Old Winchester Hill Fort - outer defences

Composite Map

The above is a Composite Map of the Outer Defences by fitting the individual Survey Maps together. If printing, set your margins to 19mm. The impression is that these are planned as Outer Defences to the Hill Fort, by enclosing the high grounds which are adjacent to the traditional ramparts and which can be defended by a combination of sloping ground and natural escarpments. The southern outer defences run along the southern slopes of Old Winchester Hill, the Outermost sometimes not far from the valley bottom. This occurs elsewhere for the Outermost - except along the east side which are at considerable height.

We do not know at what point in the Hill Fort's history they were constructed, nor how long they remained in use. Little is known about this Hill Fort. Not all were occupied, but were used in times of danger. Some were occupied, with the chief likely to be in residence, but with periods when they were not - with people living in settlements below. This one is of simple construction, relying on the very steep hill sides - except for the narrow east - which has a flat approach. This may have had more Outer Defences - fragments of two others may show up in LIDAR.

We have recognised three Outer Defences, but the Innermost designated 3 on the SW Survey Map was largely recognised by LIDAR, and its northern circuit is largely unknown. It is the other two Outer Defences which enclose the greater area - and they often run quite close together, or directly one above the other. However, north of the dyke system across the narrow summit of the downs only the Outermost Defence encloses the land. The system is prone to attack from the SE corner from the high table land to the east - across another narrow summit there. Here there may be more defences than we have detected. For if an attacker breached the two Outermost Defences here, he could occupy the whole of the enclosed lands without any Outer Defences opposing him. For if the SE Survey area was occupied we have detected no fortification protecting the SW Survey land. The same may be true if the single Outer Defence of the NE Survey was breached - depending on whether dyke system there was more extensive than we have detected. This is evidence that these Outer Defences were maintained up the steep valleys - for then the second Outer Defence would remain if the Northern Circuit was breached. This seems to prove that the whole system is designed to be controlled from the Hill Fort, who could direct re-enforcements, or order people and live stock to a higher level Outer Defence - or the evacuation of the Northern Circuit south along the fortified way to nearer the Hill Fort.

Thus most of these Outer Defences are visible from the Hill Fort. Only the extreme west, south-east, and north-east would fall out of sight - but the ramparts were likely to be twice as high as they now are - which would reduce this somewhat, and no point would be far from a signalling station.

Live Stock

The area enclosed is around thirty times that enclosed by the traditional ramparts. This vast area is not strictly speaking providing Outer Defences for the traditional ramparts - but to provide secure grazing for their live stock, especially in times of danger. The safety of their animals would be extremely important to them - and they would not be able to maintain them for long within the traditional ramparts. Likewise, raiding their cattle would be an important objective for any attacker. Little is known of the Celtic Culture of the Iron Age. More is known from Homer's poems of the Mycenaean civilisation - Bronze Age Greece. This is a little earlier than our Iron Age, but probably a higher level civilisation, though lower level metal technology (Ref 1). Here cattle raiding is certainly part of war activities, with the sack of settlements and carrying off the loot, including women. A notable coup was secured by rounding up the Trojan cattle before the siege of Troy (Ref 2).

Thus we can expect similar objectives when the numerous Hill Forts seen in Britain were in conflict with each other. Even if you were not able to storm the elaborately constructed ramparts, to make off with a sizeable proportion of your opponent's animals would provide a notable shift in power in your favour. After your manpower and your fortifications, your animals would be the next source of your wealth. With the loss of most of them you may not be able to feed your manpower, especially if climate fluctuations produced poor harvests. Building them up again could take a long time - and leave you at risk of further cattle raids to keep you weak. It is not surprising therefore to find elaborate arrangements for the security of animals, which might also provide security for growing crops. It will be important to see if other Hill Forts provide these elaborate arrangements.

The three maps

The three maps define specific areas. The SW map is largely enclosing a rounded hill some way below the traditional ramparts (300' - 400', c/f 600' - 650'). It has natural escarpments on 3 sides which provides superb defence. The fighting terraces would also act as our modern fenced fields, reducing stock management time. Indeed, they may have been maintained by people who did not normally live in the traditional ramparts. The Celts for much of their time did not live in or cultivate the river valleys - so this hill may have had a settlement. The hill top seems to have been flattened, and the air photo we have of it has marks which may be worth investigating.

The SE map contains the relatively flat table land approach, from which the major attack can be expected, plus the very steep slopes north and south of the ramparts. This may be why there is no attempt to enclose more land to the east, but concentrate on holding the high ridge along which the eastern Outermost Defence runs. The land between the Outermost and Second Outer Defence also rises, due to a steep valley running in from the south. The Second Outer positions itself near the top of this brow, after which the land is largely flat to the ramparts. Another steep valley runs in from the south, with LIDAR suggesting further Outer Defences may make use of it, but have not been seen on the ground. The high ground followed by the eastern Outermost Defence becomes a narrow high way, which acts as a bridge for the NE enclosed area.

The NE map contains a table top that widens north of the dyke system at its narrowest part. It is at a similar height as the ramparts, falling slightly towards its northern defences. It also encloses land west of the parish boundary, which falls to the 400' contour. It is also likely that this enclosed area was serving people who did not usually live in the traditional ramparts. There may have been a settlement on this table top - if these people were apt to live at 550' - 600'.


These features were recovered as a result of mapping the Roman Road to Chichester which runs along the southern slopes of Old Winchester Hill. We have paused in our progress towards Chichester to record these findings (Refs 3 - 6). Further work is needed to establish if there were settlements within the SW and NE Survey Maps. This can be done by field walking when these hill top fields have been ploughed and log the intensity of any pottery recovered. Such pottery will occur if there were settlements in these areas, and if so some dating may be assigned. Study of larger scale air photos of these regions may indicate potential structures, together with LIDAR. These could be subject to magnetometary and resistivity. These lands are privately owned cultivated fields, whereas lands around the traditional ramparts are held by Natural England as nature reserves, and intrusive archaeology is not allowed.

This will be entered on our Projects Page, and can proceed when we have sufficient interested manpower and time.

Richard Whaley


1. Homer, Illiad & Oddyssey, translated E V Rieu, Penguin
2. R Castleden, Attack on Troy, Pen & Sword, 2006
3. Outer Defences found to Iron Age Hill fort, FAB e News 11 Spring 2015 http://www.nehhas.org.uk/owhf0.htm
4. South-West Survey, FAB e News 12 Summer 2015 http://www.nehhas.org.uk/owhf1.htm
5. South - East Survey, FAB e News 12 Summer 2015 http://www.nehhas.org.uk/owhf2.htm
6. North - East Survey, FAB e News 13 Autumn 2015 http://www.nehhas.org.uk/owhf3.htm

To print Landscape Copy of the Composite Map

Click here for larger Compsite Map then check your margins 9mm and set to Landscape [File - Print Set-up - Landscape, Margins 9mm. File - Print.. You may need to set all Headers & Footers to Empty]. After printing reset to default margins and Portrait.