Pitchbury Ramparts, Great Horkesley, Essex

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – TL 9657 2906

Also Known as:

  1. Pitchbury Rings

Getting Here

Pitchbury site on 1924 map

Along the A134 in Horkesley Heath, turn west along Coach Road and after a half-mile where it veers right, keep going for another half-mile where you’ll reach the woodland on your left.  A path goes into the trees just before Pitchbury Lodge.  Go along here and near the very far (southern) end of the trees, just before the open fields, you’ll see the large undulating ramparts of earth.  Keep your eyes peeled.  You’ll see them!

Archaeology & History

Stukeley’s 1759 map

This once large hillfort was described in the Colchester township perambulations of 1671 and cited in Philip Morant’s classic work. (1748) He told how the boundary line ran “under Chesterwell along the Rampiers by Horkesley Heath,” and which P.H. Reaney (1935) tells was our wooded hillfort.  In Morant’s day, the place was all but complete and so would have been well recognised by local people.   Certainly it came the attention of the great antiquarian William Stukeley who, in 1759, came to Colchester and met with Morant.  Stukeley mainly surveyed the area south of here, at Lexden Heath, but one of his sketch maps clearly highlighted a place he called “a circular work on Horkesley Heath”, i.e., Pitchbury Rings.  The site seems to have remained relatively intact until the middle of the 19th century when a local land-owner took it upon himself to plough over and vandalise much of the site, leaving only a small proportion of the earthworks that we can still see to this day.

The ruins were described in I.C. Gould’s (1903) piece for the Victoria County History, where he told, at Great Horkesley,

Gould’s 1903 sketch of the remains
Royal Commission’s 1923 ground-plan

“are some remains of an earthwork known as ‘Pitchbury’ or ‘Pitsbury Ramparts.’  When the late Rev. Henry Jenkins described the camp in 1841, he stated that it was of oval shape, and contained about 6 acres.  Most of it was levelled for agricultural operations about fifty years ago, but there are still some remains, consisting of two banks with their accompanying ditches.  The lines moreover of that part which was destroyed, can be partially traced in the adjoining fields.”

When the Royal Commission (1922) doods wrote about the site nearly twenty years later, things hadn’t changed too much and they simply reported how the “ramparts have nearly disappeared, except for the north section.”  In this “imperfect” condition, as they called it, they gave the following brief description:

“Pitchbury Ramparts, in Pitchbury Wood, about 2 mile south of the church, are the north end of a large camp, roughly oval in shape, and defended by a double rampart and ditch.  The defences are well preserved in the wood, the inner rampart being 10 ft. above the ditch, which is 60ft wide from crest to crest, but the greater part of the work has been almost obliterated by the plough, and is now only faintly discernible in a large field S. of the wood.  The camp appears to have been 800 ft. long and 600 ft. wide.”

Thankfully there seems to have been no real increase in damage to the site since then.  It was excavated in some detail in 1933 and again in 1973 and the finds were published by the highly reputable Colchester Archaeological Trust, whose subsequent report by Hawkes & Crummy (1995) is required reading for anyone wanting to know the detailed archaeology of this and other sites in the area.

Folklore

An intriguing piece of folklore was described in John Round’s (1882) history of the early battles around Colchester Castle.  During the time when the Roman Empire was starting to crumble, the great Pictish tribes of Scotland ventured here and, we are told, took control of the Pitchbury Rings where they stayed before attacking Colchester Castle.

“Traces have been discovered of some violent catastrophe, possibly the first capture of the Colony by the marauding Picts from the North.  Allured, in one of their Southern raids, by the wealth of the goodly Colony, they swooped down like eagles on their quarry from the wooded heights of ‘Pictsbury’.”

