Hambledon Hill, Dorset.
Scheduled Ancient Monument #1002677; NGR 38451126
Surveyed April and May 2014
TEXT by Dave Stewart and Miles Russell
Full details of this survey and the interpretation of the results can be found in Stewart, D and Russell, M ‘Hillforts and the Durotriges’ published by Archaeopress 2017.
Hambledon Hill Camp is dramatically situated between the villages of Shroton (Iwerne Courtney) and Childe Okeford, occupying the northern spur of the chalk hill that also boasts at least two Neolithic causewayed enclosures. The fort, which in total encloses 12ha, overlooks the Blackmore Vale, comprising two oval areas, defined by double banks and ditches, joined by a narrower waist that includes a Neolithic long barrow.
Considerable numbers of quarry scoops, for earthwork building, can still be seen inside the rampart circuit. Two entrances at the western end have extensive outworks, whilst quarrying at the north and east has damaged a third entrance at the eastern end. Over 200 hut platforms have been noted from the interior of the hillfort, although just how contemporary these structures were is at present unknown.
Excavations by Edward Cunnington (published in 1895) found sherds of Iron Age and Romano-British pottery and it is also believed that Heywood Sumner excavated further in the central section of the site in the early 20th century. More recently, Roger Mercer’s investigation of the Neolithic landscape included examination of a cross-ditch within the area of the Iron Age monument.
The hillfort is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a nature reserve managed until recently by Natural England and now by the National Trust, consisting of rough pasture and grazed to control intrusive plant species. It is frequented by hardy dog walkers and unfortunately continues to show evidence of illegal and damaging activity by metal detectorists.
Crescents of positive readings mark platforms terraced into the slopes. These appear weakly in the north-west (A) and stand out strongly from the background in the east and centre (B). Ring ditches are evident as circular anomalies on the flatter areas (C) and can be seen to contain small positive anomalies typical of hearths or pits.
A curved linear ditch-like feature (D) separates the northern area from the waist. There is a strip some 5m wide devoid of features on its northern side. A strong magnetic anomaly (E) appears at the highest point of the hillfort where a shallow pit is evident on the surface, the age and purpose of which are unknown.
Another high point at the northern tip of the interior appears to contain ring ditches (F); the largest of these ring ditches measures some 15m in diameter. A further cluster of ring ditches (G) also contains the bi-polar response of a buried ferrous object.
The large void (J) on the plot is the lower scarp which was deemed too steep to survey safely. Ring ditches can be seen (K) in addition to the crescents of more platforms, although there is no evidence of corresponding activity on the western side of this section.
The ditch surrounding the Neolithic long barrow (L) gives a weak response while the trench cut across it has a very strong iron signal. The number of smaller bi-polar ferrous responses elsewhere in the waist area seems higher than in other areas.
Extended earth banks (M) line the top of the eastern slope while the counterscarp of the cross-rampart gives a noisy response (N) apparently including several pit-like features and more ring ditches.
The large flat area and more gentle slopes of the southern section are dotted with strong positive responses indicative of pits or hearths (R). Several round structures (S) appear to have been placed on the berm behind the inner rampart. A strong circular anomaly (T) is scheduled as a round barrow or tumulus, however the magnetometry appears to show a gap in the south-east quadrant of the ring ditch.
As in the other areas, the house platforms (U) have been terraced into the slopes. Clear passages devoid of structures (V) extend from the south-east entrance to the south-west and to the western end of the cross-rampart. A similar passage (W) can be seen leading northward from the south-west entrance. A deep ditch marking the south side of the cross-rampart stands out clearly (X).
Ring ditches (Y) are visible in several areas: those near the break of slope appear only on the uphill side. The very clear ditch (Z) surrounding one structure has a diameter of 14m, approaching that of the ditch at the northern tip. It has an entrance gap at the south-east and contains a group of small positive anomalies.
Every available area of the hillfort interior appears to have been used for habitation with numerous surface depressions having been identified as house platforms. The build-up of enhanced soil at the back of each platform forms the crescent visible on the magnetometry plot. The flatter areas show the ring ditches typical of roundhouses.
Two are particularly large for dwellings whilst one (Z) has an entrance and internal features that are probably post holes and a hearth and the other (F) occupies a prominent position and might alternatively be a round barrow. Where the houses are near the break of slope, the ring ditch only extends around the uphill side, utilising the slope for drainage.
The strong positive responses (R) are indicative of pits or hearths, their spacing perhaps suggesting that they too lie inside round houses though the associated ring ditches are weak and only visible in part.
The clear passages (V) can be interpreted as trackways running through and bisecting the habitation areas. The northward trackway (W) is still in use, trampled and eroded by foot traffic, making it unclear whether this feature may actually be of more modern origin.
The clear space west of the Neolithic long barrow (L) may also be a thoroughfare although modern visitors are more inclined to walk along the top of the barrow in order to admire the view. The ditch surrounding the barrow gives a slight response suggesting that the soil filling it is only weakly enhanced, so probably pre-dating habitation in this area.
The curved linear feature (D) is the ditch explored by Mercer in 1983. It suggests that the northern area was originally enclosed by a bank and ditch that was removed to allow expansion of the hillfort southwards.
The earth banks (M) may relate to an entrance through this barrier. Heywood Sumner suggested that the deep ditch marking the south side of the cross-rampart (X) might have been dug to shelter cattle from the all-pervasive wind.
It seems more likely that this is formed the southern extent of the defences following the first expansion of the hillfort. During one of these phases of development the lower scarp (J) and its smaller neighbour may have formed the outer defences.
These delightful paintings are by Charlie Baird, and are reproduced here with his kind permission. There are plenty more at his website. I think this is the only prehistory, but if you like these, you’ll almost certainly appreciate his other work too.
OS map reference: ST 8451 1270. Nearest town/village: Child Okeford.