Tarrant Launceston

Pages 105-107

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 4, North. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1972.

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Table of contents


(O.S. 6 ins., ST 90 NW, ST 90 NE, ST 91 SW, ST 91 SE)

The parish, with an area of about 1,500 acres entirely on Chalk, extends from side to side of the Tarrant valley at altitudes between 180 ft. and 390 ft. above sea-level. Until late in the 19th century Tarrant Launceston and Tarrant Monkton, adjacent on the S., were regarded as one parish, although each formerly had its own place of worship. The village now consists of farms and cottages scattered along the banks of the Tarrant, but fragmentary earthwork remains indicate more extensive settlement in the past. In 1086, when the settlement belonged to Trinity Abbey, Caen, the recorded population was 24 (V.C.H., Dorset iii, 83). In 1327 the same number of taxpayers was recorded, indicating a relatively large and constant population. A muster-roll of 1542 (L. & P. Hen. VIII, xvii, 496) records 10 able-bodied men, a large quota by Dorset standards, perhaps indicating a total population of 60 or 70, or 14 to 17 households. This suggests some decline in population, and there certainly had been further decline by the 17th century, for the Hearth Tax Assessment of 1662 lists only 9 householders (Meekings, 67). In the 18th century, however, the population increased, and in 1801 it was 67 (V.C.H., Dorset, ii, 266).

The interest of an important area of Iron Age and Romano-British settlement, on Race Down in the W. of the parish, has been greatly reduced by modern construction.


Chapel-of-Ease, demolished in 1762 (Hutchins, 1st ed., II, 213), see (2), (12).


(1) Higher Dairy (93990979), a two-storeyed farmhouse with walls of flint and squared rubble and with a thatched roof, is of 17th-century origin. The class-T plan has been somewhat altered, but both ground-floor rooms retain chamfered beams with shaped stops. A fireplace bressummer has the incised inscription '1669 RW' in a roundel.

(2) Bridge (94020981), of stone, crossing the Tarrant with two small approximately semicircular arches, incorporated large chamfered voussoirs which probably were taken from the neighbouring chapel on its demolition in 1762. It carried a former trackway to Higher Dairy, now disused. (Demolished.)

(3) Cottages (94160993), three adjacent, with walls of banded flint and rubble, banded flint and brick, and with thatched roofs, are single-storeyed with dormer-windowed attics; they probably are of the 17th century and may originally have been a single house. Some rooms retain stop-chamfered beams.

(4) Cottage (94240969), with cob walls and a thatched roof, is single-storeyed with a dormer-windowed attic and has a plan of class S, with additions on the N. The original building is probably of the 18th century.

(5) Launceston Farm (94320950), house, of two storeys, with walls partly of rubble and flint and partly of brick, and with slate-covered roofs, probably is of 17th-century origin. The E. range, with a symmetrical brick façade with square-headed sashed windows of one and of two lights, was added early in the 19th century.

(6) Cottage (94420945), of two storeys, with walls of cob and brick and with a thatched roof, is of the late 18th century. Inside, the class-S plan has been modified by the insertion of a fireplace in the room which formerly was unheated, and by the addition of a third room on the E.

(7) Cottages (94410941), two adjacent, of one storey with attics, have walls of rubble, brick and flint, and tiled roofs. They are of 17th-century origin, much altered.

(8) Cottage (94480920), of one storey with attics, has walls of cob and brick, and a thatched roof. It dates from the 17th century although a stone window of three square-headed lights is a recent insertion. Inside, some stop-chamfered beams are exposed, and an open fireplace has a chamfered and cambered bressummer. The attic chambers have original plank-and-muntin partitions.

(9) Cottages (94480911), range of three, of one storey with attics, have walls of flint, rubble, and banded flint and brick, and thatched roofs. The range is of the 17th century, but the two S. tenements were restored and to some extent rebuilt in the 18th century.

(10) Cottage (94340900), of one storey with attics, has cob walls and a thatched roof; it probably is of 17th-century origin, with 18th-century restoration. Inside, the plan is of class J. Some large stop-chamfered beams are exposed, and a doorway has a heavy oak frame with a chamfered segmental head.

(11) Cottage (94270898), of one storey with attics, has cob walls and a thatched roof. It probably is of the late 17th century. The plan is of class S.

Mediaeval and Later Earthworks

(12) Platform (93090982), the site of the former Chapel (Tithe Map, 1840), measures 55 ft. by 36 ft. and is orientated N.E.–S.W. A low bank about 25 yds. long, some 20 yds. S.E. of the platform, marks one side of the chapel-yard. Part of the earthwork has been obliterated by chalk digging.

