Vespasian's Camp


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1012126

Date first listed: 02-May-1940

Date of most recent amendment: 06-Nov-2017

Location Description: The site is located near Amesbury in Wiltshire, to the west of the River Avon, centred SU 146 416.

Statutory Address: Stonehenge Road, Amesbury, Wiltshire, SP4 7BA


Ordnance survey map of Vespasian's Camp
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Statutory Address: Stonehenge Road, Amesbury, Wiltshire, SP4 7BA

Location Description: The site is located near Amesbury in Wiltshire, to the west of the River Avon, centred SU 146 416.

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

District: Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Amesbury

National Grid Reference: SU 14614 41362, SU 14647 41737


An Iron Age hillfort, known as Vespasian's Camp, situated on a prominent spur immediately west of the River Avon at Amesbury.

Reasons for Designation

Vespasian's Camp, an Iron Age hillfort at Amesbury, Wiltshire, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Representativity: An outstanding example of its type;

* Potential: The hillfort has the potential to preserve a good range of archaeological evidence;

* Rarity: Surviving Iron Age hillforts are relatively rare nationally and this is the only Iron Age fortification in the immediate Stonehenge area;

* Group value: For its important group value with Amesbury House and Park, both listed and registered;

* Survival: Despite some disturbance to the southern portion of the hillfort it survives well.


Vespasian's Camp is an Iron Age hillfort on the west bank of the River Avon at Amesbury, Wiltshire. Hillforts are amongst the most striking archaeological sites in England and can give us important information on the organisation, manual skills, labour and beliefs of Iron Age peoples. As the name implies, they are defended places, and usually comprise massive earthworks, consisting of one or more circuits of banks and ditches and generally placed on hilltops, ridges, spurs or promontories. They were built and occupied from about 900 to 100 BC, and many have been re-used since, as medieval castles, for instance. Within England, the main hillfort areas are Wessex, the Welsh marches and the south-east. Smaller hillforts are found in Northumberland and the south-west. There are few hillforts in eastern England and the Pennines or the north-west. Hillforts have been studied by archaeologists since the C19. At first the focus was on excavation of the defensive works themselves. More recently this has shifted towards the interior of hillforts also. Although they are primarily seen as defended sites, hillforts had many other purposes in Iron Age society, and as such the archaeological information they contain is potentially very great.

The most recent investigation of Vespasian's Camp was undertaken in 2016 by Historic England, who undertook an analytical earthwork survey of the site as part of the Stonehenge Southern World Heritage Site Project (Bowden, 2016). Below is a summary of the findings of this survey, including an overview of previous archaeological investigations.

Vespasian's Camp is one of a number of hillforts on Salisbury Plain and on the flanks of the Avon valley, the nearest being Ogbury on the east bank to the south. The other nearest neighbours are Castlerley Camp and Sidbury to the north, Yarnbury and Quarley Hill to west and east respectively, Figsbury Ring and Old Sarum to the south. The concentration of hillforts along the Avon and its tributaries has been noted but not explained. They are not all strictly contemporary with each other but appear to be constructions of separate local communities rather than part of a wider regional system.

Vespasian's Camp seems to have been a relatively short-lived site. Its limited dating evidence suggests activity in the C5 BC but not much earlier or later, with the first phase dating to about 500 BC and the second about 400 BC but with little sign of activity thereafter. There were almost certainly two and perhaps more barrows within Vespasian's Camp, this includes the ring ditch discovered in 1995 (see below). During the medieval and post-medieval period the fort was in long term agricultural use, and no traces of Iron Age activity thus survive visibly within the fort, except for one barrow mound. The fort's ramparts are substantial, particularly on the west side, where there are two phases, the secondary piled onto the back of the primary.

On the east side of the fort, the rampart lacks a visible back or ditch, which reflects the modification of the site during its landscaping in the mid C18. This landscaping, by Charles Bridgeman for the Duchess of Queensberry, was the last major episode of change on the site, and included a circular platform, the mutilated barrow and a grotto called Gay's Cave with its related path network called the 'Diamond' (together listed Grade II*). It is uncertain to what extent Bridgeman's proposals were implemented; not all appear to have been laid out as shown on his plan. Near the Chinese House (restored 1986-7), possible garden earthworks appear to be a new discovery, and may be evidence of late C18 or C19 landscaping. It is likely that the levelling of the eastern rampart formed part of the C18 landscaping of the site; they are in the sight line of the then-existing C17 house from the platforms and adjacent carriage drives. This would also fit with Richard Colt Hoare's comment that the rampart 'had been much mutilated on the east side in forming the pleasure grounds of Amesbury Park' (Hoare, 1812,160), and the fact that the rampart south of the road, not part of Queensberry's property, survived until the mid C20.

The interior of the southern part of the hillfort, south of the Stonehenge Road, was developed with housing during the C20, and was excluded from the scheduled area in 1996, except for the ramparts and Sky Meadows.

HISTORY OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS The earliest documentary reference to Vespasian's Camp dates from the late C14, which shows that by then the interior of the hillfort was under the plough. It also infers that the road through the site was established by that time, dividing the site into two unequal parts, as it is today. In 1610 William Camden erroneously identified the site as being Roman. In 1740, this was believed by William Stukeley too, who accepted a pre-existing attribution to Emperor Vespasian. The site was extensively landscaped in the mid-C18 to a design by the landscape gardener Charles Bridgeman to become part of a park and pleasure grounds for Amesbury Abbey. This led to considerable modification of the site and two or more barrows were excavated, probably in the 1740s. The finds of Bronze Age artefacts (kept by the Duke of Queensberry) assigned to two barrows within the Vespasian's Camp, were believed to have been found in 1770-1, based on the fact they were exhibited in London in 1771. However, it is now believed to be much more likely they were found earlier, in the 1740s, when Vespasian's Camp was landscaped for the Duke of Queensberry.

