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Borough Hill: a large multivallate hillfort

A Scheduled Monument in Sawston, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.1241 / 52°7'26"N

Longitude: 0.1484 / 0°8'54"E

OS Eastings: 547174.586505

OS Northings: 249491.050216

OS Grid: TL471494

Mapcode National: GBR L89.VRB

Mapcode Global: VHHKH.JWB0

Entry Name: Borough Hill: a large multivallate hillfort

Scheduled Date: 1 September 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009396

English Heritage Legacy ID: 24407

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Sawston

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Sawston St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Ely


The large multivallate hillfort at Borough Hill is situated on a low chalk
promontory surrounded to the north, south and west by the floodplain of the
River Cam. The promontory stands about 2m-3m above the surrounding alluvium,
which is sufficient to allow the hillfort to dominate the local landscape, and
in particular the course of the river which flows close to the southern
edge of the site. The monument is roughly oval in plan, measuring
approximately 430m east to west and 300m north to south. The circuit of
defences is composed of varying arrangements of banks and ditches enclosing an
area of approximatley 8ha.
The north west arc of the defences is visible as a broad bank, 30m-40m wide,
following the contours of the hill. The bank retains an inner and outer scarp
and survives to a height of approximately 0.9m. A geophysical survey of this
area conducted in 1992 indicated the below ground survival of a 5m wide ditch,
flanked by an outer linear feature thought to be remains of a timber built box
rampart. A palisade trench traversing the line of the ditch was noted during
the survey. This feature is considered to be part of an elaborate entrance way
giving access to the lower-lying floodplain to the west. The box rampart was
also identified further to the east along the northern arc of the defences,
where it was flanked by two 5m wide ditches set 30m apart. The rampart bank is
more clearly defined to the north east of Homewood House where the perimeter
of the enclosure passes through a wooded field boundary. At this point the
bank measures 6.5m wide and up to 1.1m in height. The counterscarp bank formed
by the outer ditch is also visible some 6m from the base of the rampart,
surviving to a height of about 1m. A single broad bank, up to 1.4m high and
50m wide, crosses the promontory and marks the eastern perimeter of the
enclosure. Aerial photographs show that this section of the defences comprises
two ditches with internal banks and a further inner ditch. A geological test
pit dug into one of these banks in 1990 revealed a 0.8m deep layer of
re-deposited chalk capped by 0.3m of clay. The chalk component of the bank is
visible in the ploughsoil, whereas the infilled ditches are marked by slight
depressions containing darker soil. A 30m wide gap in the defences in the
middle of the eastern field is thought to represent a simple entrance way
aligned with the easiest approach to the hillfort along the promontory. The
southern defences are largely overlain by a raised causeway which carries the
access road to the modern paperworks. However, a short section of the bank has
been identified in the western part of the pasture to the south of the road.
Further to the west, the earthworks have been destroyed by the construction of
factory buildings and water management features associated with an earlier
mill. The outer edge of the western defences has been largely overlain by
modern farm buildings, although a distinct break in slope marks the edge
of the perimeter within the farm yard. The pasture to the east of the farm
contains a bifurcating scarp indicating the positions of two inner banks which
enclose an area of minor earthworks indicating the presence of internal
features related to the occupation of the hillfort. The interior of the
hillfort has been disturbed to varying degrees by ploughing, localised
building, garden landscaping and the construction of roads. However, it is
known that between 0.3m and 0.7m of topsoil cover the site, and this is
thought to have afforded a measure of protection to prehistoric features, many
of which, as has been demonstrated by the range of pits and linear features
identified by the geophysical survey, are cut into the underlying chalk.

The following items are excluded from the scheduling: all existing buildings.
all fences and garden walls, the made surfaces of paths, roads, carparks,
yards, and the tennis court to the south east of Homewood House, 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 multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of between
5ha and 85ha in area, located on hills and defined by two or more lines of
concentric earthworks set at intervals of up to 15m. They date to the Iron
Age period, most having been constructed and used between the sixth century BC
and the mid-first century AD. They are generally regarded as centres of
permanent occupation, defended in response to increasing warfare, a reflection
of the power struggle between competing elites.
Earthworks usually consist of a rampart and ditch, although some only have
ramparts. Access to the interior is generally provided by two entrances
although examples with one and more than two have been noted. These may
comprise a single gap in the rampart, inturned or offset ramparts,
oblique approaches, guardrooms or outworks. Internal features generally
include evidence for intensive occupation, often in the form of oval or
circular houses. These display variations in size and are often clustered,
for example, along streets. Four- and six-post structures, interpreted as
raised granaries, also occur widely while a few sites appear to contain
evidence for temples. Other features associated with settlement include
platforms, paved areas, pits, gullies, fencelines, hearths and ovens.
Additional evidence, in the form of artefacts, suggests that industrial
activity such as bronze- and iron-working as well as pottery manufacture
occurred on many sites.
Large multivallate hillforts are rare with around 50 examples recorded
nationally. These occur mostly in two concentrations, in Wessex and the Welsh
Marches, although scattered examples occur elsewhere.
In view of the rarity of large multivallate hillforts and their importance in
understanding the nature of social organisation within the Iron Age period,
all examples with surviving archaeological potential are believed to be of
national importance.

Borough Hill is the second largest of the seven hillforts known in
Cambridgeshire. The location of the site close to the course of a river is a
common characteristic of East Anglian hillforts, although the site is unusual
in this context in having more than one line of defences. Borough Hill lies
towards the eastern end of a series of defended sites which developed across
the chalk uplands of the Chiltern Hills in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age.
The large multivallate hillfort known as Wandlebury Camp, situated in the Gog
Magog Hills, lies only 4.5km to the north east, and is intervisible with
Borough Hill. It is particularly significant for the study of the relationship
between these sites that the ramparts on the north and east sides of Borough
Hill appear to have been specifically enlarged, perhaps as a display of wealth
and status.
Despite the effects of ploughing and construction, the monument is relatively
well preserved and retains evidence of elaborate defences, including a
box rampart, and both simple and complex entranceways. Geophysical
investigations have revealed numerous pits and linear features within the
interior of the fort which, together with the buried soils beneath the banks
and within the defensive ditches, will contain both environmental and
artefactual evidence related to the prehistoric occupation of the site.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Topping, P, An Earthwork Enclosure on Borough Hill, Sawston, Cambridgeshire, (1993), 1-5
Topping, P, An Earthwork Enclosure on Borough Hill, Sawston, Cambridgeshire, (1993), 1
Evans, C, 'Fenland Research' in Commanding gestures in lowlands:Investigation of 2 IA ringworks, , Vol. 7, (1992), 16-26
correspondance with Taylor, C (RCHME), Oetgens, J, Notes on Borough Hill, (1992)
CUCAP, CUCAP AP: RC8-DH, 327, (1979)
Technotrade Ltd, Report on site investigation for Dennis Wilson and Partners, (1990)
Title: Ordnance Survey 25" Series
Source Date: 1883

Source: Historic England

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