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We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction. After a brief Introduction, part two discussed the Greenland rock carvings. We then considered the Sheep Hill forts. In this final part, we now look at the evidence for a link between the two sites, and what the future may hold.
Were the two sites linked?
The construction of the timber-framed dun is such an obvious explanation for the prehistoric damage suffered by the cup-and ring rock that it may reasonably be adopted as a working hypothesis, albeit one that has to be tested (below). One clear implication of it is that the great double disc symbol on a flat surface exposed by the ancient quarrying had to date to the 10th or 9th centuries BC at the earliest and this is extremely surprising if the majority of such rock carving took place in Neolithic times (Burgess 1990). Yet it is not impossible; such skills could have been handed down for many centuries by families of specialist carvers who could have practised their skills occasionally on existing carved rocks; it would probably be quite hard to detect such additions under normal circumstances. Also there is no doubt that the double disc symbol was known in the Late Bronze Age as it occurs on a few socketed bronze axes in Scotland and NE England (MacKie 1991, 147, pl. 10); these are known as the Sompting type (Schmidt & Burgess, 1981, 243-44).
However the most exciting aspect of this hypothesis is surely the social one. It is hard not to infer that the damaged and re-carved rock means that there were two distinct social groups in the area in the Late Bronze Age – namely the timber-framed fort builders and the descendants of the Neolithic peoples who had venerated the rock carvings for centuries and who retained some of their carving skills. The fort builders could have been a new elite – either local or immigrant but armed with new bronze weapons and evidently with little respect for the local traditions. The re-carving of the rock with a fine double disc after it had been badly damaged suggests a defiance of the new order but in a relatively harmless manner. A parallel with invading Normans and defeated Saxons might be appropriate. The phenomenon of Sheep Hill and the Greenland rock carvings is to my knowledge unique in the British Isles and the sites should surely be preserved for that alone.
Testing the hypothesis
Fortunately the hypothesis can be tested and clear proof of it could be forthcoming. If it is correct there should be on Sheep Hill many fragments of the heated sandstone of which the carved rock is formed, a few perhaps with cup-and-ring carvings on them. A thorough rescue excavation before Sheep Hill is quarried away should find this evidence. However I hope it will never come to that; it might be awkward for archaeologists to find such evidence who had been hired by Thompsons of Dumbarton, especially when there is a suspicion that it was such a group which in 2013 wrote (anonymously) and circulated an attempted refutation of my views on the two sites. In fact it would be easy to find the evidence without disturbing the interiors of the forts. There is just under the turf a vast pile of stone debris at the foot of the cliff-like northern side of the summit the lower part of which should be the debris of the timber-framed wall; it could be explored quite easily. It is already known that rocks were imported on to the site to build the timber-framed wall. Its boulder foundation was exposed during the original excavations and two of the boulders were identified as imports, one of quartzite and the other of sandstone (MacKie 1991, 146 & pl. 9).
A possible archaeological heritage trail at Old Kilpatrick?
If Sheep Hill can be preserved from being quarried, the cup-and-ring rock – now stored in the National Museums in Edinburgh – could eventually be re-assembled in its original position and this unique pair of sites could be brought together again. Alternatively a replica could be built there. The quarry’s licence apparently expires in the early 2030s so their future should be safe after that. The existence only 2.5 km to the east of the western end of the Antonine Roman wall – now a World Heritage Site – suggests that the West Dumbartonshire Council could then organise what would surely be one of the most interesting archaeological trails in the country. Illus. 7 shows how it might be laid out; the numbered points on the map are identified below.
The fort at the western end of the Wall  is in Old Kilpatrick and, though excavated, is largely inaccessible under a housing estate. However a visitor centre could surely be set up nearby with a car park and could house some of the finds from the site and replicas of the Roman inscribed stones which were found there. A footbridge over, or a tunnel under, the dual carriageway immediately to the north (the A82) could be constructed to lead to the open ground there where the Antonine Wall and its ditch curve round to the east ; about 100m of it there might be excavated and reconstructed, thus providing (so far) an unique insight into what the northernmost frontier of the Empire looked like when it was intact. A footpath  could then run for 2.5 km westwards along the lower slopes of the Kilpatrick Hills up to Sheep Hill  with a short extension northwards to the Greenland 1 rock carvings . Needless to say signposts and explanatory notice boards would be essential.
One intriguing aspect of such a tourist trail is that it could be presented as a step-by-step journey into the past. The Antonine Wall was built during the second Roman invasion of Scotland, from about AD 140 onwards, and was the northernmost formal frontier of the Empire in Europe. The fort at Old Kilpatrick defended the western end of the Wall where it ran down to the river Clyde and this may well have been the time at which the second fort on nearby Sheep Hill was abandoned – either out of caution or because it was attacked and destroyed by the Roman Army. Any future excavations could look for signs of that. Thus Sheep Hill 2 is a vivid example of a later native stronghold of the pre-Roman Iron Age. The primary timber-framed fort takes us back to the Late Bronze Age – perhaps in the 9th century BC – with all the various possibilities of the arrival of newcomers armed with bronze swords. We now know that cup-and-ring carving skills were very probably still present in the area at the time and were exercised then, possibly in defiance of the newcomers after the carved rock had been damaged by them. The original carved surface takes us right back to Neolithic times.
