Maiden Bower hillfort


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015593

Date first listed: 13-Dec-1929

Date of most recent amendment: 11-Jul-1997


Ordnance survey map of Maiden Bower hillfort
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Central Bedfordshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Houghton Regis

National Grid Reference: SP 99670 22462


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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.

The Maiden Bower hillfort, perhaps more accurately described as a `plateau fort', survives well despite the encroachment of the quarry and the prolonged ploughing of the interior, and will retain highly significant archaeological information. Recording along the quarry face has demonstrated the complexity of the rampart's design, further evidence for which will be retained in the largely complete circuit of the bank and the accompanying buried ditch. This evidence together with that of buried features within the ramparts will provide valuable insights into the function of the fort, and contain artefacts illustrating the date and duration of its use. The ground beneath the bank is particularly significant as its construction will have sealed evidence of earlier land use, including activity associated with the Neolithic causewayed enclosure. Between 50 and 70 causewayed enclosures are recorded nationally. Mainly found in southern and eastern England, they date from the middle part of the Neolithic period (c.3000-2400 BC) continuing in use into later periods. They vary considerably in size (from 0.8ha-28 ha) and were apparently used for a variety of functions, including settlement, defence and ceremonial and funerary purposes. The enclosures are characteristically circular or ovoid in plan, bounded by one or more concentric banks and ditches; the ditches formed from elongated pits punctuated by unexcavated causeways, from which the monument class derives its name. Causewayed enclosures are amongst the earliest field monuments to survive as recognisable features in the modern landscape and one of the few known Neolithic monument types. Due to their rarity, their wide diversity of plan and considerable age, all causewayed enclosures are considered to be nationally important. The extent to which the causewayed enclosure at Maiden Bower has survived the process of quarrying is uncertain. However, sections of the ditch are still visible in the quarry face and cultural material from this period is abundant on the field surface to the south east, and it is therefore thought that a significant part was overlain by the later fort. These ditches and other associated features buried within the hillfort's perimeter will contain artefacts and environmental evidence which, with modern means of scientific analysis, will add to the information retrieved by Worthington Smith and enable far greater understanding of its date, function and duration of use. The fact that a causewayed enclosure and a hillfort occupy broadly the same location is more likely to indicate the suitability of this position on the plateau for both forms of monument, rather than being representative of a continuity of occupation or ritual use between the fourth and first millenia BC. The existence of a Romano-British structure within the hillfort (which is known to have been in use in the Late Iron Age) is, however, a more positive indication of continuity and, whether domestic or religious in character, the buried remains of this building (and other associated features) are particularly significant for the study of the social changes brought about by the Roman Conquest.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


