Visit Date: 16th June 2012

Weather: Today was extremely windy, with a shower of rain. This made it quite hard to determine the shape of the land surface as the long grasses were being blown about, and the rain prohibited many of the photographs I would otherwise have taken as well as limiting visibility.


Burghclere Beacon, or Beacon Hill, Hampshire is a site I’ve visited quite a few times, almost always, it seems, in vile weather. We were going to attempt some kite aerial photography, but it was just too windy for that..

We parked in the carpark to the east of Beacon Hill, having followed the brown signs from the A34 to get there. The ascent is fairly steep and, where the underlying chalk is exposed, can be slippery in wet weather.

The view back down Beacon Hill May 2010. Copyright K Bragg

The ramparts are very well defined still, and the curve of the hour-glass shape of the enclosure is really remarkably smooth. It was at this point I decided that the ditches were for you to shelter in when the windy was this strong, as it was quite hard to stand up.

The curve of the ramparts at the northern section. June 2012. Copyright K Bragg

As one does, we walked around the ramparts as far as the original south-east-facing entrance and then walked down the southern spur of the hill. The 5th Earl of Caernarvon has his tomb on the south-western point of the hillfort and I note from the Ordnance Survey maps that there is a field boundary that cuts off this point from the rest of the hillfort, which is interesting as the rest of the field boundaries go round the hillfort not through it. You can just about see it on Google Earth, as a line that cuts off that point.

Entrance to the hillfort, looking towards the southern spur. June 2012. Copyright K Bragg


To the west of the path is a strange square thing, shown on the Ordnance Survey map as a disused pit. I have not yet discovered what kind of pit it is. It is shown on old Ordnance Survey maps as just square earthworks and the later ones as a disused pit, so someone must know!

Disused pit on southern spur of Beacon Hill May 2010. Copyright K Bragg

Walking further down the spur, we came to a low bank, perpendicular to the path. There did not seem to be a ditch associated with it (although it was hard to see the actual ground surface), and a look at some old Ordnance Survey maps shows a field boundary at approximately that position, so my best guess is that it is an old hedgebank.


Linear bank, possibly an old field boundary June 2012. Copyright K Bragg

As we walked down the hill, we could see ‘steps’ in the path where the ground level changed height suddenly but because the grass was so long and the wind so strong, it wasn’t really possible to get a good view of what was going on *off* the path.

Having reached the bottom of the hill and faced a gate saying ‘private land’, we turned and climbed the hill again. Facing uphill, we could see clearly that there was an edge running parallel to the path (so running north-south) which was apparent even in photographs. Looking at Google Earth, it can be seen from the air, as can some similar earthworks on the eastern side of the southern spur. At one point they appear to form a square shape and could possibly be said to be parallel. However, I then looked at the 1999 images from Google Earth (what a wonderful feature!) and they showed my edge (and a section of earthwork to the north of it) as forming the boundary of an area of different-coloured land – the hill was pale green but the area downhill of this edge was dark, lush green implying something different was happening there. I cannot see a field boundary on this alignment on the old Ordnance Survey maps so it doesn’t seem to have been a permanent thing. I shall have to see what else I can find out.

The Edge, as visible from downslope June 2012. Copyright K Bragg

There is apparently the remains of a barrow near to the path, but I’m afraid I didn’t manage to spot it.

Entering the hillfort again, we followed the ramparts to complete the circuit and then descended the hill back to the car.


Visit date: 5th May 2012

Weather: Cold and windy, bright but cloudy


The field trip was conducted by Land Rover and was a discontinuous selection of sites, rather than a progression around a landscape. For this reason, the sites visited will be listed rather than the perambulation described.

  • Snail Down Barrow Cemetery
  • Fittleton Long Barrow
  • Lidbury
  • Chisenbury Warren
  • East Chisenbury Midden


Chisenbury Warren

Grid Reference: SU 1785 5380

Site Overview

Chisenbury Warren presents as a series of earthworks 500m long (Fulford et al. 2006 : 54) covering approximately six hectares (Short 2006 :78), with a trackway leading into, and across the length of the earthworks (McOmish et al. 2002 : 100).  It is on the side of a gently-sloping, south-east-facing hill at the eastern end of Rainbow Bottom on Salisbury Plain (McOmish et al. 2002 : 98).  Despite the presence of a medieval rabbit warren in the woods behind the settlement, there is no evidence of extensive damage to the site, and no record of previous excavation, just the occasional surface find (Fulford et al. 2006 : 54).


