Large multivallate hillfort known as Cholesbury Camp
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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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
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
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.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
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.
End of official listing