Promontory fort on Helsby Hill 250m north west of Harmers Lake Farm
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Cheshire West and Chester (Unitary Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- SJ 49267 75391
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
The promontory fort on Helsby Hill is one of a small group of promontory forts in central Cheshire. Despite having been ploughed over, the fort on Helsby Hill survives reasonably well and the ploughsoil will mask significant buried remains. The 1955 excavation of the outer rampart revealed the revetting to seven courses of stone. The monument will retain evidence of the domestic economy and the land use of its period of occupation. The interior will have evidence of habitation sites and defences preserved beneath the soil.
The monument includes a bivallate (double rampart) promontory hill fort on
Helsby Hill. The monument is situated on a spur of the central red sandstone
ridge which bisects Cheshire. The fort looks out over the estuary of the
Mersey. It commands views of the Dee Valley and the Delamere Forest to the
west and east respectively.
The fort is defended by the steep cliffs which form the north and west sides of the promontory. On the south and east sides the ground slopes gradually up to the ramparts which defend the fort. There are two banks with ditches between and to the south of the outer rampart. A single inturn of the inner rampart at the west end which leaves a gap of 10m between the inturn and the cliff edge may represent the original entrance. The area of the interior is 1.9ha in extent.
The ramparts have been severely degraded in the two arable fields which occupy the south edge of the defences and the eastern half of the monument. The outer bank is barely visible in the west field and the outer ditch has become infilled and is only identifiable in aerial photographs. The two ramparts in the eastern field only stand 0.4m high and the ditch between is only just visible. The infilled outer ditch is again a cropmark visible on aerial photographs. The inner rampart is well preserved on the west side within the area of public access and here it stands to a height of 2.5m. There is a modern gap in the inner rampart where the lane end to the south enters the enclosure. There are no visible traces of settlement in the interior of the fort, although extensive remains will survive beneath the present ground surface.
The outer rampart was excavated in 1955. A section cut through on the south side revealed that the bank was composed of earth, revetted with dry stone and laced with timbers across the width. This bank was originally 4m wide and was estimated to have stood 2.5m high. The stone revetting shows in the soil of the eastern field also, proving that the inner rampart was of similar construction.
Field boundaries and the surface of the lane into the fort from the south are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 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
Bulock, J D, Helsby Camp, (1955), 107
Cheshire County SMR, (1986)
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