Warton Crag: Reappraising the past, Kevin Grice, 15th March 2019

Warton Crag is a prominent limestone hill above the village of Warton in North Lancashire.  Kevin began his talk by describing the crag.  There are three sets of ramparts on the crag, and it has always been assumed that it was an Iron Age hill-fort – but it has never been excavated

The archaeologist has problems with the site because it is an SSR, an important nature reserve for wild flowers, butterflies and peregrine falcons, and nature tends to take precedence over archaeology.  The site at present is covered by dense vegetation which makes it very difficult to explore or see it as a whole.

Warton Crag HutchinsonPLXV-v3_crop_greystroke5px-316x285

Kevin questioned whether the site was ‘just’ a hill-fort, or whether it was a multi-period site. Although the hill was marked as a beacon site on a manuscript map of 1576, at a time of fears over a potential Spanish invasion,  the main evidence for its origins comes from the description of William Hutchinson, an 18th century antiquary.   Hutchinson drew a ‘birds-eye’ view of the crag (as above), and noted that workmen had discovered two urns in burial cairns. One of the two was broken: Hutchinson made a good drawing of the other, but sadly the urn itself is now lost. The urn is clearly Bronze Age, and the crag seems to have been a burial site at that period . The Victoria County History (1908) shows the ramparts, with chambers within them, and a hut site. Then in 1939, a doctoral thesis by Robert Pedley gave the best analysis and description, concluding the site was a 1st century AD Brigantian Hill-fort.  This was consistent with the most important find from near the crag, an iron sword with a bronze scabbard, now in the British Museum, La Tene IV in style, dated to AD 45-125.  This was of course the period of the Roman invasion, and obviously the native Brigantians would not have been happy!

Kevin then put the site in context.  The crag has excellent inter-visibility with Ingleborough to the east, and sites in Furness to the west. During the Iron age, the sea would have been much closer to the site, which would have had good views of any coastal traffic.

The latest evidence comes from Lidar, which strips the vegetation away to give a clear view, showing the ramparts up very well.  The second (middle) rampart is seen to be much smaller than the other two, too small to be defensive.  In 2017, Historic England did some aerial mapping, and concluded that Warton Crag was not a hill-fort, comparing it with a site in Derbyshire. Kevin disagreed with their findings, concluding that this is a multi-period site, possibly beginning in the Neolithic, but certainly in the Bronze Age. when it acted as a meeting place, and as a burial site.  In the Iron Age, the earlier enclosure was extended and made into a defensive Brigantian stronghold.  Only excavation will prove one way or the other, but Kevin hopes some core sampling work on the ramparts may take place in the fairly near future.

The whole talk was extremely well argued, and a difficult site was well presented to us, raising a lot of questions from a highly-engaged audience.

Text by Mavis Shannon

For more information, visit this website https://www.recordingmorecambebay.org.uk/content/theme/warton-crag

Lidar photo of Warton Crag, copyright David Ratledge

(Bird’s Eye view of Warton Crag, 1788, by William Hutchinson)

Posted by Wendy Ferneyhough

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