Figure 1: Chisenbury Warren from the south-east April 2011. Copyright K Bragg.

Figure 2: Trackway leading into Chisenbury Warren from the south west April 2011. Copyright K Bragg.

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1980 Accidental Discovery Fulford et al. reported that in the cutting of an infantry trench in the 1980s, an adult female was found, and an individual burial. It was not clear if this represented the location of a cemetery or just a single burial event (Fulford et al. 2006 : 54).
1993 Excavation Reading University excavated and a geophysical survey was done to confirm the earthworks, this also revealed pits and ditches. The object of the excavation was to establish whether what was visible as surface remains represented an entire village (i.e. all the builds were contemporary with each other) or whether what the earthworks represented was in fact a drift in settlement over time. Another objective was to determine if all the platforms represented dwellings or if a mix of uses was represented. As this is one of the best-preserved examples of its kind, it was also important to establish the state of the below-ground remains to inform the conservation of other sites (Fulford et al. 2006 : 54).


Chronology and Current Interpretation

Excavation showed that the earliest settlement on the site potentially dated from the Late Iron Age (Fulford et al. 2006 : 73) with evidence for continuation of the settlement into the late Roman period (McOmish et al. 2002 : 98).

The finds from the site are consistent with activities of subsistence, industrial and domestic natures and of a rapid expansion in the early Roman period from a smaller site (Fulford et al. 2006 : 73-74)

Figure 3: Chisenbury Warren settlement and fields, Wiltshire. Romano-British village. (Source Wilson 2011 Fig 1)

Chisenbury Warren is a ‘ladder-style’ nucleated settlement – so-called because its main axis is a single lane or street and the buildings are arranged around it (Wilson 2011 : 2).


East Chisenbury ‘Midden’

Grid Reference:  SU14605323

Site Overview

The site occupies a false-crested position on a spur overlooking the River Avon (McOmish et al. 2010 :37), just north-west of the village of East Chisenbury. From the site a good view in most directions is possible.


Figure 4: View of and from East Chisenbury Midden, looking east-ish May 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

The site itself consists of a mound of deposited material covering approximately five hectares and up to two metres deep (Wilts SMR SU 15 SW 154).


Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
Late 1700s Visit Colt Hoare visited the site and was made aware of the fertility of the land, and made finds of ‘rude British pottery’ but did not, it seems, recognize the mound as being other than the natural slope of the hill (McOmish et al. 2010 : 37-38).
1945 Excavation Walls and Bray and then Bray alone excavated at a location probably on the northern edge of the mound, and found much pottery and bone (McOmish et al. 2010 : 38-39).
1992-1993 Rediscovery of site, then excavation As the site was under threat from the development of a routeway, and prior to the information from the 1945 excavation being unearthed, an augur survey and test pit strategy was proposed to establish the nature of the site. Some of the augur probes did not reach the bottom of the deposit, implying the ground level was not level beneath the mound (McOmish et al. 2010 :43).In both test pits a complex sequence of deposits was found, with similar content in each test pit. The excavators felt they could tell separate deposition events apart only when the materials were of different composition, but some events seem to have been ‘capped off’ with a layer of compacted chalk to form a surface (McOmish et al. 2010 :50).Beneath the mound, the excavators noticed a layer thought to be a buried land surface and possibly plough soil, with what looked to be evidence for settlement beneath this.



Figure 5: RCHME earthwork survey plan. (Source McOmish et al. 2010 Fig. 3)

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The mound at East Chisenbury contains a complicated sequence of deposits of varying compositions, including ashy material, waste products and LBA/EIA pottery. It is surely difficult to generalize from such a small sample from such a large site, but McOmish et al. consider the excavations to show that the mound consists of material collected and potentially stored elsewhere (little weathering is observed) and then transported to the site and deposited, a suggestion reinforced by the mixture of both late and early pottery forms in one deposit. The animal waste and bedding does not appear to have been produced in situ as the edges of the deposits are not consistent with trampling having occurred (McOmish et al. 2010 : 86-87).