The present situation concerning quarrying.
Sheep Hill was scheduled as an ancient monument by the then Dept. of the Environment in 1970, after brief accounts of my excavations were published. I do not know when the cup-and ring rocks were scheduled but they were de-scheduled by Historic Scotland at the quarry firm’s request, probably soon after 1984 when I was asked to record them. In 1994 the carvings were sawn off and taken to the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. Sheep Hill was de-scheduled in about 2005, again at the quarry company’s request. At a meeting with Historic Scotland in Edinburgh Thompson’s representative apparently argued that there were no signs of human activity on Sheep Hill. My verbal assurances that there were, and the preliminary account of the excavations I published in 1976, were evidently not enough and a member of Historic Scotland was sent to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow University to examine the finds and the records. Descheduling went ahead anyway, but the quarry failed to take advantage of this and the hillfort automatically became a scheduled monument again five years later. Now Thompson’s have to re-apply for de-scheduling prior to quarrying and there does not seem to be any doubt this will be granted again; if it is not granted the quarry firm will demand full compensation and it seems that no-one is willing to pay this. One understands that Historic Scotland is expected to accede to what the Scottish Government wants and the Minister for Local Government and Planning – Derek Mackay – has made it quite clear that no compensation will be forthcoming from that quarter. The only obstacle now is that West Dunbartonshire Council now have legal powers to issue a ROMP (Review of Mineral Permission) in which it could set new conditions that the quarry firm would have to abide by – for example to limit the environmental damage in some way. The only realistic hope now is that the archaeological uniqueness of the sites becomes more widely known and appreciated, and that consequent protests from the public will cause the Minister to think again. In the year of the referendum for an independent Scotland it would be sad if the present Scottish government allowed the destruction of such a unique pair of Scottish sites.
Our foremost chronicler of prehistoric rock carvings in Scotland, Ronald Morris, wrote of the Greenland carvings, “This is one of the finest examples of these carved rock surfaces in Scotland.” (1981, 103). It is surely nothing short of a national scandal that this priceless treasure was broken up and removed to make way for heaps of quarried rubble and I fully accept that I should have objected much more strongly about it at the time. The whole episode is an interesting example of how even professional archaeologists can simply assume that the public bodies that are supposed to protect our heritage are always able to do so. I have learnt the lesson and – being retired and less vulnerable – do not propose to let Sheep Hill go without vehement objections.
- Bruce, J 1896 ‘Notice of remarkable groups of archaic sculpturings in Dumbartonshire and Stirlingshire’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot 30 (1895-1896), 205-209.
- Burgess, C 1990 The chronology of cup-and-ring marks in Atlantic Europe. Revue Archaeol Ouest, suppl. no. 2, 157-71.
- Cowie, T (forth) Ceramic material associated with metalworking from Sheep Hill, Dumbarton. In MacKie forthcoming.
- Davidson, J M 1935 A Bronze Age cemetery at Knappers, Kilbowie, Dunbartonshire. Proc. Soc. Antiq Scot 69 (1935-36), 352-82.
- Davis, A 1991 Part 2: the metrology of the carvings. Pp. 150-55 in MacKie 1991.
- MacKie, E W 1976 The vitrified forts of Scotland, in D.W. Harding (ed) Hillforts: later prehistoric earthworks in Britain and Ireland. Academic Press: London. 205-35.
–– 1991 New light on Neolithic rock carving: the petroglyphs at Greenland (Auchentorlie), Dumbartonshire. Glasgow Archaeol Journ 15 (1988-89), 125-56 (with A Davis).
–– 2008 The broch cultures of Atlantic Scotland: origins, high noon and decline. Part 1: Early Iron Age beginnings c. 700 – 200 BC. Oxford Journ Archaeol 27(3) (2008), 261-79.
–– forth. Trial excavations on Sheep Hill, West Dunbartonshire,in 1966-70; a possible timber palisade, a late Bronze Age timber-framed dun and a small Iron Age hillfort. Scott. Arch. Journ.
- Morris, R W B 1981 The prehistoric rock art of southern Scotland (except Argyll and Galloway). Oxford.
- Schmidt, P K & Burgess, C B 1981 The axes of Scotland and northern England. Prahistorische Bronzefunde, ab IX, band 7. Munich.
We are indebted to Dr MacKie for permission to help build awareness of this remarkable site.
We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction. Please read the Introduction first. Part two discussed the Greenland rock carvings. We now move on to consider the Sheep Hill forts.
