Large multivallate hillfort known as Cholesbury Camp


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Large multivallate hillfort known as Cholesbury Camp
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Chiltern (District Authority)
Cholesbury-cum-St. Leonards
National Grid Reference:
SP 93005 07237

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.

The large multivallate hillfort known as Cholesbury Camp survives well; the interior has seen little disturbance and the greater part of the defences remain largely unaltered. It not only remains one of the most visually impressive prehistoric settlements of the Chilterns, but is also one of the few in the region to have seen an informative sample excavation. The interior has been shown to contain well-preserved buried remains from the period of occupation, and the evidence of metal-working is considered to provide a particularly valuable insight into the character of its use. The surrounding defences allow a clear impression of the scale and design of the hillfort, and both the fills of the ditches and the material of the banks will retain significant archaeological information relating to the period of construction and its subsequent use. The banks, in particular, have been shown to overlie a sealed ground surface which will contain environmental evidence for the appearance and management of the landscape at the time of its construction. The Cholesbury hillfort forms part of a wider distribution of defended sites established across the Chiltern Hills in the late Bronze Age and Iron Age, its nearest neighbours being on Boddington Hill (5km to the west), Whelpley Hill (7km to the south east) and Ivinghoe Beacon (c.9km to the north east). Comparisons between these sites will enable valuable insights into the nature of the societies which built them, whether in response to warfare, political centralisation or trade, and into the territorial division of the Chilterns during their period of use. The irregular design of the defences at Cholesbury Camp is particularly interesting in this latter respect. There is no topographical reason why one side would be more vulnerable than the other; the effort involved in creating additional ramparts may instead reflect the political landscape - the more robust fortifications perhaps facing the most common approach to the hillfort or the territory which it served.


The large multivallate hillfort known as Cholesbury Camp stands on a broad plateau in the Chiltern Hills near the border between Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, to the east of Cholesbury Common, and to the north of Cholesbury Lane and the modern village. The hillfort is roughly oval in plan and measures approximately 310m north east to south west by 230m north west to south east. The interior of the hillfort is quite level. The earthen ramparts lie mostly within a wooded belt which encircles all but the southern quarter of the hillfort, where the banks and ditches have been obscured by houses and gardens. A large ditch flanked by internal and external banks runs throughout the woodland belt, forming the sole defensive boundary to the north east and north west, but accompanied by further banks and ditches to the west and south east. The inner bank averages 8m in width, and varies between 0.8m, and 1.2m in height when measured from the interior ground level. The outer slope of this bank is continuous with the inner face of the accompanying ditch, which ranges from 6m to 12m in width and is generally 2.5m-3m deep, with steep sides and a flat base. The external (or counterscarp) bank is less pronounced but can still be identified around most of the northern defences except where it has been truncated by a small quarry at the northernmost point on the perimeter. The outer defences on the south western part of the circuit can be seen extending over a distance of c.180m, starting at the most easterly point of the hillfort and continuing across the pasture and gardens before terminating abruptly at the southern corner of the grounds of The Bury. The counterscarp bank surrounding the main ditch forms the middle bank in this sequence of ramparts, and at nearly 6m across and 1m high, is better preserved here than elsewhere. A shallow ditch, c.6m across and 0.6m deep, separates the middle bank from a similar, but slightly lower bank forming the outermost component of the defences. A survey for the Royal Commission in 1912 (prior to the construction of many of the present houses) indicates that although the inner bank had been reduced by this time, the main (inner) ditch with traces of the middle bank, continued across the southern perimeter. One of the two short sections of the main ditch which survived as narrow ponds in 1912, still remains visible to the rear of Moat House and the Old Manor House; and the inner scarp of the ditch can be detected to the rear of the gardens between here and the drive leading to the church from the west. In 1992 a small excavation undertaken adjacent to Moat House found no trace of this ditch or the outer bank, despite being within its projected line. It appears, therefore, that the multivallate fortifications may have been discontinued, and that the buried remains of the main ditch and the known area of the external bank represent the original extent of the defences across this section. A second section of external ditch and outer bank remain well preserved in the woodland to the north of the church driveway, abutting the inner works near the driveway but then extending in a straight line to the north west for some 90m, whereas the inner defences curve around to the north east. This area was the subject of exploratory excavations directed by Day Kimball in 1932. Kimball demonstrated that the outer bank and ditch extended no further north than the surviving earthworks suggested, and that this terminal was linked to the inner defences by a short section of bank and ditch which pre-dated the ramparts. Kimball proved that the connecting ditch extended westwards beyond this area (known as `The Triangle'), but its full length remains unknown. The 1932 excavations also included a narrow trench across the centre of the interior on the narrower axis; two short trenches adjacent to the inner rampart, and two trenches within the main ditch. Despite the fact that the interior had formerly been ploughed, excavation here uncovered the well- preserved remains of prehistoric occupation including seven hearths and the remains of a clay lined oven. Three of the hearths showed evidence of iron smelting, and one was associated with fragments of pottery forming part of a single vessel dating from the Late Iron Age (50BC-50AD). Numerous pottery sherds both from this period and from the Middle Iron Age (c.300-100BC) were widely distributed across the buried surfaces. A trench across the northern defences produced no dateable evidence, but demonstrated the survival of the old turf line buried beneath both banks, and showed that the ditch was originally cut nearly 4m below this surface. A smaller trench in the north eastern part of the defences was intended to test the age of a causeway across the ditch, which was found to be made-up ground of relatively recent date. Of the three other main entrances to the site only one, a substantial causeway corresponding with breaks in the centre of the north western defences, is thought likely to be original. The other two, a trackway leading into the site from Cholesbury Road and the approach to St Lawrence's from the west, are believed to be later additions. From the excavated evidence, the hillfort appears to have been constructed in the Middle Iron Age and occupied, perhaps on an intermittent basis, until the time of the Roman conquest in the mid 1st century AD. No evidence was found for later occupation, although quantities of tile and medieval pottery in the topsoil are thought to indicate the manuring of fields within the interior using domestic waste from the settlement outside the hillfort served by the 13th and 14th century church. The church and surrounding graveyard are totally excluded from the scheduling. The following features are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included: all standing buildings; all fences, walls, gates and other modern fixtures; the surface of the tennis court to the north of the Old Vicarage and the made surfaces of all drives, courtyards, paths and patios.

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
Allcroft, A H, Earthworks of England, (1908), 134-35
Clinch, G, The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1908), 22-24
Lipscomb, G, The History and Antiquties of Buckinghamshire, (1847), 314-15
Dyer, J, 'CBA Group 7 Newsletter' in A Future for Prehistory in the Chilterns, , Vol. 6, (1976), 7
Kimball, D, 'Journal of the British Arch Assoc.' in Cholesbury Camp, , Vol. 39, (1933), 187-212
Archaeological Evaluation at Moat House, Cholesbury, 1992, unpublished report by Bucks Museums
RCHME, Inventory of the Historic Monuments in Buckinghamshire, (1912)
RCHME, Inventory of the Historic Monuments in Buckinghamshire, (1912)
Title: Ordnance Survey 25" Source Date: 1908 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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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