Palisaded hilltop enclosure, a slight univallate hillfort, and a dewpond at Skelmore Heads, 280m east of Woodside Farm


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Palisaded hilltop enclosure, a slight univallate hillfort, and a dewpond at Skelmore Heads, 280m east of Woodside Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Lakeland (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SD 27438 75172

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.

A palisaded hilltop enclosure is a defended site of domestic function dating to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age (c.550-440 BC). Their distribution is largely restricted to north eastern England, the Borders, and southern Scotland, and they are generally located on spurs, promontories or hilltops. The boundaries of these sites are marked by single or double rock-cut trenches which originally formed the settings for substantial palisades. Remains of circular buildings are found within the palisaded areas, along with evidence for fenced stock enclosures. Palisaded sites are the earliest type of defended settlements recorded in the area and are thought to be a product of increasingly unsettled social conditions in the later prehistoric period. It is thought that the tradition of building this type of site spanned only around 150 years. After this the use of earthen banks and ditches to form the defensive perimeter became common. Palisaded enclosures are a rare monument type and are an important element of the later prehistoric settlement pattern. They are important for any study of the developing use of defended settlements during the later prehistoric period and all surviving examples are believed to be nationally important. Dewponds are a class of pond found primarily on chalklands and limestone. Their distribution stretches mainly from east Yorkshire to Dorset and Sussex, with others on the Derbyshire limestone. They are located on high and seemingly arid hilltops and were carefully constructed to gather rainfall and runoff from surrounding slopes and could also be filled with some assistance from mist. Dewponds were frequently lined with puddled clay to retain the water and were used as a source from which animals and stock could drink. They were constructed throughout the 19th century and a few professional makers of dewponds were still active at the outbreak of World War II. Dewponds enabled cattle and stock to be grazed in what are naturally arid areas and reflect changing farming practices brought about by the greater demand for meat and dairy products by the expanding population of the 19th century. The palisaded hilltop enclosure at Skelmore Heads is a rare example of this class of monument to be found outside north east England, the Borders and southern Scotland. Limited excavation of the monument and chance finds in the near vicinity show that not only was the enclosure later modified into a slight univallate hillfort, but that the site was an important centre during the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods also. Despite some past ploughing and the building of a 19th century dewpond, the monument survives reasonably well and remains unencumbered by modern development. It will contain further evidence for the various periods of settlement at this site and the nature of the activities undertaken here.


The monument includes a palisaded hilltop enclosure which was later developed into a slight univallate hillfort. It is located on a low flat-topped hill, known locally as Skelmore Heads, from where there are extensive views in all directions. The monument also includes a small dewpond which is thought to have been in use during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The earthwork remains of the monument include a low bank and partly infilled ditch which formed the northern edge of the hillfort. On the east, south and west sides the hillfort appears to have been unprotected by any bank and ditch but the flat top of the hill drops sharply to the east and west providing a natural defence with many large outcrops of limestone and boulders. A line of limestone outcrop and large boulders running across the less steeply sloped southern edge limits the extent of the hillfort on this side and gives the hillfort approximate internal measurements of 144m north-south by 106m east-west. Limited excavation during the late 1950s and early 1960s found that the northern defences of the hillfort consisted of a bank composed of earth and heaped stones approximately 3.7m wide and a ditch up to 3.4m wide and 1.2m deep. A causeway across the ditch led to an entrance 2.1m wide through the bank. In the vicinity of this entrance a number of post holes were found indicating that a timber revetment was used to secure the bank. A row of hollows running between the bank and ditch, and interpreted as a timber palisade trench, were found at various points along the northern side of the monument and also at the south east corner, where excavation found this trench to be rectangular in section and measure c.0.5m wide by 0.2m deep. The presence of this trench indicates that a palisaded hilltop enclosure marks the earliest recognisable attempt to defend the hilltop. Limited excavation of a small circular feature on the eastern side of the monument, originally assumed to have been a hut circle associated with the occupation of the site, found that this feature was a disused dewpond. During the course of this excavation a flint arrowhead and a flint scraper were found together with modern pottery. Elsewhere within the monument two fragments of pottery similar to the type in use during the Bronze Age were found. Other finds in the vicinity of the monument include six socketed bronze axes, a saddle quern, and a number of roughed-out stone axes including four which had been hidden in a limestone crevice adjacent to the north west corner of the hillfort. The combination of excavation and analogy with other similar sites in the north indicates that the hilltop was enclosed by a timber palisade by the beginning of the first millenium and that it continued to be occupied, or was reoccupied, in the middle of the millenium. There is no evidence for occupation beyond the fifth century AD. The artefactual evidence, however, indicates that human activity at this site and in the vicinity pre-dates the fortification of the hilltop; Skelmore Heads is interpreted as lying on one of the major transmission routes for Cumbrian axes south from the Langdale axe factories during the Neolithic period (c.3400-1800 BC). Similarly the socketed bronze axes found nearby attest to the importance of this area during the Bronze Age (c.1800-700 BC); one of these axes was straight from the mould and two were `seconds', suggesting that this represents the stock of a smith and that here, clearly, was a high status site where the services of a smith were in demand. A field boundary on the monument's western side is excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath it is included.

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.

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Books and journals
Kenyon, D, The Origins of Lancashire, (1991), 29-32
Powell, T G E, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Excavations At Skelmore Heads Near Ulverston 1957 And 1959, , Vol. LXIII, (1963), 1-30
Powell, T G E, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Excavations At Skelmore Heads Near Ulverston 1957 And 1959, , Vol. LXIII, (1963), 1-30
Powell, T G E, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser.' in Excavations At Skelmore Heads Near Ulverston 1957 And 1959, , Vol. LXIII, (1963), 1-30
AP No.s CCC3019,7A; RB113,14, Cumbria SMR, Hillfort at Skelmore Heads,
AP No.s CCC3019,7A; RB113,14, Cumbria SMR, Hillfort at Skelmore Heads,
SMR No. 2248, Cumbria SMR, Hillfort at Skelmore Heads, (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.

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