Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland

EN3598: Maiden Castle, Winterborne St Martin  

(Maiden Castle, Dorchester)

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HER:  Dorset MDO3244

NMR:  SY 68 NE 7 (451864)

SM:  1015775

NGR:  SY66938848

X:  366867  Y:  88470  (EPSG:27700)

Boundary:  

Summary

Commanding, multi-phase and complex contour hillfort sited on chalk knoll of the South Dorset Downs. Moderate to strong slopes to stream on S, mostly moderate elsewhere. In outstanding condition. Although not characterised by steep surrounding slopes, as many of the large Wessex and Marches hillforts are, much use made of using natural knoll to form commanding presence in the surrounding countryside. Defined by three massive ramparts on S quadrants and two on N, each with substantial counterscarps, with fine and complex gates on E and W sides, enclosing 18.5ha. The steep glacis ramparts reach in excess of 15m high. Site overlies Neolithic causewayed enclosure, with possible long barrow, on E plateau, with Neolithic bank barrow post-dating this enclosure in interior. Excavated by W.R.J.C. Barnes 1871, Edward Cunnington (1884), Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1934-1937) and N. Sharples (1985-1986), with geophysical and other measured surveys. Hillfort environs also subject of excavation and study. C14 dates by Sharples found initial phase of causewayed enclosure to be 3800 BC with occupation continuing to Romano-British period when prominent late Romano-Celtic temple of cella within walled precinct, with statue later reinterpreted as of Dioysus-Bacchus, found in Wheeler excavations who also excavated 'war cemetery' at E end of site, providing most of the 50 human burials found on the hillfort and suggested as result of the Roman taking of principal Durotrigan hillforts in the incursion W and similar to that found at Spettisbury Rings (Atlas No 3607). Three overall, and four more detailed, phases of Iron Age construction. Early Iron Age fort, of c. 7.4ha, defined by single chalk bank and outer ditch, with intervening berm, and E and W entrances guarded by timber gates, enclosing E summit of hill. During second half of third century BC extensions to W to more than double size of fort. In mid second century BC ramparts rebuilt and added and inner rampart heightened. These outstanding entrances increasingly more complex as ramparts added and gateways redesigned. Interior densely occupied and excavation revealed traces of circular and rectangular huts evident from post holes, trenches and floor remains with roads, gullies, many stone-lined storage pits and ovens. In later Iron Age occupation became restricted to E half of fort and ramparts less important, though inner bank and ditch refurbished at least once. Settlement and industrial activity extended into the area in front of E gate. Finds have included groups of sling stones, pottery, brooches, beads, loom weights, spindle whorls, querns and weaving combs. Occupation declined after the Conquest, but the temple was built c. 4th century AD. In post-Roman period the site was used to graze flock and series of dew ponds constructed. Site well-preserved under managed pasture and in state guardianship. On 1st Ed. OS map (1888).

Status

Citizen Science:  ✗  

Reliability of Data:  Confirmed

Reliability of Interpretation:  Confirmed

Location

X:  -275014  Y:  6567494  (EPSG: 3857)

Longitude:  -2.470496  Latitude:  50.69486  (EPSG:4326)

Country:  England

Current County or Unitary Authority:  Dorset

Historic County:   Dorset

Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  Winterborne St Martin

Condition

English Heritage site in outstanding condition.

Extant:  
Cropmark:  
Likely Destroyed:  

Land Use

Managed pasture. SSSI.

Woodland:  
Commercial Forestry Plantation:  
Parkland:  
Pasture (Grazing):  
Arable:  
Scrub/Bracken:  
Bare Outcrop:  
Heather/Moorland:  
Heath:  
Built-up:  
Coastal Grassland:  
Other:  

Landscape

Hillfort Type

Commanding, multi-phase and complex contour hillfort sited on chalk knoll of the South Dorset Downs. Moderate to strong slopes to stream on S, mostly moderate elsewhere.