The Sheep Hill forts
Timber-framed hillforts tend to be situated on the north-east, south-east, south-west and western fringes of the Highland zone and Sheep Hill is one of the few close to the urban areas of Central Scotland (MacKie 1976, fig. 6). In addition an analysis of the strongholds by size shows that most are true hillforts, even if occasionally quite small (MacKie 1976, 233 ff). There are three situated within the highland zone, where arable land is in much smaller patches than in Aberdeenshire, which are of roundhouse size and enclose from about 100 to 200 square yards. The primary stronghold at Sheep Hill is not as small as that and encloses about 1350 square metres but it is better classed as a largish stone dun rather than a hillfort; it was probably roofed along the inside wall face and was doubtless suitable for the residence of a chiefly extended family and its followers. The destruction of this dun by fire and probably by later demolition was complete; a small length of vitrified wall core was found on the south-west margin of the area enclosed (marked ‘v’ in Illus. 5) and this gave a clue to how far the dun had extended in that direction; it seems only to have occupied the summit of the hill, an area marked in yellow on Illus. 5. A trench across the probable northern part of the wall, at the top of the north cliff of the hilltop, failed to find a clear occupation layer.
My limited excavations of 1967-69 revealed that a larger and more complex hillfort defended by ramparts, was built after the dún was destroyed and that masses of the heated stones from the original building were used in it. In 1969 there was no reason to study the geological origin of this debris but I recall that it was – as one would expect – mostly of basalt fragments. The later hillfort is not easy to date (as explained below two C14 dates for it probably relate to the first fort) but it may well have gone out of use when the Roman Army established itself on the north bank of the Clyde nearby. Finds were fewer than in the dún midden (below) but included a large number of fragments of shale bracelets, as well as many pieces of shale which showed that a bracelet workshop existed on the site – a very rare find. Shale ornaments can be given a black shiny surface by polishing and were popular in the Iron Age.
The southernmost rampart of the hillfort was cut through and revealed a midden underneath its core, which evidently continued in use after vitrification, presumably by survivors who seem to have camped on the southern part of the hill top for a while. The reason for supposing this, and for not inferring that the midden was simply a refuse tip for the dun, is that a rim sherd of gritty Dunagoil ware was found in the midden which had itself been partly vitrified by intense heat; in other words the sherd had been heated when the dun was set on fire and partly vitrified and was then swept into the midden with other later material. The date of the midden was ascertained by two methods – a C14 date and dateable mould fragments.
Firstly another Dunagoil ware rim sherd was recovered of the kind of Early Iron Age carinated pottery that has been well dated to about 700-500 BC in Orkney (MacKie 2008, 265). Organic residue on this sherd gave a date of 2490 ± 30 bp, or 780-500 BC (SUERC-26969) at a 92.1% level of confidence).
This seems likely to reflect the destruction of the timber-framed dun. Secondly there were fragments of moulds for casting bronze tools and weapons in the midden, including types consistent with the Ewart Park phase of the Scottish Late Bronze Age metalwork sequence, which is dated to about 1000-800 BC. (Cowie forthcoming) (MacKie 1976, Fig. 3. This suggests that the bronze moulds date from a an earlier time than the carinated sherd – to one when the timber -framed dun was intact and occupied. The midden was therefore probably used both during and after the occupation of the dun.
That the actual construction of the timber-framed dun took place during the Ewart Park phase of Late Bronze Age metalworking is shown by one of two more C14 dates obtained in 2012 from charcoal which was actually found on the floor of the second hillfort, just within its southern main rampart. Since one date was slightly older than that for the stratigraphically earlier sherd in the sub-rampart midden it would seem to follow that large amounts of charcoal from the burnt wooden elements of the original dun were strewn about the site and became incorporated into the later floor levels. The charcoal could either be from wooden parts of the original building or from later constructions; the extensive timber-framing of the stone wall surely makes the former more likely (all date spans are expressed in terms of a confidence level of 93.5%). The dates are 2485 ± 30 bp, or 780-490 BC (SUERC-20968) and a more accurate one of 2605 ± 30 bp, or 830-760 BC (SUERC-26966). In addition a charcoal sample resting on rock, and which probably belongs to an earlier occupation (perhaps a palisaded enclosure ), gave a date of 3095 ± 30 bp, or 1440-1290 BC (SUERC-26967). All things considered a date for the construction of the timber-framed dun in about the 9th century BC, or perhaps the 10th, seems most probable.
Next: Were the two sites linked?
News release from Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort:
Post-election announcement on hillfort housing could be on the cards
Officials may be keeping a lid on the outcome of controversial proposals for housing close to Old Oswestry hillfort in Shropshire until after the election, say campaigners.
The speculation follows further delays to the expected publication of Inspector Claire Sherratt’s findings on SAMDEV, Shropshire Council’s development blueprint to 2026. The plan includes a fiercely opposed bid to extend Oswestry’s urban edge into the hillfort’s Iron Age landscape for the construction of a large housing estate.
