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Large multivallate hillfort known as Danesfield Camp

A Scheduled Monument in Medmenham, Buckinghamshire

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Latitude: 51.5527 / 51°33'9"N

Longitude: -0.8221 / 0°49'19"W

OS Eastings: 481764.252677

OS Northings: 184413.228008

OS Grid: SU817844

Mapcode National: GBR D60.NYQ

Mapcode Global: VHDWH.P7RK

Entry Name: Large multivallate hillfort known as Danesfield Camp

Scheduled Date: 11 December 1979

Last Amended: 13 August 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014604

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27156

County: Buckinghamshire

Civil Parish: Medmenham

Built-Up Area: Danesfield

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Medmenham

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The prehistoric hillfort known as Danesfield Camp, or Danes Ditches, occupies
a broad chalk outcrop from the Chiltern plateau on the north bank of the River
Thames, approximately 1km to the north east of the village of Medmenham. The
site offers a clear vantage point onto the river, and wide views across the
flood plain into Berkshire.

The hillfort is roughly rectangular in plan, measuring approximately 300m east
to west by 250m north to south, and was originally enclosed by ramparts on
three sides. The fourth side was defined by a natural chalk cliff rising some
30m from the level of the river. The northern and eastern defences surrounding
the landward side of the hillfort are large and impressive. An earthen bank
runs along the eastern side of the site, abutting the cliff and extending some
200m in a straight line over the rising ground to the north. This averages 15m
in width and 3m in height, with steep scarps on either side of a flat and
narrow summit. It is flanked by an external ditch, c.14m in width and 4m deep,
the western side of which forms a continuation of the outer scarp of the bank.
Slight traces remain of a further bank running along the outer edge of the
ditch, which A H Cocks recorded as a more substantial earthwork in 1911. The
outer bank is more pronounced at the north eastern corner of the hillfort,
where it measures some 7m in width and 2m high; and it continues as a well
preserved earthwork together with the ditch and inner bank, for c.170m along
the northern arm of the defences. The westernmost section of this arm
(approximately 70m) is now only visible as a series of slight undulations. The
part levelling of this section probably began when an adjacent farmhouse,
known as Medlicotts, was enlarged in the early 19th century. The rebuilt
structure (renamed Danesfield) stood immediately to the north of the ramparts
and was accompanied by gardens and by a series of outbuildings and annexes
(including a Roman Catholic chapel which was one of the last designs by the
architect Pugin). The house and chapel were demolished around 1900 and
superseded by the present Danesfield House: an elaborate Tudoresque mansion
standing over the line of the western defences some 150m to the south. The
western earthworks were completely levelled prior to the construction of the
new house (a Grade II* Listed Building), with the exception of short sections
at the northern and southern extremes. A short section of the inner bank and
ditch survives as earthworks to the south of the mansion, adapted in the early
20th century to serve as a rock garden with an ornamental walkway. This
section, together with records of the northern section provided by early
Ordnance Survey maps and by Cocks' survey of 1911, allow the accurate
location of the line of the western perimeter. The low earthworks some 100m to
the north of the mansion, which marked the north western corner of the
hillfort in 1911, were further modified by the construction of temporary RAF
buildings and service roads during World War II, and subsequently completely
obscured by the car park for Danesfield House (now the Danesfield House
Hotel). The buried ditch and traces of the banks are, however, thought to
survive here as elsewhere along the western arm of the defences. The north
western corner is also thought to be the most probable location for the
original main entrance to the hillfort.

The northern defences are broken by two later causeways. A metalled drive
passes through the ramparts and overlies the ditch some 140m NNE of the hotel.
This was originally constructed as the main approach to the later mansion, and
subsequently modified for use by the RAF. A second causeway some 60m to the
east pre-dated the construction of the mansion, although it was retained, and
later used to link the main RAF station to the north with the station's sewage
works which lie just within the northern ramparts.

The north western quarter of the interior is the most elevated part of the
promontory, and was doubtless chosen for this reason as the site of the later
mansion. The associated lawns and gardens which replaced the pasture in the
interior of the hillfort are still present to the south and east of the house
where the ground falls away in gentle slopes, except where terraced to form
sunken gardens which are laid out both against the southern elevation and some
100m to the south east. To the east of the mansion the gentle slope leads into
a shallow valley which runs parallel to the eastern defences and down toward
the river cliff. The stream line within the lower part of the valley has been
adapted to contain a series of pools and ornamental cascades. The upper
section was chosen for the site of the RAF's sewage treatment works and
contains concrete settling tanks and filter beds.

