So you think you know The Trundle?
New light has been shed on one of the best known landmaks in the South Downs National Park, thanks to the work of the Secrets of the High Woods team.
This project has been exploring the history of the ancient woods of West Sussex, revealing hidden archaeology and the host of human stories hidden in the landscape through research and LiDAR technology.
Members of the project, which is funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, have now revealed the fascinating history of The Trundle. which is located just outside of Chichester on St Roche’s Hill. The lumps and bumps beneath the site’s surface offer clues about its long and impressive history.
James Kenny, archaeology officer at Chichester District Council, said: “I have been collaborating with Secrets of the High Woods as the archaeological specialist, helping to get the story of the landscape straight, as well as encouraging and helping the project team. This project has helped us re-evaluate what we thought we knew about the landscape, including The Trundle. By using the LiDAR technology, we are able to contextualise the remains of The Trundle into the surrounding countryside.
“The Trundle represents all of the history of mankind - looking back 5,000 years in time, you can see how humans have utilised the landscape, such as how Neolithic people have established a communal, concentric enclosure. The LiDAR shows us the concentric circle of ditches and banks that make up The Trundle. In the New Stone Age, this was a place where the community came together - it was used for the Neolithic version of a summer harvest festival, where animals would be culled for the winter, people would meet, make acquaintances, and arrange marriages - maybe even listen to music!
“If we race forward in time to the Middle Iron Age, we can see that the site at The Trundle was chosen to have a significant hill fort constructed on it. This was an enormous defended enclosure for the elite of society - kings and members of the aristocracy.
“Here, they would have gathered grain for storage, and hosted temples, and it would have been defended by an enormous earthwork, which is the term for changes in land levels made by humans. The defended enclosure at The Trundle would have been a demonstration of the strength of the elite. It’s fascinating to be able to see the history of site before the Romans got here - using the LiDAR technology, we can see the platforms that are hidden here, such as roundhouses. At this period in time, The Trundle was a proto-town, a precursor to Chichester.”
James continued: “In the late 14th century, somebody built a chapel to Saint Roche, who is a French saint who was born in Montpellier in about 1350.Saint Roche was noted for surviving the Black Death, and so you would ask him to intercede for you if you were ill. As The Trundle was a place that travellers often visited, sick travellers would often call in and ask for help.
“Interestingly, the name ‘The Trundle’ only became currency in recent years - the site was originally called ‘Rooks Hill’, after the chapel of saint ‘Roche’. The chapel fell into ruin after the Reformation, but by using LiDAR, you can see the rectangular plan in the ground.
“The Trundle also became important during the Second World War, where it was the site of a radio transmission station. There were six towers and the technology to transmit and receive messages, meaning that the crew at the station could talk to pilots during the Battle of Britain.
“You can see why The Trundle has been chosen as an example for this project - it’s such a significant site, a really fascinating, prominent place.”
Sarah Rance-Riley, project manager for Secrets of the High Woods, said: “Perhaps the Trundle’s greatest legacy can be found in the words of 19th century Romantic poet William Blake. Blake reportedly took the spectacular view toward the Trundle from Lavant as inspiration to write a poem that later became the famous 1804 hymn, ‘Jerusalem’ - “And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green”’.There will be a Secrets of the High Woods touring interactive exhibition and several activity days . Find out more at visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/discover/heritage/secrets-of-the-high-woods/secrets-of-the-high-woods-on-tour-exhibition-and-activity-days.
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