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Slight univallate hillfort on Wilbury Hill

A Scheduled Monument in Letchworth Wilbury, Hertfordshire

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Latitude: 51.9776 / 51°58'39"N

Longitude: -0.2512 / 0°15'4"W

OS Eastings: 520213.686365

OS Northings: 232454.957813

OS Grid: TL202324

Mapcode National: GBR J6V.WX8

Mapcode Global: VHGNL.LKLC

Entry Name: Slight univallate hillfort on Wilbury Hill

Scheduled Date: 22 March 1949

Last Amended: 8 December 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016410

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29387

County: Hertfordshire

Electoral Ward/Division: Letchworth Wilbury

Built-Up Area: Letchworth Garden City

Traditional County: Hertfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hertfordshire

Church of England Parish: Hitchin

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


The monument includes the visible and buried remains of a slight univallate
hillfort occupying the crest and part of the south facing slope of Wilbury
Hill, a broad promontory on the western outskirts of Letchworth with extensive
views over Hitchin to the south and across the chalk escarpment to the south
The hillfort is defined by two adjoining circuits of defences formed by single
banks and external ditches. These are no longer conspicuous on the ground,
although distinct cropmarks generated by the buried features have been
recorded by aerial photography since the 1950s. The enclosures are best
defined to the south of Icknield Way, a modern road which broadly follows the
route of a prehistoric trackway of the same name. The smaller, eastern
enclosure is sub-circular in plan and measures approximately 200m in diameter,
lying partly in a field and partly beneath allotment gardens established in
the mid-1970s. The larger circuit extends westwards to form a broad
semicircular outer enclosure, the western side of which is marked by the
present line of Stotfold Road. The circuits are believed to have converged to
the north of Icknield Way, although this area is obscured by a large municipal
cemetery which is not included in the scheduling.
Earthworks representing the combined southern arc of the two enclosures
remained clearly visible until the middle of the 19th century when, for
agricultural reasons, the ditches were filled with material from the banks to
leave only a slight visible scarp. The only substantial section of the bank to
remain forms part of the verge along the eastern side of Stotfold Road. The
external ditch at this point is buried beneath the modern carriageway, and is
included in the scheduling. In 1933 limited excavations across the southern
perimeter uncovered the bases of the banks, which measured up to 8m in width
and contained evidence of timber frameworks and revetment. The defences were
found to have been constructed in two phases. The first, a narrow palisade
with traces of an incomplete bank, is now thought to date from the Late Bronze
Age (c.700 BC). In the Middle Iron Age (c.400 BC), more substantial banks were
constructed on the earlier alignments and accompanied by large external
ditches. The excavation of the latter, which were found to measure some 8m
across and 2.7m in depth, may have removed evidence of shallower versions
flanking the earlier palisades. Evidence of burning and collapse suggests that
the later banks were relatively short lived, although occupation is thought to
have continued on a limited scale within the denuded ramparts. The 1933
excavations demonstrated that access to the eastern enclosure was controlled
by a sequence of timber gateways, the final version of which was linked to an
unexcavated causeway across the southern arc of the ditch. A further causeway
has been identified within the line of cropmarks which mark the western arc of
the eastern circuit, and therefore presumably linked the two enclosures. Small
excavations to the north of the southern entrance in 1929 and 1933 found the
remains of hearths, flint-cobbled surfaces, refuse or storage pits and
evidence for huts. These features are now thought to span the period from the
Late Bronze Age to the Late Iron Age, occupation giving way to agricultural
use after the Roman Conquest. Aerial photography has since demonstrated an
extremely dense pattern of circular and linear markings within the eastern
enclosure which reflect numerous huts, pits and gullies. The western enclosure
has revealed few such anomalies, although a minor excavation in the northern
part of this area in 1959 found evidence for activity in the form of early
Iron Age pottery, a broken spindle whorl and fragments of human remains. Human
burials were also found in 1933, in the base of the western enclosure ditch,
within the southern interior of the eastern enclosure and beneath a flint
surfaced causeway which had been laid over the western ditch in the Late Iron
A large number of Roman coins were collected by the local antiquarian William
Ransome when the extreme northern corner of the western enclosure was quarried
for railway ballast in the mid-19th century. Ransome's collection, when
combined with earlier reports of Roman artefacts from the site, clearly
indicates some form of occupation continued within part of the former
hillfort, perhaps focussed at the junction of the prehistoric trackway and a
Roman route to Ninesprings villa, perpetuated by Stotfold Road. The quarry
floor lies well below the level of archaeological remains and is excluded from
the scheduling, although the quarry walls (which cut through evidence of
occupation) are included.
A cropmark ditch running across the field to the south of the hillfort at a
distance of 100m from the southern ramparts is visible in the aerial record.
This feature continued into the area of Fearnhill School, where it was partly
excavated in 1972 and found to contain fragments of Iron Age pottery. This
ditch is not included in the scheduling. A second ditch, also visible as a
cropmark, extends southwards from the western enclosure across the line of the
southern ditch. This is also believed to be contemporary with the occupation
of the hillfort and is therefore included in the scheduling together with its
junction with the southern ditch.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are all fences
and fence posts, the surfaces of all carriageways, paths and drives, all sheds
and other temporary structures within the allotments, and all telephone poles
and street lights; the ground beneath these items is, however, included. The
floor of the quarry in the north west corner of the site is totally excluded
from the scheduling.

