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Guest Author Essay: Rural Settlement and Agriculture

Author: Dr. Keith Ray, County Archaeologist for Herefordshire (2004) 

Hillforts and their annexes

There is a reasonable amount of evidence for continuity of occupation of some hillforts into at least the later first century AD. Besides Sutton Walls (Kenyon, 1954), such evidence has been forthcoming from within forts at Credenhill nearby (Stanford, 1971), and from Dinedor and Aconbury (Kenyon, op. cit.). Intensive occupation has been noted from excavations within Poston Camp near Peterchurch (Anthony, 1958). Further finds of Romano-British coins or pottery have been recorded from Iron Age hillforts. These latter include Herefordshire Beacon, Backbury Camp near Stoke Edith in the Frome Valley, Risbury Camp and Uphampton Camp west of Leominster. Further sites include Gaer Cop, Hentland, Wall Hills, Ledbury (Walters, 1908, 193), Timberline Camp, Madley and Capler Camp in the Wye Valley near Ross.

Occupation within hillfort annexes is likely at Ivington Camp near Leominster, at Walterstone Camp in the far south-west (Weddell, 2000), and possibly at Wall Hill, Ledbury. This tends to undermine the suggestion that Stanford has made that there was forcible eviction of the native population from such sites in the aftermath of the Roman conquest (1991, 91-4). The argument for forced removal is also to be questioned from recent reconsideration of the dating of occupation of Croft Ambrey. From the evidence of brooch chronology, it has been argued that the sequence there terminates well before the Roman conquest (Haselgrove, 1997, 60).

Villas and farmsteads

In contrast, few Roman villas or buildings featuring tiled roofs and carefully laid out floors (with or without tessellated pavements) are yet known from the county. Sites outside of the Kenchester area tend to cluster in the south and south-east. Two villas at Putley and a complex at Donnington, for instance, represent a group on the Leadon valley that continues down towards Dymock and on into central Gloucestershire and the Severn valley.

Another group is located between Ross and Monmouth in the Wye valley. This scatter includes the excavated villa complex at Huntsham near Goodrich that intriguingly was apparently contained within its own precinct wall (Taylor, 1998). Other sites nearby that also featured stone-built structures include Sellarsbrook at Ganarew and nearby Hadnock by Monmouth.

A variety of enclosures, many of which are broadly rectilinear or rectangular in form, have been demonstrated by excavation to contain Romano-British farmsteads. Again in the south of the county these include the oval earthwork enclosure at Lord's Wood, Whitchurch (Taylor, 2000), and the cropmark sites at Foxhall, Weston-under-Penyard (Walters, 1987). In the north of the county, the recently examined enclosures at Moorcourt Farm and Cold Furrow near Lyonshall and sites at Middle Field and Oxpasture, Leen Farm, Pembridge (White 2003) can now be added to this fast growing assemblage.

Further enclosures of this kind are known from aerial photographs and have been established by fieldwalking as featuring pottery of the period. Such sites include those located just to the north of Hereford at St. Donat's Farm, Burghill (Jackson et al., 1999) and near Wellington Court in the same area.

A perhaps higher status but apparently un-enclosed site is located in the valley of the Little Lugg at Liglok Field, Westhide (White, 2001). This site raises the question of site condition, since the remains examined as part of a recent Herefordshire Archaeology plough-damage study were recorded in the 1950s as being relatively well preserved, with intact wall footings. By 2001, the base of a corn-drying oven was the only feature to survive in situ recognisably. This situation mirrors that revealed in 2000 at Coed Lank, Garway, where the only significant trace of a former farmstead found within arable traversed by a Transco pipeline was again the base of a corn-drier.

Nor is the enclosure examined in woodland near Whitchurch the only known sub-circular or rectilinear (and likely Romano-British) farmstead enclosure known in the county. A square earthwork enclosure has long been known to exist high on the south-eastern flank of Garway Hill. A group of three such enclosures was recorded in the 1970s by the Ordnance Survey on Bircher Common, north of Leominster. During a survey here in 2001, a further possible enclosure was added (Ray and Hoverd, 2003). The sites are situated on the south-facing hillside along the 200m contour, and seem to be separated by a regular distance of 500m. Two of these sites feature pendant field enclosures also of squared or rectangular form.

Recent woodland survey by Herefordshire Archaeology has produced further examples of rectangular settlement enclosures surviving as earthworks. One of these is in the north of the county at Wigmore Rolls, near the Leintwardine area Roman camps and forts. The second is at Yarsop, near Hereford. The latter site again features an attached field system (Hoverd, 2003), and again, this appears to be attached to the south-west of the settlement enclosure.

Field systems that are clearly datable to the Romano-British period are of course extremely difficult to locate. However, given the numbers of surviving field systems now being traced in the county, there seems little doubt that some will eventually be proven to be of this antiquity. Some systems approximate closely to the size and scale of the better-documented "Celtic fields" of central southern Britain. An example is the group of lynchets forming a field system recorded as part of the Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty archaeological survey at Whitman's Hill Coppice, Storridge, Cradley (Hoverd, 2003).

© Dr. Keith Ray, 2004


Anthony, I.E. (1958), The Iron Age at Poston. Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club.

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Taylor, E. (1998), "Report on the excavation of Huntsham Romano-British Villa and Iron Age Enclosure 1959-1970", Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club 48 (1995), 224-81.

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