Borough Hill: a large multivallate hillfort


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Borough Hill: a large multivallate hillfort
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Cambridgeshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 47179 49364

Reasons for Designation

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.

Borough Hill is the second largest of the seven hillforts known in Cambridgeshire. The location of the site close to the course of a river is a common characteristic of East Anglian hillforts, although the site is unusual in this context in having more than one line of defences. Borough Hill lies towards the eastern end of a series of defended sites which developed across the chalk uplands of the Chiltern Hills in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age. The large multivallate hillfort known as Wandlebury Camp, situated in the Gog Magog Hills, lies only 4.5km to the north east, and is intervisible with Borough Hill. It is particularly significant for the study of the relationship between these sites that the ramparts on the north and east sides of Borough Hill appear to have been specifically enlarged, perhaps as a display of wealth and status. Despite the effects of ploughing and construction, the monument is relatively well preserved and retains evidence of elaborate defences, including a box rampart, and both simple and complex entranceways. Geophysical investigations have revealed numerous pits and linear features within the interior of the fort which, together with the buried soils beneath the banks and within the defensive ditches, will contain both environmental and artefactual evidence related to the prehistoric occupation of the site.


The large multivallate hillfort at Borough Hill is situated on a low chalk promontory surrounded to the north, south and west by the floodplain of the River Cam. The promontory stands about 2m-3m above the surrounding alluvium, which is sufficient to allow the hillfort to dominate the local landscape, and in particular the course of the river which flows close to the southern edge of the site. The monument is roughly oval in plan, measuring approximately 430m east to west and 300m north to south. The circuit of defences is composed of varying arrangements of banks and ditches enclosing an area of approximatley 8ha. The north west arc of the defences is visible as a broad bank, 30m-40m wide, following the contours of the hill. The bank retains an inner and outer scarp and survives to a height of approximately 0.9m. A geophysical survey of this area conducted in 1992 indicated the below ground survival of a 5m wide ditch, flanked by an outer linear feature thought to be remains of a timber built box rampart. A palisade trench traversing the line of the ditch was noted during the survey. This feature is considered to be part of an elaborate entrance way giving access to the lower-lying floodplain to the west. The box rampart was also identified further to the east along the northern arc of the defences, where it was flanked by two 5m wide ditches set 30m apart. The rampart bank is more clearly defined to the north east of Homewood House where the perimeter of the enclosure passes through a wooded field boundary. At this point the bank measures 6.5m wide and up to 1.1m in height. The counterscarp bank formed by the outer ditch is also visible some 6m from the base of the rampart, surviving to a height of about 1m. A single broad bank, up to 1.4m high and 50m wide, crosses the promontory and marks the eastern perimeter of the enclosure. Aerial photographs show that this section of the defences comprises two ditches with internal banks and a further inner ditch. A geological test pit dug into one of these banks in 1990 revealed a 0.8m deep layer of re-deposited chalk capped by 0.3m of clay. The chalk component of the bank is visible in the ploughsoil, whereas the infilled ditches are marked by slight depressions containing darker soil. A 30m wide gap in the defences in the middle of the eastern field is thought to represent a simple entrance way aligned with the easiest approach to the hillfort along the promontory. The southern defences are largely overlain by a raised causeway which carries the access road to the modern paperworks. However, a short section of the bank has been identified in the western part of the pasture to the south of the road. Further to the west, the earthworks have been destroyed by the construction of factory buildings and water management features associated with an earlier mill. The outer edge of the western defences has been largely overlain by modern farm buildings, although a distinct break in slope marks the edge of the perimeter within the farm yard. The pasture to the east of the farm contains a bifurcating scarp indicating the positions of two inner banks which enclose an area of minor earthworks indicating the presence of internal features related to the occupation of the hillfort. The interior of the hillfort has been disturbed to varying degrees by ploughing, localised building, garden landscaping and the construction of roads. However, it is known that between 0.3m and 0.7m of topsoil cover the site, and this is thought to have afforded a measure of protection to prehistoric features, many of which, as has been demonstrated by the range of pits and linear features identified by the geophysical survey, are cut into the underlying chalk.

The following items are excluded from the scheduling: all existing buildings. all fences and garden walls, the made surfaces of paths, roads, carparks, yards, and the tennis court to the south east of Homewood House, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

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Books and journals
Topping, P, An Earthwork Enclosure on Borough Hill, Sawston, Cambridgeshire, (1993), 1-5
Topping, P, An Earthwork Enclosure on Borough Hill, Sawston, Cambridgeshire, (1993), 1
Evans, C, 'Fenland Research' in Commanding gestures in lowlands:Investigation of 2 IA ringworks, , Vol. 7, (1992), 16-26
correspondance with Taylor, C (RCHME), Oetgens, J, Notes on Borough Hill, (1992)
CUCAP, CUCAP AP: RC8-DH, 327, (1979)
Technotrade Ltd, Report on site investigation for Dennis Wilson and Partners, (1990)
Title: Ordnance Survey 25" Series Source Date: 1883 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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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