Uphall Camp, Ilford, Essex

Hillfort (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference –TQ 4383 8510

Archaeology & History

Uphall Camp, 1893

This prehistoric site was a giant – a huge colossus of an ‘enclosure’, a ‘settlement’, a ‘camp’—call-it-what-you-will.  More than a mile in circumference and with an internal area of 48 acres (big enough to hold 37 football fields!), archaeologist Pamela Greenwood (1989) told us, not only that it was “the largest recorded hillfort in Essex”, but that it compared in size with the immensity of Maiden Castle in Dorset!  Yet despite it being cited by the Oxford Archaeology report of Jonathan Millward (2016) as “the most significant archaeological site within the Borough” from the Iron Age period, it has fallen prey to the thoughtless actions of the self-righteous Industrialists who, as usual, have completely destroyed it.  It was already in a “bad” state when the Royal Commission lads visited here around 1916, saying how it was “in some danger of destruction.” Thankfully, in earlier centuries, we did have more civilized and educated people who seemed proud to describe what there was of their local history.

Early literary accounts seem sparse; although in Mr Wright’s (1831) huge commentary to Philip Morant’s (1768) Antiquities of Essex, he thought that the adjoining parish of Barking—whose ancient boundary line is marked here by the southern embankments of the enclosure—derived from the Saxon words burgh-ing, which he transcribed as ‘the fortress in the meadow’.  The same derivation was propounded in Richard Gough’s 1789 edition of Camden’s Britannia, from the “Fortification in the meadows.”  It seems a more reasonable derivation than that ascribed in the Oxford Names Companion (2002) as the “(settlement of) the family or followers of a man called *Berica” (the asterisk here denotes the fact that no personal name of this form has ever been found and is pure guesswork).  But according to the English Place-Name Society text on Essex by Paul Reaney (1935), the early spellings of Barking implies a derivation from ‘birch trees.’  Anyway….

Uphall Camp c.1735

A fine plan of the site was drawn by John Noble some time around 1735 although, curiously, he seems to have written no notes about the place.  The first real citation of Uphall Camp as an antiquity seems to have been by Morant himself (1768).  In a work bedevilled by genealogical and ecclesiological tedium, he occasionally breaks from that boredom to tell of the landscape and the people living here, mentioning our more ancient monuments—but only in passing, as illustrated here:

“Near the road leading from Ilford to Berking, on the north west side of the brook which runs across it, are the Remains of an ancient Entrenchment: one side of which is parallel with the lane that goes to a farm called Uphall; a second side is parallel with the Rodon, and lies near it; the third side looks towards the Thames; the side which runs parallel with the road itself has been almost destroyed by cultivation, though evident traces of it are still discernible.”

Just over thirty years later we were thankfully given a more expansive literary portrayal by Daniel Lysons. (1796)  Lysons was drawing some of his material from a manuscript on the history of Barking by a Mr Smart Lethieullier, written about 1750 (this manuscript was unfortunately destroyed by fire, and no copies of it ever made).  He told us:

“In the fields adjoining to a farm called Uphall, about a quarter of a mile to the north of Barking-town, is a very remarkable ancient entrenchment: its form is not regular, but tending to a square; the circumference is 1792 yards, (i.e., one mile and 32 yards,) inclosing an area of forty-eight acres, one rood, and thirty-four perches.  On the north, east, and south sides it is single trenched: on the north and east sides the ground is dry and level (being arable land), and the trench from frequent ploughing almost filled up: on the south side is a deep morass: on the west side, which runs parallel with the river Roding, and at a short distance from it, is a double trench and bank: at the north west corner was an outlet to a very fine spring of water, which was guarded by an inner work, and a high keep or mound of earth.  Mr. Lethieullier thinks that this entrenchment was too large for a camp: his opinion therefore is, that it was the site of a Roman town.  He confesses that no traces of buildings have been found on that spot, which he accounts for on the supposition that the materials were used for building Barking Abbey, and for repairing it after it was burnt by the Danes.  As a confirmation of this opinion, he relates, that upon viewing the ruins of the Abbey-church in 1750, he found the foundations of one of the great pillars composed in part of Roman bricks. A coin of Magnentius was found also among the ruins.”

But this is a spurious allusion; albeit an understandable one when one recognizes that the paradigm amongst many writers at the time was to say that anything large and impressive was either a construction of the Romans or the Danes, as the early British—it was deemed—were incapable of building such huge monuments.  How wrong they were!

In Mrs Ogborne’s (1814) description of Uphall Camp, she thought that its form and character betrayed anything Roman and—although she wasn’t specific—seemed to prefer the idea that our earliest Britons had built this place.  And she was right!  She wrote:

“There is, about a quarter of a mile from Barking, adjoining Uphal farm, on the road to Ilford, an antient entrenchment, a mile and 32 yards in circumference, with the corners rounded off; the west side, parallel with the river Rodon, has a double trench and bank, and a high keep, or mound of earth, about 94 yards round the base, about nine in height, on the side of the river, and seven on the opposite side: there was an outlet to a spring of water at the north-west corner; the south side has a morass; the north and east sides are single trenched, which is almost lost by cultivation, and in some places barely discernible.”

