Boxted Cross Henge, Colchester, Essex

Henge Monument:  OS Grid Reference – TM 0093 3277

Archaeology & History

Boxted Henge plan (Colchester Archaeology Group)

Boxted Henge plan (Colchester Archaeology Group)

As with many sites in Southern England, intensive agriculture has taken its toll on the archaic monuments.  The Boxted Cross henge is no exception and hardly any elements of it remains today.  But it seems that it was an impressive fella in our more ancient heathen past.

The site was only rediscovered in the 1970s and was first described in Mrs Ida McMaster’s (1975) survey of crop-marks that had been revealed by aerial surveying in Essex and Suffolk counties.  Her brief account of the monument told it to be,

“A Class II henge with a wide somewhat ploughed out ditch. Various linear ditches are near, together with prolific variegated ‘field outlines’ of glacial subsoil cracking which extends into the next field southwards. The ditch terminals of the southwest entrance to the henge appear to be wider than the general run of the ditch, say 4-5 metres.”

When Harding & Lee (1987) examined the site, they were a little more cautious in their interpretation of it being a definite henge, citing that there was “insufficient information, but cannot be ruled out as henge-related,” adding that it “could also be a mill.”  This latter element seems unlikely, though a windmill may have been built onto the site at a later date.

More recently however the site has been categorized by Historic England as “a Late Neolithic henge.”  The monument itself was defined by a broad circular ditch with two large opposing entrances to the north and south.  The total diameter of the enclosure is 44 yards (40m) across; but with the surrounding ditch measuring 5½ yards (5m) across all around, the inner level of the henge was about 33 yards (30m) in diameter.  Plenty of room for partying old-style!

References:

  1. Harding, A.F. & Lee, G.E., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  2. McMaster, Ida, “Crop Marks Selected and Plotted,” in Colchester Archaeological Group Bulletin, volume 18, 1975.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Boxted Cross henge

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Boxted Cross henge 51.957163, 0.922931 Boxted Cross henge

Priddy Henges, Priddy, Somerset

Henges:  OS Grid Reference – ST 540 528

Also Known as:

  1. The Castles
  2. Priddy Circles
  3. The Rings

Archaeology & History

Allcroft’s 1908 plan of the 4 henges

Although cited in all modern archaeology texts as a series of four henge monuments, a recent article by J. Lewis & D. Mullin (2011) inform us that these “are not henges but belong to a tradition of enclosure that predates them and had a different function.”  We’ll have to wait and see what they mean by that!  In the meantime, we’ll have a quick scurry through the historical accounts of these four impressive ‘henges’ as Burl, Piggott and the others call ’em.

Surrounded at all angles by numerous barrows and tumuli, these four great henge monuments were shown on the 1887 Ordnance Survey map as a row of ‘Supposed Ring Forts’, when such ideas were in vogue, running in a line roughly SSW-NNE; the third one up having a couple of ponds within it.  A brief early account of them was given by Harry Scarth (1859)—who was describing the series of nine round barrows a few hundred yards to the south—who told them to be “circular banks” each 500 feet across.  The first more detailed account was in A.H. Allcroft’s (1908) classic text, where he wrote the following:

“…Close to the Castle of Comfort Inn, where the high road to Bristol crosses the line of the old Roman road running north-westward towards Charterhouse, there lies immediately west of the high road a series of four circles…all of one size, all of one plan, and all as mathematically exact as circles could well be when executed in such a soil and on such a scale.  Although they have suffered greatly from the mining operations which have scarred all the Mendips, as well as from the plough — one of the four is almost obliterated — they are still quite easy to make out.  The diameter of each is some 550 feet within the area, which is surrounded by a broad low vallum, and that again by a correspondingly broad and shallow ditch. The height of the vallum above the ditch, where best observable, is some 5 feet. There are no determinable entrances. The most southerly of the group is about 250 feet away from the second ; the second about 200 feet away from the third; and a line joining the centres of the first and third passes through the centre of the second also, and points 17° east of north. The fourth circle lies 1,200 feet away from the third, not in a right line with the others, but slightly to the west. Between the third and fourth circles passes the Roman road. Within the third circle is an old pond of some size.

