Small multivallate hillfort on Swarthy Hill


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Small multivallate hillfort on Swarthy Hill
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Allerdale (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NY 06920 40289

Reasons for Designation

Small multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying shape, generally between 1 and 5ha in size and located on hilltops. They are defined by boundaries consisting of two or more lines of closely set earthworks spaced at intervals of up to 15m. These entirely surround the interior except on sites located on promontories, where cliffs may form one or more sides of the monument. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and occupied between the sixth century BC and the mid-first century AD. Small multivallate hillforts are generally regarded as settlements of high status, occupied on a permanent basis. Recent interpretations suggest that the construction of multiple earthworks may have had as much to do with display as with defence. Earthworks may consist of a rampart alone or of a rampart and ditch which, on many sites, are associated with counterscarp banks and internal quarry scoops. Access to the interior is generally provided by one or two entrances, which either appear as simple gaps in the earthwork or inturned passages, sometimes with guardrooms. The interior generally consists of settlement evidence including round houses, four and six post structures interpreted as raised granaries, roads, pits, gullies, hearths and a variety of scattered post and stake holes. Evidence from outside numerous examples of small multivallate hillforts suggests that extra-mural settlement was of a similar nature. Small multivallate hillforts are rare with around 100 examples recorded nationally. Most are located in the Welsh Marches and the south-west with a concentration of small monuments in the north-east. In view of the rarity of small multivallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the nature of settlement and social organisation within the Iron Age period, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

The small mulitvallate hillfort on Swarthy Hill is a rare example of this class of monument in Cumbria. Despite the lack of any visible earthworks and the loss of the north western side of the monument to cliff erosion, a combination of aerial photographs and limited excavations show that the triple ditch system which defended the monument survives well. Further evidence of the monument's defences and the nature of the settlement within the hillfort's interior will survive.


The monument includes the buried remains of an Iron Age small multivallate hillfort located on the summit and south east slope of Swarthy Hill. The site is visble as crop marks on aerial photographs which clearly show much of the hillfort's infilled triple defensive ditch system on all sides except the north west where erosion of the cliff edge has resulted in the loss of this part of the monument. The hillfort measures approximately 140m south west- north east by 80m north west-south east, and there are two narrow entrances across the outer ditch which are visible on the aerial photographs on the south east side. Limited excavations by Bewley in 1988 and 1989 found the outer and middle ditches to measure c.3m wide by 0.8m deep while the inner ditch was found to be a more substantail feature measuring c.5m wide by 1.3m deep. Traces of clay and turf found slumped into the ditches suggested to the excavator that the hillfort was also defended by ramparts which were originally situated on the inner edge of each ditch. All post and wire fences are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them 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.

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Books and journals
Bewley, R H, Excavation on Two sites in the Solway Plain: Ewanrigg & Swarthy Hill, (1994), 37-47
Manchester University, , Settlement on Swarthy Hill
Manchester University, , Settlement on Swarthy Hill
AP No. CCC 2019m, 24, Cumbria County Council, Settlement on Swarthy Hill,
AP No. CCC 2019m, 25, Cumbria County Council, Settlement on Swarthy Hill,
AP No. DL 017, St Joseph, Settlement on Swarthy Hill, (1949)


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.

End of official listing

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