Later prehistoric cliff castle, two prehistoric round barrows, medieval field system, and associated remains on Dodman Point


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Later prehistoric cliff castle, two prehistoric round barrows, medieval field system, and associated remains on Dodman Point
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
St. Goran
National Grid Reference:
SX 00150 39562

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 coast. 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.

Despite modification of its ramparts and partial burial of its outer ditch and counterscarp bank, the cliff castle at Dodman Point survives well. The underlying old land surface, and remains of any structures or other deposits associated with this and with the upstanding earthworks and ditches, will also survive. The unusually large area of the cliff castle and the scale and form of its enclosing earthworks show the complexity of this monument type, and will contribute to our understanding of the social and economic organisation in the Iron Age. The very prominent coastal location illustrates well how important topography was in the siting of cliff castles, and the presence of the round barrows indicates that this factor was already important in Bronze Age ritual activity. The development of land use on this headland over a much longer timescale is shown well by the survival of the medieval field system as an upstanding feature within and adjoining the earlier cliff castle and barrows, and by the well-preserved Napoleonic signal station. The latter also provides a good example of the modern role of prominent coastal locations in national systems of communication and maritime regulation.


The monument includes a later prehistoric cliff castle, with two prehistoric round barrows, and a medieval field system, situated on Dodman Point, a prominent flat-topped headland projecting south into the English Channel, south west of Gorran Haven. Also within the scheduled area are a medieval or later trackway and beacon, a Napoleonic signal station, a building, extractive pits, a field system, boundary stones and a cross of the 18th and 19th centuries, and two probable World War II bomb craters. The cliff castle, extending over most of the scheduling, is irregular in plan, measuring up to approximately 830m north-south by 800m east-west externally, and covering a total area of 34ha. It is enclosed by two closely spaced ramparts of earth and stone, with external ditches and a counterscarp or outer bank. These earthworks follow a slight natural slope around the north edge of the plateau on top of the headland, and continue on the steep coastal slopes below, incorporating outcrops of bedrock and (on the east) natural rock walls and fissures. The ramparts have steeply sloping sides and flat tops. The inner rampart is 7m-9m wide. Its height is up to 2m inside and 4m outside. The outer rampart is 3.5m-7m wide and around 1.5m high. Both show limited modification for reuse as field boundaries. The inner ditch, cut into the bedrock, is 4m-5m wide and 0.5m-2m deep. On the west slope, the outer ditch is 4m wide and 0.7m deep. On the plateau, it is largely silted or filled by ploughing, but is marked in places by hollows 2m-5m wide and 0.5m deep. The counterscarp is visible to the west as an uneven, rounded bank approximately 5m wide and up to 1m high. It is considered to continue across the headland as a buried feature. The two round barrows are located on the plateau, one near the centre of the scheduling, the other towards the north. Both have earth and stone mounds, with no evidence for external ditches. They measure 22m in diameter and 0.9m high, and 27m NNW-SSE by 20m WSW-ENE and 1.3m high, respectively. The northern barrow is partly truncated on the ENE side by a field boundary bank.

