Small multivallate hillfort on Pulpit Hill


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.

Buckinghamshire (Unitary Authority)
Great and Little Kimble
National Grid Reference:
SP 83179 05033

Reasons for Designation

Small multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying shape, generally between 1 and 5ha in size and located on hilltops. They are defined by boundaries consisting of two or more lines of closely set earthworks spaced at intervals of up to 15m. These entirely surround the interior except on sites located on promontories, where cliffs may form one or more sides of the monument. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and occupied between the sixth century BC and the mid-first century AD. Small multivallate hillforts are generally regarded as settlements of high status, occupied on a permanent basis. Recent interpretations suggest that the construction of multiple earthworks may have had as much to do with display as with defence. Earthworks may consist of a rampart alone or of a rampart and ditch which, on many sites, are associated with counterscarp banks and internal quarry scoops. Access to the interior is generally provided by one or two entrances, which either appear as simple gaps in the earthwork or inturned passages, sometimes with guardrooms. The interior generally consists of settlement evidence including round houses, four and six post structures interpreted as raised granaries, roads, pits, gullies, hearths and a variety of scattered post and stake holes. Evidence from outside numerous examples of small multivallate hillforts suggests that extra-mural settlement was of a similar nature. Small multivallate hillforts are rare with around 100 examples recorded nationally. Most are located in the Welsh Marches and the south-west with a concentration of small monuments in the north-east. In view of the rarity of small multivallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the nature of settlement and social organisation within the Iron Age period, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

The small multivallate hillfort on Pulpit Hill forms part of a series of defended sites established along the Chiltern ridge during the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age. The monument is very well preserved retaining the complete circuit of defences and the entrance, and the limited 19th century excavation, while causing little disturbance, has demonstrated the presence of occupation evidence. The interior will retain buried features related to the period of use which, together with the silts of the ditches, will contain further artefactual evidence for the date range and character of the occupation of the site. The ground surface buried beneath the banks is of particular interest as it may retain indications of earlier land use, and the material of the banks themselves may contain impressions of contemporary timber fortifications. The hillfort's commanding position demonstrates not only defensive power, but also the status of its former inhabitants. Comparison with other Chiltern hillforts (the nearest being Boddington Hill, some 5km to the north east) will provide valuable information concerning the nature of their use, and their relationship with the surrounding countryside. The relationship between the hillfort and the later land boundary is also of interest as it implies the adaptive reuse of part of the defences in a way which may illustrate part of the medieval or post-medieval rural economy.

The hillfort is accessible to the public and provides the visitor with a clear example of the nature of early defended settlements in the Chiltern Hills.


The hillfort occupies a prominent position at the highest point on the north western end of Pulpit Hill, a wooded spur of the Chiltern Hills commanding wide views over the Vale of Aylesbury to the north, and made inaccessible by steep slopes on all but the south eastern side. The monument is roughly square in plan. The interior rises gently from the perimeter toward the centre, and measures approximately 90m north west to south east and 100m north east to south west. The north west and south west sides are defended by an artificial scarp, some 10m in width and between 1.5m and 2.5m in height, with slight traces of a bank along the crest. A shallow depression along the foot of the scarp indicates the line of a largely buried ditch (more visible around the turn of the century), which would have further enhanced the natural defences provided by the spur. The rampart is more pronounced on the other two sides of the hillfort, where the bank is some 6m in width and between 0.5m and 1m high, and the ditch averages 8m across and 1.5m deep. A second, outer bank, some 4m in width and 0.8m high, flanks the inner defences on these sides, accompanied by an outer ditch, c.5m in width and 0.7m deep. The hillfort is approached over level ground on this side, and the double ramparts (probably surmounted by timber palisades) were designed to compensate for the lack of natural obstacles. The entrance lies near the centre of the multivallate section, some 20m to the south of the eastern corner of the hillfort. This now appears as a simple causeway (about 18m wide) through the defences, although slight undulations in the gap between the inner banks indicate the buried remains of a more complex approach, in addition to any gateway structures originally employed. A trench was excavated about half way across the interior in 1855, revealing occupation debris in the form of coarse-ware pottery sherds, animal bones, oyster shells and a boar's tusk. Fragments of Early Iron Age pottery have been found in the area more recently, as well as fragments of daub, a socketed iron spearhead, a knife blade (probably Roman) and numerous worked flints which suggest earlier, Neolithic or Bronze Age, activity on the spur.

A narrow bank crosses the defences and the western part of the interior before continuing through the woodland for approximately 200m to the south east. This feature, which is rarely more than 1.5m wide and 0.4m high, is thought be a medieval or post-medieval boundary, separating the woodland on the summit of the spur from pasture on the southern slopes. The area to the south of the boundary is termed `warren pasture' on the 1840 tithe map. This place-name evidence, together with the location of the bank, may indicate that the western defences were included in an earlier warren enclosure; and perhaps reused as a breeding area for rabbits. The section of the boundary bank, where it crosses the hillfort, is included in the scheduling.

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
Evans, J, Ancient Stone Impliments, (1872), 253,279
Matthews, C l, Wainwright, A, National Trust Archaeological Survey: Pulpit Wood, (1988), 10
Burgess, B, 'Records of Buckinghamshire' in Earthworks at Hampden and Little Kimble, , Vol. 1, (1855), 141
Crossley Holland, P, 'Oxoniensis' in Iron Age Pottery From Chinnor, , Vol. 7, (1942), 108-9
Matthews, C L and Wainwright, A, National Trust Archaeological Survey: Pulpit Wood, (1988)
Notes from B.C.M Accessions Register, 0017,


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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