Whispering Knights, Rollright, Oxfordshire

Chambered Tomb:  OS Grid Reference – SP 29936 30841

Also Known as:

  1. Five Knights

Getting Here

William Stukeley's 1743 drawing
William Stukeley’s 1743 drawing

Follow the directions to reach the Rollrights stone circle, from Chipping Norton.  Walk past the entrance to the circle along the road for a coupla hundred yards, keeping your eyes peeled looking into the field on your right.  You’ll notice the large rocky mass of these Knights a hundred yards down in the field, which can be reached by a footpath running straight along the old hedge from the roadside straight to the collapsed tomb.

Archaeology & History

The Whispering Knights
The Whispering Knights

A brilliant site—albeit nowhere like how it once was—where I slept a few times when I lived in the old hut at the Rollright stone circle down the road.  A field-mouse lived here when I slept at the place and, hopefully, its ancestors still reside hereby (Rollright Trust’s poisons notwithstanding!).  On my first encounter with the little fella, I felt him running into my waist-side whilst laying, dozing in the old tomb.  He nudged into me—then again —and yet again; before I leaned over to see what was going on!  And the little mouse looked up at me, without a care in the world, as if to say, “What are you doing lying on my path!? Can I get past please?” (though I’d not had a bath for a good 3 months, so didn’t smell like any modern human, which I think explained his total lack of fear)

Laying there, I smiled at the little fella, who then decided to jump up the side of my waist and walk over the top of me to get to the other side!  He jumped down into the grasses and disappeared!  However, a few minutes later, I felt another tiny ‘thud’ at my side and looked down to see the same lovely mouse wanting to go back along his obviously traditional route – and looking up at me again, whiskers twitching inquisitively, realised I was still here; and so once again took it upon himself to climb over the scruffy smelly human-sort who was blocking his route!

He was a gorgeous little mouse and we got to know each other quite well over the unwashed springs and summers I slept here….. But anyway, that’s not what you folks are interested in hearing about!  Back to the archaeo-shit

The Whispering Knights is one of the main sites in the cluster known collectively as the Rollright Stones, which also comprises of the standing stone commonly called the King Stone, plus the King’s Men stone circle a coupla hundred yards down the road from the Knights.  They all sit atop of the ridge which separates the counties of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire along the edge of the prehistoric road known as the Jurassic Way. The sites are non-contemporaneous having been erected over a period of many centuries.  The Whispering- or Five Knights are by far the oldest part of the complex dating from a period never previously anticipated.  They comprise of four upright megaliths in close proximity, and a fifth fallen stone which is said to be the capstone on the original monument.  This stone alone weighs some 10 tons.

The general archaeological opinion is that the place is a ‘portal dolmen burial chamber’ of which the capstone has fallen.  The Oxford archaeologist George Lambrick (1988) postulated the stones to have been covered with a mound of earth, but any evidence supporting this has long since gone.

1920s postcard of the site
1920s postcard of the site
The Knights in 1995
The Knights in 1995

This great monument was initially thought by archaeologists to have been built sometime around 1800 BCE—a favourite date of academics for many an unexcavated site for many decades—until they turned their astute attention to the place in the 1980s.  And what they found was astonishing.  Well…astonishing for the archaeologists!  Affirming the local folk tradition that the Knights were the “oldest monuments in Oxfordshire,” the dates truly went back.  Way back!  Datable remains at the site gave results from between 3500 and 3800 BCE: two thousand years earlier than anyone had ever expected of them.

Although five stones remain of the site, when the great William Stukeley (1743) visited the Whispering Knights, he described six of them to be visible with the great stones here to be sat upon a tumulus, saying:

“Tis composed of six stones, one broader for the back part, two and two narrower for the sides, set square to the former; and above all, as a cover, a still larger. The opening is full west to the temple or Rowldrich.  It stands on a round tumulus, and has a fine prospect southwestward down the valley, where the head of the Evenlode runs.”

O.G.S. Crawford (1932) told us of a description which Sir Henry Dryden gave of the Knights in 1898, when he wrote:

“About 356 yards E from the (Rollright) circle and S of the road, is the dolmen about to be described, called the Five Whispering Knights.  It is in a ruinous state.  It now consists of four stones, upright, or nearly so, and one prostrate, all of coarse limestone…

  1. Height, 8ft 3ins (4ft by 2ft 6ins)
  2.     ”      , 7ft 3ins (3ft 6ins by 1ft 10ins)
  3.     ”      , 6ft 7ins (3ft 8ins by 1ft 4ins)
  4.     ”      , 5ft 4ins (4ft 9ins by 2ft)
  5. Capstone (then fallen), 8ft 4ins by 5ft 9ins, by 2ft 4ins

“The chamber appears to have been about 5 feet 6 inches W and E, and the same N and S.  If, as usual, there was an entrance, with or without a passage, it was probably to the ENE… There is not, so far as I know, any record of remains having been found in this dolmen.  In a small stone pit about 700 feet NE by E from the circle it is stated that 12 skulls were found in 1835.  In another stone pit near it was found in 1836 an urn and beads…”

1840 plan by Lukis & Dryden
1840 plan by Lukis & Dryden

During the last century, very little has really changed at the Knights.  The ring fencing surrounding the stones has kept it pretty much protected, despite it ruining all sense of healthy ambience.  But they have gained greater and greater attention the older they have got.  Archaeologists are not the only ones exploring the site.  Fascinated astronomers, engineers and architects have been and seemingly uncovered other mythic ingredients here.

