Prehistoric Hill Forts

Herefordshire Beacon

Malvern has two major hill forts, one on Herefordshire Beacon and the other on Midsummer Hill. Both camps have a starting date in the late Bronze Age period, about 800 BC. The earth defences follow the contour of the hill tops, and were enlarged over the centuries. The entrances became more complex to provide greater protection. The prehistoric communities created the extensive ridge and ditch earthworks surrounding both forts, using only stone, bone and primitive metal tools. The families belonged to the Dobunni tribe and they occupied the hill forts until the arrival of the Romans in AD 43.

How many lived in the hill forts?

The standard view, supported by archaeological surveys in the 1970s, has been that both Malvern hill forts were capable of supporting permanent populations in excess of 1,500. This calculation is based on the number of hut platforms (118 on Herefordshire Beacon) and from the many post-holes that have been detected. Each hut housed quite a large family. Many hut platforms can still be seen today, especially when the sun casts its shadows.

New Theories

Midsummer Hill and Hollybush

BUT… in 1999 and 2000, teams from English Heritage surveyed Malvern’s two hill forts as part of a wider investigation into how the landscape has been used in the past.

The latest surveys have made some radical suggestions about the purpose of the camps. If, as previously thought, these hill forts were occupied permanently by large tribes, a number of problems arise. First, there is no evidence for internal track ways, domestic refuse and general farmyard and household activities. This is puzzling if so many people lived there over hundreds of years. In addition, there is little evidence of where the early settlers buried their dead.

The current theory (M Bowden) is that the hilltop sites were used seasonally for large social gatherings such as fairs, markets and religious events. The hut platforms may simply mark the sites used as temporary accommodation for people and their livestock, and where market stalls operated and ritual ceremonies took place. The name Midsummer Hill itself supports the idea that Bronze and Iron Age tribes used the hill during the warmer seasons.