The ‘settlement’ beneath the midden also contains pottery of the All Cannings Type but appears to have been short-lived and the area returned to agricultural production before the formation of the midden (McOmish et al. 2010 : 88-89).

The compacted chalk layers do not seem to be ‘pavements’ as suggested for the similar features discovered by Maud Cunnington at All Cannings, and particularly the upper layer of compacted chalk is interesting as it seems less localized and may have covered the entire mound. McOmish et al. therefore suggest that it is consistent with a ‘capping’ event that would have left the deposit white and very visible (McOmish et al. 2010 : 87). This idea seems similar to how modern humans dispose of their rubbish, it is collected up in a single place and then covered over with concrete. In the case of East Chisenbury, however, the midden deposits continued above this layer (McOmish et al. 2010 : 88), so it was not a process termination indicator. Tubb (2011b : 40) suggests that the chalk layers may be viewed as a deposit in themselves. It is pointed out that a chemical reaction between the midden deposits and the chalk would produce a fungicidal chemical (McOmish et al. 2010 : 88). It would be very interesting to see if there were evidence for exploitation of this in the form of extraction holes, or perhaps gaps in the chalk layer where the reacting mass was removed entire.

Tubb (2011) broadly agreed with the deposition mechanisms as posited by McOmish et al., namely that material was potentially transported to the site having been curated elsewhere; material was generated onsite as a result of specialised activity; or that the site was in fact both settlement and midden: a form of tell (McOmish et al. 2010 : 84-86). Where Tubb takes exception is with the classification of the midden material itself as an unwanted product; he would rather it be seen as part of a complicated process of social reproduction in a time of change and transition. He suggests that the primary purpose of All Cannings Ware is to do with feasting and display, and that the deposition of examples of this material, plus the byproducts and waste products of that feasting process are of importance to society. Instead of the municipal landfill site, this is instead a record of a society’s reaction to a change in how relationships are formed and renegotiated, and a visual statement of that process in a prominent landscape position.


Fulford, M.G. et al., 2006. Iron Age and Romano-British Settlements and Landscapes of Salisbury Plain, Salisbury: Wessex Archaeology Report 20.

McOmish, D. et al., 2002. The Field Archaeology of the Salisbury Plain Training Area First Edit., English Heritage.

McOmish, D., Field, D. & Brown, G., 2010. The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Midden Site at East Chisenbury, Wiltshire. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 103, pp.35-101.

Short, B., 2006. England’s Landscape: The South East, Collins/English Heritage.

Tubb, P.C., 2011a. Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age transition sites in the Vale of Pewsey : the East Chisenbury midden in its regional context. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Magazine, 104, pp.44-61.

Tubb, P.C., 2011b. The LBA/EIA Transition in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire, Oxford: British Archaeological Reports (British Series 543).

Wilson, P., 2011. Introduction to Heritage Assets: Roman Settlements, Swindon: English Heritage. Available at:


Visit date: 4th March 2012

Weather: Initially driving rain, then blizzard


This field trip took us on a walk past Withy Copse and out onto the area within the enclosure. We did some random surface collection to demonstrate how much material was visible on the surface of a ‘black earth’ site. It then began to snow – really heavily –  and we retreated to Devizes Museum to look at the fabulous exhibits there (and thaw out).

Figure 1: Blizzard on Martinsell 4th March 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

Withy Copse

Grid Reference: SU17216429

Site Overview

The site itself is a low mound within a wooded area, on a slope to the north of Martinsell enclosure and was described by Maud Cunnington (1909 :125) as being no more than 0.75m  height above ground level, and covering just over 19m long and a maximum width of just over 13m. The mound is at a distance of about 91m from the rampart of the enclosure (Cunnington 1909a : 18) and is in a south-west to north-east orientation (1909 :125).

