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66 MULTORUM MANIBUS GRANDE LEVATUR ONUS,"-Ovid.
ON THE ANCIENT
Earthwork Enclosures on the Downs of North Wilts, supposed to be British Cattle Pens.
By the Rev. A. C. SMITH, M.A.
[Read before the Society at the Annual Meeting, at Hungerford, Sept. 16th, 1867.]
HOSE who have been accustomed to ride or walk over our noble turf-clad downs (I mean of course such portions of them as have hitherto escaped the destructive ploughshare), cannot fail to have noticed certain earthwork enclosures, or rather vestiges of enclosures, which present themselves to the traveller here and there, irregularly studding the downs, sometimes within a quarter of a mile or so of one another, and in other instances at wide intervals apart.
These enclosures are by no means of one uniform pattern; but vary in shape, in size, in position, and in distinctness: but they all have this one character in common, that they are composed of the simple bank and ditch, the bank being invariably within the enclosure, and the ditch without it. As regards shape, perhaps that we most frequently meet with, is the right angled oblong, (or long parallelogram) though the equal sided square is also common; while others are found of circular form, and others again of irregular pattern. Many of them also have some farther earthwork within the enclosure, sometimes taking a square shape, and then generally found in the centre; or perhaps oftener assuming the appearance of a long line, and then generally towards one side and parallel with the outer bank. Not infrequently may be seen
VOL. XI.-NO. XXXIII.
vestiges of a ditch or perhaps a hollow road or trackway leading from one or more sides of these enclosures; and sometimes they may be traced to a considerable distance beyond it, while in some instances two or even three of such lines of communication from more distant parts may be observed. In size they vary quite as much as in shape: some assuming the goodly dimensions of 220 yards in diameter, and thus enclosing a large area; while others are dwindled down to a diameter of 18 yards, embracing but a diminutive space. Then as to position; while some are placed on the sheltered side of a hill, as if seeking protection from the cold winds, which in early times as now, blew keenly over those broad downs, others seem to occupy the more exposed crests of the lower ranges of hills; though I have never seen a single instance of such an enclosure on any of the highest ridges. Level ground was not an object in choosing their sites; indeed generally they are placed on the sloping side of some hill, sometimes including the very base of a gully, and a portion of its two opposite sides. Neither does there seem to have been one common rule of strength required in the formation of the bank and ditch; for while some present but very slight and indistinct marks of the enclosure, others stand forth after the lapse of ages still broad and perfect: and that this difference is not wholly attributable to other accidental circumstances, of injury in the one case and preservation in the other, may be at once seen by the breadth which these defences occupy, the banks and ditches of some measuring 18 feet in diameter, while in others they measure barely 6 feet.
I proceed now to exemplify the above remarks by calling attention to the plans of certain of these earthworks, which I have selected from a large number, and which I have drawn from different parts of our downs, choosing those which presented peculiarities or varieties of shape or position.
No. 1, represents the largest enclosure of the kind with which I am acquainted. It is situated on the Bishops Cannings Downs very near Wansdyke, within about one hundred yards of that rampart, at about the distance of a quarter of a mile north of Old Shepherd's Shore. It is an exact square, each side measuring
about 220 yards, and on every side there are from five to eight narrow entrances, though whether these are coeval with the formation of the enclosure may be doubted. The bank is still conspicuously high at all the corners, and even elsewhere a section of the bank and ditch now measures no less than 18 feet; so that in its original state it must have presented a strong barrier, whether to keep in the cattle, or to keep out the foe: though from its immense size, the extent of its defences, which seem unnecessarily large for enclosing cattle, and from its position, I am inclined in this one instance at all events to assign it a military origin, and conjecture it to have been a camp. Towards the south side it contains a small irregular earthwork measuring about 47 yards by 30, which is also marked out by a bank and ditch, the intention of which I am wholly at a loss to determine. It is very snugly situated in a hollow below the Wansdyke facing due south, and well sheltered from the north and west, though fully exposed to the east winds, which at times blow over these downs with exceeding keenness, but for which (if we may judge from the aspect of many of these enclosures) the early Britons had not the same horror which their modern, more susceptible, if not degenerate successors entertain.
No. 2, also on the Bishops Cannings Downs, but a mile or more to the south of the last, and about east-south-east of Shepherd's Shore, is of irregular shape, of comparatively small dimensions, and in every respect unlike the preceding. It measures about 80 yards by 60, has somewhat of an oval form, a bank and ditch with a sectional diameter of nine feet, the bank at one point being remarkably elevated. It faces east-south-east, is well sheltered from the north, and lies within half a mile of Wansdyke.
No. 3. On the same downs and on the side of the next ridge a little to the south of that last described, may be seen a group of these earthworks, and though a considerable portion of the connecting ditches is obliterated so that it is impossible to trace out the original plan, enough remains to show two perfect enclosures: one circular, measuring about 50 yards in diameter, the other, an irregular square, 60 yards in length by 50 in breadth. There
are also remains of apparently two other enclosures, one measuring 33 yards by 42, the other 65 yards by 40. These also are all within sight of Wansdyke, which runs along the brow of the hill within a quarter of a mile, and they are also well sheltered from the north, and face due south.
No. 4. Still passing on towards the south and parallel with Wansdyke, and within a quarter of a mile of the last, and northeast of Tan-Hill, is a large rectangular enclosure with broad ditch and still considerable embankments, particularly at the four corners, the total diameter of bank and ditch measuring 15 feet. It has three small openings on the east side, one large entrance on the west, none on the north, and the peculiarity of this enclosure consists in this, that on the south there is an opening left without trace of bank or ditch for one third of its diameter, or 35 yards. It faces east-south-east and is completely sheltered from the north. Its total measurements are 156 yards by 105 yards.
No. 5. At the distance of half-a-mile farther to the south on the Horton Downs, east of Tan-Hill, and lying in a gully at the foot of that noble down are two enclosures, the larger measuring 98 yards square, the smaller 40 yards by 30. They both face due east, and are sheltered from the north and west; and a smaller earthwork similar to that described in No. 1, is conspicuous on the southern side of the greater of the two.
No. 6. On the Avebury Downs at the foot of the famous Hackpen, and surrounded by ditches and earthworks which are in great abundance in that neighbourhood, lies a square enclosure measuring on either side 110 yards: but it is remarkable for the curiously shaped works which occupy its south-western corner, and for the double lines of ramparts and ditches which almost surround three of its four sides. What may have been the intention of these additional defences it is difficult to guess. In this single instance there is shelter from the east and south as well as from the north, the western in this case being the exposed quarter.
No. 7. Again on the Avebury Down, but west of Beckhampton and not far from the spot where the Beckhampton avenue of the Avebury Temple is said to have terminated, lies a very small double