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Brendon Hills National Mapping Programme project

The Brendon Hills form an elongated ridge located mainly within West Somerset, to the east of Exmoor. The terrain is deeply incised by streams and rivers running roughly southwards to the Haddeo River, a tributary of the River Exe. Parts of the region have a long history of ironstone mining and remains of this industry and its effects on the landscape are still evident. The area has also been subjected to intense agricultural improvement over the last century resulting in very few upstanding archaeological sites surviving and a perception of an area with a generally low monument density.

Colour aerial photograph showing low hills wreathed in mist. The landscape is divided into small hedge-lined fields
Landscape view of the Brendon Hills taken on 14-JAN-1997 (NMR 15583/32) © Crown copyright. HE

The Brendon Hills project was an aerial survey using National Mapping Programme (NMP) standards, supporting an extensive programme of field survey across Exmoor. The results were incorporated in the publication The Field Archaeology of Exmoor and have been included in the Exmoor Historic Environment Record.

Archaeology of the Brendon Hills

There are substantial numbers of prehistoric remains scattered across the Brendon Hills, many surviving as well-preserved earthworks.

Colour aerial photograph showing a circular banked enclosure in the snow surrounded by woodland
The Iron Age hillfort at Bury Castle photographed on 10-FEB-1999. Within the ramparts of the hillfort are the remains of a presumed 12th century motte (NMR 18276/05) © Historic England

Industry and agriculture on the Brendon Hills

Lying at the heart of the Brendon Hills is an area where ironstone mining has historically been an important regional industry. The remains of this and associated industrial activities are still to be found, in some cases as the relatively well-preserved stone remains of the main structures.

Colour aerial photograph showing the stone walls surviving from the pit buildings set in a woodland clearing
The remains of Langham Hill Pit ironstone mine photographed on 12-FEB-2008 (NMR 24297/28) © Historic England

Elsewhere decades of agriculture have left traces requiring considerably more effort to understand their original nature.

Colour aerial photograph showing a pasture field with a number of mounds and hollows
Heavily degraded and overgrown remains of some shafts belonging to Ison Mine photographed on 09-AUG-2005 (NMR 24028/22) © Historic England

As well as the vestiges of the area's industrial past the remains of post-medieval catch meadow irrigation systems were recorded extensively across this area of Exmoor. The catch meadows are particular to this part of the country, commonly found on the sides of stream and river valleys. These are systems of parallel linear field gutters aligned with the contours (akin to leats). Each system is fed by a pond in which a mixture of water and slurry is collected. This mixture then seeps down-slope out of the gutters, fertilising the pasture. At the request of the Exeter Field Office, all gutters not already recorded on the current Ordnance Survey base map were mapped.

B&W aerial photo showing a grassy hill slope with a number of ditches running around the contours with farm in background
An example of the classic "catch meadow" irrigation common in the Brendon Hills photographed on 27-JUN-1995 (NMR 15306/54) © Crown copyright. HE

New discoveries

One site initially thought to be the remains of a former garden earthwork were subsequently identified by the field survey as a potential Roman military site, much of which is still visible as earthworks and only partially obscured by the buildings of a post-medieval farm.

Colour aerial photograph showing a farm and the surrrounding landscape under snow
Earthworks surrounding a farm photographed under snow on 10-FEB-1999. ┬áThe main banks, defining a rectangular area to the right of the farm buildings, are of a Roman miltiary site, since confirmed by geophysical survery as a Roman fort (NMR 18259/28) © Crown copyright. HE

Key findings from the project can be found in the report:

Brendon Hills Mapping Project, Devon & Somerset

Brendon Hills Mapping Project, Devon & Somerset

Published 1 October 1998

NMP report from the Brendon Hills Mapping Project

The images used on this page are copyright Historic England unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project, please contact the Historic England Archive.

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Remote Sensing Team please contact us via email using the link below.

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Group of people standing on a stony mound
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