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1907-8 Excavation Maud and Ben Cunnington excavated the mound, which they described as consisting of “a fine black mould” (1909 :125). Within this were found animal bone (mostly sheep, pig and ox); large quantities of pot sherds (more numerous towards the surface) and a fibulae.  (1909 :127). Also discovered was a filled-in ditch that Cunnington speculated might have been associated with a structure on the site but did not excavate due to the extension this would cause to the current excavation and the vegetation cover (1909 :125).
1975 Finds Evaluation The Savernake Ware collected by the Cunningtons was reassessed by Swan and the interpretation of the site as a kiln was put forward again on the basis that whilst there were no vastly distorted vessels that Mrs Cunnington might have considered diagnostic of ‘wasters’, there were indications of firing irregularities, and of items that may have been kiln furniture (Swan 1975 :38). Swan also proposed a later, and post-conquest date for the pottery, but this has subsequently been proven uncertain by Timby demonstrating the origins of Savernake Ware pre-dated the conquest (Timby 2001: 73-84 cited in Tubb 2011: 101).


Chronology and Current Interpretation

Cunnington mentions that it had been suggested that the mound was the remains of a kiln site, as so much pottery was discovered, but she dismissed this on the grounds that no malformed ‘waster’ pots were discernable (Cunnington 1909a :18) and her previous excavations had included kiln sites at Milton Lilbourne (Tubb 2011 :100) so she may be assumed to have felt able to recognize such when seen. Her interpretation, based on the types of pottery found, and the date of the fibulae was that this was a Late Pre-Roman Iron Age midden (Tubb 2011 :100). She stopped short of associating it with the hilltop enclosure, as she pointed out that the date of this was unknown (Cunnington 1909a :18). Cunnington was especially careful to point out that the absence of Gaulish Samian ware (when other sites locally show a presence), coupled with the imported Arratine Ware giving a range of second century BC to early first century AD indicate that the site was earlier than the conquest and did not continue beyond (Cunnington 1909a :19-21). Having been vindicated in the dating by Timby’s work Cunnington’s assessment of the site as a rubbish heap rests on the validity of Swan’s assessment of whether or not there was evidence for a kiln, and this isn’t clear without further investigation.


Martinsell Hilltop Enclosure

Grid Reference:  SU 1766 6395

Site Overview

The hill on which the enclosure is sited is one of the highest points in southern England and the third highest point in Wiltshire (the other two occurring further west in the same range) (Tubb 2011 :99). The enclosure itself covers approximately 13 hectares (NMR SU 16 SE 6) and follows the contours of the hill (Tubb 2011 :118). The enclosure is formed of a single ditch and bank, with the ditch on the outside and where the topography provides less natural defence on the western side, the rampart is more pronounced (Corney & Payne 2006).

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1821 (pub’d) Survey and excavation Colt-Hoare excavated but without finding any evidence for habitation (Goddard 1913 :307).
1970s Surface Collection Late Bronze Age – Early Iron Age pottery found on surface of interior after ploughing (Tubb 2011 :116)
1996 Geophysical Survey The Wessex Hillforts Project surveyed the interior of the enclosure with a magnetometer, which showed a few anomalies, but the results were such that no evidence for occupation could really be proposed (Corney & Payne 2006 :120).


Chronology and Current Interpretation

Cunliffe (2005 :422) gives Martinsell as an example of an early hilltop enclosure associated with an extensive system of linears, which he interprets as to do with cattle management (2005 :424). Tubb ( 2011 :118) rejects Cunliffe’s comparison of Martinsell with other Iron Age sites such as Balksbury and Walbury and suggests that a more reasonable comparison would be Liddington Castle, visible from Martinsell itself.

Despite the reported finds of LBA/EIA pottery from within the enclosure, Tubb considers them to be residual and unconnected with the construction of the ramparts, an activity he attributes to the Early Iron Age. He also notes an absence of evidence for Middle Iron Age activity on the hilltop, a gap that continues until the end of the Iron Age, stating that any activity may have been less archaeologically perceptible, rather than absent (Tubb 2011 :122).

The results of the Wessex Hillforts Project’s geophysical assessment lead Payne et al. to suggest that Martinsell was unlike many of the hillforts in the region and had perhaps been used as a temporary camp or for seasonal gatherings (Corney & Payne 2006 :120). The question as to what activity may have occurred inside hillforts has been the subject of much discussion, with Hill roundly rejecting Cunliffe’s view of Iron Age society, which he claims is based on Irish Medieval Society and the opinions of classical writers, and which requires hillforts to be central places supported by a strict hierarchical society (Hill 1996). Hill points out that much of what Cunliffe claimed made Danebury a central place, could be found in other Iron Age settlements (Hill 1996 : 96-99). Perhaps because hillforts are highly visible to archaeologists, their importance has been overstated and a greater knowledge of unenclosed settlement patterns may redress the balance.

