Prehistoric to post-medieval settlement, cultivation, industrial and funerary remains on Fyfield, Overton and Manton Downs


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


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric to post-medieval settlement, cultivation, industrial and funerary remains on Fyfield, Overton and Manton Downs
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)
Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)
Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)
Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)
West Overton
National Grid Reference:
SU 12301 71260, SU 13468 70917, SU 14722 71725

Reasons for Designation

A small number of areas in southern England appear to have acted as foci for ceremonial and ritual activity during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods. One of the best known and earliest recognised, with references in the 17th century, is around Avebury, now designated as a World Heritage Site. In the Avebury area, the henge monument itself, the West Kennet Avenue, the Sanctuary, West Kennet long barrow, Windmill Hill causewayed enclosure and the enigmatic Silbury Hill are well known. Whilst the other Neolithic long barrows, the many Bronze Age round barrows and other associated sites are less well known, together they define one of the richest and most varied areas of Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial and ritual monuments in the country. At one level the complex array of archaeological features across Fyfield and Overton Downs, many of which also lie within the World Heritage Site, offer an important dimension to understanding the development of the prehistoric ceremonial complex at Avebury and its immediate environs. On another, the remains are broadly representative of those visible across much of the Marlborough Downs before changes brought about by intensive agriculture in the 20th century. Together they are an extremely rare and intact survival representing an important landscape palimpsest, the diverse elements of which contain evidence of changing settlement, agriculture and economy from the prehistoric to post-medieval periods. Buried deposits will also contain environmental evidence relating to the manner in which the immediate landscape has been manipulated, and together with documentary sources from the medieval period onwards will offer an opportunity to understand the mechanisms behind these changes. In the 20th century the archaeological remains within the monument were the subject of the longest and most intensive research project in Britain, with the result that they have become an important educational resource, and the inclusion of parts of the monument within the World Heritage Site acknowledges its international significance.


