The story of Cissbury Ring

Lone tree on the north-east side of Cissury Ring

Cissbury Ring is a Sussex landmark on the South Downs. It is treasured for its beauty, its history and its views. Here we reveal the hidden stories which explain the landscape you see before you today.

Prior to the Neolithic period human activity was limited here. Bands of hunters are thought to have used the South Downs as a vantage point for spotting animal herds.

The Neolithic period saw the development of settlements in the surrounding area as people banded together to clear woodland, plant crops and domesticate animals. An extensive flint mining operation was carved out on the southern side of the hill evidence of which can still be seen today.

Agricultural settlements continued to grow during the early Bronze Age when Cissbury appears to have been used as a ritual burial ground. Two round barrows have been identified here. This type of burial mound marked a change from multiple interments in a long barrow to individual burials.

The Iron Age hill fort was constructed around 400BC and was used for defence for around 300 years. Cissbury is a univallate fort, that is a hilltop enclosure with a single rampart accompanied by a ditch and a low counterscarp bank. The hill fort encloses around 26 hectares and originally had only two entrances, one at the eastern corner and the other at the southern end.

The hill fort's southern entrance and the route of an ancient trackway
The hill fort's southern entrance and the route of an ancient trackway

After 100BC the interior of the fort was used for agriculture with rectangular fields being marked out with earthwork banks and terraces.

There is archaeological evidence of a settlement at Cissbury during the later Roman period. This comprised a group of 11 buildings and two rectangular enclosures situated near the eastern entrance to the fort. The ramparts were heightened at this time possibly in fear of Danish attacks.

The discovery at Cissbury of two successive issues of coinage struck between AD1009 and AD1023 suggests that there was once a mint here.

There is little evidence of activity here during medieval times but many of the local agricultural trackways across the downland are likely to have originated during this period.

In Tudor times Cissbury formed part of an early-warning system of beacons that ran the length of the south coast. Watchers were able to monitor 78 miles of coastline from here. The beacons consisted of barrels of pitch on top of tall oak posts.  

Though recognised as having defensive capabilities several times since then, no actual military activity took place on the hill until the Second World War. A large anti-tank ditch was excavated around the entire hill in 1940 and anti-aircraft guns were positioned across the highest part of the ridge within the hill fort.

Anti-tank ditch around Cissbury Ring in 1945
Anti-tank ditch around Cissbury Ring in 1945

Later in the war the north slope of Cissbury Hill was used in military exercises in preparation for the invasion of Europe. Observation dugouts were excavated within the rampart to accommodate machine-gun posts.

Today Cissbury Ring has a much more peaceful existence: a place where people can walk, enjoy the views and appreciate the countryside.