Dowsborough hillfort and associated round barrow


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Dowsborough hillfort and associated round barrow
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

West Somerset (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 16017 39113

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 included timber or stone round houses; large storage pits and hearths; scattered postholes, stakeholes and gullies; and square or rectangular buildings supported by four to six posts, often represented by postholes, and interpreted as raised granaries. 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 remains are believed to be of national importance.

Dowsborough hillfort survives as a good example of its class. This site is unusual in that it retains the upstanding remains of an inturned entrance passage with guardhouses. The barrow will contain evidence for the earlier use of the hill, and for possible reuse as a fire beacon mound in historical times.


The monument includes a large univallate hillfort on the summit of a high hill in the northern Quantocks, and a round mound within the ramparts which has been interpreted as a Bronze Age round barrow. The site commands extensive views, particularly of the Bristol Channel coastline.

The fort is oval in shape, with ramparts enclosing an area of 2.7ha. The defences, which follow the natural contours of the hill, include a rampart c.1.5m high and outer ditch forming a drop of c.2m-3m, and a counterscarp bank up to 1.5m high beyond the ditch on all but parts of the north and west sides. The rampart has tumbled into the ditch for a stretch along the south.

There are two original entrances to the fort. On the north west is a simple causeway and gap leading from the plateau below. On the eastern tip, approached up the ridge of the hill, is a more complex entrance. The line of the southern rampart is truncated at the end, creating a slight inturned effect. It appears that something similar was present on the north but the rampart has been disturbed in more recent times and part of the ditch infilled. The entranceway leads between these ramparts, inside which are the remains of two flanking stone structures including circular guardhouses, the whole creating an inturned passageway.

A post was erected on the eastern tip of the fort at the coronation of George V; this has now fallen. Local people remember a wartime emplacement here, and this may account for the disturbance near the entranceway.

Just inside the ramparts at the north west end of the fort is a low, round flat-topped mound, ditched into the slope. This has been described as a round barrow, earlier than the fort, though possibly later reused as a post- prehistoric fire beacon mound.

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.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Lawrence, P, Quantock Country, (1952), 28
Second-hand information, Croft, R, (1993)


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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