The Beacon on Shute Hill, 200m north east of Rowlands


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

East Devon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SY 25820 97464

Reasons for Designation

Beacons were fires deliberately lit to give a warning, by means of smoke by day and flame by night, of the approach of hostile forces. They were always sited in prominent positions, usually as part of a group, chain or line which together made up a comprehensive early warning system covering most of the country. Beacons were extensively used during the medieval period. Their use was formalised by 1325 and although some were used later, for example at the time of Monmouth's Rebellion in 1685 or during the Napoleonic wars, the system was in decay by the mid-17th century. Beacons were initially bonfires of wood or furze, but later barrels of pitch or iron fire baskets mounted on poles were used. The poles were occasionally set on earthen mounds. Access to the fire basket was by way of rungs set in the pole, or by a stone ladder set against the beacon. More unusual beacon types include stone enclosures and towers, mainly found in the north and south west of England. Some beacon sites utilised existing buildings such as church towers. Beacons were built throughout England, with the greatest density along the south coast and the border with Scotland. Although approximately 500 are recorded nationally, few survive in the form of visible remains. Many sites are only known from place-name evidence. Given the rarity of recorded examples, all positively identified beacons with significant surviving archaeological remains are considered to be of national importance.

Shute Hill beacon house and beacon mound survive well, the beacon house retaining its original walls and with only its roof subject to any signficant restoration. The `beehive' type construction of the beacon house is parallelled by few other surviving examples, the best known being at Culmstock. The Beacon has supporting documentary evidence for two successive phases of construction in the Elizabethan period when the threat of an invasion from continental Europe was considered to be high. Documentary evidence also alludes to the necessity for watchfulness on the part of the beacon keeper, an intimate detail rarely encountered in the historical sources. The monument will retain archaeological and architectural evidence for an unusual type of beacon which was clearly perceived to be an important feature in the coastal defences of the period.


The monument includes an Elizabethan stone-built beacon house built on a flat-topped beacon mound at the southern end of the long spur of Shute Hill which lies some 8.5km inland from the coast and about 4km west of the town of Axminster. The beacon commands extensive views of the surrounding countryside and of the Axe Valley down to the coast at Seaton. The circular beacon house of `beehive' type (so called after the distinctive shape of its roof) is about 4m in diameter and has walls of mortared flint 1.9m high with two stone buttresses and a conical roof which was repaired in 1985. It has an arched entrance 1.2m wide on its southern side, a window facing north west, three small loop apertures, and a fireplace with internal chimney. The beacon house sits on top of a raised mound of flint and earth set against the end of the spur of the hill. This beacon mound is a maximum of 2m in height and 16m in diameter; its flat top would have been suitable for the setting of the beacon fire, perhaps within a purpose built fire-basket erected on a pole. The order for the placing of a beacon at Shute Hill is recorded in the Kilmington Parish wardens' accounts of 1562-63 where a sum of two shillings was paid for `the making of a beacon'. This may refer solely to the erection of the beacon mound, for in 1567-68 a further two shillings is recorded for the construction of a beacon house at the same site. A number of provisos are also recorded in the later account, namely, `that the beacon man should watch tenaciously from March to October and should be sheltered by a hut without place of ease (a bed?) nor seats least he should fall asleep'. These provisos perhaps reflect the real fear of sea-borne invasion and the need for vigilance felt at that time, although it was not until 1588, a further 20 years after the construction of the beacon house, that the threat was made real with the setting sail of the Spanish Armada. Excluded from the scheduling is an information board mounted upon a stone pedestal and set onto the beacon mound, although the ground beneath this feature 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Russell, P, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Fire beacons in Devon, , Vol. 87, (1955), 290
Youings, J, 'Security and Defence in South-West England before 1800' in The Elizabethan Militia in the South West, , Vol. 19, (1987), 65


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

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