(13) Settlement Remains (939098–940096) occur on both sides of the Tarrant, in and around the village; although damaged by quarrying and drainage ditches, they cover about 6 acres on the W. bank of the Tarrant. At least 5 closes are found, 30 yds. wide and 30 yds. to 60 yds. long, bounded by low banks and scarps, with traces of building platforms up to 40 ft. by 25 ft. cut into the slope of the valley. Low banks and mounds of uncertain origin occur on the floodplain to the E. Other closes and a hollow-way on the E. bank of the Tarrant have now gone (R.A.F., V.A.P., CPE/UK 1939: 2152).

Roman and Prehistoric

(14) Romano-British Settlement (925092), on Blandford Down, lies on the gentle E. slope of a Chalk ridge between 325 ft. and 375 ft. above O.D. The site, severely damaged during the present century by a military camp, comprises a nucleated occupation area of about eight acres characterised by low earthworks, now much disturbed, among which a number of sunken platforms are probably the sites of former buildings. The area of occupation lies within a larger area, about 500 yds. in diameter, defined by shallow ditches, low banks and scarps. At least four contemporary tracks in the form of shallow hollow-ways, 25 ft. to 50 ft. across, run into this area. Outside the settlement on the N.E., air photographs (C.U.A.P., AMO 2–4, AGY 87; N.M.R., ST 9309/1–4) show a small subrectangular enclosure (93000947), about 250 ft. by 150 ft., associated with linear ditches and possibly with other enclosures (Plate 78); it lies on the N. side of a track which extends E.N.E. from the settlement for at least 1,000 yds., as far as 937097. 'Celtic' fields (Group 72) extend S.W. of the settlement, but nowhere do they join it. (Sumner, Cranborne Chase, 74 and pl. xlv.)

(15) Enclosure (948095), probably Iron Age or Romano-British, lies 500 yds. E. of Launceston Farm on the S.W. slope of a Chalk spur, between 250 ft. and 275 ft. above O.D., over-looking the Tarrant valley. The site, revealed by a soil-mark on air photographs (C.U.A.P., ANC 75, AGY 90), is an almost circular enclosure, about 500 ft. in diameter, defined by a narrow ditch. There are traces of an entrance on the N. side, and of a ditch running N.W. in a curve for some 500 ft. from just E. of the entrance. Faint traces of a ditched feature are found inside the enclosure, and there is evidence of a smaller angular enclosure attached to the exterior on the S.E.

(16) Linear Dykes, on Launceston Down in the extreme N.E. of the parish, lie between 200 ft. and 350 ft. above O.D. on the summit and on the E. slopes of the Chalk ridge between the Tarrant and the Crichel brooks. The dykes have been almost totally levelled by cultivation since 1947.

A dyke beginning in Tarrant Hinton parish (94811126) runs approximately W.S.W.-E.N.E. in a sinuous course for just over one mile across Launceston Down; it is lost in Long Crichel parish at 96251150. The dyke formerly consisted of a ditch with a low bank along its N. side and measured about 35 ft. across overall. At a sharp change of direction near the middle of its course (95611123) the earthwork bifurcates, a short length which extends almost due W. for 100 yds. suggesting two phases of construction. At the W. end the dyke appears to cross an earlier dyke which follows the parish boundary with Tarrant Hinton. The earlier dyke consists of a ditch with traces of a bank on the S. side, measuring about 35 ft. across overall; it extends across the ridge-top, from 95031115 in the N.E. at least as far as 94661094, a distance of nearly 350 yds.; possibly it continued further S.W. It is also possible that a third dyke extended S.W., from a junction with the first mentioned dyke at 94851120, towards the W. end of the second dyke, but this last named earthwork could be no more than a bank formed by trackways. (Sumner, Cranborne Chase, 35–7, pl. xvi A.)

(17) Long Barrow (92950885), on Blandford Race Down, lies at over 350 ft. above O.D. on a gentle E. slope, just off the crest of a Chalk ridge. Orientated S.E.-N.W., the mound is parallel-sided, 115 ft. long by 48 ft. wide, and up to 6 ft. high. It may be the one opened in 1840 by J. H. Austen, who found an extended inhumation, probably intrusive, 2½ ft. from the top (C.T.D. Pt. 2, No. 27). (O.S., Map of Neolithic Wessex, No. 157.)

'Celtic' Fields, see p. 119, Group (72).

