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Historic England Research Records

Mount Pleasant

Hob Uid: 453935
Location :
Dorset
West Dorset
West Stafford
Grid Ref : SY7098608992
Summary : A large henge enclosure, partially extant as an earthwork, located on the southeast side of Dorchester. The site comprises a ditch and outer bank defining an irregular sub-oval area, the enclosure circuit being interrupted by four entrances. The maximum external diameter of the site is around 370 metres. Some excavation was undertaken in 1970-71 by G Wainwright. The principal features noted in the interior were a substantial circular post-hole structure comprising five concentric circles of post holes within a ditch circa 43 metres in diameter. The ditch was open to the north. In a second phase, the timber structures appear to have been replaced by central cove-like setting of standing stones. The main enclosure earthworks were themselves supplemented by construction of a palisade trench within and concentric to the inner side of the ditch. This palisade featured just two very narrow entrance gaps, each defined by massive post holes. The palisade enclosed an area of circa 245 metres by 270 metres. Analysis of aerial photographs has revealed more detail, including at least one additional entrance, a possible earlier phase of enclosure marked out by pits, evidence that part of the henge bank was heightened, traces of external ditches, and a possible approach from the River Frome to the northeast. Finds from Wainwright's excavations included Grooved Ware sherds from primary levels in the henge ditch. Slightly later were Beaker sherds and a decorated flat bronze axe from the north terminal of the ditch. Sporadic post-Bronze Age activity included a circular Iron Age structure and two Saxon burials. Both burials were extended inhumations. One was accompanied by an iron knife and may be 7th century in date.The Conquer Barrow (SY 78 NW 3) overlies the henge earthworks on the western side.
More information : (SY 70998992) Earthwork (NR) (1)

Probable henge monument, much ploughed down. The entrance on the south east ('A' on plan) has been much mutilated by ploughing and the passage of farm vehicles. (2)

Enclosure, oval, probably a Neolithic 'henge' monument (SY 710899), lies across a low hill called Mount Pleasant with gentle slopes on all but the north where the fall, to the River Frome, is steeper. The enclosing bank only remains on the south side and the whole site has been heavily ploughed except for the coppice around Conquer Barrow, a large, much disturbed, mound apparently built on the bank at the west.

The bank is of loosely-packed chalk and earth, spread over a width of 50 feet or more, and, where best preserved, stood about 5 feet above the old ground surface. Within the bank was a shallow ditch generally 50 feet to 60 feet wide. The simple causewayed entrance at the southeast is certainly original.

Air photographs indicate that when complete the enclosure measured internally about 1150 feet east-west by 1000 feet and was 12 acres in area. The area and the position of the existing entrance suggest that it was probably a 'henge' of Atkinson's Class II and would therefore have had an opposed entrance at the northwest but there are no indications of such an entrance. Warne called it 'Vespasian's Camp' and recorded the finding of 'a sword and a few ancient relics'. (3)

A "mound or barrow" at the centre of the enclosure is recorded by R.J.C. Atkinson, but although there is some evidence of a former mound on aerial photographs, there are no clear traces on the ground. (This was possibly associated with the structure excavated in 1970-71 in the centre of the monument. See below).

Excavations at the Mount Pleasant earthwork were carried out by G.J. Wainwright during 1970-1971. The earliest evidence for occupation on the site, a spread of charcoal and some sherds of plain Neolithic bowls, pre-dated the enclosure and was assigned by radiocarbon determinations to the latter part of the third millenium BC.

The bank and internal ditch surrounding some 11 acres were constructed around 2000 BC and were entered by four causeways as at Avebury (SU 16 NW 22). At the same time a large circular timber structure inside its own ditch was constructed within the enclosure. Grooved Ware sherds, flint and bone artifacts and animal bones were associated with this phase.

Sometime before 1800 BC the enclosure ditch was enlarged at the west entrance and the enclosure bank was crowned by the Conquer Barrow (SY 78 NW 3). Around 1700 BC the timber structure was replaced by a stone 'cove' with outlying monoliths, and the hill-top was surrounded by a strong timber palisade. The latter, which must have been defensive, enclosed some ten acres of the hill-top. It may have stood at least six metres above ground level, and had two entrances in the north and west. Associated with the palisade and cove were numerous Beaker sherds, and stratified pottery from the enclosure ditch indicated continued occupation of the hill-top to around 1000 BC.

