Reconstruction of Ivinghoe Beacon hillfort


Iron Age

The earliest fortifications in Buckinghamshire date to the Iron Age (c.700BC – 43 AD) and include Ivinghoe Beacon, Cholesbury and Church Hill, West Wycombe. Famous Iron Age hillforts in the rest of Britain include Maiden Castle in Dorset and Mam Tor in Derbyshire. Iron Age hillforts may not have always been built to protect people and their possessions; they may have been used as seasonal meeting places or for storage and distribution of goods and livestock. Iron Age hillforts are also common in France and Germany. The Heuneberg in Germany is one of the most spectacular examples of an Iron Age hillfort: . One of the most famous in France is at Mont Beuvray:


Roman period

There is no good evidence for any Roman forts in Buckinghamshire (the Roman period being 43 – 410 AD). Many of the early forts were made with earth and wood ramparts and then destroyed. More permanent stone forts were built on the edges of the Empire, such as at Hadrian’s Wall (see Compare Hadrian’s Wall with the German ‘Limes’ (pronounced leemays), the northern limit of the Roman Empire on the continent (see Your class could compare the World Heritage Sites of the Roman frontier in Britain and Germany and the Great Wall of China. At the latter site, earlier sections of wall were joined together around 220BC and work continued on the wall up to the seventeenth century. 

Aerial photograph of St Mary's church on Buckingham's Saxon burh


Saxon period

Saxon burhs were fortified towns (the Anglo-Saxon period, or early medieval period as it is also known, being from 410 – 1066 AD). They are often denoted by the place-name ending –bury. Aylesbury was a Saxon burh, and we know from historic records that there were two burhs on the River Ouse at Buckingham. Most burhs have gone on to become modern towns and so very little trace of the earlier fortifications survive. Old Sarum in Wiltshire was a Saxon burh although this was later built on with a medieval castle. Daw’s Castle in Somerset was not built over but is eroding into the sea. You could get your pupils to look for sites on the internet of a similar date to find out what was being constructed in other countries, for instance the Hagia Sophia was built in Byzantium (Istanbul) in 532-537 AD; the Christian buildings in Ravenna were all built in the 5th and 6th centuries AD; and the Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan was at its zenith in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. 

Aerial photograph of Bolebec Castle, Whitchurch


Medieval period

The remains of medieval (1066-1539 AD) castles in Buckinghamshire are earthen mounds called mottes, such as Bolebec Castle in Whitchurch or Cymbeline's Mount in Ellesborough, or ringworks, like Desborough Castle in High Wycombe. The castle keep, made of wood, was built on top of these mottes and there was often a bailey or outer enclosure for the service buildings. Only Bolebec Castle may have had a stone keep like some others in the UK. Some of the castles in Buckinghamshire were built at the Norman Conquest, like the one at the Manor House, Weston Turville, and others were built during the “Anarchy” period in the twelfth century, when there were battles over the monarchy. Bolebec Castle may have been built at this later period. Some of the most famous castles in Britain include the Tower of London, which was one of the first castles built by William the Conqueror. Most castles were built in the medieval period, from 1066 to 1539, but there are a few older ones. Compare this and other sites in Britain with World Heritage Sites such as Bahla Fort in Oman or Lahore Fort in Pakistan.


Post-medieval period

There are no post-medieval (1540 onwards) fortified sites in Buckinghamshire. Coastal areas of Britain have some later forts, or earlier forts that were converted for use when Britain was at war, such as during the Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars and the World Wars of the twentieth century. Fort Cumberland in Portsmouth was constructed in the late eighteenth century to protect the town against feared invasions from France. Cliffe Fort in Kent was first constructed in the 1860s and was reused during the Second World War to protect the lower Thames. British Colonies also had to be protected. Fort Charlotte in St Vincent was built in 1806, another Napoleonic fort ( Forts were built at Volta and Greater Accra in Ghana from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century as the Portuguese started to trade with Africa and are now a World Heritage Site. In contrast, the World Heritage Site of Hwaeseong Fortress in the Republic of Korea was built in the eighteenth century to guard a tomb. You can search all the World Heritage Sites online at


Click here for more ideas for Putting Buckinghamshire in context.