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Devil's Dyke hillfort

A Scheduled Monument in Poynings, West Sussex

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Latitude: 50.8854 / 50°53'7"N

Longitude: -0.2105 / 0°12'37"W

OS Eastings: 525974.406579

OS Northings: 111071.839164

OS Grid: TQ259110

Mapcode National: GBR JN8.FLS

Mapcode Global: FRA B6FR.RTW

Entry Name: Devil's Dyke hillfort

Scheduled Date: 7 October 1925

Last Amended: 18 October 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014953

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27080

County: West Sussex

Civil Parish: Poynings

Traditional County: Sussex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): West Sussex

Church of England Parish: Poynings Holy Trinity

Church of England Diocese: Chichester


The monument includes a large univallate hillfort dating to the Iron Age,
situated on a chalk spur which forms part of the Sussex Downs. This location
enjoys extensive views of the Weald to the north and the downland and Channel
coast to the south. The hillfort, which survives in the form of earthworks and
buried remains, is also a popular local beauty spot and during the late 19th
and early 20th centuries was the site of a number of visitor attractions,
including a steep grade railway and aerial cableway, which survive in ruined
form and as earthworks.
The roughly rectangular north east-south west aligned hillfort encloses an
area of c.14ha, and the interior is defended by a large bank up to c.14m wide
which rises to a height of c.3m where it crosses the level neck of the spur on
the south western side of the monument. The bank is surrounded by a ditch up
to c.12m wide and up to 2m deep. Elsewhere, where they are situated directly
above steep natural slopes, the defences are slighter, with the bank surviving
to the south east as a low scarp. A slight counterscarp bank flanks the ditch
on the north western side of the monument. The interior of the hillfort is
entered by way of a gap in the south eastern corner of the ramparts, now
utilised by Dyke Road, a minor public road leading from Brighton to the modern
hotel and public car park within the monument. The ramparts have been
partly disturbed in places, especially by activities connected with military
training carried out within and around the hillfort during World War I and
World War II.
The interior of the hillfort was partly excavated in 1935, when traces of a
round house were found in the form of a circular gully 8.55m in diameter
surrounding a levelled floor. Four refuse pits were associated with the house,
containing pottery sherds dating to the years between c.50 BC-AD 50. Finds of
oyster shells and coins indicate that the hillfort continued in use into the
Roman period, and an extended human burial found inside the south western
ramparts by workmen in 1931 suggests that the monument was reused as a
cemetery during the later part of the early medieval period.
The interior has also been partly disturbed by modern activities, including
the construction of the modern hotel and public toilets, the car parks, the
Victorian visitor attractions, a small shepherd's cottage which is now
demolished and which stood within the north eastern corner of the ramparts,
and World War I and World War II military training, although further buried
remains connected with the original use of the hillfort can be expected to
survive in many areas.
The first hotel was constructed c.1817, and the hillfort, also known as Poor
Man's Walls, reached its greatest popularity as a visitor attraction during
the years between 1885-1908, when visitor numbers were estimated at up to
30,000 per day. The Dyke was served by its own railway line from Brighton,
terminating at a station below the fort, and visitors could ascend the hill by
way of the steep grade railway, powered by an oil engine, constructed in 1897.
The engine house survives in the form of a concrete base, c.9m by c.6m,
situated close to the north western ramparts, just to the north east of a
circular depression c.40m in diameter. This represents a bicycle railway
track, one of the visitor attractions situated within the monument, which also
included two bandstands, an observatory, a camera obscura, fairground rides
and a switchback railway. Further entertainment was provided by the aerial
cableway, constructed in 1894, which spanned the dry coombe to the south east.
Visitors paid to cross the valley in an open cage which carried up to eight
passengers. The concrete base of one of the iron pylons by which the cable was
suspended adjoins the south eastern ramparts of the hillfort. This measures
c.1m square.
A NNE-SSW aligned brick built, now ruined, rectangular structure measuring 12m
by 7m, with walls surviving to a height of c.2m, situated c.80m south east of
the south western corner of the hillfort, has been dated to the British Army's
occupation of the monument during the First World War. The stone seat and
pillar erected just to the north of the public car park commemorates the
purchase of part of the hillfort by Sir Herbert Carden, the socialist, in
All buildings associated with the hotel, the public toilets, the surfaces of
the car parks, road, forecourts and paths, all modern signs, fences, walls,
gates and stiles, the Ordnance Survey trig point and the modern earthen
embankments surrounding the public car park are excluded from the scheduling,
although the ground beneath all these features 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

Large univallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying
shape, ranging in size between 1ha and 10ha, located on hilltops and
surrounded by a single boundary comprising earthworks of massive proportions.
They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and used
between the fourth century BC and the first century AD, although evidence for
earlier use is present at most sites. The size of the earthworks reflects the
ability of certain social groups to mobilise the labour necessary for works on
such a monumental scale, and their function may have had as much to do with
display as defence. Large univallate hillforts are also seen as centres of
redistribution, both for subsistence products and items produced by craftsmen.
The ramparts are of massive proportions except in locations where steepness of
slope precludes easy access. They can vary between 6m and 20m wide and may
survive to a height of 6m. The ditches can measure between 6m and 13m wide and
between 3m and 5m deep. Access to the interior is generally provided by one or
two entrances which often take the form of long passages formed by inturned
ramparts and originally closed by a gate located towards the inner end of the
passageway. The entrance may be flanked by guardrooms and/or accompanied by
outworks. 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. Large
univallate hillforts are rare with between 50 and 100 examples recorded
nationally. Most are located within southern England where they occur on the
chalklands of Wessex, Sussex and Kent. The western edge of the distribution is
marked by scattered examples in north Somerset and east Devon, while further
examples occur in central and western England and outliers further north.
Within this distribution considerable regional variation is apparent, both in
their size, rampart structure and the presence or absence of individual
components. In view of the rarity of large univallate hillforts and their
importance in understanding the organisation and regional structure of Iron
Age society, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed
to be of national importance.

Devil's Dyke hillfort survives well, despite some later disturbance and scrub
growth, and has been shown by part excavation to contain archaeological
remains and environmental evidence relating to the construction and use of the
monument. Around 150m to the south west is an early Romano-British farmstead
(SM 27082), and the close association of these broadly contemporary monuments
will provide evidence for the changing nature of settlement during the Late
Iron Age/Romano-British period. The well documented reuse of the hillfort
during the 19th and early 20th centuries as a site for visitor attractions
illustrates a general trend in the south east of England towards the
commercial exploitation of hillforts close to large towns and holiday resorts.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Ryman, E, The Devil's Dyke, A Guide, (1984)
'Sussex Notes and Queries' in Sussex Notes and Queries, , Vol. 4, (1931), 7-8
Burstow, G P, Wilson, A E, 'Sussex Archaeological Collections' in Excavation of a Celtic Village on the Ladies' Golf Course, etc, , Vol. 77, (1936), 195-201
Nat Trust Archaeologist, W. Sussex, Ede, J, (1996)

Source: Historic England

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