Civil War defences on Brandon Hill


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Statutory Address:
Brandon Hill, City of Bristol, BS8 1EA


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Statutory Address:
Brandon Hill, City of Bristol, BS8 1EA

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
City of Bristol (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


The remains of two phases, 1642-43 and 1643-45, of Bristol’s Civil War defences, found on Brandon Hill, a steep hill on the west side of the City of Bristol, that commands good views of the River Avon and the S of the city. It includes the remains of Brandon Hill Fort, the Water Fort and the connecting lines.

Reasons for Designation

The remains of the mid-C17 First English Civil War defences on Brandon Hill, Bristol, are scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: the upstanding earthworks represent legible remains that demonstrate well both phases of the Civil War defensive lines; * Period: the battles and sieges of the English Civil War (1642-52) were the last major active military campaigns to be undertaken on English soil; * Rarity: they include the only known substantial upstanding remains of the City of Bristol’s Civil War outer defensive ring, and are also rare survivals nationally of upstanding remains associated with the defence of a major urban settlement during this conflict; * Documentation (historic): the route of Bristol's outer defences is well understood from historical accounts and through C18 and C19 cartographic evidence; * Documentation (archaeological): the remains have been subject to a number of desk-based and topographical assessments and some small-scale excavation; * Potential: in addition to the upstanding remains, it is likely that buried remains will survive and provide valuable information about the construction and use of these defences, including the original cut of the ditches and artefacts relating to the site's C17 military use.


Brandon Hill is an area of high ground, on the west side of Bristol city centre, which overlooks the River Avon. In 1174 four acres at the summit of the hill were granted by Robert, Earl of Gloucester to Tewkesbury Abbey. The rest of the land was given to the Corporation of Bristol. A chapel dedicated to St Brandon was erected on the summit in 1194. In the C16, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the chapel was demolished. The land was purchased by the Corporation of Bristol in 1625 and it became a public open space.

During the First English Civil War (1642-46) Brandon Hill became part of the city’s outer defences, as proposed by the Common Council on 24 November 1642. By December 1642 Bristol was occupied by the Parliamentarians and under their control construction work continued. The defences consisted of a bank and ditch linking five main forts and redoubts including the Water Fort, overlooking the River Avon, and Brandon Hill Fort, both at the SW end. The line continued N to Priors Hill where it turned SE towards Old Market and Redcliff, then headed back W towards the River Avon. Most of the forts and redoubts had square plans, with the exception of the circular fort on Brandon Hill. The line also incorporated ‘spurs’, small triangular artillery platforms that stood between the principal forts, including the one between Brandon Hill and Water Fort. Following the short-lived First Siege of Bristol in July 1643, Royalist forces took control of the city and consolidated the defences. At Brandon Hill Fort a new bastion was built to the west of the original line, with its own bank and ditch. This second phase of defences merged with the original line just to the N of the Water Fort. In September 1644, the Second Siege of Bristol saw the Parliamentarians win back the city and they maintained their position until the end of the conflict in 1645. In 1647 an order was issued that all of the existing Civil War defences, with the exception of Bristol Castle and the former Royal Fort, should be dismantled.

A view of Brandon Hill topped by a circular fort from 1715 is one of the earliest documentary records to suggest that remains of the Civil War defences survived in this area. John Rocque’s Plan of Bristol (1750) depicts Brandon Hill as an open area with public paths, topped by the circular mound and a multi-sided wall which has long been interpreted as the remains of the Royalist bastion wall. The Ashmead Survey (1828) also shows this wall and in addition depicts the surviving earthworks relating to the first-phase line running S from Brandon Hill’s summit and the remains of the triangular spur; the map identifies this as the ‘Line of Fortification 1642’. In the early C19 a row of houses (demolished in the C20) were built on the slope to the SE of the Water Fort site and in the mid-C19 a school was built to the E. In the 1850s the whole park underwent improvements including the terracing of the mound to establish public paths. In 1857 a Crimean War Memorial gun emplacement was placed at the summit of Brandon Hill; its construction involved the removal of part of the bastion wall. The First Edition Ordnance Survey (1880) depicts the wall and earthworks relating to both lines. This map also depicts the remains of the Water Fort at the S end of the park. In 1897-9 Cabot Tower was built on top of the Brandon Hill, on the site of the circular fort. The tower stands on top of a large plinth with stone walls. In 1936-7, an alpine and water garden was added the SW side of the summit, below Cabot Tower, this part of the summit was landscaped to create a water garden with a network of pathways, artificial mounds and ponds, authorised by the Bristol Sanitary Authority. In the early C20 a series of First World War practice trenches were laid out on the land to the west of the fortification remains. An aerial photograph taken in 1946 shows the ornamental garden at the summit. It also shows earthworks in an area of the Water Fort which at the time was largely clear of trees. By the late-C20 the Water Fort site had become a nature reserve covered in trees and other vegetation.

