Large multivallate hillfort known as Danesfield Camp


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Large multivallate hillfort known as Danesfield Camp
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Wycombe (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SU 81767 84409

Reasons for Designation

Large multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of between 5ha and 85ha in area, located on hills and defined by two or more lines of concentric earthworks set at intervals of up to 15m. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and used between the sixth century BC and the mid-first century AD. They are generally regarded as centres of permanent occupation, defended in response to increasing warfare, a reflection of the power struggle between competing elites. Earthworks usually consist of a rampart and ditch, although some only have ramparts. Access to the interior is generally provided by two entrances although examples with one and more than two have been noted. These may comprise a single gap in the rampart, inturned or offset ramparts, oblique approaches, guardrooms or outworks. Internal features generally include evidence for intensive occupation, often in the form of oval or circular houses. These display variations in size and are often clustered, for example, along streets. Four- and six-post structures, interpreted as raised granaries, also occur widely while a few sites appear to contain evidence for temples. Other features associated with settlement include platforms, paved areas, pits, gullies, fencelines, hearths and ovens. Additional evidence, in the form of artefacts, suggests that industrial activity such as bronze- and iron-working as well as pottery manufacture occurred on many sites. Large multivallate hillforts are rare with around 50 examples recorded nationally. These occur mostly in two concentrations, in Wessex and the Welsh Marches, although scattered examples occur elsewhere. In view of the rarity of large multivallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the nature of social organisation within the Iron Age period, all examples with surviving archaeological potential are believed to be of national importance.

Despite alterations to the hillfort caused by the construction of Danesfield House and the later RAF Station, Danesfield Camp retains significant archaeological remains indicating the date, design and function of the monument. The perimeter earthworks to the north and east survive largely unaltered and illustrate the method by which the promontory was originally enclosed. The silts within the ditch both here and within the buried western arm will contain artefactual evidence for the duration and character of occupation, and environmental evidence demonstrating the appearance of the landscape in which the monument was set.

Limited excavation within the hillfort has demonstrated the survival of buried features illustrating occupation in the Middle and Late Iron Age, and indicating earlier use of the promontory in the Neolithic period. The ground surfaces buried beneath the ramparts are of particular interest in respect to this earlier activity, since it will provide insights into the land use before the hillfort was built.

Danesfield Camp forms part of a series of defended sites which were established across the Chilterns during the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age. The hillfort's construction and commanding position demonstrates a need for defence, either for the people themselves or their possessions, and provides important clues about the society which built and used the monument.

Comparison with other hillforts in the region provides further information in this respect, and allows broader insights into the nature of society and settlement in the late prehistoric period. The particular association between Danesfield Camp and nearby Medmenham Camp, and the positions which they both hold on the edge of the Thames Valley, is considered to be particularly significant for the study of the development of boundaries and the interaction between major tribal territories in the later Iron Age.


The prehistoric hillfort known as Danesfield Camp, or Danes Ditches, occupies a broad chalk outcrop from the Chiltern plateau on the north bank of the River Thames, approximately 1km to the north east of the village of Medmenham. The site offers a clear vantage point onto the river, and wide views across the flood plain into Berkshire.

The hillfort is roughly rectangular in plan, measuring approximately 300m east to west by 250m north to south, and was originally enclosed by ramparts on three sides. The fourth side was defined by a natural chalk cliff rising some 30m from the level of the river. The northern and eastern defences surrounding the landward side of the hillfort are large and impressive. An earthen bank runs along the eastern side of the site, abutting the cliff and extending some 200m in a straight line over the rising ground to the north. This averages 15m in width and 3m in height, with steep scarps on either side of a flat and narrow summit. It is flanked by an external ditch, c.14m in width and 4m deep, the western side of which forms a continuation of the outer scarp of the bank. Slight traces remain of a further bank running along the outer edge of the ditch, which A H Cocks recorded as a more substantial earthwork in 1911. The outer bank is more pronounced at the north eastern corner of the hillfort, where it measures some 7m in width and 2m high; and it continues as a well preserved earthwork together with the ditch and inner bank, for c.170m along the northern arm of the defences. The westernmost section of this arm (approximately 70m) is now only visible as a series of slight undulations. The part levelling of this section probably began when an adjacent farmhouse, known as Medlicotts, was enlarged in the early 19th century. The rebuilt structure (renamed Danesfield) stood immediately to the north of the ramparts and was accompanied by gardens and by a series of outbuildings and annexes (including a Roman Catholic chapel which was one of the last designs by the architect Pugin). The house and chapel were demolished around 1900 and superseded by the present Danesfield House: an elaborate Tudoresque mansion standing over the line of the western defences some 150m to the south. The western earthworks were completely levelled prior to the construction of the new house (a Grade II* Listed Building), with the exception of short sections at the northern and southern extremes. A short section of the inner bank and ditch survives as earthworks to the south of the mansion, adapted in the early 20th century to serve as a rock garden with an ornamental walkway. This section, together with records of the northern section provided by early Ordnance Survey maps and by Cocks' survey of 1911, allow the accurate location of the line of the western perimeter. The low earthworks some 100m to the north of the mansion, which marked the north western corner of the hillfort in 1911, were further modified by the construction of temporary RAF buildings and service roads during World War II, and subsequently completely obscured by the car park for Danesfield House (now the Danesfield House Hotel). The buried ditch and traces of the banks are, however, thought to survive here as elsewhere along the western arm of the defences. The north western corner is also thought to be the most probable location for the original main entrance to the hillfort.

