Reasons for Designation
Anglo-Saxon centres, usually known as burhs, are defended urban areas that are
characterised by a planned, ordered layout, sometimes including a regular grid
of streets. They date mainly from the late ninth century AD, as King Alfred's
response to the threat of Danish invasion. There are some earlier, eighth
century examples in the kingdom of Mercia. They include large towns covering
around 58ha, and smaller forts ranging in size from 1ha-9.5ha. Their defences
are usually either restored Roman town walls or newly built earthen ramparts.
Documentary evidence suggests that mints and markets were established in most
of the larger centres.
Many of the larger fortified centres now lie beneath modern cities or towns,
but strong traces of their layout usually survive in the modern street plan.
Most original buildings, including churches, dwellings and outbuildings, were
simple timber structures, traces of which may survive in the form of fragile
below ground features such as post holes, sill-beam slots and pits. Other
contemporary features include water supply and drainage systems, burgage plot
boundaries, middens and street furniture. A few of the smaller burghal forts
were short-lived and have remained largely undisturbed by subsequent
development since their abandonment.
Fortified centres are a rare monument type with around 90 identified examples
across southern, eastern and central England. The greatest concentration lies
within the late Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, and they cluster in
areas with favoured royal residences such as Somerset and Wiltshire. They are
a comparatively well documented monument class, with 35 fortified centres of
Wessex listed in the Burghal Hidage, a document which dates to the early
tenth century AD. They are one of the earliest groups of planned medieval
towns in western Europe. All examples with significant remains are considered
to be of national importance.
Despite part of the of the Saxon fortified site known as Daw's Castle having
been lost through coastal erosion, the remainder of the circuit, and the major
part of the fort's interior, survive comparatively well and are known from
limited excavations to contain archaeological remains and environmental
evidence which relates to the construction of the site, the lives of its
inhabitants, and the landscape in which they lived.
The high status of the site is demonstrated by its possession of a mint, one
of only a few recorded in Somerset, which produced coins from the time of
Athelred II (978-1016) until the site was abandoned in favour of the present
town of Watchet.
This importance is further enhanced by the contemporary documentary sources
which refer to the site. They include the early 10th century Burghal Hidage
list, an administrative document which recorded the network of fortified burhs
constructed across southern England against the threat of Viking attacks.
Additionally, the burh is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and an entry
for the year 914 records failed attacks by Scandinavian raiders who had
sailed up the Severn Estuary.
The monument includes the remains of a fortified site of Saxon date known as
Daw's Castle located approximately 1km to the west of the medieval port of
Watchet. The site is prominently located on the cliff edge about 80m above
Warren Bay in the Severn Estuary and has extensive inland views towards the
Brendon Hills and Exmoor to the south and west and the Quantock Hills to the
east. The fortification survives as a curvilinear earthen bank which
represents the line of the Saxon defences and is broadly aligned from east to
west enclosing an area of approximately 2ha. The north side of the site is now
defined by the cliff edge as part of the defensive earthworks have been lost
to coastal erosion and landslips. The surviving circuit of the defence is
represented by a bank approximately 180m in length which has been shown by
partial excavations to have been constructed in two phases. The first phase
of construction is believed to date from the reign of King Alfred, between
871 and 899. A mortared stone wall 0.6m high and 0.85m wide at its base was
revealed fronting a bank approximately 7m wide. The later phase of
construction is represented by a wall of more substantial proportions which
was shown by excavation to have replaced the original wall, with dimensions
1.42m wide and at least 3.5m high. A bank 7.9m wide was revealed behind the
wall. Fronting the wall was a berm 10.7m wide and a narrow ditch 1.52m wide.
This later phase is believed to have been constructed during the 10th century
in response to the increased threat of Viking raids which are recorded as
having taken place within the Severn Estuary.
The results of the partial excavation would seem to lend support to the
probability that the earthwork remains at Daw's Castle represent the site of
the original Saxon burh of Watchet. A network of fortifications was
constructed across southern England at the instigation of King Alfred in order
to defend against the threat of Viking raids. These fortresses, known as
burhs, are described in documents known as the Burghal Hidage, compiled around
914, which lists the burhs together with the number of men required to defend
them. Watchet is assessed at 513 hides which equates with an approximate
length of 645m for the whole perimeter of the defensive bank.
Documentary sources record a mint at Watchet which was producing coins from
around 980 predominantly of Aethelred II, and this is assumed to have been
located within the burh. It is suggested that because the Watchet mint did
not strike any coins between 1056-80, a break unique among Wessex mints,
and also because no reference to a fort at Watchet is recorded in the
Domesday survey, the site had been abandoned after the Conquest and the mint
re-established within the present town.
A number of graves were revealed during the 19th century construction of three
lime kilns on the north east side of the site. These graves have been dated to
around the fifth century AD which suggests a possible earlier phase of
occupation of the site. The lime kilns are Listed Grade II.
The lime kiln yard and its associated lime kiln draws and surface
structures which lie to the north east of the scheduling are specifically not
included in the scheduling.
Daw's Castle is in the care of the Secretary of State.
All English Heritage fixed signposts and all fencing and gateposts are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.