Whitsbury hillfort


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020316

Date first listed: 30-Nov-1925

Date of most recent amendment: 11-Feb-2002


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

County: Hampshire

District: New Forest (District Authority)

Parish: Whitsbury

National Grid Reference: SU 12782 19668


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

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 at Whitsbury survives well and partial excavation has indicated that it retains significant archaeological remains and environmental evidence relating to its original construction and use as well as the earlier and later use of the hill top. The earlier use of the hill for the manufacture and use of flint tools illustrates a common activity of the Mesolithic period, and its association with Grim's Ditch, an extensive and well known example of a Bronze Age linear boundary, situates the construction of the hillfort within a pre-existing environment in which territorial holdings, and the symbolic prestige of the groups who occupied them, had already been defined on an impressive scale. The later use of the monument demonstrates that it remained a focus for probable settlement during the Roman period and provides a significant and rare instance of the subsequent reoccupation and renovation of a defended site during the Anglo-Saxon period for which few examples survive nationally.


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


The monument includes a large multivallate hillfort constructed on a high chalk outcrop which projects to the north from the village of Whitsbury, situated approximately 4km west of the River Avon. The hillfort defences completely enclose the top of the hill, except to the south west where they have been destroyed by the later construction of a post-medieval manor house. They define a roughly north-south aligned, pear shaped interior area of 6.3ha of flat and moderately sloping ground. The defences are relatively uniform around the perimeter and are substantial, comprising three earthen ramparts separated by two ditches. The inner rampart stands 2m-3m above the interior and both it and the middle rampart stand 4m-6m above their respective ditches. The outer rampart is by comparison relatively slight, and has been partly destroyed to the south east and south west where adjoining ridges provide the easiest points of access onto the hill top. No clear trace survives of an original entrance, although this would probably have been located in the area occupied by the later manor house. A possible northern entrance is also indicated by an opening in the outer rampart at its northern extremity, flanked to the east by a mound which may represent an original guard house. Elsewhere, the defences are breached to the north and south east by more recent tracks and paths and the interior has been disturbed by the subsequent construction of several water reservoirs, racing stables and a walled garden. Partial excavation of the monument in 1960 revealed that the inner rampart was originally constructed during the Early Iron Age (sixth-fifth centuries BC), and remained in use at least until the Middle Iron Age (fourth-first centuries BC). The excavations revealed the foundations of a timber house constructed during this later period and recovered pottery and other domestic items suggesting settlement within the defences. Further buried remains associated with the original use of the monument, including additional houses, compounds, granaries, pits, iron-ore smelting hearths and outbuildings can be expected to survive within the interior. The excavations also revealed earlier use of the hill during the Mesolithic period (8500-4000 BC), represented by the recovery of an assemblage of 57 flint tools and flakes. The use of the hill during the Bronze Age period (2400-700 BC) is also indicated by Grim's Ditch, a linear boundary feature, which extends beneath the hillfort defences from the north. The excavations also recovered evidence of later use of the monument during the Roman period (first-fifth centuries AD), indicated by Roman pottery, and the post-Roman or Early Saxon period, represented by the refurbishment of the defences during the sixth or seventh centuries. The importance of the monument as a boundary marker during the post-medieval period (16th-18th centuries) is shown by an earthwork bank which partly overlies the northern defences and is included in the scheduling where it projects to the north east for approximately 75m. The following features are excluded from the scheduling: all buildings, fences, gates, walls, modern services, the surfaces of all pathways and tennis courts, and two modern resevoirs and associated pipes; however, the ground beneath these features 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.

Legacy System number: 34139

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Sumner, H, The Ancient Earthworks of Cranborne Chase, (1901), 20-2
Williams-Freeman, JP, Introduction to field archaeology as illustrated by Hampshire, (1915), 418
Williams-Freeman, JP, Introduction to field archaeology as illustrated by Hampshire, (1915), 178-9
Ellison, A, Rahtz, P, 'Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club' in Excavations at Whitsbury castle ditches, Hampshire, 1960, (1987), 63-81
Ellison, A, Rahtz, P, 'Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club' in Excavations at Whitsbury castle ditches, Hampshire, 1960, (1987), 63-81
Piggott, C M, 'Antiquity' in The Grim's Ditch Complex on Cranbourne Chase, , Vol. 18, (1944), 68

End of official listing