An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Dorset, Volume 4, North. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1972.
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'CELTIC' FIELD GROUPS
The 'Celtic' fields described in Dorset II and Dorset III survive in condition varying from well-preserved earthworks to the merest traces on air photographs. Those in the area covered by the present volume have almost without exception been severely damaged, chiefly by later cultivation.- From the mediaeval period onwards, ploughing has made inroads into the 'Celtic' fields, altering or obliterating them, a process of destruction which has reached a climax in the last few decades under the impact of the efficient machinery of modern arable farming. Large blocks of fields have been totally flattened and are now scarcely visible on the ground, though they still survive on air photographs. But even on photographs, particularly those taken in recent years, 'Celtic' fields are often only faintly discernible— the last vestiges of a lengthy process of attrition.
The fields all lie on the Chalk and can be detected over substantial areas of former downland (see general map of prehistoric and Roman sites in end-pocket). Their distribution, like that of so many earthworks, coincides to a notable extent with the areas of former downland as recorded, for example, in O.S., 1811; areas in which post-Roman ploughing has usually been of limited intensity, if it took place at all, until comparatively recent times. This suggests that the 'Celtic' fields were formerly much more widespread than now appears and that many have been obliterated in areas where arable activity has been intensive and continuous. Where the fields are certainly or probably related to settlements, the latter appear to be of the Iron Age or Romano-British periods. The small square fields forming an irregular pattern on Pimperne Down (Group (73)) are associated with an early Iron Age enclosure, Pimperne (15). A series of elongated, but somewhat irregular, fields and closes in the same group occupies the area between the probable Iron Age enclosure, Pimperne (18), and the double-enclosure settlement of Iron Age and Romano-British date, Tarrant Hinton (18). 'Celtic' fields (Group (70)) are integrated with the Iron Age and Romano-British settlement of Buzbury Rings and, in part, with a series of linear boundary dykes (Tarrant Keyneston (17–21)) in their vicinity. The fields of Group (74) adjoin the Iron Age and Romano-British settlement on Tarrant Hinton Down (19), and at their S. limit are cut by a linear dyke, Tarrant Launceston (16). The Romano-British settlements on Chettle Down (Chettle (14)) and on Blandford Down (Tarrant Launceston (14)) lie among 'Celtic' fields (Groups (72) and (75)), but direct relationship can now be established only at the former settlement.
Among the 'Celtic' fields, virtually no trackways have been found leading to and from settlements, except on Manor Hill, Tarrant Gunville, where nearly half a mile of track associated with a probable settlement is visible as a soil-mark among contemporary fields (Group (76)). On Monkton Down (Group (72)) and on Gunville Down (Group (73)) two small areas of elongated and notably rectangular fields are conspicuous; their form suggests that they were laid out in the Roman period, rather than earlier.
Group (70): Keyneston Down, Rawston Down and Luton Down (Langton Long Blandford, Tarrant Keyneston, Tarrant Monkton, Tarrant Rawston). 'Celtic' fields (916047—914074—936075—935060), now largely flattened by ploughing, and discontinuous, cover some 500 acres on the top and sides of the interfluve between the Stour and the Tarrant, around the Iron Age and Romano-British settlement of Buzbury Rings (Tarrant Keyneston (16)).-They incorporate at least one other settlement, Tarrant Rawston (4), and are associated with a number of dykes, Tarrant Keyneston (18–21). See map in end pocket.
Traces of a number of fields, up to 60 yds. wide and of uncertain length, are detectable in Langton Long Blandford just W. of Buzbury Rings, around 915060. Clearly they are laid off the linear dyke (Tarrant Keyneston (18)), between which and dyke (19) are at least four large rectangular fields, measuring up to 85 yds. by 130 yds.
To the S. of Buzbury Rings heavy ploughing has totally flattened the fields, but traces are visible as far S. as 916047. Air photographs suggest that fields have been relaid near the linear earthwork, Tarrant Keyneston (20); some appear to be related to it, others to be cut by it.- A ploughed out hollow-way or dyke, apparently integrated with 'Celtic' fields, runs N.E. from 920050 to a roughly circular enclosure about 130 ft. across at 92150565.
'Celtic' field lynchets, but few complete fields, extend E. from Buzbury Rings towards Tarrant Rushton, along the steep slope N. of Keyneston Down, as far as 933060. Air photographs show traces of former 'Celtic' fields on Rawston Down, especially around 924067. Farther N., in Tarrant Monkton, traces are visible on Luton Down, around 915071, and also over an extensive area around, but mostly N. of Luton Drove, between 921074 and 936076. Within this area, soil-marks indicate the existence of a probable settlement at 913076, comprising at least one small enclosure approached by a long, narrow funnel and associated with further ditches.
