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Berth Hill, Maer

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Bryth Hill; Bruff; Burgh

In the civil parish of Maer.
In the historic county of Staffordshire.
Modern Authority of Staffordshire.
1974 county of Staffordshire.
Medieval County of Staffordshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SJ78763906
Latitude 52.94850° Longitude -2.31754°

Berth Hill, Maer has been described as a Timber Castle although is doubtful that it was such.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Berth Hill, a multivallate contour hill fort situated on a prominent sandstone outcrop. The enclosed area measures 320.0m NW-SE by 150.0m transversely and is bounded by a rampart of earth and much stone, parts 15.0m in width, internally up to 0.8m in height, which on the south and east sides merges into the steep natural slopes of the hill. To the north, where the slopes lessen somewhat and the outside ground rises to a broad ridge, there is an outer rampart, 10.0m in width, 1.0m in height, beyond a medial ditch, 10.0m in width, 0.5m maximum depth. There are two original entrances, in the east and south sides,the latter being pronouncedly inturned. A water supply was provided by a strong spring which still flows from within the east rampart. The upper slopes of the hill, below the inner rampart, have at some time been cut about for the provision of ornamental 'walks', whilst, more recently, the interior, formerly wood, has been reafforested with fir trees. (PastScape)

The hillfort at Berth Hill survives well and represents a good example of this class of monument. Despite partial excavation, buried features and artefactual evidence associated with the occupation and development of the hillfort will survive within the defensive ramparts and the site's interior. These internal structures and the defensive ditch will retain environmental evidence relating to the economy of the site's inhabitants and the landscape in which they lived. The earthwork and other remains of a 19th century ornamental landscape garden centred on the hillfort provide unusual information reflecting the contemporary preoccupation with archaeological sites and antiquity.
The monument occupies a prominent sandstone outcrop on the south east periphery of Maer Hills, approximately 600m north west of Maer Hall, and includes the earthwork and buried remains of a multivallate Iron Age hillfort and the earthwork remains of a 19th century ornamental landscape garden. The hillfort has an irregular plan governed largely by the outline of the hill upon which it is located. The defensive earthworks enclose a central area of approximately 3.75ha and include an inner rampart and ditch, beyond which, in some sections, is a second rampart. The two ramparts have both been formed by a re-definition of the natural hillslope; the inner by a combination of cutting back into and building out over the hillside and the outer purely by a process of dumping. The flat-topped, inner rampart which measures up to 15m wide and rises to a height of 0.8m internally, is constructed of earth and stone. The rampart is a complex structure which retains evidence of a complex history of development. To the north, where the natural hillslope is less steep, there is an outer rampart, 10m wide and 1m high. A ditch, up to 10m wide, has been formed beyond the inner rampart. This earthwork is, in effect, a terracing and steepening of the natural hillslope. A low, discontinuous bank is visible, in parts, running along the outer lip of this terrace. Access into the interior of the hillfort is by means of causeways in the central part of the south west side and at the north end of the east defences. The former is a 2m-3m wide inturned or funnel entrance which was originally approached from the north west along a steep embanked causeway built along a gully. The second entrance is marked by a break in the inner rampart, although this area has been damaged by quarrying. A break in the north defences of the site is thought to be modern in date and is approached by a track which cuts through the outer defences at the north east corner of the site and climbs diagonally up the face of the hill. The west side of this entrance is revetted by a dry-stone wall which is thought to belong to the 19th century phase of the site's history when it was incorporated in a landscaped garden. No internal earthworks associated with the hillfort's occupation are visible, but the buried remains of structures will survive beneath the ground surface. A spring exists within the east part of the interior from which, during the 19th century, water was piped to Maer Hall and the village of Maer by a member of the Wedgewood family. An aqueduct which transported the water from the spring remains visible terraced into the east side of the hill and has damaged a section of the inner rampart in this area. This 19th century feature provides evidence for later alterations to the hillfort's east defences and is included in the scheduling. During the 19th century the hillfort's defences, particularly in the north and east parts of the site, were partly modified to create a series of garden walkways set within an ornamental landscape centred on the remains of the hillfort. In the north part of the site, a zig-zag pathway is visible leading to a small platform within the hillfort's defences. This platform is thought to have been created during the 19th century as a viewing area. A small grotto, carved with the date 1824, has been cut into the rock face in the north west part of the site and is thought to be associated with this phase in the site's history. These ornamental features are interesting evidence for the 19th century reuse of the site and are included in the scheduling. (Scheduling Report)

A “Royal” Castle ?
As far as the captured Burh was concerned, there would have been a need to hold down this possible stronghold of the resistance movement. The hillfort would have been too big for a small Norman garrison to occupy and possibly lacking the timber required for a Norman style keep, a new Mott and Bailey castle would be required to watch over the old and now finally redundant burh. The castle and hillfort could have been abandoned as the vills around it remained depopulated and were possibly kept depopulated until at least 1086. After the abandonment of this castle and another one at Stafford, two more castles were to be built the first just outside Stafford, and the other later at Newcastle under Lyme.
The old borough town (Broughton) may have re-emerged 5 or 6 miles to the North East at what was to become “New castle” some time between the conquest and the Domesday Book and outside of the depopulated zone close to the same Roman Road which has been referred to here as the A53. The “old” castle to which the “new” in Newcastle refers to could be the Iron Age hill fort / burh or it could be the “conquest” motte and bailey castle that watched over it for a short time. It could also be reference to the castle within the town of Stafford or AEthelflaeda's burh there.{Philip Morgan in John Darlington ed, Stafford Castle, Stafford Borough Council, 2003, 32-33} But Stafford is over 15 miles away and the castle at Mare being only 6 miles from Newcastle.
This Motte and Bailey castle at Maer still exists as the evocative “Kings bank” just north of the old hill fort.{Ordnance Survey Map, Explorer, 243} Here a relatively modest garrison could watch the old fort in relative safety and make sure it would not be reoccupied. Kings Bank was thought to have been a burial mound or barrow{GJV Bemrose, Archaeology and History, North Staffordshire Field Club Transactions, vol 73, 1938 Allison and Bowen, 114} and was also referred to as a lookout post after archaeological investigation showed now sign of a burial.{GJV Bemrose, 114} Kings Bank is an unlikely burial mound being 130 feet in diameter and 20 foot high and on top of a natural conical hill. The motte was no doubt built from the spoil extracted from the moat and carried up the hill. The moat can still be found encircling the hill and it becomes double where it is over looked from the outside by a rocky outcrop. Kings Bank was only a fledgling motte and bailey castle, most likely built and abandoned within the sixteen years between the rebellion in 1069-70 and the Domesday Book in the same way as the one in Stafford was. It was not at all developed in the way that many of the surviving examples were. These castles were in effect engines of the conquest, purely functional and were well depicted in the Bayeux tapestry. Two such castles were built in the few days between the Normans landing at Pevensey Bay and the battle of Hastings.{Frank Stenton, 591} (Docksey nd ?2012)

A local historian, Martin Docksey, argues, quite extensively, this was the site of a Norman castle. The site has been excavated without medieval finds being noted. I find Docksey's arguments weak, his place-name evidence is certainly dated in its interpretation. For no apparent reason Docksey's consistently refers to a Mott and Bailey - the reason for a totally idiosyncratic spelling of motte is unclear but is not endearing and makes me feel Docksey is trying too be a contrarian for personal reasons rather than challenging pre-conceptions. Docksey bibliography supporting his dissertation is extensive but has remarkable few recent sources and nothing from a modern castle studies writer.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
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This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:55

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