Hembury Fort


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


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

East Devon (District Authority)
East Devon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 11255 03089

Reasons for Designation

Small multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying shape, generally between 1 and 5ha in size and located on hilltops. They are defined by boundaries consisting of two or more lines of closely set earthworks spaced at intervals of up to 15m. These entirely surround the interior except on sites located on promontories, where cliffs may form one or more sides of the monument. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and occupied between the sixth century BC and the mid-first century AD. Small multivallate hillforts are generally regarded as settlements of high status, occupied on a permanent basis. Recent interpretations suggest that the construction of multiple earthworks may have had as much to do with display as with defence. Earthworks may consist of a rampart alone or of a rampart and ditch which, on many sites, are associated with counterscarp banks and internal quarry scoops. Access to the interior is generally provided by one or two entrances, which either appear as simple gaps in the earthwork or inturned passages, sometimes with guardrooms. The interior generally consists of settlement evidence including round houses, four and six post structures interpreted as raised granaries, roads, pits, gullies, hearths and a variety of scattered post and stake holes. Evidence from outside numerous examples of small multivallate hillforts suggests that extra-mural settlement was of a similar nature. Small multivallate hillforts are rare with around 100 examples recorded nationally. Most are located in the Welsh Marches and the south-west with a concentration of small monuments in the north-east. In view of the rarity of small multivallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the nature of settlement and social organisation within the Iron Age period, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

Hembury Fort survives in exceptionally good condition with a well defined circuit of defences surrounding the entire monument. In addition to its Iron Age usage, the monument has produced extensive evidence for its occupation as a causewayed enclosure, which is a rare type of monument used for settlement, defence or ceremonial purposes in the Neolithic period and as a base for a unit of the Roman army operating in the middle of the 1st century AD. The monument will therefore provide valuable archaeological information relating to the lives, economy, and landscape of the Neolithic and Iron Age peoples who utilised or inhabited the site as well as information relating to the Roman military occupation of the South West.


The monument includes Hembury Fort, a small multivallate hillfort of Iron Age date which occupies the site of an earlier Neolithic causewayed enclosure. The location of the hillfort, on a narrow south facing promontory at the end of a 240m high ridge protruding from the Blackdown Hills, was almost certainly chosen for its natural defensive qualities and its extensive views over the Otter River valley and the surrounding countryside. The concentric multiple ditch and rampart defensive circuit complemented the steep hill slopes and enclosed a long, pear-shaped interior area of about 3.5ha. The only flat approach to the hillfort was from the north, the two inturned entrances of the hillfort were however located away from this on the west and east sides. The site was later occupied by the Roman army.

Excavations at the site have revealed the presence of a series of elongated ditches interrupted by causeways which cut off an area of about 0.8ha at the southern end of the ridge which corresponds to the southern tip of the later hillfort. Abundant occupation evidence recovered from the excavations has demonstrated that this occupation was of the Neolithic period with an end date in the third millennium BC, probably before 2500 BC. The traditional interpretation of the site at this period is that of a causewayed enclosure.

The visible features of the later hillfort represent the final, probably first century BC defences, of a site which was first defended in the Iron Age in the middle of the first millennium BC. Excavations have shown that the first phase of defences took the form of a box rampart revetted in timber. The second and main phase saw the replacement of the box rampart with a triple line of defences comprising ramparts, ditches, and a counterscarp bank which has been artificially straightened on the east side where it forms a parish boundary. At the vulnerable northern end an additional rampart and a 5m wide ditch extending for some 80m were added although they were never completed across the entire exposed neck of ground. The hillfort had dual entrance ways, one to the north east and one to the west. Both entrance ways were inturned and approached by embanked causeways no more than a maximum of 6m wide across the ditch ends. Excavations have revealed the presence of post holes representing the positions of timber revetments and palisades indicating that these entrances were well defended. The relatively flat interior of the hillfort is known to have supported at least one round house of 7m in diameter which was located near the eastern rampart. Pottery forms recovered in excavation, including upright jars and bowls decorated with curvilinear and geometric designs (Glastonbury Ware), confirmed the Iron Age occupation of the site.

The Iron Age occupation of the hillfort may have ended prior to the erection in the northern part of the monument's interior of a number of Roman timber buildings which have been suggested to represent the workshops and accommodation for a unit of the Roman army in residence during the middle of the first century AD. This unit was perhaps connected with the known Roman iron-working sites in the nearby Blackdown Hills whilst the Roman legionary fortress at Exeter, first occupied at about the same time, lay only 25km to the south west. The Roman occupation saw the rebuilding of the western gateway but two transverse banks and ditches which serve to cut off the northern two thirds of the interior of the monument, traditionally interpreted as Roman works, have been demonstrated to be post-medieval.

All fencing and fence 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.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Fox, A, Prehistoric Hillforts in Devon, (1996), 36-37
Oswald, A, Industry and enclosure in the Neolithic, (1996)
Liddell, D M, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Society' in Report on the Excavations at Hembury Fort, Devon, , Vol. 1, (1931), 90-120
Liddell, D M, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Society' in Report on the Excavations at Hembury Fort, Devon, 1930, , Vol. 1, (1932), 40-63
Todd, M, 'Antiquity' in Hembury (Devon): Roman Troops In A Hillfort, , Vol. 58, (1984), 171-74
Wall, J C, 'A History of the County of Devon (Victoria County History)' in Ancient Earthworks, , Vol. Vol I, (1908), 585-87


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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