References:

  1. Gould, I. Chalkley, “Ancient Earthworks“, in Victoria History of the County of Essex – volume 1, Archibald Constable: Westminster 1903.
  2. Hawkes, C.F.C. & Crummy, Philip, Colchester Archaeological Report 11 – Camulodunum 2, Colchester Archaeological Trust 1995.
  3. Hogg, A.H.A., British Hill-forts – An Index, BAR: Oxford 1979.
  4. Kemble, James, Prehistoric and Roman Essex, History Press: Stroud 2009.
  5. Morant, Philip, The History and Antiquities of the Most Ancient Town and Borough of Colchester, W. Bowyer: London 1748.
  6. Round, John H., The History and Antiquities of Colchester Castle, Benham 1882.
  7. Royal Commission Ancient Historical Monuments, England, An Inventory of Historical Monuments in Essex – volume 3, HMSO: London 1922.
  8. Reaney, P.H., The Place-Names of Essex, Cambridge University Press 1935.
  9. Watson, J.Y., Sketches of Ancient Colchester, Benham & Harrison: Colchester 1879.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks for use of the 1st edition OS-map in this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.925343, 0.857380 Pitchbury Ramparts

Fiscary Cairnfield, Bettyhill, Sutherland

Cairnfield:  OS Grid Reference – NC 7279 6232

Getting Here

Tumuli on 1878 map

From Bettyhill, go out of the village along the A836 Thurso road for just over a mile.  You go uphill for a few hundred yards and just as the road levels-out, there’s the small Farr Road on your left and the cattle-grid in front of you.  Just before here is a small cottage on your left.  In the scrubland on the sloping hillside just below the cottage, a number of small mounds and undulations can be seen.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

Although this place was highlighted on the first OS-map of the area in 1878, I can only find one modern reference describing this somewhat anomalous cluster of sites.  It’s anomalous, inasmuch as it doesn’t have the general hallmark of being a standard cairnfield or cluster of tumuli.  For one, it’s on a slightly steep slope; and another is that amidst what seems to be cairns there are other, more structured remains.  As I wandered back and forth here with Aisha, I kept shaking my head as it seemed somewhat of a puzzling site.  As it turns out, thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who thought this…

One of the ‘cairns’ from above
Profile of a typical cairn

In R.J. Mercer’s (1981) huge work on the prehistory of the region, he described the site as a whole as a field system comprising “enclosures, structures, cairns and field walls” and is part of a continual archaeological landscape that exists immediately east, of which the impressive Fiscary cairns are attached.  In all, this ‘cairnfield’ or field system is made up of at least 23 small man-made structures, with each one surviving “to a height of c.0.5m and are associated with 11 cairns from 2-6m is diameter.”

In truth, this site is probably of little interest visually unless you’re a hardcore archaeologist or explorer.

References:

  1. Mercer, R.J., Archaeological Field Survey in Northern Scotland – volume 2: 1980-1981, University of Edinburgh 1981.

Acknowledgments:  To the awesome Aisha Domleo, for her images, bounce, spirit and madness – as well as getting me up here to see this cluster of sites.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.530344, -4.186397 Fiscary cairnfield

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).

References:

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.954511, -1.608033 Briscoe Rigg, Rigton

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…

References:

  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

 

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  53.948414, -1.558830 Horn Bank, Rigton

Denoon Law, Glamis, Angus

Hill Fort: OS Grid Reference – NO 35464 44395

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 32139
  2. Law of Denoon

Denoon Law on 1865 map

Getting Here

Travelling north through Balkeerie on the Newtyle/Glamis road, turn right onto the Denoon road and follow it to the T-junction.  Turn right and, a few hundred yards on to your left, the large hillfort of Denoon Law rises up to your left.  You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Denoon Law from Murleywell

Denoon Law is an impressively lush and green hill fort hidden away in the Sidlaw Hills, in the Denoon Glen, parallel to the Vale of Strathmore. It can be entered froma gap in the ramparts on the north side. Be careful of the precipitous drop from the south east side!

In the County Angus survey by the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland (1983), they describes it thus:

This fort crowns the summit of Denoon Law, a steep-sided volcanic plug on the NW side of Denoon Glen, a narrow valley at the N end of the Sidlaw Hills. The fort is roughly D-shaped on plan with the chord of the D formed by a long straight rampart that stands above the precipitous SE flank of the hill. It measures 105m from NE to SW by 55m transversely within a rampart that measures up to 17m in thickness and over 5m in external height but is clearly of more than one phase. Where the differentiation is clear, the latest phase of rampart measures about 6m in thickness and overlies the remains of a much thicker earlier rampart. Intermittently visible at the SW end of the fort is an outer face to the later rampart, comprising drystone walling that has, in places, been displaced downslope by the weight of core material behind. This outer face comprises no more than four or five courses of thin sandstone slabs and, although what is currently visible will only be the top of the surviving wall-face, a wall constructed of such material cannot have stoodto  any great height and what we see today is likely to be the remains of some form of comparatively low revetment. In both the earlier and later ramparts there is very little evidence of stone within the core and it appears that the material (boulder clay) for both has largely been derived from several large quarries within the interior of the fort. At the SW corner of the fort most of the rampart has been removed, leaving only the lower part of the outer talus. The fort, or at least its latest phase, had two entrances, one on the NE and another on the NW, both of which are crossed by the remains of a narrow, later, wall that runs around the entire circuit of the fort and may be associated with at least some of the buildings within the interior.

