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Cadbury Castle (South Cadbury)



Details of the Iron Age hillfort on Pastscape

The Hillfort defence does not consist of four ramparts. Around much of the northern side there is clear evidence of a discontinuous berm which probably represents a fifth rampart. This is not a strategic necessity. The eastern side is the most vulnerable and here only the upper two ramparts survive. Below
these two slight changes of slope could be indicate former ramparts and these may have been deliberately slighted for conversion to strip lynchets which have since been eroded and covered by natural slip. Lynchets occur all round the Hillfort and much of the enclosing wall is built at the foot of a negative lynchet.
The entrance gap on the east side appears to be original (ditches on its S. side are neatly ended) but unfinished since it is so deeply cut that it could not penetrate the inner rampart unless it continued within as a hollow way. It can have had no use in an agricultural context as suggested by St. G. Gray.
Cadbury Castle is a multivallate hillfort of Iron Age date, subsequently refortified and reoccupied in the post-Roman and late Saxon periods. The hill has also yielded evidence, in the form of both surface and excavated finds, of Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Roman activity.
The association of the hillfort with the fictitious Camelot of Arthurian legend began, in print at least, with Leland in 1542. The extent to which he was reporting local tradition rather than jumping to conclusions of his own is a matter for debate. Inevitably, the site attracted much antiquarian attention over the ensuing centuries, although the degree to which the Arthurian associations were accepted varied considerably. Camden and Stukely both described the hillfort, for example, but emphasised the predominance of Roman material recovered from the interior.
By the later 19th century, the name 'Camelot' was appearing on OS maps alongside the name Cadbury Castle. The earthworks were surveyed by Dymond (3,4) in 1873, while the first recorded excavation occurred "a few years before" 1890. It was undertaken by the Rev JA Bennett, who unfortunately (from an archaeological viewpoint) devoted much of his published report to local legend and tradition, with the results of his digging amounting to little more than a footnote. (5) Bennett's finds were examined later by Harold St George Gray, who undertook his own small-scale 'trial excavations', mainly in and around the SW gateway, in June 1913 (6). The combination of finds from the two excavations effectively established 'late Celtic' (ie late Iron Age/early Roman) occupation at Cadbury. In the light of later work at the site, it also appears that Gray uncovered part of the early Medieval refurbishment of the defences, but was unable to recognise it as such at the time. After Gray's excavations, the haphazard collection of surface finds continued, though with little in the way of recording, until the 1950s. Mary Harfield, a local amateur, collected material from the surface of the interior between 1954 and 1959 in a fairly systematic manner, although more casual collection by others continued. CA Ralegh Radford examined this material and recognised Neolithic and early Medieval artefacts as well as the expected Iron Age and Roman finds. Among the early Medieval artefacts was imported Mediterranean pottery of c5th century AD date, a discovery which once more stimulated interest in the supposed Arthurian connections of Cadbury. New APs of the hillfort interior taken around the same time also showed a considerable density of cropmark features. (7, 8)
The result of these discoveries was a major campaign of investigation under the auspices of the Camelot Research Committee, consisting of geophysical survey and excavation under the directorship of Leslie Alcock. The main excavations took place annually from 1966-1970, with some smaller-scale work linked to the post-excavation programme occurring in 1973. These excavations established a sequence of periodic activity at Cadbury from the early Neolithic onwards, including for the first time the recognition of a major later Bronze Age presence. Other important results included confirmation of occupation of the interior in the 5th/6th centuries AD, and further use of the site in the late Saxon period, tying in with numismatic evidence for a short-lived mint at Cadbury spanning the end of Aethelred II's reign and the start of Cnut's (c1010-1020 AD). Subsequent activity was primarily agricultural in nature. To date only the early medieval aspects of the excavations have been fully published, although publication of the prehistoric and Roman evidence is in preparation. Several interim accounts of the work have appeared. (3-15).
