Ashhole Cavern


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


Ordnance survey map of Ashhole Cavern
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Torbay (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 93701 56681

Reasons for Designation

Caves and rock shelters provide some of the earliest evidence of human activity. The sites, all natural topographic features, occur mainly in hard limestone in the north and west of the country, although examples also exist in the softer rocks of south east England. Evidence for human occupation is often located near the cave entrances, close to the rock walls or on the exterior platforms. The interiors sometimes served as special areas for disposal and storage or where places where material naturally accumulated from the outside. Because of the special conditions of deposition and preservation, organic and other fragile materials often survive well and in stratigraphic association. Caves and rock shelters are therefore of major importance in determining how such naturally formed sites were employed by man in prehistoric periods and later. Due to their comparative rarity and their longevity as a monument type, all examples with good survival of deposits are considered to be nationally important.

Despite a 19th century breach of its northern cave wall and some loss of the cave earth to excavation, Ashhole Cavern, which, in addition to the main chamber, includes a number of associated fissures and smaller chambers, will preserve intact deposits of cave earth dating from the Pleistocene era above which are archaeological cave earth deposits of the Neolithic to the Romano- British period, and it is has been demonstrated by excavation to be particularly rich in Bronze Age pottery of the regional Trevisker type. The cavern will retain archaeological and environmental information which will be informative about the lives of those who utilised it for shelter, burial, or other purposes over a broad period from the prehistoric through to the Roman periods, and the changing landscape in which all of these peoples lived.


The monument, known as the Ashhole Cavern, includes a main cave chamber, orientated east-west, and associated fissures and smaller chambers which penetrate into the local Devonian Limestone. The cavern, which was utilised as a rock shelter in the Bronze Age, is located 100m from the coast about halfway between Brixham and Berry Head on the southern crescent of Torbay. The entrance to the cavern lies at the base of a naturally formed sinkhole at the extreme east of the main cave chamber where deposits containing Bronze Age pottery have been excavated just within the entrance. A forced breach of 19th century date within a quarry face on the northern side of the cavern, about halfway down its length, created a large artificial entry into the chamber wall which has subsequently provided the more usual route into the system. The main chamber of the cavern has been mapped by the Devon Karst Research Society with dimensions of about 40m east-west by 22m north-south at its widest point. The height of the cavern at its entrance is about 1.5m but this increases considerably to a height of over 12m further back into the body of the cavern, the fissures extend into the rock on the western and southern sides of the main chamber. Extending westwards and downwards into the chamber from the cavern entrance is a thick, concreted talus of light brown coloured cave earth. This cave earth, where excavated adjacent to the entrance by Lyte in first half of the 19th century, was reported to have contained pottery, bronze metalwork, and human remains above a stalagmite floor which in turn sealed animal bone deposits including those of now extinct species. Further quantities of pottery, flint, and a Roman coin were removed from the cave earth between 1965 and 1967. This material was reported on by ApSimon who found that the majority of the recovered pottery originated from the Bronze Age and could be assigned to the regional Trevisker style of pottery named after the site in Cornwall where it has been most coherently studied and where it was found to date from about 1750 BC to 1000 BC; Neolithic, Iron Age, and Roman occupation of the cavern was also attested. Burials within the cavern which had been reported in the earlier excavations were considered by ApSimon to be most likely Romano-British in date.

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.

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Books and journals
ApSimon, A M, 'Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in The Bronze Age Pottery from Ash Hole, Brixham, Devon, , Vol. 26, (1968), 21-30
Pengelly, W, 'Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in The Ash Hole and Bench Bone-Caverns at Brixham, South Devon, , Vol. 4, (1870), 73-80
Title: Berry Head Area Plan Source Date: 1984 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: AKS68


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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