Group (71): The Cliff (Tarrant Rawston). Vestiges of 'Celtic' fields are traceable on the shoulder of The Cliff, a steep river cliff rising to 300 ft. above O.D. and facing N.W. over the Tarrant valley.- Because of destruction by strip cultivation and later ploughing no complete field survives.
Group (72): South Tarrant Hinton Down— Race Down—Monkton Down (Tarrant Hinton, Tarrant Launceston, Tarrant Monkton).- 'Celtic' fields, now almost entirely destroyed by cultivation, are visible on air photographs over much of the western parts of these parishes. They are not demonstrably continuous, but they may once have been so, and some at least were almost certainly associated with the extensive settlement on Blandford Down (Tarrant Launceston (14)).
On S. Tarrant Hinton Down very faint traces of 'Celtic' fields are visible between 919100 and 929097 on the top of a ridge and extending down its E. slope into Tarrant Launceston. They lie close to the settlement on Blandford Down and to the enclosure in Tarrant Hinton (21), but the remains are so disturbed that no certain physical connections are determinable.
Remains of 'Celtic' fields, severely damaged by recent development, survive within the area of the military camp on Race Down, around 918086. Further E. (around 934090) air photographs indicate the former existence of 'Celtic' fields, now totally flattened by ploughing, on the N.E. slope of a dry valley.
On Monkton Down (926080), 'Celtic' fields of markedly rectangular and rather elongated form, measuring up to 60 yds. across and 120 yds. long, are traceable on the W.-facing slope of a spur overlooking Pond Bottom. Faint traces are visible extending E. to the soil-mark enclosures Tarrant Monkton (20), and S.E. towards Group (70).
Group (73): Pimperne Down—Hinton Bushes (Pimperne, Tarrant Gunville, Tarrant Hinton). 'Celtic' fields are traceable over much of the northern part of Pimperne parish and in the adjacent parts of Tarrant Gunville and Tarrant Hinton. They cover some 350 acres and are not continuous, though they may formerly have been so. Enclosures in the area, some of them certainly settlements of Iron Age and/or Romano-British date, are likely to be associated with the 'Celtic' fields. (Map in end pocket.)
'Celtic' fields, now much damaged by ploughing, survive on Pimperne Down between 275 ft. and 380 ft. above O.D., on the S.E. slope of a dry valley. They extend in a narrow band N.E. from the Iron Age enclosure, Pimperne (15), towards Pimperne Fox Warren (900109). Most of those fields which are complete vary in area between ¼ and ½ acre.
To the N., on Gunville Down and extending into Pimperne (904117), are further remains of 'Celtic' fields, now heavily ploughed. They are notably rectangular and elongated (though some internal divisions may have disappeared) with the long axes aligned N.W.-S.E. Faint traces of fields are also visible E. of Pimperne Wood.
E. of Pimperne Down, towards and around Ferns Plantation (910106), 'Celtic' fields now almost totally flattened by cultivation occupy the slopes and summit of a spur. Even the smallest of these fields is as much as 1 acre in area.
Further E., S. of Hinton Bushes and mainly in Tarrant Hinton parish, a series of elongated 'Celtic' fields and angular closes, now largely flattened, occupy the area between enclosure Pimperne (18) and settlement Tarrant Hinton (18), and almost certainly are associated with them. The boundary dyke extending S.W. from Tarrant Hinton (18) appears to delimit these fields on the S. One of the few complete fields measures 130 yds. by 33 yds.
Group (74): Tarrant Hinton Down and Launceston Down (Tarrant Hinton, Tarrant Launceston). 'Celtic' fields formerly covered much of Tarrant Hinton Down in the N.E. of that parish (946126—950111), but they have been levelled by ploughing and for the most part are visible only as faint traces on air photographs. On the N. they adjoin and appear to be associated with an Iron Age and Romano-British settlement, Tarrant Hinton (19). Further S. they surround and incorporate a small group of round barrows, Tarrant Hinton (46– 50); their relationship to the dyke (952119) extending W. from Long Crichel is uncertain. At their S. limit the fields are clearly cut by the W. end of another dyke Tarrant Launceston (16,a).