Uphall Camp on 1873 map

Uphall Camp on 1897 map

When the Ordnance Survey lads gave the site their attention in the 1870s, they showed its real size for the first time—cartographically at least!  As the two old maps either side here show, it was a big one!  Although some sections of the edges of the ‘camp’ were diminishing at the time, much of it was still in evidence.  And when the local writer Edward Tuck (1899) wrote about it, he told us,

“On the north and east sides the ground is dry and level (being arable land) and the trench from frequent ploughings is almost filled up. On the south side is a deep morass; on the west side which runs parallel with the river Roding, and at a short distance from it is a double trench and bank; at the north-west corner is an outlet to a very fine spring of water, which is guarded by an inner work and a high keep or mound of earth designated “Lavender Mound.”  Mrs. Ogborne in her History of Essex gives a charming drawing of this mound as it was in 1814, and says that the mound was then about 94 yards round the base, and about nine yards in height, with trees growing upon it, and its surface covered with soft verdure.”

Uphall earthworks in 1893

Several other writers mentioned the remaining embankments of Uphall Camp, which was beginning to fade fast as the city-builders spread themselves further afield.  A chemical factory did most of the damage (as they still do, in more ways than one!).  When the Royal Commission (1921) lads came here they curiously deemed it as an “unclassified” structure; but in those days unless things were Roman in this neck of the woods, it could unduly puzzle them!  Their account of it told that,

“the remaining earthworks consist of a short length of rampart with an irregularly shaped mound at the north end, which is known locally as Lavender Mount, and another short length north of the farmhouse; there are also traces of the east side of the camp running parallel with Barking Lane.  An early plan shows part of the north and east sides of the earthwork and suggests that it was roughly rectangular in outline.  In 1750 the north, east and south sides are said to have had a single trench, and the west side a double trench and bank.

“The mound is 21 ft. high and 85 ft. in diameter at the base. The date of the earthwork is doubtful, but it does not appear to be pre-Roman.”

1908 photo of Lavender Mount

1814 sketch of Lavender Mount

The ‘Lavender Mount’ aspect in this monument, seemed a peculiar oddity.  Even modern archaeologists aren’t sure of what it might have been, erring on the side of caution with interpretations saying it was a keep of some sort, or a small beacon hill.  It might have been of course; but if it was a beacon hill, there would very likely be some written account of it – but none exist as far as I’m aware.  Initial impressions when just looking at the images is that it was a tumulus, but the position of the mound on top of the raised earthen embankments tells us that it was constructed after the Iron Age ramparts.  Writers of the Victoria County History (1903) said the same, suggesting a Saxon or more likely Danish origin.  The area around Lavender Hill was eventually explored by archaeologists in 1960, and several times thereafter – and what they uncovered showed us a continuity of usage that spanned several thousand years!

The 1960 excavation took place where, adjacent to the embankment, “the bank and ditch contained middle-Iron Age pottery”, along with traces of the large wooden fencing-posts (palisade) that initially surrounded and protected the enclosure. In Pamela Greenwood’s (1989) archaeological report, she told us that in further digs in 1983-4 there were discoveries of neolithic and Bronze Age flint remains.  The finds included,

“a leaf-shaped arrowhead and a discoidal scraper… fragments of an Ardleigh type urn, probably from a middle Bronze Age burial disturbed by later activity.  An L-shaped ditch, possibly part of an enclosure or field boundary, was found during the watching-brief. It contained flint-gritted pottery, perhaps attributable to the Bronze Age.”

But the majority of the finds at Uphall came from the mid-Iron Age period.  Greenwood continued:

“The settlement, judging from the relatively small area of the fortification actually excavated, was laid out in a regular way.  As might be expected, the round-houses appear to be aligned, indicating some sort of street-pattern.  ‘Four-poster’ structures have been located in particular areas, again pointing to some sort of designation of special zones of activity. Large quantities of charred grain from the post-pits and surroundings would confirm that these structures are granaries….

“The middle Iron Age structures are of several types: round-houses or round-buildings, pennanular enclosures, (wooden) ‘four-posters’; rectangular structures, ditches, post-holes and innumerable and ill-assorted small pits, small gullies and holes dug into the gravel.  Many of the last three types are undatable and could belong to the Iron Age, Roman, medieval or later activity on the site.”

I could just copy and paste the rest of Greenwood’s report here, but it’s quite extensive and interested readers should refer to her own account in the London Archaeologist .  It’s a pity that it’s been destroyed.