Outwith the main rampart there is a series of three outer ramparts, again with very little evidence for the use of stone in their construction, which run from the edge of the very steep slope at the NE end of the fort, around the N side to the entrance on the NW. All three lines of defence have been reduced to little more than terraces, though there is no evidence for them ever having been cultivated. At the entrance on the NW, the terminals of these ramparts (on both sides of the entrance) are obscured below outwash deposits from the slope above. To the SW of the entrance it is not at all clear what the relationship is between the defences of the fort and the enclosure that occupies the rocky and extremely uneven SW flank of the hill. This enclosure, which has an entrance on the W, could be some form of annexe or it could represent the SW end of an enclosure that once took in both this area and the rest of the summit.

Within the interior of the fort there are the remains of at least nine rectangular buildings, two of them large and open-ended and each overlain by a smaller, later structure. The freestanding buildings are represented by the footings of walls with inner and outer stone faces; close to the entrance on the NE, however, there are two buildings represented by simple rectangular platforms cut into the rear scarp of one of the prehistoric quarries in one case and the hollow of the entrance passage in another. On the N flank of the hill, overlying the outer defences, there are a number of structures, either taking the form of subrectangular structures with walls (and in one case an entrance) or simple scoops into the slope.’

Entrance from the NW

David Dorward’s definition of the name Denoon is from the Gaelic:

‘dun obhainn (+ Scots law) – [hill of the] fort of the streamlet.’

The streamlet is the Ewnie Burn flowing south-east of the Law.

The lush green centre

Folklore

James Cargill Guthrie, in his The Vale of Strathmore: Its Scenes And Legends, gives the following story from an,

early time, weird-like, a legend’s muffled chime ‘.

The Hill of Denoon was at that remote period accounted sacred or haunted ground. It was the mythical abode of the elfins and fairies, and formerly a fitting haunt for their midnight revelries.

When the silvery moonbeams lovingly slept in dreamy beauty on the green slopes of the enchanted Hill, and the blue bells and the purple heather were wet with the dew of angels’ tears, arrayed in gossamer robes of bespangled gold, with wands of dazzling sheen and lances of magical bright-ness, would the troops of elfins flauntingly dance to the music of the zephyrs, until the shrill cry of the chanticleer put an end for the time to their mystical enchantments.

Suddenly, as in blue clouds of vapour, they noiselessly vanished away, no sound remaining to break the oppressive stillness, save that of the mountain rivulet, as it fretfully leapt from crag to crag, as if piteously regretting the mysterious departure of its ethereal visitors.

South-east rampart

Having forsworn the presence and companionship of the terrestrial inhabitants of earth, it was a sacred dictum in the code of the fairies that no habitation for human beings should be permitted to be built within the hallowed precincts of the enchanted ground. Unable of themselves to guard against such sacrilegious encroachment, they had recourse to the aid of, and formed a secret compact with the demons, or evil spirits, whose sole avocation consisted in doing mischief, and bringing trouble and misfortune on those under the ban of their displeasure. By this compact these evil spirits became solemnly bound to prevent any human habitation whatever from being erected on the hill, and to blast in the bud any attempts whensoever and by whomsoever made to break this implacable, unalterable decree.

It was about this time the alarm-note was sounded, as the Queen of the Fairies, who, with an eye more observant than the rest of her compeers, observed one evening in the moon-light, certain indications of the commencement of a human habitation. Horror and dismay were instantly pictured on the fair countenances of the masquerading troops of merry dancers as the awful truth was ominously revealed to them by the recent workmanship of human hands.

The sheer slope to the south-east

A council of war was immediately held, when it was determined to summon at once the guardian spirits to their aid and protection.

