Ancient Monuments

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Whitsbury hillfort

A Scheduled Monument in Whitsbury, Hampshire

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Latitude: 50.9763 / 50°58'34"N

Longitude: -1.8191 / 1°49'8"W

OS Eastings: 412797.621186

OS Northings: 119667.164369

OS Grid: SU127196

Mapcode National: GBR 52C.NX5

Mapcode Global: FRA 762J.H5D

Entry Name: Whitsbury hillfort

Scheduled Date: 30 November 1925

Last Amended: 11 February 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020316

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34139

County: Hampshire

Civil Parish: Whitsbury

Traditional County: Wiltshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Hampshire

Church of England Parish: Whitsbury St Leonard

Church of England Diocese: Salisbury


The monument includes a large multivallate hillfort constructed on a high
chalk outcrop which projects to the north from the village of Whitsbury,
situated approximately 4km west of the River Avon. The hillfort defences
completely enclose the top of the hill, except to the south west where they
have been destroyed by the later construction of a post-medieval manor house.
They define a roughly north-south aligned, pear shaped interior area of 6.3ha
of flat and moderately sloping ground. The defences are relatively uniform
around the perimeter and are substantial, comprising three earthen ramparts
separated by two ditches. The inner rampart stands 2m-3m above the interior
and both it and the middle rampart stand 4m-6m above their respective ditches.
The outer rampart is by comparison relatively slight, and has been partly
destroyed to the south east and south west where adjoining ridges provide the
easiest points of access onto the hill top. No clear trace survives of an
original entrance, although this would probably have been located in the area
occupied by the later manor house. A possible northern entrance is also
indicated by an opening in the outer rampart at its northern extremity,
flanked to the east by a mound which may represent an original guard house.
Elsewhere, the defences are breached to the north and south east by more
recent tracks and paths and the interior has been disturbed by the subsequent
construction of several water reservoirs, racing stables and a walled garden.
Partial excavation of the monument in 1960 revealed that the inner rampart was
originally constructed during the Early Iron Age (sixth-fifth centuries BC),
and remained in use at least until the Middle Iron Age (fourth-first centuries
BC). The excavations revealed the foundations of a timber house constructed
during this later period and recovered pottery and other domestic items
suggesting settlement within the defences. Further buried remains associated
with the original use of the monument, including additional houses, compounds,
granaries, pits, iron-ore smelting hearths and outbuildings can be expected to
survive within the interior.
The excavations also revealed earlier use of the hill during the Mesolithic
period (8500-4000 BC), represented by the recovery of an assemblage of 57
flint tools and flakes. The use of the hill during the Bronze Age period
(2400-700 BC) is also indicated by Grim's Ditch, a linear boundary feature,
which extends beneath the hillfort defences from the north. The excavations
also recovered evidence of later use of the monument during the Roman period
(first-fifth centuries AD), indicated by Roman pottery, and the post-Roman or
Early Saxon period, represented by the refurbishment of the defences during
the sixth or seventh centuries. The importance of the monument as a boundary
marker during the post-medieval period (16th-18th centuries) is shown by an
earthwork bank which partly overlies the northern defences and is included in
the scheduling where it projects to the north east for approximately 75m.
The following features are excluded from the scheduling: all buildings,
fences, gates, walls, modern services, the surfaces of all pathways and tennis
courts, and two modern resevoirs and associated pipes; however, the ground
beneath 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

Large multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of between
5ha and 85ha in area, located on hills and defined by two or more lines of
concentric earthworks set at intervals of up to 15m. They date to the Iron
Age period, most having been constructed and used between the sixth century BC
and the mid-first century AD. They are generally regarded as centres of
permanent occupation, defended in response to increasing warfare, a reflection
of the power struggle between competing elites.
Earthworks usually consist of a rampart and ditch, although some only have
ramparts. Access to the interior is generally provided by two entrances
although examples with one and more than two have been noted. These may
comprise a single gap in the rampart, inturned or offset ramparts,
oblique approaches, guardrooms or outworks. Internal features generally
include evidence for intensive occupation, often in the form of oval or
circular houses. These display variations in size and are often clustered,
for example, along streets. Four- and six-post structures, interpreted as
raised granaries, also occur widely while a few sites appear to contain
evidence for temples. Other features associated with settlement include
platforms, paved areas, pits, gullies, fencelines, hearths and ovens.
Additional evidence, in the form of artefacts, suggests that industrial
activity such as bronze- and iron-working as well as pottery manufacture
occurred on many sites.
Large multivallate hillforts are rare with around 50 examples recorded
nationally. These occur mostly in two concentrations, in Wessex and the Welsh
Marches, although scattered examples occur elsewhere.
In view of the rarity of large multivallate hillforts and their importance in
understanding the nature of social organisation within the Iron Age period,
all examples with surviving archaeological potential are believed to be of
national importance.

The large multivallate hillfort at Whitsbury survives well and partial
excavation has indicated that it retains significant archaeological remains
and environmental evidence relating to its original construction and use as
well as the earlier and later use of the hill top. The earlier use of the hill
for the manufacture and use of flint tools illustrates a common activity of
the Mesolithic period, and its association with Grim's Ditch, an extensive and
well known example of a Bronze Age linear boundary, situates the construction
of the hillfort within a pre-existing environment in which territorial
holdings, and the symbolic prestige of the groups who occupied them, had
already been defined on an impressive scale. The later use of the monument
demonstrates that it remained a focus for probable settlement during the Roman
period and provides a significant and rare instance of the subsequent
reoccupation and renovation of a defended site during the Anglo-Saxon period
for which few examples survive nationally.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Sumner, H, The Ancient Earthworks of Cranborne Chase, (1901), 20-2
Williams-Freeman, JP, Introduction to field archaeology as illustrated by Hampshire, (1915), 418
Williams-Freeman, JP, Introduction to field archaeology as illustrated by Hampshire, (1915), 178-9
Ellison, A, Rahtz, P, 'Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club' in Excavations at Whitsbury castle ditches, Hampshire, 1960, (1987), 63-81
Ellison, A, Rahtz, P, 'Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club' in Excavations at Whitsbury castle ditches, Hampshire, 1960, (1987), 63-81
Piggott, C M, 'Antiquity' in The Grim's Ditch Complex on Cranbourne Chase, , Vol. 18, (1944), 68

Source: Historic England

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