Large univallate hillfort at Beacon Hill


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Basingstoke and Deane (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SU 45764 57275

Reasons for Designation

Large univallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying shape, ranging in size between 1ha and 10ha, located on hilltops and surrounded by a single boundary comprising earthworks of massive proportions. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and used between the fourth century BC and the first century AD, although evidence for earlier use is present at most sites. The size of the earthworks reflects the ability of certain social groups to mobilise the labour necessary for works on such a monumental scale, and their function may have had as much to do with display as defence. Large univallate hillforts are also seen as centres of redistribution, both for subsistence products and items produced by craftsmen. The ramparts are of massive proportions except in locations where steepness of slope precludes easy access. They can vary between 6m and 20m wide and may survive to a height of 6m. The ditches can measure between 6m and 13m wide and between 3m and 5m deep. Access to the interior is generally provided by one or two entrances which often take the form of long passages formed by inturned ramparts and originally closed by a gate located towards the inner end of the passageway. The entrance may be flanked by guardrooms and/or accompanied by outworks. Internal features often include round-houses as well as small rectangular and square structures supported by four to six postholes and interpreted as raised granaries. When excavated, the interior areas exhibit a high density of features, including post- and stakeholes, gullies, floors, pits, hearths and roads. Large univallate hillforts are rare with between 50 and 100 examples recorded nationally. Most are located within southern England where they occur on the chalklands of Wessex, Sussex and Kent. The western edge of the distribution is marked by scattered examples in north Somerset and east Devon, while further examples occur in central and western England and outliers further north. Within this distribution considerable regional variation is apparent, both in their size, rampart structure and the presence or absence of individual components. In view of the rarity of large univallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the organisation and regional structure of Iron Age society, all examples with surviving archaeological potential are believed to be of national importance.

The large univallate hillfort at Beacon Hill displays excellent preservation both of the defences and, because of the absence of plough damage, of an array of interior earthwork features. Limited excavation has indicated that the site contains archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the construction, use and abandonment of the monument. This monument was recently the subject of a full survey by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England.


The monument includes a large univallate Iron Age hillfort situated on the summit of Beacon Hill, a ridge of Upper Chalk south of the Kennet valley. Following the contours of the hill, the hillfort measures 300m internally from north-west to south-east. It has a maximum internal width of 190m at the western end, narrowing to 95m at the centre and thereafter broadening again to 160m. An area of 3.84 hectares is enclosed by the earthen rampart and ditch. The rampart rises up to 2.5m above the interior of the hillfort. The ditch, which is up to 12m wide and falls to a maximum depth of 6m below the apex of the rampart, is flanked by a counterscarp rampart up to 2.5m high. The single surviving entrance at the south-east corner of the hillfort has hornworks and an inturned corridor. There is an indication of a second entrance, deliberately blocked, toward the north-western corner of the hillfort. The interior has not been ploughed and contains many low earthworks. Some, representing hut sites, are in the form of circular or sub-circular banks or platforms with banks, all with external ditches. Other less regular platforms and depressions are also preserved. Large, irregular quarry pits flank the inner side of the ramparts except at the entrance and possible blocked entrance. Two short lengths of bank and ditch on the highest part of the hill pre-date the internal development of the hillfort but have not been accurately dated. Small-scale excavation in 1912 investigated one hut circle and three pits. One pit had been reused by men tending the post-medieval beacon situated on the highest part of the hill. The tomb of the fifth Earl of Carnarvon is set above ground in a levelled and fenced enclosure in the south-western corner of the hillfort. Excluded from the scheduling are all fences, fenceposts, the tomb of the Earl of Carnarvon and the associated railings and gate, and the Ordnance Survey trigonometry pillar, but the ground beneath all these features is included.

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.


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

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Books and journals
Eagles, B N, 'Archaeol J' in A New Survey of the Hillfort on Beacon Hill, , Vol. 148, (1991), 98-103
Woolley, L, 'Man' in Excavations on Beacon Hill, Hampshire, , Vol. 13, (1913), 8-10


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.

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