Monday 17 October 2011

Cannon Heath Down: Prehistory

Modern Cannon Heath Down: a view along the Wayfarer's Walk
and gallops, towards Cottington's Hill. June 2011.

Cannon Heath Down is a chalk escarpment in North Hampshire. According to Wikipedia,

The Chalk Formation was laid down under the sea during the Upper Cretaceous period, and was later uplifted at around the same time as the Alps were formed. In south-east England, the chalk deposits were formed into an elongated dome, with the long axis in a roughly east-west direction. Erosion along the line of this axis removed the central part of the chalk and revealed the underlying Wealden deposits. The remaining chalk forms the characteristic escarpments of the North and South Downs.
Cannon Heath Down is part of this chalk formation, but it is not part of either the North or South Downs. Instead, it is part of the Hampshire Downs, a grouping that the writer of the above article seems to have neglected to mention. The Hampshire Downs are, essentially, where the North and South Downs meet as you follow the lines of the chalk formation westward.

Man made use of the downs from prehistoric times. The downs provided relatively easy pathways across the country - being flat, straight, dry and providing a good vantage point from which to spy imminent danger. Their height would also have made navigation easier. We know that Cannon Heath Down was in use by man from the stone age because of a series of finds, recorded on the excellent Hampshire Treasures resource.
Archaeological Sites and Remains - Stone Age

Implements: Area of Nuthanger Down and Cannon Heath Down. Finds include fragments of ground and polished axes, scrapers and other implements.

Implement: North of Cannon Heath Down. Palaeolithic implement found during work on pond. Site in arable field.
At one stage, it was thought that there was a hill fort there:
Hill Fort (Alleged): Cannon Heath Down. No trace to be seen. Possibly a portion of well-preserved Celtic field system was mistaken for hill fort. [...] Ref: Greenwoods Map of Hampshire, 1826.
There was, however, a hill fort on the adjacent hill:
Hill Fort (Remains): Bowry Walls, Freemantle Park. Remains of much mutilated, univallate, near-circular earthwork enclosing approximately 9 acres of the Summit of Cottingtons Hill.
However, the Cottington's Hill fort was destroyed in "[...] Tudor times when Thomas Cottington built a large house on the site, and in the process destroyed all surface traces of the fort" (quote from the display board on White Hill, illustrated right).

There are some field markings on the side of Cottington's Hill; whether these relate to the house (destroyed during the Napoleonic Wars) or to the the "deserted village" on Stubbington Down, also mentioned on the display board, I am not sure.

Hampshire Treasures refers to a mound on Cannon Heath Down:
Mound: Cannon Heath Down. Doubtful long barrow - probably a pillow mound.
A long barrow is a tomb, usually with multiple burials, dating to the Neolithic, or "new stone age" period. A pillow mound is a feature of a domestic warren, or a rabbit farm, developed in medieval times. It was basically a man-made home for rabbits, built of earth. The cited map reference for this mound (SU 510 569) places it at the northwest corner of Coombe Hole, outside of the area accessible to the public.

Also outside of the publicly accessible areas, but clearly visible from the air (or, failing that, Google Earth), is the Celtic field system. The Hampshire Treasures entry reads:

Celtic Fields: Cannon Heath Down. Parts of the area fairly well preserved where lynchets and field banks survive. Elsewhere ploughed out.
The Celtic fields are on the more gently sloped southern side of the down. I can imagine that that area was more conducive to agriculture than the steep northern escarpment - however, as we've already seen, medieval land users were able to make use of the steep bits to keep rabbits for fur and food.

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