The history of Pulpit Hill Iron Age Hill Fort

The small hillfort on Pulpit Hill forms part of a series of defended sites established along the Chiltern ridge during the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age. The monument is well preserved, retaining the complete circuit of defences and the entrance.

Pulpit Hill from Grangelands Nature Reserve
Pulpit Hill from Grangelands Nature Reserve
Pulpit Hill from Grangelands Nature Reserve

Pulpit Hill is a small ‘multivallate’ hillfort. These are defined as fortified enclosures of varying shape, generally between 1 and 5ha in size and located on hilltops. They are delimited by boundaries consisting of two or more lines of closely set earthworks spaced at intervals of up to 15m.

Pulpit Hill Iron Age hill fort
The location of Pulpit Hill Iron Age hill fort
Pulpit Hill Iron Age hill fort

The hillfort's commanding position demonstrates not only defensive power, but also the status of its former inhabitants. The hillfort’s prominent position at the highest point on the north western end of Pulpit Hill, a wooded spur of the Chiltern Hills commanding wide views over the Vale of Aylesbury to the north, and made inaccessible by steep slopes on all but the south eastern side.

The centre of the Iron Age enclosure at Pulpit Hill
Pulpit Hill Iron Age Hillfort
The centre of the Iron Age enclosure at Pulpit Hill

The approximately square interior measures approximately 90m northwest to southeast and 100m northeast to southwest. The northwest and southwest sides are defended by an artificial scarp, some 10m in width and between 1.5m and 2.5m in height. A shallow depression along the foot of the scarp indicates the line of a largely buried ditch, which would have further enhanced the natural defences provided by the spur. The rampart is more pronounced on the other two sides of the hillfort, where the bank is some 6m in width and between 0.5m and 1m high, and the ditch averages 8m across and 1.5m deep. A second, outer bank, some 4m in width and 0.8m high, flanks the inner defences on these sides, accompanied by an outer ditch, about 0.5m in width and 0.7m deep.

Beech trees at Pulpit Hill
Beech trees at Pulpit Hill
Beech trees at Pulpit Hill

The hillfort can be approached over level ground on the southern side, where double ramparts, probably surmounted by timber palisades, were designed to compensate for the lack of natural obstacles. The entrance lies near the centre of this side of the fort, some 20m from the south of the eastern corner.

Iron Age ramparts at Pulpit Hill
Iron Age ramparts at Pulpit Hill
Iron Age ramparts at Pulpit Hill

A trench was excavated about half way across the interior in 1855, revealing occupation debris in the form of coarse-ware pottery sherds, animal bones, oyster shells and a boar's tusk. Fragments of Early Iron Age pottery have been found in the area more recently, as well as fragments of daub, a socketed iron spearhead, a knife blade (probably Roman) and numerous worked flints which suggest earlier, Neolithic or Bronze Age, activity on the spur.

Raparts on Iron Age enclosure at Pulpit Hill
Raparts on Iron Age enclosure at Pulpit Hill
Raparts on Iron Age enclosure at Pulpit Hill

The fort, though in a commanding location, was probably not primarily used as a fortress in time of war. It is more likely to have been a centre for storing agricultural produce or to enclose animals from farms in the district (perhaps as protection from cattle raids), as well as being a defensible site if and when the need arose. There is also evidence that hillforts were used for ritual activities, possibly for religious purposes connected with agriculture.

The origin of the name ‘Pulpit Hill’ and ‘Pulpit Wood’ are unknown, but they are probably 19th century in origin.