  1. Crouch, Walter, “Ancient Entrenchments at Uphall, near Barking, Essex,” in Essex Naturalist, volume 7, 1887.
  2. Crouch, Walter, “Uphall Camp,” in Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, volume 9 (New Series), 1906.
  3. Doubleday, H.A. & Page, William (eds.), Victoria History of the County of Essex – volume 1, Archibald Constable: Westminster 1903.
  4. Greenwood, Pamela, “Uphall Camp,” in Essex Archaeology & History News, 1987.
  5. Greenwood, Pamela, “Uphall Camp, Ilford, Essex,” in London Archaeologist, volume 6, 1989.
  6. Hogg, A.H.A., British Hill-Forts: An Index, BAR: Oxford 1979.
  7. Kemble, James, Prehistoric and Roman Essex, History Press: Stroud 2009.
  8. Lysons, Daniel, The Environs of London – volume 4, T. Cadell: London 1796.
  9. Millward, Jonathan, London Borough of Redbridge: Archaeological Priority Areas Appraisal, Oxford Archaeology 2016.
  10. Morant, Philip, The History and Antiquities of Essex – volume 1, T.Osborne: London 1768.
  11. Norris, F.J., “Uphall Camp”, in Gentleman’s Magazine, 1888.
  12. Ogborne, Elizabeth, The History of Essex, Longmans: London 1814.
  13. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, England, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex – volume 2, HMSO: London 1921.
  14. Tuck, Edward, A Sketch of Ancient Barking, Its Abbey, and Ilford, Wilson & Whitworth: Barking 1899.
  15. Wilkinson, P.M., “Uphall Camp,” in Essex Archaeology & History, volume 10, 1979.
  16. Wright, Thomas & Bartlett, W., The History and Topography of the County of Essex – volume 2, G. Virtue: London 1831.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Briscoe Rigg, Rigton, North Yorkshire

Settlement (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference — SE 2581 5100

Archaeology & History

Briscoe Rigg on 1851 map

Highlighted on the 1851 OS-map of the area as a ‘Camp’, all trace of this ancient settlement would seem to have been destroyed.  It was already on its way out when the Ordnance Survey lads looked at it for a second time in 1888, finding barely a trace of it.  Thankfully though, when the clearer eyes of that great northern antiquarian Eric Cowling visited the site in the early 1930s, traces of it could still be made out.  Both he and fellow antiquarian, Mr B.J.W. Kent of Beckwithshaw, did their own investigations; and it is their notes we are most grateful for in describing this forlorn antiquity.  Mr Cowling (1946) wrote:

“On the highest point of the enclosed land on the east side of the Briscoe Rigg (to) Rigton road is a small entrenched site.  The enclosed area measures 130 yards from north to south and 70 yards from east to west.  The camp is six-sided, but this appears to be due to bad workmanship and layout rather than intention.  One gains the impression that the original plan was oblong and that the longer sides were bent to conform to the shorter ones.  It is slightly hollow and the whole area is almost levelled by heavy ploughing; the outer bank barely being one foot above the surroundings.  The ditch and outer bank now cover a spread of 60 feet.

“Recent hurried investigations by Mr Kent showed interesting details.  The area seems to have been occupied by hut-sites previous to the hurried digging of a trench some 16ft wide and 6ft deep, going down into the bed-rock nearly 6 feet.  Son after, the ditch was half-filled by boulders and earth amongst which was a fragment of pottery, black in colour and indefinite in type, but probably Roman.  When the ditch was half-full it was used for some time for cooking…”

Cowling’s 1946 site-plan

Cowling also told us there was “a tradition that tools, which by description appear to be socketed celts, were found here when the site was brought under cultivation”, in about 1840.  Mr Kent also discovered various flints hereby, many Mesolithic scrapers and “a fine Bronze Age barbed and tanged point and also a transverse cutting arrow point of the early four-sided types.”

Although these finds from much earlier periods show that people have been living and hunting in the area for an exceptionally long period, the settlement or camp at Briscoe Rigg was probably built in the early Iron Age period and continued to be used into Romano-British times (somewhere between between 500 BCE and 500 CE).


  1. Cowling, E.T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Horn Bank, Rigton, North Yorkshire

Horn Bank on 1910 map

Settlement (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 2905 5035

Archaeology & History

Upon the top of the old ridge where ran the ancient trackway between Rigton and Pannal, could once be found a multi-period settlement, long since gone – as happens all too often in this neck o’ the woods.  And unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be any sketch plans of the site.  It was first described by Edward Hargrove (1789) in his historical old rambles around Harrogate and district.  When the scribe reached Horn Bank, he told that here,

“was lately discovered the remains of several entrenchments forming three distinct enclosures, two of a square and one of a circular form.  Not far from these entrenchments, which were probably of Danish origin, was found, in May 1787, the umbo of a shield, with several other fragments of gilt brass…”

In William Grainge’s (1871) magnum opus he told that,

“At Horn Bank, on the crest of the hill east of Rigton, near a farm-house, are the remains of three camps—two of a square, and one of a circular form; they are probably of British and Roman origin. The location is a lofty and commanding one; but the ploughshare has so often passed over them that they are nearly obliterated.”

Just below the settlements Grainge also said how, “a fine spring of water was formed into a bath here many years ago, but the whole is now in a state of ruin.”  This would have likely been the main water supply for the people living here.  Harry Speight (1903) implied the same thing when he investigated the site, saying:

“At a place called Horn Bank, near Rigton, on the west side of the parish, on the crest of the hill on the north side of the Horn Bank farmhouse, there were formerly to be seen very distinct indications of three camps, each encompassed with fosse and rampart. Hargrove supposed them to be Danish, but as two of them were of a square or rectangular form, and the other circular, they were in all probability relics of the Romano-British contest, at first occupied by the native tribes and subsequently as a temporary camp and look-out post by their conquerors. The site commands a wide and uninterrupted view in every direction, while close at hand is a copious spring of good water. This spot many years ago was converted into a bathing-place, but is now broken down and abandoned… The site has long been ploughed, and little or no trace of these earthworks is now discernible.”

