Bunbury hillfort: a univallate hillfort south west of Alton Towers


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014686

Date first listed: 03-Aug-1956

Date of most recent amendment: 18-Nov-1996


Ordnance survey map of Bunbury hillfort: a univallate hillfort south west of Alton Towers
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Staffordshire

District: Staffordshire Moorlands (District Authority)

Parish: Farley

National Grid Reference: SK 07074 42951


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

Reasons for Designation

Slight univallate hillforts are defined as enclosures of various shapes, generally between 1ha and 10ha in size, situated on or close to hilltops and defined by a single line of earthworks, the scale of which is relatively small. They date to between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (eighth - fifth centuries BC), the majority being used for 150 to 200 years prior to their abandonment or reconstruction. Slight univallate hillforts have generally been interpreted as stock enclosures, redistribution centres, places of refuge and permanent settlements. The earthworks generally include a rampart, narrow level berm, external ditch and counterscarp bank, while access to the interior is usually provided by two entrances comprising either simple gaps in the earthwork or an inturned rampart. Postholes revealed by excavation indicate the occasional presence of portal gateways while more elaborate features like overlapping ramparts and outworks are limited to only a few examples. Internal features included timber or stone round houses; large storage pits and hearths; scattered postholes, stakeholes and gullies; and square or rectangular buildings supported by four to six posts, often represented by postholes, and interpreted as raised granaries. Slight univallate hillforts are rare with around 150 examples recorded nationally. Although on a national scale the number is low, in Devon they comprise one of the major classes of hillfort. In other areas where the distribution is relatively dense, for example, Wessex, Sussex, the Cotswolds and the Chilterns, hillforts belonging to a number of different classes occur within the same region. Examples are also recorded in eastern England, the Welsh Marches, central and southern England. In view of the rarity of slight univallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the transition between Bronze Age and Iron Age communities, all examples which survive comparatively well and have potential for the recovery of further archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

Bunbury hillfort represents the only known example of a slight univallate hillfort in this part of Staffordshire, relying for its defence primarily on the strength of its topographical location. Its commanding position not only provided defence, but also displayed the status of its builders. The trial excavation of a section across the north western rampart only affected a small part of the monument, but demonstrated that the site retains many well preserved features including evidence for timber lacing and information relating to the hillfort's construction. Those parts of the interior which are included within the scheduling survive relatively undisturbed and will retain both structural and artefactual information relating to the occupation of the site and the wealth and status of its inhabitants. The importance of the site is enhanced by its incorporation within an extensive landscaped garden in the early 19th century when the north western rampart was modified to create a garden walkway. This reuse provides an unusual illustration of the preoccupation with archaeological sites evident during the 19th century.


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


The monument is situated within the grounds of Alton Towers, a 19th century mansion and a leisure park, and includes the earthwork and buried remains of part of Bunbury hillfort, a univallate hillfort. The hillfort utilises a naturally defensible spur of land which falls away steeply westwards towards the River Churnet, and is defended to the north and east by the steep valley of Slain Hollow, a natural valley cut into the side of the Churnet valley. Bunbury hillfort originally extended north east and south east of the area of the scheduling, to occupy most of the hilltop, but much of this area has been extensively modified by 19th century ornamental gardening, the construction of the house known as Alton Towers and by construction work associated with the leisure park. There is now no surface evidence to indicate, precisely, the original extent of the hillfort in these directions. The hillfort's defensive earthworks, a bank and an external ditch, are visible along the north western and south western edges of the escarpment. The best preserved section of the bank lies between the northern end of the mansion and the Flag Tower (an early 19th century folly); it originally defended the north western approach to the hill. It is visible as an earthwork, with a maximum width of 18m, for a length of approximately 195m, although its eastern end has been breached to provide access. Beyond this breach a further 20m long section of the bank is visible and this has been truncated at its eastern end by the retaining wall behind the mansion. In the early 1960s an excavation trench through the defences recovered evidence that the defensive bank has a timber lacing. It has a very level top for much of its length and is believed to have been remodelled in the early 19th century in order to create a garden walk. Along parts of this walk are sections of wall foundation thought to be the remains of walls which lined the rampart walk. This masonry is included in the scheduling as, together with the remodelling of the bank, it provides evidence for the alteration of the prehistoric earthwork as part of a 19th century garden layout. Immediately to the north of the bank the ground falls away before reaching a terrace in the hillslope. This feature is believed to be the infilled and modified remains of an external ditch which ran along the north western side of the hillfort. It was reused as a garden walk in the 19th century. The ditch will survive as a buried feature and is included in the scheduling. The western end of the north western defences have been modified by the construction of the Flag Tower, a four storey structure, built before 1830, and Listed Grade II. This area is not included in the scheduling. South of the Flag Tower along the crest of the western escarpment are the earthworks of the hillfort's south western rampart. These earthworks are much slighter than those of the north western rampart. At its northern end it is represented by a steepening of the profile of the natural slope. Here the bank is no more than 1m high and is believed to be composed of irregular blocks of sandstone. Parts of the south western ramparts have been modified by quarrying activities and they are not visible as earthworks in a stretch 22m long in the central part of the area of the scheduling, where building debris has been dumped over the natural escarpment. Beyond this dumping a well preserved section of the rampart survives for 55m, up to 9m wide and 1.2m high above the interior but it then terminates abruptly at a point where the hillside has been extensively quarried for sandstone. It is thought that the construction of a defensive ditch along the west side of the hillfort was unnecessary because of the natural steepness of the escarpment on this side. Most of the interior of the hillfort has been greatly modified by the construction of the amusement park, which has resulted in a number of terraces being cut deeply into the gently westward sloping interior. Those parts of the interior immediately adjacent to the north western and south western defences survive relatively undisturbed and are believed to retain buried features associated with the occupation of the hillfort. A 15m wide section of the interior adjacent to these defences is, therefore, included in the scheduling. The surfaces of all paths and driveways, all fence posts and modern steps, and the former fairground equipment and machinery which are stored on the southern part of the monument, are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath these features is included.

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.

Legacy System number: 21633

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Staffordshire, (1974), 57
Mountain, MJ, 'Keele Archaeology Group Newsletter' in Bunbury Hillfort, (1961)
RCHME, Bunbury Hillfort (SK 04 SE 11), (1994)

End of official listing