Ancient hill forts are fascinating places but not many people know about them. They make for a great weekend walk, if you like exploring the past. This list of 9 hill forts in and near London will give you an idea where to go to find traces of life from Bronze and Iron Ages and post-Roman period.
Have you ever heard about hill forts? Or even more, about hill forts near London? I hadn’t, until I received an email from Arts & Humanities Research Council. in June 2017 they launched the first online atlas of this interesting form of ancient settlement in Britain and Ireland. It is free to access to anyone.
Hill forts are Iron and Bronze Ages (altogether covering period from about 2500 years BC to 5th century AD) towns built on hills. Some were used in the post-Roman period too (after 5th century). The fortification usually followed the contours of a hill and consisted of one or more lines of earthworks, with stockades or defensive walls, and external ditches.
There’re over 4,000 hill forts in Britain and Ireland, and for the first time they’ve been catalogued in one place, i.e. in the aforementioned online atlas. It’s amazing that so many of them survived until our times and that we can still access some of them. The atlas was prepared with the help of citizen scientists from across England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. A research team. from the University of Edinburgh, University of Oxford, and University College Cork, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has spent the last five-years sifting and recording information on all the hill forts across Britain and Ireland.
I’m so pleased that nine of them is within the area of Greater London and that the research council provided me with information about them, which I then have adjusted to the needs of the blog.
Below, read about those nine. Scroll through the list to find one near you and to plan your next weekend walk.These 9 ancient hidden gems will make a great explorer's walk in London #exploreLondon… Click To Tweet
Hill forts near London: Woolwich Power Station
Can you imagine that there were some domestic rubbish from the Roman times at this place?
At the site of the former Woolwich Power Station (closed in 1978), archaeologists discovered two ditches and two round houses during excavation. Those findings suggest that it was a site of middle to late Iron Age hillfort or oppidum (i.e. an ancient Celtic fortified town). During the excavation, the archaeologists found also Middle Iron Age and Roman pottery, as well as the domestic rubbish from the Roman times.
Some researchers suggested that the site was located on the Thames to accommodate shipping. Nowadays, there is Waterfront Leisure Centre car park at the place.
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Hill forts near London: Caesar’s Camp, Wimbledon Common
This large hillfort within Royal Wimbledon Golf Course on Wimbledon Common is still accessible to the public. As I found out from Themodernantiquarian.com, the best place to park is just off Camp View, opposite the Club House for the Wimbledon Common Golf Course. Then walk west towards a small split in the road, and walk past the sign that says “Camp Rd, leading to Kinsella Gardens, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development”. At the end of the tarmacked road, the footpath across the fort is directly in front of you.
There’s a cropmark of a rectangular building on the north side of the entrance. It’s probably a 19th century gamekeepers cottage. The hillfort probably dates to 3rd century BC. The most exciting discovery at this hill fort is an urn containing a possible 1st century coin hoard.
Hill forts near London: Shooters Hill, Greenwich
A possible hill fort discovered during a Time Team investigation to assess the survival of World War II defences in At Eaglesfield Park, on Shooters Hill, Greenwich.
I’ve found this one particularly interesting. One reason for that is that it’s in Greenwich, which is a fantastic area for city walking; and second, because the archaeologist found there charred plant remains such as spelt and emmer wheat and oak charcoal; plus the site is possibly one of the earliest iron smelting sites in Britain.
I’ve tried emmer wheat (you can buy it from Tesco’s) but I’m not only a fan of how it tastes but also of its history. Did you know it’s one of the oldest grains and is also mentioned in the Bible?
Apart from already mentioned things, late Bronze Age to early Iron Age (8th to 5th centuries) pottery, mainly flint and shelly tempered fabrics, were recovered along with 63kg of ironworking slag and related material which included fragments from a ceramic furnace lining and ore.
Hill forts near London: Holwood Camp
This was a large hill fort of nearly 18 ha. Nowadays, it lies within the grounds of Holwood House, a large country house, to the east of Keston Common, in Hayes, south from Bromley. It lies on sloping ground partially occupying the summit of a hill with the ground falling away steeply in the south east. The defences in the south were destroyed during landscaping for Holwood House. Three low parallel scarps and banks are probably the remains of the ramparts along the scarp edge although a geophysical survey was unable to support this. A small settlement of possible medieval date was also recorded.
Another interesting fact about this site is that it’s home to ‘Wilberforce oak’, a tree which William Wilberforce, wrote about in one of his diaries. You will distinguish it from other trees by a stone seat.
Hill forts near London: West Wickham Common, Bromley
Hillfort on West Wickham Common in Bromley is probably unfinished one. It lies on a steep sided, wooded promontory and is best preserved in the east.
The site was first mentioned in Camden’s Britannia in 1608 where it was considered to have been constructed as a practice earthwork by the landowner Sir Christopher Heydon.
As it’s on the common, you can search for it freely. Nothing has been mentioned about the excavation and findings on this site.
Hill forts near London: Horsenden Hill
This one is exciting as you can climb the hill. Sadly though, because of too many visitors, the site has been partially damaged. When I visited a few years ago there was a lovely café at the bottom. It’s also great start to explore Ealing, so it makes for a great city walk.
Archaeologists found fragments of coarse pottery, Iron Age pottery and an enamelled chariot lynchpin dated to AD 40-70. Other finds included Neolithic worked flint, and Bronze Age, Roman and medieval pottery sherds.
Hill forts near London: Earthworks at Old Park
These are the remains of a univallate hill fort within Bush Hill Park Golf Course, Enfield. The east site was levelled in the 18th century during landscaping for Old Park House. The ramparts are now overlain by the car park and club house in the south east. The findings include a fibula brooch and fragments of a pudding stone (conglomerate).
You can still see the hill fort remains near the building of Old Park House (now belonging to the Bush Hill Golf Club).
Hill forts near London: Whalebone Lane North
This one is interesting. The archaeologists say it possibly was a hill fort (not sure), but at the same time a lot of things have been found there. Large quantities of late Bronze Age to early Iron Age pottery was recovered from the plough soil without any further evidence for occupation. A well or waterhole adjacent to the enclosure produced a small pottery assemblage of similar date. Watching briefs in 2000 revealed a series of prehistoric pits, postholes and part of a Roman enclosure.
Hill forts near London: Hadley Wood
A large banked and ditched enclosure oval in plan and of approximately 4ha in Hadley Wood, on Monken Hadley Common. The site, which lies on a slight knoll with views across the Thames Valley, was first noted in 1913 and described as a possible hillfort. It’s undated and some flint implements have been found there but it is unclear if these are derived from the track ballast.
As you can see all of these places are fascinating and each has its own history. As I said at the beginning, it’s amazing that so many of them, in better or worse condition, survived until today. I think we should make the most of it and get exploring. If you don’t yet have plans for the weekend this is one thing to mark down. It’s a perfect option if you have passion for history and archaeology or if you have children and you want to give them a feel of what it means to be an explorer in your own city.