Medieval settlement remains 100m and 250m north of Downhead Manor Farm
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
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This copy shows the entry on 13-Oct-2019 at 21:01:43.
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- South Somerset (District Authority)
- West Camel
- National Grid Reference:
- ST 56624 25590, ST 56718 25471
Reasons for Designation
Medieval rural settlements in England were marked by great regional diversity
in form, size and type, and the protection of their archaeological remains
needs to take these differences into account. To do this, England has been
divided into three broad Provinces on the basis of each area's distinctive
mixture of nucleated and dispersed settlements. These can be further divided
into sub-Provinces and local regions, possessing characteristics which have
gradually evolved during the last 1500 years or more.
This monument lies in the West Wessex sub-Province of the Central Province, an
area characterised by large numbers of villages and hamlets within
countrysides of great local diversity, ranging from flat marshland to hill
ridges. Settlements range from large, sprawling villages to tiny hamlets, a
range extended by large numbers of scattered dwellings in the extreme east and
west of the sub-Province. Cultivation in open townfields was once present, but
early enclosure was commonplace. The physical diversity of the landscape was,
by the time of Domesday Book in 1086, linked with great variations in the
balance of cleared land and woodland.
The earthworks which represent the shrunken remains of Downhead medieval settlement survive well and are a good example of this class of monument. Downhead settlement has been occupied continuously from at least the mid-11th century down to the present day, having considerably declined, or shrunk leaving the still occupied farmstead of Downhead Manor Farm and a few cottages to the south. The history of Downhead village is well-documented and its ownership can be traced without interruption from its pre-Domesday origins. Large parts of the medieval village lie undisturbed by later occupation or cultivation and will contain archaeological deposits and environmental evidence relating to the monument and the wider landscape in which it was constructed.
The monument, which lies in two separate areas of protection, includes the
earthwork remains of part of a medieval settlement which is situated to
the north west of West Camel. The site occupies an area of level ground
below the steep western slope of West Camel Hill, which lies to the east,
and the gentle slope of Annis Hill, to the west. The earthwork remains
represent the areas of abandonment caused by the shrinkage of Downhead
village, a settlement of pre-Domesday (AD 1086) date. The site is roughly
rectangular in plan with the long axis following a north to south
alignment, gradually sloping downwards to the north. The areas which
continue to be occupied in modern times are situated immediately to the
south of the abandoned areas of the settlement.
The remains of the abandoned area are represented by earthworks located in
two fields which lay either side of a modern single-track road. The
earthworks in the area to the north and west of the road form the major
area of scheduling and are situated in a single field, partly enclosed by
a low bank which is most distinct towards the southern end of the site.
The earthworks indicate the sites of former houses, including a possible
manor house, outbuildings and paddocks, together with hollow ways which
represent streets and access lanes. A substantial hollow way, which is
visible as a depression up to 0.75m deep and up to 4m wide, extends
northwards through the centre of the earthworks and appears to be a
continuation of the present single-track road which serves Downhead Farm.
A further hollow way runs westwards at right angles to this and at least
one house site lies within the angle formed by the two hollow ways. This
is visible as a raised platform about 30 sq m and between 1m and 1.5m
high. A relatively level area, which is defined on the north and east
sides by the two hollow ways, and on the south side by the raised house
platform, is probably the garden or toft area associated with the
dwelling. Further earthworks located adjacent to either side of the former
village street indicate the sites of additional abandoned dwellings and
paddocks. An inverted `L' shaped fishpond is located towards the northern
end of the site. The fishpond, which is still water-filled, is steep-sided
and measures 12m across at its widest point and is approximately 80m in
Also included in the monument are further earthworks which form part of
the abandoned area of the medieval village and these are located to the
south east of the modern road. They represent the sites of two dwellings
which lie adjacent to the road; both are visible as raised platforms about
1m in height with rounded corners. The most northerly of the platforms is
overlain by the remains of a more recent dwelling which was dismantled
during the later part of the 20th century. A linear feature, visible as a
depression with a bank on its higher, eastern side, runs parallel with the
eastern side of the house sites and continues northwards to join the
substantial hollow way which extends through the northern area of the
settlement. A small field or paddock is defined by the bank on the east
side of the southern part of the hollow way and this was probably
associated with the abandoned house sites.
The settlement can trace its history to before the Norman Conquest. It was
already in existence at the time of the Domesday assessment in 1086 and
formed part of the estate of Muchelney Abbey. By 1280 the settlement was
in private hands and, in 1297, was owned by Henry de Lorty II. In 1358 the
manor of Downhead was made over to Alexander Camel and William Derby who
subsequently granted it to Muchelney Abbey to provide a chaplain for the
abbey church. The land was predominantly arable from the beginning of the
14th century (at which time, six tenants and four cottars are recorded) to
at least the 15th century and it is likely that the sale of the manor
precipitated the decline and dispersal of the ancient holdings in the
In 1791 the manor was known to have comprised eleven dwellings which were
all located on either side of the village street in the area to the south
of the abandoned parts of the village which suggests that abandonment had
occurred before that date. The manor of Downhead was subsequently sold to
Richard Webb in 1825.
All telegraph poles, stone cattle troughs, gate posts, fence posts and fencing 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.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Dunning, R W , The Victoria History of the County of Somerset, (1974), 72-77
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