New research highlights significance of hillfort


New research has further highlighted the significance of Worlebury Hillfort.

The Iron Age hillfort situated on Worlebury Hill overlooking Weston-super-Mare is designated as a Scheduled Monument in recognition of its national importance.

However, damage caused by vegetation and trees planted in the 1820s and, more recently, vandalism led to it being placed on Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ register in 2016.

Historic England’s Archaeological Survey and Investigation team has recently completed an analytical earthwork survey of the hillfort and its surrounding landscape.

The results of the survey show in detail two linear earthworks or ditches, also referred to as ‘valla’, a Roman term for ditches. They broadly run north-south across the ridge immediately to the east of the hillfort itself and consist of a rock-cut ditch and a bank on their western side.

The ditches had been mapped historically by the Ordnance Survey and noted by antiquaries, though for reasons that are unclear they were deleted from later, post-Second World War OS editions.

The report states: “The date and purpose of the linear ditches to the east of the hillfort has been much debated, but the available evidence is limited. The two ditches are very similar and are therefore presumably of one date and purpose.” The ditches are also similar to the cross-ditch within the interior of the hillfort.

Excavations in the 1980s revealed evidence that the westernmost ditch was back-filled in the late Romano-British period, with Iron Age pottery also recovered in the eastern ditch.

This research has provided further insight into the hillfort and activity during the later prehistoric period around Worlebury Hill and Weston-super-Mare and includes recommendations for further work to recover evidence for scientific dating and environmental analysis.

Mark Bowden, Senior Investigator at Historic England, said: “The hillfort was declared a ‘Heritage at Risk’ site because of concerns over its deteriorating condition through neglect and vandalism. This is despite the appearance of notices threatening large fines for damaging a Scheduled Monument.

“The more effective long-term solution to this problem must lie in removing the trees which are causing many of the problems, which would also open up the site, explaining and sharing the hillfort’s significance and value, and nurturing respect for it.”

The hillfort is managed by North Somerset Council who, with help from volunteers from the Worlebury Hillfort Group, Weston Civic Society and Weston Archaeological and Natural History Society, have been working to improve the hillfort.

In 2018 the council commissioned an independent archaeological condition survey of the hillfort, funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, to identify the specific threats and risks to the monument and recommend solutions to protect it in the long term.

Following this survey the council developed a management plan to safeguard the future of the hillfort by removing the principal threats caused by trees and vegetation and raising awareness of the importance of the site.

The plan was adopted by the council in April last year with the aim of uncovering the hillfort, helping to reveal its secrets lost for the past 200 years under extensive tree and vegetation growth. It can be viewed on the council’s website at www.n-somerset.gov.uk/hillfort.