Ancient Monuments

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Bunbury hillfort: a univallate hillfort south west of Alton Towers

A Scheduled Monument in Farley, Staffordshire

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Latitude: 52.9844 / 52°59'3"N

Longitude: -1.8969 / 1°53'48"W

OS Eastings: 407019.9435

OS Northings: 343012.0611

OS Grid: SK070430

Mapcode National: GBR 37K.TGW

Mapcode Global: WHBD4.T7XX

Entry Name: Bunbury hillfort: a univallate hillfort south west of Alton Towers

Scheduled Date: 3 August 1956

Last Amended: 18 November 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014686

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21633

County: Staffordshire

Civil Parish: Farley

Traditional County: Staffordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Staffordshire

Church of England Parish: Alton St Peter

Church of England Diocese: Lichfield


The monument is situated within the grounds of Alton Towers, a 19th century
mansion and a leisure park, and includes the earthwork and buried remains of
part of Bunbury hillfort, a univallate hillfort.
The hillfort utilises a naturally defensible spur of land which falls away
steeply westwards towards the River Churnet, and is defended to the north and
east by the steep valley of Slain Hollow, a natural valley cut into the side
of the Churnet valley. Bunbury hillfort originally extended north east and
south east of the area of the scheduling, to occupy most of the hilltop, but
much of this area has been extensively modified by 19th century ornamental
gardening, the construction of the house known as Alton Towers and by
construction work associated with the leisure park. There is now no surface
evidence to indicate, precisely, the original extent of the hillfort in these
The hillfort's defensive earthworks, a bank and an external ditch, are visible
along the north western and south western edges of the escarpment. The best
preserved section of the bank lies between the northern end of the mansion and
the Flag Tower (an early 19th century folly); it originally defended the north
western approach to the hill. It is visible as an earthwork, with a maximum
width of 18m, for a length of approximately 195m, although its eastern end has
been breached to provide access. Beyond this breach a further 20m long section
of the bank is visible and this has been truncated at its eastern end by the
retaining wall behind the mansion. In the early 1960s an excavation trench
through the defences recovered evidence that the defensive bank has a timber
lacing. It has a very level top for much of its length and is believed to
have been remodelled in the early 19th century in order to create a garden
walk. Along parts of this walk are sections of wall foundation thought to be
the remains of walls which lined the rampart walk. This masonry is included in
the scheduling as, together with the remodelling of the bank, it provides
evidence for the alteration of the prehistoric earthwork as part of a 19th
century garden layout.
Immediately to the north of the bank the ground falls away before reaching a
terrace in the hillslope. This feature is believed to be the infilled and
modified remains of an external ditch which ran along the north western side
of the hillfort. It was reused as a garden walk in the 19th century. The ditch
will survive as a buried feature and is included in the scheduling. The
western end of the north western defences have been modified by the
construction of the Flag Tower, a four storey structure, built before 1830,
and Listed Grade II. This area is not included in the scheduling.
South of the Flag Tower along the crest of the western escarpment are the
earthworks of the hillfort's south western rampart. These earthworks are
much slighter than those of the north western rampart. At its northern end
it is represented by a steepening of the profile of the natural slope. Here
the bank is no more than 1m high and is believed to be composed of irregular
blocks of sandstone. Parts of the south western ramparts have been modified by
quarrying activities and they are not visible as earthworks in a stretch 22m
long in the central part of the area of the scheduling, where building debris
has been dumped over the natural escarpment. Beyond this dumping a well
preserved section of the rampart survives for 55m, up to 9m wide and 1.2m high
above the interior but it then terminates abruptly at a point where the
hillside has been extensively quarried for sandstone. It is thought that the
construction of a defensive ditch along the west side of the hillfort was
unnecessary because of the natural steepness of the escarpment on this side.
Most of the interior of the hillfort has been greatly modified by the
construction of the amusement park, which has resulted in a number of terraces
being cut deeply into the gently westward sloping interior. Those parts of the
interior immediately adjacent to the north western and south western defences
survive relatively undisturbed and are believed to retain buried features
associated with the occupation of the hillfort. A 15m wide section of the
interior adjacent to these defences is, therefore, included in the scheduling.
The surfaces of all paths and driveways, all fence posts and modern steps, and
the former fairground equipment and machinery which are stored on the southern
part of the monument, are excluded from the scheduling but 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

Slight univallate hillforts are defined as enclosures of various shapes,
generally between 1ha and 10ha in size, situated on or close to hilltops and
defined by a single line of earthworks, the scale of which is relatively
small. They date to between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (eighth -
fifth centuries BC), the majority being used for 150 to 200 years prior to
their abandonment or reconstruction. Slight univallate hillforts have
generally been interpreted as stock enclosures, redistribution centres, places
of refuge and permanent settlements. The earthworks generally include a
rampart, narrow level berm, external ditch and counterscarp bank, while access
to the interior is usually provided by two entrances comprising either simple
gaps in the earthwork or an inturned rampart. Postholes revealed by excavation
indicate the occasional presence of portal gateways while more elaborate
features like overlapping ramparts and outworks are limited to only a few
examples. 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. Slight
univallate hillforts are rare with around 150 examples recorded nationally.
Although on a national scale the number is low, in Devon they comprise one of
the major classes of hillfort. In other areas where the distribution is
relatively dense, for example, Wessex, Sussex, the Cotswolds and the
Chilterns, hillforts belonging to a number of different classes occur within
the same region. Examples are also recorded in eastern England, the Welsh
Marches, central and southern England. In view of the rarity of slight
univallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the transition
between Bronze Age and Iron Age communities, all examples which survive
comparatively well and have potential for the recovery of further
archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

Bunbury hillfort represents the only known example of a slight univallate
hillfort in this part of Staffordshire, relying for its defence primarily on
the strength of its topographical location. Its commanding position not only
provided defence, but also displayed the status of its builders. The trial
excavation of a section across the north western rampart only affected a small
part of the monument, but demonstrated that the site retains many well
preserved features including evidence for timber lacing and information
relating to the hillfort's construction. Those parts of the interior which are
included within the scheduling survive relatively undisturbed and will retain
both structural and artefactual information relating to the occupation of the
site and the wealth and status of its inhabitants.
The importance of the site is enhanced by its incorporation within an
extensive landscaped garden in the early 19th century when the north western
rampart was modified to create a garden walkway. This reuse provides an
unusual illustration of the preoccupation with archaeological sites evident
during the 19th century.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Staffordshire, (1974), 57
Mountain, MJ, 'Keele Archaeology Group Newsletter' in Bunbury Hillfort, (1961)
RCHME, Bunbury Hillfort (SK 04 SE 11), (1994)

Source: Historic England

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