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Earl's Hill Camp: a small multivallate hillfort and an adjacent cross dyke on Pontesford Hill

A Scheduled Monument in Pontesbury, Shropshire

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Latitude: 52.6373 / 52°38'14"N

Longitude: -2.8753 / 2°52'31"W

OS Eastings: 340861.275722

OS Northings: 304759.336981

OS Grid: SJ408047

Mapcode National: GBR BC.6W8M

Mapcode Global: WH8BY.SZZ0

Entry Name: Earl's Hill Camp: a small multivallate hillfort and an adjacent cross dyke on Pontesford Hill

Scheduled Date: 15 May 1934

Last Amended: 18 September 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020152

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34903

County: Shropshire

Civil Parish: Pontesbury

Traditional County: Shropshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Shropshire

Church of England Parish: Pontesbury

Church of England Diocese: Hereford


The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of a small multivallate
hillfort and an adjacent cross dyke, which lie within two separate areas of

The hillfort occupies the spinal summit of Earl's Hill, a steeply sided
prominence with a top which slopes gradually from north to south. From this
location there are commanding views of the undulating lowlands to the north
and east, and the hills and valleys to west and south. Earl's Hill Camp lies
0.7km to the south of the small multivallate hillfort on Pontesford Hill,
which is the subject of a separate scheduling.

Earl's Hill Camp is sub-rectangular in plan, with overall dimensions of 85m to
110m north west to south east by about 280m south west to north east. The
defensive circuit of the hillfort encloses an area of about 2.9ha. Its size
would suggest that it was occupied by a large community where particular
centralised economic and social activities were practiced. The earthwork
defences of the hillfort have been created by cutting into the slopes of the
hill. The excavated material has been used to form ramparts with steep outer
faces, which are for the most part flat-topped, giving a step or terrace like
appearance around the top of the hill. The earthwork defences defining the
western side of the hillfort consist of two parallel ramparts separated by a
narrow terrace, which marks the line of the infilled ditch. At the southern
end two further closely set ramparts separated by a narrow berm or ditch
provide additional lines of defence. On the more precipitous eastern side,
where there are rock outcrops, the hillfort is defined by a single rampart.
Access into the hillfort was from the north where an out-turned entrance
causeway connects with a terrace cutting into the northern side of the hill.
At a later date the hillfort defences were partially remodelled in order to
create a fort consisting of two defended areas. An oval-shaped enclosure, of
approximately 1.1ha, was constructed around the higher and more rocky part of
the hill top, and involved the enlargement of the northern sections of the
eastern rampart and the inner rampart on the western side. The entrance into
the hillfort was also renewed at this time. The ends of ramparts were turned
inwards in order to create a narrow entrance passage about 4m wide. A more
simply defined entrance, 5m wide, provided access from the northern enclosure
to the defended area at the south. The ditch to the east of this entrance
passage consists of a series of quarry scoops cutting into the rock, the tops
of which are still plainly visible. The uneven profile of the western ditch
terminal flanking the northern entrance suggests that this part of the ditch
was also of similar construction.

A further alteration to the defences of the northern enclosure included the
intentional infilling of the entrance passage to the southern enclosure. It
would therefore appear that by this time the southern enclosure had ceased to
be used.

Within the interiors of both enclosures are a series of level and gently
sloping areas, which have been created by cutting into and depositing material
along the more steeply sloping ground. These internal terraces are considered
to be platforms on which domestic and ancillary buildings were constructed.
The structural remains of which and their associated deposits will survive as
buried features.

Near to the highest point within the northern enclosure are the remains of a
shallow rock-cut trench, averaging 0.7m wide, defining an oval area 21m by
24m. The exact function of this feature is unclear, but it appears to be
modern and may well have been the base for a military installation used during
World War II, such as a searchlight battery or aircraft decoy. Holes drilled
into rock outcrops nearby may be associated with this feature.

About 60m downslope from the northern entrance of the hillfort, aligned south
west to north east and running across the slope, are the remains of outer
defences. They consist of two short, flat-topped ramparts each with a
corresponding ditch and a counterscarp bank to the north west, separated by a
gap of approximately 21m. The defences to the east run up to the precipitous
eastern side of the hill. The form and location of these defences suggest that
they acted in some way to control access to the hillfort from the north, but
it would appear that they were of limited use as defensive outworks.

On lower ground to the north west of these outer defences, and located within
a separate area, is a cross dyke. This linear earthwork defines the western
side of the shelf forming the summit of Pontesford Hill and is aligned NNE-SSW
along the shoulder of the hill. It consists of a bank about 190m long, and
between 8m and 11m wide, bounded on the eastern side by a ditch formed by a
series of irregular quarry scoops up to 6m wide. Although this ditch has been
largely infilled it survives as a buried feature. The form of the bank is
accentuated by the sloping ground on which it was constructed, and stands 0.8m
to 1.4m high on the eastern side and between 1.4m and 2.3m high on the western
side. At its northern end the bank curves inward and to the south it has a
stepped profile.

In the post-medieval period Pontesford Hill was subdivided by a network of
woodland boundary banks, many of which are depicted on the earliest Ordnance
Survey map for the area published in 1833. One of these banks, constructed of
earth and stone, runs up the northern side of the hill near to the north
eastern end of the cross dyke. It joins another bank of similar construction
running along the base of the shallow valley between Pontesford Hill and
Earl's Hill, and cuts across the southern tail of the cross dyke. Two 20m
lengths of these two woodland boundary banks at either end of the cross dyke
are included in the scheduling in order to preserve their relationship with
the cross dyke.

All fence posts, together with the Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar and
the way marker post on Earl's Hill, are excluded from the scheduling, although
the ground beneath all these features is included.

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

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.

The small multivallate hillfort on Earl's Hill and the cross dyke on
Pontesford Hill are fine examples of these classes of monument. This
multi-phased hillfort is one of a group of broadly contemporary hillforts
constructed along the hills overlooking the Rea Brook valley. In common with
other defended settlements Earl's Hill Camp is considered to contain
significant buried deposits, structural features, artefactual and organic
remains, which have the potential to illustrate many aspects of Iron Age life.
The defences will retain evidence of their construction and their later
modification. Organic remains surviving in the buried ground surfaces beneath
the ramparts and within the ditches will also provide important information
about the local environment and the use of the surrounding land before the
hillfort was constructed and during its occupation.

Cross dykes are substantial linear earthworks typically between 0.2km and 1km
long and comprising one or more ditches arranged beside and parallel to one or
more banks. They generally occur in upland situations, running across ridges
and spurs. The evidence of excavation and analogy with associated monuments
demonstrates that their construction dates to the second half of the second
millennium BC, although they may have been reused later. Current information
favours the view that they were used as territorial boundary markers, probably
demarcating land allotment within communities, and some may have served as
defensive earthworks. Cross dykes are of considerable importance for any
analysis of settlement and land use in the Bronze Age. While it is a
significant monument in its own right, the importance of the cross dyke on
Pontesford Hill is enhanced by its proximity to, and probable association
with, the hillfort on Earl's Hill. The cross dyke will retain evidence of its
construction and any later use, and, like the neighbouring hillfort, buried
organic remains are expected to survive which will provide further information
about the environment and the use of this area throughout the later
prehistoric period.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Cunliffe, B, Iron Age Communities in Britain, (1978), 216
Forde-Johnston, J, 'Archaeological Journal' in Earl's Hill, Pontesbury and related hillforts in England & Wales, , Vol. 119, (1962), 66-91
Aerial photograghs of Earl's Hill Camp in Shropshire SMR,

Source: Historic England

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