“With every appearance of being all of one date, and that a venerable one, these circles lack every characteristic of military works. Their peculiar disposition, their painstaking regularity, and their identity of size, all suggest that they must, if really old, be of ritual, and perhaps of astronomical character”

Old drawing of the central henges
Henge 1, recently damaged (courtesy Pete Glastonbury)

Allcroft’s ideas of ritual and astronomy were pretty good for the period, as we take it for granted these days that such events occurred at henges — so the existence of four such sites right next to each other, would have made this one helluva place in neolithic and Bronze Age periods.  A few years after Allcroft, the henges were described in Mr Burrow’s (1924) excellent illustrated survey, from which the drawing of the two central henges is taken (the two ‘R’s in the background highlight the line of the Roman road which runs past them).  Burrow’s didn’t add much more of any note, simply telling:

“…in the fields north and south, are placed earth-work rings, each about 180 yards in diameter, on a line placed slightly north by east.  The most northerly of these rings is almost obliterated, but the three on the west of the road from Chew Stoke to Oakhill are quite clearly defined, as my drawing (above) will show.  I have been able to include two of these remarkable rings in my picture, the edge of the bank (which was, when I saw it, fringed with yellow gorse), being about 6 feet above the level of the ditch outside.  It is generally supposed that these ringed earthworks were connected with some prehistoric ritual, and Hadrian Allcroft thinks were used for primitive astronomical observations or the construction of a primitive calendar.”

Tratman’s plan of Priddy Henges
Another view of Henge 1 (courtesy Pete Glastonbury)

Many years later when archaeologist K.S. Painter (1964) came to describe these henges, he listed them as “stone circles” (what the hell was he on!?), but this error may derive from the finding of several stones that once existed inside the southernmost Henge 1.  These were uncovered following excavation work done here by E.K. Tratman (1967) and his colleagues, who explored and numbered the four henges—running from south to north—as follows:

“Circle 1: This is tolerably complete.  A portion of the southwest quadrant has been destroyed by mining and there are three modern gaps in the ring. Mining has involved the ditch on the west and south, and to a small extent on the east.  There is an irregular extensive hollow west of the centre and this too is a product of mining and contains a number of large stones so derived.  The circle is not quite a true one, being flattened slightly on the west.  The circle has a diameter from bank top to bank top of 520ft.  The single original entrance is NNE of the centre.  Stones 1 and 3-7 were removed by the farmer before excavation, but subsequent ploughing immediately after removal did not reveal any change in soil texture or colour.  Stone 8 was placed in its present position quite recently.  It is not known where it came from.  Other stones have recently been placed on top of the bank east of the entrance by the farmer (1964-5).  Stone 2 is in a relatively ancient position.

Circle 2: This is a true circle and its diameter and position of its entrance are similar to Circle 1. It has been considerably disturbed by mining.  A group of stones (10-14) and stone 9 represent modern collections from the field.  None of them is in its original position.  There are two modern gaps in the ring.

Circle 3: This is distinctly flattened on the east and west.  The N-S diameter is 520ft and the E-W 490ft from bank top to bank top.  The northeast quadrant reported by Allcroft as being levelled is still traceable.  The circle has been greatly disturbed by mining… The entrance is SSW of the centre, the opposite pole to circle 1 & 2, and has probably been widened, perhaps by miners.  The marsh may be an original feature or the product of mining.  The two ponds are certainly modern, and so is a small mound, which is probably spoil from the major pond.

Circle 4: This is incomplete. It has a diameter of 560ft, which is considerably larger than any of the others.  The OS map shows only the eastern semi-circle remaining. However, the bank and in part the ditch can be traced…If the visible and proved end of the ditch on the SSW was intended to be at the edge of the causeway, then the entrance would have been in the same position as that of Circle 3.”

