Jan 172021
 

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines ‘landmark’ as ‘an object or feature of a landscape or town that is easily seen and recognised from a distance’ or, historically, ‘the boundary of an area of land, or an object marking this’. In view of this, I’m not sure my choice from Moreleigh really qualifies as a landmark at all!

The remains of Stanborough Hillfort or Camp itself are not easily identified as such close up, let alone recognisable from a distance… unless it’s from above. Neither do they define or mark a boundary. However, it can perhaps be argued that the fact that the Camp has all but disappeared, marks an important change to the nature of the dangers faced by the inhabitants of ancient South Devon.

Imagery ©2021 Google, Imagery ©2021 CNES / Airbus, Getmapping plc,
Infoterra Ltd & Bluesky, Maxar Technologies, Map data ©2021

Although not situated on the coast, the inland settlements of the South Hams area of Devon were, once upon a time, at serious risk from invading Norsemen, whose boats could sail up from the Kingsbridge Estuary along a number of creeks to join rivers inland such as the Avon, Dart, Erme, Plym, Teign and Yealm.

Stanborough Camp is situated on the old parish border between Moreleigh and Halwell (they are now one, combined parish) and was one of many Iron Age hillforts built in the South Hams, indicating the dangers faced from maritime invaders. In his 1901 paper ‘On some Earthworks in the South Hams…’ [1], EAS Elliot suggests that there was an attack on nearby Halwell by the Danes in 835AD, who subsequently took over the camp at Stanborough. Dr Elliot mentions a number of large tumuli (burial mounds) close to the camp which are ‘suggestive of terrible slaughter’.

Stanborough Camp was described in around 1630 as ‘an old fort now no better than a heap of stones called by the name of Stanborough from whence the Hundred hath name’ [2], indeed the Hundred Court had been moved there from Diptford [3]. By 1906, it was more sympathetically described in the ‘Victoria County History of Devon’ [4]:

… a compact ellipse of single vallum and fosse [defensive wall/ rampart, and ditch], enclosing about 3½ acres. The height and depth of the rampart and ditch vary considerably; the former rising 10ft from the interior, descends 14ft into the fosse, which is 3ft in some places and in others 5ft 6in. Due east is the strongest defence, guarding the entrance on the south-east.

It is situated on the highest point of undulating ground commanding a view of the shipping in Start Bay, and was probably used as a signalling station between Slapton Castle, Woodbury Castle, Dartmouth and Dittisham, on one side, and the inland strongholds of Halwell and Blackdown. Coins and pottery are said to have been found within its area… Several large tumuli are in an adjoining brake [thicket].

This clearly shows the ideal strategic position occupied by the hillfort. Interestingly, there was once also a standing stone, known as ‘The Old Man’, just outside the Camp but it had disappeared by 1906 [5], although a number of historical maps show it in position. The remains of a large bowl barrow (a funerary monument) with a central stone chamber, enclosed by the later hillfort, still survive to the southeast of the hillfort's centre [6]. Stanborough Camp Iron Age hillfort and bowl barrow were listed as a scheduled monument in August 1923 [7].

I said at the beginning that Stanborough Camp could not itself be accurately described as a landmark. However, what’s left of the ramparts on the hilltop are covered with large mature beech trees [8] and it is these that are a landmark for many miles around – the beauty of nature marking the site of this remnant of Devon’s bloody past.

Photos of Stanborough Camp used with kind permission of Twitter user @Monk_Po.

Nicola Byrnes
Moreleigh One-Place Study


References

[1] EAS Elliot, ‘On some Earthworks in the South Hams, Probably Concerned in the Irishmen’s Raid, and others in the immediate neighbourhood belonging to Judhel de Totnais’; Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, Volume 33, p483; 1901

[2] T Risdon, ‘Choreographical Description of Devon, 1580-1640’, 1811; www.heritagegateway.org.uk – Devon and Dartmoor HER; accessed 9 January 2021

[3] Rev. O. J. Reichel, ‘The Hundreds of Devon. XV. Stanborough or Dippeforda in the Time of Test de Nevil, A. D. 1243’; Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, Volume 45, p198; 1913

[4] William Page, Editor, The Victoria History of the Counties of England, A History of Devonshire, Volume 1; Archibald Constable & Co Ltd; 1906; p607

[5] EAS Elliot, ‘On some Earthworks in the South Hams, Probably Concerned in the Irishmen’s Raid, and others in the immediate neighbourhood belonging to Judhel de Totnais’; Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, Volume 33, p483; 1901

[6] Historic England, www.historicengland.org.uk; accessed 9 January 2021; list entry number 1019314

[7] Idem

[8] Idem

  2 Responses to “One-Place Landmarks: Stanborough Hillfort in Moreleigh, Devon”

  1. Certainly a historical landmark worth remembering, thank you.

  2. […] One-Place Landmarks: Stanborough Hillfort in Moreleigh, Devon. One of three #OnePlaceLandmarks blog posts published here on our own blog, this one focusses on the remains of the ancient hillfort of Stanborough Camp. […]

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