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success of their arms over the general population of Britain.Such a triumph renders even subjugation attractive; but still it must not be forgotten that, after a struggle of more than four centuries, the conquerors of the continent left a portion of this is. land unsubilued, and sacred to rude but bonest and indignant patriotism.
It is to be feared that the above brief sketch of the political constitution, the theology, and the customs and manners, of the ancient Britons, will prove inadequate to the gratification of the curious. But it would be difficult to extend an accouut of the inhabitants of Britain, at the time of the Roman invasion, to a much greater length, ou solid ground. It has been observed by Dr. Johnson that “all which is really known of the ancient state of this island, is contained in a few pages;” and such appears
to be indeed the fact, if we adhere to what has been said, deter. minately of ancient Britain, by those who wrote from actual observation, or from contemporary intelligence. If we were al. lowed to argue from analogy, and to ascribe, unreservedly, to the Celtæ and Belgæ of Britain, the manners of kindred tribes on the continent, a more copious detail night be presented without any great effort. But it must ever be dangerons to the interests of truth, to apply particular instances from general remarks.
I might, likewise, have added much to these delineations, and have imparted to them many touches truly attractive, if I had chosen to lean on the authority of the poems ascribed to Ossian. But it would appear that poems, only verbally transmitted, and known to South Britain through the inedium of a free translation only, cannot be safely adopted as materials for a legitimate history of manners, unless when they directly agree with the assertions of ancient historical writers; and in such instances their testimony, except as to the mere purpose of em. bellishment, must be superfluous.
Some minor particulars relating to the custotos of the ancient Britons, will be elicited from au examination of their rude, but
venerable remains, which are strewed over the less cultivated parts of the island, in impressive abundance.
To an investigation of these I now proceed; and direct the notice of the reader to those earthy mounds and outlines, which mark the site of inhabitation at an earlier period than is recognised by the pages of British history ; to massy vestiges of Druidical rites, which would mock the assaults of time, if uuaided by the more destructive agency of the irreverent human hand; and to the antiquarian labours of those who have removed the incumbent load of earth from the Briton's rude cell of se. pulture, and have disclosed the reliques of his form, together with the simple, but emphatic, memorials placed beside him in the grave by the fanciful piety of an obsolete superstition.
BRITISH TownS --Vestiges OF HABITATIONS-EXCAVATIONS.—The towns of the Britons contained no buildings that were likely to meet the eye of distant pusterity. It has been already noticed, that, according to Cæsar, these towns consisted of mean huts for human inhabitation, and sheds for cattle, which were placed in the midst of a thick wood, and fortified by a high bank and a ditch.— But although the buildings of the British towns were not calculated for long duration, the vallum and fosse, where not interrupted by the haud of future settlers, would remain as land-marks of former population, through very distant ages. Such appear to be those called Ambresbury-banks, near Copped Hall, in Essex, which are thus described by a carefut investigator: “ This intrenchment was formerly in the very heart of the forest, and is of an irregular figure, rather longest from east to west, and on a gentle declivity to the south-east. It contains near twelve acres, and is surrounded by a ditch and high bank, much worn down by tiine; though, where there are angles, they are still very bold and high. There are o regular openings, like gateways or entrances."* E 2
Gougl's Camden, Edit. 1789. Vol. II. p. 49. and Pl. I. fig. 4; and Beauties for Essex, p. 431-432.
But it would appear that the description of a British town, as transmitted by Cæsar, applies chiefly to the dwellings of such tribes as inhabited the lowlands of Britain. As security was the primary object studied by the Britons in constructing a town, we inay readily believe that the rations which occupied the more mountainous districts of the island, chose the site of their places of retreat on the summit of elevations, difficult of access, and commanding extensive views. Accordingly, we find in several parts of Wales, and in Cornwall,* in Lancashire, Shropshire, Cambridgeshire, . Herefordshire, and other counties of England, the remains of castrametations on tall precipitate hill tops, which are confidently believed to have been the fastnesses, or towns of retreat, constructed by the ancient inhabitants of the island.
These fastnesses enclose a considerable area, and are of an irregular form, the outlines complying with the natural shape of the hill on which they are constructed. Where the sides are not defended by precipices, they are guarded by several ditches, and by ramparts, cither of earth or of stones, worked without the use of mortar. They have soinetimes only one, but more frequently have two entrances. One of the inost important of these strong holds may desirably be adduced in this place, as a specimen of their prevailing character, since it is situated, according to the remark of Mr. King, un a spot that could not but be an object of the utmost attention to the original inhabitants of those territories, which alterwards were deemed distinctly England and Wales, from the very division here formed.” This is now termed the Herefordshire Beacon, and is reared on the summit of one of the highest of the Malvern ridge of hills, The area of the castrametation comprises an irregular oblong, of 175 fcet by 110 feet, and is surrounded by a steep and lofty vallum
• Beauties for Cornwall, p. 500-501.
+ Beauties for Shropshire, p. 266-267, (and for more copious notice of Hen Dinas, the presumed British fastness in Shropshire, see King's Munimenta Auliqua, Vol. I.)
Beauties for Cambridyeshire, p. 130-131.
of stones and earth, and by a deep ditch on the outside. Attached to the principal area, are two outworks, of considerable extent, situated lower on the sides of the hill. Each of these encloses a plain, probably intended for the reception of cattle in times of exigency and retreat; and both are artificially connected by a narrow slip of land, secured by a bank and ditch. The aeclivity of the hill, in its approach towards the summit, is guarded by several rude, but formidable, banks and ditches. *
The above description is far from disagreeing with the account given of many British fortresses by Tacitus ;t and the whole arrangement of the castrametation, at once rude, bold, and cunning, would appear to be consistent with the character evinced by the ancient Britons in politics and in war. While, in general characteristics, these elevated places of retreat and defence are thus attributable to the Britons, it may be observed that there is not any other people to whom their first construction can be rationally appropriated, althongh they may, in successive ages, have been used by various hostile parties.
From encampments known to have been constructed by the Romans, Saxons, and Danes, it is evident that these vestiges do not bear any resemblance to their modes of fortification; and thence it may be safely inferred that they were formed only by the hands of those who first used the soil, and who, in the rudepess of an early age of military tactics, sought, and found, security for their families and their herds, on the loftiest points of neighbouring elevations, where nature supplied the conscious deficiences of art.
In addition to other arguments for the British original of these bill fortresses, it must be observed, that within the area of many of them are still remaining the foundations of numerous cells, or
. See a more extended notice of this curious fortress, in the Beauties for Herefordshire, p. 597—599; and in King's Munimenta Antiqua, Vol. I.
1 Annal. lib. XII. sect. 33.
places of habitation, which are generally circular, or oval, as, was usual with the dwellings of the Britons. The mere existence of such relics would appear to prove that the fortresses were intended for the regular accommodation of a tribe, combining both sexes and wbole families, rather than for the tempo, rary reception and defence of a band of warriors.
A curious species of earth work, supposed to form a part of the vestigia of civil life amongst the ancient Britons, now claims notice. I allude to the subterraneous pits and caverns which are found near Guildford, in Surrey ;t at Royston, in Hertfordshire ;near Crayford, in Kent;ş and many other places. These are often descended into by means of a pit, or well, and are sometimes entered on a level, through the side of a hill. Within, they are of a different magnitude and description, some having only one spacious apartment, but they are generally divided into several rooms. Many writers contend that these excavations were made by the Saxons, in imitation of the custom of their German ancestors, as described by Tacitus; but Mr. King, who has bestowed great labour on the consideration of this subject, thus delivers a contrary opinion: “ If we consider how much superior the other Saxon modes of fortification appear, it seems much more reasonable to conclude that they were first
• See an instance of these renains in the Beauties for Cornwall, p. 501501. It may be here observed, that vestiges of scattered, round, small houses, supposed to be British, occur in several recluse parts of England and Wales. Many of these are found on Dartmoor, in Devonshire, (See Polwhele's Hist. of Devon. p. 142–143; and Beauties for Devon. p. 233 -234.) + Beauties for Surrey, p. 257.
Beauties for Herts, p. 181—183; where this excavation is supposed to have been used as an oratory; but, from its mode of construction, Mr. King, in his Munimenta Antiqua, argues that it was originally formed by the Britons, as a hiding place, or as a repository of grain.
s Beauties for Kent, p. 532–553.-Curious specimens of subterranean works, probably designed for similar purposes, likewise occur in Cornwall. See also Beauties for Essex, p. 484.