Castle Hill, Almondbury

Iron Age Hillfort

The first people to visit Castle Hill were probably hunters and gatherers of the Mesolithic age, camping amongst the forests which at that time covered the land. In the Neolithic and Bronze Age, there appears to have been widespread travel or trade along the river valleys connecting the Yorkshire Wolds, the Peak District and the Mersey and Ribble estuaries. This is shown by various characteristic types of stone and bronze tools in a place far from their points of origin. At that time, much of the lower ground was still heavily forested or prone to flooding. The settlers built no defensive structures and eventually abandoned the area.

At a later date, around 5 acres of land was enclosed with a single rampart but this too was abandoned and left to fall into ruin.

Around 590 BC, an univallate fort was built in approximately the same 5 acres of land as the previous enclosure but with more sophisticated defences, comprising a surrounding ditch behind which stood a 6 foot high stone rampart topped with a wooden palisade fence. The core of the rampart was primarily built from clay, but Varley found that pieces of timber had been thrown into the core during construction.

By around 555 BC, the fort had been extended to create a bivallate fort that covered around 10 acres.

Around 90 years later, the defences were significantly improved to create a multivallate hill fort. The external ditch was deepened and the ramparts raised by adding more timber, rocks and clay. A separate structure from this period, dubbed “The Annexe” by Varley, was found to the north-east of the fort.

During the first excavations in 1939, the team had found initial evidence that the fort had met with a catastrophe and Varley made an initial assumption that the Romans had burnt it to the ground. However, subsequent radiocarbon dating estimated that the fire which destroyed the fort had occurred around 431 BC, several hundred years before the Roman Conquest.

Careful examination of the burnt timbers, together with a series of experiments to try and recreate what had been found in the excavated trenches, led Varley to believe that the fire started by accident. He suggested that the most likely scenario was that the timber buried within the rampart’s core had decayed to release methane which spontaneously combusted. In order to achieve the level of heating found in some of the trenches, it was estimated the fire burnt at a temperature of at least 1300°F (700°C).

The unexpected burning of the then uninhabited fort may help explain folklore that a dragon resided within the hill and also references to the hill being named “Wormcliffe” in the Late Middle Ages.

The excavations found no evidence that any parts of the fort were rebuilt after the fire, or that the area was resettled during the next 1,500 years.

Traditionally, in the past, it has been held to be the site of Camelot and, less fancifully, a Roman fort or the headquarters of the Brigantian Queen Cartimandua. These theories have been discounted, however, due to the complete break in occupation between the fourth century BC and the Middle Ages.

Sites near Castle Hill, Almondbury