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13 November 2014

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Roman soldiers

Roman soldiers

Malvern Hills - history

There's more than 2000 years of history tied up with the Malvern Hills, but did an Ancient British chieftain really make his last stand there?

Most visitors to the Malvern Hills will make a trip to British Camp - the Iron Age hill fort that dominates the Herefordshire Beacon.

British Camp from the air

British Camp from the air

The 2000 year old ramparts are still clearly visible today, making the hill look a little like a giant layered wedding cake.

Originally British Camp was thought to have been a purely defensive feature, which people retreated to in time of trouble.

Now excavations at the nearby fort on Midsummer Hill suggest that they were occupied permanently.

If this is true it was probably home to 4,000 people, and was occupied for between four and five hundred years.

What did the Romans ever do for us?

The coming of the Romans meant the end of hill forts, but the start of one of the great Malvern legends.

"Caracticus played his final card and chose a site for a battle so that the approaches, the escape routes, everything, was awkward for us"

Tacitus - Roman historian

Popular folklore has it that the Ancient British chieftain Caractacus made his last stand at British Camp.

The legend says that he was captured after a heroic fight and transported to Rome, where he so impressed the Emperor Claudius that he was given a villa and a pension.

Unfortunately, like many legends, it's unlikely to be true.

Caractacus was captured by the Romans, but if the account of his final battle by the Roman historian Tacitus is accurate, then it's unlikely to have taken place at British camp:

"Caracticus played his final card and chose a site for a battle so that the approaches, the escape routes, everything, was awkward for us and to his sides advantage. On one side there were steep hills. Where ever approaches were gentle he piled boulders into a sort of rampart. In front of him flowed a river of doubtful fordability and squadrons of armed men were in position on the defences." 
Tacitus: Histories 

Even given the River Severn's habit of flooding it takes a huge stretch of the imagination to describe it as being in front of British camp.

Experts now generally agree that Caractucus's last stand took place near Church Stretton.

As any good journalist knows, the facts never get in the way of a good story, and the legend still continues to this day.

Elgar was sufficiently taken with it to compose his cantata Caractacus in 1898.

More history

Even if they didn't make a last stand there, the Ancients Britains are probably responsible for the name Malvern, or moel-bryn meaning "the bare hill".

The top most layer of British camp is however not Iron Age, but a Norman motte fortification.

On the ridge of the hills running north to south is the Shire Ditch, which dates to the 13th century.

If you make the walk along the ridge you will also come to Clutter's Cave, also known as Giant's Cave or Waum's Cave, after the spring that once lay beneath it.

This was probably a medieval hermit's dwelling.

last updated: 05/01/2009 at 12:38
created: 11/03/2008

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