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Symonds Yat promontory fort

A Scheduled Monument in English Bicknor, Gloucestershire

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Latitude: 51.8388 / 51°50'19"N

Longitude: -2.6342 / 2°38'2"W

OS Eastings: 356402.803601

OS Northings: 215765.318081

OS Grid: SO564157

Mapcode National: GBR FP.V97F

Mapcode Global: VH86W.918Q

Entry Name: Symonds Yat promontory fort

Scheduled Date: 17 July 1963

Last Amended: 7 July 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016760

English Heritage Legacy ID: 28861

County: Gloucestershire

Civil Parish: English Bicknor

Traditional County: Gloucestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Gloucestershire

Church of England Parish: English Bicknor St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Gloucester


The monument includes an Iron Age promontory fort lying within the Forest of
Dean in a loop of the River Wye. The promontory is triangular in shape with
its base to the south, and the apex of the triangle pointing north. The fort
is 148m above sea level, and is defended on its north, west and east sides by
steep sided cliffs up to 122m high, and on its south side by a series of five
banks and four ditches. The promontory fort covers an area of about 6ha,
almost half of which is taken up with the parallel banks and accompanying
The fort was popularly attributed to Offa, who reigned between 784-796 AD,
although in reality the nature of the defences and pottery found on site place
its date firmly in the Iron Age. Indeed, two scrapers, also found on the site,
suggest that there might have been a Bronze Age precursor to the Iron Age
The impressive defences comprise a series of banks and ditches which control
access to the innermost, northern, part of the site. The most southerly and
outermost line of defence, and the next two northwards, consist of banks
fronted by ditches. The ditches are `V' shaped, ranging from 4m to 5m in width
at the top, 2m to 3m at the bottom, and are 0.5m to 1m deep. Behind each ditch
the bank rises to a height of between 1.2m to 2m. To the north of these, and
forming the inner defensive structure, are a pair of banks with a ditch
between them. The outer bank of this pair is 0.8m high, behind which is a
large ditch 8m wide at the top, 5m wide at the bottom, and 1.5m deep. From the
bottom of the ditch the innermost bank rises to 4m high with a width of about
The western end of the two outer banks in the defensive system run into a
lateral bank, 3m high and aligned north east-south west, which appears to form
a limit to the defences on the west side of the fort. The western end of the
third bank, however, disappears into the decline known as `Hollow Rock', and
the two inner banks run into the promontory edge on their west side. On the
eastern side of the fort, the two southern banks and ditches have been built
over by a road, houses and a car park, but the second bank re-appears on the
east side of the road standing to 1.5m high and curving northwards to meet the
third bank. The two innermost banks run through to the promontory edge on
their east side. Both the third and fourth banks are quite denuded on their
east sides, standing to only about 0.5m high, but the innermost bank is still
an impressive structure standing to about 2m high on its east side with its
ditch 3m wide and 0.5m deep. There is no obvious entrance, but it is thought
that the entrance was on the line of the road on the east side of the
To the north, beyond the last ditch, the interior of the hillfort rises for
about 60m and then flattens out for a distance of about 80m before rising
again to the edge of the promontory.
Although the ramparts at Symonds Yat are recorded as early as 1297, they did
not attract antiquarian interest until the latter part of the 19th century.
Examinations of the earthworks were conducted by Nicholls in 1858 and Playne
in 1877, but the most comprehensive description of the site was given by
MacClean in 1880 with an illustration which shows detailed mapping of the
earthworks. Since at least the 19th century the hillfort ramparts have been
associated with the Anglo-Saxon frontier earthwork of Offa's Dyke, however, no
recognised sections of Offa's Dyke are contiguous with Symonds Yat fort.
In 1990/91 an archaeological assessment, commissioned by the Forestry
Commission, was undertaken in the area proposed for the new log cabin and
central car park. This produced abraded sherds of 1st century AD pottery.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are the log cabin
and the concrete plinth on which it stands, the buildings and outbuilding of
Rose Cottage and the post office, all signs, ticket machines and notice
boards, the stone walls and fitments at the viewing point, the wooden
walkways, the footbridge and its supports, the surface and makeup of the B4432
road, all fences and fence posts, gates and gate posts, benches, barrier
posts, the telephone box and its supporting connections, telegraph poles; the
ground beneath all these features is, however, included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Promontory forts are a type of hillfort in which conspicuous naturally
defended sites are adapted as enclosures by the construction of one or more
earth or stone ramparts placed across the neck of a spur in order to divide it
from the surrounding land. Coastal situations, using headlands defined by
steep natural cliffs, are common while inland similar topographic settings
defined by natural cliffs are also used. The ramparts and accompanying ditches
formed the main artificial defence, but timber palisades may have been erected
along the cliff edges. Access to the interior was generally provided by an
entrance through the ramparts. The interior of the fort was used intensively
for settlement and related activities, and evidence for timber- and stone-
walled round houses can be expected, together with the remains of buildings
used for storage and enclosures for animals. Promontory forts are generally
Iron Age in date, most having been constructed and used between the sixth
century BC and the mid-first century AD. They are broadly contemporary with
other types of hillfort. They are regarded as settlements of high status,
probably occupied on a permanent basis, and recent interpretations suggest
that their construction and choice of location had as much to do with display
as defence. Promontory forts are rare nationally with less than 100 recorded
examples. In view of their rarity and their importance in the understanding of
the nature of social organisation in the later prehistoric period, all
examples with surviving archaeological remains are considered nationally

The promontory fort at Symonds Yat is a very good example of its type, and is
one of only a few such sites in Gloucestershire. The vast majority of the area
of the fort is intact, and is in good condition. Little archaeological work
has been done on the fort, and this, combined with its high standard of
preservation, ensures that there is much potential for further investigation
of the site in terms of its local, regional and national context. The fort
will contain archaeological information and environmental evidence relating to
its use and the landscape in which it was constructed. The fort at Symonds
Yat is associated with another border defensive monument, Offa's Dyke.
As a monument open to the public which attracts large numbers of visitors each
year, it forms an important educational and recreational resource.

Source: Historic England


Hoyle, J Archaeology Service Glos C C, Symonds Yat Promontory Fort, Management Plan, (1997)
Hoyle, J Archaeology Service Glos C C, Symonds Yat Promontory Fort, Management Plan, (1997)

Source: Historic England

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