Monuments (18–49), Round Barrows

At least 37 round barrows formerly existed in the parish, but most of them are now levelled or damaged by cultivation. The majority (23–49) occur in three groups on Launceston Down; many of them have been excavated.

Three barrows (18–20) on Blandford Race Down lie on the N.E. slope of a Chalk ridge, between 300 ft. and 360 ft. above sea-level.

(18) Barrow (92730924), within Settlement (14) comprises an oval mound, 50 ft. by 35 ft. and 2½ ft. high, now somewhat damaged.

(19) Bowl (92800903), S. of Settlement (14) has a hole dug in the centre of the mound; diam. 50 ft., ht. 4 ft., with a surrounding ditch.

(20) Barrow (93270889), now levelled by ploughing, is visible on an air photograph (N.M.R., ST 9510/1) as a well defined ring-ditch; diam. about 50 ft.

(21) Bowl (93250983), on the N. slope of a Chalk spur at 230 ft. above O.D., has now been levelled by ploughing, but is visible as a ring-ditch, about 40 ft. in diameter, on the air photograph noted in (20).

(22) Bowl (94841077), 200 yds. N.W. of Hyde Hill Plantation, lies at 350 ft. above O.D. on the shoulder of a westward-facing slope; diam. 60 ft., ht. 5 ft., with traces of a surrounding ditch. A low mound 35 yds. to the N., sometimes taken as a barrow, is almost certainly the remains of a 'Celtic' field angle.

The Hyde Hill Plantation Group comprises thirteen barrows (23–35) in two concentrations in and S.E. of the plantation; they lie between 340 ft. and 360 ft. above O.D. along the crest of a broad Chalk ridge between the Tarrant and Crichel Brooks. Most of them have been severely damaged by ploughing and (28), (29), (31) and (35) have been obliterated. Two barrows excavated by Warne in 1840 probably lay in this group; one of them yielded a primary cremation under a flint cairn, the other yielded only charcoal and ashes (C.T.D., Pt. 1, Nos. 39 and 40). The 'Launceston Sepulchralia' examined by Warne in 1840 probably lay in this area; it appears to have been a cremation cemetery, with the cremations in groups of holes in the chalk, each group being covered with a layer of closely packed flint nodules (C.T.D., Pt. 1, 57–8; Arch. J., CVIII (1951), 14, note 1).

(23) Bowl (95081041), in the plantation; diam. 45 ft., ht. 2½ ft., with traces of surrounding ditch.

(24) Bowl (95111043); diam. 40 ft., ht. 2½ ft., with traces of surrounding ditch.

(25) Bowl (95141043), immediately E. of the plantation, has been much denuded by ploughing; diam. about 30 ft., ht. less than 1 ft.

(26) Bowl (95111038), immediately S. of the plantation; diam. 40 ft., ht. 3½ ft.

(27) Bowl (95161040), now nearly levelled by ploughing; diam. about 28 ft.

(28) Bowl (95151042), now levelled by ploughing; former diam. about 25 ft.

(29) Bowl (95281032), now levelled by ploughing; former diam. about 21 ft.

(30) Bowl (95341024), heavily ploughed; diam. 40 ft., ht. 1 ft.

(31) Bowl (95401017), now levelled by ploughing; former diam. 44 ft.

(32) Bowl (95421020), a flat-topped mound; diam., diminished by ploughing, 48 ft., ht. 3½ ft.; traces of surrounding ditch.

(33) Bowl (95451019), a steep-sided mound; diam. 55 ft., ht. 8 ft.; with well-defined ditch (Dorset Barrows, Long Crichel, No. 24).

(34) Bowl (95441021), damaged by ploughing and by digging on the S.; diam. 36 ft., ht. 1½ ft.

(35) Bowl (95451024), now levelled by ploughing; former diam. 33 ft., ht. 1½ ft.

The Launceston Down South Group comprises thirteen barrows (36–44); four of them lie in the neighbouring parish of Long Crichel (see Dorset V). They are between 200 ft. and 250 ft. above O.D., and extend in an irregular line from W. to E. on the northward-facing slope of a dry combe which falls E. to the Crichel brook. All these barrows were excavated in 1938 by S. and C. M. Piggott (Arch., XC (1944), 47–80); they are no longer visible on the ground and former dimensions, etc. are recorded.

(36) Bowl (95381067), covering a primary cremation, associated with a calcite double-spaced bead, in a circular grave cut into the chalk; diam. 25 ft., ht. 1 ft. (Piggott, 18).

