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Sharpenhoe Clappers: an Iron Age promontory fort, medieval warren and associated medieval cultivation earthworks

List Entry Summary

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 Culture, Media and Sport.

Name: Sharpenhoe Clappers: an Iron Age promontory fort, medieval warren and associated medieval cultivation earthworks

List entry Number: 1009400

Location

The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County:

District: Central Bedfordshire

District Type: Unitary Authority

Parish: Streatley

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 30-Sep-1982

Date of most recent amendment: 07-Dec-1994

Legacy System Information

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

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 24411

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Promontory forts are a type of hillfort in which conspicuous naturally defended sites are adapted as enclosures by the construction of one or more earth or stone ramparts placed across the neck of a spur in order to divide it from the surrounding land. Coastal situations, using headlands defined by steep natural cliffs, are common while inland similar topographic settings defined by natural cliffs are also used. The ramparts and accompanying ditches formed the main artificial defence, but timber palisades may have been erected along the cliff edges. Access to the interior was generally provided by an entrance through the ramparts. The interior of the fort was used intensively for settlement and related activities, and evidence for timber- and stone- walled round houses can be expected, together with the remains of buildings used for storage and enclosures for animals. Promontory forts are generally Iron Age in date, most having been constructed and used between the sixth century BC and the mid-first century AD. They are broadly contemporary with other types of hillfort. They are regarded as settlements of high status, probably occupied on a permanent basis, and recent interpretations suggest that their construction and choice of location had as much to do with display as defence. Promontory forts are rare nationally with less than 100 recorded examples. In view of their rarity and their importance in the understanding of the nature of social organisation in the later prehistoric period, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are considered nationally important.

The Iron Age fort on the Sharpenhoe Clappers forms part of a series of defended sites established along the Chiltern Ridge during the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age. It is, however, the only regional example of a promontory fort, relying for its defence primarily on the strength of its topographical location. Its commanding position dominates the local landscape, providing not only defence, but also displaying the status of its former inhabitants. Additional fortifications on the most imposing, northern side may also have served this purpose. The trial excavation of a section across the western bank only affected a small part of the monument, but demonstrated that the site retains many well preserved features including evidence for timber fortifications crossing the spur incorporating an entranceway flanked by external ditches. The interior of the fort will retain further buried features relating to the period of use, and evidence of additional timber fortifications may be found on the edges of the promontory. Comparison between the Chiltern hillforts (the nearest examples being Ravensburgh Castle some 3km to the east and Ivinghoe Beacon 15km to the south west) will provide important information concerning the nature of their use, and their relationship with the surrounding countryside. Warrens have a long history of construction and use dating from the medieval period to the early years of the present century. Documentary sources suggest that the zenith of warren construction lay in the late medieval and post- medieval periods, although the practice is thought to have been established following the introduction of rabbits from Normandy in the 11th century. The warren usually consisted of an enclosure surrounding one or more purpose-built breeding places known as pillow mounds or buries. Existing monuments including burial mounds, mottes and boundary banks were sometimes adapted to this use. Warrens provided a consistent supply of meat and skins, and formed a significant part of the economy of both ecclesiastical and secular estates. The northern end of the Sharpenhoe Clappers promontory was adapted to serve this purpose during the 15th century, when part of the southern bank was constructed as an artificial breeding place. The bank has been shown by limited trial excavation to be well preserved and to retain numerous features of its original design, including a solid revetment on the northern side, and drainage channels beneath. The bank also seals an earlier ground surface which overlies part of the Iron Age defences. The importance of the site is enhanced by the survival of two cultivation terraces to the south of the bank, which provide further evidence for the medieval management of this area of the chalk uplands, which complements the evidence from the warren itself. The importance of the site is further enhanced by its inclusion within a public amenity area.

