Multi-period site in Micheldever Wood


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Winchester (District Authority)
Winchester (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SU 52517 36700, SU 52807 38295, SU 53119 37522

Reasons for Designation

Woodland has been managed since at least the fourth millennium BC in order to produce timber and smaller wood for fencing, wattlework and fuel, including charcoal. However, it is only for more recent periods that evidence for woodland management survives in the woods themselves, generally in the form of wood boundaries and features relating to woodland crafts. Woods which are more than 100 years old often have some form of earthwork boundary: ancient wood boundaries (pre AD 1700) are either sinuous or zig- zagged; straight edged woods with slighter earthworks usually indicate a wood boundary of later than AD 1700. Such boundary earthworks are usually in the form of a wood bank with an outer ditch. This was traditionally set with a hedge (to keep out livestock) and pollarded trees (to define the legal boundary). The total width of the earthwork is usually between 6m and 12m. Within the wood may be dividing banks and features relating to woodland crafts, such as charcoal burners' huts and hearths, saw-pits for cutting timber and roads and trackways providing access. The easy availability of wood-based fuel often resulted in fuel-hungry industries such as ironworks, limekilns, potteries, tileries and brickworks being sited within woods. Quarries are often also located in woodland in order to minimise the loss of more productive agricultural land elsewhere. Varying in area from only a few hectares to several hundreds of hectares, medieval woodlands were usually managed by the control of young trees (underwood), which were periodically cut at ground level (coppiced) and allowed to regrow from the bole or by suckering to produce poles. Standing amongst the underwood were larger trees (standards), often oaks, which were allowed to grow to maturity. Contemporary documentary sources such as charters, maps, land surveys and estate accounts can confirm the age and past management of some woodland. During the post medieval period forestry plantations were introduced with an increasing tendency to plant high forest using one or two species, and by the end of the 19th century coppicing had fallen into decline with the loss of its ancient markets, especially after the widespread introduction of coal for household use and manufacturing. Since 1945 there has been a dramatic increase in the destruction of old woodlands due to increased competition for land. Although they are distributed throughout England, the highest densities of old coppiced woodland survive in the south east, in Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Kent.

Micheldever Wood contains a unique collection of archaeological features ranging in date from the prehistoric to the medieval period. Due to woodland coverage since the medieval period the preservation of these features is exceptional and many survive as earthworks, in contrast to the surrounding area, where such remains have been largely destroyed by development and arable cultivation. The archaeological features in Micheldever Wood relate to different spheres of prehistoric life, from burial and settlement to farming and manufacturing of tools, and present a diverse picture of the past communities which occupied the area. Apart from the structural and artefactual evidence preserved in and underneath the earthworks, they will contain, as archaeological investigations indicate, organic deposits, which will shed light on the environmental conditions (climate, flora and fauna) since their construction. The evidence of the medieval woodland management is enriched by certain natural features of considerable age, including trees and coppice stools over a hundred years old, which provide valuable information on the interaction between the man made and natural environment. Combined, this wealth of archaeological evidence provides a rare insight into the evolution of a landscape from the early Bronze Age onwards.

Whilst archaeological investigations have revealed some evidence of Mesolithic and Neolithic activity in the wood, the evidence for the Bronze Age occupation of the area is extensive. At the eastern edge of the wood is a Bronze Age cross dyke which acted as a landmark and boundary feature through the centuries and is now part of the Micheldever and Northington parish boundary. Cross dykes are substantial linear earthworks typically between 0.2km and 1km long and comprising one or more ditches arranged beside and parallel to one or more banks. They generally occur in upland situations, running across ridges and spurs. They are recognised as earthworks or as cropmarks on aerial photographs, or as a combination of both. The evidence of excavation and analogy with associated monuments demonstrates that their construction spans the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although they may have been reused later. Current information favours the view that they were used as territorial boundary markers, probably demarcating land allotment within communities, although they may also have been used as trackways, cattle droveways or defensive earthworks. Cross dykes are one of the few monuments which illustrate how land was divided up in the prehistoric period. They are of considerable importance for any anlysis of settlement and land use in the Bronze Age. Very few have survived to the present day and hence all well-preserved examples are considered to be of national importance.

Micheldever is exceptional in that it contains further evidence of the demarcation of the Bronze Age landscape in the shape of a linear boundary over 850m long, which consists of multiple ditches and banks. Linear boundaries usually extend over distances varying between less than 1km to over 10km. The scale of many linear boundaries has been taken to indicate that they were constructed by large social groups and were used to mark important boundaries in the landscape, their impressive scale displaying the corporate prestige of their builders. They would have been powerful symbols, often with religious associations, used to define and order the territorial holdings of those groups who constructed them.