The Civil War earthwork remains have been subject to a number of archaeological investigations in the late C20 and early C21. A study of Bristol's Civil War defences in 1995 included an earthwork survey which plotted the surviving earthworks and projected the course of both phases of defensive lines within Brandon Hill Park. An archaeological investigation in 2011 focused on the remains of the Brandon Hill bastion with two trenches laid out, one over a section of the outer ditch and one within the bastion wall. The excavation of the ditch indicated that, while it had been recut in subsequent years, the form of the original ditch was similar to that of other Civil War defences ditches excavated elsewhere in the city. The results of the excavation on the interior of the bastion revealed a stone wall built on bedrock with a whitewashed inner face and white mortar. The survey concluded that the mortar was similar to other C18 mortar found in Bristol. The report also suggested that the form of the wall, including the stonework and white-washed inner face, was comparable with other nearby C18 garden wall construction, hypothesising that the wall may be an C18 folly. The wall has undergone phases of re-facing and mortar repair in the C19 and C20. The Water Fort was the subject of a geophysical survey in 2013 which identified a linear anomaly that corresponds with a partial ditch which was interpreted as a Second World War trench. However, a measured topographic survey of the Water Fort suggested that this ditch was more likely to relate to the Civil War use of the mound.


PRINCIPAL FEATURES: the remains of two phases, 1642-43 and 1643-45, of Bristol’s Civil War defences found on Brandon Hill, a steep hill on the W side of the City of Bristol, that commands good views of the River Avon and the S of the city. It includes the remains of Brandon Hill Fort, the Water Fort and the connecting lines.

DESCRIPTION: to the N of Cabot Tower there are areas of exposed rubble stone between 1m and 0.2m high that lie at the N corner and along the projected line for the N side of the 1644 bastion. Centred on ST5795972983 to the NE of the tower is a 0.5m high mound which appears to sit on the projected line of the defences that connected Brandon Hill to the northern forts; however, this mound may also relate to the C19 landscaping.

The upstanding curtain wall, to the W of the tower, is constructed of random-shaped Quartzitic sandstone. Various phases of mortar are evident including off-white/ buff lime based with local Brandon Hill grit and later grey-coloured cement based. The main continuous upstanding section of the wall starts to the S of the footpath at ST5789272994. The wall runs on a NE to SW alignment for circa 7.6m, turning to the SE for circa 23.38m, it then heads E for circa 22.5m before finally turning S for circa 35.7m, terminating at ST5791572915. On the W side of the wall is an outer ditch that follows the same alignment. The maximum width of the ditch is 6.5m. The S edge of this ditch and wall stops at a small C19 park maintenance yard and a maintenance building stand on the site of the infilled ditch.

Midway up Brandon Hill Park are the remains of two parallel lines of earthworks running roughly N to S. The E earthwork, on the alignment of the first phase of Civil War defences, is a linear bank topped by a C19 footpath. At ST5794072829 the bank, with a ditch on the W side, heads SE, linking to a triangular platform that projects NW and which has been identified on historic plans as of a series of ‘spurs’, small triangular artillery platforms, that were positioned between the main forts. The platform is relatively flat and was adapted in the C19 to accommodate a tree and bench. The bank and ditch continue to the SE, tapering away at the C19 footpath to the S at ST5790772740.

The W earthwork is on the line of the second phase of defences. It is centred on ST5791572915, and consists of a bank c.2m in height with two arms meeting at right angles to create a triangular shape. The bank is topped by trees and vegetation; some of the trees have been uprooted and lime mortar stonework is visible amongst the exposed roots. On the W side is of the bank is a ditch circa 1m deep. At ST5788572810 the bank appears to head to the SE, surviving as fragmentary low earthworks approximately 0.2m high, before joining up with the first-phase line a little further S.

At the S end of Brandon Hill Park is a NE to SW aligned ditch, measuring 1m deep 6m wide and 15m long. To the N of the ditch is a multi-sided platform, roughly 90m wide, ST5790472724. The S end of the ditch terminates at the edge of a steep slope. At the top of the slope, and on the E side of the ditch, at ST5789472660, is a roughly rectangular platform that is also approximately 90m wide. This area has been commonly interpreted as the site of the Water Fort. The steep slope appears to be a natural formation, with evidence of sporadic quarrying. There is another short section of ditch at ST5791472678, running NW to SE, and roughly parallel to the longer W ditch that may also relate to the Civil War defences. The area is currently largely obscured by an area of woodland and undergrowth. To the E of the remains is the boundary wall of St George's Church of England School. A basketball court was placed to the NE of the fort remains in the late-C20. There are public footpaths running along the NW and S of the fort site.

EXCLUSIONS: the surfaces of all paths and steps, benches, railings, fence posts, the maintenance yard building and the yard's modern surface, signposts, lamp posts, and dustbins are excluded from the scheduling. The ground beneath all these features is, however, included. The wall to St George Church of England School to the S of the mapped area is not included in the scheduling.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
BS 118
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Russell, James, The Civil War Defences of Bristol: Their Archaeology & Topography, (1995)
1715 View of Part of Michael’s Hill and Brandon Hill (BMAG Ma4381)
1750 John Rocque’s map of Bristol
1946 Aerial photographs (Historic England)
Ashmead Survey of Bristol (1828)
Bristol City Council Historic Environment Records Monument Reports
Israel, R (2009) Earthwork Survey and Assessment of Brandon Hill, Civil War Fort, Bristol
King, Andy (2011) Archaeological Evaluation At Brandon Hill, Bristol for Bristol City Council
Roberts, A.J. (2013) Geophysical Surveys at Brandon Hill, Bristol, Archaeoscan
Wessex Archaeology (2015) Water Fort, Brandon Hill, Bristol Historic Environment Desk-Based Assessment and Topographical Survey


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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