The only thing Eric Cowling (1946) could find when he came to the place were faint scars of walling whose shadows were highlighted by the sun when the conditions were just right.  He thought the settlements were Iron Age in nature, but would have continued to be used in subsequent centuries by local people.  It seems a sensible suggestion…


  1. Cowling, E.T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.

  2. Grainge, William, History & Topography of Harrogate and the Forest of Knaresborough, J.R. Smith: London 1871.

  3. Hargrove, E., The History of the Castle, Town and Forest of Knaresborough with Harrogate, W. Blanchard: York 1789.

  4. Speight, Harry, Kirkby Overblow and District, Elliot Stock: London 1903.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Winsbury Hill, Marksbury, Somerset

Enclosure (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – ST 6706 6307

Also Known as:

  1. Windsbury Hill

Archaeology & History

Winsbury Hill earthworks
Winsbury Hill earthworks

Apparently, all traces of the possible prehistoric camp or enclosure that were located by Edward Burrow in the 1920s, seems to have vanished.  Very little remained of it even then.  Lower down the slopes are a distinct series of ancient lynchets (or cultivation terraces), which may date back to the Iron Age—these are clearly visible on the eastern and western sides.  Mr Burrow’s (1924) account of the site was as follows:

“Just south of Stantonbury Camp, near Bath, on the adjoining height known as Winsbury Hill, I have traced the almost obliterated remains of a ditch running round the shoulder of the hill, which I have indicated on my drawing. (above)

“On the south and eastern slopes of this prominent hill there are various terraces and scarps, which would repay further investigation.  Possibly Winsbury was fortified as an outlier of the more pronounced Stantonbury Camp, standing directly on the line of the Wansdyke, which runs across the valley towards English Combe.”


  1. Burrow, Edward J., Ancient Earthworks and Camps of Somerset, E.J. burrow: Cheltenham 1924.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Castle Hill, Culross, Fife

Hillfort: OS Grid Reference – NS 97105 89923

Getting Here

A gorgeous setting, in the trees

Take the A907 road between Clackmannan and Comrie and, close to Bogside Farm at the roadside, but on the other side of the road where the bridge crosses a burn, take the dirt-track uphill and into the woodland. About 300 yards up (before you hit the signs pointing you to the farm) , walk uphill into the trees on your left until the ground levels out. Look around! (and best visited between December and May, before the bracken covers the place)

Archaeology & History

Visiting this site is pleasure in itself. Situated in an open forest, with traditional pine trees in abundance, there are scattered amidst the edges of this large oval-shaped Iron Age structure, the aged boughs of ash and beech, centuries old, along its edges and throughout the woods. It is a truly superb setting! When visited by the Royal Commission lads in April, 1925, they found the remains here in good condition. A few years later in their impressive Inventory, they told:

“In Castlehill Wood, about 250 yards to the southwest of Bogside Railway Station, and at an elevation of 200 feet above sea-level, is a small plateau of very regular oval form with its major axis northwest and southeast. It is surrounded by a single ditch, the well-marked enclosure thus produced having a maximum measurement of 185 by 135 feet. At the southeast the ditch has been left uncut in order to provide a passage for entrance. This passage has been about 20 feet wide, and at its inner end there are on either side faint traces of a low mound, which in all probability once ran right round the edge of the enclosure and which may have been palisaded.”

RCHAMS 1933 plan of site

Sadly when I came here a few days ago, much of the was very overgrown with bracken and other vegetation, making it impossible to see the site properly and preventing any decent photos. We’ll go back here in a few months time to get better images!


This site was mentioned, albeit briefly, in David Beveridge’s (1885) magnum opus on the history of Culross.  With equal brevity he noted several standing stones in the region, saying how tradition afforded them a Danish origin.  This site was the same for

“a tradition prevails that after the battle of Inverkeithing the Danish army or a portion of it retreated to a station in the north of Culross parish, where they erected the earthwork or camp of Castlehill, still existing near the Burrowine Farm.”


  1. Beveridge, David, Culross and Tulliallan: Its History and Antiquities – volume 1, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1885.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan, HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Oldfield Hill, Meltham, West Yorkshire

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – SE 0874 1009

Getting Here

Oldfield enclosure in the field below

From the crossroads at the centre of Meltham, near the church, take the Wessenden Head Road up out of town for about a mile.  Keep your eyes peeled to right (north) for the track leading downhill to Oldfield Hall or Farm.  As you go down the track you’ll see a small cluster of hawthorns running along a small ridge 100 yards or so ahead, at the end of the field, with some line of embankment. This is on the right of the track and is the Oldfield enclosure!