In 1812, Richard Colt Hoare described the site accompanied by a sketch plan by Philip Crocker. Hoare dismissed the dating of the previous scholars and did not believe it was built by Vespasian. He claimed it was a stronghold of the Britons, modified in subsequent eras. In 1921 John Soul of Amesbury noted earthworks and buried remains within and near Vespasian's Camp, which he reported to EH Goddard at Devizes Museum. Soul believed it to be a Bronze Age settlement.

In 1964, during road-widening, the main rampart on the west part was partly revealed. Two phases of construction were noted by Alan King, and Iron Age sherds were discovered in the second phase occupation material, which were passed on to the RCHME Salisbury office. Five years later, King surveyed Vespasian's Camp for the Ordnance Survey Archaeological Division. Various watching briefs took place in the 1960s but these recovered little of significance. The Royal Commission's account of 1979 gives no reference to the above observations, but their accompanying plan is based on King's survey. In 1987 some small scale excavations (three trenches) were directed by Kurt Hunter-Mann, following a resistivity survey of 1986. The aim was to investigate possible re-use of the site at the end of the Roman period, to assess the archaeological character of a poorly understood site, and to assess the impact of tree cover on archaeological deposits. This revealed further pottery sherds and dating information. In 1995 a geophysical survey of an area at the south end of the site was undertaken. This led to the discovery of a large ring ditch.

In the early 2000s Sue Haynes of the University of East Anglia studied the C18 park design with particular reference to the treatment of the ancient earthworks, which coincided with excavations by the Open University and the University of Buckingham.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS The monument, which falls into two areas of protection, includes the earthwork and buried remains of an Iron Age hillfort, known as Vespasian's Camp. The hillfort occupies a strong defensive and a dominant position at the south end of a prominent spur immediately west of the River Avon at Amesbury.

DESCRIPTION The hillfort is some 730m in overall length from north to south and some 374m wide at the southern end, narrowing to around 100m wide at its northern end. The ditch, up to 10m wide, is present on the north and south-east sides and along most of the west side of the enclosure. Outside the ditch, on the west, is a counterscarp bank that has been slightly modified and measures some 0.4m high internally. The rampart measures up to 40m wide, and on the west side it stands up to 7.5m above the base of the ditch and up to 2.2m high internally. South of Stonehenge Road, the eastern rampart has been levelled for a distance of approximately 75m since 1969, and near the south-west corner it has been damaged by quarrying. A fragment of the rampart survives in the garden of Sky House up to a height of 1.0m high internally but its exterior face appears to have been considerably modified by the adjacent road junction. The defences encompass an area of approximately 14ha.

There is an original entrance at the north end of the defences, possibly widened in the C18, and the rampart to either side of it survives as a massive earthwork. It seems probable that there were further original entrances where the medieval and modern road running west-east cuts through the site, but both have been heavily modified.

The slightly-domed interior of the hillfort rises to around 91m; at the southern end, overlooking the river, the ground level drops slightly to about 69m. The summit of the fort contains a number of features including a mound, rising up to 1m and cut in half by a carriage drive. This is believed to be a barrow. To its south is a large circular platform, rising to about 1m, which was most likely created as part of the C18 landscape. It has been suggested in the past this was formed out of another barrow but there is no physical evidence to support this. To the north of the surviving barrow is a square platform, approximately 0.7m high, including an isolated length of scarp. Further down the slope to the east are two intricately shaped scarps, which represent terraces created as part of the C18 landscape. Below the circular platform and these scarps is Gay's Cave with its accompanying 'Diamond' of paths, a late C18 grotto (listed Grade II*). The site contains a number of veteran trees, probably the result of C19 planting.

EXCLUSIONS Gay's Cave, an C18 listed Grade II* grotto, including its network of paths, is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.


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

Legacy System number: 10360

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Pugh, RB, Crittall, E, The Victoria History of the County of Wiltshire, (1957), Part 1, p 21-279
Haynes, S, 'Constructing eighteenth-century meaning in a prehistoric landscape: Charles Bridgeman's design for Amesbury Abbey' in Landscapes, , Vol. 14.2, (2013), 155-173
Hunter-Mann, K, 'Excavations at Vespasian's Camp Iron Age hillfort, 1987' in Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, , Vol. 92, (1999), 39-52
Goddard, EH, 'Bronze implements found in barrows at Amesbury, 1770' in Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, , Vol. 38, (1913), 115
Goddard, EH, 'Bronze Age implements not previously noticed' in Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, , Vol. 43, (1926), 350-2
Cole, M, Vespasian's Camp, Amesbury, Wiltshire: report on geophysical survey, August 1995 (Ancient Monuments Laboratory Report 44/95)
Haynes, S, The re-interpretation of a pre-historic landscape in the eighteenth century: how far did the presence of earthworks at Amesbury Abbey, and in the surrounding landscape, influence the 1738 design by Charles Bridgeman? Unpublished dissertation: University of East Anglia.
Mark Bowden, Stonehenge Southern WHS Project: Vespasian's Camp, Amesbury, Wiltshire: analytical earthwork survey (Historic England, 2016, Research Report Series no. 49/2016)

End of official listing