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Iron Age and Celtic Montacute

Image: close up of 1486 reproduction of Ptolomy's map of British tribes in the 2nd century AD with enlargement of Durotriges region. The whole Prima Europa Tabula map can be viewed on Wikipedia.

Modern man was in the Somerset region around 12,000 to 9,000 years ago (The Archeology of Somerset, Ed M. Aston and I. Burrow 1982), and the oldest man-made roads in Great Britain crossed the marshlands of the Somerset Levels just 37 miles north of Montacute; these overlapping paths of wooden planks are dated by dendrochronology to 3,838 BCE (Post Track) and 3,807 BCE (Sweet Track). 

There is evidence of settlers from prehistoric to modern times in Montacute parish (and also in Stoke and Norton parishes) at Ham Hill hillfort, less than 2 miles west of Montacute village centre. Aston and Burrow (The Archeology of Somerset,1982) and more recent excavations (2011, 2012 and 2013, summarised in 'Excavations at Ham Hill, Somerset 2011-2013: Post-Excavation Assessment' (Britain et al. 2015) record finds from the Upper Paleolithic (13,000-10,000 BC), Mesolithic (10,000-4,000 BC), Neolithic (4,000-2,500 BC), late Bronze Age (2,500 to 800 BC), and Iron Ages (800 BC to 43 AD). Iron Age iron currency bars have been found on Ham Hill, and coins from the Celtic Durotriges tribe have been found there (Seaby 1949, The Durotriges occupied Ham Hill until it was sacked by the future Emperor Vespasian and the Roman Second Legion in 45AD, although most other Celtic tribes had stopped using hillforts by this time. In Miranda Richardson’s archeological assessment of Montacute she records that iron age pottery has also been found in Montacute Park, and there was probably a route from Montacute to a 2nd / 1st century BC fortified Iron Age settlement (oppidum) between Ilchester and Sock Dennis Farm (Somerset Historic Environment Record 53089). There is also evidence of a possible circular henge on private land at Stanchester, between the north of Montacute and the north of Ham Hill. Montacute lies pretty much in the centre of the region inhabited by the Celtic Durotriges tribe at the time of the Roman conquest (The Archeology of Somerset, Ed M. Aston and I. Burrow 1982 p61).

Screenshot of Google Maps aerial view f covering Ilchester, Montacute and Ham Hill showing ancient track from Ilchester via Montacute to Ham Hill

There is a track from the Iron Age settlement near Ilchester/Sock Dennis to Montacute and then up to Ham Hill, entering the Hill on the East side. It is marked in pale blue on the map above; the detail through Montacute is marked green on the map below. The Leland Trail (a possible route taken by Leland in about 1542 AD) follows this path from Ilchester past Sock Dennis Farm, along Sock Lane and crossing Head street/Yeovil Road into Kissmedown Lane (where does this name come from? a lover's meeting place? -the Arum maculatum plant has many colloquial names including cuckoo pint, lords and ladies, and has even been known as 'kitty-come-down-the-lane'; maybe this is where the name derives from?), past Windmill Farm, across the present day A3088 and past the remains of Montacute (Odcombe) Mill (marked 'Mill Stream' on the map below,) into Montacute Park. The route is less clear across the park but emerges into Back Lane in Montacute. Here the Leland Trail goes up through the village then across the recreation ground to the north of the Tower and on through Hedgecock Woods to Ham Hill. In Richardson's 2003 archaeological assessment of Montacute she shows a Roman track from Ilchester followed the same route (marked in green on the map below) but after Back Lane it passed through Townsend, up Hollow Lane (indicated as a cutting on the map below) and along the road from Odcombe (Park Lane) to Ham Hill. The later (18th century) London to Exeter coach road ran from Yeovil, through Odcombe and across Ham Hill; Llewelyn Powys mentions a milestone on the side of the road near Five Ashes (at the top of Woodhouse Lane, obscured on the map below by the legend), saying 'London 127 miles'. 

Map from Richardson 2003 Archeological Assessment of Montacute showing route through Park to Ham Hill


The pictures below illustrate the same route on LIDAR maps (LIght Detection And Ranging) and its geographical relationship to Ilchester and the late Iron-Age oppidum.

Composite of LIDAR maps showing detail for Montacute, the oppidum at Ilchester, and the route between the two.Next you might like to read my notes on the Celtic Durotriges tribe and its coinage or check out Montacute snippets for my notes on a different topic.

If you scroll to the bottom of the homepage you will find the gallery containing some pictures of the village.