“By our sacred compact,” cried the Queen, “I command the immediate attendance of all the demons and evil spirits of the air, to avenge the insult now offered to the legions of Fairyland, and to punish the sacrilegious usurpers who dare infringe the sanctity of their mystical domains.”

These demons instantly obeyed the haughty summons, and, in the presence of those they had sworn to protect, they in a twinkling demolished the structure, hurling the well-proportioned foundations over the steep rock into the vale beneath !

The builder, doubtless very much surprised and chagrined when he returned to his work in the early dawn of the following morning, was sorely puzzled to account for the entire disappearance of the solid foundations of the great castle he intended to be erected on the Hill. He did not, however, waste much time, or use much philosophic argument, on the matter, and gave orders to prepare new foundation of even a more durable character.

The demons, to show their invincible power, and for the sake of more effect, allowed the new foundations to rise a degree higher than the former, before they gave out their fiat of destruction. In an instant, however, they were again demolished, and the builder this time gravely assigning some fatal shock of Nature as the cause of the catastrophe quietly resolved to repair the damage by instantly preparing new and still more solid foundations.

Additional and more highly skilled workmen were engaged, and everything for a time went favourably on, the walls of the castle rising grandly to view in all the solidity and beauty of the favourite architecture of the period.

Biding their time, the demons again ruthlessly swept away as with a whirlwind every vestige of the spacious halls, razing the solid massy foundations so effectually that not one stone was left upon another !

Things were now assuming a rather serious aspect for the poor builder, who, thinking that he had at last hit upon the true cause of these successive disasters, attributed his misfortunes to the influence of evil spirits. A man of courage and a match, as he imagined, for all the evil spirits of Pandemonium, supposing they were let loose at once against him by the Prince of Darkness, he unhesitatingly resolved to keep watch and ward on the following night, and to defy all the hosts of hell to prevent him rebuilding the projected edifice. The night expected came ; but, alas, alas !

His courage failed when on the blast
A demon swift came howling past,
Loud screeching wild and fearfully,
This ominous, dark, prophetic cry
“Build not on this enchanted ground !
‘Tis sacred all these hills around ;
Go build the castle in a bog,
Where it will neither shake nor shog !”‘

So, if you are planning to visit Denoon Law – remember: RESPECT THE FAERIES!

References:

  1. Guthrie, James Cargill, The Vale of Strathmore: Its Scenes And Legends, Edinburgh, William Patterson, 1875.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The archaeological sites and monuments of Central Angus, Angus District, Tayside Region, The archaeological sites and monuments of Scotland series no 18. Edinburgh, 1983.
  3. Dorward, David, The Sidlaw Hills, Forfar, The Pinkfoot Press, 2004.

©Paul T Hornby 2018

 

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  56.587005, -3.052467 Denoon Law hillfort

Shealwalls Enclosure, Alyth, Perthshire

Enclosure:  OS Grid reference – NO 23922 51484  —  NEW FIND

Getting Here

Aerial view of the oval, at centre

Aerial view of the oval, at centre

Take the B954 north out of the Alyth, up through the hills.  After just over 2 miles (3km), take the left turn up to Bamff.  Go along here and past the copse of trees on your right for literally three-quarters of a mile (1.2km), where a gate takes you into the overgrown meadows on your right.  Walk back on yourself for about 100 yards or more, across the boggy stream and up the slope.  The embankments of this enclosure are right under nose!

Archaeology & History

Some 70 yards west of the little four-poster ‘stone circle’ of Shealwalls, is this previously unrecorded enclosure.  Oval in shape and well-defined at ground level, the great majority of the inside of this enclosure is relatively even and flat.  Around its perimeter there are, at intervals, a number of small stones defining its edges along its internal embankment, but these are intermittent and seem to have no deliberate architectural regularity: they may simply be elements of an internal raised platform that have become visible due to erosion processes.