Contour Fort:  
Partial Contour Fort:  
Promontory Fort:  
Hillslope Fort:  
Level Terrain Fort:  
Marsh Fort:  
Multiple Enclosure Fort:  

Topographic Position

Hilltop:  
Coastal Promontory:  
Inland Promontory:  
Valley Bottom:  
Knoll/Hillock/Outcrop:  
Ridge:  
Cliff/Plateau-edge/Scarp:  
Hillslope:  
Lowland:  
Spur:  

Dominant Topographic Feature:  Chalk knoll

Aspect

North:  
Northeast:  
East:  
Southeast:  
South:  
Southwest:  
West:  
Northwest:  
Level:  

Elevation

Altitude:  132.0m

Boundary

Boundary Type:  Parish/Townland

Second HER:  

Second Current County or Unitary Authority:  

Second Historic County:  

Second Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  Winterborne Monkton

Dating Evidence

Many dateable finds and 15 C14 dates from 1984-85 excavations.

Reliability:  A - High

Pre 1200BC:  
1200BC - 800BC:  
800BC - 400BC:  
400BC - AD50:  
AD50 - AD400:  
AD400 - AD 800:  
Post AD800:  
Unknown:  

Pre Hillfort Activity:  ✓  First features identified group of pits associated with early Neolithic flint working. Overlies Neolithic causewayed enclosure with possible long barrow, with Neolithic bank barrow post-dating this enclosure in interior. Two barrows late Neolithic/Bronze Age. Neolithic Cornish axes. C14 dates by Sharples in excavations found initial phase of causewayed enclosure to be 3800 BC.

Post Hillfort Activity:  ✓  Prominent late Romano-Celtic temple 4th century AD.

Artefactual:  Many dateable finds.
C14:  15 C14 dates.

Investigations

In Aubrey's Monumenta Britannica (1665-1693). On 1st Ed. OS map (1888). Diggings by unknown people 1865. Excavated by W.R.J.C. Barnes 1871, Edward Cunnington (1884), Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1934-1937) and N Sharples (1985-1986). RCHME level 3 analytical earthwork survey 1984-85, ref. no. 832712. Geophysical survey Ancient Monuments Laboratory 1885. Measured survey RCHME 1994. RCHME level 1 survey 1997. Bank barrow excavated by R.J.C. Atkinson 1951. Visited by Hillfort Study Group 1966, 2016.

1st Identified Written Reference (1665-1693):  Aubrey’s Monumenta Britannica.
Other (1865):  Diggings by unknown people.
Excavation (1871):  W.R.J.C. Barnes.
Excavation (1884):  E. Cunnington.
1st Identified Map Depiction (1888):  OS map.
Excavation (1934-1937):  Sir Mortimer Wheeler.
Excavation (1951):  R.J.C. Atkinson.
Other (1966):  Visit by the Hillfort Study Group
Earthwork Survey (1984-1985):  RCHME level 3 analytical earthwork survey.
Geophysical Survey (1985):  Ancient Monuments Laboratory.
Excavation (1985-86):  N. Shaples.
Earthwork Survey (1994):  Measured survey RCHME.
Earthwork Survey (1997):  RCHME level 1 survey.
Other (2016):  Visit by the Hillfort Study Group

Interior Features

Hillfort intensively occupied with change over time. Excavation revealed traces of circular and rectangular huts evident from post holes, trenches and floor remains with roads, gullies, many stone-lined storage pits and ovens. Numerous stone-lined pits. Romano-British temple of c. 4 century AD. Numerous finds include groups of sling stones, Iron Age pottery, brooches, beads, loom weights, querns and coins. Around 50 human burials identified, many within 'war cemetery' at E end of site, with evidence of violent end at hands of Romans.

Water Source

Dew ponds to collect water constructed in post-Roman period.

None:  
Spring:  
Stream:  
Pool:  
Flush:  
Well:  
Other:  

Surface

Some visible evidence of occupation. Romano-British temple evident on site.

No Known Features:  
Round Stone Structures:  
Rectangular Stone Structures:  
Curvilinear Platforms:  
Other Roundhouse Evidence:  
Pits:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  

Excavation

Hillfort intensively occupied. Excavation revealed traces of circular and rectangular huts evident from postholes, trenches and floor remains with roads, gullies, many stone-lined storage pits and ovens. Numerous stone-lined pits. Romano-British temple of c. 4 century AD.