(37) Bowl (95501069), disturbed in the past, yielded a cremation, probably primary, under an inverted cinerary urn in a shallow pit in the chalk; diam. 35 ft., ht. 1½ ft. (Piggott, 12).

(38) Bowl (95621064), with a primary crouched inhumation near the centre associated with a leaf-shaped arrowhead; diam. 40 ft., ht. 1 ft. (Piggott, 13).

(39) Bowl (95731061), covering a primary cremation in a pit cut into the chalk; diam. 12 ft., ht. 1 ft. (Piggott, 15).

(40) Bowl (95741058), containing a primary crouched inhumation with a trephined skull, associated with a bell beaker, in a central grave cut into the chalk, and a secondary cremation near it; diam. 17 ft., ht. less than 1 ft. (Piggott, 14).

(41) Bowl (95771060), apparently disturbed by earlier digging, probably had contained a primary inhumation associated with a small long-necked beaker; diam. 25 ft., ht. 1 ft. (Piggott, 16).

(42) Bowl (95711050), containing a primary crouched inhumation, associated with a bronze awl and a long-necked beaker, in a large grave cut into the chalk. An urn of 'degenerate food-vessel' type was found in a secondary position in this grave. Diam. 18 ft., ht. 1 ft. (Piggott, 17).

(43) Bowl (95891056), yielding a primary cremation and four secondary cremations, one of them associated with an inverted sub-biconical urn (Arch. J., CXIX (1962), 41, 62). An intrusive crouched inhumation near the edge of the mound was probably Romano-British or pagan Saxon. Diam. 40 ft., ht. 2 ft., with a horseshoe-shaped ditch with a causeway on the E. (Piggott, 9; Dorset Barrows, Long Crichel, No. 22).

(44) Bowl (95901060), with three extended inhumations, perhaps intrusive and probably of pagan Saxon origin, in a shallow scraping in the chalk; diam. 20 ft., ht. less than 1 ft. (Piggot, 6; Dorset Barrows, Long Crichel, No. 19).

The Launceston Down North Group comprised a cluster of at least five small barrows located around 95451145, 220 ft. above O.D. on the southward-facing slope of a dry combe falling E. to the Crichel brook; all have now been levelled by cultivation, but each barrow was examined by J. H. Austen in 1864. One yielded nothing. Another yielded a cremation, probably secondary, in an urn now lost, together with 'the point of a bronze spear or dagger'. A third barrow yielded a primary cremation in a barrel urn of 'South Lodge' type, in a pit cut in the Chalk. A fourth barrow yielded a cremation, probably secondary, in a similar urn. A fifth barrow yielded a primary cremation in a pit, and two cremations, probably secondary, above it, one of the latter having a plain urn (C.T.D., Pt. 2, nos. 36–40; Ant. J., XIII (1933), 447; Arch. J., CXIX (1962), 20, 54, 55). In 1938 four more urns, not covered by barrows but apparently part of an urnfield, were found in the vicinity of the barrow group; three of them contained cremations, one with a fragment of a bronze spearhead (Arch., XC (1944), 50, 60, 61).

(45) Bowl (95821132), now levelled by ploughing, but visible as a ring-ditch soil-mark, lies at 230 ft. above O.D. on the northward-facing slope of a dry combe which falls E. to the Crichel brook. The first Dyke noted above (16) skirts it on the S. Diam. about 30 ft.

(46) Disc (95881133), 70 yds. E. of (45) and in a similar situation and condition, lies on the parish boundary with Long Crichel; it consists of a circular ditch, 150 ft. in diameter, with traces of an inner and an outer bank, and of a small mound S.E. of the centre. Dyke (16) appears to cut the outer bank on the S.

(47) Bowl (95731150), on the S.-facing slope of a dry combe, 220 ft. above O.D. and now levelled by ploughing; diam. about 30 ft.

(48) Bowl (95771153), 55 yds. N.E. of (47) and on the parish boundary with Long Crichel, is now levelled; former diam. 60 ft., ht. 1 ft. (Dorset Barrows, Long Crichel No. 4). Beaker sherds were found in a rabbit scrape on the mound in 1937 (note by C. D. Drew, D.C.M.).

(49) Bowl (95591190), in the extreme N. of the parish, on a gentle N. slope at 250 ft. above O.D., was excavated by S. and C. M. Piggott in 1938 (No. 10); it contained a primary cremation in a barrel urn (Arch., XC (1944), 61–2, 72–3; Arch. J., CXIX (1962), 55; Helinium, I (1961), 116).