Two later prehistoric cliff castles on Kelsey Head and west of Porth Joke, and two round barrows 610m west and 760m south west of Porth Joke
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1020026
Date first listed: 03-Mar-1951
Date of most recent amendment: 11-Dec-2001
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: SW 76476 60225, SW 76486 60818, SW 76539 60536, SW 76855 60709
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
Cliff castles are coastal promontories adapted as enclosures and fortified on
the landward side by the construction of one or more ramparts accompanied by
ditches. On the seaward side the precipitous cliffs of the promontory provided
a natural defence, only rarely reinforced by man-made features. Cliff castles
date to the Iron Age, most being constructed and used between the second
century BC and the first century AD, although some were reused in the medieval
period. They are usually interpreted as high status defensive enclosures,
related to the broadly contemporary classes of hillfort.
The inner area enclosed at cliff castles varies with the size and shape of the
promontory; they are generally in the range 0.5ha to 3ha, but a few much
larger examples are known, enclosing up to 52ha. The area of many cliff
castles will have been reduced by subsequent coastal erosion. The ramparts are
of earth and rubble, occasionally with a drystone revetment wall along their
outer face. Ditches may be rock- or earth-cut depending on the depth of the
subsoil. The number and arrangement of ramparts and ditches varies
considerably and may include outworks enclosing large areas beyond the
promontory and annexes defining discrete enclosures against the landward side
of the defences. Multiple ramparts may be close spaced or may include a broad
gap between concentric ramparts defining inner and outer enclosures. Entrance
gaps through the defences are usually single and often staggered where they
pass through multiple ramparts.
Internal features, where visible, include circular or sub-rectangular levelled
platforms for stone or timber houses, generally behind the inner bank or
sheltered by the promontory hill. Where excavated, cliff castles have been
found to contain post holes and stakeholes, hearths, pits and gullies
associated with the house platforms, together with spreads of occupation
debris including, as evidence for trade and industrial activity, imported
pottery and iron working slag. Cliff castles are largely distributed along the
more indented coastline of western Britain; in England they are generally
restricted to the coasts of north Devon and Cornwall. Around sixty cliff
castles are recorded nationally, of which forty are located around the Cornish
Cliff castles contribute to our understanding of how society and the landscape
was organised during the Iron Age and illustrate the influence of landscape
features on the chosen locations for prestigious settlement, trade and
industry. All cliff castles with significant surviving archaeological remains
are considered worthy of preservation.
The cliff castles on Kelsey Head and west of Porth Joke survive well. The earthworks remain substantially intact, and the old land surface underlying these, and remains of structures and other deposits associated with them, will survive. The apparently unfinished earthworks at Kelsey Head may illustrate methods of cliff castle construction. Round barrows are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age, with most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. There are over 10,000 surviving examples recorded nationally. They were constructed as earthen mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or multiple burials and occur either in isolation or grouped as cemeteries, often acting as a focus of burials in later periods. The presence of earlier round barrows on the prominent cliff-top location clearly illustrates the important role of topography in Bronze Age funerary activity.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes a later prehistoric cliff castle with an annexe on
Kelsey Head, a cliff castle west of Porth Joke, and two prehistoric round
barrows, one with evidence for use as a beacon in historic times. All are at
Inner Kelsey, the seaward part of The Kelseys, a headland south west of
Newquay. The scheduling is divided into four separate areas of protection.
The cliff castles are situated on promontories sloping fairly steeply north or
north west from the wider headland, that on Kelsey Head facing a rocky islet
known as The Chick. The round barrows lie on the western shoulder of the
headland, south of Kelsey Head and north of Holywell Beach respectively. The
round barrows are closely associated with others beyond this scheduling, which
together form a small coastal ridge-top barrow cemetery.
The cliff castle and annexe on Kelsey Head measures up to approximately 170m
WNW-ESE by 230m NNE-SSW overall. It has an irregular plan, reflecting the
indented outline of the natural cliffs on the seaward side. Its enclosing
earthworks, on the promontory neck, are more regular, forming a curving `L'-
shape with a rounded corner on the south east side. The annexe adjoining it on
the south west side has an irregular finger-like plan determined by flanking
narrow precipitous inlets.
The cliff castle itself measures approximately 170m WNW-ESE by 160m NNE-SSW.
