MAM TOR HILLFORT
Mam Tor, the Mother Hill, stands over 500 metres above sea level overlooking the Hope Valley. Although they have yet to be successfully dated, the multi-vallate defences were possibly constructed in the late-Bronze Age which would make the site one of the earliest hillforts in Britain.
Mam Tor, meaning Mother Hill, stands almost 500 metres above sea level and towers over the Hope Valley, an important route through the otherwise impenetrable Peak District and also a location rich in mineral resources. For these reasons the site attracted settlers no later than the Bronze Age (2500 BC to 800 BC). The earliest evidence of occupation are two burial mounds dated to circa-1500 BC. In the centuries that followed, if not before, a small settlement grew up on the plateau of the hill. It is unknown whether the first elements of the hillfort defences were raised at this time but, if so, it would make Mam Tor one of the earliest hillforts in Britain. However, the defences are typical of the early Iron Age (circa-700 BC) and accordingly it was probably around that time that the site was adapted into a hillfort.
Although the defences cannot be accurately dated, it is clear the hillfort underwent three main phases of development. The earliest defences consisted of a timber palisade that surrounded at least a portion of the site. This was later replaced with an earth rampart, perhaps topped with a timber palisade, that enclosed summit of the hill. This was an area of over 16 acres making it one of the largest such fortifications of its type. The third phase of development saw the replacement of the earth rampart with a new stone revetted rampart fronted by a ditch and counter-scarp bank. On the south side, a second rampart provided additional protection. Two entrances into the fortification were located at the north and south ends of the ridge, both of which were protected by in-turned passageways, the medieval equivalent to a barbican. The interior of the site would have been occupied by round houses, many built on terraces excavated from the hillside to proved a flat base for construction. A small spring that rises within the north-western rampart provided a water source for the site.
No archaeological evidence has yet been found to suggest that Mam Tor remained occupied after 400 BC but it may have continued in use until the late Iron Age/early Roman era by which time its populace would have been part of the Brigantes tribe. If the hillfort did continue in use until this time, it may then have been suppressed by the Romans as there was certainly a military presence in the area; Hope Roman Fort was established by the late first century AD to oversee local lead mining operations. After Mam Tor was abandoned it was used for grazing livestock, a function that continues to this day. The site is now in the care of the National Trust.
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Ordnance Survey, Historic England and RCAHMW (2016). Ancient Britain. 1:625,000 Scale. Ordnance Survey, Southampton.
Pryor, F (2010). The Making of the British Landscape. Penguin Books, London.
Mam Tor hillfort consists of the partial earthwork remains of a late Bronze Age/early Iron Age fort. The site offers spectacular views over the Hope Valley. Note that the climb to the summit is quite steep and good footwear is essential.
Mam Tor. Settlers occupied the hill no later than the Bronze Age although whether the fortifications were built at this time is unknown. The climate of Britain during the Bronze Age was substantially warmer than the Iron Age which would have Mam Tor much more inhabitable.
Mam Tor. The hill itself is an elongated ridge protected by steep scarps particularly on the east side (shown above).
View. The view from the hillfort is impressive. This is the view towards Castleton where the medieval Peveril Castle was established in the 1070s.
Defences. The ditches and ramparts of the hillfort have suffered from landslides and subsidence but a good portion of their length survives particularly on the west side.