Hembury — Payhembury, Devon

Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure

Neolithic Causewayed Camp

This New Stone Age ritual encampment is surrounded by a six-foot deep flat-bottomed ditch in eight sections. There are traces of an external bank on the south side and of a single oval hut within the structure. Several hearths were found during excavations of the hut, along with cereal storage pits, and others containing querns, pottery and over six-hundred flint scrapers. Radiocarbon dating has the occupation period of this phase between 3,330 and 3,150 BC.

Iron Age Hillfort

A triangular hillfort of about 7½ acres (c.3ha) was constructed on the site following a long period of abandonment, seemingly in three phases:

  1. Two palisaded ramparts separated by a median ditch.
  2. Triple banks and ditches on the north and western sides, reduced to only double on the east. Long entrance passageways terminating in sturdy timber gates entered the fort from the west and north.
  3. Two internal banks were erected across the centre of the fort roughly from east to west, the northern half was seemingly used for human habitation, while the southern portion was reserved for the use of livestock, probably cattle.

Evidence suggests that the fort had been abandoned by its native inhabitants shortly before the arrival of Roman forces in the area.

Roman Military Occupation

Excavation conducted in the eastern part of the site has recently revealed that roughly half of the fort's interior had been used by the Roman military. The west gate was rebuilt, large timber structures were erected within the fort, mostly granaries and other storehouses, but there is also evidence of iron-working. The Roman occupation was due no doubt to the proximity of the fort to the Fosse Way, the military highway between the legionary fortresses at Exeter and Lincoln. Occupation started around 50AD and perhaps lasted a couple of campaign seasons before the site was finally dismantled and abandoned.

Map References for Hembury – Payhembury, Devon

NGRef: ST113031 OSMap: LR192

Hembury

Fort

By far the most interesting Iron-Age hillfort in the region lies three miles north-west of Honiton at Hembury Castle (ST1103). Excavations during the 1980's within the hillfort's defences revealed evidence of Roman activity in the form of military-style rectangular wooden huts, mainly granaries and storehouses, which covered about half of the fort's interior. Given the small area occupied, the garrison would have been relatively small, possibly comprising only a couple of legionary centuries. The buildings were in use for only a short period before being deliberately dismantled, the upright posts cut off at ground level and the stumps left to rot in situ. Roman occupancy has been dated to the early 50's AD.

The evidence suggests that Hembury Castle had been abandoned some years prior to the Roman invasion, and was subsequently re-used by Legio II Augusta as a storage depot. It would appear that the abandoned fort provided the Romans with a ready-made defensive enclosure close to the Fosse Way, their main highway to the south-west. The defences remained unaltered apart from the gateways and a little general refurbishment, thus saving the Romans a considerable amount of labor.

References for Hembury

Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd, 4th & 5th eds., 1956, 1994 & 2001).Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd, 4th & 5th eds., 1956, 1994 & 2001). Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd, 4th & 5th eds., 1956, 1994 & 2001).Historical Map and Guide – Roman Britain by the Ordnance Survey (3rd, 4th & 5th eds., 1956, 1994 & 2001).

Map References for Hembury

NGRef: ST1103 OSMap: LR192/193

Roman Roads near Hembury

None identified