Campaign group, HOOOH (Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort), was originally told that the modified plan would appear by around the middle of February for final consultation. But publication continues to be delayed, with administrators now saying it won’t be until ‘at least the end of April’.
John Waine of HOOOH said: “It’s fair to say that we are very disappointed with the delays in the modified SAMDev plan. It seems that publication may not come through until after the election and people will make up their own minds as to whether this move is politically-motivated or not.”
He added: “From the point of view of HOOOH’s campaign, now coming up to two years, we believe that the case for removal of OSW004 is overwhelming, and we have provided clear evidence to that conclusion with growing support from all quarters.”
Thousands of people, including 8,000+ petition signatories, have voiced their opposition to the hillfort estate during several stages of public consultation across three years. HOOOH believes the protracted delay in a decision on the bitterly contested development is stretching public faith in localism to the very limit. Campaigners say it would be a highly cynical move to postpone what is a politically incendiary planning judgment into post-election safety.
Campaigner Neil Phillips said: “Shropshire Council has refused to take notice of the overwhelming consensus against this very short-sighted development. Not only will it be extremely damaging to the hillfort’s heritage significance, it will also erode its tourism value which creates jobs and brings spend to the County.”
He added: “If we think our voice is not being heard in public consultation, we can always use our 2015 election vote on candidates that can demonstrate they are genuine and active heritage champions.”
Mr Waine said: “Going forward, it is clear that Old Oswestry hillfort is a precious heritage asset of national and international significance, and as such, requires protection from some form of heritage greenbelt. The well-received BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘Making History’, which was partly recorded on the hillfort, is recognition of the fact that it has a worldwide audience keen to know more.
“Whatever the outcome, the campaign will continue to work hard to protect, promote and celebrate the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’ and the ancient heart of Oswestry for the town, the county and the country as a whole.”
Speaking on the ‘Making History’ programme, the esteemed archaeology academic and author, Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, and MP Tim Loughton MP called for the wider protection of heritage landscape.
Professor Cunliffe is among 12 eminent academics who have signed an open letter to Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, and Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, objecting to OSW004. In it they write: “If the bar for acceptable development under the NPPF does not protect the setting of even our most significant heritage sites, then we set a potentially calamitous precedent for the greater part of the nation’s historic environment.”
As well as thousands of objectors via petition and on social media, the hillfort housing bid is opposed by numerous stakeholders, heritage and environmental groups. They include Oswestry Town Council, Selattyn & Gobowen Parish Council, RESCUE (The British Archaeological Trust), Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), The Prehistoric Society, The Society of Antiquaries of London, Oswestry & Border History & Archaeology Group, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Heritage Action (Heritage Journal), and Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, director of The Council for British Archaeology (CBA).
More info from Kate Clarke on 01691 652918 or 07835 924069 or John Waine on 07972 113619,
Open letter from senior British academics: http://www.britac.ac.uk/news/news.cfm/newsid/1209
We’re very pleased to be able to bring you, in serialised form, a paper courtesy of Dr Euan MacKie regarding the Sheep Hill hillfort and associated rock carvings, which are currently under a long-running threat of destruction.
Quarrying may destroy two uniquely linked prehistoric sites of different eras
On the north bank of the Clyde a few miles west of Glasgow there are two scheduled prehistoric sites of considerable archaeological interest. Sheep Hill is a small two period hillfort on a prominent volcanic plug which is threatened with destruction by the local quarry; one of the finest cup-and ring carvings in Scotland used to be two hundred metres to its north but at the demand of the quarry the carvings were sawn off in 1994 and are now stored in the National Museums in Edinburgh. Historic Scotland allowed that to happen and is now prepared to let the hillfort go. In theory the carvings could be restored to their original site when the quarry’s licence expires. It seems that neither the local authority in West Dumbartonshire nor the Scottish Government is willing or able to pay the required compensation to the quarry company to save Sheep Hill. I carried out excavations on Sheep Hill in 1966-69 and recorded the rock carvings for Historic Scotland in 1984 and am convinced that not only are the sites worth saving in their own right but that they were actually connected in ancient times. It seems that when the first, timber-framed, stronghold was built in about 900 BC the nearby carved rock was quarried for building material, destroying many carvings; however the Neolithic tradition of cup-and-ring carvings was still alive locally and new ones were cut on to the freshly exposed surfaces, including a very fine double disc symbol. This hypothesis could be tested in any future excavations and if correct would make the two sites unique in Britain. The mere possibility of such a relationship means that Sheep Hill must be preserved.