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.

Despite changes in agricultural use and other developments, the greater part
of the slight univallate hillfort on Wilbury Hill remains relatively
undisturbed, and is known from limited excavation to retain highly significant
archaeological information. The circuits of defences have been clearly
identified from aerial photography, and the buried remains of both the banks
and ditches are known to contain valuable evidence concerning the methods used
in the construction of the hillfort and its changing appearance throughout its
use. Limited excavations have demonstrated that the complex arrangement of
buried internal features shown in the aerial record is well preserved and
contains detailed information relating to the function of the hillfort and the
lifestyle of its occupants.
Wilbury Hill forms part of a series of defended sites which developed along
the Chiltern ridge in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, of which the
promontory fort at Sharpenhoe Clappers (approximately 14km to the WSW) and the
slight univallate hillfort of Arbury Banks (approximately 9km to the north
west) are the nearest examples. Comparisons between these sites will provide
important information concerning the development of this monument form through
time, and the nature of the prehistoric societies involved in their

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Camden, W, Britannia, (1695), 46
Cussans, J E, History of Hertfordshire, (1876), 5
Applebaum, E S, 'Arch J' in Excavations at Wilbury Hill, an Iron Age Hillfort nr Letchworth, (1951), 12-37
Applebaum, E S, 'Arch J' in Excavations at Wilbury Hill, an Iron Age Hillfort nr Letchworth, (1951), 12-37
Moss-Eccardt, J, 'Beds Arch J' in Excavations At Wilbury Hill 1959, , Vol. 33, (1964), 34-46
Pollard, J, Hamilton, M, 'Beds Arch J' in Recent Fieldwork at Maiden Bower, , Vol. 21, (1994), 10-18
info from County Archaeologist, Bryant, S, Wilbury Hill, (1996)
info from District Archaeologist, Burleigh, G, Wilbury Hill (allotments), (1996)
info from District Archaeologist, Burleigh, G, Wilbury Hill, (1996)
Matthews, K, Wilbury Hill, 1990, Compilation plan (AP and excavation)
Matthews, K, Wilbury Hill, 1990, Compilation plan (unpublished)
NMP data on Herts County Council GIS, RCHME, Wilbury Hill, (1996)
Oblique monochrome AP, Potato Marketing Board, AP 3524, (1975)
Oblique monochrome APs, CUCAP, ABV 35, ABW 50, BIZ 46, BQV 42 (1974), HH 73 (1952),
Oblique monochrome APs, CUCAP, ABV 35, ABW 50, BIZ 49, BQV 42 (1974), HH 73 (1952),
Oblique monochrome APs, Letchworth Museum, AP 12/13, (1976)
Rectified plot, RCHME data on CC GIS, Herts County Council, Wilbury Hill, (1996)
Schedule entry file map, Wilbury Hill Camp (SAM HT 42), (1975)
Schedule entry SM:27199/AI:142021, Went, D A, Maiden Bower, (1996)

Source: Historic England

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