Very recently, a local land-owner quite deliberately bulldozed a large portion of the southern henge in this complex, destroying much of it.  This act of criminal vandalism will hopefully not go unpunished and is, at the present time, going through the courts.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Allcroft, A. Hadrian, Earthwork of England, MacMillan: London 1908.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, Prehistoric Henges, Shire: Princes Risborough 1997.
  3. Burrow, Edward J., Ancient Earthworks and Camps of Somerset, E.J. Burrow: Cheltenham 1924.
  4. Lewis, J. & Mullin, D., “New Excavations at Priddy Circle 1, Mendip Hills, Somerset,” in Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society, volume 25, 2011.
  5. Painter, K.S., The Severn Basin, Cory, Adams & Mackay: London 1964.
  6. Scarth, Harry M., “Some Account of the Investigation of Barrows on the Line of the Roman Road Between Old Sarum and the Port at the Mouth of the River Axe,” in The Archaeological Journal, volume 16, 1859.
  7. Tratman, E.K., “The Priddy Circles, Mendip, Somerset,” in Proceedings of the University of Bristol Speleological Society, volume 11, 1967.
  8. Wainwright, Geoffrey J., “A Review of Henge Monuments in the Light of Recent Research,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 35, 1969.

Acknowledgements: – To Pete Glastonbury, for use of his aerial photos of the site. Huge thanks Pete!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Priddy henges

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Priddy henges 51.273095, -2.660206 Priddy henges

Nunwick Henge, Ripon, North Yorkshire

Henge Monument:  OS Grid Reference – SE 3229 7484

Archaeology & History

A couple of miles west of the Hutton Moor henge we find the faint remans of another large prehistoric ritual site, soon to fade from existence.  Although the local farmer was aware of the existence of this ‘earth circle’ in his fields in the 1940s, the place wasn’t officially catalogued until Prof. J.K. St. Joseph noticed it following an aerial survey of the region in 1951 (from whence the aerial photo comes).  Today sadly, much of the site has succumbed to the ravages of excessive agricultural activity and is all but destroyed.  Faint traces of it can be seen at ground level when the crops are down, but most of it’s gone.  Even when first discovered, the remains were sparse, as the photo (below) shows.

Early aerial photo of Nunwick henge
Mr Dymond’s early ground- plan (from YAJ, 1963)

Neolithic in origin, the site was excavated in 1961 by D.P. Dymond who explored a portion of the bank and ditch and stripped a small internal section.  His findings showed it to be structurally similar to the other henges in the area and of considerable size.  Measuring 690 feet across, the henge spread across two fields and was bisected by a hedge and farm track.  When Dymond first explored the henge he reported how the surrounding bank was between 1-3 feet high and had been spread to a width of 120 feet; the ditch was just a couple of feet deep; and the original ‘entrances’ north and south of the ring were still just visible as “slight depressions in the bank.”

The Nunwick henge was classed as a Class II henge (after Atkinson).  Five feet smaller than the Thornborough (south) Henge, its entrances are close to north-south.  The River Ure is less than half-a-mile from the site and the presence of other streams close by further emphasizes water as a potentially relevant ingredient. This element  seems to have had some factor in the structure of the henge as there were many water-worn stones found in the embankment, which probably came from the nearby river.  However, like many henges, very few remains were discovered upon excavation here, as Mr Dymond’s (1963) account tells:

“The 1961 Excavation was restricted to a single long section through the northwest side of the circle, to examine the structural details of the bank and ditch, and to confirm the apparent absence of an outer ditch.

“A small area, 22ft square, was stripped inside the ditch to test for pits or postholes, but nothing was found in the sandy silt which covers the gravel deposits.  Air-photographs gave no indication of a former presence of standing features within the enclosure.

“The ditch was found to be 45ft wide and 5ft 10in deep, with a wide, shallow profile.  Allowing for the destruction by ploughing of the upper edges of the ditch, the orignal dimensions of the ditch were undoubtedly greater.  The edges of the ditch were not easy to see in excavation, as the fill was similar to the natural gravel subsoil and some slumping had occurred on the loose gravel faces.  The ditch had apparently silted slowly with material washed in from both sides.  At an early stage in the silting, when the accumulation was about 1ft, there had been occupation in a limited area, revealed by a circular patch of burnt material, 10ft in diameter, which contained many split pot-boilers reddened by fire.

