The Linear Earthworks of Cornwall: What if They Were Early Medieval?

Erik Grigg


This article examines various linear earthworks in Cornwall that may date to the early medieval period. The dating evidence for the earthworks is discussed. While incontrovertible evidence for when they were built is lacking, the article asks how they might fit into the early medieval period if that is when most or all of them were built. The article postulates that they may have provided refuges against raiding, probably from the kingdom of Wessex in the eighth and ninth century, so allowing the Cornish to preserve their distinctive identity and language until the modern era (Padel 2017).


Cornwall; dykes; warfare; dating; identity

Full Text:



Andrew, C. 1935. Some remarks on the Giant’s Hedge. Journal Royal Institute of Cornwall 24(3): 212–228.

Bapty, I. 2007. Look on my works: finding Offa. British Archaeology 97: 20–25.

Bately, J. (ed) 1986. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Volume 3 Ms. A. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.

Boldrini, N. 1999. Creating space: a re-examination of the Roman Ridge. Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society 20: 24–30.

Borlase, W. 1758. The Natural History of Cornwall., Oxford: W. Jackson.

Borlase, W. 1769 Antiquities, Historical and Monumental, of the County of Cornwall (second edition). London: W. Jackson.

Burne, A. 1959. Offa’s Dyke – boundary or barrier? Journal of the Chester and North Wales Archaeological and Historic Society 46: 25–32.

Carew, R. 1602. The Survey of Cornwall. London.

Cole, R. 2004. Bolster Bank, St Agnes, Cornwall: Archaeological recording of damage. Cornwall County Council Historic Environment Service, Truro. Shelf Number 936.2378.

Cornish, J. 1906. Ancient Earthworks, in W. Page (ed) The Victoria History of the County of Cornwall: Volume 1. Folkestone, Archibald Constable: 451–473.

Cotton, M. 1958–1959. Cornish Cliff Castles. Proceedings of the West Cornwall Field Club 2(3): 113–121.

Crawford, O. 1936. The work of giants. Antiquity 10(38): 162–174.

Crawford, O, 1953. Archaeology in the Field. London: Phoenix House.

Cronk, K. 2004. Journey along the Roman Ridge: Exploring the Purpose of South West Yorkshire’s Ancient Dykes. Rotherham: The Clifton and Wellgate Local History Group.

Dark, K. 1985. The plan and interpretation of Tintagel. Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 9: 1–17.

Dark, K. 1994. Civitas to Kingdom. Leicester: Leicester University Press.

Douch, H. and Pool, P. 1975. The Parish of St Agnes by Thomas Tonkin, 1733. Journal of the Royal Institute of Cornwall VII New Series: 197–210.

Drake, S. 2018. Since the time of King Arthur: gentry identity and the commonalty of Cornwall c.1300–c.1420. Historical Research. 91.252: 236-254.

Erskine, J. 2007. The west Wansdyke: an appraisal of the dating, dimensions and construction techniques in the light of excavated evidence, The Archaeological Journal, 164: 80-108.

Fairfax, T. 1646. Further Proceedings in the West. London.

Ferns, J. 1980. The enigma of the Roman Rig: a possible solution. Industrial Archaeology 15: 3–10.

Forde-Johnston, J. 1976. Hillforts of the Iron Age in England and Wales. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Fox, C. 1955. Offa’s Dyke: A field survey of the western frontier-works of Mercia in the seventh and eighth centuries AD. London: British Academy.

Fulford, M. 1989. Byzantium and Britain: a Mediterranean perspective on Post-Roman Mediterranean Imports in Western Britain and Ireland. Medieval Archaeology 33: 1–6.

George, K. 1986. How many people spoke Cornish traditionally? Cornish Studies 14: 67–70.

Grigg, E. 2008a. Beunans Meriasek, A Study Guide. Kesva An Taves Kernewek/Cornish Language Board, Redruth.

Grigg, E. 2008b. Fosow an Osow Tewl a Gernow An Gowsva 35: 8–10.

Grigg, E. 2015. Early Medieval Dykes (400 to 850 AD). University of Manchester PhD.

Grigg, E. 2018. Warfare, Raiding and Defence in Early Medieval Britain. Marlborough: Robert Hale.

HES (Historic Environment Service). 1984. 1984 watching brief Giant’s Hedge, Kilminorth Wood. Cornwall County Council Historic Environment Service, Truro. GRH 37/3.

HES (Historic Environment Service). 1989a. Dodman. Cornwall County Council HES, Truro. Unpublished HER report 24047.

HES (Historic Environment Service). 1989b. Stepper Point. Cornwall County Council HES, Truro. Unpublished HER report 26375.

HES (Historic Environment Service). 1989c. Stepper Point. Cornwall County Council HES, Truro. Unpublished HER report 26375.1.

HES (Historic Environment Service). 1990a. Giant’s Grave. Cornwall County Council HES, Truro. Unpublished HER report 29118.

HES (Historic Environment Service). 1990b. Giant’s Hedge. Cornwall County Council HES, Truro. Unpublished HER report 10200.

HES (Historic Environment Service). 1997. Bolster Bank. Cornwall County Council HES, Truro. Unpublished HER report 19062.

Hamerow, H. 2002. Early Medieval Settlements: The Archaeology of Rural Communities in Northern Europe 400–900. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Henderson, C. 1955. Ecclesiastical Antiquities of 109 Parishes of West Cornwall: Lelizzick. Journal of the Royal Institute of Cornwall New Series: 377.