Maiden Bower is situated about 1km to the north east of Totternhoe, on a broad plateau below the Dunstable Downs which overlooks the northern edge of the Chiltern scarp. The monument includes a large univallate hillfort of Iron Age date, although surface finds, small scale excavation and recent geophysical surveys have also demonstrated the existence of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure in this location, and provided evidence of Romano-British activity within the ramparts. The hillfort is principally defined by a single circuit of bank averaging c.225m in diameter and enclosing a level area of some 4.9ha. The bank survives up to 3m in height within a hedgerow belt. Five gaps in the bank have been recorded, although all but that to the south east are considered to be later additions. The bank is flanked by an external ditch which, although now completely infilled and no longer visible on the surface, was recorded as a slight earthwork around 1900 and has been identified on several later occasions in the face of a disused chalk quarry which abuts the north western side of the perimeter and has resulted in the loss of a c.100m section of the ramparts. From these descriptions the buried ditch would appear to measure between 6m and 9.7m in width and some 3m in depth. Rescue recording along the eroding quarry face between 1937 and 1951 provided evidence that the bank was originally revetted by a series of large posts, and that a later attempt may have been made to convert this box rampart to a sloping `glacis' design. Several inhumations have been found within the primary silts of the ditch. In 1913, an excavation was undertaken at the south eastern entrance to the fort by Worthington G Smith and the then owner of the site, Dan Cook. This work revealed a series of post pits and a palisade slot, since interpreted as the western wall of a funnel-shaped timber gateway. Within the interior the excavators discovered a large pit spanning the entrance, the lower fill of which contained the disarticulated remains of around 50 individuals. Although frequently cited as an indication of warfare, the evidence from the pit suggests mass reburial within a ritual context, perhaps in the period immediately before the Roman Conquest. Geophysical surveys within the interior in 1991 established the presence of several groups of pits towards the centre and a larger depression to the north west which may have served as quarry for the bank. The most revealing discovery was of a further circular ditch following the outline of the ramparts and set some 25m within the bank. In the light of similar features found at other hillforts, this is currently interpreted as an earlier version of the defences, perhaps dating from the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age. Neolithic and Early Bronze Age activity on the site was clearly evident in the results of a fieldwalking exercise which accompanied the geophysical surveys - the greatest part of the finds comprising flint tools and the debris associated with their manufacture. The gradual encroachment of the quarry from the north west prompted Worthington Smith to investigate a number of prehistoric features outside the ramparts between the 1890s and 1915. These included three lengths of a segmented ditch, the finds from which (including cranial fragments, worked flint and Abingdon/Mildenhall pottery forms) were recognised as Neolithic in the 1930s leading to the identification of the ditch alignment as part of a causewayed enclosure. The enclosure is thought to have been partly overlain by the later hillfort, although its full extent remains presently unknown, and a considerable area has clearly been lost to quarrying. Sections of the interrupted ditch remain visible in the quarry face, and the rescue excavations on this side uncovered a probable Neolithic inhumation buried in a chalk lined cist beneath the line of the later hillfort ditch. Romano-British activity has long been associated with the hillfort on the basis of numerous coins and other objects found in the vicinity. In 1907 Worthington Smith retrieved pottery, including samian ware, from a small early Roman cremation cemetery on the north west side of the fort, then in the process of destruction. Quern fragments were also found together with pieces of glass and an intaglio ring. A bronze set of toilet implements (tweezers and pick) were found nearby in 1917. The 1991 fieldwalking defined a concentration of Romano-British pottery towards the western side of the fort's interior, which broadly coincides with the location of a small building suggested by the geophysical survey. The building may represent a small farmstead although, given its location, the character of the associated finds and the proximity of the cemetery, it may be tentatively identified as a temple. All fences and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 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: 27199

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Britton, J, Brayley, E W, Beauties of England and Wales, (1801), 29
Cambden, , Brittania, (1694), 289
Chambers, C G, Bedfordshire, (1917), 95
Dyer, J, Hillforts of England and Wales, (1981), 22
Lamborn, C, The Dunstaplelogia, (1859), 13-14
Millett, M, The Romanization of Britain, (1992), 155
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1908), 9
Rivet, A L F, Smith, C, The Place Names of Roman Britain, (1979), 349
Simco, A, Survey of Bedfordshire: The Roman Period, (1984), 107
Smith, W G, Dunstable and its History and Surroundings, (1904), 38-40
Smith, W G, Dunstable and its History and Surroundings, (1904), 38-40
Smith, W G, Man the Primal Savage, (1894), 309
Wadmore, B, The Earthworks of Bedfordshire, (1920), 25-7
'Gents Mazagine' in Madring Bowre, , Vol. 34, (1764), 60
Curwen, E C, 'Antiquity' in Neolithic Camps, , Vol. 4, (1930), 22-54
Davis, G H, 'Bedfordshire Archaeologist' in Maiden Bower: Field Survey of North West Segment, (1956), 08-101
Davis, G H, 'Bedfordshire Archaeologist' in Maiden Bower: Field Survey of North West Segment, (1956), 98-101
Dyer, J, 'Beds Arch J.' in Maiden Bower, (1955), 14
Dyer, J, 'Beds Arch J.' in Maiden Bower, (1955), 46-52
Matthews, C L, 'British Archaeological Reports' in Occupation Sites on a Chiltern Ridge, (1976), 160-62
Matthews, C L, 'British Archaeological Reports' in Occupation Sites on a Chiltern Ridge, (1976), 1-3
Matthews, C L, 'Manshead Magazine' in Neolithic Causewayed Camp, , Vol. 8, (1966), 118-20
Piggott, S, 'Arch J.' in The Neolithic Pottery of the British Isles, , Vol. 88, (1931), 67-157
Pollard, J, Hamilton, M, 'Beds Arch J' in Recent Fieldwork at Maiden Bower, , Vol. 21, (1994), 10-18
Pollard, J, Hamilton, M, 'Beds Arch J' in Recent Fieldwork at Maiden Bower, , Vol. 21, (1994), 10-18
Pollard, J, Hamilton, M, 'Beds Arch J' in Recent Fieldwork at Maiden Bower, , Vol. 21, (1994), 10-18
Smith, W G, 'Proc. Soc. Ant. London' in Maiden Bower, Bedfordshire, , Vol. 27, (1915), 143-61

End of official listing