Northwest section of ditch

Northwest section of ditch

At its greatest width from the edges of the outer ditch to outer ditch, the enclosure measures more than 22 yards (20.3m) east-west, and at its longest it is 30 yards (27.3m) north-south.  The circumference of the enclosure is between 88-89 yards (80m).  The average width of the surrounding or enclosing ‘ditch’ is between 2 and 2½ yards (2m) and it has a depth of no more than 2 feet all round.  All along the southern side, very little remains of the ditch and in sections it has been eaten into by foraging rabbits and cattle.  The most conspicuous section of the surrounding ditch and embankment is along the eastern length (where it gives the impression of being hengi-form in nature); the more rounded northern section of the ditch is very distinct, but is overgrown in Juncus reeds; whilst the western section of the ditch is clear until reaching its southernmost part, where its outer edges become less visible.

SW edge of enclosure

SW edge of enclosure

NE arc of ditch, looking west

NE arc of ditch, looking west

There seemed to be no visible structures within the enclosure itself, which added to my thoughts that the site was hengi-form in nature, as defined in the surveys by A.F. Harding (1987) and Jan Harding (2006).  However, it is best to maintain a simple description regarding the nature of the site until archaeological evaluation can give us a more accurate assessment.  Without excavation it is obviously impossible to give an accurate idea of its age, but its architectural form and similarity with other enclosures would seem to place its construction in the late Bronze Age to early Iron Age period.

The monument proved very difficult to photograph with any success as it is much overgrown and the bright sun was in the wrong place! (serious) So, another visit is needed in the hope that we can get better images.  A fascinating little site!

References:

  1. Harding, A.F., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  2. Harding, Jan, The Henge Monuments of the British Isles, Tempus: Stroud 2006.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Shealwalls enclosure

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Shealwalls enclosure 56.648920, -3.242303 Shealwalls enclosure

Cratcliff West Enclosure, Harthill, Derbyshire

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – SK 2259 6238

Getting Here

Site of Cratcliff West enclosure

Site of Cratcliff West enclosure

Taking the roughly north-south road betwixt the village of Elton and the town of Youlgreave, rising up to see the great rock outcrop of Robin Hood’s Stride, park-up by the roadside and walk down the path towards the impressive rocky rise of Robin Hood’s Stride.  Keep to the fields below the Rise on its north side and head for the next wooded rise 2-300 yards west.  In the field you’ll cross (field number 202 in on the map, right) before this wooded crag [Cratcliffe Rocks], the outline of the enclosure is beneath your very feet.

Archaeology & History

Aerial image of the Ninestone Ring enclosure

Aerial image of the Ninestone Ring enclosure

This blatantly obvious oval-shaped enclosure or settlement ring has had very little said of it in archaeological circles as far as I can tell. (please correct me if it has!)  I found it quite fortuitously during aerial surveys of the nearby Nine Stones circle.  It’s certainly quite large.  With a general circumference of roughly 285 yards (260.5m), the relative diameters of this enclosure are—from north to south—91 yards (83m) and—east to west—80 yards (73.25m).  The ditch alone is quite wide all the way around, almost giving it a ‘henge’ quality.  Its southern section is nearly 10 yards across at one point!

The northwest section of the enclosure has been built into, or upon a small natural outcrop of rocks.  But also at this point—as seen clearly in the aerial photo—on the other side of the wall just past the raised natural outcrop, is a long straight parallel linear feature, very probably man-made, running away to the northwest for at least 174 yards (159m).  It too is quite large, averaging  more than 13 yards (12m) across all along the length of this “trackway”: twice as wide as the nearest road and similar in form to the smaller cursus monuments that scattered neolithic Britain.

The site seems to be typical in form and structure to general Iron Age, or perhaps late Bronze Age settlements – but without a proper ground appraisal, this is a purely speculative appraisal.  Any further information or images of this site to enable a clearer picture of its nature would be most welcome.

Acknowledgements:  With thanks in various way to Pete Woolf, Dave Williams, Geoff Watson & Martin Burroughs.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Cratcliff West enclosure

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Cratcliff West enclosure 53.158018, -1.663690 Cratcliff West enclosure

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.”

