Burrington Camp Hillfort, Somerset
Burrington Camp hillfort is one of three hillforts on the Northern Mendip Scarp. The others are Dolebury and Banwell. It is tempting to think of them as a network, however there is no evidence that all three were in use at the same time – in fact there is some doubt whether Burrington Camp was ever finished.
Burrington is roughly shaped like a playing card, and encloses approx. 2 acres. It has an unusual rampart extension on the South West corner and another smaller extension on the North-East. It also has a peculiar inner ditch, which prompted Arthur Hadrian Allcroft – an early investigator and impressively prolific Classical scholar – to compare it with monuments like Avebury.(1)
This might strike anyone with a passing acquaintance with prehistoric archaeology as an odd comparison to make, but this was 1908 – and the word ‘henge’ had not yet been selected as a descriptor for a non-defensive enclosure characterised by an internal bank and an external ditch – the precise opposite of the usual hillfort arrangement. By using Avebury as an analogue, Allcroft was referring to a common configuration, rather than any broader similarity.
The word ‘henge’, incidentally, was chosen in 1932 by Thomas Kendrick, a Director of the British Museum. For someone who had produced major works on prehistory, and was thoroughly intimate with the subject, it was a fabulously peculiar choice in that it almost entirely fails to describe the monument type it was selected to represent. And an internal ditch certainly is an odd feature if your intention is defence. By placing the ditch on the outside of the bank or rampart, you are forcing any attacker to increase a height disadvantage – however if you reverse the situation you are forcing the disadvantage on yourself.
If it was instead intended for livestock – to be used as a corral, situated as it is between high and low grazing grounds (and over which it has splendid views), then defence may not be such an issue. However an excavation and test pitting of the site discovered no human occupation layers (not a single artefact was uncovered), and no evidence of ground turbation by livestock. Tratman suggested that this enclosure was never finished – either because the threat that had prompted its construction had passed without incident, or overrun the builders before the work was complete.(2) Unfinished or otherwise, he refers to the defences as ‘feeble’, and indeed from all the sources, you generally get the impression that Burrington Camp is something of an oddity. Peter Ellis has noted a similarity in size and shape to the Roman ‘fortlet’ at Charterhouse.(3)
OS map reference: ST 4780 5878. Nearest town/village: Burrington.
1. Allcroft, Hadrian, Arthur (1908). Earthwork of England. Macmillan & co.
2. Tratman,E.K 1963. Archaeological Notes – Burrington Camp. UBSS Proceedings, 10(1) , pp 16-21
3. Ellis, Peter (1992). Mendip Hills AONB Archaeological Survey (PDF).