Pillow mound on Beacon Hill, 550m south of Ellesborough church

Overview

Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1013940

Date first listed: 02-Jan-1996

Map

Ordnance survey map of Pillow mound on Beacon Hill, 550m south of Ellesborough church
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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Location

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

County: Buckinghamshire

District: Wycombe (District Authority)

Parish: Ellesborough

National Grid Reference: SP 83590 06186

Summary

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

Reasons for Designation

A warren is an area of land set aside for the breeding and management of rabbits or hares in order to provide a constant supply of fresh meat and skins. Although the hare is an indigenous species, the tradition of warren construction and use dates from the 12th century, following the introduction of rabbits into England from the continent. Warrens usually contain a number of purpose-built breeding places known as pillow mounds or rabbit buries, which were intended to centralise the colony and make catching the animals easier, whether using nets, ferrets or dogs. The mounds vary in design although rarely exceeding 0.7m in height. Earlier monuments such as burial mounds, boundary features and mottes were sometimes reused as breeding places. The mounds are usually surrounded by ditches and contain underlying channels or are situated on sloping ground to facilitate drainage. The interior of the mound may also contain nesting places constructed of stone slabs or cut into the underlying subsoil or bedrock. A typical warren may contain between one and forty pillow mounds or rabbit buries and occupy an area up to c.600ha. Many warrens were enclosed by a bank, hedge or wall intended to contain and protect the stock. Other features associated with the warren include vermin traps (usually a dead-fall mechanism within a small tunnel), and more rarely traps for the warren stock (known in Yorkshire as `types') which could contain the animals unharmed and allow for selective culling. Larger warrens might include living quarters for the warrener who kept charge of the site, sometimes surrounded by an enclosed garden and outbuildings. Early warrens were mostly associated with the higher levels of society; however, they gradually spread in popularity so that by the 16th and 17th centuries they were a common feature on most manors and estates throughout the country. Warrens continued in use until fairly recent times, finally declining in the face of 19th and 20th century changes in agricultural practice, and the onset of myxomatosis. Warrens are found in all parts of England, the earliest examples lying in the southern part of the country. Approximately 1,000 - 2,000 examples are known nationally with concentrations in upland areas, on heathland and in coastal zones. The profits from a successfully managed warren could, however, be considerable and many areas in lowland England were set aside for warrens at the expense of agricultural land. Although relatively common, warrens are important for their associations with other classes of monument, including various forms of settlement, deer parks, field systems and fishponds. They may also provide evidence of the economy of both secular and ecclesiastical estates. All well preserved medieval examples are considered worthy of protection. A sample of well preserved sites of later date will also merit protection.

The pillow mound on Beacon Hill survives in an exceptionally well preserved condition, providing an indication of the medieval management of the downland, and illustrating part of the economy of the nearby medieval settlements. The mound may retain artefacts and structural elements as well as environmental evidence, both in silts of the ditch and preserved on the earlier buried ground surface, which will demonstrate the character of the landscape in which it was constructed and used.

History

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

Details

The monument includes a small pillow mound situated on the eastern side of the summit of Beacon Hill, a pronounced spur extending northwards from the Chiltern escarpment overlooking the Vale of Aylesbury. The mound is roughly rectangular, orientated east to west and measures c.7m by 4m, and up to 0.8m in height. Material for the construction of the mound was quarried from a surrounding ditch, the inner scarp of which forms a continuation of the sloping side of the mound. The ditch is approximately 1.5m wide and 0.4m deep, though partially buried by accumulated soil. It merges with the natural slope of the spur at the lower, eastern end of the mound, indicating that it originally acted as a drainage channel. The earthwork was first recorded in 1979, although at that time it was interpreted as a prehistoric burial mound. The form, orientation and location can be compared with other pillow mounds in the region, and it is evident that it too represents an artificial breeding place associated with a rabbit warren. The warren itself appears to have been unenclosed and to have utilised the summit and severe slopes of Beacon Hill which are unsuitable for cultivation, and have remained as chalk grassland. The surrounding area retains evidence of this use in the form of place-names. Ellesborough Warren and Velvet Lawn lie immediately to the east and, slightly further to the east, lie the wooded coombes known as Great Kimble and Little Kimble Warrens. These place names are recorded from the early 19th century, but are thought to have originated much earlier reflecting practices which date back to the medieval period, probably in association with the motte and bailey castle on Velvet Lawn (some 300m to the north west of the pillow mound) or the larger medieval moated settlement at the foot of Little Kimble Hill (0.9km to the west).

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.

Legacy

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

Legacy System number: 27142

Legacy System: RSM

Sources

Books and journals
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , An Inventory of the Historic Monuments of Buckinghamshire, (1914), 142
Dyer, J F, 'Archaeological Journal' in Barrows of the Chilterns, , Vol. 116, (1959), 16
Other
Bucks Museum annotated 1:2,500 O.S., Historical Reference Map (Place Names),
Bucks Museum SMR entry, 0936 Medieval Trackway, (1979)
Field visit notes, Pike, A, 0910 Beacon Hill Bowl barrow, (1979)

End of official listing