St Catherine's Hill

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HCC Site ID: 1605 Parish: Winchester
Designations: SDNP, SAM, SSSI Area: 9.3 ha
Access: Public Access Ownership:

Location and Site

St Catherine’s Hill is sited to the west of Winchester. above the College water meadows. It is on chalk downland and is within the South Downs National Park.

Historic Development and current description

The Hill is an ancient monument and also part of an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). It is an Iron Age site of 9.3 hectares roughly oval and was defended with a line of bank and ditch following the hill’s contours, possibly in the 3rdC BC. Excavations in 1927-8 showed occupation on the hill probably began in the 6th century BC. It was finally sacked in the 1st century BC and not occupied thereafter. Within this site, the foundations of St Catherine’s Chapel are said to exist. This was cruciform and aisle less and dated from the 12th century.
Apart from its history and its recreational role for walking and viewing the surrounding countryside, it is the maze which attracts visitors. Called the Mizmaze, it is a maze or labyrinth cut in the turf, probably between 1647 and 1710. It is not a maze in the sense that we know it because it is not a puzzle with choices of route but with an uninterrupted path which leads from the entry point to the centre. Partly Christian and partly pre-Christian in origins there are several theories of their symbolism. It is suggested that between 1830 and 1840, the maze was wrongly recut so that its present condition is an exact negative of the original. The Iron Age Hill fort is a scheduled ancient monument and the grazed chalk grassland with representative flora and insect fauna is a Hants and Isle of Wight Naturalists Trust Nature Reserve.
For centuries ‘Hills’ was the playground for Winchester College, their only official place of recreation until 1868 when level playing fields near the College were created. Since 1894 the traditional association has been maintained by a gathering of the School twice a year. In 1930 the Old Wykehamist Lodge of Freemasons purchased it at a nominal cost, from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in order to ensure that the access to which Wykehamists had assumed a right for centuries should be properly theirs in perpetuity. There are also grazing rights let elsewhere thus complicating the issue of maintaining the ancient monument.The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust maintain the area and it is a favourite spot for walkers although there has been conflict between sheep grazing and dog-walkers.

Summary

An iron age oval hill fort of 9 hectaures overlooking St Cross, Winchester with a 17the century ‘Mismaze’. Now has a recreational role for walking and viewing.

Information from Notes from Michael Carden and Hampshire Gardens Trust 2003


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