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Maiden Bower hillfort

A Scheduled Monument in Houghton Regis, Central Bedfordshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.8918 / 51°53'30"N

Longitude: -0.5529 / 0°33'10"W

OS Eastings: 499677.766058

OS Northings: 222460.201221

OS Grid: SP996224

Mapcode National: GBR F3M.C0X

Mapcode Global: VHFRC.CQK3

Entry Name: Maiden Bower hillfort

Scheduled Date: 13 December 1929

Last Amended: 11 July 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015593

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27199

County: Central Bedfordshire

Civil Parish: Houghton Regis

Traditional County: Bedfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bedfordshire

Church of England Parish: Houghton Regis

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans

Details

Maiden Bower is situated about 1km to the north east of Totternhoe, on a broad
plateau below the Dunstable Downs which overlooks the northern edge of the
Chiltern scarp. The monument includes a large univallate hillfort of Iron Age
date, although surface finds, small scale excavation and recent geophysical
surveys have also demonstrated the existence of a Neolithic causewayed
enclosure in this location, and provided evidence of Romano-British activity
within the ramparts.
The hillfort is principally defined by a single circuit of bank averaging
c.225m in diameter and enclosing a level area of some 4.9ha. The bank survives
up to 3m in height within a hedgerow belt. Five gaps in the bank have been
recorded, although all but that to the south east are considered to be later
additions. The bank is flanked by an external ditch which, although now
completely infilled and no longer visible on the surface, was recorded as a
slight earthwork around 1900 and has been identified on several later
occasions in the face of a disused chalk quarry which abuts the north western
side of the perimeter and has resulted in the loss of a c.100m section of the
ramparts. From these descriptions the buried ditch would appear to measure
between 6m and 9.7m in width and some 3m in depth. Rescue recording along the
eroding quarry face between 1937 and 1951 provided evidence that the bank was
originally revetted by a series of large posts, and that a later attempt may
have been made to convert this box rampart to a sloping `glacis' design.
Several inhumations have been found within the primary silts of the ditch. In
1913, an excavation was undertaken at the south eastern entrance to the fort
by Worthington G Smith and the then owner of the site, Dan Cook. This work
revealed a series of post pits and a palisade slot, since interpreted as
the western wall of a funnel-shaped timber gateway. Within the interior the
excavators discovered a large pit spanning the entrance, the lower fill of
which contained the disarticulated remains of around 50 individuals. Although
frequently cited as an indication of warfare, the evidence from the pit
suggests mass reburial within a ritual context, perhaps in the period
immediately before the Roman Conquest. Geophysical surveys within the interior
in 1991 established the presence of several groups of pits towards the centre
and a larger depression to the north west which may have served as quarry for
the bank. The most revealing discovery was of a further circular ditch
following the outline of the ramparts and set some 25m within the bank. In the
light of similar features found at other hillforts, this is currently
interpreted as an earlier version of the defences, perhaps dating from the
Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age.
Neolithic and Early Bronze Age activity on the site was clearly evident in the
results of a fieldwalking exercise which accompanied the geophysical surveys -
the greatest part of the finds comprising flint tools and the debris
associated with their manufacture. The gradual encroachment of the quarry from
the north west prompted Worthington Smith to investigate a number of
prehistoric features outside the ramparts between the 1890s and 1915. These
included three lengths of a segmented ditch, the finds from which (including
cranial fragments, worked flint and Abingdon/Mildenhall pottery forms) were
recognised as Neolithic in the 1930s leading to the identification of the
ditch alignment as part of a causewayed enclosure. The enclosure is thought to
have been partly overlain by the later hillfort, although its full extent
remains presently unknown, and a considerable area has clearly been lost to
quarrying. Sections of the interrupted ditch remain visible in the quarry
face, and the rescue excavations on this side uncovered a probable Neolithic
inhumation buried in a chalk lined cist beneath the line of the later hillfort
ditch.
Romano-British activity has long been associated with the hillfort on the
basis of numerous coins and other objects found in the vicinity. In 1907
Worthington Smith retrieved pottery, including samian ware, from a small early
Roman cremation cemetery on the north west side of the fort, then in the
process of destruction. Quern fragments were also found together with pieces
of glass and an intaglio ring. A bronze set of toilet implements (tweezers and
pick) were found nearby in 1917. The 1991 fieldwalking defined a concentration
of Romano-British pottery towards the western side of the fort's interior,
which broadly coincides with the location of a small building suggested by the
geophysical survey. The building may represent a small farmstead although,
given its location, the character of the associated finds and the proximity of
the cemetery, it may be tentatively identified as a temple.
All fences and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the
ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 5 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.

