Bury Hill Iron-Age Hillfort near Winterbourne

Bury Hill is an Iron-Age hillfort delineated by bivallate defences enclosing an ovoid area with three entrances situated at the western end of a low promontory overlooking the River Frome. Occupation of the site began in the palaeolithic period attested by a general spread of flint chippings and an edged blade, while a polished stone mace-head attests to activity during the Mesolithic. There was seemingly a hiatus in the occupation evidence during the neolithic, but this may be due to geological factors, the next confirmed occupation being during the Iron-Age when the visible defences were constructed. After a period of inactivity, the site was seemingly reoccupied during the latter part of Roman rule in Britain, as evidenced by a number of pottery finds recovered from within the defended area dating to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD . (AHDS)

Bury Hill is annotated as a ‘Roman Camp’ on the 1889 Ordnance Survey map of Gloucestershire (1:10,560 scale) but the site is marked only as a ‘Camp’ (i.e. of indeterminate age) on the maps of 1882 (both 1:2,500 & 1:10,560 scale), 1903 (1:10,560), 1920 (1:2,500), 1921 (1:10,560), 1935 (1:2,500) and 1936 (1:10,560); it is depicted as a ‘Fort’ on the modern OS LandRanger (1:50:000) and Explorer (1:25,000) series of maps currently available at high street retailers. (OS)

Roman Occupation of the Bury Hill Fort

The Bury Hill site was part-excavated by the University of Bristol Speleological Society in 1926 and the excavation report entitled Excavation at Bury Hill Camp Winterbourne Down by J.A. Davies and M.A. Phillips, was published in the Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society (PUBSS; Vol.III, 1926, pp.18-24). The 1926 investigations sectioned through the Iron-Age defences and, more interestingly, uncovered the footings of a building within the hillfort’s western rampart and noted the outline of another similar building within the eastern defences. The excavators styled the building an ‘early Roman longhouse’ and went on to describe the site as representing a ‘conquest period outpost’; a platform within the northern defences was also investigated and revealed scattered pottery finds indicating Roman occupation during the 3rd and 4th centuries. Unfortunately, however, the majority of the small finds recovered during this dig, together with most of the other archival material, were destroyed in a German air-raid on Bristol during the Second World War. (AHDS)

The Nature of the Bury Hill Site

I must admit that I’ve never come across the term ‘early Roman longhouse’ before, but this description is used in both SMR entries for Bury Hill. The term ‘longhouse’ is usually associated with the Danish occupation of north-east England during the latter part of the first millenium and I am inclined to believe that its usage here has perhaps been derived from a mis-quote of the original 1926 excavation report; without access to this document, however, I would not like to speculate further. The fact is that a very Romanesque rectangular building was excavated and traces of a similar building were recorded within the defences of a hillfort, where one would normally expect to find only the circular foundations of the familiar “round house” indicative of Iron-Age occupation.

No Roman military finds were recorded during the 1926 excavations and without such evidence the excavators’ conclusion that the building represented a ‘conquest period outpost’ seems slightly spurious. The difficulty here is their use of the word ‘outpost’, which has distinctly martial overtones, but the lack of military finds from the site leads this author away from any scenario involving the Roman army. The pottery sherds found in association with the undoubtedly Roman-style building are said to be of ‘early Roman type’ and this may be argued to support a ‘conquest period’ establishment but does not actually prove that the site dates to the years AD 43-7 (i.e. the period of Roman conquest for this particular part of Britain).

I am more inclined to believe that the rectangular buildings within the Bury Hill fort were the work of a local chieftain who was eager to impress the Roman conquerors and so built himself a new home (maybe two) in the Roman style, perhaps furnishing his new home with Roman army surplus pottery. The destruction of the excavated finds and archive material by the verdammt Luftwaffe does not help, because without reference to this material evidence neither the excavators’ conclusions nor my own can be either confirmed or disproven. What is really neeeded in this case is to excavate and record the site of the other rectangular building within the Bury Hill fort, this time using modern methods and with (hopefully) no threat of German bombardment.

Suspected Romano-British Settlement at Bradley Stoke

About 1½ miles to north-west of the Bury Hill fort a suspected Roman settlement site now lies buried beneath the school grounds and surrounding houses off Webbs Wood Road, Bradley Stoke, Winterbourne (ST 6310 8112). This site, consisting of a scatter of Roman occupation debris together with post-holes, pits and occupation layers, was discovered during construction of the Bradley Stoke Distributor Road (now named Webbs Wood Road) in 1992. A significant number of small finds, including abundant pottery sherds, coins, brooches and a bronze arrowhead, points to there being a Romano-British settlement of some nature here. An archaeological evaluation conducted by Bristol and Region Archaeological Services in 1995 at Bradley Stoke Way, Great Meadow (ST 629810) recorded more occupation debris ranging from the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age (LPRIA) into the second century of Roman occupation.

