Wheathampstead Hillfort

Iron Age Hillfort

Wheathampstead Hillfort was identified in the early 1930s by Sir Mortimer Wheeler during investigations concurrent with those at Roman Verulamium (St Albans) 8km to the south, this site is located on a gravel plateau above the river Lea. Wheathampstead  is generally agreed to have been part of the defences of an Iron Age settlement belonging to the Catuvellauni tribe of Ancient Britain. It has possible associations with Julius Caesar’s second invasion of Britain (54 BC).

It is postulated that the Wheathampstead/Verulamium complex declined in political and military importance with a transfer of Catuvellaunian power from this centre to Camulodunum during the first quarter of the first century AD (Wheeler 1936). The extensive linear earthworks observed at Verulamium could then be considered precursors of the developments at Camulodunum (Cunliffe 1991).

What does Wheathampstead Hillfort Look like?

Wheathampstead Hillfort is an enclosure of around 40ha is partially defined on three sides by earthworks, some of massive dimensions. A section across the western earthwork (Devil’s Dyke) and some minor excavation inside the enclosure, produced evidence of occupation in the second half of the first century BC but apparently ending before 20–10 BC (pottery dating). An identification of this site with that at which chieftain Cassivellaunus made a final stand against Caesar, was proposed by Wheeler. Impossible to prove, even the identification of this site as a late Iron Age oppidum has been questioned (Dyer 1976).

This site is believed to form, either part of, or a precursor to, a larger late Iron Age territorial organisation characterised by linear earthworks, the massive “Beech Bottom Dyke” and a second “Devil’s Dyke”, this latter extending south of the river Ver. This second ditch may have been constructed at the time of a transfer of settlement from Wheathampstead to a site known as Prae Wood (see St Albans). An extensive area of settlement of early first century AD date has been found on the opposite side of the river Lea (Bryant 2007).

The term oppidum is attributed to both the Wheathampstead and the St Albans sites, and at least one commentator (Thompson 1979) distinguishes between the “hill fort” of Wheathampstead and the “oppidum” of St Albans. The linear “territorial” earthworks are embanked to the south and presumed to defend northward.

Devils Dyke

The site is bounded to the West by the massive “Devils Dyke”, a ditch which at its maximum is 130 ft wide lip to lip and 40 ft deep. To the East, a curvilinear feature of apparently lesser dimensions know as “the Slad” and “the Moat” in its different parts, defines the South-Eastern and Eastern sides. Affirmed by Wheeler to be an artificial feature, Dyer, in an article proposing a different location for Casivellaunus’ stronghold, claims the eastern ditches to be merely a natural feature and the enclosure therefore non-existent.


Sites near Wheathampstead Hillfort