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Palisaded hilltop enclosure, a slight univallate hillfort, and a dewpond at Skelmore Heads, 280m east of Woodside Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Urswick, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.1672 / 54°10'2"N

Longitude: -3.1131 / 3°6'47"W

OS Eastings: 327427.245646

OS Northings: 475177.035059

OS Grid: SD274751

Mapcode National: GBR 6NP7.TX

Mapcode Global: WH72C.4JV5

Entry Name: Palisaded hilltop enclosure, a slight univallate hillfort, and a dewpond at Skelmore Heads, 280m east of Woodside Farm

Scheduled Date: 22 July 1964

Last Amended: 18 March 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014875

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27688

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: Urswick

Built-Up Area: Great Urswick

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Urswick St Mary Virgin and St Michael

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


The monument includes a palisaded hilltop enclosure which was later developed
into a slight univallate hillfort. It is located on a low flat-topped hill,
known locally as Skelmore Heads, from where there are extensive views in all
directions. The monument also includes a small dewpond which is thought to
have been in use during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The earthwork
remains of the monument include a low bank and partly infilled ditch which
formed the northern edge of the hillfort. On the east, south and west sides
the hillfort appears to have been unprotected by any bank and ditch but the
flat top of the hill drops sharply to the east and west providing a natural
defence with many large outcrops of limestone and boulders. A line of
limestone outcrop and large boulders running across the less steeply sloped
southern edge limits the extent of the hillfort on this side and gives the
hillfort approximate internal measurements of 144m north-south by 106m
east-west. Limited excavation during the late 1950s and early 1960s found
that the northern defences of the hillfort consisted of a bank composed of
earth and heaped stones approximately 3.7m wide and a ditch up to 3.4m wide
and 1.2m deep. A causeway across the ditch led to an entrance 2.1m wide
through the bank. In the vicinity of this entrance a number of post holes were
found indicating that a timber revetment was used to secure the bank. A row of
hollows running between the bank and ditch, and interpreted as a timber
palisade trench, were found at various points along the northern side of the
monument and also at the south east corner, where excavation found this trench
to be rectangular in section and measure c.0.5m wide by 0.2m deep. The
presence of this trench indicates that a palisaded hilltop enclosure marks the
earliest recognisable attempt to defend the hilltop. Limited excavation of a
small circular feature on the eastern side of the monument, originally assumed
to have been a hut circle associated with the occupation of the site, found
that this feature was a disused dewpond. During the course of this excavation
a flint arrowhead and a flint scraper were found together with modern pottery.
Elsewhere within the monument two fragments of pottery similar to the type in
use during the Bronze Age were found. Other finds in the vicinity of the
monument include six socketed bronze axes, a saddle quern, and a number of
roughed-out stone axes including four which had been hidden in a limestone
crevice adjacent to the north west corner of the hillfort.
The combination of excavation and analogy with other similar sites in the
north indicates that the hilltop was enclosed by a timber palisade by the
beginning of the first millenium and that it continued to be occupied, or was
reoccupied, in the middle of the millenium. There is no evidence for
occupation beyond the fifth century AD. The artefactual evidence, however,
indicates that human activity at this site and in the vicinity pre-dates the
fortification of the hilltop; Skelmore Heads is interpreted as lying on one of
the major transmission routes for Cumbrian axes south from the Langdale axe
factories during the Neolithic period (c.3400-1800 BC). Similarly the socketed
bronze axes found nearby attest to the importance of this area during the
Bronze Age (c.1800-700 BC); one of these axes was straight from the mould and
two were `seconds', suggesting that this represents the stock of a smith and
that here, clearly, was a high status site where the services of a smith were
in demand.
A field boundary on the monument's western side is excluded from the
scheduling but the ground beneath it is included.

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

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.

A palisaded hilltop enclosure is a defended site of domestic function dating
to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age (c.550-440 BC). Their distribution is
largely restricted to north eastern England, the Borders, and southern
Scotland, and they are generally located on spurs, promontories or hilltops.
The boundaries of these sites are marked by single or double rock-cut trenches
which originally formed the settings for substantial palisades. Remains of
circular buildings are found within the palisaded areas, along with evidence
for fenced stock enclosures. Palisaded sites are the earliest type of defended
settlements recorded in the area and are thought to be a product of
increasingly unsettled social conditions in the later prehistoric period. It
is thought that the tradition of building this type of site spanned only
around 150 years. After this the use of earthen banks and ditches to form the
defensive perimeter became common. Palisaded enclosures are a rare monument
type and are an important element of the later prehistoric settlement pattern.
They are important for any study of the developing use of defended settlements
during the later prehistoric period and all surviving examples are believed to
be nationally important.
Dewponds are a class of pond found primarily on chalklands and limestone.
Their distribution stretches mainly from east Yorkshire to Dorset and Sussex,
with others on the Derbyshire limestone. They are located on high and
seemingly arid hilltops and were carefully constructed to gather rainfall and
runoff from surrounding slopes and could also be filled with some assistance
from mist. Dewponds were frequently lined with puddled clay to retain the
water and were used as a source from which animals and stock could drink. They
were constructed throughout the 19th century and a few professional makers of
dewponds were still active at the outbreak of World War II. Dewponds enabled
cattle and stock to be grazed in what are naturally arid areas and reflect
changing farming practices brought about by the greater demand for meat and
dairy products by the expanding population of the 19th century.
The palisaded hilltop enclosure at Skelmore Heads is a rare example of this
class of monument to be found outside north east England, the Borders and
southern Scotland. Limited excavation of the monument and chance finds in the
near vicinity show that not only was the enclosure later modified into a
slight univallate hillfort, but that the site was an important centre during
the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods also. Despite some past ploughing and the
building of a 19th century dewpond, the monument survives reasonably well and
remains unencumbered by modern development. It will contain further evidence
for the various periods of settlement at this site and the nature of the
activities undertaken here.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Kenyon, D, The Origins of Lancashire, (1991), 29-32
Powell, T G E, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Excavations At Skelmore Heads Near Ulverston 1957 And 1959, , Vol. LXIII, (1963), 1-30
Powell, T G E, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Excavations At Skelmore Heads Near Ulverston 1957 And 1959, , Vol. LXIII, (1963), 1-30
Powell, T G E, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Excavations At Skelmore Heads Near Ulverston 1957 And 1959, , Vol. LXIII, (1963), 1-30
AP No.s CCC3019,7A; RB113,14, Cumbria SMR, Hillfort at Skelmore Heads,
AP No.s CCC3019,7A; RB113,14, Cumbria SMR, Hillfort at Skelmore Heads,
SMR No. 2248, Cumbria SMR, Hillfort at Skelmore Heads, (1986)

Source: Historic England

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