Prehistoric field system on the cliffs above Littlecombe Shoot


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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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 18403 88294

Reasons for Designation

Regular aggregate field systems date from the Bronze Age (2000-700 BC) to the end of the fifth century AD. They usually cover areas of up to 100ha and comprise a discrete block of fields orientated in roughly the same direction, with the field boundaries laid out along two axes set at right angles to one another. Individual fields generally fall within the 0.1ha-3.2ha range and can be square, rectangular, long and narrow, triangular or polygonal in shape. The field boundaries can take various forms (including drystone walls or reaves, orthostats, earth and rubble banks, pit alignments, ditches, fences and lynchets) and follow straight or sinuous courses. Component features common to most systems include entrances and trackways, and the settlements or farmsteads from which people utilised the fields over the years have been identified in some cases. These are usually situated close to or within the field system. The development of field systems is seen as a response to the competition for land which began during the later prehistoric period. The majority are thought to have been used mainly for crop production, evidenced by the common occurrence of lynchets resulting from frequent ploughing, although rotation may also have been practised in a mixed farming economy. Regular aggregate field systems occur widely and have been recorded in south western and south eastern England, East Anglia, Cheshire, Cumbria, Nottinghamshire, North and South Yorkshire and Durham. They represent a coherent economic unit often utilised for long periods of time and can thus provide important information about developments in agricultural practices in a particular location and broader patterns of social, cultural and environmental change over several centuries. Those which survive well and/or which can be positively linked to associated settlements are considered to merit protection.

The prehistoric field system on the cliff edge above Littlecombe Shoot is one of only a very few to survive in the South West away from moorland, and its partial survival is almost certainly due to its proximity to the cliff edge which has resulted in less intensive agricultural exploitation. The small size of the fields, typically no larger than 50 sq m with some much smaller, are characteristic of Iron Age or Romano-British fields. The monument survives well as a series of definable banks and scarps with associated clearance cairns forming the recognisable remains of a prehistoric field system. It will retain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the agricultural exploitation of the land in the later centuries of the first millennium BC into the early years of the first millennium AD, and will be informative about the agricultural practices of this period.


The monument includes the best surviving part of a prehistoric field system, comprising a number of field banks and associated clearance cairns, all surviving as low earthworks located on a gently sloping clifftop overlooking Lyme Bay. Although not precisely dated, the fields are small and roughly square which suggests an Iron Age origin, with usage perhaps continuing into the Roman period, before the fields were encapsulated within larger medieval or post-medieval field boundaries. The fields lie just to the west of Berry Cliff Camp, a hillfort which is believed to date from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, and the subject of a separate scheduling (SM29637). The field system is defined to the south by lynchets (field banks and scarps resulting from prehistoric cultivation techniques). These lynchets occupy a narrow strip of clifftop about 270m in length with a maximum width away from the cliff edge of about 100m. Although it is likely that the field system once extended further inland, modern farming techniques have removed all upstanding traces apart from those close to the cliff. The visible remains also include a series of scarps and banks with many of the scarps lying parallel to the cliff edge whilst the banks lie for the most part at right angles to it. Where surveyed in 1989 by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME), the banks were found to be between 2m-4.5m long and 0.5m-2m wide. Together, the banks and scarps define five or six small fields. Associated with the fields are a number of stone cairns some of which lie on the field banks. These cairns, of which there are about a dozen, are considered to be the result of field clearance and are probably contemporary with the prehistoric working of the fields; they survive as low earth covered piles of flint and stone. Previous commentators have suggested that they might be prehistoric barrows or burial mounds but there is no evidence to support this view. The prehistoric fields have been worked at later periods, perhaps into the medieval and early post-medieval periods, and incorporated into larger rectilinear fields as is evidenced by a long field bank which runs from the monument to a position to its east and a bank and ditch which clearly cuts across the earlier prehistoric field system where it survives on its western side. All fencing, gateposts, and coastal path waymarkers are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath 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
Taylor, C, Fields in the English Landscape, (1975), 19-62
Grinsell, L V, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in The Barrows of South and East Devon, , Vol. 41, (1983), 29
Hutchinson, P O, 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association' in Report on the barrows near Sidmouth, , Vol. 12, (1880), 145-46
NMR details SY18NE21, Pattison, P, Earthwork Remains Of Multi-Period Field Systems, (1989)


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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