A bank and ditch defining a defended enclosure atop a natural knoll overlooking the south bank of the River Swale, the enclosure including the earthworks of a rectangular building.
Reasons for Designation
How Hill, Low Whita late prehistoric defended settlement site is included on the Schedule for the following principal reasons:
* Period: as a good example of a small, late prehistoric defended settlement;
* Survival: for its retention of well-defined upstanding earthworks implying good survival of in-situ buried remains;
* Group value: as part of a wider group of late prehistoric monuments in upper Swaledale including the larger defended and scheduled sites of Maiden Castle and How Hill near Downholm.
From the mid-prehistoric period (seventh to fifth centuries BC) a variety of different types of defensive settlements began to be constructed and occupied in the northern uplands of England. The most obvious sites were hillforts built in prominent locations. In addition to these, a range of smaller sites, sometimes with an enclosed area of less than 1ha and defined as defended settlements, were also constructed. Some of these were located on hilltops, others are found in less prominent positions. The enclosing defences were of earthen construction, some sites having a single bank and ditch (univallate), others having more than one (multivallate). At some sites these earthen ramparts represent a second phase of defence, the first having been a timber fence or palisade, and sometimes this later style of rampart incorporates stonework. Within the enclosure, a number of stone or timber-built round houses were typically constructed and occupied by the inhabitants. Stock may also have been kept in these houses, especially during the cold winter months, or in enclosed yards outside them. The communities occupying these sites were probably single family groups, the defended settlements being used as farmsteads. Construction and use of this type of site extended over several centuries, possibly through to the early Romano-British period (mid- to late first century AD).
When first added to the Schedule in 1971, the monument was thought to be most likely medieval in date, however it is now considered to be mid- to late prehistoric in origin. Landscape research by Professor Andrew Fleming has shown that Upper Swaledale retains a significant group of defended prehistoric sites overlooking the river, extending from the large univallate hillfort at How Hill, Downholme westwards, with a series of natural knolls each being embellished with a bank and ditch including Ox Hill just east of Grinton, How Hill between Reeth and Harkerside Place, and How Hill at Low Whita. The larger, defended prehistoric settlement, Maiden Castle, set higher up the valley side nearly 2km to the east of Low Whita, is also thought to be roughly contemporary, but was probably of a higher status. The earthworks of the small rectangular building on the summit of How Hill at Low Whita may indicate continued occupation into the Romano-British period, although this building may have been a much later reuse of the site. The prominent bank that overlies the bank and ditch on the south side of How Hill was suggested by Fleming as being a Romano-British field bank, with the earlier earthworks being more degraded to the east of this boundary than to the west.
PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: an earthwork enclosure on the summit of a natural knoll overlooking the south bank of the River Swale, the enclosure including the earthworks of a small rectangular building.
DESCRIPTION: the knoll rises about 10m above the river floodplain to the north, its north-eastern side being a former river cliff. The enclosure is rectangular with rounded corners, the interior being approximately 70m east-west and 60m north-south, measured between the tops of the inner scarp of the outlining ditch. The north-east corner of the rectangle is cut off by the steep slope of the cliff. Beyond the ditch there is a low bank, the outer edge of which merges with the downward slope of the knoll, the whole area of earthworks including this outer bank measuring around 100m east-west by 75m north-south. The original entrance to the enclosure appears to have been on the west side, with the earthworks suggesting the remains of some form of entrance structure. The slight hollow way that runs up the south face of the knoll north-eastwards to join the ditch, following it around to the east, is considered to be a later access route to the top of the knoll. Near the centre of the enclosure there are the earthwork remains of a rectangular building approximately 12m by 6m. Running up the knoll north-eastwards, just south of the western entrance, there is a broad bank that overlies the enclosure’s bank and ditch.
EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: this covers the full extent of the earthworks of the enclosure with an additional margin for the support and protection of the monument. Because the edge of the outer bank merges with the natural hill slope, the line is measured 15m outside the line of the base of the ditch, this being more obvious. To the north-east, the constraint line runs along the boundary at the foot of the former river cliff, this continuing the margin for the support and protection of the monument.
EXCLUSIONS: fence lines that lie within the area of the scheduling, these being along the northern side, both at the top and bottom of the former river cliff, are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included.