The monument, which falls into three separate areas of protection, is situated across Fyfield and Overton Downs and on the northern edge of Manton Down and includes extensive remains from successive phases of prehistoric to post-medieval activity. The downs comprise a south facing high chalk plateau which overlooks the Kennet valley and is bisected by a north west to south east orientated dry valley. The remains include prehistoric field systems, boundaries, trackways, and associated settlements together with six barrows and a series of worked stones indicative of funerary and religious activity. Roman occupation of the Downs is represented by at least five settlements or farmsteads. Early medieval pastoralism produced a series of sheepcotes, whilst three medieval and post-medieval farmsteads and areas of ridge and furrow cultivation overlying earlier field systems relate to subsequent agricultural practices. Evidence of medieval and post-medieval industry is visible in the form of the extensive quarrying and working of the sarsen stones, sandstone periglacial deposits which originally covered much of the area. Although the overall complex of remains comprise a range of components, they are chiefly characterised by a series of rectilinear field systems, the long term cultivation of which led to the accumulation of soil against the field boundaries, creating characteristic banks or steps in the landscape called lynchets. In places the lynchets survive to a height of 3m, in many cases completely burying the original walls or boundary banks but preserving their outline. A fragmentary series of lynchets on the eastern edge of Fyfield Down, on Manton Down and on the western side of Overton Down represent the earliest system and define rectangular plots with their long axes orientated approximately NNW to SSE. The manner in which these fields avoid adjacent barrows suggests that the two elements were broadly contemporary and together formed components of a Bronze Age planned landscape. At least six barrows are clearly visible within the scheduling, with possible traces of up to five more. The most westerly is a disc barrow on Overton Down situated immediately east of the Ridgeway, with good views across the Kennet valley and Avebury. Its central mound is 13.5m in diameter and is surrounded by a level berm 8.3m in width, a quarry ditch and an outer bank. Partial excavation in 1960 revealed a Bronze Age urn containing a cremation and showed that the outer ditch had become infilled during the Roman period when the adjacent fields were returned to cultivation. A round barrow situated 400m to the south east survives as a low mound 7m in diameter, whilst a third barrow 250m SSE is 10m in diameter and up to 0.6m in height. Both have been disturbed and show the extensive use of sarsens in their construction. Two further barrows, situated 15m apart on an east to west axis are located 1km to the east on the lower slopes of Fyfield Down. The western barrow is 15m in diameter whilst the eastern barrow is 19m in diameter and produced a single sherd of Early Bronze Age pottery. More recent fieldwork has indicated the existence of an additional barrow on the northern edge of Fyfield Down. The barrow survives as a low oval mound disturbed by subsequent activity, part of which involved the removal of a sarsen from its edge and an unsuccessful attempt to shape it as a mill stone. In addition to the funerary monuments, further evidence of prehistoric ritual activity on the Downs is visible in the form of a series of worked sarsen stones. A recumbent tabular stone 1.4m in length situated on the northern edge of Overton Down includes grooves and a dished area consistent with its use for the shaping, whetting and polishing of Neolithic stone axes. Excavation around the stone in 1963 demonstrated that it had originally been upright, whilst an iron wedge and a coin showed that it had been split in the 13th century AD. The stone is situated immediately north of an east to west orientated ditch approximately 200m in length and 9m in width. Partial excavation of the ditch indicated that it was a major prehistoric boundary or landscape division reused as a trackway in the later Romano-British period. The ditch continues west of the Ridgeway, and this section is also included in the scheduling. An original entrance in the eastern portion of the ditch gave access to the adjacent field system, within which another recumbent sarsen shows evidence of 20 circular indentations or cup-marks. These markings are not the result of natural geological processes and are interpreted as symbols applied in the Early Bronze Age. Their precise purpose is unknown but from similarly decorated stones found elsewhere they appear to have functioned as landscape markers. Sarsens were extensively used from at least the Bronze Age onwards to define and revet field boundaries, but in two areas on Overton Down geometric arrangements of boulders bear no relation to the fields within which they are situated and may reflect prehistoric religious practices. The majority of the surviving field systems on the northern and western sides of the monument, covering an area of approximately 150ha, are orientated north west to south east. A series of partial excavations across their boundaries suggested that the fields primarily date from the Mid- to Late Bronze Age, but were cultivated episodically through to the Iron Age. A complex network of both raised trackways and hollow ways running across the systems also reflect the need to move stock between pasture and areas of settlement. Despite numerous finds of pottery within field banks indicative of nearby domestic activity, there is little visible evidence of prehistoric settlement, which seems likely to have been obscured by later cultivation. This was corroborated in 1965 by the excavation of a field bank towards the top of the south western facing slopes of Overton Down which revealed a small Iron Age farmstead showing evidence of five probably successive circular structures, covering a date span of approximately 100 years in the period around 700 BC. The first building was only partially excavated and was identified by a series of post holes. The next building was more substantial and had a circular bedding trench, as did the three succeeding structures. In its second phase the farmstead was surrounded by a sub-circular embanked enclosure. The settlement partially overlayed a small cemetery of the Early Bronze Age and was itself re-incorporated into the surrounding field system following its abandonment. A similar embanked enclosure on the edge of Totterdown may indicate another broadly contemporary settlement, whilst