Euan W. MacKie
Sheep Hill is a two period hillfort situated on a volcanic plug of basalt on the Kilpatrick Hills north of the river Clyde in West Dunbartonshire, Central Scotland; it was partially excavated by the me in the late 1960s (1976). This conspicuous site (Illus. 1, above) overlooks the western end of the Antonine Wall at Old Kilpatrick – the northernmost frontier of Roman Britain which was built in about AD 140 under the emperor Antoninus Pius and functioned for about twenty years. The fact that neither of the two phases of Sheep Hill produced any Roman finds, despite the proximity of the Old Kilpatrick terminal fort, suggests that the hilltop was abandoned before the Romans established the frontier in about AD 80, using a line of forts more or less along the track of the later wall. The original fortification on Sheep Hill was a small dun with a timber-framed stone wall, enclosing a roughly oval area on the summit of about 40 by 43m; the stronghold came to a violent and fiery end when the timber -framed wall was burned. The consequent ‘vitrified fort’ was, according to the available radiocarbon dates, probably built in the 9th century BC and destroyed perhaps two centuries later.
The vast quantities of heated basalt fragments which were on the hilltop after the fire were later re-used to build a larger enclosure with earth and stone ramparts. The builders of Sheep Hill 2 made use of the natural terraces of the basalt summit to produce an enclosure containing several smaller enclosures; the central part of the hillfort seems to have been the summit of the hill, more or less the area enclosed by the earlier timber-framed wall. The southernmost rampart – together with a rubble stone pavement immediately north of it – was found to overlie a midden which had evidently accumulated downhill from the timberframed dun after it had been destroyed, this providing useful stratigraphical proof of the two distinct occupations. No signs were seen suggesting that the hillfort had been destroyed; it seems just to have been abandoned. Sheep Hill was scheduled as an ancient monument in 1970, and a summary account of the excavations was published a few years later (MacKie 1976, 211-14). The full excavation report will appear soon in the Scottish Archaeological Journal.
The Kilpatrick Hills slope steeply upwards from the Clyde and Sheep Hill is at the top of this slope (Illus. 1 & 7); immediately to the north however is a slightly lower area of flat ground, itself surrounded by slightly higher hills. In this natural amphitheatre was an outcrop with one of the most complex and spectacular cup-and-ring markings in southern Scotland, known as the Greenland (after a nearby farm) or the Auchentorlie (after a nearby house) cup-and-ring carvings (Morris 1981, 98-103). This may seem surprising in view of the prevailing basalt rock – highly unsuitable for carving – but the two groups of cup-andring marks are in fact on what are known as ‘rafts’ of sandstone which floated into their positions on rivers of lava in the eruptions of millions of years ago. The sandstone blocks of course were heated and hardened in the process and thus made more suitable for carving.
Unfortunately for the national archaeological heritage, in about 1972 the quarry firm Thompsons of Dumbarton acquired the Auchentorlie estate from its previous owner, Cdr. Alexander-Sinclair, presumably because of the availability of the hard volcanic rock. A few years later operations began just to the north of Sheep Hill and the owners eventually applied to Historic Scotland to remove the main carved outcrop as they wished to use the space for storage. This was agreed to and in 1984 I was asked to record the rock carvings (MacKie & Davis 1991). In 1994 the carvings were sawn off and the pieces taken for storage to the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Now Messrs Thompson wish to quarry away Sheep Hill itself and Historic Scotland has also agreed to this in principle. I am trying to prevent this on the grounds that, if the Hill is preserved, then when the quarry’s license runs out in about 2040, it would be possible to restore the rock carvings to their original position close by, using either the originals or exact replicas of them, and thus to preserve an unique pair of sites. Their uniqueness is not just a matter of the propinquity of two radically different types of prehistoric monument just north of the Roman wall – although this alone should make them an interesting attraction for tourists if proper access was arranged – but because there might well have been a link between the two sites in ancient times which, if genuine, would make the pair the only one of its type in Britain.
Next: The Greenland rock carvings
Old Oswestry hillfort has inspired a national call to show heritage some love this Valentine’s. Campaigners are staging a symbolic hug of the 3,000 year old Iron Age monument on February 14 while a decision is awaited on proposed housing in its shadow. See HERE!
Now the social media campaign #hugyourheritage is calling for the nation to join in the spirit of the event by tweeting selfies with the ‘I love heritage’ logo.
Launch details reveal: “History and heritage are important. Support Old Oswestry Hillfort and hug your heritage on Valentine’s Day! We are urging as many people as possible to take part in person or online and demonstrate their support for an iconic and nationally important hillfort.” Participants are being asked to reserve their tweets at Thunderclap, the crowdspeaking platform which will mass-share the message on Valentine’s Day.
Meanwhile, the live hug on Old Oswestry, organised by Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOOH), will take place at 1pm, meeting first at Gatacre playing field. Anyone interested in helping to steward the event should contact HOOOH on 01691 652918 or go to http://www.facebook.com/OldOswestryHillfort
A press release from the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort campaign.
‘Hillfort Hug’ planned for threatened Iron Age monument
‘Show heritage some love’ say campaigners who will be joining arms in a protective hug at Old Oswestry hillfort (North Shropshire) as planners target its ancient landscape for housing.