Placed along this important boundary are two burial mounds: a bowl barrow and a bell barrow. These barrows remain largely intact. The bowl barrow was pa group, elements of which were destroyed during the construction of the M3. Barrows were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or multiple burials. Barrows occur either in isolation or grouped as cemeteries and often acted as focus for burials in later periods. Often superficially similar although differing widely in size, they exhibit regional variations in form and diversity of burial practices and provide important information on the beliefs and social organisations amongst early prehistoric communities. A substantial proportion of examples are considered worthy of protection. While bowl barrows were constructed from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age (c.2400-700 BC), the construction of bell barrows was confined to the Early and Middle Bronze Age with most examples belonging to the period 1500-1100 BC. Bell barrows are enclosed by a characteristic berm as well as ditch and often contain burials accompanied by weapons, personal ornaments and pottery, which appear to be those of aristocratic individuals, usually men. As a particularly rare form of round barrow, all identified bell barrows are normally considered to be of national importance.

The Iron Age in Micheldever Wood is first of all represented by an unusual cluster of three banjo enclosures, one of which was excavated prior to the construction of the M3, providing rare evidence on the activities in and surrounding the enclosure. The area surrounding the banjo enclosures will preserve the relationship between the enclosures and the subsequent Romano-British settlement. Banjo enclosures were the dwelling places or stock enclosures of prehistoric communities, mostly constructed and used during the Middle Iron Age (400-100 BC), although some remained in use to the mid-first century AD. The enclosures consist of a central area (rarely greater than 0.4ha), usually oval or sub-rectangular, encircled by a broad steep-sided ditch and an external bank. The circuit is characteristically broken by a single entrance, to either side of which the ditch and bank extended for up to 90m away from the enclosure forming an avenue or approach, hence the term `banjo'. The entrance to this avenue is sometimes formed by `antennae' ditches, giving a funnel-like appearance; or it may be connected to a transverse linear ditch. Where excavated, some banjo enclosures have been found to contain extensive evidence of habitation, including storage and refuse pits, and evidence for wooden structures provided by postholes and drainage gullies. These features, together with the ditches, generally contain abundant artefacts, and can provide environmental evidence illustrating the landscape in which the monument was set. The enclosures are often associated with a range of Iron Age monuments, including other types of enclosures, field systems, trackways and other settlement forms. The evidence from these sites, together with their relationship with other monument types, provide important information concerning the diversity of social organisation and farming practices amongst prehistoric communities. Banjo enclosures are largely known from cropmarks and soilmarks recorded from the air, although a few survive as earthworks. About 200 are known, the majority of which are located in Wessex and around the Upper Thames Valley. Elsewhere they are very rare, with isolated examples recorded in Sussex, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. All known examples are considered worthy of protection.

The Roman period saw continued extensive occupation of the area centred on a major building complex linked to the Roman Winchester-Silchester road. Very limited excavation means its precise character and extent are not well understood, yet as buildings, gardens, a field system and other settlement features remain preserved, it will contain important information on the organization of the Romano-British rural landscape.

The many wood banks preserved in Micheldever Wood represent valuable evidence for the history of woodland management from the medieval period to the present day. In conjunction with documentary evidence for the ownership and exploitation of the wood the system of boundary banks helps to explain the medieval and post-medieval development of this rare surviving landscape.


The monument includes a multi-period site in Micheldever Wood, situated immediately east of the A33 and cut by the M3. The monument, which is in three areas of protection, comprises a wealth of archaeological remains, including burial sites and linear boundaries of the Bronze Age, occupation areas of the Iron Age and Roman period, and earthworks relating to the continuous management of the woodland from the medieval period onwards. These features were protected and hidden from view by woodland coverage and many were mapped for the first time during archaeological investigations, conducted prior to the construction of the M3 in 1973. While only five sites were known before these investigations, 21 sites and 41 linear features were recorded as a result. Further archaeological features are believed to remain hidden within dense parts of the wood where survey was impossible, as is indicated by the chance discovery of a Bronze Age triple barrow and evidence of flint working industry, and Iron Age banjo enclosure.

