Chanctonbury Ring is a small Iron Age hill fort that was used in various periods of history and is still a notable Sussex landmark today, the subject of many paintings, postcards and photographs. It occupies a prominence on the northern edge of the south downs, 783 feet above sea level and overlooks a large portion of the weald below with the old ridgeway across the downs passing just to the south.
Chanctonbury Ring is most famous in recent times for a crown of Beech trees planted on top in 1760 by a young man named Charles Goring. At the time of planting, the locals were rather upset with the venture but the trees were later seen as a thing of beauty, before most of them were blown down during the hurricane of October 1987. The trees have been replanted but the Ring won't return to it's former glory for many years. The outer Ring of the fort itself is roughly oval, measuring roughly 550ft by 400ft and has two entrances, in the south-west and east. Pottery found and carbon dating on an animal bone suggests the fort was built in the early Iron-Age, in the 6th to 5th centuries BC. Since this time, the Ring has suffered many times, perhaps the greatest disturbance being by tree roots, though in the Second World War, dugouts were cut into the Ring in the "L.D.V pattern".
Several Roman coins have been found within the Ring, dating from the time of the emperor Nero (54-68 AD) to Gratian (375-383 AD), though many have been lost to treasure hunters. Chantonbury was rebuilt on by the Romans - there are Roman building remains only a few inches below the surface. A building in the centre of the ring is probably a temple, the design being seen in similar temples such as at Lancing Ring, and was probably in use from the mid 1st to 4th centuries AD. There is a theory that the temple was dedicated to Mithras. The two sets of walls of the temple are made of flint and brick held together and plastered with mortar and the floor between the inner and outer walls is of hard rammed chalk with a possibility of mosaic in some places. Pieces of mosaic have been found near the inner wall along with large quantities of roof tile, which probably only covered the inner section, with the outer section being a courtyard. To the east, there appears to be no outer wall, indicating the entrance to the temple was to the east and pointed towards the entrance in the eastern rampart.
When a replanting of the trees, within the camp, was due in 1977, a dig was undertaken to first to see what could be found about the nature of the Iron Age fort. Apart from world war two disturbances, the first suprise was the discovery of Neolithic flintwork (polished flint axe, arrowhead and scrapers) and a small amount of Bronze Age pottery which put the history of the hill further back. Little Iron-Age material was found despite the camp being dated to that era and 10% of the interior being excavated, with only one post hole and a shallow pit being found. The pit contained early Iron Age pottery, animal and human bones, pieces of unworked dark red flint, the only pieces found on the site, and a piece of granite originating from Cornwall. This single pit has been interpreted by some as a votive feature rather than a rubbish pit, making the idea for military use of the camp more unlikely. To the West of the main temple, a layer of rubble was found which covered another layer of oyster shells which lay on top of bare chalk bedrock, perhaps suggesting that the area around the temple was cleared of topsoil when it was used, though to the south, an area of pavement was found, constructed from cubes of green sandstone. The oyster shells were probably part of the ritual of the site. Similar shell deposits have been discovered at other temples, such as at Hayling Island in nearby Hampshire.
There is a lack of evidence of settlement in the camp, which can be interpreted in several ways. The enclosure can be seen as either a refuge for a nearby settlement in times of trouble, a stock enclosure or a ritual centre. The reuse of the site for a Roman temple would suggest the latter.
There is a great deal of folklore associated with the Ring. If you walk (or run) seven times (sometimes running backwards or anti-clockwise) around it on a dark or moonless night (one account says Midsummer Eve at 7pm, another May Day Eve, another at midnight, during the time it takes a clock to strike midnight) without stopping, the Devil will appear and offer you a bowl of milk, soup or porridge. The Devil is also credited with constructing the Ring, it being a clump of earth thrown from his spade when he was constructing Devil's Dyke. Rumour for the use of the area as a venue for Witchcraft and black magic is rife and a strange altar was discovered in 1979. The altar was in the form of a 5 pointed star made of flints within a circle of flint. Between each star point were pieces of thick parchment bearing black candlewax.