Group (75): Chettle Down and Hookswood Common (Chettle and Farnham). 'Celtic' fields formerly covered much of the N. and W. of Chettle parish, between 940152 and 940135, but the majority have been severely damaged by ploughing and now are visible only on air photographs. They survive in old pasture on Chettle Common, around 940145, and may be traced into Chettle Chase Coppice, but these examples have been damaged by later digging and are partly obscured by scrub. They lie on a gentle S. slope and are defined by lynchets or low spread banks, rarely more than 2 ft. in height; though ploughed, they are visible to the E., up to and S. of the settlement in Chettle (14). Several of the fields or closes near the settlement are irregular in shape. Traces of fields extend as far E. as Hookswood Common (945152). Further traces, detached from the main block, occur N. of Farnham near Half Hide Coppice (955162) and also to the N.W. in Tarrant Gunville, just S. of enclosure (33).
Group (76): Stubhampton Down and Manor Hill (Tarrant Gunville). 'Celtic' fields cover much of the N.W. part of Tarrant Gunville, but have largely been flattened by intensive cultivation, especially in recent years. They lie between 300 ft. and 500 ft. above O.D. on a series of spurs separated by dry combes at the head of the Tarrant valley (903143—923157).
In the area of Stubhampton Down 'Celtic' fields covered much of Earl's Hill and the slopes of the dry combe immediately S. of it (907142). Few complete fields remain visible, even on air photographs. On the lower slopes mediaeval and later strip cultivation had largely removed the 'Celtic' lynchets before the destructive effects of more recent ploughing.
Immediately to the N.E. 'Celtic' fields covered most of the spur between Stubhampton Bottom and Ashmore Bottom (around 914147). Though much damaged by later ploughing, a number of large fields, up to 150 yds. by 80 yds., appear to have existed, as well as smaller ones.
To the E., on the spur of Manor Hill, air photographs indicate an irregular pattern of earthworks associated with a track and probably representing a settlement, all now flattened by ploughing. The track, which appears to lie among 'Celtic' fields, runs N. from 92201504 for some 400 yds. to the probable settlement area around 921154 and then turns sharply E.N.E.; after 200 yds. it turns N. again and after a further 200 yds. is lost. The presumed settlement incorporates what appears to be an almond-shaped enclosure, some 400 ft. by 300 ft. overall.
Group (77): Sutton Hill and Bareden Down (Fontmell Magna, Iwerne Minster, Sutton Waldron). 'Celtic' fields appear formerly to have covered much of the summit and the slopes of the Chalk escarpment in these parishes. Subsequent destruction has left discontinuous areas of remains, all levelled by ploughing except on the steeper slopes, and visible only on air photographs.
Air photographs show 'Celtic' fields at the top of the escarpment in Fontmell Magna, between 877167 and 887165 on either side of the old Blandford-Shaftesbury road, and on the spur of Fontmell Down around 878180. A few lynchets survive on the upper slopes of the spur immediately S. of Littlecombe Bottom, with later strip lynchets below them. To the S. further remains are detectable on Sutton Hill, between 877157 and 892157, and on the steep slope overlooking Coombe Bottom (876160). In Iwerne Minster remains of 'Celtic' fields lie around the head of a dry combe on Bareden Down (885153).
Group (78): Ashmore. Evidence of 'Celtic' fields survives both N. and S. of the village. On the slopes of the combe head above Boyne Bottom (905185), near the N. edge of the parish, are at least four large 'Celtic' fields; they measure up to 130 yds. by 80 yds. and are defined by low lynchets. Air photographs suggest traces of other fields, now ploughed flat, adjacent to and S. of the village at 911172 and 910166. The lyncheted angles of 'Celtic' fields, much reduced by ploughing and in the past mistaken for barrows, survive on the spur immediately N. of Well Bottom (916167).
Group (79): Melbury Down and Compton Down (Compton Abbas and Melbury Abbas). 'Celtic' fields have survived in the vicinity of Melbury Down, on the slopes of the deep and narrow dry valley which extends E. from Melbury Abbas village. Remains seen on air photographs S. and S.E. of Breeze Hill have now been levelled by ploughing or are obscured by the conifers of Gardiner Forest. They cover at least 100 acres on the often steep slopes of the spurs and reentrants forming the N. side of the valley, between 500 ft. and 800 ft. above O.D. (894196—905196). Other remains occur to the S., around 891189, at a similar height on the northward-facing side of the valley; presumably they formerly extended on to the higher, more level ground to the S. Across the spur to the S.W., in Compton Abbas, remains of 'Celtic' fields occur on the steep slopes around the head of the combe E. of the village (884187); scarps are seen, but no complete fields. Ploughing above and below has removed all indication of their former extent.