Prehistoric field system at Walls Hill


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019134

Date first listed: 18-Jul-2000


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric field system at Walls Hill
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Torbay (Unitary Authority)

National Grid Reference: SX 93420 65047


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

Reasons for Designation

Regular aggregate field systems date from the Bronze Age (2000-700 BC) to the end of the fifth century AD. They usually cover areas of up to 100ha and comprise a discrete block of fields orientated in roughly the same direction, with the field boundaries laid out along two axes set at right angles to one another. Individual fields generally fall within the 0.1ha-3.2ha range and can be square, rectangular, long and narrow, triangular or polygonal in shape. The field boundaries can take various forms (including drystone walls or reaves, orthostats, earth and rubble banks, pit alignments, ditches, fences and lynchets) and follow straight or sinuous courses. Component features common to most systems include entrances and trackways, and the settlements or farmsteads from which people utilised the fields over the years have been identified in some cases. These are usually situated close to or within the field system. The development of field systems is seen as a response to the competition for land which began during the later prehistoric period. The majority are thought to have been used mainly for crop production, evidenced by the common occurrence of lynchets resulting from frequent ploughing, although rotation may also have been practised in a mixed farming economy. Regular aggregate field systems occur widely and have been recorded in south western and south eastern England, East Anglia, Cheshire, Cumbria, Nottinghamshire, North and South Yorkshire and Durham. They represent a coherent economic unit often utilised for long periods of time and can thus provide important information about developments in agricultural practices in a particular location and broader patterns of social, cultural and environmental change over several centuries. Those which survive well and/or which can be positively linked to associated settlements are considered to merit protection.

Despite some loss to quarrying and the reduction of the field banks and cairns by later cultivation, the prehistoric field system at Walls Hill survives well as low earthworks over the southern part of its extent (ie: that part included within the scheduling). The system has been demonstrated by archaeological observation and survey to possess a pattern of small fields, with their associated clearance cairns, which respect major boundaries laid down to provide principal axes. The field system is one of only a few recorded which survive in anything like a complete state on the limestone geology of Devon. The monument will retain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the agricultural exploitation of the land from the Bronze Age into the early centuries of the first millennium BC and will be informative about the agricultural practices of this period.


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


The monument includes part of a prehistoric field system of Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age date comprising a number of field banks and associated clearance cairns all surviving as low earthworks situated on the plateau of a gently sloping clifftop promontory overlooking the sea at Babbacombe Bay. A wall and bank divides the plateau in two. These features are of uncertain date but are clearly later than the prehistoric field system, which survives only only intermittently on a south west to north east axis. Former stone quarrying has removed parts of the promontory on its eastern and southern sides so that the cliff edge stands further inland than would have been the case in prehistoric times. The ancient field system was recognised in the 19th century when excavation established that the field banks were constructed of limestone rubble, but the system was first recorded archaeologically in a survey of 1985 when a series of connected linear banks were mapped. At the same time, several cairns (stone mounds believed to result from prehistoric field clearance) which were considered to be contemporary in date with the linear banks were noted. The plan which was produced demonstrated the existence of at least nine small fields set out within a pattern recognised as a regular aggregate field system; essentially a prehistoric method of laying out fields in a consistent manner, the major component of which are boundaries usually set along two main axes set at right angles to one another. The surviving above ground remains of the field system are almost exclusively confined to an area south of the later boundary wall which traverses the plateau, although some traces of a continuation to the north of it were recorded. Distinguishable on the ground are two major field banks, one providing a central axis running approximately north west to south east, and one running almost due east out towards the tip of the promontory. The bank forming the central axis is about 3m wide and 0.1m high, and this bank, like the others in the system, has been reduced and spread by later cultivation. To the west of the central axis three near complete rectilinear fields have been recognised in outline. The most northerly is a long narrow rectangle whilst the other two are squarer; they are all defined by low earthwork banks. A low clearance cairn stands in the centre of the narrow field. Further fields extend to the north and south of these three but their full extent has been lost to a combination of quarrying and cultivation. On the east side of the central axis is a long uninterrupted bank which stretches out towards the tip of the promontory. It is on average 4.2m wide and 0.15m high. This bank also appears to serve as a main division and it has at least two well-defined fields to its south, these fields being divided by a further shorter bank with dimensions of about 4.3m in width and 0.2m in height; it incorporates a clearance cairn at its south western terminal which is 11m in diameter and 0.25m high. The centre of the clearance cairn is hollowed, probably due to antiquarian investigation. A larger and apparently undivided field to the north of the second main axis is the largest of the group and it would have enclosed an area of over 1ha; its eastern boundary has been lost to the quarried cliff face. It contains within it at least four low clearance cairns which, on average, have dimensions of 7m in diameter by 0.3m in height. The field system is considered to date to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age, perhaps spanning the two periods. All fixed benches and information boards, and the modern public shelter at the east end of the promontory are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all 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: 33027

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Blewitt, O, Panorama of Torquay, (1832), 203-4
Gallant, L et al, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in Ancient Fields on the South Devon Limestone Plateau, , Vol. 43, (1985), 23-37
Needham, S et al, 'Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society' in Assemblage Of Late Bronze Age Metalworking Debris From Dainton, , Vol. 46, (1980), 177
Colquhoun, F D, Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, (1950)

End of official listing