The ‘Hillfort Hug’ takes place on Valentine’s Day, February 14, with organisers HOOOH (Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort) calling it a peaceful family event. They are urging as many people as possible to take part and demonstrate their support for an iconic and nationally important hillfort.
It comes as a government Inspector decides whether fiercely opposed housing allocations bordering the 3,000 year old earthwork should remain in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan.
Dr George Nash, an archaeologist and adviser to HOOOH said: “What happens at Old Oswestry is being seen as a test case that could open the floodgates to indiscriminate development exploiting heritage sites and areas of natural beauty across Britain.
“We have the short-sightedness of English Heritage and Shropshire Council to thank for putting this important Iron Age monument and potentially other parts of Britain’s ancient landscape in this state of planning jeopardy.”
HOOOH campaigner and Oswestry resident Neil Phillips said: “We are not against house-building and development. But the public wants to see it delivered in the right place, in realistic numbers and in tune with the community’s wishes.”
He added: “We hope people will feel moved to join the Old Oswestry hug in large numbers and show we are ready to protect our heritage and countryside against insensitive development.”
HOOOH says that a number of archaeological organisations have expressed an interest in networking the hug as a national event.
BBC Radio 4 visited the hillfort recently to record a programme for its new Making History series airing this spring.
Public opposition and campaign pressure has seen hillfort housing numbers proposed in SAMDev almost halved. But the developer is currently appealing for its original masterplan for some 200 homes to be reinstated.
The Inspector’s decision is expected later in February.
Those attending the ‘Hillfort Hug’ should meet at Gatacre playing fields in Oswestry at 1pm for the short walk to Old Oswestry. HOOOH is asking participants to sign up to the event page on Facebook, if possible, so that they can plan for likely numbers.
Volunteers are also needed to help steward the event. Anyone interested should ring 01691 652918 or message HOOOH on Facebook which has information on parking and other event details.
Did you know Mr Grindley, the humble farmer worn down and ruined by the endless Jarndyce and Jarndyce case in Bleak House, was from Shropshire? Re-reading it reminded me of Oswestry Hill Fort, another battle that may not end in a hurry, not so long as there’s money to be gained. Anyhow, here’s an excerpt from the book. Any resemblance to Oswestry is just in your mind….
“In trickery, evasion, procrastination, spoliation, botheration, under false pretences of all sorts, there are influences that can never come to good…… Shirking and sharking in all their many varieties have been sown broadcast by the ill-fated cause; and even those who have contemplated its history from the outermost circle of such evil have been insensibly tempted into a loose way of letting bad things alone to take their own bad course, and a loose belief that if the world go wrong it was in some off-hand manner never meant to go right……
“Have you nearly concluded your argument?”
“Mlud, no — variety of points — feel it my duty tsubmit — ludship,” is the reply that slides out of Mr. Tangle.
“Several members of the bar are still to be heard, I believe?” says the Chancellor with a slight smile.
Eighteen of Mr. Tangle’s learned friends, each armed with a little summary of eighteen hundred sheets, bob up like eighteen hammers in a pianoforte, make eighteen bows, and drop into their eighteen places of obscurity.
“We will proceed with the hearing on Wednesday fortnight,” says the Chancellor. For the question at issue is only a question of costs, a mere bud on the forest tree of the parent suit, and really will come to a settlement one of these days.”
The man from Shropshire ventures another remonstrative “My lord!” but the Chancellor, being aware of him, has dexterously vanished. Everybody else quickly vanishes too. A battery of blue bags is loaded with heavy charges of papers and carried off by clerks; the little mad old woman marches off with her documents; the empty court is locked up. If all the injustice it has committed and all the misery it has caused could only be locked up with it, and the whole burnt away in a great funeral pyre — why so much the better for other parties than the parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce [and Oswestry!]
What a circus to settle something that ought to be blindingly obvious: there should be no housing development inside the setting of Oswestry Hillfort!
As the Old Oswestry Hillfort Campaign has said…..
“The day has come, dear reader. Shropshire Council are taking the Sam Dev report to Full Council this Thursday [that’s today], and have published the results of the consultation on soundness which a lot of us responded to. There is a lot to read, if you follow this link then scroll down to no. 22 the papers are all there. Interestingly enough, despite many of us asking for notification to attend this meeting I don’t know of anyone who had been contacted, and I only found this by accident last night….
You might think that because there’s a lot to read the decision will be very complicated. But no, it couldn’t be simpler. Either Shropshire Council will vote to damage the setting of the most important ancient heritage site in Central England or they won’t. Either they’ll reject the views of a whole raft of independent experts or they won’t. Either they’ll ignore the clearly-expressed views of local people (which the Government says must be taken into account) or they won’t. Fingers crossed we don’t hear phrases like “equitable compromise in all the circumstances” or “regrettable but unavoidable”. For the avoidance of doubt, damaging the setting of the hill fort is no more unavoidable than this was ….
