FURTHER INFLUXES into southern Britain in about 500 BC of invaders and settlers who had discovered the use of iron for making implements and weapons, marked the beginning of the British Iron Age. The most notable remains of this period are the hill-fort earthworks which in Dorset occur in three lines running roughly from south east to north west following the principal hill ranges. The large ones such as Maiden Castle, Hod Hill, Badbury Rings and Eggardon Hill are very spectacular and well-known, but there are many smaller ones. Woodbury Hill in this parish lies in the centre line of Dorset hill-forts, and its immediate neighbours are Woolsbarrow on the east and Weatherby Castle on the west, both of which lie just outside the parish boundaries.
A characteristic of an Iron Age hill-fort is its free shape, where the tiers of alternating banks and ditches follow the con-tours of the hill on which it is situated. The construction of one of these earthworks must have entailed an immense amount of labour, and a hill already having a suitable natural shape seems always to have been selected.
Woodbury Hill has a flat top of about 13 acres (5 hectares) and was surrounded by a double row of banks and an intervening ditch. Although the hill has suffered considerable damage as a result of its use for some 700 years as the site of an annual fair, and from the removal of much of the outer bank for the sake of the gravel of which it was made, the original banking and ditching can still be clearly seen in many places. The Drawing shows a plan of the earthwork.
The drawing is based on a 1724 engraving, and although 18th century engravings are often inaccurate and exaggerated, some idea of Woodbury's original appearance is conveyed in it, being drawn at a time before much of the damage to the outer banks had taken place.
The Map here shows the relationship of Woodbury Hill to its neighbouring hill-forts, and the probable trackway system existing at the time superimposed on a present day map of the parish.
From earliest prehistoric times even into the Roman period and beyond, only the upper levels of the chalk and heathland were in any way habitable or negotiable, the valleys being too marshy and densely wooded and even quite impassable in places. The ancient settlements are therefore to be found on this higher clearer ground, and the trackways occur as main ridgeways with subsidiary branches, only descending into and crossing the valleys where a higher route was not possible. The high level of these tracks also enabled the traveller to more readily identify his whereabouts from natural landmarks, besides being in a better defensive position against attack.
The basic network of tracks would have become established during Neolithic Times (2500-1900 BC) and been further developed during the Bronze Age (1900-500 BC) when the disposition and grouping of barrows give indications of their routes. During the Iron Age the network would have been further developed in order to link the hill-forts, whilst some of the earlier routes might have become disused.
The exact routes of these ancient trackways must of necessity be conjectural, but evidence of them still exists in many ways-for instance, in Saxon times when many of them were still in use, their routes were often used to delineate parish boundaries. Such a case is the route along the spine of Black Hill, where a footpath still exists forming the parish boundary with Turnerspuddle, and where round barrows occur at intervals. Also, the road from Gallows Hill to Wareham, marking the southern boundary of the parish, follows the route of an old trackway. The `hollow' lanes, where the pathway is sunken perhaps several feet below the adjoining ground level through centuries of continuous use and erosion also denote very ancient origins and probably mark the routes of ancient trackways. There are several of such lanes in the parish-Butt Lane Hollow, Black Hill Lane and Dead Woman's Hollow, to name but three.
Towards the end of the Iron Age as such, the whole of Europe had become part of the Roman Empire and the conquest of Britain was inevitable. The Britons, however, did not yield to the Roman invaders without a struggle, and many fierce battles were fought at the hill-forts before the conquest was completely achieved in AD 43.