Roman settlement site at Bantham Ham


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Roman settlement site at Bantham Ham
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Hams (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SX 66379 43701

Reasons for Designation

The large Roman and post-Roman settlement site at Bantham Ham is an unusual and important survival where antiquarian records and archaeological excavation and survey have revealed evidence for occupation over several centuries. Of greatest significance is the evidence recovered for a trading port, with earthwork survival and the known presence of extensive and undisturbed buried remains. Together, these will provide evidence for the size and layout of the settlement area, for Roman trade, as well as for the lives and activities of those engaged in trading practice. The recent and past discoveries of Roman and post-Roman material in quantity makes Bantham Ham a site of considerable significance in the study of settlement and trading activities of this date in Britain, while the survival of waterlogged remains in the marsh provides high potential for the recovery of organic materials. Earlier and later remains, including medieval lynchets and a World War II pillbox, provide evidence for the area's significance between at least the Neolithic period and the 20th century.


This monument includes a large Roman and post-Roman settlement site with evidence for earlier and later occupation, buried by sand dunes at the mouth of the River Avon. It lies behind a popular holiday beach, and part of its car park occupies the site. Bantham Ham has been known as an early settlement since the early 18th century, when a storm exposed midden deposits, while in the mid-19th century, cartloads of bones were taken for fertiliser from the marsh on the south side of the site, then being drained. Timber piles, pointed by burning, were also found here. Pottery and bone artefacts collected from the dune area in 1902 were found in the 1950s to be of Late Roman or post-Roman date. These included spindle whorls, bone combs and amphora sherds, dating from the fifth to seventh centuries AD. An archaeological excavation in the centre of the dunes in 1978 found evidence for a temporary encampment of the same period with rough shelters and hearths. Finds suggested that a seasonal trading market had operated here at that time. A watching brief in 1982 showed that this occupation extended to the southern edge of the dunes. Monitoring of pipe trenches in the car park east of the dunes in 1997 revealed two earthwork banks, faced with coursed and herring-bone clay bonded masonry. A shell midden was associated with these walls and pottery sherds suggested a fourth to fifth century date. A rescue excavation in 2001 on the site of a lifeguard's hut at the south end of the beach revealed extensive and well-preserved deeply stratified deposits of the late 5th to early 6th century AD. These included several superimposed occupation layers containing iron smithing hearths, evidence for post built structures and many thousands of artefacts. These included butchered animal bones, metal pins and blades and pottery, comprising Cornish native wares, imported amphorae from the eastern Mediterranean and north African red slipped tablewares. Residual material in these layers included painted plaster and roofing tiles, suggesting the existence of an earlier Roman building nearby. Other finds on Bantham Ham during the 19th century include a Neolithic polished stone axe, Bronze Age arrowheads and Iron Age pottery. Later medieval and post-medieval finds are also known, including possible burials of shipwrecked sailors. A small number of earthworks survive on the Ham. An earth bank runs along the south side of a metalled road which bounds the north side of the car park. This is 3.2m wide by 0.7m high and 70m long, being truncated by later roads at both ends. There are traces of a revetment wall along its north side, 0.7m wide. Its position and size suggest that it is related to the Late Roman period banks found in 1997, immediately to its south. Other earthworks include a later medieval corn ditch, enclosing fields to the east of the Ham. This is about 3m wide, revetted on its north and west sides by a coursed drystone wall about 1.5m high. The bank slopes inwards behind this wall. The hillslope north of the car park contains a number of medieval lynchets, terraced into the hillslope. At the extreme southern edge of the dunes, the lifeguard station mentioned above is built upon a World War II pillbox. The pillbox is a square structure of cast concrete partly built into the cliff, and measures about 6m square by 2.5m high, with walls about 1m thick. A single gun embrasure faces west onto the beach. It was complemented by a second pillbox at the north west corner of the dunes which has since been removed. The modern lifeguard station built upon a World War II pillbox is excluded from the scheduling although the pillbox and the ground beneath it are included. Also excluded from the scheduling are all road surfacings and fence posts although the ground beneath these features 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.

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Books and journals
Wall, J, The Victoria History of the County, (1906), 580
Fox, A, 'Antiquaries Journal' in A Dark Age trading site at Bantham, , Vol. 35, (1955), 53-67
Griffith, F M, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in Salvage Observations At The Dark Age Site At Bantham Ham In 1982, , Vol. 44, (1986), 39-57
MPP fieldwork by R Waterhouse, (1999)
Watching brief by EMAFU, (1997)


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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