Heritage Action member Sue Brooke has been peeking over the garden fence again, and gives us this update on the Caerau Hillfort excavations in Cardiff.
Well the leaflet dropped through the door about two weeks ago. At the end of last week the local community magazine arrived, both with the invitation to ‘come and join the excavations.’ So I did.
I’ve written about Caerau Hillfort in Cardiff in the past via this journal. It was, you may recall, featured on a Time Team episode – one of the last in the final series made, shown in April 2012. It was actually also featured in one of the Time Team dig books. But since all this ended and the so called glare of publicity faded away it may seem like it has all been forgotten. Not so.
The CAER Heritage Project has been working constantly in the local areas of Caerau and Ely, (CAER is an acronym – Caerau and Ely Rediscovering). They have their own website and the usual Facebook group following as you would expect, but they are actually up there promoting their project aims of rediscovering the past.
Community excavations took place last year. Again this year, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, my triangular shaped field is the focus of activity for anyone interested either in local history or archaeology itself. I couldn’t get there myself last year but this year I found myself free for the first days of the planned dig, and since the weather has been so beautiful I accepted the invitation of ‘come and join the excavations’ and wandered along.
It’s probably best that you understand, at this point, that although I find archaeology fascinating and, having watched probably most of the Time Team episodes I viewed myself as something of an armchair expert. But I never ever wanted what I had come to think of as MY triangular shaped field to be dug up. I had researched this field, written thousands of words on it, drawn maps of it, walked up and down in it and generally did my best to keep it as a secret. Although local legend, if you like, was that there was a Roman Fort located up alongside the old church of St Mary in the ring-work, I had always believed it to be the triangular shaped field that would hold the biggest and, hopefully earliest secrets. I could bore for Wales on the subject of this field.
When Time Team visited I spent each and every day up on the hill, horrified at the goings-on. I never thought for one minute that this field would give up shiny swords or gold treasure but I felt it was important to the development of the local area in which I have always lived. This hillfort is quite literally over my garden fence. I wanted to know more about who lived there, how they lived there and why? For me it was, and still is, as much about the people as the place.
But here I am, on my way to go back up the hill to yet another excavation. It is a long and very steep walk up. Thankfully it has been reasonably dry lately so it makes it far safer underfoot. I arrived at the foot of the hill to find the excavations signposted. It’s actually a very pretty walk up and definitely worth it when you eventually reach the top. The gates were open to the triangular shaped field and just inside there were some gazebo type tents which form an information point.
Some of the latest ‘finds’ are being cleaned up but they are displayed on trays and I was actually given some sherds of pottery to hold. In my hand! Cardiff University students are on hand to talk you though what they have found so far and it was really fascinating stuff. I know both project directors – Olly Davis and Dave Wyatt – from my early work with the group just prior to them forming the heritage project, and it was nice to catch up with them again. Olly walked me around the site, pointing out what they were doing and the significance of their very early discoveries. Olly explains things really well, not reverting to that dry academic way of speaking that you can often hear when the so called expert knows what he is on about but you simply end up nodding in bemused and confused agreement. Olly pointed out the various features actually in the ground, giving his early interpretation of them and setting them into a historical context that I, as a local historian with only a broad knowledge of history in general, could understand.
I was shown around the various trenches that have already been put in and met some of the university students involved. It was really nice to see the whole thing being recorded on film and in pictures by a local resident. Various local people were on the site and had been included in the digging itself. Olly told me that there had been 30 visitors to the site the previous day and they were expecting many more. Local schools have been fully involved again with the project. Local children and young people will be attending the dig, in planned visits, during the duration of the excavations.
There are potentially some important discoveries to be made up at the site. Without giving away too much of the detail there are signs of some exciting possibilities in the ground that could hold importance to understanding early life in Wales. Back at the gazebo I was shown the geophysical results and the Lidar images that have been taken and these were explained clearly to me. There is also a large reconstruction drawing on display – again the work of a local resident – which gives a nice insight to how the site may have looked. There is also a booklet – free of charge – that gives lots of information on the previous work undertaken and some of the discoveries made.
I have to say that this ‘red-carpet’ treatment wasn’t exclusive to me. I spoke with Olly asking him if he ever got the chance now to get in the trench and dig – which, after all is what he trained for, and he replied saying that showing people around and interpreting the site took up an awful lot of his time. Although he did agree that not having his nose in the trench did allow him a better overview of the site as a whole. We may make a local historian out of him yet!
Having had a really good look around I was relieved that the trenches weren’t taking over the whole of the field. The trenches from the previous excavations were now barely discernible and I expect that these recent ones will fade back into the grass with time. The work that is being done will certainly help me gain a better idea not only of the place but of the people who lived within it.
