Small multivallate hillfort known as Pitchbury Ramparts


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019959

Date first listed: 29-Oct-1973

Date of most recent amendment: 05-Jul-2002


Ordnance survey map of Small multivallate hillfort known as Pitchbury Ramparts
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Colchester (District Authority)

Parish: Great Horkesley

National Grid Reference: TL 96642 28982


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

Reasons for Designation

Small multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying shape, generally between 1 and 5ha in size and located on hilltops. They are defined by boundaries consisting of two or more lines of closely set earthworks spaced at intervals of up to 15m. These entirely surround the interior except on sites located on promontories, where cliffs may form one or more sides of the monument. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and occupied between the sixth century BC and the mid-first century AD. Small multivallate hillforts are generally regarded as settlements of high status, occupied on a permanent basis. Recent interpretations suggest that the construction of multiple earthworks may have had as much to do with display as with defence. Earthworks may consist of a rampart alone or of a rampart and ditch which, on many sites, are associated with counterscarp banks and internal quarry scoops. Access to the interior is generally provided by one or two entrances, which either appear as simple gaps in the earthwork or inturned passages, sometimes with guardrooms. The interior generally consists of settlement evidence including round houses, four and six post structures interpreted as raised granaries, roads, pits, gullies, hearths and a variety of scattered post and stake holes. Evidence from outside numerous examples of small multivallate hillforts suggests that extra-mural settlement was of a similar nature. Small multivallate hillforts are rare with around 100 examples recorded nationally. Most are located in the Welsh Marches and the south-west with a concentration of small monuments in the north-east. In view of the rarity of small multivallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the nature of settlement and social organisation within the Iron Age period, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

Pitchbury Ramparts, although not located on a prominent hill, nonetheless belongs to this class of monuments. The excavations suggest, however, that the incomplete outer bank and ditch may have been added at a later date and that the hillfort, as originally constructed, was univallate (a similar class of monument, although one generally associated with less intensive occupation).

Although much of the hillfort has been denuded by ploughing, excavation has demonstrated the survival of significant and valuable archaeological information. The original appearance of the rampart is reflected in the standing section to the north, and the perimeter ditches both here and around the remainder of the circuit remain well-preserved beneath layers of accumulated and dumped soil. Buried features relating to the period of occupation survive across the interior, and these (together with the earlier fills of the surrounding ditches) can be expected to retain further and more substantial evidence for the date of construction, duration and character of the hillfort's use. Of particular interest is the relationship between the hillfort and the extensive settlement which developed to the south east (between the River Colne and the Roman River) in the late pre-Roman Iron Age. Pitchbury Ramparts may hold valuable evidence for the nature of the earlier society and the period at which the focus shifted towards the new location. The waterlogged conditions of the lower ditch fills noted in 1933 and the organic materials discovered in similar layers in 1973 suggest the survival of environmental evidence of the appearance of the landscape in which the monument was set. Indications of preceding land use may also remain sealed beneath the surviving sections of the banks. The more recent investigations have also revealed a range of artifacts which demonstrate activity in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, as well as the early Iron Age. Such evidence adds significantly to our knowledge of earlier and less tangible periods of human settlement in the region.


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


The monument includes the buried and visible remains of a small Iron Age multivallate hillfort located at the southern end of Pitchbury Woods (some 3km to the north west of Colchester) overlooking West Bergholt and the shallow valley of St Botolph's Brook from the north.

The hillfort is oval in plan, measuring some 300m from north to south, 190m east to west and containing an internal area of approximately 1.9ha. The perimeter of the hillfort is defined by the line of a large bank and outer ditch. An additional smaller bank and external ditch encircle the defences around all but the south western side where the ground falls away more sharply than elsewhere. The circuit of the ramparts is depicted as a wide hedgerow on the Tithe Map of 1840; however, by 1844 the greater part had been levelled for arable land. The northern arc of the ramparts, which includes the single entrance causeway to the north east, lies within the southern corner of Pitchbury Woods and was unaffected by these changes. The inner bank here still measures up to 2.5m in height and 10m across and the outer bank approximately 1m by 7m. The inner and outer ditches (both largely silted) measure 1m by 7m and 0.5m by 5m respectively.

In 1933 trenches were dug across the northern ramparts, the causeway, the buried eastern and western ramparts and the ploughed interior. These excavations recovered the plan of the perimeter and demonstrated the survival of both the buried ditches and traces of the levelled ramparts. Sections cut through the upstanding ramparts revealed a `dump' construction using gravel from the ditches with no evidence of revetment or internal structure. Waterlogged or marshy deposits were encountered along the base of the innermost ditch which was shown to be over 4m deep and to penetrate the underlying London clay. The entrance causeway was clad with a gravel surface which showed little sign of use. The hillfort's interior similarly revealed few traces of occupation - principally two empty storage pits and two hearths.

Further excavations took place in 1973 when a 10m wide strip was investigated prior to the construction of a pipeline skirting the southern edge of the wood. This work confirmed the nature of the rampart's construction and provided more details of the denuded ramparts and infilled sections of the ditches. Worked flints and a few fragments of earlier prehistoric pottery were found across the hillfort's interior and beneath the base of the rampart, indicating human presence on the valley edge in the Mesolithic period (around 5000-3400 BC) and probably some settled occupation in the late Neolithic period (around 2,400-1,800 BC). As during the earlier excavation, physical evidence for the date of the hillfort's construction and use proved to be scarce. Pottery fragments found beneath the remnants of the ramparts and within a few pits, together with charcoal deposits dated by radiocarbon analysis, point to some occupation during the early Iron Age (eighth to fourth centuries BC); however this does not appear to correspond with the development of the hillfort. In view of the nature of the defences, it is considered more probable that the hillfort was constructed in the late Iron Age (around 50 BC to AD 10), and this interpretation is supported by a few sherds of late Iron Age pottery recovered from both excavations. The overall lack of artefactual evidence is thought to indicate minimal or sporadic occupation, with the hillfort perhaps serving as a place of occasional refuge or as a seasonal gathering place. By the early first century AD the hillfort was almost certainly redundant, superceded by the extensive settlement and growing linear defences of Camulodunum - the Iron Age precursor to the Roman town at Colchester.

All fences and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

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: 29450

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, (1995), 152-4
Hawkes, C F C, Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Reports' in Camulodunum II, (1995), 138-54

End of official listing