History

Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Details

The Sharpenhoe Clappers is an imposing promontory on the northern edge of the Chiltern Hills, approximately 1.5km to the south west of Barton le Clay. The Iron Age fort is situated in a commanding position on the northern end of the this spur, some 90m above the surrounding countryside to the north, east and west. The promontory fort is roughly rectangular in plan, measuring 250m north to south and 150m from east to west, defined by steep slopes on all but the southern side. The area contained by the abrupt edges of the natural scarps rises gently towards the central spine of the promontory, forming a relatively level plateau. A mature beech wood now covers this plateau which forms the interior of the fort. There is no evidence for ramparts on the eastern or western rim, although a timber palisade would have provided sufficient defence in addition to the natural gradients. Two shallow terraces cut into the northern slope are thought to indicate more elaborate fortifications added to the most imposing side of the site, perhaps for the purpose of displaying status as well as defence. Two banks aligned across the neck of the spur separate the fort from the high ground to the south. The western bank measures between 0.7m and 2m in height and between 10m and 12m in width, and extends for about 60m from the edge of the natural slope. The height of this bank is accentuated by an irregular 7m- 10m wide hollow area to the south. The second, less substantial bank lies about 35m further east and continues for 35m to the edge of the opposite slope. It varies between 8m and 10m in width and between 0.5m and 1m in height. The banks have long been considered to represent the southern defences of the fort. However, although partial excavation of the western bank in 1979 demonstrated that it overlay a palisade trench (containing Iron Age pottery), the bank itself was constructed in the medieval period. The U-shaped palisade trench measured c.0.5m across, and retained several impressions formed by the removal of posts. Two larger holes cut into the edge of the trench indicated the settings for substantial timber posts thought to mark the eastern side of an entranceway. A 1.5m deep, 4.5m wide hollow located c.3m to the south of these postholes is thought to represent the terminal of a defensive ditch flanking the palisade to the west. A geophysical survey in 1980 revealed a second, similar ditch extending to the east from the other side of the 4m-5m wide entranceway. The western bank is thought to have been constructed as a breeding place (or pillow mound) for rabbits. The section cut through the bank in 1979 revealed sequential layers of soil and chalk disturbed by numerous burrows, and containing fragments of 14th and 15th century pottery. The bank overlies a buried surface containing fragments of Iron Age and Roman pottery, and was originally constructed against a series of posts set into holes beneath the northern edge. These posts were later removed and replaced by a solid revetment of chalk rubble, which would have enabled more effective culling of the stock by restricting the number of entrances. Two parallel channels had been dug across the slope beneath this section of the bank prior to its construction. These channels would have provided drainage for the interior of the bank, and are a characteristic feature of medieval warren mounds. The interior of the Iron Age fort remained as pasture until the establishment of the beech plantation in the 1840's, and is thought to have formed a warren associated with the bank. The warren may have been enclosed by a fence separating the rabbits from surrounding areas of cultivation. Two medieval cultivation terraces (lynchets) lie to the south of the western bank. The larger, northern terrace measures approximately 15m by 20m, and is separated from a smaller example to the south (10m by 50m) by a steep, 1.2m high scarp. Further scarps, between 1m and 1.5m in height, define the upper and lower limits of the terraces. The monument was first identified as a `British Camp' in 1874, based on its commanding location and apparent southern defences. The name `Clappers' is thought to derive from the medieval latin term `claperius', or the french `clapier': meaning a heap of stones or rabbit hole. The name was first documented in 1575, at which time it may have referred specifically to the warren. Since the 19th century the name has applied to the entire spur. The concrete obelisk in the southern part of the hillfort along with all fences and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

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

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Dyer, J, South England Archaeological Guide, (1973), 4
Wainwright, R, Guide to Prehistoric Remains in Britain, (1978), 284
'CBA Group 9' in CBA Group 9, , Vol. 3, (1980)
Coleman, S R, 'Streatley' in Bedfordshire Parish Survey, (1980)
Dix, B, 'Beds Arch J' in An excavation at Sharpenhoe Clapper, Streatley, Bedfordshire, , Vol. 16, (1983), 65-74
Dix, B, 'Beds Arch J' in An excavation at Sharpenhoe Clapper, Streatley, Bedfordshire, , Vol. 16, (1983), 65-74
Dix, B, 'Beds Arch J' in An excavation at Sharpenhoe Clapper, Streatley, Bedfordshire, , Vol. 16, (1983), 65-74
Dyer, J, 'The Bedfordshire Magazine' in Sharpenhoe Clappers, , Vol. 8, (1962), 114
Other
DOE AM Lab report, Bartlett, A and David, A, Geophysics G 2/80, Sharpenhoe, (1980)
EH FMW AM107 report, Patterson, H, Site No. 16492, (1993)
Estate map, CRO SM 136, (1824)
Estate Map, CRO SM/E 72, (1770)
Estate of Lawrence Smyth, CRO SM/E 72, (1770)
Simco, A, Sharpenhoe Clappers: Hillfort, (1978)
Simco, A, Sharpenhoe Clappers: Hillfort, (1978)
site visit report, Simco, A, (1978)
Tithe Map and award, CRO MAT 42/1 & AT 42/1, (1824)
Tithe Map and Award, CRO MAT 42/1 & AT 42/1, (1844)
View of the Clappers from the north, Fisher, CRO Z102/73, (1820)
view of the north side of the Clappes, Fisher, CRO Z102/73, (1820)

National Grid Reference: TL 06640 30238

Map

Map
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This copy shows the entry on 25-Nov-2017 at 07:57:36.

End of official listing