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Ritton Castle: a slight univallate hillfort and a ringwork and bailey castle

A Scheduled Monument in Worthen with Shelve, Shropshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.5727 / 52°34'21"N

Longitude: -2.9687 / 2°58'7"W

OS Eastings: 334445.2231

OS Northings: 297654.236144

OS Grid: SO344976

Mapcode National: GBR B7.C3S4

Mapcode Global: WH8C9.CLKJ

Entry Name: Ritton Castle: a slight univallate hillfort and a ringwork and bailey castle

Scheduled Date: 18 September 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020150

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34901

County: Shropshire

Civil Parish: Worthen with Shelve

Traditional County: Shropshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Shropshire

Church of England Parish: Wentnor

Church of England Diocese: Hereford

Details

The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of a slight univallate
hillfort, and a ringwork and bailey castle. The hillfort was constructed
around a projecting shelf on the north western side of Brooks Hill where the
ground slopes steeply to the north, south and west. From this commanding
position there are extensive views over the neighbouring valley and the
surrounding uplands to the north and west.
The hillfort is sub-rectangular in plan, with overall dimensions of 116m north
west to south east by 215m south west to north east. The defensive circuit
encloses an area of about 1ha. Its size would suggest that it was the
settlement of a largish community, perhaps where particular centralised
economic and social activities were practiced. Where the surrounding ground
falls away steeply the earthwork defences of the hillfort consist of a steep
scarp bounded by an external terrace, or berm, which for the most part is
between 1m-2m wide. To the west, part of this scarp has also been divided by a
narrow berm. On the eastern side, where the ground rises gently to the south
east, the hillfort is defined by a bank, which averages 6m wide and 1m high,
and an external ditch, which is between 6m and 8m wide and 1m deep. To the
south this ditch is bounded by the steep scarp which continues along the
western and northern sides of the shelf, and to the north east where the ditch
turns outwards to join the scarp. The original entrance into the interior of
the hillfort was via a causeway, about 5m wide, through the north eastern part
of the defences.
In the medieval period the hillfort was reutilised to form a ringwork and
bailey castle, which is believed to have been the principal residence, or
caput, of Ritton manor. The first known reference to the manor is in a deed of
about 1203 when Robert Corbert of Caus granted Ritton to Buildwas Abbey.
The ringwork, which was constructed in the northern part of the hillfort, is
roughly triangular in shape, measuring approximately 28m south west to north
east by 30m north west to south east, internally. The sizeable earthwork
defences along its southern side consist of a curving rampart of earth and
stone, between 14m and 18m wide and averaging 2.2m high, with an external
ditch between 8m and 10m wide, and between 1.2m and 2.2m deep. There is a 4m
wide entrance passage through these defences which provides access into the
interior. The northern part of the defensive circuit of the ringwork reuses
the steep scarp which originally defined the north western corner of the
hillfort. The position of the ringwork within the hillfort would suggest that
the rest of the hillfort interior served as a bailey to the ringwork, and
would therefore have contained a range of ancillary structures, including
stores, stables and other domestic accommodation.
The earliest large scale Ordnance Survey map published in 1882 shows a small
settlement occupying the site. A pathway is shown linking this settlement to
the nearby lead mine to the north, which worked intermittently from 1852 to
1874. The mine itself is not included in the scheduling. Apart from mounds of
rubble from the demolished buildings, all that remains visible of this
settlement is a square embanked enclosure with an adjoining small quarry and
several associated shallow sunken trackways.

MAP EXTRACT
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

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 some ground disturbance associated with the 19th century settlement,
the slight univallate hillfort and the ringwork and bailey castle at Ritton
survive as good examples of these classes of monument. It is an interesting
example of a prehistoric hillfort which has been modified in the medieval
period to form a ringwork and bailey castle. Within the hillfort, partly
sealed beneath later occupation deposits, a range of buried features, and
artefactual and organic remains are expected to survive, which have the
potential to illustrate many aspects of Iron Age life. The hillfort defences
will retain evidence of their construction and any alterations made to them in
the medieval period. Organic remains surviving in the buried ground surface
beneath the rampart and within the external ditch will also provide important
information about the local environment and the use of the land before and
after the hillfort was constructed.
Ringworks are medieval fortifications built and occupied from the late
Anglo-Saxon period to the later 12th century. They comprised a small defended
area containing buildings which was surrounded or partly surrounded by a
substantial ditch and a bank surmounted by a timber palisade or, rarely, a
stone wall. Occasionally a more lightly defended embanked enclosed, the
bailey, adjoined the ringwork. Ringworks acted as strongholds for military
operations and in some cases as defended aristocratic or manorial settlements.
In Shropshire, ringworks are comparatively rare in relation to other types of
contemporary early medieval castles incorporating a conical mound, or motte.
Within the ringwork and bailey the remains of contemporary structures will
survive as buried features, which, together with the associated artefacts and
organic remains, will provide valuable evidence about the activities and life
styles of those who inhabited the site during the medieval period. The
ringwork defences will retain significant information about their
construction, and the organic remains preserved in the buried ground surface
under the rampart and within the associated ditch will also provide additional
information about the changes to the local environment and the use of the
surrounding land.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Eyton, R W, The Antiquities of Shropshire. Volume VII, (1858), 18

Source: Historic England

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