Cadbury Castle was surveyed by staff from RCHME Exeter in 1993 at the request of English Heritage and the University of Glasgow, who were preparing the published account of the prehistoric and Roman aspects of the site. The following is abstracted from the detailed archive report, which will also appear in the excavtion report:
Cadbury Castle is located on the NW edge of the dissected limestone hills between Sherborne and Wincanton, at the western limit of the Jurassic rocks which make up much of S and E Somerset. It lies on an outlier of Inferior Oolitic limestone, which caps the more sandy Upper Lias rocks below. A geological fault occurs to the south of the hilltop, which may account for the steep natural scarp in the SW part of the interior, and for the differential vegetation growth on the hillslope.
The hill is sub-rectangular in shape with a domed top and rises steeply to some 150m above OD at its summit. To the N lie the Somerset Levels, Glastonbury Tor and the Mendips; to the W Ilchester and Ham Hill, and to the S and E are the steep escarpments of Pen Hill, Corton Hill and Parrock Hill. The villages of Sutton Montis and South Cadbury lie close to the foot of the hill, to the SE and NW respectively. The adjacent hills to the E and S are marked by numerous strip lynchets, indicating extensive medieval and post medieval cultivation.
The number of ramparts and ditches vary around the defensive circuit. However, there are generally four ramparts and three ditches, although in places terraces occur instead of ditches. The eastern defences have been largely obliterated by medieval or later cultivation, and what now survives are the two uppermost ramparts and intermediate ditch. The northern and western defences, which extend from the north-eastern to the south-western entrances, are between 100m and 120m wide with a height difference of about 40m from the bottom of the outer rampart to the top of the inner rampart. The southern and south-eastern defences, which extend from the south-western to the eastern entrances, are between 85m and 100m wide and rise some 50m from the bottom of the outer rampart to the top of the inner rampart. Cultivation of medieval or post medieval date has in several instances truncated the foot of the outer rampart. Field evidence for the Aethelredan rampart refurbishment may be represented by a break of slope on the outer face of the inner rampart. Also relevant are a number of exposures of walling on the outer face.The composition of the walling and their relative heights suggests that those on the southern rampart are more likely related to the post-Aethelredan work identified by Alcock around the SW entrance, while most of the remainder may be part of the burh wall.
There are three gaps in the defensive circuit - at the south-western and north-eastern corners, and on the eastern side. All three have the appearance of being of considerable antiquity. The south-western has a deep, curving entrance passage, which funnels traffic up through the southern end of the massive western defences. The north-eastern entrance gives access to the hilltop from Castle Farm and South Cadbury, and is deeply-hollowed where it crosses the inner defences. The eastern entrance consists of a passage way, curving slightly at its eastern end, which makes its way up through the defences and ends as a deep hollow below the inner rampart. The entrance is effectively blocked by a steep scarp, which appears to be a later addition. It is uncertain when and why this entrance fell out of favour, although unlike the other entrances it does not now appear to be related to any major settlement.
The defences enclose an area of c7.5ha. The most prominent feature is the natural scarp which occupies the SW part of the interior; it has been heavily quarried. A number of quarry scoops exist in the interior - the use of the hilltop as a source of stone dates back from at least the 16th century. The interior of the hillfort has been cultivated over a long period of time, hence the paucity of existing earthworks other than remains of the 1966-70 excavation trenches. (16)
The NMR record for Cadbury Castle is arranged as follows. This record (ST 62 NW 1) consists of a general overview of the history and interpretation of the site, and includes accounts of OS and RCHME fieldwork at the site. ST 62 NW 28 deals with Mesolithic material from Cadbury; ST 62 NW 29 describes the evidence for Neolithic and Early Bronze Age activity; ST 62 NW 30 contains details of the later Bronze Age and Iron Age activity; ST 62 NW 31 features the evidence for Roman presence on the site; ST 62 NW 32 deals with the 5th/6th century re-occupation; ST 62 NW 33 describes the late Saxon use of Cadbury, as well as subsequent medieval and later use of the site. (17) Scheduled
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8th March 2015ce

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