Belbury Castle


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017774

Date first listed: 18-Mar-1998


Ordnance survey map of Belbury Castle
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Devon

District: East Devon (District Authority)

Parish: Ottery St. Mary

National Grid Reference: SY 07575 94047

Reasons for Designation

Slight univallate hillforts are defined as enclosures of various shapes, generally between 1ha and 10ha in size, situated on or close to hilltops and defined by a single line of earthworks, the scale of which is relatively small. They date to between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (eighth - fifth centuries BC), the majority being used for 150 to 200 years prior to their abandonment or reconstruction. Slight univallate hillforts have generally been interpreted as stock enclosures, redistribution centres, places of refuge and permanent settlements. The earthworks generally include a rampart, narrow level berm, external ditch and counterscarp bank, while access to the interior is usually provided by two entrances comprising either simple gaps in the earthwork or an inturned rampart. Postholes revealed by excavation indicate the occasional presence of portal gateways while more elaborate features like overlapping ramparts and outworks are limited to only a few examples. 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. Slight univallate hillforts are rare with around 150 examples recorded nationally. Although on a national scale the number is low, in Devon they comprise one of the major classes of hillfort. In other areas where the distribution is relatively dense, for example, Wessex, Sussex, the Cotswolds and the Chilterns, hillforts belonging to a number of different classes occur within the same region. Examples are also recorded in eastern England, the Welsh Marches, central and southern England. In view of the rarity of slight univallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the transition between Bronze Age and Iron Age communities, all examples which survive comparatively well and have potential for the recovery of further archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

Belbury Castle is a slight univallate hillfort in a commanding position overlooking the River Otter. The levelling of part of the defences to even out the hill top will have had the effect of sealing and protecting the underlying archaeological deposits of the interior and the monument 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.


The monument includes a prehistoric hillfort known as Belbury Castle which has a roughly oval defended area of nearly 1ha; the defences were provided by an encircling rampart and ditch. The site is located on the relatively flat top of a hill overlooking the valley and flood plain of the River Otter on its western side and the steep contours of the hill provided natural defences on all sides but the east. The defended elongated oval of the interior of the hillfort is about 150m in length north-south with a maximum width of 60m east-west. The earthen rampart of the defences survives on the southern and western sides incorporated into later hedgebanks. The rampart is less well defined on the northern side, where a hedgebank marks its former course; the defences have been completely levelled on the east. The height of the rampart on its southern section is about 5.5m which represents the highest survival anywhere on the circuit. This section is fronted by a ditch 7m wide which is partly infilled but which retains a depth of 0.9m. The ditch, mostly infilled, may be traced fronting the western rampart but it is no longer visible on the northern and eastern sides where deliberate slighting of the rampart and levelling of the ground is reported to have taken place in the late 18th century. An entrance on the east side, on the only level approach, is reported to have once been visible. The immediate area has attracted the place-names of Belbury Castle, Castle Copse, and Castle Field, and the site is recorded as Bigulfesburgh on a charter of AD 1061, all of which indicate the importance of the monument as a significant and visible earthwork in former times. A linear earthwork, running north-south, to the west of the monument has sometimes been suspected to have been an outwork of the hillfort or an associated dyke but its form is that of a hollow way and it was known in the early 20th century to have been a sunken way extending further in both directions than the now visible remains; it is not considered to be part of the monument and is not included in the scheduling. All fencing and fence posts and gates and gate posts, 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. 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: 29639

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Gover, J E B et al, The Place Names of Devon, (1932), 603
Hutchinson, P O, Diaries, (1874)
Hutchinson, P O, Diaries, (1861)
Kirwan, R, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Prehistoric Archaeology of East Devon, , Vol. 4 (ii), (1871), 648
Wall, J C, 'A History of the County of Devon (Victoria County History)' in Ancient Earthworks, , Vol. I, (1906), 585
Stone, (1977)

End of official listing