One of the sites I had on the target list for my recent trip to Cornwall was the Goldherring Settlement near Sancreed in West Penwith. Dating from approximately the 1st Century BC, the site consists of a walled settlement, set within a wider field system, with dwellings, including a Courtyard House,  and a nearby well.

Close by is the settlement at Carn Euny, the Iron Age Hill Fort of Caer Bran and Chapel Carn Brea as well as the much earlier stone circle at Boscawen-Un. The Goldherring settlement had three main periods of occupation, starting in the late 1st Century BC or the early 1st Century AD. The field system dates from the 3rd Century AD and in early Medieval times (as well as possibly earlier) the site was used for the smelting of tin.

Located on CRoW access land, on the eastern slope of a small hill some 500 feet above sea level, thanks to clearance work the settlement is surprisingly easy to access.

I parked at the Boscawen-Un layby on the A30 at OS Grid Ref SW409277 and walked back  towards Penzance for a couple of hundred yards. The field on the left came to end, and there was a gated track on the left. I walked up the track, following it to the right, then round to the left until the track ended at a gate to a ploughed, cultivated field. Off to the right was an information board, and rough path leading along the field boundary to the settlement, which is located at OS Grid Ref SW411282.

GoldHerring Infoboard

As mentioned, a lot of clearance work has been done, and it’s possible to just make out the form of the elements of a courtyard house within the main enclosure, although a weathered tree is now growing in the middle of the complex. Not a textbook layout, but the basic form is there if you look hard enough.

Goldherring Courtyard House

There is a well nearby to the east, but the clearance work hasn’t yet got that far and I was unable to make my way through the brambles. The site was also used for processing tin in the medieval period, so there’s a lot here to try to identify. Fancy led me to believe that maybe one area may have once been an underground fogou that had subsequently lost its roof but it could equally have been a later storage building. The site is on a slope and the current ground level is very undulating. Would it have been like this in the past when in use I wondered?

The settlement was excavated in the late 1950’s by A Guthrie. A full excavation report was published in the Cornwall Archaeological Society journal ‘Cornish Archaeology’ issue 8 (1969), sadly no longer available from the society as far as I know, though secondhand copies may be obtained at a price. There is some discussion of the age of Courtyard Houses, including that at Goldherring, in an article by Henrietta Quinnell in ‘Cornish Archaeology’ #25, available for download in PDF form.

I would urge anyone in the area to visit this overlooked site for themselves, before the bracken, brambles and gorse reclaim it and it becomes hidden from view once more.

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