The following is an exerpt from committee member John Risdon’s published book, The Ancient Rural Parish of Churston Ferrers with Galmpton.
The Broadsands Neolithic Chamber Tomb provides the remains of Torbay’s oldest man-made structure. Constructed some time in the late Stone Age between 4,000 and 3,000 B.C., the original tomb consisted of a chamber 11ft x 7ft with a height of 5ft.
The walls consisted mainly of local Devonian limestone boulders, with two massive capping stones of which only one remains. The chamber was covered by a mound of interlocking stones, its outward dimensions being approximately 40ft in diameter. Its shape was oblong rather than circular. A passageway 13ft long by 2ft wide led into the chamber.
Its use as a burial chamber seems to have been in two stages with two distinct burial layers. The oldest, primary layer, contained bone fragments from two adult male bodies. Fragments of black, highly polished western Neolithic pottery were found in association with these remains. After a considerable period, the original interments were cleared from the chamber leaving only the bone fragments compressed into the soil. The chamber was then ‘purified’ with ritual fires and a pavement of limestone slabs laid over the original surface. This was then used for a second interment, where it seems the body of a young man under 20 years old and an infant were laid in a flexed position.
Since its abandonment by the late Neolithic people, the tomb has gained the attention of later generations of local folk. Possibly from Saxon times the tomb became a marker denoting the boundary between the manors of Goodrington and Churston, later the Parish boundary. In Mediaeval times the tomb attracted the attention of grave robbers who were possibly responsible for its initial destruction. The name of the adjacent field ‘Shilstone’ also can be identified with this period and its association with the sill-stone situated at the entrance to the tomb. During the 19th century, a new track was made to the quarry workings at Tor Rocks disturbing the site considerably. It is possible that some major limestone structural blocks were removed from the site at this time.
In the Spring of 1958, the tomb was excavated by the Devon Archaeological Exploration Society under the leadership of Raleigh Radford and Guy Belleville.
Today, the most significant identification of this ancient structure is the remaining mighty capping stone, now slumped towards the sea (see image below).
Overlooking the sea but in a better state of repair are two Bronze Age tombs on the Isles of Scilly. The image of one of the tombs below gives an idea of how the Broadsands tomb would have looked in its heyday.
Access to the site
The chamber-tomb site overlooks Broadsands beach but is situated on private farm land with no public access. On occasions, permission is granted for pre-planned, organised visits for interested parties. The Galmpton and Churston Local History Group are in a position to lead such visits, usually as part of a local heritage walk. You can keep up to date with future walks and other events on our Programme of Events page or subscribe to our newsletter to receive notification directly via email.
There are a number of professional websites on the Neolithic Chamber Tomb at Broadsands, including an article written by local historian Kevin Dixon. You can find links to these below: