Old Oswestry is a large and impressive early Iron Age hill fort in the Welsh Marches near Oswestry in north west Shropshire. It was occupied between the sixth century BC and the Roman conquest of Roman Britain, probably by the Cornovii tribe.
The Old Oswestry Hill Fort, also known as 'Hen Dinas' or more anciently as 'Caer Ogyrfan' after King Arthur's father in law, is said to be the birthplace of Queen Ganhumara, or Guinevere. It is also believed to have been the site for the final battle of the Powys king Cynddylan, the last descendant of King Arthur to rule Shropshire.
The hill fort can be found on the northern outskirts of Oswestry, a constant reminder of the beginnings of the town and is amongst the most spectacular of Shropshire's hill forts, and perhaps one of the finest to be found in any part of Britain.
From the summit, on a clear day, you can see as far as Nesscliffe to the south-east and Wrexham to the north.
There are four ditches that provide the defence for the perimeter, increasing to seven along its western side. These would have been used to slow any invaders from attacking and gaining control of the settlement.
The elaborate defences that surround the fort can still be seen today, may have been a necessity because the hill on which the fort seemingly sits unusually low for an iron age defensive site.
There seems to have been two entrances through which the iron age people would have accesed the interior, one on the western side and one on the eastern side. The western entrance is the most obvious because of the series of deep rectangular hollows. This feature isn't found upon any other hill fort in Shropshire, or indeed anywhere else. They also help to make the hill fort entrance one of the most complex in all of Britain. There have been many suggestions as to what these hollows were originally have been used for, including: stock pens, storage pits, quarries, water tanks or simply additional levels of defence.
The area that iron age settlers would have inhabited on the top of the hill occupies an area of approximately six hectares. Excavations at the hill fort in the late 1930's and early 1940's showed that the hilltop was inhabited before the earthwoks were built, possibly by a late bronze age community.
The defences were built up in stages from 600AD onwards until the late iron age. It is likely that the hill fort remained in use until the Roman conquest; however there are no signs that the hill fort was taken using force by the invading Roman Army. Some hill forts were re-occupied after the Romans left Britain; however, there is no evidence that Old Oswestry was once again occupied.
"Remarking to a gentleman, that I had gleaned up some anecdotes relative to Oswald, he asked me, if I had seen Old Oswestry, where he assured me the town formerly stood? I, with a smile, answered in the negative.
He told me, with a serious face, "that the town had travelled three quarters of a mile, to the place where it had taken up its present abode." This belief, I found, was adopted by all I conversed with...
... I could not pass this place without as strict an examination as could be expected from a man of seventy-four, who was to climb and descend a number of ramparts, each thirty or forty feet high, while up to the chin in brambles...
... when I had made my observations, I retreated to the possessor, to collect what traditionary knowledge I was able. He told me that they had found something like a well in one place, where, he supposed, they hid their treasure; a pavement in another, which, he concluded, was to prevent the horses injuring the ground; and pieces of iron, which, he supposed, were pieces of armour.
That, about thirty years ago, as much timber was cut down from the ramparts as sold for seventeen thousand pounds, which proves them to be extensive; that the proprietor could trace two falls prior to this, which must take up the compass of perhaps five hundred years; but how many before these, were hid in time." -p45/46 of 'Remarks upon North Wales' by William Hutton (1803).
For a brief account of a 'rain of frogs' that occured in Oswestry in 1912 follow this LINK