It may be that the landscape position and the nature of the hill-form itself determined that an enclosure would serve a purpose; Tubb suggests that the visibility of Martinsell from quite a wide area around would make this a prominent place. He also points out that the LBA/EIA activity, in the form of Black-earth sites in the locality would have already marked out the place as a location of importance in the local “landscape mythology”. Therefore meaning that the transition in activity between that which required/created the Black-earth sites and the creation of the hill-top enclosure, may be seen as a continuity (Tubb 2011 :122).


Corney, M. & Payne, A., 2006. The Monuments and Their Setting. In A. Payne, M. Corney, & B. Cunliffe, eds. The Wessex Hillforts Project: extensive survey of hillfort interiors in central southern England. London: English Heritage, pp. 39-130.

Cunliffe, B., 2005. Iron Age Communities in Britain: an account of England, Scotland and Wales 4th Editio., Abingdon: Routledge.

Cunnington, M.E., 1909a. 11. Notes on a Late Celtic Rubbish Heap Near Oare, Wiltshire. Man, 9, pp.18-21.

Cunnington, M.E., 1909b. Notes on a Late Celtic Rubbish Heap Near Oare, Wiltshire. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, XXXVI(CXI), pp.125-139.

Goddard, E.H., 1913. List of Prehistoric, Roman, and Pagan Saxon Antiquities. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 38, pp.153-378.

Hill, J.D., 1996. Hill-forts and the Iron Age of Wessex. In T. C. Champion & J. R. Collis, eds. The Iron Age in Britain and Ireland: Recent Trends. J. R. Collis Publications, pp. 95-116.

Swan, V.G., 1975. Oare Reconsidered and the Origins of Savernake Ware in Wiltshire. Britannia, 6, pp.36-61.

Timby, J., 2001. A reappraisal of Savernake Ware. In P. Ellis, ed. Roman Wiltshire and After: papers in honour of Ken Annable. Devizes: Wiltshire Archaeological And Natural History Society.

Tubb, P.C., 2011. The LBA/EIA Transition in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire, Oxford: British Archaeological Reports (British Series 543).

The Great Ridge forms a backbone of chalk above the river valleys of the Wylye, to the north, and the Nadder, to the south. The top of the ridge is capped with clay-with-flints (Grinsell 1957: 12), and then a fine silt, possibly a loess (Rackham 1976: 6). Rackham also suggests that there may be a perched water table leading to springs on the ridge itself (Rackham 1976: 7).

The amount of woodland on the Ridge has varied, although Rackham cites the presence of a wide range of woodland flora as evidence that there has been a persistent core of woodland (Rackham 1976 : 13).

Figure 1: Approximate area of native woodland on the Ridge over the last 2500 years. Source: Rackham 1976 Figure 2

According to data from the Wiltshire SMR, the evidence for activity in the Neolithic includes a cluster of long barrows near the parish boundaries around Sherrington  and a series of findspots.

The use of the ridge for burial activity seems to have continued into the Early Bronze Age, with several clusters of round barrows in the area (Howarth 2009 : 129).

A study of the SMR mapping shows that most of the visible area of the ridge is covered with field systems. Most of these have no direct dating evidence. It is not always possible to distinguish between LBA, IA and RB field system based on morphology alone (Bradley & Yates 2007), but field systems start to appear in Wessex in the mid to late Bronze Age (Field 2008 :202) as land-use intensifies and previously open land becomes enclosed (Serjeantson 2007: 80). However, some of the field systems here appear to overlie Iron Age activity e.g. over the ditch of Grovely Castle (NMR SU 03 NW 21), and therefore post-date it, suggesting a definition in the Iron Age or Romano-British period.

Grovely Castle (NMR SU 03 NW 21) presents as a univallate hillfort, with an unfinished ‘lumpy’ rampart to the south-west, possibly betraying construction technique (Corney 2006 :136) and reminiscent of the unfinished hillfort at Ladle Hill (Piggott 1931). From pottery buried in the ramparts, an ‘Iron Age A’ date is given (1978: 26), which would appear to be early (Hawkes 1959).

