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East and Mid Devon River Catchments National Mapping Programme projects

This survey investigated the diverse landscapes between Exeter and Tiverton, with a focus on parts of the Exe, Culm, and Clyst river catchments. The archaeological results will inform management and planning for areas potentially under pressure from housing, commercial development, or agricultural initiatives to reduce diffuse water pollution.

This part of the county has some of the best ground conditions and land use that reveal buried archaeological features as cropmarks. The project also highlighted the potential to discover archaeological earthworks in the relatively under-studied Blackdown Hills and East Devon AONB. Analysis of aerial photographs and new resources such as lidar data, revealed a picture of settlement, ceremony and industry from the Neolithic period to the 20th century.

Black and white aerial photograph showing arable fields with cropmarks appearing as darker lines against a paler background
Bury Castle hillfort (MDV12340) photographed on 04-JUL-1989 (DAP 6763/09) © Frances Griffith, Devon County Council

Neolithic ceremony and ritual

Cropmarks on aerial photographs indicated the buried remains of two previously unrecognised elongated oval enclosures, sometimes called long mounds or mortuary enclosures. These monuments are earlier Neolithic monuments thought to be related to long barrows. This new example in Upton Pyne probably had a complex symbolic role for the people in this area. It may have had a ceremonial function and acted as a signpost to the natural resources of the Creedy valley.


Black and white aerial photo
A possible Neolithic long mortuary enclosure or levelled long mound visible as cropmarks at Upton Pyne and photographed by the Ordnance Survey on OS/92359 V 12) © Crown Copyright Ordnance Survey

Examination of lidar derived images provided valuable new information about earthwork survival. It also revealed significant new discoveries, such as this circular earthwork near Tiverton, tentatively interpreted as a henge. Later Neolithic circular monuments such as henges are thought to be part of a move away from the tradition of building linear shaped monuments, such as long barrows. Further geophysical survey work has revealed that this intriguing site might be more complex than is apparent from the earthworks alone.

A colour ground photograph of a figure wearing a high visibility jacket standing on a low earthwork bank in an orchard
A mysterious circular earthwork east of Tiverton interpreted as a possible henge. The figure is standing on the outer bank, which can be seen continuing under, and preserved within the medieval field boundary. © Stephanie Knight

Cider from the farm

Traditionally almost every farm in Devon had at least one orchard, usually for cider production. This is illustrated by numerous examples depicted on the late 19th century Ordnance Survey First Edition 25 inch map. Many orchards continued in use until the mid-20th century. Examination of aerial photographs showed that almost 80% were no longer planted with trees by the early 21st century, but their physical remains still strongly affects the character of Devon’s landscape.

A historic map extract with orchards symbolised as regularly spaced trees.
Ordnance Survey First edition map showing Orchards around Mortimer’s Farm, previously Ballyman’s Farm. © Crown copyright and Landmark Information Group.

There are parallel earthwork banks within many existing and former orchard plots, often matching the orchards depicted on historic maps. The banks were probably made to improve drainage and increase soil depth. They seem to be a traditional local cultivation method as they were sometimes used in areas where drainage improvement wasn’t needed. These orchard banks are often the only evidence of former orchards. The survey from aerial photographs and lidar demonstrated that orchards were even more widespread than the old maps show.

An extract of a lidar derived image. Parallel earthwork banks denote former orchard plots, some not on historic maps
Lidar derived image showing the earthwork survival of orchard tree planting banks around Mortimer’s Farm. © Devon County Council.

Whiteways Cyder

The importance of cider continued into the 20th century. While many traditional orchards were being cleared in other parts of Devon, local firm Whiteways Cyder were establishing new orchards. Although planted without the traditional banks, this industry had a significant impact on the local landscape.

Black and white oblique aerial photo of people and sheep gathered among recently planted apple trees
A crowd gathers at Whimple in May 1932 for an orchard management prize giving ceremony, given by Whiteways Cyder to local apple growers. (EPW038075) © Historic England Archive (Aerofilms Collection)

Industry on the fringe - Iron ore

The western fringes of the Blackdown Hills AONB fell within the east of the survey. This area has been associated with two very different and significant mining industries, the earthwork remains of which were recorded by the survey. On the plateau above the western scarp the remains of extensive iron ore extraction pits were visible as both earthworks and cropmarks. Field investigations have provided limited dating evidence, placing this industry in the Roman or early medieval periods. It seems similar in date and form to Roman mining known on the High Weald.


Black and white vertical aerial photo showing Roman iron ore pits as dark earthworks against a pale background
Dense clusters of iron ore extraction pits on the plateau at Black Down/North Hill photographed by the RAF on 11-APR-1947 (RAF/CPE/UK 1974 FP 4292). Historic England. RAF Photography.

Industry on the fringe - Whetstone

Whetstone mining was an important local industry from the mid-18th century until the 1920s. By the 19th century the industry was so intensive that the profile of North Hill had been changed, with spoil forming a substantial earthwork terrace below the tunnel mouths that was visible for miles around. The collapse of tunnels also changed the surface of the plateau above, evidence of which can be seen on aerial photographs of the 1940s as areas of pale disturbance.

Black and white vertical aerial photo showing whetstone mining galleries as pale earthworks against a darker background.
The earthwork remains of whetstone mining galleries cut into the scarp around Blackborough Common and photographed by the RAF on 11-APR-1947. (RAF/CPE/UK 1974 FP 4292). Historic England. RAF Photography.

The survey

Mapping began on this Historic England funded project in June 2014 and was completed in May 2016. It was carried out by the AC Archaeology’s NMP survey team based within the offices of the Devon County Council Historic Environment Team (DCC HET) at County Hall, Exeter. The results of the survey are included in the Devon Historic Environment Record database (HER) and Geographic Information System (GIS), and there are details of the project highlighted on specific web pages.

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.

East and Mid Devon River Catchments National Mapping Programme Survey

East and Mid Devon River Catchments National Mapping Programme Survey

Published 1 May 2016

A summary report on the air photo and lidar mapping undertaken for East and Mid Devon River Catchments (6634)

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