No Known Excavation:  
Pits:  
Postholes:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  
Nothing Found:  

Geophysics

No Known Geophysics:  
Pits:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  
Nothing Found:  

Finds

Finds include groups of sling stones, Iron Age pottery, brooches, beads, loom weights, querns and coins. Around 50 human burials identified, many within 'war cemetery' at E end of site.

No Known Finds:  
Pottery:  
Metal:  
Metalworking:  
Human Bones:  
Animal Bones:  
Lithics:  
Environmental:  
Other:  

Aerial

APs Not Checked:  
None:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Pits:  
Postholes:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Other:  

Entrances

Complex entrances on E and W sides, both with outworks and complex routes through ramparts, E with single access, W with double access.

Total Number of Breaks Through Ramparts:  

Number of Possible Original Entrances:   

Guard Chambers:  

Chevaux de Frise:  ✗  

Entrance 1 (East):  Outworks:  Very complex.
Entrance 1 (East):  Over-lapping:  Complex routes through ramparts.
Entrance 2 (West):  Outworks:  Very complex.
Entrance 2 (West):  Over-lapping:  Complex routes through ramparts.

Enclosing Works

Defined by three massive chalk ramparts on S quadrants and two on N, each with substantial counterscarps. Substantial intervening berms.

Enclosed Area 1:  7.5ha.
Enclosed Area 2:  18.5ha.
Enclosed Area 3:  
Enclosed Area 4:  
Total Enclosed Area:  18.5ha.

Total Footprint Area:  

Multi-period Enclosure System:  ✓  Four phases of construction: Phase I: univallate covering 7.5ha. Phases II-IV: initially univallate but later multivallate covering 18.5ha.

Ramparts Form a Continuous Circuit:  ✓  

Number of Ramparts:  3

Number of Ramparts NE Quadrant:  2
Number of Ramparts SE Quadrant:  3
Number of Ramparts SW Quadrant:  3
Number of Ramparts NW Quadrant:  2

Current Morphology

Partial Univallate:  
Univallate:  
Partial Bivallate:  
Bivallate:
Partial Multivallate:  
Multivallate:  
Unknown:  

Multi-period Morphology

Partial Univallate:  
Univallate:  
Partial Bivallate:  
Bivallate:  
Partial Multivallate:  
Multivallate:  

Surface Evidence

High, chalk, glacis ramparts. Substantial berms and counterscarps around circuit.

None:  
Earthen Bank:  
Stone Wall:  
Rubble:  
Wall-walk:  
Evidence of Timber:  
Vitrification:  
Other Burning:  
Palisade:  
Counter Scarp Bank:  
Berm:  
Unfinished:  
Other:  

Excavated Evidence

Massive ramparts of chalk glacis construction.

None:  
Earthen Bank:  
Stone Wall:  
Murus Duplex:  
Timber-framed:  
Timber-laced:  
Vitrification:  
Other Burning:  
Palisade:  
Counter Scarp Bank:  
Berm:  
Unfinished:  
No Known Excavation:  
Other:  

Gang Working

Gang Working:  ✗ 

Ditches

Ditches:  

Number of Ditches:  3:  Up to three ditches.

Annex

Annex:  ✗  

References

Brown, I. 2009. Beacons in the landscape. The hillforts of England a d Wales, Oxford: Windgather Press/Oxbow Books.

Gale, J. 2003. Prehistoric Dorset, Stroud: Tempus Publishing.

RCHME 1970. An inventory of historical monuments in the County of Dorset, Vol 2, pt 3: south-east, 493-501,London: RCHME.

Sharples, N.M. 1991. Maiden Castle. Excavations and filed survey 1985-6. London: English Heritage.

Sharples, N.M. 1991. Maiden Castle, Batsford/English Heritage.

Wheeler, R.E.M. 1943. Maiden Castle, Dorset, Soc Antiq Res Rept 12, Oxford

Terms of Use

The online version of the Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland should be cited as:

Lock, G. and Ralston, I. 2017.  Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland. [ONLINE] Available at: https://hillforts.arch.ox.ac.uk.

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