Settlement on the ridge reaches its maximum during the late Iron Age into the Romano-British period, with a complex of nucleated settlements developing (Corney 1989 :116): Stockton Earthworks, Hanging Langford Camp, Ebsbury (Grovely Earthworks) and Hamshill Ditches. There may be earlier, unenclosed, settlement but as Thomas (1997 :212) points out, this is less archaeologically visible. Smith notes in particular an absence of evidence for MIA on the ridge (1978: 27). He does indicate that there may be MIA down in the valley, based on pits and linears on aerial photographs (ibid: 28) and suggests that this abandoning of the ridge-top may be due to the exhaustion of the soils by EIA exploitation (ibid: 29).

Figure 2: Romano-British earthworks on the Ridge. Source: Rackham 1976 Figure 5

Ebsbury, Stockton Earthworks, Hanging Langford Camp and Hamshill Ditches are all of a type of site classified by Corney as a ‘multiple ditch system’ (Corney 1989: 116-118). In the case of Ebsbury the ditch system was perhaps slighted by later use, as a Romano-British settlement grew up further downslope (Crawford & Keiller 1928 : 120). Stockton and Hanging Langford are linked to Grim’s Ditch by linears (Corney 1989: 116) and from OS mapping, there is the beginning of a spur that may have lead down to Hamshill Ditches.

Figure 3: The Landscape around Ebsbury. Source: Smith 1978 Figure 16

Smith’s somewhat artistic interpretation of the earthworks at Ebsbury (Figure 3) gives an idea of the site as a complex and ties in Grovely Castle via a linear. Only detailed survey would prove the accuracy of this interpretation, but it may not be far wrong in spirit. There is certainly evidence for occupation within the wooded area, as areas of nettles indicate phosphates in the soil, generally caused by human activity (Rackham, 2000 :109).


Both Hamshill Ditches and Hanging Langford Camp are associated with banjo enclosures. The banjo at Church End Ring  is considerably larger than the two at Hamshill (D. J. Bonney & C. N. Moore 1967 :120 ) but is not immediately surrounded by additional earthworks as at Hamshill. In this respect, Hamshill resembles the Gussage Hill Complex in Dorset, with two pairs of banjo enclosures and an enclosing loop.

The hillfort known as Bilbury Rings has a linear, possibly of a later date than the hillfort, extending to Hanging Langford Camp from the hillfort (NMR SU 03 NW 10). As Roman material has been found in Bilbury Rings (Bowen 1961: 33) this might be related to the use in the Roman period.


Figure 4: The complex of Iron Age earthworks on Gussage Hill, overlying the line of the Cursus. Source Barrett et. al. 1991 Fig. 6.3

As with the multiple-ditch systems on the Ridge, the Gussage Hill site dates from the Iron Age and into the Romano-British period (Barrett et al. 1991 : 236).  These systems are considered to share characteristics with Oppida: activities are divided into certain areas within the enclosed space (Oswald 2011: 5), rather than being a hierarchical division of people (Davis 2008 :39), but do not exhibit the degree of urbanisation that defines the Oppida in Gaul (Henderson 2007 :264). Corney (1989: 116-120) suggests that these sites represent Durotrigan influence in the region, and Eagles points out that the placename Teffont means the spring by the boundary and has a Latin root, suggesting a boundary dating from that time in the region (Eagles 2004 :236).

Figure 5: Stockton Earthworks, Romano-British Downland Village. Source: Smith 1978 Figure 15

It has been suggested that the area of the Nadder valley may have been a border between Iron Age tribes: the Dobunni and the Durotriges (McOmish et al. 2002 : 3) and possibly the Atrebates (Cunliffe 2005: 222; Corney 1989 :120) and Belgae (Draper 2009: 28). However, Moore (2011) asserts that the concept of a ‘tribe’ may be inappropriate, and therefore the idea of a border between territories is not applicable. This said, an interface between peoples may be one of the reasons for the density and complexity of settlement on the ridge (Corney 1989 :118).

The Roman road, Margary 45b (Musty et al. 1958: 30), cuts through Grovely wood running along the ridge, from the Mendips to Old Sarum and was probably used to transport lead from the mines in the Mendips (Powell 1906 :282). As these mines were in operation from 49AD (Bonney 1972: 179), this suggests an early date for this road.