Archaeology & History

The remains of this large quadrangular settlement were first described as of ‘Roman’ origin in Mr Morehouse’s History of Kirkburton (1861), where he told that,

“In the…township of Meltham are the remains of a Roman encampment, on the moor below West Nab, a short distance to the left of the road which leads thence to the village…forming nearly a square of about four chains.  When I visited the place about twenty years since, in company with the owner and other friends, the whole was very distinct and perfect. This piece of ground has since been brought into cultivation, yet the trenches are still visible.  This encampment would appear only to have been made to supply some temporary emergency.”

Joseph Hughes old drawing of the ‘Roman’ camp
Western embankment & ditch

But Mr Morehouse’s speculation of its Roman origin and function are known to be untrue.  The site is in fact of Iron Age origin and was probably in semi-permanent use for long periods between Spring and Autumn. But the ‘Roman’ nature of the site was echoed a few years later, albeit briefly, in Mr Hughes’ History of Meltham (1866), where he told that “querns or hand-mills for grinding corn were found” at the site.

In 1909, the Saddleworth antiquarian Ammon Wrigley excavated the site but found little that could enable a correct dating of the enclosure. It was explored again a few years later by Ian Richmond and then again by J.P. Toomey in the 1960s.  Bernard Barnes (1982) summarised their respective findings, telling:

“Rampart of rubble and earth 7 feet wide faced with drystone walling; original height c.10 feet; V-shaped rock-cut ditch, 5½ feet deep and 6 feet wide, and a counterscarp bank similar to inner rampart with drystone revetment surviving to 4 courses.  Northeast entrance had double timber gateway.  Pre-rampart palisade trench on at least 2 sides of the enclosure with vertical posts 2 feet apart.  Finds include 2 stone discs, rough out beehive quern, iron slag and very small fragments of pottery.  Site dated to Iron Age.”

Another enclosure of similar period can be found a few hundred yards to the south.

…to be continued…


  1. Abraham, John Harris, Hidden Prehistory around the North West, Kindle 2012.
  2. Barnes, Bernard, Man and the Changing Landscape, Eaton: Merseyside 1982.
  3. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  4. Hughes, Joseph, The History of the Township of Meltham, John Russell Smith: London 1866.
  5. Morehouse, Henry James, The History and Topography of the Parish of Kirkburton, H. Roebuck: Huddersfield 1861.
  6. Toomey, J.P., An Iron Age Enclosure at Oldfield Hill, Meltham, Brigantian: Huddersfield 1976.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Castle Hill, Little Wittenham, Oxfordshire

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – SU 5696 9244

Also Known as:

  1. Sinodun Camp
  2. Wittenham Clumps

Getting Here

Either reach this from Dorchester’s Dyke Hills by crossing the bridge over the Thames at its southwestern side and walk thru the village and up the fields to the wooded rise on your left; or simply get take the road between Brightwell-cum-Sotwell to the delightful village of Little Wittenham and, on your right-hand side, notes the unmissable clump of trees and rise in the fields on your right.  That’s the place!

Archaeology & History

Major Allen’s 1932 photo

To be found on the southern side of the River Thames, across from the huge Dyke Hills camp, this prominent enclosed hillfort was thought to be a place where the tribal peoples of differing groups converged — the Dubonni, the Catuvellauni, and Atrebates peoples.  And to this day it remains impressive.  Long thought to have been merely the province of Iron Age settlers, in more recent years it has shown to have had a longer and richer history than academics previously dare write about.  In Jean Cook’s (1985) fine work on the archaeology of the region, she described the typical narrative Castle Hill elicited from professionals until only a few years back, saying:

“The hillfort on Wittenham Clumps covers approximately 4 hectares (c. 10 acres) and comprises a single ditch and rampart.  It commands superb views northwards up the Thames valley and to the south and west across the Vale of White Horse to the Berkshire Downs, where a series of similar hillforts follows the line of an ancient route — the Ridgeway.  The fort has never been excavated, although frequent past ploughings have produced Iron Age and early Saxon sherds as well as Romano-British pottery.  However, to the south of the hillfort…a well-stratified Iron Age settlement was found.  It seems probable on the basis of other excavated sites that the fort was permanently occupied.  It would have developed as  a regional administrative and political centre, with specialist craftsmen and traders and would have performed some of the same functions as a medieval market town.”

Although Cook’s latter remarks should be addressed with caution (market economics was far from the mythic perspectives of Iron Age people), this great site was of obvious importance.  But later excavations at the site in 2002-03 showed that the site had in fact been used by neolithic people and, around the tops, flints and other remains were found that took human activity here back into mesolithic times, with some finds dated around 6000 BC!  More surprisingly (to archaeologists anyway) was that Castle Hill continued to be used way into medieval times!

Thankfully much of this place is still pretty well-preserved and is well worth exploring to historians, pagans and walkers.

…to be continued…


  1. Cook, Jean, “Before the Roman Conquest,” in Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
  2. Cook, Jean & Rowley, Trevor (eds.), Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.


  1. An Interim Summary Report on Excavations at Castle Hill, Wittenham Clumps

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Dyke Hills, Dorchester, Oxfordshire

Settlement:  OS Grid Reference – SU 5735 9364

Also Known as:

  1. Dorchester Dykes
  2. Dorchester Fort

Getting Here

Easy to find.  From Dorchester town centre, take the road at the bottom of town where the church is and walk along to the end where a footpath takes you into the field.  Once here you’ll note a rise in the land at the end, stretching away to the west and the River Thames.  That’s your Dyke Hills!

