Ancient Monuments

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Pillow mound on Beacon Hill, 550m south of Ellesborough church

A Scheduled Monument in Ellesborough, Buckinghamshire

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Latitude: 51.7482 / 51°44'53"N

Longitude: -0.7906 / 0°47'26"W

OS Eastings: 483590.000466

OS Northings: 206186.42318

OS Grid: SP835061

Mapcode National: GBR D3Q.BYF

Mapcode Global: VHDVK.7BX6

Entry Name: Pillow mound on Beacon Hill, 550m south of Ellesborough church

Scheduled Date: 2 January 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013940

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27142

County: Buckinghamshire

Civil Parish: Ellesborough

Built-Up Area: Ellesborough

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Ellesborough

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The monument includes a small pillow mound situated on the eastern side of the
summit of Beacon Hill, a pronounced spur extending northwards from the
Chiltern escarpment overlooking the Vale of Aylesbury.
The mound is roughly rectangular, orientated east to west and measures c.7m by
4m, and up to 0.8m in height. Material for the construction of the mound was
quarried from a surrounding ditch, the inner scarp of which forms a
continuation of the sloping side of the mound. The ditch is approximately 1.5m
wide and 0.4m deep, though partially buried by accumulated soil. It merges
with the natural slope of the spur at the lower, eastern end of the mound,
indicating that it originally acted as a drainage channel.
The earthwork was first recorded in 1979, although at that time it was
interpreted as a prehistoric burial mound. The form, orientation and location
can be compared with other pillow mounds in the region, and it is evident that
it too represents an artificial breeding place associated with a rabbit
warren. The warren itself appears to have been unenclosed and to have utilised
the summit and severe slopes of Beacon Hill which are unsuitable for
cultivation, and have remained as chalk grassland. The surrounding area
retains evidence of this use in the form of place-names. Ellesborough Warren
and Velvet Lawn lie immediately to the east and, slightly further to the east,
lie the wooded coombes known as Great Kimble and Little Kimble Warrens. These
place names are recorded from the early 19th century, but are thought to have
originated much earlier reflecting practices which date back to the medieval
period, probably in association with the motte and bailey castle on Velvet
Lawn (some 300m to the north west of the pillow mound) or the larger medieval
moated settlement at the foot of Little Kimble Hill (0.9km to the west).

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A warren is an area of land set aside for the breeding and management of
rabbits or hares in order to provide a constant supply of fresh meat and
skins. Although the hare is an indigenous species, the tradition of warren
construction and use dates from the 12th century, following the introduction
of rabbits into England from the continent. Warrens usually contain a number
of purpose-built breeding places known as pillow mounds or rabbit buries,
which were intended to centralise the colony and make catching the animals
easier, whether using nets, ferrets or dogs. The mounds vary in design
although rarely exceeding 0.7m in height. Earlier monuments such as burial
mounds, boundary features and mottes were sometimes reused as breeding places.
The mounds are usually surrounded by ditches and contain underlying channels
or are situated on sloping ground to facilitate drainage. The interior of the
mound may also contain nesting places constructed of stone slabs or cut into
the underlying subsoil or bedrock.
A typical warren may contain between one and forty pillow mounds or rabbit
buries and occupy an area up to c.600ha. Many warrens were enclosed by a bank,
hedge or wall intended to contain and protect the stock. Other features
associated with the warren include vermin traps (usually a dead-fall mechanism
within a small tunnel), and more rarely traps for the warren stock (known in
Yorkshire as `types') which could contain the animals unharmed and allow for
selective culling. Larger warrens might include living quarters for the
warrener who kept charge of the site, sometimes surrounded by an enclosed
garden and outbuildings.
Early warrens were mostly associated with the higher levels of society;
however, they gradually spread in popularity so that by the 16th and 17th
centuries they were a common feature on most manors and estates throughout the
country. Warrens continued in use until fairly recent times, finally declining
in the face of 19th and 20th century changes in agricultural practice, and the
onset of myxomatosis. Warrens are found in all parts of England, the earliest
examples lying in the southern part of the country. Approximately 1,000 -
2,000 examples are known nationally with concentrations in upland areas, on
heathland and in coastal zones. The profits from a successfully managed warren
could, however, be considerable and many areas in lowland England were set
aside for warrens at the expense of agricultural land. Although relatively
common, warrens are important for their associations with other classes of
monument, including various forms of settlement, deer parks, field systems and
fishponds. They may also provide evidence of the economy of both secular and
ecclesiastical estates. All well preserved medieval examples are considered
worthy of protection. A sample of well preserved sites of later date will also
merit protection.

The pillow mound on Beacon Hill survives in an exceptionally well preserved
condition, providing an indication of the medieval management of the downland,
and illustrating part of the economy of the nearby medieval settlements. The
mound may retain artefacts and structural elements as well as environmental
evidence, both in silts of the ditch and preserved on the earlier buried
ground surface, which will demonstrate the character of the landscape in
which it was constructed and used.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , An Inventory of the Historic Monuments of Buckinghamshire, (1914), 142
Dyer, J F, 'Archaeological Journal' in Barrows of the Chilterns, , Vol. 116, (1959), 16
Bucks Museum annotated 1:2,500 O.S., Historical Reference Map (Place Names),
Bucks Museum SMR entry, 0936 Medieval Trackway, (1979)
Field visit notes, Pike, A, 0910 Beacon Hill Bowl barrow, (1979)

Source: Historic England

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