This road provides relative dating for the other large linear feature on the ridge: Grim’s Ditch. Grim’s Ditch has been filled in to allow the Roman road to cross (Bonney 1972 :180) and for the places where the Roman road is cut by the ditch, Caceres (2003) suggests that the ditch may have been later recut. That is not to say that the entirety of Grim’s Ditch is of one date; Rackham certainly considers that the continuation of Grim’s Ditch by Stockton woods is a later addition as the bank changes side of the ditch (Rackham 1976 : 16).

Figure 6: Grim’s Ditch and associated features. Source: Rackham 1976 Figure 4

This feature is mentioned in Anglo-Saxon boundary charters of the 10th Century (Hooke 1994 : 92) and the name Grim indicates a boundary (Semple 1998 :116) although this was not necessarily its earlier use (Sauer 2005 :59), despite forming manorial boundaries in the medieval period (Eagles 1994 : 25). It has been suggested that Grim’s Ditch may have been the earliest ‘ridgeway’ road across the ridge, and that the Roman road formalised this (Cochrane 1972: 10; Smith 1978: 33; Baggs et al. 1995;) .

From the 5th Century, activity on the ridge declines and Rackham states that the ridge was uninhabited (Rackham 2000 :289). When activity does appear in the historical record, it is of settlement in the valley bottoms, with many of the villages having Saxon origins e.g. Baverstock known as Babbanstoc in 968 (Wilts. SMR SU 03 SW 400). The Domesday listing for Grauelinges is just that the King’s foresters hold 1½ hides there (Thorn 1979: record 67/99). Smith (1978: 1) points out, however, that any early settlement in the valleys would be obscured. Smith (Smith 1978 :45) gives the agricultural strength of the ridge as a reason that Wilton came to such prominance in the early Medieval period, and Lewis postulates that the pattern of settlement on the chalk in the Medieval period may have been determined by Roman times (Lewis 1994 : 188) but perhaps this is more generally true for areas where it can be proved that manors succeed Roman villa sites.

Figure 7: General topography of the woods on the Grovely Ridge. Many small groves and plantations are omitted. Dotted lines show parishes. Source: Rackham 1976 Figure 1

Grovely Wood District was extra-parochial (Rackham 1976 : 3), as shown in Figure 15 above, and the resources of the woodland shared in common. A charter of 994AD gives indirect evidence for the open-field system being in operation by that date as it refers to five hides with no fixed boundary (Hooke 1994 : 92). When Grovely was later declared subject to Forest law, some time after the arrival of the Norman invaders (Richardson 2003: 17), these common rights were still claimed, especially by the men of Great Wishford parish, who had the right to pasture in the Forest (Baggs et al. 1995).

The woodland itself was divided into copses with the practice of subinfeudation allowing tenants to effectively sublet land from the lord (Rackham 2000 :100) . Evidence for coppicing in Grovely exists from 1330-32 (Bond 1994 :129) and the different regimes in each copse are still detectable. Figure 8 shows the copses as they were in 1589, around the time Grovely was disafforested (Bond 1994 :132).

Figure 8: Copses and earthworks in Grovely and Ridgeley. This is an attempted reconstruction of the copse boundaries chiefly from the 1589 Pembroke Map. Source: Rackham 1976 Fig. 6


Although much has been made of the harshness of Forest Law, in reality the Forest Courts were a source of income (Richardson 2003: 22) and the ability of the King to bestow valuable, hereditary (Crittall 1959), posts to manage the Forest was an important social factor (Rackham 2003 :185).

Figure 9: Medieval Forests and Chases. Source: Bond 1994 Fig 6.1

Figure 9 shows the approximate extent of Royal Forests and chases in the Medieval period, and it can be seen that Grovely is a tiny fraction of that Forest land. The designation of Grovely Forest has probably protected the area from agricultural encroachment (Bond 1994 :132) even in desperate times when medieval lynchets appear on steep slopes (Hare 1994: 162).


Baggs, A.P., Freeman, J. & Street, W., 1995. Parishes: Great Wishford. In D. A. Crowley, ed. A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 15: Amesbury hundred, Branch and Dole hundred. pp. 284-294. Available at: [Accessed December 9, 2011].

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