesiastical use, 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: 33165

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Historical Monuments in the County of Dorset: Volume I, (1970), 411-412

End of official listing