Sporadic occupation occurred during the first millenium BC, when the stone cove was destroyed and the hill given over to arable cultivation. (The palisade was destroyed by burning and dismantling at an unknown date). Remains of an Iron Age hut of 11metres diameter were found on the site of the original timber structure, associated with some sherds of hard burnished ware.

Sherds and other artifacts from superficial deposits indicated a presence in the late first century BC and early centuries AD, and a rectangular gully contained pottery and a 4th century Roman coin. Final evidence of settlement was provided by two 7th century pagan Saxon graves, one in the ditch of the timber structure, and the other near the western entrance of the main enclosure. With the latter were a small iron knife and a corroded buckle.

The excavation of Mount Pleasant was part of a programme which included Durrington Walls (SU 14 SE 118), Woodhenge (SU 14 SE 6) and Marden (SU 05 NE 3). Such enclosures appear to have occurred at focal centres represented at an earlier date by causewayed camps and their related long barrow distributions. In the case of Mount Pleasant, a continuous pattern can be traced from the third millenium BC, when the focus of settlement was the causewayed enclosure at Maiden Castle (SY 68 NE 7). From 2000 BC, the focus moved to Mount Pleasant, where it continued until about 1000 BC.

Shortly after that the first earthwork defences at Maiden Castle were built, and occupation of Mount Pleasant became only intermittent. Finally the inhabitants moved into the valley, creating the Roman town of Dorchester. (4)

The henge is generally as described by RCHM (3). The surviving banks on the south are very spread by ploughing. The inner ditch could not be identified. Ordnance Survey aerial photographs (d) shows a broken surface-mark which appears to correspond with the position of the palisade as noted by Wainwright (4).

The berm feature at SY 70818990 noted by RCHM - SY 78 NW 3) would appear to be an adaption and/or remodelling of the inner face of the henge-bank.

There is no visible trace of the northern section of the henge. On the north-west minor portions survive in private gardens.

Re-surveyed at 1:2500 on M.S.D.'s. (5)

Mount Pleasant is listed by Harding and Lee as a henge enclosure. (6)

One of the two Saxon inhumations was found by the western entrance of the enclosure, the other within a ditch. Both burials were extended inhumations. One was accompanied by an iron knife and may be 7th century in date. (7)

Detailed analysis of aerial photographs was undertaken in 2004 and 2008 following the recognition of 'new' features as cropmarks on recent English Heritage reconnaissance photography. Examination of historic photography showed that many of these 'new' features had been photographed previously, on occasions as early as the 1930s, but despite the amount of interest in the Mount Pleasant henge, and the amount of archaeological work in the vicinity since Wainwright's escavation, no systematic study of aerial photography had ever been carried out. The principal features identified are:

(1) An additional entrance on the southwestern side of the enclosure. This takes the form of a gap in the henge bank and a correspodning but larger gap in the course of the inner ditch. The gap in the ditch is partially blocked by two irregular lines of pits which it is suggested may represent the earliest phase of enclosure. Some evidence to support this can be found in Wainwright's excavations, where one section across the henge ditch appears to show the line of the ditch preceded by two pits.

(2) The bank is at its highest on the eastern and southeastern parts of the circuit. APs taken in 2004 suggest strongly that this is because the bank here was heightened at some point in its history. The higher portion ends in clear terminals, and the henge bank can be seen emerging from beneath them and continuing.

(3) There are clear cropmark and soilmark traces of an outer ditch on the southern and eastern sides of the henge.

(4) A feature interpreted as a possible 'approach' can be seen running from just outside the henge's eastern entrance with the floodplain of the River Frome.

Additional ring ditches were also identified in the vicinity, while the AP analysis also allowed further speculation on the relationship with Conquer Barrow (see associated monuments). All the above plus additional minor features are more fully described and discussed in the archive report. (8-10)


Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1963
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Source Number : 2
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 JR 01-SEP-1954
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Source Number : 7
Source : Gazetteer of Early Medieval Sites (unpublished thesis, 2006 by Dr A.K Cherryson))
Source details :
Page(s) : 31-32
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 8
Source : Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society
Source details : M Barber. Mount Pleasant from the AIr: cropmarks old and new at the henge enclosure near Dorchester, Dorset.
Page(s) : Jul-14
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 126, 2004
Source Number : 9
Source : Past : the newsletter of the Prehistoric Society
Source details : M Barber. Mount Pleasant, Dorchester: Cropmarks Old and New.
Page(s) : 05-Jul
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Plates :
Vol(s) : 49, APRIL 2007
Source Number : 10
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Mount Pleasant, Dorset. A Survey of the Neolithic Henge and Associated Features as seen on aerial photographs. EH Aerial Survey report, Research Dept Report Series.
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Source : RCHME: Earthworks and Barrows on Mount Pleasant, West Stafford, Dorset
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Source Number : 3
Source : An inventory of historical monuments in the County of Dorset. Volume two : south-east [in three parts]
Source details :
Page(s) : 451,504
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 3a
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Warne, C. 1872. Ancient Dorset, p 150-151 242
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Source Number : 3b
Source : Excavations at Dorchester, Oxon: first report. Sites I, II, IV, V and VI, with a chapter on henge monuments
Source details :
Page(s) : 105
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Source Number : 3c
Source : Aerial photograph
Source details : RAF CPE/UK/1934 5082-3 17-JAN-1947
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Source Number : 4
Source : Mount Pleasant, Dorset : excavations 1970-1971, incorporating an account of excavations undertaken at Woodhenge in 1970
Source details :
Page(s) :
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Vol(s) : no.37
Source Number : 5
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F2 JGB 22-NOV-1979
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Source Number : 5d
Source : Aerial photograph
Source details : OS 78/080/015-016
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Source Number : 6
Source : Henge monuments and related sites of Great Britain : air photographic evidence and catalogue
Source details : Site 056
Page(s) : 134-136
Figs. : 135
Plates :
Vol(s) : 175

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Neolithic
Display Date : Neolithic
Monument End Date : -2200
Monument Start Date : -4000
Monument Type : Findspot
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Late Neolithic
Display Date : Late Neolithic
Monument End Date : -2200
Monument Start Date : -2900
Monument Type : Henge Enclosure, Timber Circle, Palisaded Enclosure
Evidence : Earthwork, Sub Surface Deposit, Cropmark
Monument Period Name : Early Bronze Age
Display Date : Early Bronze Age
Monument End Date : -1600
Monument Start Date : -2600
Monument Type : Palisaded Enclosure, Stone Setting
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Iron Age
Display Date : Iron Age
Monument End Date : 43
Monument Start Date : -800
Monument Type : Round House (Domestic)
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Roman
Monument End Date : 410
Monument Start Date : 43
Monument Type : Gully
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit
Monument Period Name : Early Medieval
Display Date : C7
Monument End Date : 700
Monument Start Date : 601
Monument Type : Extended Inhumation
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit, Stratified Find

Components and Objects:
Period : Neolithic
Component Monument Type : Findspot
Object Type : VESSEL, LITHIC IMPLEMENT
Object Material : Pottery, Flint
Period : Late Neolithic
Component Monument Type : Henge Enclosure, Timber Circle, Palisaded Enclosure
Object Type : VESSEL, LITHIC IMPLEMENT, HUMAN REMAINS, ANIMAL REMAINS
Object Material : Pottery, Flint
Period : Early Bronze Age
Component Monument Type : Palisaded Enclosure, Stone Setting
Object Type : VESSEL, FLAT AXEHEAD
Object Material : Pottery, Bronze
Period : Iron Age
Component Monument Type : Round House (Domestic)
Object Type : VESSEL
Object Material : Pottery
Period : Roman
Component Monument Type : Gully
Object Type : COIN, VESSEL
Object Material : Pottery
Period : Early Medieval
Component Monument Type : Extended Inhumation
Object Type : KNIFE
Object Material : Iron

Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : DO 624
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Dorset)
External Cross Reference Number : 024A-024C
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SY 78 NW 4
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 453975
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1494065
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1494100
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1494110
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1494128
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1494175
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1494191
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1494210
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1494224
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 1494226
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 453934
Relationship type : Is referred to by

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : FIELD OBSERVATION ON SY 78 NW 4
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1954-09-01
End Date : 1954-09-01
Associated Activities : MOUNT PLEASANT HENGE
Activity type : EXCAVATION
Start Date : 1970-01-01
End Date : 1970-12-31
Associated Activities : FIELD OBSERVATION ON SY 78 NW 4
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1979-11-22
End Date : 1979-11-22
Associated Activities : MOUNT PLEASANT HENGE
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 2004-01-01
End Date : 2004-12-31