Membury Castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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

East Devon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 28273 02849

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.

The hillfort of Membury Castle survives well in a commanding position, taking advantage of the sites natural defensive qualities. The monument will contain archaeological information relating to the construction and use of the site as well as its surrounding landscape.


The monument includes a prehistoric slight univallate hillfort known as Membury Castle, located on the southern end of a narrow steep sided ridge- backed hill situated between the River Yarty and the River Axe. The defences enclose a narrow oblong area of about 1.3ha which has three main entrances one of which may be of much later date and one of which is modern. The defensive circuit may at one time have been provided with a ditch on at least two sides, although this is no longer visible. The elongated interior of the monument is about 225m in length north-south with a maximum width of 60m east-west. Quarries dug internally to provide soil for the rampart are clearly visible along the inside of the western bank and elsewhere on the circuit. This has had the effect of creating a raised and domed area towards the centre of the hillfort most particularly noticeable in the northern part of its interior. The earth/stone rampart was recorded by Sir Cyril Fox as being steep with chert facing. On its western side this rampart survives 5.8m wide with an angled outer slope littered with chert blocks; internally the bank is near vertical and 2m high. Whilst the bank of the rampart continues on all sides, on the east it is lower and has largely been incorporated into a later hedge bank. The steeper natural defences on this side suggest that the effectiveness of the bank may have been supplemented by the scarping of the natural hillside rather than the raising of a substantial rampart. A possible original entrance exists at the south west corner where the southern rampart terminal projects forward and outwards to provide a gap about 3m wide. Another entrance is located on the north eastern side which, if contemporary with the monument's construction, has been much altered with small enclosures placed just within the rampart perhaps during an episode of utilising the monument for stock enclosure and control in more recent times; a remnant of the partially levelled rampart can still be seen following its original course where these works have taken place. The only level approach was from the north where an entrance might have been expected but here the rampart carries across the ridge at right angles to it with no apparent break other than a gap of clearly modern origin. 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:
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Books and journals
Allcroft, A H, Earthworks of England, (1908), 201
Davidson, J, British and Roman remains near Axminster, (1833)
Fox, A, Prehistoric Hillforts in Devon, (1996), 41-42
Hogg, A H A, Hillforts of Britain, (1975), 247
Fox, C, 'Proceedings of the Somerset Arch. and Natural History Society' in , , Vol. 95, (1950), 21-22
Hogg, A H A, 'British Archaeological Reports' in British Hillforts: An Index, , Vol. 62, (1979), 199
Wall, J C, 'A History of the County of Devon (Victoria County History)' in Ancient Earthworks, , Vol. I, (1906), 583


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

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