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Roundy Pound

Roundy Pound

In 1876 the Dartmoor based antiquarian G. W. Ormerod drew up plans of some prehistoric hut circles and field system that lie a couple of miles to the west of Chagford. This normally was the kiss of death for any prehistoric site because at the time it normally was followed by a visit from the Dartmoor Exploration Committee. These were a dedicated group of antiquarians whose techniques of archaeological investigation were ‘brutal’ to say the least. Today, any such site is difficult to interpret thanks to their excavation methods and penchant for ‘restoring’ things. In the case of the Kestor settlement this was not the case as for some unknown reason it was never ‘explored’ by the Dartmoor Committee.

In 1927 interest was rekindled in the site by Dr. E. C. Curwen drew the attention of archaeologists to the Dartmoor settlement via the pages of the Antiquity journal. One such archaeologist was the late Lady Eileen Fox who obtained funding from the University College of the South-West and the Devonshire Association to carry out research on the Kestor settlement. Permission to excavate was obtained from various landowners and the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate and the digging began in the July of 1951. The work continued in the July of 1952 where the majority of it was focused on the scheduled Ancient Monument known on Dartmoor as the ‘Round Pound’.

The settlement consisted of 29 huts the majority of which varied in size with internal diameters ranging from 6.09m – 11.2m (20ft – 37ft), the thickness of the walls lay between 0.91m – 1.37m (3ft – 4½ft) and they were internally faced with vertical slabs measuring 0.91m – 1.52m (3ft – 5ft). On the western edge of the settlement were four smaller huts with internal diameters of between 3.04m and 4.87m (10ft – 16ft), these were of a similar construction as the other. Also there were three sub-rectangular structures which may have been in an associated subsidiary position to a large hut. Most of the huts were what was described as isolated but a few were clustered in groups of twos and threes. The largest of all the huts is the one known as the Round Pound which was situated to the west of the settlement – see figs. 1 and 2.

The field boundary walls were made up of one or two lines of upright bedded slabs of boulders, there appeared to be no evidence of any earth banking. Certain sections of the walls merge with the hut walls and it was thought that all were built at around about the same time. Fox considered that the stones used to build the walls come from the field clearances that layed to the south of the Round Pound. All the fields were rectilinear in form and varied in size with the smaller ones being associated with the huts. These varied in size with the largest covering 71.6m x 68.5m (235ft x 225ft), the smallest measured 38.1m x 59.4m (125ft x 195ft). The smaller fields were found nearer the centre of the settlement with what appeared to be the larger fields located nearer the open moor by Kestor. The outlying fields were narrower but longer than the central enclosures and ranged from 32.0m x 112.7m (105ft x 370ft) to 64.0m x 207.2m (210ft x 680ft).

There are two sunken droveways that run through the settlement with the lower one running along the valley side an then turning uphill to the Round Pound entrance and terminating in the last field. This droveway is between 4.57m and 5.48m (15ft – 18ft) and leads to both water and the open moorland and is contemporary with the pound and its cultivated fields. The upper droveway measures between 3.04m and 3.65m (10ft – 12ft) wide and leads into the large fields near Kestor with two branch tracks that lead off to large huts.

The actual excavations of the project centred on a hut numbered 1 which was dug during the July of 1951 and the Round Pound which was carried out in the July of 1952. Hut 1 had an internal diameter of 8.22m (27ft) with the interior wall faced with slabs measuring 2.74m (9ft) long, 1.52m (5ft) high and between 39.2cm (1ft 3ins) and 15.2cm (6ins) thick. Exteriorly the wall was constructed from granite boulders and horizontally laid smaller slabs with any spaces filled with small stones. Eight postholes were found which it is suggested supported the roof, these lay in an irregular ring made up of seven posts and a central upright. It was thought that the roof was made of turf which would have been contemporary with other Dartmoor examples. The hut was accessed by a narrow, 0.69m (2ft) wide doorway situated on the south-western side which led to a step down into the interior. The original hut floor was discovered between 30.4cm and 57.9cm (1ft – 1ft 9ins) below the current surface, at the back of the hut and in line with the entrance sat the hearth on which the fire was laid on three embedded slabs. In the hut floor the excavators found a small piece of ochre, two small quartz crystals and six sherds of disintegrated pottery, these were located in the trodden soil around the hearth along with small pieces of charcoal and peat-ash. Some more pottery was found packing a post-hole and the south eastern occupation soil revealed; a fine-grained sandstone whetstone, two natural water smoothed pebbles, a used flint, a flint flake and eighteen quartz crystals. Just north of the entrance in the wall debris the diggers came across a piece of a granite saddle quern and another whetstone – see fig. 3, (Fox, 1954, pp. 21 – 37).

The largest of all the huts in the settlement is that called locally the ‘Round Pound’ and comprised of a central hut which was encompassed by a pound wall – see fig. 4. The pound wall is of a similar construction to the rest of the buildings in the settlement with at its greatest a diameter of 33.5m (110ft). The wall varies from between 1.09m (3ft 6ins) and 1.82m (6ft) in width and stands up to 1.21m (4ft) high, the entrance is located on the western side of the wall which places it near the lower droveway. This comprised of a passageway which was cobbled and measured 1.82m (6ft) long and 1.61m (5ft 3ins) wide. Possible evidence was found of a fallen lintel which suggests an impressive gateway. In the north-east angle of the wall was a small hut but this showed some evidence of investigative intrusion made it uncertain to date. At a later date four low walls were built which effectively divided the pound into four segments, they measure between 0.57m (1ft 9ins) and 0.79m (2ft 6ins) wide and stood to a height of about 30.4cm (1ft). Excavation revealed that these radial walls were built at a later period and had been constructed from the fallen stones of the original pound wall. Excavation revealed some medieval potsherds that came from a rough shelter that had been built against the back wall of the pound’s central hut. This may well be contemporary with the building of the radial walls in which case they can be considered as a later medieval addition.