Micheldever Wood, situated on the Upper Chalks with an overlay of clay and flint deposits of varying depth, covers an area of over 200ha. Its present boundaries coincide with those mapped in 1730, and are thought to have remained largely unaltered for many centuries previously. The southern boundary of the wood is also the parish boundary between Micheldever and Itchen Valley, and is marked by a dry valley, through which Northington Road runs following the Lunway, a prehistoric route across the Downs. The south eastern wood boundary coincides with the parish boundary between Northington and Micheldever and a Bronze Age cross dyke at the very south eastern tip of the wood. These parish boundaries can thus be seen to represent a survival of medieval and earlier boundaries.

The Bronze Age cross dyke, which is amongst the few archaeological features to have been documented prior to 1973, is positioned across the Lunway to continue south into Itchen Wood, where it is the subject of a separate scheduling. The northern part of the cross dyke is approximately 90m long and consists of a 3m wide bank, flanked by two ditches, accompanied by smaller outer bank on the east. A medieval wood bank continues in a northerly direction from its northern terminal.

At the centre of the wood, approximately 600m NNW of the cross dyke's northern terminal, a linear Bronze Age earthwork transverses the wood east-west. In most places it consists of several banks, which stand up to 0.5m high, and accompanying ditches. Along the linear earthwork are several smaller north east-south west running banks, forming an extensive field system. Two burial mounds, which were subject to antiquarian excavations, are positioned in close proximity of the linear earthwork. At the western edge of the wood is a bowl barrow situated immediately north of the linear earthwork. It measures 25m in diameter and 2m high with a large hollow in the mound left by early excavations. About 600m to the south east along the same earthwork is a bell barrow, which stands 1.8m high with a 23m diameter. It is surrounded by a 5m wide berm and a 3.5m wide ditch accompanied by traces of an outer bank.

About 1km NNW of the cross dyke's northern terminal, is an Iron Age banjo enclosure, comprising an internal area of 0.2ha, surrounded by a 6m-8m wide ditch. Its entrance way lies in the east and continues as a 450m long ditch running in a north easterly direction to the edge of the wood. Another banjo enclosure is situated approximately 700m to the SSE, which encloses an 0.3ha area with a 7m wide ditch. To the east is its 50m long entrance way, which terminates in a sunken triangular area, enclosed by ditches, from where a 260m long ditch continues in a northerly direction. Of probable Iron Age date are two hollow ways forming a horseshoe shaped area about 650m north west of the car park. These hollow ways, which consist of a ditch with banks on either side, measure on average 10m wide. The southern arm splits in several places.

Approximately 1.4km NNW of the cross dyke's northern terminal is a Romano-British settlement complex, which was occupied from the first to the fifth century AD and connected to the Roman Winchester to Silchester road by two hollow ways. The first evidence of Romano-British occupation emerged in 1844, when some Roman coins where discovered. The subsequent investigations of 1846 revealed foundations of walls, a hoard of coins and further artefacts, including a brooch and pottery. The central buildings survive as two flint rubble platforms; one of which runs east-west and measures 60m long by 10m wide. At a right angle is a wing measuring 30m long and 17m wide, which probably extended further north. The complex is surrounded by garden terraces, hollow ways and further settlement remains to the north. Starting at the north eastern tip of the building complex is a hollow way running in a north westerly direction, measuring 6m wide, while a second track runs west towards the road from the south western edge of the site. The latter splits to form two parallel tracks of 4m and 5m wide. Evidence from archaeological investigations suggests that both tracks were cobbled. At right angles along the hollow ways are field boundaries, which are visible as slight earthworks up to approximately 0.3m high. An early Romano-British field system consisting of a hollow way and north-south running lynchets partly survives north west of the settlement.

The area of the monument reverted to woodland after the Romano-British period and formed part of the Royal Forest of Pamber. Charters of the tenth to the thirteenth century name five main divisions within the area that is now Micheldever Wood, two of which seemed to have been held by Hyde Abbey: Magna and Parva Papenholt. The medieval and post-medieval wood banks, which marked property boundaries and kept animals out, survive in many parts of the wood and are visible as banks standing up to 0.5m high accompanied by outer ditches. These banks were often planted with thick hedges and pollard trees, some stools of which are still in place. After the dissolution of Hyde Abbey, Micheldever Wood was purchased by Thomas Wriotheseley, later the Earl of Southampton, and subsequently held by the Duke of Bedford and Baron Northbrook. In 1919 the Wood came into the care of the Forestry Commission.

All wooden buildings, the modern surfaces of all driveways, fences, gates and other modern structures such as bins, picnic tables and interpretation boards 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.

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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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