(KS2: Iron Age Hillforts, tribal kingdoms, farming, art and culture)
(KS2: The Roman Empire and its impact on Britain)
What is Milber Down hillfort?
Milber Down hillfort is an Iron Age multivallate hill-slope fortification, consisting of four roughly concentric and fairly widely spaced ramparts with outer ditches, situated on a hill slope.
Milber Down illustrated in Hutchinson’s Diaries, 1853. Reproduced with the kind permission of Devon Heritage Services.
What can you still see in the landscape today?
The large ditches are still visible (see aerial photograph) but the whole camp is bisected by the road from Newton Abbot to Torquay. The entrances to the hillfort were probably on the north-west and south-east where the road enters and they have mostly perished.
Oblique black and white aerial photograph of the defensive banks of Milber Down in 1985. © Frances Griffith, Devon County Council.
Colour photograph of one of the earthwork ramparts (on the right) and ditches (on the left filled with scrub) at Milber Down in 2006. © Devon County Council.
What was the hillfort used for?
The purpose of Milber Down hillfort is not fully understood. The plan of this camp bears a strong resemblance to that of Clovelly Dykes in north Devon. It is suggested that in multiple enclosure forts like Milber Down, the central enclosure may have been used to protect stock while the pastoralists occupied one or more of the outer enclosures.
Did the Iron Age people who used Milber Down leave anything behind?
Three bronze figurines were found in the fill of the middle ditch of the hillfort during excavations on the west side of the hillfort in 1937. The figurines, dated to the first century AD, comprised a recumbent deer, a duck with a disc in its mouth and a bird with hinged legs. The fill of the ditch also contained Iron Age pottery. They are part of the Torquay Museum collections and the figurines are on loan to Newton Abbot museum in 2021.
When did people stop using the hillfort?
The hillfort was abandoned after the Roman conquest. Roman coin finds and the medieval pottery indicates settlement activity on or near the hillfort after its use in the Iron Age. Two coins, a sestertius of Antoninus Pius (AD 86-161) and another of Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180), were dug up in or near the Iron Age hill-fort, the exact site being unknown. A third coin of Marcus Aurelius was dug up below the fort on the north side of the road from Newton Abbot.
Did anything happen to Milber Down hillfort after the Iron Age?
In the Roman period, a farmstead, known as Little Milber Camp, existed just outside the fort on the south-east side. The ramparts were probably fortified with stone, which later collapsed into the deep ditch. Pottery dated this camp to the first century, and some pieces were of the same type as found within the hillfort. The ramparts and ditch were ploughed in 1938 which flattened them, and later buildings were built on part of the site. However, archaeological remains of the ditch, filled in with later soils, survive below the ground.
A medieval hut-site against the back of the innermost bank produced the rim of a 12th century cooking-pot.
The outermost rampart of Milber Down hillfort is said to have been thrown up by William of Orange who placed artillery within the camp, but it is more likely to be an integral part of the original defences. Relics of William’s occupation were found in 1845.
by Catherine Rackham
- Understand how our knowledge of the past is constructed from a range of sources (including aerial photography).
- Explore the use hillforts in the Iron Age.
Use the aerial photograph of Milber Down to create a reconstruction drawing to show what Milber Down may have looked like in the Iron Age.
Look at the aerial photograph of Milber Down hillfort. Encourage the children to identify the shape of the hillfort. Can they see all the ditches? Can the see them under the trees and bushes? Discuss how photographic sources have to be interpreted.
Explain that the children are going to make their own drawing showing what they think the hillfort would have looked like in the Iron Age. Look at reconstruction drawings of other hillforts and discuss what the hillfort may have looked like in the Iron Age (the hillfort would have been surrounded by a palisade or fence. There would probably have been roundhouses built with wattle-and-daub walls, thatched roofs and a hearth inside. There would also be people dressed in Iron Age clothes and domesticated animals in stock enclosures).
Print and enlarge the aerial photograph of Milber Down. Using tracing paper, ask children to trace the ditches and ramparts trying to reconstruct the hillfort (they will have to complete the ditches and ramparts where they are obscured by the vegetation). They can add detail to show what they think it would have looked like in the Iron Age (demonstrating their understanding of the period).
Compare the reconstruction drawings. What is similar? Does everyone have the same shape hillfort? Why are there differences in the reconstruction drawings?
Using clay or soil make a reconstruction model of the hillfort. Take measurements for the aerial photograph and try to make the model to scale.
Add small sticks to make a palisade and small model round houses.
The hillfort could then be photographed from above to make ‘aerial photographs’. The model can be photographed from different angles to show how different monuments can look when seen from different positions.
Further information on Milber Down is available on Heritage Gateway.
There is a public right of way across the southern part of the site. However please check access arrangements and health and safety issues yourself before visiting.
Information about hillforts is available in this Historic England Introduction to Heritage Assets.
Milber Down is a Scheduled Ancient Monument meaning it is given legal protection by being placed on a list, or schedule. Further information on scheduled monuments is available from Historic England.