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Brent Knoll hillfort and associated field system

A Scheduled Monument in Brent Knoll, Somerset

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Latitude: 51.2546 / 51°15'16"N

Longitude: -2.9452 / 2°56'42"W

OS Eastings: 334136.986592

OS Northings: 151031.796248

OS Grid: ST341510

Mapcode National: GBR M7.1CNZ

Mapcode Global: VH7CY.WQWK

Entry Name: Brent Knoll hillfort and associated field system

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 3 June 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1008248

English Heritage Legacy ID: 24001

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Brent Knoll

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset

Church of England Parish: Three Saints

Church of England Diocese: Bath and Wells


The monument includes a large univallate hillfort and associated field system
on the top of Brent Knoll, an island in the surrounding levels rising to 139m
at this point and overlooking a large area towards the Bristol Channel and
A low rampart c.1m high, with internal quarry ditches, encloses the 1.6ha flat
top of the hill. The external face of this rampart falls steeply by c.2m to a
step c.2.75m wide, beyond which the ground drops again c.2m-5m to a wider
outer terrace c.4m-6m wide which may have originally been a ditch with
counterscarp bank. Below this the ground falls away to the natural contour.
The absence on the north eastern side of the outer terrace may suggest that
this part of the site was left unfinished. The ramparts are constructed of
stone or rubble, probably quarried from the interior. Eroded patches of the
slope between the two terraces show a rough stone facing and in one place a
line of cut stones. The entrance to the fort is on the east, where a hollow
way, reused as a later quarry track, runs between slightly inturned ramparts.
On the outer side the ramparts drop to form flanking platforms, thought to be
guard houses. The southern of these is D-shaped, 12m by 8m; the northern is
crescent shaped, formed of two D-shaped hollows 11m by 8m. Both may have been
affected by or even created by later quarrying; however they do seem likely to
be original. In a similar location on the lower terrace to the south of the
entrance is a feature of comparable shape and size, perhaps representing a
later extension of the gateway.
The present track into the fort probably dates from the later quarrying of the
interior and leads around the slope to form a wide hollow way curving across
the field below. Just outside the fort entrance this appears to overlie an
earlier narrow hollow way which can be seen running in a straight line down
from the fort, crossed again by the later track at the bottom of the field.
This earlier feature may represent the original approach to the fort.
Towards the north end of the fort a narrow gap in the rampart, inturned on one
side, may be an original feature.
On the northern tip of the fort the step below the rampart drops to form a
small platform, 7m by 5m. The lower terrace protrudes to form two bastions,
and a large lynchet immediately below is possibly an additional rampart. These
features may have guarded the north approach to the fort; the gap mentioned
above perhaps provided access to them.
A 35m stretch of the inner rampart on the west side is tumbled or levelled.
A limestone quarry, probably medieval, has affected part of the interior to a
depth of up to 1.5m. Quarrying seems to have begun near the entrance and
spread out into the interior. Banks and mounds present may have been formed or
heightened by quarry spoil. Despite this, areas of the original ground surface
exist in the north and south west of the interior.
Quarry pits inside the rampart along the west and north east are also
considered to be original. Partial excavation of the interior in the early
19th century revealed a Roman building, probably in the north west of the
Across the spine of the hill immediately to the north of the fort are a series
of single and double lynchets. These appear to be part of a strip-field
system, probably medieval, traces of which can be seen around the entire hill,
most notably on the south.
The lower terrace of the fort, together with the two higher lynchets, has been
used for military slit-trenching by the Home Guard in World War II.
The site is considered to be Iron Age in origin, although the visible ramparts
may be Roman. The outer terrace, if not original, may be a Dark Age
re-fortification, seemingly incomplete.
Legends associate the Knoll with King Arthur, and the fort has been claimed as
the site of Mons Badonicus. Finds from the excavation include Iron Age
pottery, Roman pottery and coins, Roman building material, charcoal and
animal bones. Roman finds and settlement are common around the Knoll and
Excluded from the scheduling are the Jubilee Stone and the flag mast, although
the ground beneath these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Large univallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying
shape, ranging in size between 1ha and 10ha, located on hilltops and
surrounded by a single boundary comprising earthworks of massive proportions.
They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and used
between the fourth century BC and the first century AD, although evidence for
earlier use is present at most sites. The size of the earthworks reflects the
ability of certain social groups to mobilise the labour necessary for works on
such a monumental scale, and their function may have had as much to do with
display as defence. Large univallate hillforts are also seen as centres of
redistribution, both for subsistence products and items produced by craftsmen.
The ramparts are of massive proportions except in locations where steepness of
slope precludes easy access. They can vary between 6m and 20m wide and may
survive to a height of 6m. The ditches can measure between 6m and 13m wide and
between 3m and 5m deep. Access to the interior is generally provided by one or
two entrances which often take the form of long passages formed by inturned
ramparts and originally closed by a gate located towards the inner end of the
passageway. The entrance may be flanked by guardrooms and/or accompanied by
outworks. Internal features included timber or stone round houses; large
storage pits and hearths; scattered postholes, stakeholes and gullies; and
square or rectangular buildings supported by four to six posts, often
represented by postholes, and interpreted as raised granaries. Large
univallate hillforts are rare with between 50 and 100 examples recorded
nationally. Most are located within southern England where they occur on the
chalklands of Wessex, Sussex and Kent. The western edge of the distribution is
marked by scattered examples in north Somerset and east Devon, while further
examples occur in central and western England and outliers further north.
Within this distribution considerable regional variation is apparent, both in
their size, rampart structure and the presence or absence of individual
components. In view of the rarity of large univallate hillforts and their
importance in understanding the organisation and regional structure of Iron
Age society, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed
to be of national importance.

Brent Knoll fort is a good example of a large univallate hillfort, with a
complete circuit of defences, an entranceway flanked by guardrooms, and a
hollow way leading to it. Although much of the interior has subsequently been
quarried, areas of undisturbed ground remain, and the discovery of Roman
building foundations in the 19th century demonstrates that archaeological
deposits survive. Snail shells are present in exposed soils, and this,
together with other finds, demonstrates a high potential for environmental,
dating and the recovery of occupation evidence. Strip lynchets to the north
may overlie extra-mural features, or may themselves be outworks or
contemporary fields. The site has been linked with the King Arthur legends.
The area was border territory in the unsettled post-Roman period, and a fort
in this strategic location may provide evidence for dates of Saxon
penetration. Although Iron Age in origin, late Roman or early Dark Age
reoccupation of hillforts is known from a number of sites in the area.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Burrow, I, Hillfort and Hilltop Settlement in Somerset, (1981), 70-300
Thackray, D, Archaeology in the National Trust: Somerset: Brent Knoll, (1980)
Thackray, D, Archaeology in the National Trust: Somerset: Brent Knoll, (1980)
Thackray, D, Archaeology in the National Trust: Somerset: Brent Knoll, (1980)
Dobson, D P, 'Antiquity' in Mount Badon Again, , Vol. 22, (1948), 43-45
HSL UK 71 216 RUN 33 1502 and RUN 35 1600, (1971)
HSL UK 71 216 RUN 35 1600 and RUN 33 1502, (1971)

Source: Historic England

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