Old Oswestry hillfort, and two adjacent sections of Wat's Dyke


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014899

Date first listed: 15-May-1934

Date of most recent amendment: 08-Dec-1997


Ordnance survey map of Old Oswestry hillfort, and two adjacent sections of Wat's Dyke
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Shropshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Oswestry

District: Shropshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Selattyn and Gobowen

National Grid Reference: SJ 29574 31019


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

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.

Old Oswestry hillfort is a fine example of this class of monument, which has two complex entrances and illustrates several phases of development and occupation. The interior of the hillfort will retain evidence for occupation including post holes, foundation trenches, and storage and refuse pits, as well as environmental and artefactual evidence for the domestic and industrial activities which took place there. The surrounding banks will retain details of their method of construction and subsequent modifications, and will have sealed beneath them environmental evidence for land use immediately prior to each phase of construction. The enigmatic sunken features on the west side of the hillfort will also preserve evidence for their construction and function, and their stratigraphic relationship with other elements of the site. The entrances will retain evidence for the sequence of their development, and for the revetments and palisades with which they will have been strengthened. The adjacent stretches of Wat's Dyke will similarly preserve evidence for their date and method of construction and the stretches of earthen bank will protect evidence for medieval land use prior to the dyke's construction. The reuse of the hillfort within the Wat's Dyke system illustrates the continuity of defensive structures in the vicinity from the prehistoric through to the medieval period. Old Oswestry is a prominent local landmark, is open all year to the public and is in the care of the Secretary of State. A public footpath follows the northern stretch of Wat's Dyke, allowing the relationship of the two earthworks to be appreciated.


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


The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of the hillfort of Old Oswestry, which is situated on a glacial mound north of the town of Oswestry, with sweeping views to west, north and east. The site has been known by a variety of names, including Caer Ogyrfan, after the father of Guinevere, and Yr hen Ddinas, meaning the old fort or city. Finds of flints and a stone axe suggest there has been activity at the site since the Neolithic period, and excavation has revealed occupation from the Late Bronze Age through to the end of the Iron Age. In the eighth century AD the hillfort was incorporated into the line of Wat's Dyke, which extends to the north and south, and the two sections of dyke adjacent to the hillfort are included in the scheduling. Old Oswestry saw military use during the First World War, when it was used for training exercises by troops based at nearby Park Hall camp. Old Oswestry has a roughly diamond-shaped plan, with maximum dimensions of 570m north east to south west by 420m transversely. It is a multivallate hillfort, having ramparts of five earthen banks and ditches, interrupted by two complex entrances, one on the east side and one on the west. The inner two banks and ditches are the earliest of the earthworks visible today, probably dating to around the sixth century BC, and they enclose a gently domed area of c.8.4ha. They comprise an earthen bank with a flattish top and steep outer slope with a ditch some distance outside it, and a second, slighter bank beyond. Both banks completely surround the hilltop, except where they are broken by the entrances. A third bank and ditch extend around the west side of the hillfort, the bank surviving to c.2.4m in places. Downslope of these, to the north and south of the western entrance, are a series of roughly rectangular hollows between additional steeply sloping banks. They have been variously described as cisterns, storage pits, stock enclosures, and quarry pits, although their regular shape would argue against the latter. The outer and latest phase of defences are formed by two massive `glacis style' earthen banks with steep sides rising directly from the bottom of their deep outer ditches and standing up to 6m high. These banks and ditches again surround the whole hillfort except where broken by the entrances, and the banks survive in places up to 6m high. Both entrances were initially created by inturning the inner bank to form short passages into the hillfort's interior. As the defences developed, the western entrance in particular became more complex, and survives today as a sunken approach flanked on both sides by transverse banks and ditches extending to the outer edge of the rampart. The eastern entrance is defended by an earthen bank along its south side. In general the banks and ditches are better preserved on the north and west sides of the hillfort, as the steeper slope to the south east has caused the ditches to become more infilled, producing an almost continuous slope in places. The visible earthworks of Old Oswestry represent the culmination of several phases of construction, which successively increased the defensive capabilities and status of the site. Excavations during the 1940s revealed that the earliest occupation within the rampart was a Late Bronze Age settlement of round huts. Charcoal from similar settlements elsewhere has been dated to the ninth century BC. The trench for a surrounding timber palisade was found, and a pottery bronze working crucible was found in the hearth of one of the huts, indicating that small-scale industrial activities were taking place. During the Early Iron Age the palisade was replaced by the hillfort's innermost earthen bank. This was of `box rampart' construction, with revetment walls constructed of boulders, some of which can be seen protruding from the bank. The shallow surrounding ditch was quarried roughly 10m outside the bank, and a second bank and ditch was constructed beyond it, rather lower than the first. The box rampart may have had a timber lacing similar to examples elsewhere, which have been radiocarbon dated to the sixth century BC. Excavations at Old Oswestry found a number of stone kerbed huts to be contemporary with this phase of rampart construction, and associated finds of Early Iron Age pottery supports a sixth century date. The inner bank was later enhanced by a sloping earthen revetment against the inner stone wall, and the third bank and ditch were added around the western half of the monument. It is likely that the inturned entrances were created at this time, while occupation is represented by circular stone-walled huts which replaced the earlier stone-kerbed variety. The third, western, bank and ditch were also extensively rebuilt, with the original bank and ditch buried beneath an enlarged bank around a boulder core. These impressive glacis-style ramparts probably date from between the fifth and third centuries BC, and were constructed in a similar way. The complex western entrance had probably already been created by this time and was enhanced during the construction of these outer works. Contemporary with these developments, a large circular hut with stone footings was found to partly overlay the inturn of the inner bank, to the south of the western entrance. Although a Roman presence at the site is indicated by finds of pottery and tile from the upper fills of the ditches, exactly where their activity was concentrated remains uncertain. However, some centuries later the hillfort was again utilised for defence as a strong point in the earthwork known as Wat's Dyke, which stretches for roughly 38 miles from Morda Brook in Shropshire northwards to Basingwerk-on-Dee. Wat's Dyke lies to the east of Offa's Dyke, and its northern section, beyond the end of Offa's Dyke, stands alone as the early border with Wales. The remains of the dyke's earthen bank and flanking ditch extend north and south from Old Oswestry. The southern section stands as an earthwork for roughly 140m, starting from the south west quarter of the hillfort and ending at a recreation ground whose landscaping has modified the archaeological remains. Mid-way along this stretch the bank has been reduced and the ditch utilised as a pond, although it will survive as a buried feature in this area. From the northernmost quarter of the hillfort the dyke extends for over 700m NNE, its first 400m marked by a low earthen bank which has been incorporated into the post-medieval field boundary and is planted with a hedge. Along this line the ditch had become infilled but will survive as a buried feature. Further north the ditch survives as an earthwork and the broad bank remains up to 1m high. After roughly 140m the western side of the bank spreads and its line continues north as a clear scarp which peters out just south of the track to Pentre-Clawdd. The ditch is again buried along the line of the scarp, but a pond indicates its alignment. At the north end of this stretch of dyke the construction of Pentre-Clawdd Farm and its approach roads will have modified the remains, but further sections survive to the north and are the subject of separate schedulings. All fences and gates around and across the monument, information boards and stiles, metalled road surfaces, electricity pylons, the outbuildings of Oldport Cottages, and the wooden shed on the line of the northern stretch of Wat's Dyke, are all excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 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: 27556

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Hughes, E G, Old Oswestry Hillfort, site narrative and archive assessment, (1991)

End of official listing