Prehistoric cairn and prehistoric to post-medieval field systems between The Plains and Wine Cove, St Martin's


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1018113

Date first listed: 24-Jul-1998


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric cairn and prehistoric to post-medieval field systems between The Plains and Wine Cove, St Martin's
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Isles of Scilly (Unitary Authority)

Parish: St. Martin's

National Grid Reference: SV 92641 15899, SV 92657 16016


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

Reasons for Designation

The Isles of Scilly, the westernmost of the granite masses of south west England, contain a remarkable abundance and variety of archaeological remains from over 4000 years of human activity. The remote physical setting of the islands, over 40km beyond the mainland in the approaches to the English Channel, has lent a distinctive character to those remains, producing many unusual features important for our broader understanding of the social development of early communities. Throughout the human occupation there has been a gradual submergence of the islands' land area, providing a stimulus to change in the environment and its exploitation. This process has produced evidence for responses to such change against an independent time-scale, promoting integrated studies of archaeological, environmental and linguistic aspects of the islands' settlement. The islands' archaeological remains demonstrate clearly the gradually expanding size and range of contacts of their communities. By the post- medieval period (from AD 1540), the islands occupied a nationally strategic location, resulting in an important concentration of defensive works reflecting the development of fortification methods and technology from the mid 16th to the 20th centuries. An important and unusual range of post- medieval monuments also reflects the islands' position as a formidable hazard for the nation's shipping in the western approaches. The exceptional preservation of the archaeological remains on the islands has long been recognised, producing an unusually full and detailed body of documentation, including several recent surveys. Regular field systems are one of several methods of field layout known to have been employed in the Isles of Scilly from the Bronze Age to the Roman period (c.2000 BC - AD 400); closer dating within that period may be provided by the visible relationships of the field boundaries to other classes of monument with a shorter known time-span of use, or by their relationship with an earlier recorded sea level. They comprise a collection of field plots defined by boundaries laid out in a consistent manner, along two dominant axes at approximate right angles to each other. This results in rectilinear fields which may vary in their size and length:width ratio both within and between individual field systems. The fields are bounded by rubble walls or banks, often incorporating edge- or end- set slabs called orthostats. Within its total area, a regular field system may be subdivided into blocks differing in the orientations of their dominant axes. Regular field systems may be associated with broadly contemporary settlement sites such as stone hut circles. Some regular field systems on the Isles of Scilly contain a distinctive association, rarely encountered elsewhere, whereby certain of their field boundaries directly incorporate or link cairns, entrance graves and cists in some groups of prehistoric funerary monuments. Although no precise figure is available, regular field systems form one of the three principal forms of prehistoric field system, along with irregular field systems and some groups of prehistoric linear boundaries, which survive in over 70 areas of the Isles of Scilly. They provide significant insights into the physical and social organisation of past landscapes and they provide evidence for the wider contemporary context within which other nationally important monuments were constructed.

The prehistoric platform cairn and field system between The Plains and Wine Cove survive well. Apart from the insertion of the modern boundary posts on one side, the cairn appears undisturbed and has not been excavated. The field system shows clearly its pattern and relationship to the local landforms, complementing the extensive and broadly contemporary field system survivals to each side along the north of St Martin's. The prolonged use of these field systems and their eventual large scale abandonment, with limited 19th century re-occupation evident within this scheduling as well as from early maps, provides a good example of the major reorganisation of land use and the far-reaching environmental changes that have followed from the gradual and ongoing submergence of Scilly's land mass.


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


The monument includes a prehistoric platform cairn and a prehistoric to early post-medieval field system between The Plains and Wine Cove, on the ridge top and northern slope of western St Martin's in the Isles of Scilly. The scheduling also includes an area of the northern slope called Frenchmen's Graves, considered to be a burial ground of early shipwreck victims. This scheduling is divided into two separate areas. The platform cairn survives on flattish ground on the island's spine, 175m ESE of Plains House. It is visible as a low rounded mound, 11.5m east-west by 11m north-south, rising 0.5m to a flattened upper platform 5.5m in diameter and crossed on its ESE side by a modern field boundary. Beyond this cairn, the northern coastal slope and crest of the island contains extensive remains of early field systems whose known extent ranges from the slope below The Plains on the WNW to the slope behind Wine Cove on the ESE. The field system is visible both as low vegetation-covered banks, roughly 2m-3m wide and 0.2m-0.5m high, and as low rubble ridges crossing the footpaths in this area. These reveal an overall rectilinear field pattern, with a series of straight north east-south west banks running directly downslope to the present cliff edge, subdividing the slope at intervals and joining a bank running north west-south east along the midslope contour. A second bank runs north west-south east along the slope crest, visible extending WNW from the prominent Barnacle Rock on the area's local summit and passing through the present scrub in the north of the adjacent modern field. Exposures of bank rubble in footpaths indicate another boundary running for several metres north east from the distinctive outcrop of Barnacle Rock, meeting a third north west-south east boundary on the upper slope. To the east of Barnacle Rock, the path immediately outside the modern limit of enclosure is crossed by a series of north east-south west rubble ridges. The overall field system visible within this scheduling includes elements from successive phases of land use from the prehistoric to the early post-medieval. The field system is regarded as a continuation of the extensive areas of surviving prehistoric field system of similar character on the north of St Martin's around Top Rock Hill to the north west and along much of the eastern half of the island's northern flanks east of Turfy Hill. The remains in this scheduling are defined visibly from those areas by deep medieval and later deposits of blown sand and by dense surface vegetation, both of which obscure surface traces of the field system on the intervening land. The discovery beyond this scheduling of some early medieval artefacts at the base of the blown sand layer south of Top Rock Hill indicate continued activity into that period. In the mid-18th century the antiquary William Borlase noted the traces of field boundaries on the north of the island as being long- abandoned due to inundation by sand. The 1889 Ordnance Survey map shows a small row of fields east of Barnacle Rock and extending a little north of the present limit of enclosure; the rubble ridges crossing the modern path in this sector are considered to derive from these 19th century plots and form the final episode of land use forming the overall field system in this scheduling. On the lower slope in the north west of this scheduling is an ill-defined area known as `Frenchmen's Graves', now obscured by scrub. Nineteenth century Ordnance Survey maps show the location as a sub-circular area roughly 48m in diameter, depicted as clear of the rough vegetation that covered the neighbouring ground. Although reputedly a cemetery of shipwreck victims buried by the coast close to where they were washed ashore as was the local custom until the mid-19th century, the name and date of the wreck is not known. The modern post-and-wire fence is excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath 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: 15521

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Borlase, W, Observations on Ancient and Present State of the Isles of Scilly, (1756)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7139.05, (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7141, (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7158, (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7158.02, (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7200, (1988)
Thorpe, C/CAU, AM 107 for Scilly SMR entry PRN 7203, (1988)
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 91 NW Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; Cornwall sheet LXXXII: 16 Source Date: 1889 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map; SV 9216 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Maps; Cornwall sheets LXXXII: 11-12, 15-6 Source Date: 1889 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Maps; Cornwall sheets LXXXII: 15-16 Source Date: 1889 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Maps; SV 9215-6 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing