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Small multivallate hillfort known as Pitchbury Ramparts

A Scheduled Monument in West Bergholt, Essex

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Latitude: 51.9246 / 51°55'28"N

Longitude: 0.8583 / 0°51'29"E

OS Eastings: 596634.916376

OS Northings: 228978.940862

OS Grid: TL966289

Mapcode National: GBR RLD.7TT

Mapcode Global: VHKFR.TWLH

Entry Name: Small multivallate hillfort known as Pitchbury Ramparts

Scheduled Date: 29 October 1973

Last Amended: 5 July 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019959

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29450

County: Essex

Civil Parish: West Bergholt

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Great Horkesley All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument includes the buried and visible remains of a small Iron Age
multivallate hillfort located at the southern end of Pitchbury Woods (some 3km
to the north west of Colchester) overlooking West Bergholt and the shallow
valley of St Botolph's Brook from the north.

The hillfort is oval in plan, measuring some 300m from north to south, 190m
east to west and containing an internal area of approximately 1.9ha. The
perimeter of the hillfort is defined by the line of a large bank and outer
ditch. An additional smaller bank and external ditch encircle the defences
around all but the south western side where the ground falls away more sharply
than elsewhere. The circuit of the ramparts is depicted as a wide hedgerow on
the Tithe Map of 1840; however, by 1844 the greater part had been levelled for
arable land. The northern arc of the ramparts, which includes the single
entrance causeway to the north east, lies within the southern corner of
Pitchbury Woods and was unaffected by these changes. The inner bank here still
measures up to 2.5m in height and 10m across and the outer bank approximately
1m by 7m. The inner and outer ditches (both largely silted) measure 1m by 7m
and 0.5m by 5m respectively.

In 1933 trenches were dug across the northern ramparts, the causeway, the
buried eastern and western ramparts and the ploughed interior. These
excavations recovered the plan of the perimeter and demonstrated the survival
of both the buried ditches and traces of the levelled ramparts. Sections cut
through the upstanding ramparts revealed a `dump' construction using gravel
from the ditches with no evidence of revetment or internal structure.
Waterlogged or marshy deposits were encountered along the base of the
innermost ditch which was shown to be over 4m deep and to penetrate the
underlying London clay. The entrance causeway was clad with a gravel surface
which showed little sign of use. The hillfort's interior similarly revealed
few traces of occupation - principally two empty storage pits and two hearths.

Further excavations took place in 1973 when a 10m wide strip was
investigated prior to the construction of a pipeline skirting the southern
edge of the wood. This work confirmed the nature of the rampart's
construction and provided more details of the denuded ramparts and
infilled sections of the ditches. Worked flints and a few fragments of
earlier prehistoric pottery were found across the hillfort's interior and
beneath the base of the rampart, indicating human presence on the valley
edge in the Mesolithic period (around 5000-3400 BC) and probably some
settled occupation in the late Neolithic period (around 2,400-1,800 BC).
As during the earlier excavation, physical evidence for the date of the
hillfort's construction and use proved to be scarce. Pottery fragments
found beneath the remnants of the ramparts and within a few pits, together
with charcoal deposits dated by radiocarbon analysis, point to some
occupation during the early Iron Age (eighth to fourth centuries BC);
however this does not appear to correspond with the development of the
hillfort. In view of the nature of the defences, it is considered more
probable that the hillfort was constructed in the late Iron Age (around 50
BC to AD 10), and this interpretation is supported by a few sherds of late
Iron Age pottery recovered from both excavations. The overall lack of
artefactual evidence is thought to indicate minimal or sporadic
occupation, with the hillfort perhaps serving as a place of occasional
refuge or as a seasonal gathering place. By the early first century AD the
hillfort was almost certainly redundant, superceded by the extensive
settlement and growing linear defences of Camulodunum - the Iron Age
precursor to the Roman town at Colchester.

All fences and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the
ground beneath these features is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Small multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying
shape, generally between 1 and 5ha in size and located on hilltops. They are
defined by boundaries consisting of two or more lines of closely set
earthworks spaced at intervals of up to 15m. These entirely surround the
interior except on sites located on promontories, where cliffs may form one or
more sides of the monument. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been
constructed and occupied between the sixth century BC and the mid-first
century AD. Small multivallate hillforts are generally regarded as settlements
of high status, occupied on a permanent basis. Recent interpretations suggest
that the construction of multiple earthworks may have had as much to do with
display as with defence. Earthworks may consist of a rampart alone or of a
rampart and ditch which, on many sites, are associated with counterscarp banks
and internal quarry scoops. Access to the interior is generally provided by
one or two entrances, which either appear as simple gaps in the earthwork or
inturned passages, sometimes with guardrooms. The interior generally consists
of settlement evidence including round houses, four and six post structures
interpreted as raised granaries, roads, pits, gullies, hearths and a variety
of scattered post and stake holes. Evidence from outside numerous examples of
small multivallate hillforts suggests that extra-mural settlement was of a
similar nature. Small multivallate hillforts are rare with around 100 examples
recorded nationally. Most are located in the Welsh Marches and the south-west
with a concentration of small monuments in the north-east. In view of the
rarity of small multivallate hillforts and their importance in understanding
the nature of settlement and social organisation within the Iron Age period,
all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed to be of
national importance.

Pitchbury Ramparts, although not located on a prominent hill, nonetheless
belongs to this class of monuments. The excavations suggest, however, that
the incomplete outer bank and ditch may have been added at a later date
and that the hillfort, as originally constructed, was univallate (a
similar class of monument, although one generally associated with less
intensive occupation).

Although much of the hillfort has been denuded by ploughing, excavation
has demonstrated the survival of significant and valuable archaeological
information. The original appearance of the rampart is reflected in the
standing section to the north, and the perimeter ditches both here and
around the remainder of the circuit remain well-preserved beneath layers
of accumulated and dumped soil. Buried features relating to the period of
occupation survive across the interior, and these (together with the
earlier fills of the surrounding ditches) can be expected to retain
further and more substantial evidence for the date of construction,
duration and character of the hillfort's use. Of particular interest is
the relationship between the hillfort and the extensive settlement which
developed to the south east (between the River Colne and the Roman River)
in the late pre-Roman Iron Age. Pitchbury Ramparts may hold valuable
evidence for the nature of the earlier society and the period at which the
focus shifted towards the new location. The waterlogged conditions of the
lower ditch fills noted in 1933 and the organic materials discovered in
similar layers in 1973 suggest the survival of environmental evidence of
the appearance of the landscape in which the monument was set. Indications
of preceding land use may also remain sealed beneath the surviving
sections of the banks. The more recent investigations have also revealed a
range of artifacts which demonstrate activity in the Mesolithic and
Neolithic periods, as well as the early Iron Age. Such evidence adds
significantly to our knowledge of earlier and less tangible periods of
human settlement in the region.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, (1995), 152-4
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, (1995), 138-54

Source: Historic England

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