Archaeology & History

Plan of Dyke Hills (after Cook, 1985)

This site is another example of the considerable neglect shown to the prehistoric archaeological remains in and around the Dorchester region, despite Jean Cook (1985) describing the place as “a site of major local, regional and national importance.”  Which is a pity, as the site here was once huge and it seems that much could have been learned from here.  (you’ve gotta ask: do those doods who allegedly work for English Heritage care more for the ancient sites, or the money their organization gets?)

Lane-Fox’s 1870 survey

It would seem that the majority of the site was Iron Age in nature, with snifflings of Bronze Age remains scattered here and there. The primary position of the massive dykes and construction of internal domestic structures immediately below (south) of the dykes, was hemmed in on all sides by the surrounding River Thames and one of its tributaries, giving the place an excellent position in terms of food, plus shelter and protection from any intrusive tribes or hungry winter animals.

The first excavation at the huge dykes that define the northern edge of this ‘monument’ was done in 1870 by the renowned General Pitt-Rivers, then later Colonel Lane-Fox (at the time the Secretary of London’s Ethnological Society), as they were very concerned about the damage that was being inflicted upon the site, when the local landowner allowed sections of the banking to be “reduced for cultivation.”  An article in the Saturday Review magazine on July 2, 1870, told of these concerns and what was written — as Jean Cook so rightly tells — “has a depressingly modern ring to it”:

“…the fortress at Dorchester and the fortress on Sinodun (Castle Hill) are among the most speaking monuments of the earliest history of our island, and till lately they were among its most perfect monuments.  But it is a grievous truth that while we are writing, the dykes at Dorchester are being levelled.  Hitherto the neighbourhood ground has been grazed and the harmless sheep is no foe to history; but it has lately occurred to the owner of the ground hat a few shillings more of yearly profit might be gained by turning pasture land into arable; and to such a sordid motive as this these precious antiquities are at this very moment being sacrificed.  At least a third of the dyke has already been lowered, and will gradually be utterly destroyed beneath the yearly passage of ruin’s merciless plough share.  Such wanton destruction naturally aroused the indignation of men of taste and knowledge, especially in the neighbouring University.  A vigourous appeal to the owner to stay his hand was made by some of the most eminent Oxford residents, and an attempt was made to call public attention to the subject by describing the state of the case in various newspapers…”

Lane-Fox’s 1872 photo

But the digging into the dykes continued.  For some time at least — until Colonel Lane-Fox himself went to the see the landowner and “persuaded” him to stop what he was doing.  A method we should always keep in mind ourselves…

The modern state of the Dyke Hills is summarised once again in Jean Cook’s (1985) fine survey of the region, where she wrote:

“This great enclosure, known to archaeologists as an oppidum, covered 46 hectares (c. 114 acres) and as defended by a massive double bank and ditch to the north and to the east.  The southern and western boundaries have all but disappeared, but can be traced in lines of modern field boundaries beyond which the Thames forms a natural boundary.  The interior is (now) empty, but cropmarks reveal that it is full of enclosures, pits and circular houses aligned along a regular pattern of internal roads.  Although there has been no scientific excavation within Dyke Hills, ploughing of the site has produced one of the densest concentrations of Iron Age coins in Britain.”

It would appear that this site was of considerable importance for local tribes and would have been home to powerful chiefs and impressive-looking shamans!  The large Castle Hill site immediately across the river would have had obvious links to this once-omportant prehistoric settlement.


  1. Cook, Jean, “Before the Roman Conquest,” in Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
  2. Cook, Jean & Rowley, Trevor (eds.), Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
  3. Williams, Geoffrey, The Iron Age Hillforts of England, Horace Books 1993.

 © Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Martinsell Hill, Oare, Pewsey, Wiltshire

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – SU 1764 6396

Also Known as:

  1. Martin’s Hill

Archaeology & History

Martinsell Hill on 1888 map
Martinsell Hill on 1888 map

The second highest of Wiltshire’s prehistoric camps or hillforts, Martinsell Hill was described as early as the 13th century as ‘Mattelsore’ and was known in local dialect and literary forms as variants around the word mattels, until the 16th century, when the title became altered in literature and for the first time became known as ‘Martinshall’ (and variants thereof), which has stuck ever since.  As the etymologists Gover, Mawer & Stenton (1939) proclaimed,

“the first element (mattels, PB) must be associated with the old english name for the camp which stands on top of it: the Mætelmesburg of the Pewsey charter” —

A.C. Smith’s old map

Which the authors think derived from “Mætelmesora, i.e., ‘Mæþelhelm’s bank'”, being the name of a tribal leader or elder who gave his name to the hill upon which the fort was built.  Margaret Gelling echoes the sentiment in her Place-Names in the Landscape, but we must keep in mind that such derivation is still a quite speculative etymology and one which doesn’t seem to be able to be proven (as yet!).