“Between the ditch and bank there was originally a berm of 30ft.  On the surface, this is not visible as the bank shades imperceptibly into the ditch.  The bank was originally about 60ft wide, but is now considerably spread on both sides.  In the 1961 section the bank survived only 18in high; this was sufficient, however, to show clear traces of tip-lines and the interleaving of loads.  The lowest two inches of bank material consist partly of turf… Under the bank, the original turf-line was visible as a purple-black line, 1-3in thick, with traces of a weakly developed iron-pan.  In the original composition on the bank there were many water-worn stones (3-9in across), now in the outer spread and in the bottom of the ditch; on the northern side of the circle where the bank is best preserved there are large quantities of these stones on the plough soil.  Quarried from the bottom of the ditch, where the aggregate of the gravels was much larger, these stones were probably on the top of the bank.

“Two square were dug outside the bank, on the line of the section to text for an outer ditch.  This confirmed the evidence of air-photographs that no such ditch existed.  Of the six henges in the Ripon area, Nunwick is therefore the only one without two ditches.

“No dating evidence was found in the 1961 excavation.  Three worked flints however, were picked up from the plough soil of the southwestern field near the henge. They consist of two waste flakes and a small flake scraper of opaque brown flint.”

Archaeologists and ley hunters alike have described how the Nunwick Henge aligns with the three prominent Thornborough Henges to the north.  Significant…?

References:

  1. Dymond, D.P., “The Henge Monument at Nunwick, near Ripon – 1961 Excavation,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, part 161 (volume 41), 1963.
  2. Wainwright, Geoffrey J., “A Review of Henge Monuments in the Light of Recent Research,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 35, 1969.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Nunwick Henge

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Nunwick Henge 54.168348, -1.506907 Nunwick Henge

Yarnbury Henge, Grassington, North Yorkshire

Henge:  OS Grid Reference – SE 01405 65413

Getting Here

Yarnbury henge from the air

In Grassington, go up the main street and keep going uphill, out of town.  You’re on Moor Road now and it keeps going northeast for about a mile, where the small copse of trees grows just before Yarnbury House.  However, on the other side of the road (right) two field before you reach the house, you’ll notice a slightly raised elevation in the field, close to the wall.  A footpath runs right past it, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it!

Archaeology & History

This is a fine, roughly circular neolithic monument, sat not-quite-on-the-heights, but still possessing damn good views all round (except immediately west), begging the question, ‘what on earth are you and why were you built here?’  Answers to which, we don’t really know.  But ascertaining its geomantic nature wouldn’t be too difficult for local people who have spent years visiting the site.  John Dixon (1990) mentioned how, in the winter months,

“the sun falls behind Pendle (Hill) providing it with a sky-red backdrop.  In my own view the site is related to the presence of Pendle…and may have been the major factor in the location of the monument.”

He may be right!  It has been suggested by one archaeologist (King et al, 1995) that the site was “most probably a wood henge” with upright rings of wooden posts that were built onto the central platform — but until we get a full dig here, we’re not gonna know.

N-NE section of henge
SW section of the henge

Found close to an extensive amount of other prehistoric remains in the area (dating from the neolithic to Iron Age), this henge monument is notable for its size, as it’s only a little fella!  It’s like a mini-version of the Castle Dykes henge near Aysgarth, 14 miles to the north!  First mentioned as a ‘disc barrow’ in 1929, J. Barrett (1963) added the Yarnbury Henge to the archaeological registers 32 years later, citing it as a “circular platform 60-63 ft diameter, surrounded by a ditch 20ft wide (crest to crest) and an outer bank.”  A couple of years later D.P. Dymond (1965) described the henge in slightly more detail, telling:

“At Yarnbury, just over one mile north-east of Grassington there is an earthwork 116ft in diameter overall, consisting of a ditch with external bank.  On surface inspection the earthwork appeared to have the characteristics of a henge monument.  An excavation carried out in July 1964 , by an archaeological summer school based on Grantley Hall, proved this thesis.  There was no trace of an internal mound and the entrance to the southeast was obviously  original.  No traces were found of any sort of internal structure, and a square pit in the centre of the circle had been caused by an excavation earlier this century.  The ditch was rock-cut and the bank of simple dump construction.  No dating evidence was found… With its single entrance the Yarnbury henge falls into Atkinson’s Class 1.”

SW area of the henge

In recent years it seems that some damage has been done by digging into the east and southeastern sections of the henge.  Summat we hope doesn’t get any worse.  In the field on the other side of the road we found traces of prehistoric enclosure walling (along with a curious, large, almost cursiform shadow, 44 yards across and running 110 yards NE), typical of the extensive settlement remains found less than a mile away at Lea Green and High Close Pasture, Grassington.  It’s an impressive area, well worth checking out!