What makes this heritage project just that little bit different is that it includes the members of the local community; it actually encourages them in, gives them a trowel and makes them get dirty! The key objective of this project was to:
Put local people at the heart of cutting edge archeological research, to develop educational opportunities and to challenge stigmas and unfounded stereotypes ascribed to this part of Cardiff.
I think, from my visit today that CAER Heritage Project actually does what it says on the tin – even if they are digging up my triangular shaped field.
So, I now share the invitation with you. Go and join the excavations. They run from 30th June through to 25th July 2014. There is a lot going on up there that it probably wouldn’t be fair of me to share in this little article – please, go and see for yourself. I may see you there – I’m going back tomorrow only this time I’m going to dig!
There is also an article about the dig on the BBC web site.
All pictures © Sue Brooke
During my recent trip to Cornwall, I managed to finally visit a site I’ve had my eye on for some time: the remains of an Iron Age hillfort near to where we stay.
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales included in his description of Ludgvan the following:
“A ditched camp, called Castle-an-Dinas, and measuring 436 feet in diameter, occupies the summit of the highest hill, and commands extensive views.”
Whilst this may be factually correct, the hillfort is now quite difficult to see from the surrounding countryside, due in part to the existence of the upthrow of a large quarry to the southeast. However, once access to the hillfort has been obtained (see access notes, below), there are indeed wide ranging views to the North, East and round to the Southwest. Chysauster Courtyard House settlement lies 3/4 of a mile directly west from the hillfort. The hillfort itself consists of two concentric stone ramparts. A further slight external rampart of earth and stone can also be seen.
Borlase gives us slightly more detail:
“Castle-an-Dinas consisted of two stone walls, one within the other in a circular form, surrounding the area of the hill. The ruins are now fallen on each side of the walls, and show the work to have been of great height and thickness. There was also a third or outer wall, built more than half way round. Within the walls are many little inclosures of a circular form, about seven yards in diameter, with little walls round them of two or three feet high ; they appear to have been so many huts for the shelter of the garrison. The diameter of the whole fort from east to west is 400 feet, and the principal ditch 60 feet. Towards the south the sides of the hill are marked by two large green paths about 10 feet wide.”
But this hillfort, the north entrance of which is still quite well defined (if somewhat overgrown in mid-summer) holds another surprise. Near the southeast rampart is what looks to all intents and purposes to be a small castle with four turreted towers. This is Rogers’ Tower, a folly built sometime in the late 1700’s by the Rogers family, who carried much influence in the local area. They owned Treassowe Manor, situated between the hillfort and Ludgvan Churchtown, and later moved to the Penrose estate just outside Porthleven.
The tower was built largely using stone ‘robbed out’ from the ramparts of the hillfort. The precise date of construction is debatable, but there is some supposition that the tower may have been used as a lookout point over the English Channel during the political upheaval which lead to the Napoleonic wars.
However, although used by the family as a destination for outings it seems the tower quickly fell into disuse, and by 1817 was described as ‘now in a state of decay’. By 1859 this had progressed to ‘ruined’. In the 1920s, Castle an Dinas and Rogers’ Tower were included in Cornwall’s newly established list of Scheduled Monuments, and the tower was used as a lookout by the Home Guard during the Second World War. In 1960 some repair work was carried out, and this is commemorated by a roughly scrawled carving in the replacement pointing inside the tower. Further work was carried out in 2002/3 leading to the tower we see today.
Also placed within the confines of the hillfort, near to the tower is an Ordnance Survey triangulation (trig) point. The trig point was last levelled in 1955 (Levelling is the process of measuring the relative height marks across the landscape, and ultimately to a fixed datum – Mean Sea Level at Newlyn for the British mainland). Digital mapping has largely made such trig points redundant, and no doubt they will be regarded as heritage sites in their own right (if they’re not already – some enjoy scheduled monument protection).
The 6″ OS map of 1888 clearly shows a south eastern approach from the road at Inch’s Castle (now Castle Gate), but this has long been gobbled up by the quarry. A road 300 yards to the west now passes through into the quarry, but is marked as private property (and could be considered dangerous for pedestrians). There is a footpath on the road from Badgers Cross to Chysauster to the southwest, near to Little Chysauster farm but when I tried this route, the footpath was marked as closed ‘due to erosion’. Instead, I therefore elected to take a path from a farm shop to the east (just off the B3311 at Grid Ref SW491350), following the track northwest and skirting Trenowin Downs. At the first cottage, do not be tempted to cut across left, but continue on the track until a gate across the track. Go through the gate, and immediate left (now heading southwest and uphill) where the track dog-legs across Noon Digery. Continue uphill, crossing a stile where the track reduces to a footpath. Still heading uphill, look out for a stile on the left (approx SW482352), onto Tonkins Downs. This heads directly southeast again, and leads directly to the hillfort and the northwest entrance. Once through the causeway entrance, Rogers Tower can be easily seen almost directly ahead, beyond the trig point.
All photos © Alan S. 2014