The hillfort and its remains were described in some detail in the second volume of Colt Hoare’s classic Ancient Wiltshire (1819: 107), where he wrote:

“Martin’s Hill or Martinshal Hill is in North Wilts what Long Knoll near Maiden Bradley is in South Wilts, ‘collis longe spectabilis’.  This elevated point commands a most advantageous prospect of the rich vale that separates the northern and southern districts of our county, , and is rendered interesting to the antiquary by an extensive earthenwork that crowns the summit of the hill.  Its form resembles an oblong square on all sides, except towards the east, where it bends inward in order to humour the natural shape of the hill.  Its area, which is in tillage, comprehends thirty-one acres; and as several entrances have been made through the ramparts for the convenience of agriculture, it is difficult to ascertain on which side were the original approaches to the camp.  This hill, in its formation, presents a peculiarity rather contrary to the usual system of nature, by rising in height towards the east, where a bold and tremendous precipice of smooth turf shelves down from the summit to the base of the hill.  This eminence is more remarkable for the rich and extensive prospect which it affords than for the plan of its entrenchments, which consists of a single vallum and fosse.  Not having discovered by digging any certain marks of ancient populations within its area, I am inclined to think that it may be considered as an asylum to which the Britons, who were very numerous in its environs, sent their families and herds in times of danger: the single vallum and ditch prove its British origin, and the great extent of its area seems to warrant this conjecture.”

Hippisley Cox’s ground-plan

This aint a bad assumption for a fella who wrote this 200 years ago without the aid of excavation or modern archaeocentric analysis.  But we can see that Hoare was utilizing that dying virtue of common sense here, and find that much of what he said remains the echoed narrative of modern archaeologists who, I believe, still aint done a detailed excavation on the site themselves. (weird for down South!)  Later in the 19th century, when the reverend A.C. Smith (1885) visited and wrote about the hillfort, he added little to Hoare’s earlier words.  And the descriptive narrative of the site remained roughly the same (Massingham’s intriguing ascriptions aside!) even after a small excavation was undertaken in 1907, which found very little.  Hippisley Cox (1927) passed this way in his fine travelogue of ancient roads and trackways in Wessex, describing the enclosed top of this hill as

“the site of a complete neolithic settlement, including dew-ponds, a cattle compound, a flint quarry, lynchetts, dicthes of defence and deep cattle tracks formed by much going and coming of beasts from the valley.”

He may have been right!  In more recent times Geoffrey Williams (1993) describes the Martinsell hillfort, which again only gives slightly more info than Colt Hoare’s 1819 narrative.  The site covers 32 acres in size, is roughly rectangular in form, measuring roughly 330 yards (302m) across east to west, and 480 yards (439m) north to south.   There appears to be at least one entrance on its northeastern edge.


What seems to be a survival of prechristian sun lore is found in one or two of the events that used to happen upon and around Martinsell.  A number of local history books give varying descriptions of the events here, but Devereux and Thomson (1979) condense the information nicely, telling us that

“The camp seems to have been a focus for curious Palm Sunday ‘games’ in past centuries, one of which involved a line of boys standing at intervals  from the base to the summit of the hill.  Using hockey sticks, they then proceeded to knock a ball in succession up the hill to the top.  Another activity was the throwing of oranges down the hill slopes with boys going headlong after them.  Evene more strangely, local youths used to slither down the escarpment on horses skulls.”

Mythographer and writer Michael Dames (1977) thought that such festive activities on and around the hill related to remnants of ancient goddess worship here.

Ley line running from Martinsell (image courtesy Paul Devereux)

In Paul Devereux & Ian Thomson’s (1979) ley hunter’s guide, the Martinsell Hill site stands at the beginning of a ley, which then runs northwest for more than seven miles, eventually ending at the well known causewayed enclosure of Windmill Hill — but not before passing by the Avebury stone circle and several prehistoric tombs on route.  This ley is a simple alignment between sites (as the ‘discover’ of leys, Alfred Watkins described them) and has nothing to do with the modern contrivance of energy lines.

…to be continued…


  1. Bradley, A.G., Round about Wiltshire, Methuen: London 1948.
  2. Dames, Michael, The Avebury Cycle, Thames & Hudson: London 1977.
  3. Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  4. Gomme, Alice B., “Folklore Scraps from Several Localities,” in Folklore Journal, 20:1, 1909.
  5. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, A. & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Wiltshire, Cambridge University Press 1939.
  6. Harding, D.W., The Iron Age in Lowland Britain, RKP: London 1974.
  7. Hoare, Richard Colt, The Ancient History of North Wiltshire, Lackington, Hughes, Mavor & Jones: London 1819.
  8. Massingham, H.J., Downland Man, Jonathan Cape: London 1926.
  9. Partidge, T.B., “Wiltshire Folklore,” in Folklore Journal, 26:2, 1915.
  10. Smith, A.C., A Guide to the British and Roman Antiquities of the North Wiltshire Downs, Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Society 1885.
  11. Williams, Geoffrey, The Iron Age Hillforts of England, Horace Books 1993.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Devil’s Dyke, Poynings, Sussex

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – TQ 260 111

Also Known as:

  1. Brighton Dyke
  2. Poor Man’s Wall 

Getting Here

Map of Devil's Dyke
Map of Devil’s Dyke

Plenty of ways of approaching this huge fella!  Personally, I’d take it from the steep valley immediately east and north where the ramparts drop you down the hill, if only to get a decent idea of the scale of the thing!  But those of you into taking it easy can do no better than take the country road south out of Poynings village (towards Brighton), down Saddlescombe Road, for just under a mile, where you should take a right-hand turn along the Summer Down lane for a mile. You’ll then hit the Devil’s Dyke Road. Turn right here and go to the end.  You’re right in the middle of it!

