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History of Credenhill Park Wood

During the summers of 2007, 2008, and 2009 sections of the Iron Age hill fort within Credenhill were excavated.

Before the Iron Age hill fort

There is evidence that there was human activity at this site over a long time period prior to the construction of the hill fort defences. Although there is no direct evidence of Neolithic activity it is likely that the woodland that would have existed was cleared around this time. This may have been for agricultural use though hilltop sites are known to have been important to Neolithic people for ritual and ceremonial activity.  The soil profile from the excavation indicates that there was a period of cultivation, followed by the development of established grassland on which the ramparts were built.

We have found Bronze Age pottery from the recent excavations indicating that there was a Bronze Age settlement here. The pottery was relatively local coming from south Shropshire and / or the Malvern area.

Some hill forts had their origins in the Bronze Age or have settlements on the site prior to the hill fort construction, often these features were covered by or incorporated into the later Iron Age defences. 

The time of the Iron Age hill fort

The most striking thing about the hill fort itself is its size. It represents a considerable feat of construction; its rampart bank rings almost the entire summit of the hill, taking in an area of 19.5 ha (50 acres).

One of Britain’s largest hill forts, it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The fort’s earth bank and ditch defences follow natural contours in a roughly oval shape. Even after centuries of weathering, the bank is abrupt and steep in places, rising to more than nine metres (30 feet) high.

The rampart was probably topped by a timber fence, or palisade, which must have presented an impressive defensive obstacle. The hill fort probably had only two entrances, one in the middle of the eastern side and one in the south east corner. There, the ramparts were turned in to form passages that would have had gates at each end.

Gathering building materials

The area protected by the ramparts was so large that some areas inside may have been used for corralling livestock or crop-growing, while others would have been suitable for houses. Excavations have shown that the crest of the ridge was not densely occupied in the Iron Age and towards the northern end there may have been shrines to the gods.

Other finds from the Iron Age include pottery from the Malvern Hills area and briquetage, a coarse ceramic that was used during the production and transportation of salt. Pieces of burned clay, including one with a coat of lime wash, may have come from clay ovens. The lime wash could have been decorative, or for protection.

Recovered pottery from the site suggests that the hill fort was built after about 350BC. It continued in use until around the time of the Roman occupation.

Credenhill hill fort is thought to have been a tribal ‘capital’ - possibly a forerunner of modern-day Hereford. Its size suggests it served, or controlled, a wide geographical area and other, smaller, hill forts surround it.

What remains something of mystery is what hill forts were used for. To our eyes their ramparts suggest that they were all about defence, but their real function may have been quite different - possibly they were markets, or a political, social or religious centres.

Things changed at Credenhill during the Roman period. The Romans were very active in the area. What was a Roman road passes close to Credenhill Park Wood (the wood’s car park is on it) and once led to a Roman town called Magnis, or Magnae, which was close to the River Wye just south of Credenhill.

Roman occupation

Dig showing one of the Roman granary building beam slots (copyright Herefordshire Archaeology, photographer Peter Dorling)

Archaeological finds at Credenhill Park Wood indicate that at least part of the hill fort was used by the Roman army during the First Century AD. It is thought that it may have been a supply depot for Roman army units operating further west.

A substantial timber building from the time could have been a granary. Scraps of big Roman storage jars, or amphorae, offer a clue to how well-supplied the Roman units were. One amphora from Spain would have contained olive oil, one from the Agean or Asia Minor may have held wine, while another from Beirut, or Palestine, probably carried dates.

Other finds include a piece of a fine-quality glass drinking vessel and an opaque glass gaming counter, which add weight to the military connection. Four coins dated to between the 1st and 4th Centuries have been found too, as well as an almost-intact brooch that is thought to have been used for fastening clothes.

Almost intact Roman brooch used for fastening clothing, dated to the 1st century AD.

After the Romans

The Roman occupation of Britain ended in the early 400s. In around 480AD the fort was occupied once again, this time by incoming Saxons. Their leader was a chief called Creda and the landmark summit became Creda’s Hill.

Much later, in medieval times, the hill is thought to have been part of a deer park. Cultivation took place within the interior of the fort in both the medieval and post–medieval periods. In 1274 a document identifies a park at Credenhill and it is assumed that at this time this site was known as Credenhill Park Wood. A little over 50 years later a charter for a warren was granted which we presume means that rabbits as well as deer were being kept within the park at that time.
Around 1540 to 1800 grazing is recorded in parts of the woodland. During this time large areas of the woodland are coppiced.

Between the 1600s and 1800s, the park was open woodland with grazing, but between the 1800s and 1900s much of the parkland disappears as trees are planted in the hill fort area.

During the 19th century much of the parkland, as well as the hill fort itself, were planted with trees. On a map dated 1843 a large part of Credenhill Park Wood is marked as ‘Coppice Wood’, which suggests that it was being actively managed at that time.

More recent times

Much of Credenhill’s ancient woodland was spared during the World Wars when demand for trees was at its peak. An aerial photograph from the 1940s shows the wood having a semi-natural type structure dominated by smaller trees. That may indicate that coppice management had come to an end, or that trees had re-grown after felling during the First World War.

Forestry Commission survey work from 1953 describes the wood as being dominated by oaks with an average age of 80 years. However, many of the wood’s broadleaved trees were removed in the 1960s and replaced by densely-planted conifers. In more recent years many of the conifers have been removed and work has begun to return the wood to mixed deciduous cover.

The wood was bought by the Woodland Trust in 2003 with help from the local community, funding bodies and Herefordshire Archaeology. Restoration of the ancient woodland was started by slowly removing the non-native conifers. The aim is to develop and manage the site as a native broadleaved woodland, including protecting the area of semi natural ancient woodland.

An archaeological excavation project at Credenhill Park Wood between 2007 and 2009 unearthed valuable evidence of the wood’s past, including late Bronze Age ceramics, Iron Age wares, Roman coins and building remains, and signs of ploughing during the medieval period. The project was featured in a Time Team Special documentary about hill forts, which was broadcast by Channel 4 in 2008.