Slight univallate hillfort on Galley Hill


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Slight univallate hillfort on Galley Hill
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Central Bedfordshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 18494 47829

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.

The slight univallate hillfort on Galley Hill forms part of a series of defended sites established on the Greensand ridge during the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age. The monument is well preserved, retaining the largely complete circuit of defences. The interior will retain buried features related to the period of use which, together with the silts of the ditches, will contain artefactual evidence for the duration and the character of occupation. The ground surface buried beneath the banks is of particular interest as it may retain indications of earlier land use, and the material of the banks themselves will contain evidence for their mode of construction and perhaps the impressions of contemporary timber fortifications. Comparison between Galley Hill and the other hillforts on the Greensand ridge, and on the Chiltern escarpment to the south, will provide valuable information concerning the nature of their use and their relationship to the settlement of the surrounding countryside during the Iron Age.


The hillfort occupies a prominent position on the tip of Galley Hill, a narrow spur extending southwards from the Greensand ridge, overlooking the town of Sandy and commanding wide views over the valley of the River Ivel. The hillfort, which is made inaccessible by steep slopes on all but the northern side, is rectangular in plan with rounded corners. The interior is quite level, measuring approximately 60m north to south by 110m east to west, and surrounded by ramparts on all but the eastern side. The northern section of the ramparts separates the fort from the table land beyond and includes a single inner bank, 1.5m high and 6m wide, flanked by a ditch of similar width which is largely filled with accumulated silts and is now approximately 0.8m deep. The defences continue around the western and southern sides of the fort where the ditch is also accompanied by slight traces of an outer, counterscarp bank, enhancing the defensive properties of the natural scarps. At the south eastern corner of the enclosure the defences gently fade into the natural contours of the spur, and the eastern arm itself appears to have relied primarily on the severity of the natural scarp, perhaps supplemented by timber palisades. A short continuation of the ditch from the north eastern corner together with a slight break in slope some 9m below the summit, indicates that some artificial modification originally took place across this slope, which has since been masked by soil erosion. The logical approach to the hillfort is from the level ground to the north and there are three narrow causeways across the northern arm of the defences. Two of these (near the corners) are relatively modern and relate to present trackways. The third, located 30m from the eastern end, is considered likely to be the original entrance. The shape of the hillfort is entirely determined by the topography of the spur and, although the resulting regularity of the design led many antiquarians to suggest Roman influence, the type of ramparts, together with fragments of pottery recovered from the surface of the interior, indicates an Iron Age origin. A promontory fort (also Iron Age in date, but considerably earlier), occupies the tip of a second spur approximately 150m to the east of Galley Hill which is separated by a broad dry valley. A third hillfort, Caesar's Camp, lies approximately 1.5km to the north west and both are the subjects of separate schedulings.

The fence and fence posts surrounding a pheasant pen in the western side of the interior of the fort are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these items 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
Babington, C C, Ancient Cambridgeshire, (1883), 92
Fox, C, Archaeology of the Cambridge Region, (1923), 176
Page, F , The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1904), 273
Stukeley, W, Itinarium Curiocum, (1776), 78
'Bedford Museum Society Field Club Journal and Museum Bulletin' in Bedford Museum Society Field Club Journal and Museum Bulletin, , Vol. 1, (1934), 5-6
Dyer, J, 'Bedfordshire Archaeology' in Excavations at Sandy Lodge, Bedfordshire, , Vol. 6, (1971), 9-15
Johnston, D E, 'Beds Arch J' in , , Vol. 1, (1956), 106-7
Simco, A, 'Beds Arch J' in , , Vol. 8, (1973), 14
Watkin, W T, 'Arch J' in Arch J, , Vol. 39, (1882), 269
copy filed with Beds SMR 445, Aldsworth, F G, O.S. Revision Card, (1969)
site visit note in SMR, Rivet, A L F, 445, (1954)


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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