References:

  1. Barrett, J., “Grassington, W.R.,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, part 161, 1963.
  2. Beck, Howard, Yorkshire’s Roots, Sigma: Wilmslow 1996.
  3. Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys through Brigantia – volume 2: Walks in Ribblesdale, Malhamdale and Central Wharfedale, Aussteiger Publishing: Barnoldswick 1990.
  4. Dymond, D.P., “Grassington, W.R.,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, part 163, 1965.
  5. Harding, A.F., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  6. Harding, Jan, The Henge Monuments of the British Isles, Tempus: Stroud 2003.
  7. King, Alan, et al, Early Grassington, Yorkshire Archaeological Society 1995.
  8. Wainwright, G.J., “A Review of Henge Monuments in the Light of Recent Research,” Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 35, 1969.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Yarnbury Henge

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Yarnbury Henge 54.084630, -1.980016 Yarnbury Henge

Big Rings Henge, Dorchester, Oxfordshire

Henge (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SU 572 953

Archaeology & History

Very close to the once impressive Dorchester Cursus, this double-ringed prehistoric monument can no longer be seen thanks to the self-righteous arrogance of modern industrialists who care little for the ancestral monuments of the British people, destroying all traces of the site — an activity which, in this case, astonishingly started in more ancient times, as Jean Cook (1985) told: “The banks and the ditches had been levelled through agricultural activity, possibly in the Iron Age”!

Big Rings ground-plan
1938 photo of the Big Rings, by Major George Allen

The destruction of this environment continues to this day, destroying many important archaeological remains with little care.  Thankfully we we’ve got a good account of the site due to the archaeological excavations of R.J.C. Atkinson (1951) and his team in the late-1940s, from whom Cook and just about everyone else gets most of their data regarding the site.

The Big Rings Henge was probably built sometime in the middle of the second millenium BC.  It was an important prehistoric ritual site and, most likely, had some relevance to the adjacent cursus monument.  A number of important mortuary and ritual sites were also built close to the site over a period of nearly two thousand years, showing the importance this landscape had to our ancestors.

Jean Cook (1985) described the Big Rings henge as follows:

“The ditches, of which there were two, had opposed entrances on the NNW and SSE.  They were about 7.6m wide and 1.8m deep with flat bottoms.  Originally there seems to have been a broad low bank on the inner side of each ditch.  The southern entrance incorporated an existing monument, consisting of a ring ditch which enclosed a large four-post setting and contained a cremation and a stone axe.  Just outside the north entrance was a round barrow, containing a central oval burial pit which produced a crouched inhumation, together with a well-preserved beaker, two small copper or bronze knives and a rectangular wrist-guard of greenstone.  The Big Rings ditches themselves contained pottery belonging to the middle or late Beaker period.  Although the area within the ditches was trenched, there was no evidence of internal timber structures.”

References:

  1. Atkinson, R.J.C., “The Henge Monuments of Great Britain,” in Atkinson, Piggott & Sandars’ Excavations at Dorchester, Oxon (Department of Antiquities: Oxford 1951).
  2. Atkinson, R.J.C., Piggott, C.M. & Sandars, N.K., Excavations at Dorchester, Oxon, Department of Antiquities: Oxford 1951.
  3. Cook, Jean, “The Earliest Evidence,” in Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
  4. Harding, A.F., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  5. Harding, Jan, The Henge Monuments of the British Isles, Tempus: Stroud 2003.
  6. Wainwright, Geoffrey J., The Henge Monuments: Ceremony and Society in Prehistoric Britain, Thames & Hudson: London 1989.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Big Rings henge

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Big Rings henge 51.653924, -1.173294 Big Rings henge

Castle Dykes, Aysgarth, North Yorkshire

Henge Monument:  OS Grid Reference – SD 9822 8728

Also Known as:

  1. Castle Dyke

Getting Here

Castle Dyke on 1856 map
Castle Dyke on 1856 map

Go west through Aysgarth village along the A684 road and, just as you’re coming out of the town, take the left turn on the Thornton Rust road, past Town Head Farm, and turn left up the track (called Folly Lane).  Go past the house where the track veers to your right and follow it straight on (don’t turn up the track on your left a short distance along).  Keep walking on here for nearly a mile (about 10 mins), keeping your eyes peeled for the embanked rise in the field on your left, which is where the henge can be found!  You’re damn close!

