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13 November 2014

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You are in: Shropshire > History > Ancient > Old Oswestry Hillfort

Old Oswestry hill fort (CPAT 95-c--1041)

Old Oswestry hill fort

Old Oswestry Hillfort

Looming low over the skyline of the border town of Oswestry, Old Oswestry is a reminder of the beginnings of the town. It's more than 2,000 years since this low hill was first fortified - yet the fortifications can still be easily seen today.

Old Oswestry is described by English Heritage as 'the most hugely impressive Iron Age Hill Fort on the Welsh Borders'. It's highly elaborate defences were probably built out of necessity as the hill upon which Old Oswestry sits is unusually low for an Iron Age hillfort.

Ramparts at the hill fort's west entrance

Ramparts at the hill fort's west entranc

Much of the perimeter of the fort is surrounded by a series of five ramparts and ditches, designed to slow any forces attempting to attack the settlement. On the west side the number of ramparts increases to an impressive seven, while two entrances, one to the west and one to the east, are heavily defended.

Archaeologists are particularly interested in the western entrance which features a series of deep rectangular hollows unique to the site. There are no shortage of suggestions as to what these hollows were for, from water tanks to quarries and even extra fortifications  but we’ll probably never know.

Whatever they are for, they certainly help make the western entrance the most formidable of any hillfort in Britain.

Plan of the defences at Old Oswestry

Plan of the defences at Old Oswestry

The inhabitants of the fort lived on the flat hilltop, which occupies an area of around six hectares.  The site was well-chosen as on a clear day it's easily possible to see as far as Nesscliffe to the south east, over the Shropshire countryside towards Ellesmere and north towards Wrexham.

Excavations show the hill fort was probably occupied from the late Bronze Age - before any of the ramparts were built. From 600 BC onwards the defences were built in stages, right up to the late Iron Age.

It's likely it remained in use until the Roman occupation, although unlike other Iron Age hillforts such as Maiden castle in Dorset, there's no indication the invading Romans had to take it by force.

It's not known whether the hilltop was occupied again. Many hillforts, abandoned during the Roman occupation, were re-occupied by the Romano-British after the Romans left.

The Romano-British were mainly occupied with fighting another series of invaders - the Angles and the Saxons - and some sources suggest Old Oswestry could have been the location of a major battle.

Sunset at the hillfort

Sunset at the Old Oswestry Hillfort

The hillfort could have been the site of the final stand by the Powys king Cynddylan, the last descendant of the historical Arthur to rule in Shropshire.

The 10th century Welsh Annals record that the Saxon king Oswy defeated Cynddylan, plundering the kingdom in 658 AD, but apart from the often inaccurate chronicles, there isn't any evidence of this.

When the Normans arrived in the 11th Century they ignored this obvious defensive location, instead building their castle at Oswestry.

View from the air of new and Old Oswestry

View from the air of Old Oswestry

Today Old Oswestry is a national monument, but it wasn't always treated with such care. Apparently the summit was until only a few hundred years ago covered with trees.

During World War I Canadian troops stationed at nearby Park Hall Camp used part of the summit for building trenches and setting off explosives. In World War II the summit of the hillfort was used to grow food for the war effort. After the war the last of the trees on the summit were felled leaving the site as it is today.

last updated: 14/08/2008 at 14:21
created: 01/08/2008

You are in: Shropshire > History > Ancient > Old Oswestry Hillfort

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