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Hillforts in Leicestershire

Beacon Hill (SK 512 146), situated on the ancient Salt Way, has evidence of Bronze Age settlement, with bank and ditch surounding 75% of the hilltop, and a smaller outer bank. Pottery and late bronze artefacts have been found here, including a mould for casting axeheads. It is now a wooded country park accessible to the public. The nearby Buddon Hill, which was also occupied during the Bronze and into the Iron period, has, like so many other sites been destroyed by quarrying.

Bardon Hill 3 miles west of Beacon Hill is another quarried site, but although no hillfort has been shown here, polished stone axes and bronze spearheads have been found. Croft Hill has yielded the oldest metalwork in Leicestershire, a flat axe, but has been mercilessly quarried.

Breedon Hill (SK 406 233) hillfort, situated near the northwest county boundary with Warwickshire, is probably the largest in the county but has also been largely destroyed by quarrying. This univallate earthwork, overlooking the valleys of the Rivers Soar and Trent, has revealed pits and postholes acros the site and numerous querns of both Hunsbury and saddle type, suggesting a long period of occupation. Scored ware pottery, common across the East Midlands with origins in the fourth century BC (Elsdon 92) has been found here, along with a miniature bronze oval shield, of a kind often associated with Iron Age religious enclosures (Wacher 58). The site may therefore already have had religious significance before the later monastery and important Saxon church described by Bede as a Minster, was founded. The remains of this early Saxon church can be seen in the unique friezes that are still preserved in the later Norman one. Animals, curves and spirals display the art of the early Saxon stonemasons that are among the finest examples in Britain.

Bury Camp, Ratby (SK 498 058) has massive bank and ditch which being rectangular was assumed to be Roman, but is now considered earlier. Late bronze age pottery has been found here, similar to some found at the nearby late bronze age Glenfield settlement.

Burrough Hill hillfort, situated on the Jurassic ridge in east Leicestershire, is a univallate semi-contour fort enclosing 20 acres. probably occupied from the early Bronze perod through to the Iron era, with long inturned ramparts showing evidence of dry-stone facing (Forde-Johnston 76). The gateway showed evidence of guard chambers either side and large double gates. Beehive querns similar to those at Breedon were found here and an excellent example is on display at Leicester's Jewry Wall Museum. Some La Tène pottery has also been found. One crouched skeleton with short sword was found in one of the ditches in the 19th century and two more in 1935. The higher hills of Whatborough, Billesdon and Robin-a-Tiptoe can be seen to the south and from the ramparts there is a panoramic view in every direction. Its proximity to known trackways and size of defences suggest it was a site of some importance. It has been claimed as the capital of the Corieltauvi (Coritani) and it was certainly upgraded in the first century AD but its origins are earlier. The fort is open to the public.

Robin-a-Tiptoe Hill (SK 773 042), 3 miles SE of Burrough Hill, visible from the main A47 to Peterborough, is a scheduled monument but its status as a hillfort is unclear. The name is supposedly derived from the fact that an outlaw named Robin (Hood?) was hung from a tree with his toes barely scraping the ground. Certainly the hill was used as a gallows, and such an unfortunate victim would have been visible to all who passed by. The hill has a distinctive flat top, and trapezoidal bank and ditched enclosure on its summit, also visible on aerial photos (Pickering). No excavation has been done, and the site is on private land, inaccessible to the general public.

Whatborough Hill (SK 768 059), which lies between Burrough and Robin-a-Tiptoe, at 724ft. is the highest Hill of the group, and was home to a village in medieval times, now vanished. Aerial photos have revealed a rectangular enclosure 100ft x 100ft. Prehistoric flintwork and Roman pottery sherds have been found nearby, but little archaeology has been done, and the top of the hill is crowned with a Severn-Trent water reservoir tank. The site is private.

Sconsborough Hill (SK 820 116), on which a late bronze axe was discovered lies little over 2 miles from Whatborough. The site is private.

Ranksborough Hill is a scheduled site, just over the Leicestershire/Rutland border, and like Whatborough has a possible Iron Age enclosure on the north side of the summit. This site is linked to Blackberry Hill near Belvoir Castle, by a prehistoric trackway (the Sewstern Lane), which forms part of the eastern county boundary. The site is not accessible to the public.

Life Hill (SK 719 044), on a ridge near the tree-capped knoll of Billesdon Coplow, looks like a semi-contour fort with steep banks on the western and southern sides and commanding views to Northamptonshire and Warwickshire. The land falls sharply to the north, giving extensive views towards Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, with the hillfort of Burrough in view several miles to the northeast. Its position on a known prehistoric trackway, and finds of secondary worked flints, may indicate earlier use of the site. Roman coins have been found but no evidence of bronze has turned up so far. The site is private and inaccessible to the public.

Bibliography

Elsdon S.M. 1992. East Midlands Scored Ware. Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeology and History Society LXVI pp.83-91.

Forde-Johnston J. 1976. Hillforts of the Iron Age in England and Wales: a survey of the surface evidence. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Pickering J. 1978. The Jurassic Spine. Current Archaeology No.64, vol 6:5 pp.140-43.

Pickering J. and Hartley R.F. 1985. Past Worlds in a Landscape: archaeological cropmarks in Leicestershire. Leicestershire Museums, Art Galleries and Records Service. Archaeological Reports Series No.11.

Wacher J. S. 1958. Breedon-on-the-Hill. Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeoology and History Society 34: pp.79-80.

Wacher J.S. 1978. Excavations at Breedon-on-the-Hill. Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeoology and History Society 52.