Archaeology & History

A.H. Allcroft's 1908 plan
A.H. Allcroft’s 1908 plan

One of the earliest accounts I’ve found describing the Castle Dykes henge is in Mr Barker’s (1854) lovely literary exploration of Wensleydale, where he describes, “on Aysgarth Moor, which is now enclosed, may be seen a circular encampment, probably Danish” in origin.  But he tells no more.  When Edmund Bogg (c.1906) came here fifty years later, he added little extra, simply telling of, “the earthworks known as ‘Castle Dykes’, probably Angle or Danish, although Roman relics have been found here.”  However, the brilliant Mr Speight (1897) gave what seems to be the earliest real description of the site when he described “the Celts” and the earliest settlers of the region, saying how:

“The so-called ‘Castle Dykes’ at Aysgarth betrays a probable connection with the same settlers.  It is an irregular circular rampart, measuring about forty yards across its longest diameter, and not unlike the earthwork on Harkaside called ‘Maiden Castle’… A ditch completely encloses the mound, which, it should be noted, is unusually low, being little higher than the outer bank or upcast from the trench.  It is totally different from the elaborate burh at Middleham; indeed, from its low and simply form, as well as from its situation in Celtic territory, there seems little doubt that it was the work of these early people.”

Ditch of Castle Dykes henge, looking east (photo credit – Richard Stroud)

Speight also made a suggestion that the place-name of Aysgarth itself may derive from this monument.  He may have a point.  A.H. Smith (1928) and other place-name authorities tell the name to derive from “an open space” either surrounded by, or — in some way — defined by oak trees.  We might never know for sure…

Not long after the works of Speight and Bogg came the first real survey of British prehistoric earthworks by A.H. Allcroft (1908) — and amidst the mass of archaeological curiosities (as many were at the time) was another description of this great ceremonial monument.  Allcroft told that here,

“a weak vallum of earth encloses a perfectly regular oval area measuring from crest to crest of the vallum 257 feet (east to west) by 217 feet (north to south).  Immediately within the vallum is a broad fosse varying from 25 to 32 feet in width.  The vallum at its highest (east) rises not more than seven feet above the floor of the fosse.  The “island” measures 196 by 160 feet and is perfectly flat.  There is no berm and no outer fosse.  The vallum is broken by three gaps, of which that to the southeast is apparently original, as the fosse has never been excavated across it.  The other gaps point respectively northeast and south-southwest, the latter being a mere depression like that to be seen at the eastern side of the northern ring at Thornborough.  At one point in the vallum, on the southeast, a single large stone rises slightly above the turf which otherwise covers the whole work, and certain depressions observable at other points suggest that other such blocks have been removed —that, in fact, it originally had a peristalith standing upon the vallum.  The principal entrance looks towards Pen Hill…”

Around the same time, the early scientific discipline of astroarchaeology was taking root and in Sir Norman Lockyer’s Nature journal, the reverend J. Griffith (1908) explored the potential astronomical orientation of Aysgarth’s Castle Dykes, thinking that the main entrance to the site gave indications of an alignment towards either Alpha Centauri or Capella.  Y’ never know…

Although many visitors and local people knew of Castle Dykes, it was pretty late before the site gained status as a henge monument.  This happened following a visit here by the pedantic archaeologist R.J.C. Atkinson (1951) in September of 1948.  Following his visit, Atkinson described the place, saying:

“It consists of an oval enclosure bounded by a well-preserved ditch and external bank, with an entrance on the East side.  Two small gaps in the bank, without corresponding causeways across the ditch, were probably made in recent times to allow the escape downhill of the surface water which collects in the ditch.  The dimensions in H. Allcroft’s plan are incorrect.  The markedly oval shape is probably in part dictated by the situation, in order that as much as possible of the enclosed area should lie on the level ground topping the ridge.  There is no sign of any stone structure in the central area, but the district abounds in stone walls, for which the site may have been robbed in the past.”

Aerial image

In more recent years, archaeologists have speculated that the site was a sacred site or meeting place, aswell as a site where trade occurred, particularly a place where axes were traded; but this latter idea is  more due to the projection of a modern religious notion, of ‘The Market’ with little veracity in terms of the site’s function.  This increasing imposition of ‘economics’ and ‘trade’ (see Brown 2008:44-6)  as vital ingredients to this and other sites has little relevance outside of a simple epiphenomenalistic adjunct to magical and tribal exchanges.  But such notions are outside of archaeological frameworks, so we shouldn’t be surprised at so prevalent an error.

But this place is damn impressive — though with the exception of Mr Griffith, one notable ingredient archaeologists seem to have forgotten about was the position of this site in the landscape.  The views surrounding the henge are excellent, giving a 360° arena all round.  If the monument once had a ring of stones around it, as Allcroft suggested, the views would still have been the same.  A modern excavation here might prove worthwhile and, as a result, open up once again, the potential for further astronomical investigations with the many hills and notches along the living horizon.  This site, whilst requiring analysis of it as a ‘specimen’, must also be placed in the context of the wider living environment which, to all early traditional cultures, were such important and integral ingredients.

We have also found some previously unrecorded prehistoric remains nearby which, hopefully, we’ll be able to explore a little more in 2011 and report here.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Allcroft, A. Hadrian, Earthwork of England, MacMillan: London 1908.
  2. Atkinson, R.J.C., “The Henge Monuments of Great Britain,” in Atkinson, Piggott & Sandars’ Excavations at Dorchester, Oxon (Department of Antiquities: Oxford 1951).
  3. Barker, W.G.M.J., The Three Days of Wensleydale, Charles Dolman: London 1854.
  4. Bogg, Edmund, Wensleydale and the Lower Vale of Yore, E. Bogg: Leeds (c.1906).
  5. Brown, Paul & Barbara, Prehistoric Rock Art in the Northern Dales, Tempus: Stroud 2008.
  6. Griffith, Rev. J., “English Earthworks and their Orientation,” in Nature, volume 80, 18 March 1909.
  7. Harding, A.F., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  8. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire,Cambridge University Press 1928.
  9. Speight, Harry, Romantic Richmondshire, Elliot Stock: London 1897.

AcknowledgementsMany thanks to Richard Stroud for use of his photo of the henge.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Castle Dykes henge

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Castle Dykes henge 54.281155, -2.028840 Castle Dykes henge

Hutton Moor Henge, Dishforth, North Yorkshire

Henge:  OS Grid Reference – SE 3525 7351

Getting Here

Hutton Moor Henge from above (photo © Pete Glastonbury)

From junction 49 on the A1 (M), Dishforth turn-off, bear west on the Copt Hewick and Ripon road.  100 yards past Copt Hewick, take the track on the right-side of the road, leading to Blois Hall and further up to Low Barn.  Once at Low Barn, go north through the trees called Harland’s Plantation and the barely visible henge remains are in the field on the other side – as PeteG’s fine aerial photo here shows!

Archaeology & History

At ground-level there’s not too much to see of this once fine henge, thanks to the usual excesses of modern agriculture and modern industry.  Which is a pity, as the completed monument here was similar in size and lay-out to the three huge henges a few miles north at Thornborough.  Archaeologist Jan Harding (2003) believes this and the Thornborough henges and others nearby, suggests “there was a unity of purpose behind” all of them, in terms of their lay-out, alignments and ritual purpose.  He may be right.  Aubrey Burl thinks similarly, noting how,

“The central plateau of these enclosures are remarkably similar in shape and size, slightly ovoid and varying no more than 5 metres or so from a norm of 97 by 92 metres.  All have their entrances near the northwest and southeast following the lie of the land.

Each of them could have held as many as two thousand people and yet they crowd together in a narrow rectangle 11km (7 miles) long and no more than 1.5km (1 mile) across, like an avenue of architect-designed houses with a river frontage to their west.”