Archaeology & History

Early plan of Devil’s Dyke ‘camp’

Although most of this huge monument hasn’t been given the investigation it deserves — hence making knowledge of its origins more speculative than factual — as Jacquetta Hawkes (1973) wrote, seemingly all those years ago now, “it is known that a village lying half in and round them was occupied in the Belgic period at the end of the Iron Age.”  And it’s certainly big enough!  The encircling circuit of dykes themselves stretch all the way round a distance of more than 2150 yards long (that’s 1.22 miles, or 1.97km!), with the longest east-west axis being more than half-a-mile across.

Nowadays it seems, the Devil’s Dyke is the name given to the steep valley below the encampment, but a hundred years back it was the camp itself that was known by this name.  Described by the wandering antiquarian R. Hippisley Cox (1927) as “a camp containing forty acres (with) very steep and difficult approaches,” another early account in The Antiquaries Journal — commenting on a ground-plan of the site from the Brighton and Hove Herald of 1925 — told:

“The heavy encircling lines represent ramparts, and the thin line marks the outer margin of the accompanying ditch.  A spur renders the earthwork weakest on the south-west, and the rampart is therefore highest between the points 1 and 3, rising 21ft vertically above the ditch, which is nearly filled up at the present time.  On the north-west there is steep slope outside the camp, and the ramparts are considerably lower, the iner ditch being nearly obliterated.  The outer rampart is now wanting betwen 7 and 8, but this inner one becomes stronger as the outer slope of the ground decreases, only to die away again on the south-east where the camp overlooks the steep Dyke Valley.  A double-bank and inner ditch can still be traced from the north-east angle to a point near the old golf-club house.”

I first came here as a young lad and the site was lost on me (in them days, if monuments weren’t stiff and upright, I really didn’t see the point!).  These days however, the size of it alone blows you away somewhat.


As you’d expect the creation myths of this site and its edges relate to our old heathen friend, the devil!  The landscape itself was, in old lore, the work of the devil (though prior to this, the devil was known in peasant-lore to be a legendary giant, though I am unaware of the name/s of the giant in question); and the great valley below the Devil’s Dyke encampment was actually dug out by Old Nick in the old tales.  That old folklorist Jacqueline Simpson (1973) takes up the story:

“The Devil…had been infuriated by the conversion of Sussex, one of the last strongholds of paganism in England, and more particularly by the way the men of the Weald were building churches in all their villages.  So he swore that he would dig right through the Downs in a single night, to let in the sea and drown them all.  He started just near Poynings and dug and dug most furiously, sending great clods of earth flying left and right — one became Chanctonbury, another Cissbury,  another Rackham Hill, and yet another Mount Caburn.  Towards midnight, the noise he was making disturbed an old woman, who looked out to see what was going on.  As soon as she understood what he was up to, she lit a candle and set it on her window-sill, holding up a sieve in front of it to make a dimly glowing globe.  The Devil looked round, and thought this was the rising sun.  At first he could hardly believe his eyes, but then he heard a cock crowing — for the old woman, just to make quite sure, had knocked her cockerel off his perch.  So Satan flew away, leaving his work half done.  Some say that as he went out over the Channel, a great dollop of earth fell from his cloven hoof, and that’s how the Isle of Wight was made; others, that he bounded straight over into Surry, where the impact of his landing formed the hollow known as his Punch Bowl.”

That’s the story anyway — take it or leave it!  Of importance in this fable is the figure of the “old woman”: a much watered-down version of the cailleach figure of more ancient northern and Irish climes, where tales of her doings are still very much alive.  And many are the tales of her battles with other giant figures, just as we evidently once had here.

Ghosts have been reported by local people upon this hill-top site; and there are a number of other folktales to be found here…which I’ll unfold over time as the months pass by…


  1. Anon., “Notes: The Brighton Dyke,” in The Antiquaries Journal, 5:4, October 1925.
  2. Clinch, G., “Ancient Earthworks,” in Victoria County History of Sussex – volume 2 (edited by W. Page), St. Catherine’s Press: London 1905.
  3. Cox, R. Hippisley, The Green Roads of England, Methuen: London 1927.
  4. Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide to the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales, Chatto & Windus: London 1973.
  5. Hogg, A.H.A., “Some Aspects of Surface Fieldwork,” in The Iron Age and its Hillforts (edited by M. Jesson & David Hill), Southampton University Archaeology Society 1971.
  6. Simpson, Jacqueline, The Folklore of Sussex, Batsford: London 1973.
  7. Simpson, Jacqueline, “Sussex Local Legends,” in Folklore Journal, volume 84, 1973.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian