Hengistbury Head: Wikis


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Hengistbury Head
Hengistbury Head.JPG
Overlooking Mudeford Sandspit
Type: Hillfort
Country: England
County: Dorset
Nearest Town: Christchurch
OS grid reference: SZ163911
Coordinates: 50°42′53″N 1°45′18″W / 50.71477°N 1.75491°W / 50.71477; -1.75491Coordinates: 50°42′53″N 1°45′18″W / 50.71477°N 1.75491°W / 50.71477; -1.75491
Condition (out of 5): 4
Access (out of 5): 3
References: Megalithic Portal

Hengistbury Head is a headland jutting into the English Channel between Bournemouth and Milford on Sea in the English county of Dorset.
At the end is a spit which creates the narrow entrance to Christchurch Harbour.



Hengistbury Head is a sandstone headland which forms part of Southbourne, the most easterly part of the Borough of Bournemouth, Dorset.

Hengistbury Head forms the southern boundary of Christchurch Harbour. The sand bar at the end of the Head is the main feature closing the harbour from the south, while a peninsula at Mudeford closes the harbour from the north.

The name

The region was originally named Hynesbury Head. However, after the discovery of the Iron Age artifacts–and in apparent confusion over a reference to the area as Hedenesburia–it was renamed Hengistbury Head after the Jutish king Hengest.[1]


The promontory has witnessed a long sequence of human occupation but is most famous as a fortified Iron Age mercantile centre playing an important role in cross-Channel trade between Britain and Gaul.


Stone Age

Long prior to this, the site was occupied during the Upper Palaeolithic. There is evidence of an open settlement of the Creswellian culture on the hill in the middle of the headland dating to around 10,500 BC. At the time, this hill would have overlooked a large river valley that was to become the English Channel. Later, once the sea had inundated the surrounding valley, Mesolithic hunter gatherers exploited the site and Neolithic stone tools have been found but it was not until the Bronze Age that visible traces of the site's occupation are apparent.

Bronze Age

Eleven Bronze Age round barrows sit on the promontory with two more a little further inland. Numerous finds including Early Bronze Age axes, along with Amber and gold jewellery were recovered from these monuments. Pottery found nearby to the barrows also indicates visitation during 1700-1400BC. In around 700 BC, a small settlement to the very north of the headland was established; also around this time, the headland was cut off from the mainland by the construction of two banks and ditches. These earthworks turned Hengistbury Head into a fortified settlement area which seems to have grown over succeeding centuries until it became an important port.

The barrows at the site were first excavated by J. P. Bushe-Fox between 1911 and 1912 and then by Harold St George Gray in the years following the First World War. Most of our knowledge of the site comes from Barry Cunliffe's work there between 1979 and 1984.[2]

Iron Age

One side of the Head is defended by large earthworks, called the "double dykes", similar to those found at Maiden Castle. These date to approximately 100 BC. Due to the high concentration of iron ore in the area, this location became a significant trading port, trading worked metal–iron, silver, and bronze–with the Continent in return for wine, tools, and pottery. Many coins have been found from this period (making it one of the few areas in pre-Roman Britain to use coins). Interestingly, some of them were fake–worthless cores dipped in silver![3]

Roman occupation

Under the Romans, Hengistbury Head was initially left alone, possibly as a result of its distance from Roman centres of power. However, as Roman rule expanded, trade was moved away from the Head to other Roman ports. Consequently, the region saw a decline in prosperity, and indeed, by about the time the Romans left (c.410 AD), the area was abandoned.

Medieval use

The area was not substantially reoccupied until Alfred the Great decided to rebuild the harbour as a defence against raiders. He built the town that later became Christchurch, on the north side of the harbour. Access to Salisbury up the River Avon made this a more strategic place. The Head may have been used for harbour defense at this time.

Nineteenth century

From 1848 to 1872, the Hengistbury Mining Company, formed by a local merchant, Mr. Holloway, extracted ironstone boulders. These form the base of Hengistbury Head, and the removal of a substantial quantity has weakened the headland. The quarry resulted in a loss of about a third of the Head, mainly by erosion since the quarry closed. The silt being washed down also threatened the ecology of the saltmarsh below. This has been reduced by building a dam, in 1976, to create a pool. Mr. Holloway brought coal from Southampton, and took the ironstone as ballast for the return journey.[4]

The Head today

Hengistbury Head from the beach, 2008
Gabions At Hengistbury Head

The head today is used for a variety of reasons. Firstly it is a tourist spot where country walks can be taken all over the head due to the well defined gravel paths, some of which form part of the Bournemouth Coast Path. During 2008, many paths have been resurfaced, making more (though not all) parts of the Head wheelchair accessible. For example, it is now possible to gain wheelchair access to Quarry Pool.

There is a cafe at the bottom of the head on the Bournemouth side and a scenic land train to the end of the spit, a journey of ten or so minutes. On the head itself is a H. M. Coastguard lookout station, a nature reserve and a triangulation pillar, shown on Ordnance Survey maps as 36 metres above sea level. Ample parking (subject to charges) can be found near the cafe, but the Head is also within walking distance of Southbourne and parts of Christchurch. By the car park is a hut containing further information about the head. On windy days the head is very good for kite flying.

The main nature reserve area faces Christchurch Harbour, and is contiguous with the reed beds of Wick Fields. One serious threat to the future of the Head, however, is erosion of the exposed southern cliff face, more from wind and rain as from the sea.

The Quarry Pool is now a significant part of the nature reserve features of the Head. While it was very acidic in the early years, since 1990 it has allowed the growth of a significant number of plant and insect species, as well as mallard and little grebe. The insects provide valuable food for migrating martins and swallows.[5]

Due to the dense bracken and grass on many parts it has suffered several severe fires in the past decade. Care must be taken not to leave glass bottles lying on the ground and to dispose of cigarettes carefully, especially in summer months. Luckily the ecosystem is quick to heal itself so evidence of this is not easily found.


The fields and reserved areas near the car park provide an ideal spot to watch and listen to a significant population of Skylarks during the summer months.


  1. ^ Hengistbury Head Prehistory
  2. ^ Barry Cunliffe
  3. ^ Hengistbury Head Prehistory
  4. ^ First section of information sign posted at Quarry Pool
  5. ^ Second section of information sign posted at Quarry Pool

See also

External links


Views from various parts of Hengistbury Head or nearby.


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