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!
Harding, A.F. & Lee, G.E., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
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.
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.
Atkinson, R.J.C., “The Henge Monuments of Great Britain,” in Atkinson, Piggott & Sandars’ Excavations at Dorchester, Oxon, Ashmolean Museum 1951.