Old Wichester Hill Fort

Outer Defences found to Iron Age Hill Fort

Old Winchester Hill is a prominent Hampshire landmark east of the Meon valley. It forms a relatively flat table top, which stretches several miles to the east and north. A reputed early Iron Age Hill fort has been constructed at its western edge, where it is surrounded on three sides by steep or very steep slopes (SU640 205). The Chichester Roman Road passes along its southern slopes, and its surveys indicated in several places that there was interaction with outer defences of the Hill Fort (Ref 1). The interactions turned out to be terraces cut on sloping ground, on the down-hill edge of where it is presumed a palisade was constructed. The terrace would give a level fighting platform, and any enemy would have to fight up-hill, and overcome the extra height of the terrace build-up and palisade. We will call these fighting terraces.

It was easy to establish that the outer defences of the Iron Age Hill Fort on Old Winchester Hill extended near a mile west of the traditional ramparts - because they came off the Roman Road where we first recognised them. The Roman Road is forming two lanes since Exton, and the assumption is that the northern lane is re-using the earlier fighting terrace (Ref 1). Here they are defending a hilltop which is easy to defend and connects with the Hill Fort. The outer-most defence is shown as the blue dotted line on the 1" : 1 mile Chichester Roman Road Map towards its SE corner. The southern defence is the northern lane of Roman Road (blue line). Providing a defendable enclosure for their live-stock was probably the aim. There are at least three fighting terraces forming these outer defences - if an outer one was breached they could fall back on an inner one higher up. Though over quite long stretches two of them can run together as in the case of this westerly hill.

It was also easy to establish that they ran for half a mile SE from the traditional ramparts - again because of the Roman Road. The modern lane from West Meon to Teglease Down was likely to constitute the eastern outer defence - as can be seen it is running on the top of the downs with a steep drop to its east. These outer defences were quite close to the traditional ramparts to their immediate north and south.

The problem was how far did they extend over the downs towards West Meon. Two fighting terraces run together on lower ground to the north of the ramparts, and turn into the northerly steep valley running SE. Only one fighting terrace comes out of this valley running NW - so it is likely that such an enclosure was made over these downs. But there are many escarpments it could run along towards Warnford and West Meon, some in built up areas - and it is not obvious how it could get back to that West Meon - Teglease road (Old Winchester Hill Lane) which is likely to remain the eastern outer defence.

The break through came in the last field day of 2014, when it was realised that the lane into Warnford (Hayden Lane) runs below a natural escarpment, the top of which has been fashioned into a fighting terrace. A bank and ditch with its top flattened for a fighting terrace runs up the hill to this spot carrying on the line previously mentioned. Natural escarpments are used often in these outer defences - with a palisade on top they are virtually impregnable - here a detour has been made to use it. Then it runs down hill till the escarpment ends (where the lane is using it too). Then a large flattened bank and ditch runs up the hill to the summit of the downs (where modern masts stand).


Details of these outer defences will be given in forthcoming reports with maps, and they will finally be fitted together so the full extent of the land enclosed can be seen (in addition to the 1" map above which can be seen now). In this introductory report it is considered necessary to give an account of the traditional ramparts. For it is not clear what the OS survey symbols mean, and it is generally necessary to establish what the OS surveyors included.

The Map above of the ramparts has Sketch Sections indicating the profiles across the ramparts. Starting at the easterly side, here the ramparts are the largest as the ground is flat as it connects with the rest of the table land. There is an outermost bank, followed by a deep ditch, then the largest bank, followed by a small inner ditch. The innermost daggers shown by the OS are to indicate the inner ditch - generally there is not much of an inner bank. Generally it is assumed that the ditches would have been twice as deep, and the banks twice as high compared with what can now be seen. It is probable that the tops of the banks would have palisades, as well as the edge of the innermost ditch - these are indicated by dashed lines.

Southern Ramparts

The Southern Sketch Section shows a similar arrangement, but the land is now steeply falling to the south, and the banks are smaller. In fact, the outer bank is probably not a bank at all but just the natural hillside followed by a deep ditch. For the North Westerly Sketch Section the land is now not falling quite so steeply and the banks are bigger. For the North Easterly Sketch Section, the land is falling extremely steeply, and there is no second outer bank - instead there is a fighting terrace - the OS do not show this at all. It is important to note that such fighting terraces were used within the main ramparts in suitable conditions. Fighting terraces were the main defences on the Hill Fort at Beacon Hill, on the other side of the Meon Valley (Ref 2).

The English Heritage website gives the scheduling details for this Hill Fort. There is no mention of these extensive fighting terraces. To the west they mention a regular arrangement of slight scarps enclosing small rectangular fields. Neither of these is apparent today, and their map does not extend nearly far enough west to embrace our fighting terraces. To the south they mention a double bank trackway c 8m wide running outside the defences but parallel to them, and they possibly imply it may be part of the defences. This in fact is the dotted line on the above map crossing the 500' contour, and continuous line to the west. We interpret it as double fighting terraces. This we originally thought might be the Roman Road - but it was the first feature we recognised that goes round the hill. About where the line becomes continuous, the northern fighting terrace can be seen rising up over the grassland to BM 466.2 - where it can again be recognised as a fighting terrace in wood land. The lower of the two fighting terraces continues westward on the continuous line beyond the limits of the above map. To the east the fighting terraces do not go the whole length of the dotted line, but peel off to head northwards.

The outer-most fighting terrace is the northern lane of the Roman Road, the two lanes are shown dashed on the above map. These fields are under cultivation, and the course is mainly from air photography. It goes eastwards nearly to the parish boundary, then swings northwards on the side of the valley visible in the contours - to the point where the parish boundary meets the modern lane. This lane going northwards is the most easterly defence, in places multiple fighting terraces. Going westwards it remains with the Roman Road, until the fighting terrace climbs and turns northwards. Its course can be seen from the above link to the 1" map.

The English Heritage website mentions small flint clearance mounds associated with the Celtic fields to the west of the ramparts. None were recognised, but the issue may be relevant in the east where the southern outer defences peel off northwards.

North of Ramparts

The two outermost southern fighting terraces go round much of the westerly circuit together, and immediately north of the ramparts are following field boundaries near the 400' contour. The maps show that very steep valleys run in towards the ramparts. Only one fighting terrace comes out of the most northerly of these valleys, to continue near the 400' contour onto the northern circuit - the course can be seen from the link to the 1" map above. It seems this northern circuit is protected mainly by a single fighting terrace - compared with two for much of the westerly circuit.

Principal Surveyors

Philip Rowbotham. Richard Whaley

Map Caption Old Winchester Hill, OS Hants Sheet 59 NE, 6" : 1 mile, 3rd edition revised 1908. 1000' scale is in SE corner.The Sketch Sections are through the ramparts, dashed lines indicate likely palisades.


1. Chichester Roman Road Survey 11, FAB e News 9 Summer 2014 http://www.nehhas.org.uk/rrch11.htm, Survey 12, e News 11 Spring 2015 http://www.nehhas.org.uk/rrch12.htm

2. Richard Whaley A Hill Fort on Beacon Hill, NEHHAS FAB e News 9 Summer 2014, http://www.nehhas.org.uk/bhhf.htm

For the Outer Defences Surveys:

South West Survey
South East Survey
North East Survey