The field school excavations took place on Merrick’s Hill, at the southern tip of Eddisbury Hillfort, and were undertaken to assess the 1936-38 excavation techniques of Liverpool archaeologists Bill and Joan Varley – which were revealed as transitional between Victorian wall-chasing/clearing and the move to open-area excavation. We also documented modern damage to the scheduled monument, including metal-detecting, stone robbing, WWII occupation, and 1950s investigations by James Forde Johnston.
From left: Harvey Furniss and Nicky Neilsen approve of their WWII pit; finds from the WWII pit. All images © Richard Mason and Rachel Pope.
Reinvestigating Varley’s section through the hillfort rampart, allowed us to radiocarbon date the developed Iron Age hillfort of Eddisbury to 400 BC (Pope et al. 2020) and provided rare Cheshire Iron Age ceramic. It also allowed us to confirm Varley’s identification of a small Late Bronze Age palisaded enclosure on Merrick’s Hill, which we have now dated to the 12th century BC.
From left: Tom uncovering the Late Bronze Age palisade trench; Varley’s section through the post-Medieval boundary wall and Iron Age rampart; Iron Age ceramics – a rare find in Cheshire. All images © Richard Mason and Rachel Pope.
The post-medieval occupation of the site was that of a 17th century forester’s lodge began towards the end of the 16th-century – with a small amount of medieval material suggesting this may have been the site of the 14th century Royal hunting lodge. Post-excavation work revealed further secrets, including post-medieval deer poaching, evidence for early 19th-century selective sheep breeding, and providing new typologies of Chester clay pipes.
A selection of Post-Medieval ceramics from Merrick’s Hill. All images © Richard Mason and Rachel Pope.
The project trained 100 students in archaeological field methods, with practical skills training in the principles of stratigraphy and formation processes, excavating and recording, drawing site plans and sections, archaeological photography and illustration, finds identification and processing, geophysics and topographical survey, as well as environmental sampling and processing.
From left: Stephanie keeping up with recording; Dr Mhairi Maxwell teaching Diana Nikolova and peers how to draw a section; Liz gets her hands dirty! All images © Richard Mason and Rachel Pope.
The excavations worked in partnership with the HLF-funded Habitats and Hillforts project (Cheshire West & Chester Council) which aimed to understand more about the hillforts of Cheshire’s sandstone ridge in a bid to assist monument management. The post-ex programme was funded by the Royal Archaeological Institute and the Society of Antiquaries of London.
Mason, R.G.S. and Pope, R.E. forthcoming. Merrick’s Hill, Eddisbury (1936-38 and 2010-11): Re-evaluating W.J. Varley’s work on an important multi-period site in Cheshire. LUP.
Mason, R.G.S. and Pope, R.E. 2016. Rescuing a scheduled ancient monument: Recent work at Merrick’s Hill, Eddisbury Hillfort. In D. Garner (ed.) Hillforts of the Cheshire Ridge: Investigations undertaken by The Habitats and Hillforts Landscape Partnership Scheme 2009–2012, 201-216. Oxford: Archaeopress. [9000-word chapter in project monograph on Merrick’s Hill excavations by University of Liverpool; on the archaeological resource, challenges re. monument management and 20th century damage].