Its single rampart, of earth and stone and incorporating natural rock
outcrops, is mostly around 8.5m wide, up to 1.4m high externally and 1.1m
high internally. It broadens to an irregular profile 25m across at the
southern corner of the cliff castle, probably due to natural rock beneath the
surface. The external ditch is partly rock-cut. It is 3.5m-4m wide and
generally 0.3m-0.7m deep, though in places it appears slighter and uneven in
depth. On the north east side, the ditch is visible as an alignment of three
depressions 7m-16m long, running step-like down the slope with scarps 0.5m-
0.7m high between them. The second and third depressions from the north are
separated by a 5m gap, with the rampart continuing (though lower) inside it,
indicating perhaps that the earthworks are unfinished. The earthworks appear
to end around 5m from the cliff edge on the north east side, and 7m from that
on the south west side. The rampart is not visible on the ground on the south
west side where the cliff castle adjoins the annexe. A causewayed entrance 4m
wide, at the south east corner of the earthworks, is considered to be
original. The interior falls away to the cliffs, level ground being limited to
an area inside the entrance and another on top of a spur surrounded by cliffs
on the north west side, with a few small patches around low outcrops of
The cliff castle's annexe measures up to 80m WNW-ESE by 70m NNE-SSW. It is
bounded to the north east by the cliff castle, and to the south east by an
earthwork running north east-south west from the latter's south eastern
This earthwork has an external ditch shown on aerial photographs extending
across the promontory neck, and visible on the ground for some 14m on the
north east side where it is around 2.5m wide and 0.7m deep, and a rampart of
earth and stone upstanding at the north east end of the ditch, up to 4m wide
and 0.5m high. The interior of the annexe slopes towards the cliffs with no
level ground. Although this feature has been interpreted as an annexe to the
cliff castle, it is possible that it is actually an earlier cliff castle,
later reused as an annexe.
The cliff castle west of Porth Joke lies on a single promontory spur. Again,
it has an irregular plan reflecting the topography of the cliffs, measuring
approximately 50m across. It has a rampart of earth and stone incorporating
natural rock across the neck of the promontory, curving to the south. This is
generally around 6m wide and 0.8m-1.5m high outside, 0.3m-1.1m high inside,
but is very slight for some 7m from the cliff on the east side. The original
entrance is thought to be near the centre of the rampart, where it dips by
around 0.5m for a distance of some 3m. The interior falls towards the cliffs
with the natural slope, broken by one fairly prominent and several lower
outcrops of bedrock, except inside the entrance where it forms a natural or
modified platform about 8m across and 0.8m high above the slope.
The round barrow south of Kelsey Head on the western shoulder of The Kelseys
has an earth and stone mound with a low, regular profile, approximately 28m in
diameter and up to 0.4m high, projecting from the natural slope. A late 17th
century map shows evidence for its use at that time as a beacon, and it
commands distant views both along the coast and inland.
The round barrow situated on a prominent clifftop north of Holywell Beach has
a mound of earth and stone approximately 15m in diameter and 0.3m high, rising
to 0.8m above the natural slope to the west. It has a slightly concave top and
a natural rock outcrop is visible on its surface on the west side.
All modern waymarking 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: 32942
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Harding, J R, 'Antiquaries Journal' in Prehistoric Sites On The North Cornish Coast, , Vol. 30, (1950), 163-165
Pattison, S R, 'Annual Report of the Royal Institution of Cornwall' in Annual Report of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, , Vol. 31, (1849), 36-37
Whitley, H M, 'Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall' in , , Vol. 7, (1881), 289-291
Coad, R, to Parkes, C, (2000)
Dyer, CA, Cornwall Mapping Project, (1998)
NT SMR no 90,118. Date uncertain, Archaeological Survey, Cubert and the Gannel, Cornwall, (1985)
NT SMR site no 90,112. Date uncertain, Archaeological Survey, Cubert and the Gannel, Cornwall, (1985)
NT SMR site no 90,114. Date uncertain, Archaeological Survey, Cubert and the Gannel, Cornwall, (1985)
Penna, LJ, Letter to OS, (1954)
Penna, LJ, Letter to OS, (1954)
Penna, LJ, Letter to the OS, (1950)
SW 75 SE 5, Fletcher, MJ, Ordnance Survey Index Card, (1969)
SW 76 SE 10, Fletcher, MJ, Ordnance Survey Index Card, (1969)
SW 76 SE 3, Lovell, GS, Ordnance Survey Index Card, (1950)
SW 76 SE 3, Quinnell, NV, Ordnance Survey Index Card, (1969)
SW 76 SE 4, Fletcher, MJ, Ordnance Survey Index Card, (1969)
Title: Cubert Tithe Apportionment Source Date: 1840 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: 356
Title: Lanhydrock Atlas Source Date: 1696 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Kelsye in the Manor of Ellinglaze
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 Map Source Date: 1880 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
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