The central hut which stood inside the pound had an internal diameter of 11.2m (37ft) and its walls were built consistent with the rest of the settlement. Excavation revealed ten (possibly eleven) post holes and a post base whose uprights would have supported a heather or rush thatched, conical roof. Fox also suggests that the centre of the roof would have been left open to allow in daylight and lets out the fumes from the charcoal furnaces. At the back of the hut was a small hearth which would have held a smoulder fire near which fragments of charcoal were found, as with the charcoal in hut 1 analysis revealed that hazel and oak twigs were being burnt. The remainder of the floor yielded several finds; some sherds of pottery, a stone spindle whorl, two hammer stones, twenty one pieces of flint (two showed signs of being worked and eight signs or use), ten pebble stones and an anvil. In the centre of the floor was the shallow depression of a drip-pit from which a drain led out to the north side of the hut wall – see fig. 5.

By far the most important find was that of small bowl furnace sunk into the hut surface to a depth of 15.2cm (6ins), it measured 39.6cm (1ft 3ins) long and 25.4cm (10ins) wide. The furnace had been lined with clay and still contained fine, sooty soil along with charcoal and tiny pieces of slag, a much larger mass of slag was stuck to one side. There was a small granite slab embedded into the side of the furnace and a channel worn in the soil beside it. Fox considered that that this was where a clay tuyere (nozzle or mouthpiece) of some skin bellows rested. Close to the furnace was a small flowerpot shaped pit which was 54.8cm (1ft 8ins) deep, and tapering diameters of between 57.9cm (1ft 9ins) and 30.4cm (1ft). The bottom of this pit was stained red from burning and it contained ash, charcoal and sooty soil, Fox deemed that this was a forging pit in which the iron bloom was reheated. The occupation layer covered both surfaces so it can be assumed that the furnace and forging pit were in use whilst the hut was originally inhabited. Other evidence which pointed to iron working was a small piece of specular iron ore, a haematite, two fragments of hornfeld and a mudstone. It has been assumed that the iron ore originated somewhere in the lower Teign or Hennock area which lie about 11 miles away, (Fox, 1954, pp. 37 – 46). This discovery meant that when the hut was occupied it would have had a living area and a workshop section where the metalworking took place.

The two excavations have allowed several conclusions to be reached, firstly the Kestor settlement was one that held a farming community who were enclosing fields in which grain was produced and consumed, this is suggested by the saddle quern. The fact that there were two droveways leads one to think that cattle were being herded and therefore present. The spindle whorl would have been used in weaving which may suggest sheep were being kept for meat and wool. The furnaces would point to a metal worker or smith producing tools, jewellery and possibly weapons. The very fact that he lived in the largest hut at the settlement would also indicate that he was held in special regard and may have also been the headman or chief. All the evidence gathered led Fox to come to the conclusion that the date of this settlement originated in what at the time was referred to as the Iron Age ‘A’ period which would date it to around 400BC, (Fox, 1954 pp. 46 – 51).

That was the conclusions which in the 1950s Aileen Fox arrived at, but have they changed much over the following 56 years? Gerrard (1997, p.65) considers the following:

At Kestor, excavations by Fox of a large roundhouse lying within a circular enclosure known as Round Pound revealed a complex site which, although established in the Bronze Age also contained a few sherds of early Iron Age pottery. Most significant, however was the discovery of a small iron-smelting furnace and forging pit which the excavator considered also to be of Iron Age date. Unfortunately, there is also evidence of medieval activity at this site, which has led some archaeologists to challenge Fox’s dating of the ironwork“.

Well, there we go, no definite conclusion, some people aver that the furnaces were worked by a medieval smith whilst others maintain that it was a medieval shepherd who utilised the Round Pound and that it was an Iron Age smith who worked the forges. The National Monuments Record certainly dates both the settlement and the Round Pound to the Iron Age with later Medieval evidence. Maybe it’s time to do a bit of modern archaeological investigation?

Whilst on the subject of archaeological investigation, about 508m south east of the Round Pound is Teigncombe Roundhouse and this has been undergoing some recent archaeological work. Since 1999 the Dartmoor Archaeology and Bracken Report has been carried out under the guidance of Sandy Gerrard, it aim was to examine and quantify the physical and chemical impact of bracken rhizomes on sensitive archaeological deposits. As the interior of the Teigncombe hut was infested with about 20 years worth of bracken growth making it ideal to study the effects its rhizomes have on archaeological remains – see figure 6. . After two yearly periods of two week investigations at the hut the following conclusion was drawn:

Our excavation has confirmed that bracken destroys archaeological information. Within the current bracken rhizome mat, considerable damage is being caused by the 6.45 km of rhizomes, whilst within lower parts of the stratigraphy there is good evidence to suggest that a significant amount of information has been destroyed by one or more previous infestations.

The project ended in 2004 and over the five years it is estimated that around 1.149 finds were recorded, these included; a vast amount of pottery, whet stones, flint tools and some charred hazel nut shells – for further information see HERE and HERE.


Fox, A. 1954 Excavations at Kestor, Reports & Transactions – LXXXVI 1954, Devonshire Association, Exeter.

Gerrard, S. 1997 Landscape Through Time – Dartmoor, Batsford, London.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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