When the legendary Alexander Thom came here, he used the archaeological data that was being espoused at the time, which said the Knights and the Rollright stones had both been built around 1750 to 1800 BC.  With these dates as his guide, he found that someone standing at the centre of the Rollright circle, on the morning of the equinoxes—March 21 and September 21—the sun would rise right above the Whispering Knights.  And the effect, he thought, was a notable one: with the light from the rising sun going straight through a hole in one of the stones in the circle as it rose up behind the Knights.  It would have looked both spectacular and eerie in the rising mists of first light, like a laser cutting through the still morning air… However, although Thom’s measurements were very accurate, the archaeologists had got their dates wrong.  Very wrong!  For the Whispering Knights were about 1500 years older than the stone circle—and so the alignments Thom pronounced, based on the archaeologist’s erroneous proclamations, were also incorrect.

There may be other alignments connected to the Rollright complex.  In a survey of the site as part of the Dragon Project experiments conducted here in June 1980, Leslie Banks and Christopher Stanley flew over the place and found, adjacent to the Whispering Knights, a quite distinct “trace of two dark green parallel lines in a field of ripening corn” running northwest to the roadside.  To this day nobody quite understands the nature of this enigmatic alignment:

“In the absence of excavation we can only speculate,” said Stanley.  “But the most likely explanation is that it is what archaeologists refer to as a Cursus.  Cursuses are thought to be prehistoric religious processional ways.”

As with many of the alignments described here, the jury is still out on this one!

Folklore

The folklore here is prodigious!  The prime story of the neolithic tomb of the Whispering Knights tells that originally they were in fact a group of traitors who moved away from a King and his army in ages past, and who were plotting against him, when the great Witch of Rollright (a southern version of the great cailleach, found in more northern counties, Scotland and Ireland) turned them all to stone (this tale is intimately bound up with the King’s Men stone circle and the associated King’s Stone).

Another tale tells how the King Stone and the Whispering Knights venture, at midnight, less than half a mile south to drink from a spring in the small woodland at Little Rollright Spinney, although it is difficult to ascertain precisely which of the two springs the stones are supposed to visit.  In some accounts, the stones reputedly drink from the well every night, but others tell that they only go there at certain times of the year, or on saint’s days.  When Arthur Evans (1895) wrote of these tales he described there being a “gap in the bushes… through which they go down to the water,” but the terrain has altered since his day.

Other accounts imbuing the stones with life tell how they only ‘awaken’ when disturbed by humans.  A story well-known to local people is that of when the Knights had its capstone removed one day by a farmer who used it to build a bridge across the stream at Little Rollright. As Evans told us,

“it took a score of horses to drag it down the hill, for at first it would not move, and they had to strain and strain to get it along till every bit of the harness was broken.   At last they got it to the brook by Rollright Farm, and with great difficulty laid it across to serve as a bridge. But every night the stone turned over back again and was found in the morning lying on the grass.”

Three nights of this led the farmer to think he should replace the stone which, so the fable goes, took only one horse to move it back uphill and into position.  A variation of the same tale was told by T.H. Ravenhill, who wrote:

“The Lord of the Manor of Little Rollright desired to possess the King’s Stone in order to bridge Little Rollright brook. So he dug it up and tried to cart it away, but found that he had not enough horses. He hitched on more, and yet more, and still he found that he could not move the stone. Finally he succeeded and hauled the stone away to the Manor House. The same night he was alarmed by strange sounds about the house, which he attributed to the presence of the King’s Stone, and decided, therefore, to replace it on its mound.  No sooner had he harnessed the first horse to the cart than it galloped away up hill with ease, taking with it the stone, which leapt to position on reaching its resting place.”

There are still more variations that are worth mentioning. One from 1876,

“said that a miller in Long Compton, thinking the stone would be useful in damming the water of his mill, carried it away and used it for that purpose, but he found that whatever water was dammed up in the day disappeared in the night, and thinking it was done by the witches (at Long Compton) and that they would punish him for his impertinence in removing the stone, he took it back again; and, though it required three horses to take it to Long Compton, one easily brought it back.”

In yet another version, the stone was wanted by a local farmer for his outhouse.  In taking it downhill, the horses that pulled his wagon died and the vehicle itself was irreparably damaged.  It got even worse for the poor chap: his crops failed, his family were taken ill and his cattle died.  Eventually when all but his last horse remained, he made another cart and it pulled the stone back uphill with ease.  Thereafter, so the tale goes, all his adversities stopped and he lived a normal life.  In one version of this tale, the great monolith was said to have been taken north-north-west down to the stream at The Hollows, Long Compton.  Tales such as these are, once more, found throughout the world.

