Coaxial field system and semaphore station at Signal House Point


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019324

Date first listed: 09-Feb-2001


Ordnance survey map of Coaxial field system and semaphore station at Signal House Point
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Devon

District: South Hams (District Authority)

Parish: Chivelstone

National Grid Reference: SX 77043 35378


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

Reasons for Designation

Coaxial field systems are one of several methods of land division employed during the Bronze Age; evidence from areas such as Dartmoor, where they are relatively common, suggest their introduction around 1700 BC and their continued use until 1000 BC. They generally consist of linear stones banks forming parallel boundaries running up slope to meet similar boundaries that run along the contours of higher slopes. The long strips formed by the parallel boundaries may be subdivided by cross banks to form a series of rectangular field plots, each sharing a common axis. Broadly contemporary occupation sites, comprising hut circle settlements, and funerary and ceremonial sites, may be found within these enclosed fields. Coaxial field systems are representative of their period and an important element in the existing landscape. Surviving examples are likely to be considered of national importance.

Despite later reconstruction and partial demolition of its walls, the western portion of the field system at Signal House Point is in good original condition. The use of upright stone slabs forming fences is very unusual. Signal stations using either beacons or semaphore arms on towers were developed during the 18th century for passing messages quickly between cities, government offices and military installations. The Army and Navy often build their own signal stations and coastal locations were common, especially on routes between ports. Although ruined, the 18th century semaphore station on Signal House Point is a rare survival.


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


This monument includes the relict and best preserved part of a coaxial field system, located on a steeply sloping cliff, facing west over the English Channel. There are dramatic views for many miles along the coastline to the west. The field system consists of a block of about ten parallel strips, each subdivided with short boundaries at angles to the main divisions. The system is a maximum of 450m long by up to 570m wide. However, due to the removal of many boundaries and the fact that the eastern part of the system is still partly in use, the scheduling is limited to the western coastal slope where the boundaries survive best. The field system forms a sub-rectangular block with lanes following its north and east sides. The western edge of the system was defined by a stone bank with earth infill, part of which still survives on the cliff edge at the north west corner of the site. The strips are between 38m and 65m wide, but are mostly about 48m wide. Their boundaries are of two designs. The earliest consists of natural schist stone slabs, fixed upright to form a fence. In most cases, no bank is present, but one of the subdivisions includes a heavy earth bank, forming a lynchet. This contains upright slabs and has a stone revetment wall on its downhill side. Most of these slab walls survive on the steep slope which falls to the sea on the western edge of the monument. Occasional rock outcrops are incorporated into these boundaries, which continue down to the cliff edge. The later form of boundary is a wall of coursed stone. This can be seen to abut and incorporate the upright slabs in several places. It varies in design, some parts, especially on the coastal slope, being a stone bank with an earth core. This commonly has a base up to 1m thick, tapering to about 0.5m thick at a height of about 1m. Other parts, particularly inland of the coastal slope, are up to 1.5m high and about 0.5m thick, of coursed drystone rubble. Both wall types, but especially the former, are capped off with horizontal pieces of stone, sloping in towards the centre of the wall. On the highest part of Signal House Point, close to a rock outcrop, the ruins of an Admiralty semaphore station constructed in 1773 lie within the field system. It was one of a chain of stations linking the south coast ports with the Naval dockyard at Devonport. A rectangular building 8.95m long by 6.55m wide is aligned north to south and faces west. Of single storey with two rooms, it is sited on a terrace dug into the hilltop. The walls of mortared rubble are about 0.5m thick and survive up to 1m high. It had a roof of Welsh slate. A semaphore tower to its north is 2m square with mortared walls 0.4m thick, surviving up to 0.2m high. All fence posts are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them 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.

Legacy System number: 33762

Legacy System: RSM


fieldwork by Mr Le Messurier, (1982)
MPP fieldwork by R Waterhouse, (1999)

End of official listing