The antiquarian T Langley referred to the site in 1797 as `A strong and
perfect Danish encampment'. This interpretation remained largely unchallenged
until the early 20th century, accounting for the place names `Danesfield Camp'
and `Danes Ditches' applied to the site. The chance discovery of a Late Bronze
Age spearhead during the demolition of the western rampart in 1910 first
called this assumption into question, and the prehistoric origins of the
hillfort were definitively confirmed in 1990 when excavations were carried out
prior to the construction of the car park in the area between Danesfield House
and the northern defences. The excavation uncovered shallow ditches, post
holes and pits containing Middle and Late Iron Age pottery, and the remains of
a post-built circular structure with daub walls. Still earlier activity was
demonstrated by the discovery of 71 flint artefacts, several of which provided
the dating evidence for a shallow gully. These finds confirmed that the
promontory had been inhabited in the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, as had
previously been implied by a number of casual finds reported since 1925, and
by the retrieval of three flint artefacts from a pipe trench to the south of
the mansion in 1982.

Danesfield Camp lies c.1100m to the east of a slight univallate hillfort
known as Medmenham Camp, an unusually close spatial association for hillforts
in the region. The chronological relationship between these two sites is
presently unknown.

The following items are excluded from the scheduling: all fences and fence
posts, lamp posts and similar modern fittings; the surfaces of all drives,
courtyards and paths; the concrete settling tanks and filter beds at the head
of the shallow valley crossing the central part of the hillfort; all garden
walls, steps and the modern earth banks flanking the car park to the north
of the hotel; although the ground beneath all the above items is included in
the scheduling.

That part of the large building known as Danesfield House which falls within
the monument is completely excluded from the scheduling along with the sunken
garden areas immediately to the south of the house, which are Listed Grade II,
and the two sunken gardens further to the south east.

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.

Despite alterations to the hillfort caused by the construction of Danesfield
House and the later RAF Station, Danesfield Camp retains significant
archaeological remains indicating the date, design and function of the
monument. The perimeter earthworks to the north and east survive largely
unaltered and illustrate the method by which the promontory was originally
enclosed. The silts within the ditch both here and within the buried western
arm will contain artefactual evidence for the duration and character of
occupation, and environmental evidence demonstrating the appearance of the
landscape in which the monument was set.

Limited excavation within the hillfort has demonstrated the survival of buried
features illustrating occupation in the Middle and Late Iron Age, and
indicating earlier use of the promontory in the Neolithic period. The ground
surfaces buried beneath the ramparts are of particular interest in respect to
this earlier activity, since it will provide insights into the land use before
the hillfort was built.

Danesfield Camp forms part of a series of defended sites which were
established across the Chilterns during the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age. The
hillfort's construction and commanding position demonstrates a need for
defence, either for the people themselves or their possessions, and provides
important clues about the society which built and used the monument.

Comparison with other hillforts in the region provides further information in
this respect, and allows broader insights into the nature of society and
settlement in the late prehistoric period. The particular association between
Danesfield Camp and nearby Medmenham Camp, and the positions which they both
hold on the edge of the Thames Valley, is considered to be particularly
significant for the study of the development of boundaries and the interaction
between major tribal territories in the later Iron Age.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Langley, T, The History and Antiquities of the Hundred of Desborough, (1797), 335
Page, F , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1910), 85
Plaisted, A H , The Manor and Parish Records of Medmenham, (1925), 4-5
Cocks, A H, 'Records of Bucks' in Spear Head, from Medmenham, , Vol. 9, (1910), 438-9
Cocks, A H, 'Records of Bucks' in The Danes' Ditches at Danesfield (Medmenham), , Vol. 10, (1911), 21-6
Keevil, G D, Campbell, G E, 'Records of Bucks' in Investigations at Danesfield Camp, Medmenham, Buckinghamshire, , Vol. 33, (1991), 87-99
Title: Ordnance Survey 25"
Source Date: 1898

Title: Ordnance Survey 6"
Source Date: 1900

Watching brief report in SMR 1734, Farley, M E, Danesfield Camp, (1982)

Source: Historic England

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