A hill fort on Beacon Hill

During the investigation of the Winchester - Chichester Roman Road running into Exton it was found that there was an entry on the Hants Sites & Monuments Record of a Hollow Way running down the Hundred Boundary on Beacon Hill. Such a Hollow Way might be formed by a Roman Road, and the entry was investigated. The land around Beacon Hill is shown on the map below. The Roman Road in fact runs down the lane in the SW corner of this map - and the survey map of it in is Ref 1.

The Hundred Boundary is the line of dots to the north of the Roman Road at the southern edge of the wood Beaconhill Beaches. Hundreds were important entities in the past and were shown on earlier editions of OS maps. They were a group of parishes, possibly producing 100 warriors. They had their own self-government in Saxon times through the Hundred Moot, to which each parish sent 1 or 2 representatives for each meeting. The Hundred Moot sent reps to the Shire Moot. These two Moots also acted as civil and criminal courts into the Norman period - though now under Norman control.

The Hundred Boundary proceeds from the western edge of the map as a ditch and bank with footpath. At the trig point marked 659' it turns slightly north of east, and one can see that the hill spur forms a narrowing summit with steep drops on either side. Near the Tumulus with letters FS beside it, the summit widens considerably. About 60' west of this Tumulus, near the summit's narrowest part, the Hundred Boundary starts to become a terrace on the northern hillside near the summit. It soon starts to develop a Hollow Way, but its cut-back can be made out on its up-hill side, suggesting that it was originally a terrace with the Hollow Way formed by water action. This is illustrated in the Sketch Section shown to the north - the Hundred Boundary is shown as HB. Below another smaller terrace can be seen starting on the very steep hillside.

Some 150' east of the said Tumulus a third upper terrace starts. The arrangement here is shown in the Sketch Section to the north, the lower terrace in the wood and undergrowth. As we proceed down the Hundred Boundary, the upper and lower terrace develop Hollow Ways, and the whole arrangement begins to bend round to the south following the eastern end of the spur. The Hundred Boundary carries on down the fields as a small bank. Clearly this is not a Roman Road - although that to the SW does form 3 lanes on 3 terraces. At the point we have reached - near the letter E on the map - it looks more like an Iron Age Hill Fort with high banks and deep ditches. But each starts off as a terrace, and a Hollow Way develops and grows in size - which is the typical result of water action - and is more likely the cause of the deep ditches.


At the letter E on the map there is something of a break in the ditches and banks, and two banks climb the hill at right angles to the ditches some 10' apart. It cannot be seen now what purpose they would serve - but it might have been an entrance with wooden structures forming gate ways. This is likely to rule out an Iron Age Hill Fort, although it may still be a Bronze Age one - or something much later as will be discussed.

To the south of E the arrangement is shown in the easterly Sketch Section. Here there is only one Hollow Way or ditch - the upper and lower terraces being in good condition. They run into very overgrown ground.


One terrace can be found reappearing on the south side of the spur, and going back up to the FS Tumulus. However air photography indicates that three structures are present on this side, as 3 dark lines with lighter lines between them (Ref 2). The dark lines are shown on the map. The upper and longest line corresponds with the observed terrace going up to the FS Tumulus. It is not clear if this comes out of the overgrown area, or is higher up but not visible. The other two structures would be below the visible terrace, but neither can be definitely seen by our optical binocular methods.

The Sketch Section to the south suggests how three terraces could give rise to the air photo effects. On sloping surfaces it has to be appreciated that soils are on the move - not by much during our lifetime - but appreciable during an historical time scale. For example, on a Roman Cut-back (that's the up-hill increase in slope where the terrace has been cut out of the hillside) it is often found that there is no subsoil. Subsoil takes around a 1000 years to form, and is found on a Roman terrace - but on the Cut-back the soils may have flowed completely off the Cut-back in 1000 years so there is only top soil. On the steep slope on the southern side of this spur the soil-flow downhill will be appreciable and will tend to flow onto a terrace and fill it up. Thus in the Sketch Section, the Upper Terrace is partly filled with soil - but part is clearly visible up the hillside - the substantially increase thickness of soil on this terrace will show as a dark line on the air photo, while the part of the terrace still exposed shows as a lighter line. The Middle Terrace is nearly be not quite filled - giving a darker line from the increase in soil, and a light line for the fragment not covered - but this fragment is not big enough to show up in the rough grass. The Lower Terrace is completely filled - and shows up as a darker line on the air photo. The letters D & L on the Sketch Section show where the Dark & Light lies are formed.

Map error

The air photo does not bear great resemblance to the map. In order to project the air photo image onto the map the air photo image had to be rotated anticlockwise by 28 degrees to get the line of the Hundred Boundary (edge of wood) and for the dark line to come back to the FS Tumulus. Using air photography with Roman Roads with their straight alignments has been found to throw up many OS errors. Features such as field boundaries are not accurately shown, and whole villages can be 100' out from near by features This region of difficult country has caused other errors to come in. The air photo is likely to be the more accurate, but if the OS had shown the southern features in relation to the Tumulus they are likely to appear as on the map.


The visible southern feature is a terrace, though with a slight Hollow Way on it in places. It is likely this was a fort guarded by mainly or wholly terrace fortifications, which would have had palisades on the edges. It encloses the end of a spur, which is approached from the west by a narrow summit which widens out considerably in the region of the two Tumuli. This region could accommodate the local community with its livestock. The western approach could be easily defended along the narrow summit. The northern and southern slopes are very steep, and the eastern slopes become steep in the region of the terraces.

Bronze Age forts used terraces, though they also built ditches and banks. In our study of the Saxon Charter of the Hundred of Crondall it was found that in three places fortified sites had been constructed with terrace fortifications on sloping ground, and ditches and banks on flat ground. Though in two of these there was no flat ground as they encircled hills (Ref 3). The Saxons built a system of Burghs to provide refuge in time of danger for the local communities and their livestock. There is a list, but few can be identified on the ground. One that can, at Eashing in Surrey overlooking the river Wey, we have found is defended by system of terraces on the escarpment of the river Wey and two valleys which run into it. The fourth side on flatter ground probably had a ditch and bank - but little can be seen of it now. This Beacon Hill feature could be such a Burgh, serving the string of Saxon communities in the Meon valley below - West Meon, Warnford, Exton, Meonstoke, Corhampton.

Principal Surveyors

Jerry Revell, Richard Whaley

Map Caption OS Hants Sheet 59 NW, 6" : 1 mile 3rd edition revised 1908, spliced to 51 SW, air photo dark lines add.


1. Survey 9 - The White Way into Exton NEHHAS Journal Vol 8 2013 on-line, FAB e News 8 Autumn 2013. http://www.nehhas.org.uk/rrch9.htm
2. www.bing.com & gettamapping, 2012, contrast enhanced 70%.
3. Richard Whaley & Geof Hoare Crondall Hundred Boundary NEHHAS Journal Vol 2 2002, pp10, 17, 31.