Bown Hill Long Barrow, Woodchester, Gloucestershire

Long Barrow:  OS Grid Reference – SO 8233 0179

Getting Here

Easy enough this one.  Take the B4066 west of Woodchester past the Boundary Court and over the cattle grid for 100 yards or so.  Note the fence up the slope to your left (south) up the field here head for the triangulation pillar.  Once there keep walking for about another 100 yards.  You can’t miss it!

Archaeology & History

The mad craniologist John Thurnam (1810-73) was one of several old-school fellas who helped to excavate this grand site on one occasion.  Thinking that human sacrifice lay behind virtually all of the burial mounds, Thurnam was part of the Cotteswold Field Club group who investigated the place; and, because of his intellectual capacity in cranial investigations, was listened to by the budding archaeo’s of the day cos he was cleverer than them (hero worshipping).  A bit naive of them, but such is the way of some folk!  Yet their early account of this site (devoid of Thurnam’s weird notions) is quite invaluable, even today. Described in an address by their  President in the Proceedings in 1865, the article tells:

“The Club met at Stroud.  The principal work of the day was the opening of a ‘barrow’ on Bown Hill…which had formed the subject of discussion towards the end of the previous season when, the period of the year being too far advanced, the work of exploration was deferred.  Workmen had been employed under Dr Paine and Dr Witchell on the two previous days; but beyond the discovery of the entrance to the sepulchral chambers no great progress had been made in the excavation of the mound which, from its size and solidity, proved to be a very laborious operation.  In order, therefore, to expedite matters, a strong force of labourers, 22 in number, had been employed from an early hour on the day of the meeting.  The mound, which measured about 60 yards in length by 17 in extreme width, was seen to be constructed of angular masses of stone, heaped together without any order or regularity, amongst which were scattered blocks of considerable size and weight.

“The excavators had opened a trench about 100 feet in length, in a direction due east and west by compass.  The western extremity was the broadest, the mound gradually diminishing in width to the opposite end.  The workmen had struck upon the entrance which, when exposed, showed a chamber formed of five large, unhewn stones, two on each side and one placed transversely, the dimensions of which were 4 feet in width by 8 feet 6 inches in length.  There was no covering stone, but the entrance was flanked on either side by a wall of dry masonry, very neatly fitted, forming a segment of a circle, which, if completed, would have enclosed a well-like chamber in front of the entrance to the tumulus.  This wall had been abruptly broken off; but there were amongst those present some who thought they detected signs of it having been at one time continuous.  It was evident that the whole structure had been thoroughly ransacked and broken up by former explorers; and so completely had the work of devestation been accomplished that hardly one stone was left upon another.  The chambers, with the one exception already noted, had been entirely demolished, and but a few bones scattered throughout the whole tumulus remained, all more or less in a fragmentary condition.  These fragments comprised one fully developed frontal bone, male; portions of two male lower jaws, and portions of two female skulls; several thigh bones, and bones of the leg and foot, including the remains of children, but all much broken.  There were found the remains of six indiiduals at the least, viz, two men, two women and two children, the latter between six and eight years of age.  There were several bones of cattle and calves; teeth of horse and ox; a portion of the bones of the foreleg of a dog; several boar’s teeth, tusks and grinders, and parts of jaw bones; a bone ‘scoop’, formed of a shank bone of a horse; and a large quantity of a black unctuous substance, having the appearance of wood or animal charcoal; but no burnt bones.  A small portion of a small flint flake was detected in the black paste.  Besides the organic remains above enumerated, some pieces of rude pottery were found, which, with a Roman brass coin of the Emperor Germanicus, complete the list of objects yielded…”

Some of the remains found in Bown Hill's long barrow
Some of the remains found in Bown Hill’s long barrow

A few years later George Witts’ (1883) described the tomb but added little to the description above.  When Crawford (1925) came here in December, 1920, the greatest height of the tomb was just ten feet and he described that “the extreme eastern end has been destroyed by quarrying.”  He could clearly discern various trenches and the remains of previous excavations around the tomb, but added little further, apart from an important geomantic ingredient:

“It stands near the highest point (763 feet) of the hill and commands a magnificent view.  South eastwards can be seen the Berkshire Downs (probably the White Horse Hill and Wayland’s Smithy); northwards May Hill and the Malvern Hills are visible; in the western distance are the Brecknock Beacons and the Black Mountains…”

Crawford later received further notes about the 1863 dig at Bown Hill from the son of Dr Paine that had been written following the original excavation.  Although they convey little extra from the above account, I’ll add the notes to this entry in the near future.


  1. Crawford, O.G.S., The Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, John Bellows: Gloucester 1925.
  2. Darvill, Timothy, Prehistoric Gloucestershire, Alan Sutton: Gloucester 1987.
  3. Grinsell, L.V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
  4. Guide, W.V., ‘Address to the Cotteswold Naturalists’ Field Club,’ in Proceedings of the Cotteswold Naturalists’ Field Club, volume 3, 1865.
  5. Witts, George, Archaeological Handbook of Gloucestershire, G. Norman: Cheltenham 1883.

…to be continued…

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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