Herring, P. 1991. Giant’s Grave, Varfell, Ludgvan, Cornwall County Council HES, Truro, Unpublished internal report SW535E/29118.

Herring, P. 1992. St Michael’s Mount. Truro: Cornwall County Council.

Herring, P., Johnson, N., Jones, A., Nowakowski, J., Sharpe, A. and Young, A. 2016 Archaeology and Landscape at the Land’s End, Cornwall, Truro: Cornwall Council.

Hill, D. and Worthington, M. 2003. Offa’s Dyke: History and Guide. Stroud: Tempus.

Hogg, A. 1975. Hill-Forts of Britain. London: Harper Collins.

Holmes, J. 1983. 1,000 Cornish Place Names Explained. Penryn: Truran.

Hunt, R. 1908. Popular Romances of the West of England. London: J.C. Hotton.

Hutchinson, J. N. and Stuart, J.T. 2003. Analyses of the morphological changes with time, through denudation and siltation, in ditches of trapezoidal and triangular section. Journal of the Archaeological Science 30(7): 797–808.

Jewell, P.A. (ed.) 1963. The Experimental Earthwork on Overton Down Wiltshire 1960. London: BAAS.

Johnson, N. 1980. The Bolster Bank, St Agnes – a survey. Cornish Archaeology 19: 77–88.

Johnson, N. and Rose, P. 1982. Defended settlement in Cornwall – an illustrated discussion, in D. Miles (ed) The Roman-British Countryside: Part i. Oxford: BAR: 151–207.

Lach-Szyrma, W. 1885–1886. Two hundred and twenty-two Antiquities, or places worth seeing, in or near Penzance (continued). The Western Antiquary 5: 80-82.

Lucy, S. and Reynolds, A. 2002. Burial in Early Medieval England and Wales: past, present and future, in S. Lucy and A. Reynolds (eds) Burial in Early Medieval England and Wales. London: Routledge: 1–23.

Lysons, D. and Lysons, S. 1814. Magnus Britannia: A Concise Topographical Account of the several counties of Great Britain Volume the third concerning Cornwall. London: Cadell & Davies.

Macalister, R. 1929. The ancient inscriptions of the south of England. Archaeologia Cambrensis 84: 179–196.

Macalister, R. 1949. Corpus inscriptionum insularum celticarum. Dublin: Stationary Office.

Malim, T. 2007. The origins and design of linear earthworks in the Welsh Marches, in G Nash (ed.) Landscape Enquiries. Clifton: Clifton Antiquarian Club: 13–32.

McLaughlin, H. 1847. Notes on the Manors of Tewington, Moresk and Tywarnhaile. Reports of the Royal Institute of Cornwall: 26–29.

Morris, C. 1998. Tintagel. Current Archaeology 159: 84–88.

Morton-Nance, R. 1999. A new Cornish-English and English-Cornish dictionary. Redruth: Cornish Language Board.

Newton, J. 1847. Appendix VIII: Abstract of Notice of the Antiquities of St. Agnes. Reports of the Royal Institute of Cornwall: 59–60.

OS (Ordnance Survey). 1966. Britain in the Dark Ages. Chessington: Director General of the Ordnance Survey.

Okasha, E. 1993. Corpus of Early Christian Inscribed Stones of South-West Britain. Leicester: Leicester University Press.

Padel, O. 1985. Cornish Place-Name Elements. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Padel, O. 1988. A Popular Dictionary of Cornish Place-Names. Penzance: Alison Hodge.

Padel, O. 2017. Where was Middle Cornish spoken?. Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies. 74: 1–31.

Padel, O. 2022. King Æthelstan and Cornwall. Offa’s Dyke Journal 4: 66–85.

Parkes, C. 2000. Fowey Estuary Historic Audit, Truro: Cornwall County Council.

Parkes, C, 2008. The Dodman and St Austell Bay, Archaeological Survey for the National Trust. Truro: Cornwall Council.

Payton, P. 1996. Cornwall. Bodmin: Alexander Associates.

Penaluna, W. 1838. A Historical Survey of the County of Cornwall. Helston.

Preston-Jones, A. and Rose, P. 1986. Medieval Cornwall. Cornish Archaeology 25: 135–185.

Reynolds, A. and Langlands, A. 2006. Social identities on the macro scale: a maximum view of Wansdyke, in W. Davies, G. Halsall and A. Reynolds (eds) People and Space in the Middle Ages, 300–1300. Turnhout: Brepols: 13–44.

Smith, L. (ed.) 1907. The Itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535–1543: Parts I–III. London.

Soulsby, I. 1986. A History of Cornwall, Chichester: Phillimore.

Squatriti, P. 2002. Digging ditches in early medieval Europe. Past and Present 176: 11–65.

Swanton, M. (ed.) 2000. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. London: Phoenix.

Thomas, C. 1993. English Heritage Book of Tintagel: Arthur and Archaeology. London: B.T. Batsford.

Thomas, C. 1994. And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions in Western Britain. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Todd, M. 1987. The South-West to AD 1000. London: Longman.

Turner, S. 2008. Making a Christian Landscape. Exeter: University of Exeter Press,

Weatherhill, C. 1985. Cornovia. Penzance: Alison Hodge.

Wessex Archaeology. 2008. Lellizzick, nr Padstow, Cornwall, Archaeological Evaluation and Assessment of Results. Wessex Archaeology, Salisbury.

Whitley, H. 1881. Report on Bolster Entrenchment at St Agnes. Journal of the Royal Institute of Cornwall VII: 53.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

ISSN: 2695-625X

Follow us on:




Edited in Madrid by JAS Arqueología