Ham Hill

Ham Hill

Ham Hill, to the west of Yeovil in Somerset,  has several designations:  it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument containing both an Iron Age hill fort and a Roman site, it is also a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Local Nature Reserve and country park.  It is also the site of two active Ham Stone quarries

The name may come from the Old English ham and hyll,  giving a meaning of the settlement hill.  However its original name was Hamdon, meaning the hill among the water meadows.  There is evidence for occupation from the mesolithic and neolithic periods.   Ham Hill is the site of a very large Bronze Age and Iron Age hill fort of the Durotriges tribe, from the 1st century BC.  The 3 miles (5 km) ramparts enclose an area of 210 acres.  Most of the perimeter is a double bank and ditch (multivallate).  There is a major entrance to the south-east, on the line of the modern road, and another to the north-east, following a track from the Church of St Mary the Virgin at East Stoke in Stoke-sub-Hamdon. Archaeological finds include bronze-work, chariot parts, iron currency bars, gold and silver coins, cremations and burials.

The hill was captured around AD 45 by the Roman Second Legion (Augusta), led by the future emperor Vespasian, who had already captured Maiden Castle and other hill forts to the south. Many Roman military artefacts have been found, and it is quite likely that the Second Legion made a temporary camp on the hill, as at Hod Hill.  After the initial campaigns, a more permanent Roman camp was established at nearby Ilchester, and the Fosse Way military road was constructed within 1 mile of Ham Hill, on its way to Axminster and the garrison at Exeter.  The area was very prosperous in the Roman period, and several major villas have been found nearby, including one on the eastern part of the hill in the field known as "Warren", with extensive mosaic.  Other villas have been found at Stoke-sub-Hamdon, Odcombe, Lufton, and West Coker. Just to the east of the main plateau is the isolated St. Michael's Hill, the pointed hill that gives its name to the village of Montacute, and which was turned into a motte-and-bailey castle by the Normans.

South of the main hill are strip lynchets, or low terraces created by ancient ploughing and cultivation, and the deserted medieval village of Witcombe (or Whitcombe), which was finally abandoned in the 17th century.

In the 1800s there were 24 small quarries operating on the hill, continuing into the Victorian era.  Many of these small quarries ceased working by 1910 and today Hamstone is only quarried in two areas on the top of Ham Hill.

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