Beech trees on Oliver’s Camp

On principle, I don’t use the tragically dated adjective ‘camp’ to describe anybody or any group living or dead. Alternately, I’m not associated with anyone who might own a castle. Either way, I try to avoid saying anything adjectival at all about anybody named ‘Oliver’ (even the camp ones). Therefore you can guess that this blog post is actually about an ancient monument called ‘Oliver’s Camp’ or ‘Oliver’s Castle’. 

I visited this Wiltshire landmark recently. It is one of my favourite prehistoric hillforts given that I co-directed excavations at a prehistoric burial mound close by in 2000.

The site is important for the distinctive pairing of Bronze Age burial mounds at the far south-western end of the peninsula ‘respected’ by the later ramparts. Late Bronze Age spearheads have been found by metal-detectorists nearby. The poorly dated Iron Age univallate promontary fort of c. 1.2 ha was constructed overlooking Devizes at the western edge of the Marlborough Downs.

Around the site are hints that the environs retained a shifting set of uses and connotations. Immediately below Oliver’s Camp at the base of the scarp is Mother Anthony’s Well seems to have been a Romano-British cultic site which may itself have deep pre-Roman origins.

Later, Anglo-Saxon burials reused nearby prehistoric burial mounds on Roundway Down.

Most recently, there are the traces of 20th-century military installations within the fortifications and today the earthworks are lined by sporadic beech trees. Views are stupendous as are the natural scarps upon which it is situated. It is now a nature reserve and there is a large sign telling you all about that. The Modern Antiquarian thinks of the hillfort highly in terms of its dramatic location (see also the Megalithic portal).

The name is not uninteresting, but it is most certainly fictitious. This is one of a series of prehistoric earthworks associated very indireclty with Oliver Cromwell given the English Civil War engagement between Parliamentary and Royalist forces on the neighbouring Roundway Down 13th July 1643. Hillforts have acquired a distinctive range of early modern folklore and connections with the Romans, Danes and English Civil War abound. While the earthworks themselves need not have featured in the Battle of Roundway Down, the monument does have an association with the battle through the positioning at the hillfort’s entrance, and nearby, of two heritage boards explaining the battle.

Oliver’s Camp from Morgan’s Hill
The scarps of Roundway Down to the north of Oliver’s Camp
Oliver’s Camp from the east
Oliver’s Camp from the north
The English Nature detailing the wildlife of Roundway Down including grassland flowers and butterflies
The pair of Bronze Age barrows at the far end of the promontary
The eastern side of Oliver’s Camp
Looking south along the eastern side of Oliver’s Camp
Looking west along the northern ramparts of Oliver’s Camp
Traces of 20th-century military earthworks within the hillfort
The heritage board about the Battle of Roundway Down near the entrance to the hillfort
The heritage board beside the lane east of Oliver’s Camp