6.2.2 Iron Age rectilinear enclosures Worcestershire

The Iron Age builders at Blackstone took advantage of the natural topography to establish a defensive position for their enclosure. This is reflected in the use of the sharp edge to the gravel terrace on the west side of the enclosure, and possibly to the north of where an indentation in the slope allows access via a deep hollow-way from the floodplain below, creating a promontory setting. The age of the trackway has not been established but it may well be of pre-Iron Age date, as the Iron Age remains were perched on the edge of this feature, though later erosion may have cut back slightly into the enclosure ditches. It is unlikely, given the slight nature of any earlier prehistoric features, that any obvious signs of earlier activity survived when the work of building the Iron Age enclosure started, especially as barely any early Iron Age material was recovered.

On completion the Blackstone rectilinear enclosure was so regular in character that it could later be mistaken for a Roman military camp. It had internal dimensions of c. 75 x 65m as defined by the internal ditches (all other areal dimensions are similarly defined below), and so an internal area of c. 0.5ha. It conforms to a recognisable plan-type, now well known from aerial photographic survey, though generally, of course, such sites have not had their occupation dates established through excavation. However, the close similarity in plan of these sites does encourage the belief that they are likely to be Iron Age in foundation, based on the results of excavation to date. For instance, this type of site has also been excavated at Holt Site D (single-ditched; 36 x 36m) a short distance south of Blackstone, where very little pottery was found in the excavated enclosure ditches, but significantly this was of Iron Age date, indicating that the main features were of later prehistoric date (Hunt et al. 1986, 23). This Holt enclosure overlay a Bronze Age barrow and featured small rectangular enclosures, interpreted as the sites of 6-8m square buildings with foundations set in trenches; no roundhouses were identified in the interior. This Holt enclosure also had an off-centre north-east facing entrance, and so was very similar to Blackstone. Another similar rectilinear enclosure south of Holt Site A (Hunt et al. 1986, 11, pl. 1 and fig. 3) also seems to be closely comparable to the Blackstone enclosure in overall form, though again smaller (double-ditched; 40 x 44m), and the aerial photograph also indicated a central eastern entrance, the outer ditch being far less substantial than the inner ditch. Here much of the pottery was derived from the top of natural, and was datable to the Roman and medieval periods, and only a tentative conclusion was reached that many of the cropmarks were of Iron Age date (ibid., 39).

Quite similar examples of double-ditched rectilinear enclosures can also be found in both central and south Worcestershire, for instance at Kempsey (e.g. WSM 2111), around Bredon Hill (WSM 9778) and at Broadway (WSM 9994), which have ditch-enclosed spaces of c. 0.45ha, 0.25ha, and 0.27ha respectively. In the latter case a group of these enclosures forms a serried north-south row where they might be considered to be in contemporary use, as there is little obvious evidence of overlapping. The Kempsey example was also quite striking for having a small annexe within one corner, as at Blackstone. All these examples had their longer axis east-west with entrances on the east or west side, suggesting that these were potentially a regular settlement form in the region and, therefore, part of its local identity, if proven to be in contemporary use.

Univallate variations of this general type of enclosure are also known elsewhere in Worcestershire, and have been investigated at Beckford (76 x 73m; Oswald 1970-2) where there was also an off-centre entrance facing north-east; it seemed to have an internal rampart, which was revetted by an internal palisade on the inside, though possible pits on the inside of the ditch elsewhere along the circuit indicate that this was possibly discontinuous, while Moore (2006, 47) has taken this as evidence that there was no internal bank. Oswald (1970-2) dated its foundation to the Iron Age and favoured the view that it was being ploughed up from the early Roman period. Some parts of this site produced a lot of pottery and a floruit of AD 0-50 was suggested (Oswald 1970-2, 12). Single-ditched rectilinear enclosures have also more recently been investigated at Wyre Piddle (40 x at least 45m; Napthan et al. 1997), and at Wychbold (Jones and Evans 2006) near Droitwich, and, therefore, also appear to be characteristic of the area. So far, however, they are still only relatively poorly dated.

Where middle Iron Age activity has been proven in Worcestershire by excavation, its location is usually focused either on the prominent hillfort sites or, more occasionally, in lowland clusters of buildings as, for instance, at Beckford, but dating the foundation or end of these settlements has not been easy, and so relating these to other settlement trends is problematic. On the basis of Beckford, Moore (2006, 134-8) has suggested, with reference to the evidence around Bredon Hill in south Worcestershire, a general move towards increased settlement density on the gravels, especially close to water – though presumably this is based on the cropmark evidence where many enclosures have been identified as Iron Age without the confirmatory excavation evidence, and so, where trends are being discussed, essential dating may still be problematic. Strictly speaking much remains unclear as there has been only limited excavation, and it has not yet proved possible to trace later prehistoric settlement sequences fully within any localised landscape. Importantly, more excavated data could still usefully throw some light on how the hillfort and lowland sectors of population inter-related with each other, and how this was reflected in the settlement pattern.

So far the Beckford model of middle Iron Age settlement, at least partly characterised by large-scale lowland clustering, has not been found in north Worcestershire. Though the evidence is still insufficient, this may well indicate some regional differentiation, at least in the period before the Blackstone enclosure was established. Where enclosures can be dated to the later Iron Age, this could indicate the adoption of a consistent settlement pattern possibly expanding into new territory (north Worcestershire), and therefore across varied terrains (i.e. both north and south Worcestershire). In which case it may perhaps reflect a considerable specialisation in a certain farming regime during a particular era, though other factors such as social organisation and regional identity may also contribute towards the adoption of a common settlement plan. Despite the extent of excavations at Beckford, this site unfortunately provided little detailed information about the transition to the later Iron Age other than that it involved a major settlement relocation. It is clear, therefore, that although the Blackstone enclosure was also situated on gravels there was little else in common with the settlement development at Beckford, which existed in a much more intensively managed landscape. It can, therefore, be concluded that at least parts of south and north Worcestershire were hugely different in their later prehistoric settlement history. Rectilinear enclosures further afield

Rectilinear enclosures are a widespread type and their general origins are presently taken to reflect the increasing importance of the household group in the later Iron Age (Moore 2007a, 274). They emerge at this time in parts of the Welsh Marches and west Midlands (Moore 2007a), and east Midlands (Knight 2007), and have been taken to indicate changing social practice, with greater emphasis on the household and its obligations (Wigley 2007; Sharples 2007).

The identification of rectilinear enclosures has been mainly by aerial photography and they were once thought to be a long-lived feature characteristic of the uplands (Whimster 1989), though now it is seen that they were also common on the lowlands. Whimster classified enclosure cropmarks in the Welsh Marches area, including the upper Severn in Shropshire and westwards to Newtown in Wales, according to their overall morphology and it is clear that the rectangular enclosure is a well-attested type in this region – the regular quadrilateral single-ditched enclosures tending to be smaller than the rectilinear double-ditched form to which the Blackstone enclosure belonged. The former was identified as the most common type (44.7% of all enclosures; usually about 0.25ha or less) around Wroxeter and in the vicinity of other military sites, with examples often being found within 1km of each other, and excavation has indicated a late Iron Age to early Roman date, whereas the rectilinear double-ditched enclosure (9.6% of all enclosures; usually about 0.33ha or more) are summarised as occurring away from Roman military and commercial centres, where they are usually solitary and may sometimes exhibit an extreme regularity taken to indicate Roman influence. Excavation at two Shropshire examples (Sharpstones, and at Lyth Hill, Condover) has shown them also to be of later Iron Age and Roman date (Whimster 1989). The broad classification of enclosures shows quite a high degree of uniformity across this region based on a limited number of settlement types, with the limited evidence showing a peak in the construction of enclosures in the late Iron Age. Whereas occupation could continue into the Roman period in Shropshire (Whimster 1989, 45), but in north Worcestershire, based on the Blackstone evidence, this appears not to be the case.

More detailed and recent study of this general type of site (based on a large study area to the south of Worcester) has revealed other common elements such as their general preference for an entrance most often towards the south-east (Moore 2006, 59) and a similar size of interior to Blackstone (i.e. many up to 0.6ha; Moore 2006, 61), though these are mainly single-ditched examples. The Blackstone site, though situated beyond the Whimster (1989) study area, correlates closely to a principal category defined in his study, which fosters the view that the Whimster classification of cropmark sites can be extended eastwards and southwards into the middle Severn Valley, potentially indicating a broad cultural correspondence across this wider region. In some parts of Wales it has been established that about two-thirds of enclosure sites are double- or multi-ditched (Silvester and Britnell 1993), which might suggest that the multi-ditched type of enclosure derives from the upland area, and so may indicate its association with the upland economy, typically based on pastoralism.

Other commentators have also discussed reasons for the presence of rectilinear enclosures in this same region. Wigley (2007), citing studies by Jones (1994) and Silvester and Britnell (1993), has observed that the univallate rectilinear enclosures of the upper Severn Valley are usually on the lower ground, and an apparent association with military and civilian sites, such as Wroxeter, has been taken to indicate that they were of Roman date. Such speculation would be better informed if more sites of this type had been investigated on the ground, and this must remain a principal aim for the future.


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