Frensham Common necropolis, Frensham, Surrey

Tumuli:  OS Grid Reference – SU 853 406

Archaeology & History

There are several tumuli near the top of the hill here, but only one of them really stands out.  Nick Thomas (1976) told it to be one “of the best preserved bowl barrows in Surrey.”  A brief description of the relevant tombs, running north to south:

“the first is 75ft across and 6ft high; the second, which has a surrounding ditch 9ft wide, is also 75ft across, but is 8ft high.  The third has a diameter of 42ft and a height of 4ft.  The last is 54ft wide and 5½ft high.  It has a surrounding ditch 8ft wide. ” (Thomas 1976)

None of the tombs had been excavated up to the early 1980s, but I’m not sure if anything has been found since then.  There was also a potential “great stone” up here that was mentioned by John Aubrey in the late 17th century, but nothing has been seen of it since.  In all probability this was a standing stone or the remains of some prehistoric tomb.


Several hundred years ago the King’s antiquary, John Aubrey, told the curious tale of the great cauldron that was said to have been found here:

“In the vestry (of Frensham church, in Surrey), on the north side of the chancel, is an extraordinary great kettle or caldron, which the inhabitants say, by tradition, was brought hither by the fairies, time out of mind, from Borough-Hill, about a mile hence. To this place, if anyone went to borrow a yoke of oxen, money, etc., he might have it for a year or longer, so he kept his word to return it. There is a cave where some have fancied to hear music.  On this Borough hill…is a great stone lying along, of the length of about six feet. They went to this stone and knocked at it, and declared what they could borrow, and when they would repay, and a voice would answer when they should come, and that they should find what they desired to borrow at that stone. This caldron, with the trivet, was borrowed here after the manner aforesaid, and not return’d according to promise; and though the caldron was afterwards carried to the stone, it could not be received, and ever since that time no borrowing there.”

In relation to the folklore that is generally attached to the tumulus on top of the hill here from which modern lore ascribes the cauldron to have originated, when A.G. Wade (1928) came to investigate the nature of the site and the folktale he found that,

“there are several folk-tales other than those given by Aubrey.  One relates that it was dug up on Kettlebury Hill, south of Hankley Common, by the monks of Waverley Abbey, and that it was taken by them to Frensham for brewing ale.  Another tale says that it was a loan from the fairies of Thursley — there are tumuli in this parish, south of Ockley Common — and that Mother Ludlam, a medieval witch who lived, according to tradition, in Ludlam’s Cave in Moor Park, was the owner and lender.  The cave was dug by a monk of Waverley Abbey who, when the water supply of the Abbey failed, found that three springs joined here, and by enlarging their outlets and bringing them together he obtained a good supply of fresh drinking water…”

Mr Wade was also unable to satisfactorily show that the Borough Hill named in Aubrey’s survey and Frensham Common hilltop were one and the same.


  1. Aubrey, John, The Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey, E. Curll: London 1719.
  2. Thomas, Nicholas, Guide to Prehistoric England, Batsford: London 1976.
  3. Wade, A.G., “The Great Cauldron of Frensham,” in Antiquity, 2:6, June 1928.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian