Beacon Hill, Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire

Tumuli (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TL 584 600

Archaeology & History

The precise location of two prehistoric burial mounds at place with the conspicuous name of Beacon Hill, has yet to be satisfactorily located.  Their existence is recorded way back, in 1279 according to P.H. Reaney (1943), when they were described as Tweynhowes, being on the boundary of Swaffham Priory.  Information on them is scant and scattered with the earliest seeming to be an account by Thomas Kerrich (1817), who reported their removal and finds therein, in 1815.  The editor of Archaeologia told us:

Beacon Hill urn, 1817

“The Rev. Thomas Kerrich…exhibited to the Society, an Urn, which had been found a few days before by some labourers who were employed to remove one of the Barrows upon Newmarket-heath, called the Beacon Hills. “It stood upon what probably was the surface of the earth before the tumulus was raised.  The diameter of the barrow was near thirty yards, and the perpendicular height probably about eight or nine feet. There are more of these tumuli remaining, some of them very near to the place on which this, out of which the urn came, lately stood. They command an extensive view over the town of Cambridge, Gog-Magog Hills, &c.”

Subsequently a short piece in the Cambridge Chronicle in 1846 told the following:

“Two of the barrows on the edge of Newmarket Heath, belonging to the group called the Beacons, were examined in May 1846 by a party from Cambridge. In one of them nothing was found as it appeared to have been previously opened; in the other the remains of a British interment, consisting of rude vase (now in the Cambridge Antiquarian Museum), a few bones and some ashes, were discovered.”

This was echoed nearly forty years later in a survey by Charles Babbington (1883), who gave little by way of extra information; and was echoed again in Cyril Fox’s (1923) huge archaeological survey.  Herein, Mr Fox told us that the two barrows were located at the “east end of a four-mile racecourse.”  The only additional lore we’ve had since then is a collation of by the Royal Commission lads who thought that the respective tombs were located more precisely as the grid-references TL 5839 5998 and TL 5850 6004 respectively.

References:

  1. Cambridge Chronicle, May 23, 1846.
  2. Babbington, Charles C., Ancient Cambridgeshire, Cambridge Antiquarian Society 1883.
  3. Fox, Cyril, The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region, Cambridge University Press 1923.
  4. Hore, J.P., The History of Newmarket – volume 1, A.H. Baily: London 1886.
  5. Kerrich, Thomas, “An Urn found Under a Tumulus on Newmarket Heath,” Archaeologia, volume 18, 1817.
  6. Reaney, P.H., The Place-Names of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, Cambridge University Press 1943.
  7. Royal Commission Ancient Historical Monuments, Inventory of Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire – Volume 2: North-East Cambridgeshire, HMSO: London 1972.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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