The truth of these stories was seemingly unquestionable to some local people in the 19th century,

“one man going as far as to say that there were those now living who had spoken to men who had helped to bring the stone down and up again.”

In William Stukeley’s day, one Farmer Baker was so troubled by his actions that he couldn’t rest until he returned the old stone.

The doyen of the early geodelic sciences or Earth Mysteries movement, John Michell, suggested how the legends of megaliths moving of their own accord harked back to ancient days when the people of those times were more attuned to the terrestrial magnetic flows of the Earth.

The Whispering Knights were also a place where “young girls of the neighbourhood (use it as) a kind of primitive oracle.”  One local told Arthur Evans that around barley harvest the young women of the district visited the Five Knights to listen to them whisper.  One at a time they would rest their ears against the strange shapes of stone and, if fortune and conditions were right, they would hear the future told.  This mass of animistic lore is very revealing indeed, telling us much about the way our peasant ancestors viewed the living world around them. (Eliade 1958)

In more recent times, the site has been explored by dowsers and ley hunters, who claim to have found a veritable bags of fascinating lost material around the Knights.  Although originally ‘leys’ were described by Alfred Watkins as quite acceptable prehistoric trackways linking site to site to site, in recent years the original theory has been ignored and superceded with a host of almost incredulous fluctuations.  Leys these days can run just about anywhere – and do!

One writer who tells about the leys around Whispering Knights is Lawrence Main. (1997) He dowsed and found a ley running south to the famous White Horse at Uffington.  Roy Cooper (1979) was the first person to write about this alignment and extended it further north to the impressive and legendary Brailles Hill. That one seems reasonable.  However,

“Other leys I dowsed,” said Main, “Linked the King Stone, the stone circle, and the Whispering Knights with each other; the King Stone with Banbury Cross; the Whispering Knights with Hook Norton church; and the stone circle with the churches at Todenham and Stretton-on-Fosse.”

Another dowsing ley hunter is Dennis Wheatley (not The Devil Rides Out dood).  He wrote a couple of short works on his lengthy experiments at the Rollright stones and reported how he found a

“tangential aerial energy course…across the country (which) latches on to a solitary standing stone, six miles south, known as the Hawk Stone.”

Perhaps of greater importance here is that Wheatley also discovered how,

“all of the Rollright ring’s stones engage in aerial energetic cross-talk with the King Stone producing a triangulation of energy lines.”

This cross-talk of Wheatley’s involves more than seventy energy lines running between the circle and the King’s Stone.  He tells us that a greater “aerial cross-talk” also occurs between the circle and the Knights; and “a lesser energetic triangulation” runs between the King and the Knights.

Along similar lines are the findings of the dowser Reginald Smith. (1980) Beneath the Whispering Knights he claimed to have found,

“a concealed spring which runs underground to the northwest and may betoken a consecrated site; but 100 feet to the east there seems to be another blind spring with issue to the northeast.”

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul & Wilson, Tom, The Old Stones of Rollright and District, Cockley Press: London 1999.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, Great Stone Circles, Yale University Press: New York & London 1999.
  3. Cooper, Roy, ‘Some Oxfordshire Leys,’ in The Ley Hunter 86, 1979.
  4. Crawford, O.G.S., Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, John Bellows: Oxford 1932.
  5. Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1990.
  6. Devereux, Paul, The Sacred Place, Cassell: London 2000.
  7. Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
  8. Evans, Arthur J., ‘The Rollright Stones and their Folklore (3 parts),’ in Folklore Journal, 1895.
  9. Gelling, Margaret, The Place-Names of Oxfordshire – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1971.
  10. Graves, Tom, Dowsing: Techniques and Applications, Turnstone: London 1976.
  11. Grinsell, Leslie V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
  12. Lambrick, George, The Rollright Stones: The Archaeology and Folklore of the Stones and their Surroundings, Oxford Archaeology Review 1983. (Reprinted and updated in 1988.)
  13. Main, Lawrence, Walks in Mysterious Oxfordshire, Sigma: Wilmslow 1997.
  14. Ravenhill, T.H., The Rollright Stones and the Men Who Erected Them, Little Rollright 1926.
  15. Robins, Don, Circles of Silence, Souvenir Press: London 1985.
  16. Smith, Reginald A., ‘Archaeological Dowsing,’ in Graves, Tom (ed.), Dowsing and Archaeology (Turnstone: Wellingborough 1980).
  17. Stanley, Christopher C., ‘A Rollright Processional Way?’ in The Ley Hunter 90, 1981.
  18. Stuart, Sheila, Lifting the Latch, Oxford University Press 1987.
  19. Stukeley, William, Abury: A Temple of the British Druids, London 1743.
  20. Thom, Alexander, