Monday, 9 September 2013

Wallbury Camp, Great Hallingbury: Transactions n.s. Volume 8 Part 2

(Taken from Transactions, New Series, Volume 8, published 1903)


The first question one asks when visiting an ancient fortification is to what period does it belong?

With regard to some forms of earthwork we are able to assign an approximate date, for instance those mound and court forts which abound in England, are mostly of the l0th to the 12th centuries, the days of Saxon, Dane or Norman. Then again, the rectangular enclosures of vallum and fosse standing four square to all the winds that blow, we know to be usually of the Roman era, but when we examine forts of days before the Roman domination we are unable to fix a date and must veil our ignorance by calling them all pre-historic.

Nevertheless there are points of difference between these pre-historic works which indicate vaguely their relative ages. For example, when we see a fort at the top of some great projecting cliff where nature having provided a precipice on two sides of a triangle, man had only to throw ramparts across the third side, or when we see similar work on the top of an outcrop of millstone grit on the wild moors of the north, we should feel no surprise to hear that weapons of neolithic man had been discovered there, so remote from our day may be the period of their construction, as of that of many other high hill forts. Coming to more lowland districts where no miniature mountains exist, we find the early constructors fixed on the highest points and to render them secure adopted a system of tortuous and involved entrances to their forts often with protecting outworks.

It will be evident to anyone who has examined such early works that they could have been only places of refuge to be resorted to when tribal enemies threatened the valleys and habitable parts; places to which the women and children as well as the cattle could be removed for protection, as was the case with the New Zealand forts of the Maories even till only some 75 years ago. The length of time necessary to get to and from some of these, precludes the idea of their being for other than purely defensive purposes, but when we examine another type of fortification and find the makers no longer following exactly the lines of the hills, and no longer depending on involved tortuous entrances, we feel we are upon the work of much later men — men who had probably learnt more of the art of war and required, not forts for defence alone, but rather places in which a body of fighting men could be protected, and from which be able rapidly to issue forth in strength to attack the opposing force. And such a late example we have here in Wallbury, pre- Roman perhaps but not, I think, long before the Christian era, and probably it (unlike those early forts) was used for more or less permanent residence. Cultivation has destroyed all trace of huts or houses but probably this and other of these late level-surfaced enclosures had many such.

Pre-historic works can have no history and we can only speak of what may have been the story of Wallbury. A writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1821 boldly suggested that it was one of a line of forts, linking it with Bishops Stortford and Stansted, this we know is not so, a thousand years or more divide it from those, but I am by no means sure that his suggestion as to this being a fort of the Trinovantes for defence against the tribes of the west, is improbable. The civilization of the Trinovantes was probably more advanced than theirs and needed such a strong garrison against them as these banks would shelter on this, which was the border land between the Trinovantes and the Catuvelauni till both were brought under one rule.

Salmon (History of Essex, 1740) says that the "conjecture may pass" that this is Alauna Silva of Ravennas, but Gough, in his Additions to Camden’s Britannia shows the fallacy of this idea, and we can only repeat that of its history we are ignorant and, so far as I know, the spade and the plough have brought little to light to tell its true tale.

Till excavations teach us that of which we are now ignorant we may not assert its date but, so far as can be judged by its appearance, this great double ramparted 35 acre fortress has existed for some 2000 years.

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