the location of a third has been identified by finds of Iron Age pottery and a brooch within a rectangular enclosure bisected by the later Green Street. A combination of factors including climatic deterioration and soil impoverishment in the later prehistoric period are thought to have led to a decline in cultivation across the Downs. Following a period of abandonment, excavation has shown that the field systems within the scheduling were cultivated intensively again during the early Romano-British period in the first and second centuries AD, with cultivation gradually decreasing after this time. At least five Romano-British settlements have been identified across both Fyfield and Overton Downs. A series of rectangular enclosures running north west to south east on the south eastern edge of Overton Down, the northern edge of which are within pasture, overlain by medieval ridge and furrow and included within the scheduling, relate to an early Romano-British settlement. A number of low platforms 140m to the north west indicate a farmstead, excavation of which in 1964 revealed at least five rectangular stone buildings and coins and high status domestic items dating occupation to the fourth and fifth centuries AD. Further platforms belonging to a similar settlement are visible 100m to the west, and partial excavation of the later enclosure at Down Barn revealed Romano-British occupation debris dated to the fourth century AD. There appears to have been a hiatus in settlement, and possibly cultivation through the early medieval period, though pastoralism may have begun to take on increasing importance. Medieval documentary sources make reference to a series of sheepcotes across Fyfield and Overton Downs, with which rectilinear and curvilinear enclosures on the eastern edge of Overton Down at Barn Down and south of Wroughton Copse may be associated. A medieval road from London to Bath, known locally as Green Street crossed the Downs from east to west. The road had two main branches and survives as a series of ruts and sunken trackways, particularly visible immediately south of Delling Copse. It continued in use until approximately 1815 when it was abandoned following Parliamentary enclosure. A medieval settlement forms the second protected area and is situated within the Beeches on the northern edge of Manton Down. It is represented by a series of amorphous earthworks defined on their southern side by a ditch and bank revetted with sarsens. Partial excavation in 1949 revealed large amounts of pottery dating to the 12th and 13th centuries. In addition, medieval documents and subsequent excavation have shown that two conjoined earthwork enclosures situated south of Wroughton Copse mark the location of Raddun, a farmstead known to have been occupied during the 13th and 14th centuries and which may have replaced an earlier sheepcote. The enclosures contained six buildings, five of which related to the farmstead and the sixth, dated to the 16th century, belonging to a later phase of habitation. A rectangular earthwork 200m west of Wroughton Copse has been identified as Delling or Dyllinge Enclosure, a farmstead referred to in a document of 1567. The enclosure is up to 65m in length and consists of a narrow bank and external ditch; pieces of brick in the north western corner which suggest the location of the farm house. A low rectangular pillow mound 130m SSW represents the remains of a medieval or post-medieval rabbit warren, the proximity of which to both Delling and Raddun suggests that it is related to one of these farmsteads. Documentary sources show that the sarsen stones originally covering much of the Downs have been actively quarried from the medieval period until World War II. Numerous extraction pits relating to medieval and post-medieval quarrying are visible across the northern edge of Overton Down, to the west of Totterdown and within Delling Copse, and many stones have been worked in some manner or show signs of having been split using iron wedges. The third area of protection includes a section of linear ditch which runs east-west across Overton Down. This section of the ditch is 250m long and is clearly visible as an extant monument. The ditch is believed to represent a Bronze Age ranch boundary which was reused as part of a track system in the Romano-British period and is a continuation of the ditch lying to the east of the Ridgeway which is believed to have served the same purpose. An experimental length of bank and ditch constructed on Overton Down in 1960 as part of a long-term study of the environmental processes affecting archaeological deposits in chalk landscapes is also included within the scheduling. All fences, walls, buildings, modern services, release pens and associated fixtures, feed and drinking troughs, ponds, display boards and the surfaces of all paths and trackways 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.

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Books and journals
Fowler, P J, Blackwell, I, The Land of Lettice Sweetapple, An English Countryside Explored, (1998), 37-39
Fowler, P J, Blackwell, I, The Land of Lettice Sweetapple, An English Countryside Explored, (1998), 74
Fowler, P J, Blackwell, I, The Land of Lettice Sweetapple, An English Countryside Explored, (1998), 81
Grinsell, L V, 'A History Of Wiltshire' in Earthworks, , Vol. 1,1, (1957), 251
SU 17 SW 049 ref 2a, R.C.H.M.(E), A ditch mentioned in a charter, (1976)
SU 17 SW 049 ref 3, R.C.H.M.(E), A ditch mentioned in a charter, (1976)
SU 17 SW 049 ref 6, R.C.H.M.(E), A ditch mentioned in a charter, (1976)
SU 17 SW 049, R.C.H.M.(E), A ditch mentioned in a charter, (1976)
SU 17 SW 102, R.C.H.M.(E), A ditch mentioned in a charter, (1976)
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW311,
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Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW716,
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW735,
Wiltshire County Council, SU16 NW774,
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Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW103,
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Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW200,
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Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW208,
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Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW745,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW748,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW751,
Wiltshire County Council, SU17 SW774,


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.

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