References:

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

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Winsbury Hill

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Winsbury Hill 51.365777, -2.474392 Winsbury Hill

Quarry Hill, Leeds, West Yorkshire

Settlement (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 309 336

Archaeology & History

Absolutely nothing is left of the large series of ancient earthworks that were reported to have existed near the very centre of Leeds by Ralph Thoresby, James Wardell and others in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Although we do not know with certainty the age and nature of the site, it would seem very likely to have had a prehistoric provenance.  However, this wasn’t the opinion of either Thoresby (1715) or Thomas Whitaker (1816).  They both thought the remains were of Roman origin – but we must remind ourselves of the inaccuracies made, particularly by Whitaker, when it came to estimating the dates of early monuments (e.g., Whitaker’s assertions of the huge Counter Hill earthworks above Addingham).  Sometime later, James Wardell (1853) thought the remains on Quarry Hill were distinctly pre-Roman; though reasoned that the invading force may have used the site at a later date.  Wardell wrote:

“Traces of a prior occupation were, until recently, observable on the summit of Quarry-hill, along the western edge of which ran an earthwork of considerable length and magnitude, and of semi-circular form.”

We know little else of the place, sadly, but the shape of the site around the hilltop edges would seem to support the likelihood of an Iron or Bronze Age origin.  Further information would, of course, be more helpful…

References:

  1. Thoresby, Ralph, Ducatus Leodiensis, Maurice Atkins: London 1715.
  2. Wardell, James, The Antiquities of the Borough of Leeds, Moxon & Walker: Leeds 1853.
  3. Whitaker, Thomas D., Loidis and Elmete, T. Davison: Leeds 1816.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.797794, -1.532365 Quarry Hill enclosure

Priddy Henges, Priddy, Somerset

Henges:  OS Grid Reference – ST 540 528

Also Known as:

  1. The Castles
  2. Priddy Circles
  3. The Rings

Archaeology & History

Allcroft’s 1908 plan of the 4 henges

Although cited in all modern archaeology texts as a series of four henge monuments, a recent article by J. Lewis & D. Mullin (2011) inform us that these “are not henges but belong to a tradition of enclosure that predates them and had a different function.”  We’ll have to wait and see what they mean by that!  In the meantime, we’ll have a quick scurry through the historical accounts of these four impressive ‘henges’ as Burl, Piggott and the others call ’em.

Surrounded at all angles by numerous barrows and tumuli, these four great henge monuments were shown on the 1887 Ordnance Survey map as a row of ‘Supposed Ring Forts’, when such ideas were in vogue, running in a line roughly SSW-NNE; the third one up having a couple of ponds within it.  A brief early account of them was given by Harry Scarth (1859)—who was describing the series of nine round barrows a few hundred yards to the south—who told them to be “circular banks” each 500 feet across.  The first more detailed account was in A.H. Allcroft’s (1908) classic text, where he wrote the following:

“…Close to the Castle of Comfort Inn, where the high road to Bristol crosses the line of the old Roman road running north-westward towards Charterhouse, there lies immediately west of the high road a series of four circles…all of one size, all of one plan, and all as mathematically exact as circles could well be when executed in such a soil and on such a scale.  Although they have suffered greatly from the mining operations which have scarred all the Mendips, as well as from the plough — one of the four is almost obliterated — they are still quite easy to make out.  The diameter of each is some 550 feet within the area, which is surrounded by a broad low vallum, and that again by a correspondingly broad and shallow ditch. The height of the vallum above the ditch, where best observable, is some 5 feet. There are no determinable entrances. The most southerly of the group is about 250 feet away from the second ; the second about 200 feet away from the third; and a line joining the centres of the first and third passes through the centre of the second also, and points 17° east of north. The fourth circle lies 1,200 feet away from the third, not in a right line with the others, but slightly to the west. Between the third and fourth circles passes the Roman road. Within the third circle is an old pond of some size.

“With every appearance of being all of one date, and that a venerable one, these circles lack every characteristic of military works. Their peculiar disposition, their painstaking regularity, and their identity of size, all suggest that they must, if really old, be of ritual, and perhaps of astronomical character”

Old drawing of the central henges
Henge 1, recently damaged (courtesy Pete Glastonbury)

Allcroft’s ideas of ritual and astronomy were pretty good for the period, as we take it for granted these days that such events occurred at henges — so the existence of four such sites right next to each other, would have made this one helluva place in neolithic and Bronze Age periods.  A few years after Allcroft, the henges were described in Mr Burrow’s (1924) excellent illustrated survey, from which the drawing of the two central henges is taken (the two ‘R’s in the background highlight the line of the Roman road which runs past them).  Burrow’s didn’t add much more of any note, simply telling:

“…in the fields north and south, are placed earth-work rings, each about 180 yards in diameter, on a line placed slightly north by east.  The most northerly of these rings is almost obliterated, but the three on the west of the road from Chew Stoke to Oakhill are quite clearly defined, as my drawing (above) will show.  I have been able to include two of these remarkable rings in my picture, the edge of the bank (which was, when I saw it, fringed with yellow gorse), being about 6 feet above the level of the ditch outside.  It is generally supposed that these ringed earthworks were connected with some prehistoric ritual, and Hadrian Allcroft thinks were used for primitive astronomical observations or the construction of a primitive calendar.”

