Though this isn’t really about a bit of Torquay history, many locals will have driven through Milber Hill Fort. It’s on the St Marychurch Road on the back way to Torquay and the road goes through what remains of the fort as you drive up the hill from Penn Inn.
Devon has many ramparted Iron Age enclosures, usually called hill forts. However, only some are defensible being built on the side of a hill, rather than the crown, and were vulnerable to attack. As Milber is situated 35m below the hilltop, with a further 30m fall internally, it’s more accurate to call it a hill-slope enclosure.
Such enclosures were built by a loose confederation of Celtic tribes known as the Dumnonii – from which we derive the place-name ‘Devon’.
The enclosure is constructed on the northern slopes of a 150m high tract of upland between the Teign estuary and the Aller Brook. It consists of three concentric sub-rectangular enclosures: the innermost is 116m by 96m, the second and third are narrow strips 10m to 25m wide, each being defended by a large rampart and ditch. There was also a large outer enclosure probably for cultivation, bounded by the remains of low bank.
The entrance to the fortifications was on the lower NW side, facing towards the nearest water supply. It began as an embanked track 7m wide across the outer enclosure and was probably a drove-way for stock. The gateways were destroyed by the construction of the St Marychurch Rd.
Excavations in 1937-8 showed that the central and second enclosures had human occupants. They used hand-made pottery with curvilinear designs (known as Glastonbury Ware).
We know that Milber was lived in for about 100 years, and was deserted soon before the Roman conquest in the mid-1st century.
In the 1938 excavation, three small bronze figurines were unearthed in the upper filling of a ditch, buried in the early 1st century AD after the enclosure had been abandoned. These were a bird, a duck and a stag, about 6cm long and up to 3.5cm high. The bird has a long tail and detached wings; the stag is prostrate, with a raised band extending across its body; the duck is swimming, with a little cake in its mouth. It has been suggested that they served some kind of ritual function, and could have been mounted on a ceremonial staff, vessel or casket.
The Milber figurines are held at Torquay Museum.