Intriguing stuff – and all from the neolithic period.  But focussing on Hutton Moor’s monument, …

In Walbran’s (1851) historical work on Ripon and district, he gave us one of the earliest descriptions of Hutton Moor’s henge, telling:

“we have far more direct and conclusive evidence, that the immediate vicinity of Ripon was regarded with peculiar interest and veneration ; since one of the tribes of the Brigantian Celts had chosen it as their station for the dispensation of justice and the celebration of religious rites ; in fact, had made it the seat of their government. This position — novel as it may be — is, I believe, sufficiently proved.by a remarkable earth-work on the high land near ” Blows Hall,” commanding extensive prospects up and down the Vale of Ure, as well as of the distant ranges of hills which form the side screens of the great Yorkshire plain. Like Abury and Stonehenge, which it rivals in antiquity, its outline is that of a circle, of which the diameter is not less than 680 feet ; but no stones remain, nor indeed does that material seem to have been used in its formation. Though recent agricultural operations have partially effaced the regularity and proportion of its plan, it is sufficiently evident that it was enclosed by a lofty mound and corresponding trench — the latter being inside, and a platform or space about thirty feet wide intervening.

“…At two opposite points, bearing nearly north and south, the mound and trench, for about the space of twenty-five feet, have been discontinued, in order to form an approach to the area of the temple. Outside the mound, also, are some slight vestiges of a further avenue, but too indefinite to be traced. But, however obscure the denotation of its several parts may have become, the antiquity and purpose of the place, as a temple for the performance of Druidical rites, is satisfactorily ascertained by the existence of at least eight large Celtic barrows in its immediate vicinity ; one of which, being on the very ridge of the vale, and planted with fir trees, forms a conspicuous and useful object to guide a stranger to the site. Two of these barrows were opened five years ago, but I found nothing but a few calcined human bones, the ashes of the oaken funeral pile, and some fragments of flint arrow-heads, such as are still used by the North-American Indians. Several bronze spear-heads and celts have, however, been found in the neighbourhood, within recollection.”

Walbran also described there being some upright stones at the henge:

“two small pyramids or obelisks, built on the mound of the temple, about fifty years ago, in the place, it is said, of two similar erections, apparently of high antiquity.”

Loveday (1998) addressed some interesting notes about potential alignment features at henges first described in Anthony Harding’s (1987) text, Hutton Moor included — i.e., the angle of their respective entrances/exits very closely mirror the alignment of adjacent Roman roads.  Curious correlates akin to the ley hunter’s assertions find the alignment or direction of nearby Roman roads is echoed in the alignments of henge entrances.  Now this wouldn’t seem too unusual, but in 4 out of 5 henges, this peculiar parallel has been found.  The Hutton Moor henge is no exception; with its aligned entrances closely paralleling the ancient straight Roman road of the A1 (though there are evidences of a pre-Roman track preceding the Roman construction), less than a mile to the east.  The same alignment is echoed in all of the Ure Valley henges.

Folklore

Ley alignment at Hutton henge

This is a site that seems to have been laid out in some form of linear arrangement in prehistoric times.  The notion was first posited in Norrie Ward’s (1969) work, but later expanded in Devereux & Thomson’s (1979) survey of prehistoric alignments.  Although the axis of the henge doesn’t line up with other sites surveyed, they include it in what’s known as the “Devil’s Arrow’s Ley” and the western side of the henge lines up with the Devil’s Arrows and other sites along the line.  When this ley was assessed for statistical probability, Robert Forrest found the alignment to have a probability much greater than that of chance.

References:

  1. Atkinson, R.J.C., “The Henge Monuments of Great Britain,” in Atkinson, Piggott & Sandars’ Excavations at Dorchester, Oxon, Ashmolean Museum 1951.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, Prehistoric Henges, Shire: Princes Risborough 1997.
  3. Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  4. Harding, Anthony F. & Lee, G.E., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  5. Harding, Jan, Henge Monuments of the British Isles, Tempus: Stroud 2003.
  6. Loveday, Roy, “Double Entrance Henges”, in Prehistoric Ritual and Religion, Sutton: Stroud 1998.
  7. Walbran, John Richard, A Guide to Ripon, Harrogate, Fountains Abbey, Bolton Priory, W. Harrison: Ripon 1851.

Acknowledgements:

Huge thanks to Paul Devereux for use of his ley alignment drawing.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Hutton Moor henge

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Hutton Moor henge 54.156201, -1.461726 Hutton Moor henge