Worlebury Camp

Worlebury Camp

Worlebury Camp is the name of the site of an Iron Age hill fort that once stood atop Worlebury Hill.  Worlebury Hill is just north of Weston-super-Mare on the Bristol Channel.   The fort was designed for defense, as is evidenced the number of walls and ditches around the fort. Archaeologists have found several large triangular platforms around the sides of the fort, lower down on the hillside.  They also found nearly one hundred storage pits of various sizes cut into the bedrock, and many of these had human remains, coins, and other artifacts in them.  In more recent times the fort has suffered damage and been threatened with complete destruction on many occassions.  The location has been designated an Scheduled Ancient Monument and falls within the Weston Woods Local Nature Reserve.

artists impression of Worlesbury Camp.      image public domain

Triangular stone platforms
There are a number of triangular platforms on the slopes around the hill fort.  The apexes of these triangles are flush with the hillside, with the base projecting in the downhill direction.  However, the upper surface is approximately level.  The front faces of these platforms are about 1.7 metres (5.6 ft) above the hillside, and they have ditches in front of them to improve the defense of the platforms.  It was theorized that these platforms were slingers' platforms or archers' stations.  Several sling stones have been found around these platforms, offering some credence to the theory. 

Walls and ditches
The fort sits on the summit of Worlebury Hill, which was bordered on its north and west sides by steep cliffs dropping down into the Bristol Channel, between Weston Bay and Sand Bay.  These would have rendered the fort nearly invulnerable to attack from those directions.  Nevertheless, the fort still has one wall on its north side and one on its west side, both very near the edge of the cliffs.  On the south side, a single rampart and a ditch guarded the fort.  The level east side was protected by two stone ramparts and five ditches. These two ramparts are still over 3 metres (10 ft) high.

remaining walls.   photo by Geof Sheppard

The walls themselves are around 1 metre (3.3 ft) thick.  However, because they are dry-laid stone, the removal of a few stones would be sufficient to bring the entire wall collapsing down.  To prevent access to the walls themselves, the inhabitants of the fort raised large breastworks around the base of the walls by piling up rock rubble against the bases.  These rubble barriers are over 1.22 metres (4.0 ft) high almost everywhere, and in places they are over 1.22 metres (4.0 ft) thick. Attackers would have to clear away the rubble before being able to attack the wall, and all the while they would be under direct fire from defenders on the top of the wall.

Storage pits
The area inside the outer wall has a series of hut circles and 93 storage pits cut directly into the bedrock, which is only around 60 centimetres (2.0 ft) beneath the surface of the soil in most places.  Seventy-four of them are in the larger area, one is in the transverse fosse, and the remaining eighteen are in the central area..  The average size of the pits is around 2 metres (6.6 ft) long by 2 metres wide and 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) deep. The largest pit is roughly triangular, with sides measuring 3 metres (9.8 ft), 2.7 metres (8.9 ft), and 2.4 metres (7.9 ft) long.  The smallest pit is merely 1 metre (3.3 ft) long by .7 metres (2.3 ft) wide.  They were intended for the storage of grain, as is evidenced by the kernels of barley and wheat and the shards of pots that were found in the pits.  Several of the pits contained the remnants of small peas and the remnants of burned woven baskets.  However, researchers also found sling stones and spindle whorls dated to the first or 2nd century BC in them.

storage pits.    photo by Martin Bodman

Eighteen of these pits were found to contain the remains of human skeletons, which are now stored in the North Somerset Museum in Weston-super-Mare.  Eighteen full skeletons were found, of which ten show evidence of a violent death (including sword cuts in the skulls).  It is possible that the Romans or the Belgic raiders attacked the fort and killed the inhabitants.

  Worlesbury broken skull    image public domain

A cast copper alloy penannular collar of special interest to archaeologists has been found at the campsite.  It may indicate that this hilltop site was used even before the Iron Age, since related artifacts tend to be found with Bronze Age items.  Interestingly, this collar may be unique because nothing like it has ever been found in Britain.  The only similar finds that archaeologists know about come from the graves of German females.  However, a related copper penannular brooch dating to the fifth or sixth century A.D. has been found in a spring between Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains in Wales.

A large number of Roman coins have been found at Worlebury Camp, where the Romans had established a presence by the end of the 1st century.  Many of the Roman coins bear the image of the Western Roman Emperor Honorius who ruled from 395 to 423. This hoard was found amidst more Roman artifacts like coarse pottery, glass beads, and bronze fragments.  All of this was inside the fort proper.  Another coin was located by Trinity Path which leads towards the fort.

Other findings at the Worlebury campsite include animal remains, including the bones of pigs, oxen, horses, deer, goats, and even small birds.  Limpet shells have also been found.  Archaeologists found iron objects, adding further credibility to the idea that this fort is from the Iron Age. These objects include a chisel or borer, several spearheads and javelin heads, and an iron cone with charred wood inside and a rivet hole through the cone.  Stone artifacts, mainly scrapers, have been discovered at the site.  In addition to these, a lead lump about the size of a walnut, probably a sling bullet was found along with bead-rim pottery of the Glastonbury type was also found at this site.  A socketed bronze axe from the late Bronze Age, which was found at Worlebury Hill in 1883, is in the Ashmolean Museum.

Damage to the site
Development of Weston-super-Mare since the 19th century has resulted in three episodes of potentially irreversible damage to the site.  A quarry started operation in the southern side of Worlebury Hill in 1815 to mine for galena, calamine, and stone.  In 1849, a plan was made to develop houses right over the brow of the hill.  This would have wiped out the entire historic landmark and destroyed all the artifacts, but the development never reached above the lowest slopes of the hill.   The Bristol and Exeter Railway arrived in Weston-super-Mare in 1853, making it profitable to expand the villages into a town and developers soon began working on the southern and western slopes of Worlebury Hill, but, like four years earlier, the expansion never reached above the lower slopes of the hill.

Some of the trees planted in the early 19th century had become very large, and their roots were growing into the archaeological structures.  In 2005, the Forestry Commission gave permission for North Somerset Council to fell 300 trees to reduce the subsequent risks.