The northern defences are broken by two later causeways. A metalled drive passes through the ramparts and overlies the ditch some 140m NNE of the hotel. This was originally constructed as the main approach to the later mansion, and subsequently modified for use by the RAF. A second causeway some 60m to the east pre-dated the construction of the mansion, although it was retained, and later used to link the main RAF station to the north with the station's sewage works which lie just within the northern ramparts.

The north western quarter of the interior is the most elevated part of the promontory, and was doubtless chosen for this reason as the site of the later mansion. The associated lawns and gardens which replaced the pasture in the interior of the hillfort are still present to the south and east of the house where the ground falls away in gentle slopes, except where terraced to form sunken gardens which are laid out both against the southern elevation and some 100m to the south east. To the east of the mansion the gentle slope leads into a shallow valley which runs parallel to the eastern defences and down toward the river cliff. The stream line within the lower part of the valley has been adapted to contain a series of pools and ornamental cascades. The upper section was chosen for the site of the RAF's sewage treatment works and contains concrete settling tanks and filter beds.

The antiquarian T Langley referred to the site in 1797 as `A strong and perfect Danish encampment'. This interpretation remained largely unchallenged until the early 20th century, accounting for the place names `Danesfield Camp' and `Danes Ditches' applied to the site. The chance discovery of a Late Bronze Age spearhead during the demolition of the western rampart in 1910 first called this assumption into question, and the prehistoric origins of the hillfort were definitively confirmed in 1990 when excavations were carried out prior to the construction of the car park in the area between Danesfield House and the northern defences. The excavation uncovered shallow ditches, post holes and pits containing Middle and Late Iron Age pottery, and the remains of a post-built circular structure with daub walls. Still earlier activity was demonstrated by the discovery of 71 flint artefacts, several of which provided the dating evidence for a shallow gully. These finds confirmed that the promontory had been inhabited in the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, as had previously been implied by a number of casual finds reported since 1925, and by the retrieval of three flint artefacts from a pipe trench to the south of the mansion in 1982.

Danesfield Camp lies c.1100m to the east of a slight univallate hillfort known as Medmenham Camp, an unusually close spatial association for hillforts in the region. The chronological relationship between these two sites is presently unknown.

The following items are excluded from the scheduling: all fences and fence posts, lamp posts and similar modern fittings; the surfaces of all drives, courtyards and paths; the concrete settling tanks and filter beds at the head of the shallow valley crossing the central part of the hillfort; all garden walls, steps and the modern earth banks flanking the car park to the north of the hotel; although the ground beneath all the above items is included in the scheduling.

That part of the large building known as Danesfield House which falls within the monument is completely excluded from the scheduling along with the sunken garden areas immediately to the south of the house, which are Listed Grade II, and the two sunken gardens further to the south east.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

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Books and journals
Langley, T, The History and Antiquities of the Hundred of Desborough, (1797), 335
Page, F , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1910), 85
Plaisted, A H , The Manor and Parish Records of Medmenham, (1925), 4-5
Cocks, A H, 'Records of Bucks' in Spear Head, from Medmenham, , Vol. 9, (1910), 438-9
Cocks, A H, 'Records of Bucks' in The Danes' Ditches at Danesfield (Medmenham), , Vol. 10, (1911), 21-6
Keevil, G D, Campbell, G E, 'Records of Bucks' in Investigations at Danesfield Camp, Medmenham, Buckinghamshire, , Vol. 33, (1991), 87-99
Title: Ordnance Survey 25" Source Date: 1898 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Ordnance Survey 6" Source Date: 1900 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Watching brief report in SMR 1734, Farley, M E, Danesfield Camp, (1982)


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.

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