The field system, of medieval origin, extends over the whole of the scheduling. The medieval strip fields forming its core lie on the top and shoulders of the headland. They are shown on old maps and aerial photographs, and are partially visible on the ground. Many strip boundaries are upstanding while others have been modified to form modern boundaries. Within this scheduling the field system contains over 30 known strip fields, each slightly curving in plan, 10m-30m wide and around 100m-250m long. The relict strip divisions are banks of earth and stone, 2m-4m wide and around 0.3m high, or scarps up to 0.9m high where they run along the contour. The modern field boundaries fossilising elements of the medieval field system (which continue north beyond the scheduling) are commonly banks 1.5m wide and 1.0m high, faced with local small stones. Some have a coping or top course of projecting slabs. The field system was extended with boundaries similar to these in post-medieval times, defining blocks of rough pasture on the steep lower slopes. A medieval or later trackway runs for approximately 80m through the field system, in the northern section of the scheduling. The track is 2m wide and bounded by banks of post-medieval type. It forms part of a route linking the Dodman peninsula with the hamlet of Penare, passing through the ramparts of the cliff castle, and along the ditch between them, before continuing north. Old maps provide evidence of a medieval or post-medieval beacon for transmitting warnings of hostile shipping, near the later signal station on the high level ground towards the south end of Dodman Point. This may have had a bonfire mound, or a pole or tower, for a brazier. The signal station was built in 1794 as part of a coastal chain supplying information on shipping movements to the navy. It has a square plot measuring 12m across internally, enclosed by stone-faced banks around 1m wide and 0.5m-1.1m high, with a gateway on the west side. In the corners of the plot are stone blocks 0.4m high, each fitted with an iron shackle. Cables would have run from these to a central signalling pole, to stabilise it. A watch house stands north west of the centre of the plot. The house is near square in plan, measuring 2.8m-2.9m across externally. Its walls are shillet (local stone) rubble with lime mortar and render and are 0.47m wide and 1.9m high, rising to 2.5m at the gables. The roof covering is slate. There is a stone chimney on the south west side, a central doorway on the north west side, and a window south of centre in the opposite wall. Inside the south west wall is a niche or blocked window. The interior has slate flooring, and a timber bench on the north east side. The fireplace is blocked. A walled lookout platform with access steps adjoins the watch house to the north. It is built of shillet rubble with lime mortar. The base is a rectangular plinth measuring 3.1m north west-south east by approximately 2m north east-south west, and is 0.8m high. The lookout upon this is near-circular in plan, measuring 1.8m-1.9m across externally. Its walling is 0.3m thick and 1.3m high, and has an entrance 0.45m wide on the south. There are remains of iron fittings. The lookout's steps fill the 0.5m wide space between it and the watch house, and are 0.95m long. There are three steps, rising from the north west. The station was reused by the coastguard by the mid-1830s, and again in World War I. A sub-rectangular earthwork south west of the signal station is thought to be an 18th or 19th century building. It measures 6.7m north west-south east by 3.1m north east-south west externally, and has an earth and stone bank 1.6m wide and up to 0.2m high on three sides, and a boundary bank on the north east. Its interior forms a slight hollow. There are a dozen or more extractive pits in the scheduling, mainly to the south west and north east, on the shoulders and upper slopes of the Dodman. In the south west section, they are 10m-20m across and 2-6m deep; in the north east, where access is easier, some are around 35m across and 8m deep. They provided stone for building or hedging. Several pits cut the medieval fields. A number of plots, possibly remains of a 19th century field system or market garden complex, are visible on the coastal slopes at Dodman Horse, on the south east of the headland. The plots exploit natural hollows or moderate gradients between outcrops of natural rock, and so are irrregular in plan and size. They are around 15m across, and form scarps up to 1m high above the slope. Some boundaries have rough walling of rubble slabs. Two boundary stones lying east of centre in the scheduling were found nearby. The stones are local shillet, roughly shaped to form irregular rectangular slabs around 0.7m long, 0.25m wide, and 0.06m thick. Each bears the inscription IMW. They may have marked land in the ownership of a local estate. The cross, also designed as a minor daymark for shipping, stands above the coastal slope on the southern tip of the headland. The massive cross with its stepped base is built of cut granite with mortared and stapled joints. The base is rectangular in plan, measuring 2.6m north west-south east by 2.48m north east-south west, and up to 0.9m high, rising in three steps. On the north east side of the middle step is an inscription with the date 1896. There is a sloping outer plinth of concrete, some 0.4m wide, and up to 0.1m high. The cross faces north east and south west. It is made up of five blocks, near square in section, measuring 0.6m-0.7m across. A shaft of three vertically set blocks supports a cross piece, and an upper limb formed of a shorter vertical block. The cross is around 6m high. It was erected in 1896 and is Listed Grade II. The two probable bomb craters, on the north east side of the plateau, are circular dish-like hollows about 10m apart, 10m-15m across and 0.3m-0.5m deep. All modern fencing, gates and gate fittings, water troughs and pipes, sign posts and information boards 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.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Le Messurier, B, Nare Head and the Dodman, (1990), 10
Padel, O J, A Popular Dictionary of Cornish Place-Names, (1988), 79
Whetter, J, The History of Gorran Haven, (1990), 84
Whetter, J, The History of Gorran Haven, (1990), 9-106
Kitchen, F, 'Cornwall Association of Local Historians News Magazine' in The Defence of the Southern Coast of Cornwall Against the French, (1990), 14
Polsue, J, 'Lake's Parochial History of the County of Cornwall' in Lake's Parochial History of the County of Cornwall, , Vol. 2, (1868), 101
CN 765/1, MS at Cornwall Record Office, (1744)
Eyre, W to Parkes, C, (2002)
F27/29, Print in CAU collection, (1989)
MS at Cornwall Record Office, (1775)
MS in Cornwall Record Office, (1775)
NMR 5988/-/25-34, (1989)
NT Site No 90,144, The National Trust Archaeological Survey, The Dodman, Cornwall, (1986)
Print in information file, CAU, (1995)
Report in information file, CAU, Preston-Jones, A, The Dodman Promontory Fort, Goran survey of field boundaries, (1988)
Saunders, A, AM7, (1960)
Sheppard, PA, AM107, (1982)
Sheppard, PA, AM12, (1979)
SX 03 NW 1, Fletcher, MJ, Ordnance Survey Index Card, (1971)
SX 03 NW 2, Fletcher, MJ, Ordnance Survey Index Card, (1971)
SX 03 NW 4, Fletcher, MJ, Ordnance Survey Index Card, (1971)
Title: Cornwall Mapping Project Source Date: 1995 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 1" Map Source Date: 1813 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 1" Map Source Date: 1813 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 Map Source Date: 1888 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 Map Source Date: 1908 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 Map Source Date: 1908 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 1:2500 Map Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Exact date unknown; not on copy seen
Title: St Goran Tithe Apportionment Map Source Date: 1841 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: St Goran Tithe Apportionment Source Date: 1841 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: The Description of Powder Hundred Source Date: 1600 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
TS; copy in information file at CAU, Sheppard, PA, Antiquities on Dodman Point, (1967)
Undated; date above is approximate, Sheppard, PA, The National Trust land at Dodman Point Cornwall, (1979)
Undated; date above is approximate, Sheppard, PA, The National Trust land at Dodman Point Cornwall, (1979)


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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