Devil's Dyke hillfort


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014953

Date first listed: 07-Oct-1925

Date of most recent amendment: 18-Oct-1996


Ordnance survey map of Devil's Dyke hillfort
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: West Sussex

District: Mid Sussex (District Authority)

Parish: Poynings

National Park: SOUTH DOWNS

National Grid Reference: TQ 25969 11049

Reasons for Designation

Large univallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying shape, ranging in size between 1ha and 10ha, located on hilltops and surrounded by a single boundary comprising earthworks of massive proportions. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and used between the fourth century BC and the first century AD, although evidence for earlier use is present at most sites. The size of the earthworks reflects the ability of certain social groups to mobilise the labour necessary for works on such a monumental scale, and their function may have had as much to do with display as defence. Large univallate hillforts are also seen as centres of redistribution, both for subsistence products and items produced by craftsmen. The ramparts are of massive proportions except in locations where steepness of slope precludes easy access. They can vary between 6m and 20m wide and may survive to a height of 6m. The ditches can measure between 6m and 13m wide and between 3m and 5m deep. Access to the interior is generally provided by one or two entrances which often take the form of long passages formed by inturned ramparts and originally closed by a gate located towards the inner end of the passageway. The entrance may be flanked by guardrooms and/or accompanied by outworks. 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. Large univallate hillforts are rare with between 50 and 100 examples recorded nationally. Most are located within southern England where they occur on the chalklands of Wessex, Sussex and Kent. The western edge of the distribution is marked by scattered examples in north Somerset and east Devon, while further examples occur in central and western England and outliers further north. Within this distribution considerable regional variation is apparent, both in their size, rampart structure and the presence or absence of individual components. In view of the rarity of large univallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the organisation and regional structure of Iron Age society, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

Devil's Dyke hillfort survives well, despite some later disturbance and scrub growth, and has been shown by part excavation to contain archaeological remains and environmental evidence relating to the construction and use of the monument. Around 150m to the south west is an early Romano-British farmstead (SM 27082), and the close association of these broadly contemporary monuments will provide evidence for the changing nature of settlement during the Late Iron Age/Romano-British period. The well documented reuse of the hillfort during the 19th and early 20th centuries as a site for visitor attractions illustrates a general trend in the south east of England towards the commercial exploitation of hillforts close to large towns and holiday resorts.


The monument includes a large univallate hillfort dating to the Iron Age, situated on a chalk spur which forms part of the Sussex Downs. This location enjoys extensive views of the Weald to the north and the downland and Channel coast to the south. The hillfort, which survives in the form of earthworks and buried remains, is also a popular local beauty spot and during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the site of a number of visitor attractions, including a steep grade railway and aerial cableway, which survive in ruined form and as earthworks. The roughly rectangular north east-south west aligned hillfort encloses an area of c.14ha, and the interior is defended by a large bank up to c.14m wide which rises to a height of c.3m where it crosses the level neck of the spur on the south western side of the monument. The bank is surrounded by a ditch up to c.12m wide and up to 2m deep. Elsewhere, where they are situated directly above steep natural slopes, the defences are slighter, with the bank surviving to the south east as a low scarp. A slight counterscarp bank flanks the ditch on the north western side of the monument. The interior of the hillfort is entered by way of a gap in the south eastern corner of the ramparts, now utilised by Dyke Road, a minor public road leading from Brighton to the modern hotel and public car park within the monument. The ramparts have been partly disturbed in places, especially by activities connected with military training carried out within and around the hillfort during World War I and World War II. The interior of the hillfort was partly excavated in 1935, when traces of a round house were found in the form of a circular gully 8.55m in diameter surrounding a levelled floor. Four refuse pits were associated with the house, containing pottery sherds dating to the years between c.50 BC-AD 50. Finds of oyster shells and coins indicate that the hillfort continued in use into the Roman period, and an extended human burial found inside the south western ramparts by workmen in 1931 suggests that the monument was reused as a cemetery during the later part of the early medieval period. The interior has also been partly disturbed by modern activities, including the construction of the modern hotel and public toilets, the car parks, the Victorian visitor attractions, a small shepherd's cottage which is now demolished and which stood within the north eastern corner of the ramparts, and World War I and World War II military training, although further buried remains connected with the original use of the hillfort can be expected to survive in many areas. The first hotel was constructed c.1817, and the hillfort, also known as Poor Man's Walls, reached its greatest popularity as a visitor attraction during the years between 1885-1908, when visitor numbers were estimated at up to 30,000 per day. The Dyke was served by its own railway line from Brighton, terminating at a station below the fort, and visitors could ascend the hill by way of the steep grade railway, powered by an oil engine, constructed in 1897. The engine house survives in the form of a concrete base, c.9m by c.6m, situated close to the north western ramparts, just to the north east of a circular depression c.40m in diameter. This represents a bicycle railway track, one of the visitor attractions situated within the monument, which also included two bandstands, an observatory, a camera obscura, fairground rides and a switchback railway. Further entertainment was provided by the aerial cableway, constructed in 1894, which spanned the dry coombe to the south east. Visitors paid to cross the valley in an open cage which carried up to eight passengers. The concrete base of one of the iron pylons by which the cable was suspended adjoins the south eastern ramparts of the hillfort. This measures c.1m square. A NNE-SSW aligned brick built, now ruined, rectangular structure measuring 12m by 7m, with walls surviving to a height of c.2m, situated c.80m south east of the south western corner of the hillfort, has been dated to the British Army's occupation of the monument during the First World War. The stone seat and pillar erected just to the north of the public car park commemorates the purchase of part of the hillfort by Sir Herbert Carden, the socialist, in 1929. All buildings associated with the hotel, the public toilets, the surfaces of the car parks, road, forecourts and paths, all modern signs, fences, walls, gates and stiles, the Ordnance Survey trig point and the modern earthen embankments surrounding the public car park are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features 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.

Legacy System number: 27080

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Ryman, E, The Devil's Dyke, A Guide, (1984)
'Sussex Notes and Queries' in Sussex Notes and Queries, , Vol. 4, (1931), 7-8
Burstow, G P, Wilson, A E, 'Sussex Archaeological Collections' in Excavation of a Celtic Village on the Ladies' Golf Course, etc, , Vol. 77, (1936), 195-201
Nat Trust Archaeologist, W. Sussex, Ede, J, (1996)

End of official listing