550 BC – 43 AD – Wealth and Landowning
By the end of the Bronze Age hillforts were established, indicating stable defendable tribal territories. In the Iron Age agricultural output improved to such an extent that surpluses were regularly produced; and with them a need to protect this ‘wealth’. With wealth came coinage, advanced hillforts, territorial capitals, lords and landowning. It is this culture of producing wealth and the need to protect it that characterises the Iron Age.
This map shows the distribution of Iron Age settlements in our area. The simple, and probably early, hillforts at Easthampstead, St Ann’s Hill and St George’s Hill form a ring around the northern side of the heathlands.
As expected there is a concentration of occupation sites along the Thames and the lower reaches of major rivers such as the Wey. Less expectedly are the settlements at the head of the Chobham Bourne which is also mirrored by settlements at Tongham and Runfold at the head of the Blackwater and at Farnham at the head of the Wey. It is possible that the middle reaches of the smaller rivers were heavily forested and so not suitable for arable farming or even occupation. The woods along the streams not thinning until the higher heathlands are reached.
At about 700 BC, the Wessex culture waned and was replaced by a culture slowly spreading from across Europe.
Socketed iron spear head.
Photo courtesy of the Surrey Heath Archaeological Centre.
The Iron Age spear head shown here was found in a field along the Windle Brook near Windlesham.
The new culture was characterised by the disappearance of burial monuments and ceremonial centres, the development of intensive farming and of field systems and land boundaries that would be familiar to most medieval farmers, and the building of defended farmsteads and hill-forts which were perhaps necessary to protect the stored winter cereals and cattle.
It appears that during the Iron Age, settlements were constructed within ditched or banked enclosures. The enclosed area would contain one or more circular huts, rubbish pits, wells and grain storage pits. Within the enclosure one would expect to see corn grinding, weaving, leather working and basketry. Animals may even have been kept inside the enclosure. The Windle Brook valley provides, the only definite evidence of human habitation in our area. Two enclosure ditches were found in the Windlesham Arboretum together with fragments of Iron Age pottery jars which suggest use in the period third to first century BC.
A re-creation at Butser Farm of an Iron-age homestead.
Agriculture and Industry
We can be certain that these people in Chobham had the technology to farm the previously heavily-wooded Bourne valleys. We can tell that agricultural productivity flourished in the Iron Age because Iron-age settlements often have large grain storage pits.
The nearest evidence of Iron Age agriculture so far discovered was at Runfold Farm near Badshot Lea. Ditches had been used to delineate a field system covering an area of 100m by 60m. Bones discovered at Thorpe Lea Nurseries near Egham indicate that the main source of meat appears to have been cattle, whilst sheep and goats were probably important for wool and possibly milk as well as for meat. Pigs provided meat, lard and perhaps leather.
In the sandy beds of this area could be found considerable quantities of iron-stone (known locally as pudding stone). Evidence of iron smelting in the Iron Age and Roman times has been found all along the Windle Brook.
The territory of the Atrebates
Julius Caesar reported that the warriors painted their bodies blue.
Illustration: Sue White
During the period from 150 BC onwards the South-East of England became increasingly dominated by tribal lords. They were known to acquire lands and trade extensively with the continent. From 50 BC onwards, we know that the local tribe were the Atrebates (a word meaning ‘settlers’ – almost certainly from northern Gaul where there was a similarly-named tribe). Their approximate territory shown blue on the map.
The Atrebates’ local administrative centre for the area including Chobham was at Calleva (Silchester).
Iron Age peoples also constructed hill forts. The nearest known were at Caesar’s Camp, Farnham; Caesar’s Camp, Easthampstead (just south of Bracknell); St Anne’s Hill (near Thorpe) and St George’s Hill (near Weybridge).
For more information about any of these subjects, click in on the subject heading in the top left margin. You can also read what Strabo, the Greek geographer wrote of Iron Age Britain.
Struggles amongst the client kings continued. Cunobelinus, a king from the Essex area, eventually managed to over run this area and even take Calleva. His death in AD 43 led to political instability and the rise of anti-Roman rulers, both events provided Claudius with a reason to annex SE England. The Roman era was about to start.