The Sacking of an historic Iron Age Hill Fort. Today.

Picture of quarrying at Ham Hill from hamhillfort.info

Picture of quarrying at Ham Hill from hamhillfort.info

Once upon a time when the land was the sea and time had only just got going properly,the south England lay beneath a shallow ocean.

And in one tiny part of that expanse of salt water, the currents drew flotsam and jetsam from far and wide to make a near-perfect concoction, a deep, honey coloured sediment of great limestone crags.

It was a small area of riches, a massive set of limestones of such unusual quality they have played a part in most of our country’s history, one way or another. They are golden, because of the way the iron in them has matured over the ensuing 180 million years.

Now the place is called Ham Hill. Or Hamdon Hill.

The men of the Bronze and Iron ages sought it out as a high place. They built a fort of, it is thought, unparallelled size to any other in Britain, covering some 210 acres, surrounded by three miles of double-bank-and-ditch.

The Roman Second Legion, and its Emperor Vespasian conquered it and made it their own.

South of the hill are the ancient strip-lychets – evidence of Mediaeval strip-farming left behind in the earth by villagers of Whitcombe, the lost village abandoned in the 17th century.

The stone was like a magnet to the wealthy. In the 18th century there were 24 quarries, and in the Victorian era around 200. And how could undermining not have an effect on the archaeological story of that ancient place?

It is called Ham Stone, this gorgeous limestone. And even today, there is a call for restoration which requires ham stone from just this tiny patch – one large hill.

The mining was all but stopped around 1910.

One would think, in these days of almost obsessive preservation, that this great relic of our past would be left alone to recover from the ravages of centuries of exploitation. But but two quarries endure: the North quarry, near a modern stone circle and war memorial; and the Norton Quarry, which takes stone from between 20-30 metres below the surface.

And in 2011, Somerset County Council gave permission for another 80 years of quarrying. For where else would everyone get the ham stone for restoration work?

Not only that, but the quarrying would be expanded to meet demand.

And English Heritage did not shout about it. Rather, it said it found itself in a dilemma.

“Ham Hill is both the main source for the continuing supply of ham stone, used historically for many important buildings,” thisissomerset.co.uk quoted EH as saying, ” and is the site of the largest hill fort in England. This presents a policy dilemma.”

Excuse me if I don’t see the dilemma.

It told local protester, Paul Baker, in a letter: “We do not believe that there is an alternative material available that meets the very specific needs of conservation projects.

“The quarrying is being undertaken with our knowledge and consent and in the context of planning consent from Somerset County Council and Scheduled Monument Consent from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.”

Take a look at pictures of this ancient place now. An archaeological dig has taken place, the results of which you can see here; but such baubles have been dangled, it seems to me, so that we sit mollified by, and watch this happen to a place man has found significant for millennia.

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It is happening because almost no one is shouting, ar jumping up and down.The Protect Hamdon Hill Facebook page has just 87 likes.

This is not just the history of an iron-age jewel in one country, but of the peoples who began here and travelled out all over the world. One of your ancestors may have worn the torq which was unearthed and lies in Somerset’s County Mueum in Taunton.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Need I say more?

If you have a moment: ask questions. The English Heritage Facebook Page is here;  you can tweet EH at @EnglishHeritage, and their contact details are as follows: 

You can read more from the Heritage Trust, and excellent blog which follows the fortunes of some of our most hallowed sights. Click to read their post on Hamdon Hill here.

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30 thoughts on “The Sacking of an historic Iron Age Hill Fort. Today.

    1. I am not sure – I’ll ask the people protesting. As you know, we have so many of these forts, many have forgotten how to honour them. We take them fro granted rather. A tweet or e mail to English Heritage would probably be the best course of action. Thank you, Isobel.

    1. I read your pages regularly; you do a fantsatic job in alerting folks to how our heritage is treated, thank you. I have Put a link at the bottom of the post to your article which sums up the matter so well.

  1. EH are obviously not in tune with modern architectural convictions that restorations should be done using a similar medium recognisably different from the original, so that examination will easily reveal which parts have been repaired or added. Thus there is no need to continue to exploit that source.

    1. I think we have to wear armour on issues like these. Powerful organisations will do what they like, and our freedom to protest can only take us so far. But it is such an incredible loss when places like this are changed forever.

    1. Our ancient monuments are often the things to be open to abuse, aren’t they, IE? a mound, or a tumulus. We have walked past them for centuries so it must be all right to deface them. But it’s like murder cases which are kept open: you go back, in a different frame of mind, or with new technology, and suddenly you can see things you never saw before.

  2. I share your sentiments most heartily, Kate. For what it’s worth I just added my name to the ‘Protest Hamden Hill’ page. I may not be local, but these treasures belong to us all…that’s my real belief. I completely agree with you that there doesn’t need to be any question at all…but I see this happen before my own eyes all too often and it breaks my heart. We humans can be unbelievably short-sighted and obtuse. Aargh!!

  3. ….’liking’ the facebook protest page will keep you up to date with what i am doing with Protect Hamdon Hill and will add to the pressure that i can bring to bare on the authorities involved….

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