The Maiden Bower hillfort, perhaps more accurately described as a `plateau
fort', survives well despite the encroachment of the quarry and the prolonged
ploughing of the interior, and will retain highly significant archaeological
information. Recording along the quarry face has demonstrated the complexity
of the rampart's design, further evidence for which will be retained in the
largely complete circuit of the bank and the accompanying buried ditch. This
evidence together with that of buried features within the ramparts will
provide valuable insights into the function of the fort, and contain artefacts
illustrating the date and duration of its use. The ground beneath the bank is
particularly significant as its construction will have sealed evidence of
earlier land use, including activity associated with the Neolithic causewayed
enclosure.
Between 50 and 70 causewayed enclosures are recorded nationally. Mainly found
in southern and eastern England, they date from the middle part of the
Neolithic period (c.3000-2400 BC) continuing in use into later periods. They
vary considerably in size (from 0.8ha-28 ha) and were apparently used for a
variety of functions, including settlement, defence and ceremonial and
funerary purposes. The enclosures are characteristically circular or ovoid in
plan, bounded by one or more concentric banks and ditches; the ditches formed
from elongated pits punctuated by unexcavated causeways, from which the
monument class derives its name. Causewayed enclosures are amongst the
earliest field monuments to survive as recognisable features in the modern
landscape and one of the few known Neolithic monument types. Due to their
rarity, their wide diversity of plan and considerable age, all causewayed
enclosures are considered to be nationally important.
The extent to which the causewayed enclosure at Maiden Bower has survived the
process of quarrying is uncertain. However, sections of the ditch are still
visible in the quarry face and cultural material from this period is abundant
on the field surface to the south east, and it is therefore thought that a
significant part was overlain by the later fort. These ditches and other
associated features buried within the hillfort's perimeter will contain
artefacts and environmental evidence which, with modern means of scientific
analysis, will add to the information retrieved by Worthington Smith and
enable far greater understanding of its date, function and duration of use.
The fact that a causewayed enclosure and a hillfort occupy broadly the same
location is more likely to indicate the suitability of this position on the
plateau for both forms of monument, rather than being representative of a
continuity of occupation or ritual use between the fourth and first millenia
BC. The existence of a Romano-British structure within the hillfort (which is
known to have been in use in the Late Iron Age) is, however, a more positive
indication of continuity and, whether domestic or religious in character, the
buried remains of this building (and other associated features) are
particularly significant for the study of the social changes brought about by
the Roman Conquest.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Britton, J, Brayley, E W, Beauties of England and Wales, (1801), 29
Cambden, , Brittania, (1694), 289
Chambers, C G, Bedfordshire, (1917), 95
Dyer, J, Hillforts of England and Wales, (1981), 22
Lamborn, C, The Dunstaplelogia, (1859), 13-14
Millett, M, The Romanization of Britain, (1992), 155
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1908), 9
Rivet, A L F, Smith, C, The Place Names of Roman Britain, (1979), 349
Simco, A, Survey of Bedfordshire: The Roman Period, (1984), 107
Smith, W G, Dunstable and its History and Surroundings, (1904), 38-40
Smith, W G, Dunstable and its History and Surroundings, (1904), 38-40
Smith, W G, Man the Primal Savage, (1894), 309
Wadmore, B, The Earthworks of Bedfordshire, (1920), 25-7
'Gents Mazagine' in Madring Bowre, , Vol. 34, (1764), 60
Curwen, E C, 'Antiquity' in Neolithic Camps, , Vol. 4, (1930), 22-54
Davis, G H, 'Bedfordshire Archaeologist' in Maiden Bower: Field Survey of North West Segment, (1956), 08-101
Davis, G H, 'Bedfordshire Archaeologist' in Maiden Bower: Field Survey of North West Segment, (1956), 98-101
Dyer, J, 'Beds Arch J.' in Maiden Bower, (1955), 14
Dyer, J, 'Beds Arch J.' in Maiden Bower, (1955), 46-52
Matthews, C L, 'British Archaeological Reports' in Occupation Sites on a Chiltern Ridge, (1976), 160-62
Matthews, C L, 'British Archaeological Reports' in Occupation Sites on a Chiltern Ridge, (1976), 1-3
Matthews, C L, 'Manshead Magazine' in Neolithic Causewayed Camp, , Vol. 8, (1966), 118-20
Piggott, S, 'Arch J.' in The Neolithic Pottery of the British Isles, , Vol. 88, (1931), 67-157
Pollard, J, Hamilton, M, 'Beds Arch J' in Recent Fieldwork at Maiden Bower, , Vol. 21, (1994), 10-18
Pollard, J, Hamilton, M, 'Beds Arch J' in Recent Fieldwork at Maiden Bower, , Vol. 21, (1994), 10-18
Pollard, J, Hamilton, M, 'Beds Arch J' in Recent Fieldwork at Maiden Bower, , Vol. 21, (1994), 10-18
Smith, W G, 'Proc. Soc. Ant. London' in Maiden Bower, Bedfordshire, , Vol. 27, (1915), 143-61

Source: Historic England

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