Chûn Castle is a large Iron Age hillfort (ringfort) near Penzance in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. The fort was built about 2,500 years ago, and fell into disuse until the 6th century AD when it was possibly re-occupied to protect the nearby tin mines. It stands beside a prehistoric trackway that was formerly known as the Old St Ives Road and the Tinners’ Way. The name Chûn derives from Cornish: Chi an Woon (‘the house on the downs’). The area is now sometimes known as Chûn Downs.
Edward Lluyd made a plan of this fort in around 1700 remarking that its structure and security showed, 'military knowledge superior to that of any other works of this kind which I have seen in Cornwall'. What is of note is the fact that the fort has a strategic inner and outer wall and ditch. The remains today are still breathtaking despite the fact that the once twenty-feet-odd walls now stand at around five feet due to its use in the nineteenth century as a quarry for buildings in Penzance and Madron.
The fort was excavated in 1895, 1925, 1927 and 1930. Much pottery was uncovered, the earliest dating to the 4th century BC due to its similarity to known Breton pottery of that age. However, it is quite possible that the fort was built upon a much older structure. Chûn Quoit, twenty metres neighbouring, is dated to around 2400BC.
The purpose of the fort is speculated to be for protection of tin and copper gathered in the tin-rich locality of what is now Pendeen, with its famous Geevor Tin Mine, and surrounding villages. Iron and tin slags were found within the castle, near the well. However, the castle is located at the top of a moor and so easily spotted, which would not be a wise place to put a hoard of precious metal. It overlooks many miles of ocean, the Celtic Sea, to the north, and overlooks the only land route to this peninsula (west Penwith) to the south. Therefore not only its structure but its location suggest a much more actively militaristic function.
The well, within the inner walls, is of note as it once had a stairway leading to the water, water which remains to this day even during dry spells. Locals used the well water until the 1940s for domestic purposes and some for superstitious reasons, viz. the endowment of perpetual youth. Pagans still make pilgrimages to the site on religiously significant days.
It is believed that the fort fell into disuse around the first century AD but was reoccupied and modified several centuries later, until the 6th century. However, occupation may date to the later Roman period.
- Craig Weatherhill Cornovia: Ancient Sites of Cornwall & Scilly (Alison Hodge 1985; Halsgrove 1997, 2000)
- "List of place-names (in the Standard Written Form)". Cornish Language Partnership Signage Panel.
- "Chûn Downs Nature Reserve". Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Retrieved 2013.
Chi an Woon is the 2008 Standard Written Form; it was also written Chy-an-Woone. The same name appears in English as Chywoon, Chywonn, and Chywoone in the names of some minor localities elsewhere in Cornwell.
Woon is a modified form of goon, meaning ‘down, moor, moorland.’
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