An archaeological watching brief conducted in the early 1990’s by South Gloucester Council at Great Meadow, Bradley Stoke, revealed four adult inhumation burials lying close together. The burial site lies close to the south of the Webbs Wood suspected Roman settlement site (see above) just off Copland Drive (ST 63013 81015). Artifacts recovered during excavation of the human remains has led to the site being dated as Roman and leads one to conclude that these burials may represent the civil burial ground associated with the suspected Roman settlement at Bradley Stoke (designated ST68SW22 by archaeologists). A silver denarius was recovered by a metal detector prospecting in a neighbouring field shortly after the Great Meadow excavation.

Other Roman Sites in the Neighbourhood

Roman Cist Burial at Hambrook Winterbourne

A Roman cist burial was uncovered during the winter of 1948-9 by a Mr. Smith whilst digging in his garden at Frenchay Nursery (ST 6417 7923) just north of the Priory at Hambrook Winterbourne and only about ½-mile west of the Bury Hill fort. The site was excavated by the University of Bristol Speleological Society in 1949, who recorded a stone cist measuring roughly 6 feet long by 15 inches wide and 14 inches deep, buried at a depth of only one foot below modern ground level. The stone cist contained the skeleton of a woman, who was evidently buried wearing sandals, as attested by the remains of a number of iron hobnails and two iron buckles, the leather parts of the footwear having perished in the soil. Mr Smith himself admitted that another nearby cist burial had probably been destroyed at an earlier date and there have been at least three other Roman cist burials reported in the immediate area (at ST 6416 7920, ST 6417 7923 and ST 6419 7923), none of which have been archaeologically investigated. (AHDS)

Miscellaneous Pottery Finds at Emerson’s Green and Vinny Green

A number of scattered Romano-British pottery sherds were recovered from molehills beside Wickwick Farm (ST 6612 7842), about ¾-mile south-east of the Bury Hill fort during the 1989 Emerson’s Green Survey Project. This site is known to have been in use during the post-Roman period from place-name evidence, as the OE word wick generally indicates a site that was already old when it was in use during Anglo-Saxon times, and based on this artefact scatter it seems that Wickwick may now have its ancestry pushed back to the Romano-British period. (AHDS)

Scattered pieces of Roman pottery were found during construction of the Avon Ring Road (A4174) in 1992 beyond Wickwick to the south-east; an oxidised pottery sherd near Newlands Farm (ST 6720 7745), a fragment of tile and a sherd of pottery near Hallen Farm (ST 6736 7726), both in Vinny Green, also a scatter of ‘possibly’ Roman sherds near Meadow Farm in Emerson’s Green (ST 6749 7668), all point to Romano-British exploitation of these fertile lands watered by the tributaries of the River Frome.

Sherd of Roman Pottery at Vinney Green

A Roman pottery sherd was recorded in 1992 by the South Gloucester Council Archaeological Section during construction of the (A4174) Avon Ring Road near Newlands Farm in Vinney Green (ST 6720 7745). The find-spot, now obliterated by the building of the modern roadway, lies about two miles south-east of the Bury Hill fort and about ¾-mile west of the course of the Roman road between the settlement at Rangeworthy and the suspected site of the Traiectus Romano-British settlement at Bitton near Willsbridge (Margary ????).

  • The Tump – An earthwork mound alleged to be a Roman barrow (ST 650797). Uncertain.
  • Hallen Farm – Fragment of Roman tile and a pottery sherd was recovered during construction of the Avon Ring Road in 1992 (ST 6736 7726).
  • Wickwick Farm – Several shards of Romano-British pottery were found in molehills during the Emerson’s Green Survey in 1989 (ST 6612 7842).

References for Bury Hill, Winterbourne

  • Air Reconnaissance of North Britain by J.K. St. Joseph in J.R.S. xli (1951) pp.52-65;
  • OS Landranger #172 Bristol & Bath; w

Map References for Bury Hill, Winterbourne

OSMap: LR172

Roman Roads near Bury Hill, Winterbourne

N (4.5) to Rangeworthy (Avon) S (5.5) to Traiectvs (Bitton nr. Willsbridge, Avon)

Sites near Bury Hill