Tratman’s plan of Priddy Henges
Another view of Henge 1 (courtesy Pete Glastonbury)

Many years later when archaeologist K.S. Painter (1964) came to describe these henges, he listed them as “stone circles” (what the hell was he on!?), but this error may derive from the finding of several stones that once existed inside the southernmost Henge 1.  These were uncovered following excavation work done here by E.K. Tratman (1967) and his colleagues, who explored and numbered the four henges—running from south to north—as follows:

“Circle 1: This is tolerably complete.  A portion of the southwest quadrant has been destroyed by mining and there are three modern gaps in the ring. Mining has involved the ditch on the west and south, and to a small extent on the east.  There is an irregular extensive hollow west of the centre and this too is a product of mining and contains a number of large stones so derived.  The circle is not quite a true one, being flattened slightly on the west.  The circle has a diameter from bank top to bank top of 520ft.  The single original entrance is NNE of the centre.  Stones 1 and 3-7 were removed by the farmer before excavation, but subsequent ploughing immediately after removal did not reveal any change in soil texture or colour.  Stone 8 was placed in its present position quite recently.  It is not known where it came from.  Other stones have recently been placed on top of the bank east of the entrance by the farmer (1964-5).  Stone 2 is in a relatively ancient position.

Circle 2: This is a true circle and its diameter and position of its entrance are similar to Circle 1. It has been considerably disturbed by mining.  A group of stones (10-14) and stone 9 represent modern collections from the field.  None of them is in its original position.  There are two modern gaps in the ring.

Circle 3: This is distinctly flattened on the east and west.  The N-S diameter is 520ft and the E-W 490ft from bank top to bank top.  The northeast quadrant reported by Allcroft as being levelled is still traceable.  The circle has been greatly disturbed by mining… The entrance is SSW of the centre, the opposite pole to circle 1 & 2, and has probably been widened, perhaps by miners.  The marsh may be an original feature or the product of mining.  The two ponds are certainly modern, and so is a small mound, which is probably spoil from the major pond.

Circle 4: This is incomplete. It has a diameter of 560ft, which is considerably larger than any of the others.  The OS map shows only the eastern semi-circle remaining. However, the bank and in part the ditch can be traced…If the visible and proved end of the ditch on the SSW was intended to be at the edge of the causeway, then the entrance would have been in the same position as that of Circle 3.”

Very recently, a local land-owner quite deliberately bulldozed a large portion of the southern henge in this complex, destroying much of it.  This act of criminal vandalism will hopefully not go unpunished and is, at the present time, going through the courts.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Allcroft, A. Hadrian, Earthwork of England, MacMillan: London 1908.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, Prehistoric Henges, Shire: Princes Risborough 1997.
  3. Burrow, Edward J., Ancient Earthworks and Camps of Somerset, E.J. Burrow: Cheltenham 1924.
  4. Lewis, J. & Mullin, D., “New Excavations at Priddy Circle 1, Mendip Hills, Somerset,” in Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society, volume 25, 2011.
  5. Painter, K.S., The Severn Basin, Cory, Adams & Mackay: London 1964.
  6. Scarth, Harry M., “Some Account of the Investigation of Barrows on the Line of the Roman Road Between Old Sarum and the Port at the Mouth of the River Axe,” in The Archaeological Journal, volume 16, 1859.
  7. Tratman, E.K., “The Priddy Circles, Mendip, Somerset,” in Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society, volume 11, 1967.
  8. Wainwright, Geoffrey J., “A Review of Henge Monuments in the Light of Recent Research,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 35, 1969.

Acknowledgements: – To Pete Glastonbury, for use of his aerial photos of the site. Huge thanks Pete!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Priddy henges

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Priddy henges 51.273095, -2.660206 Priddy henges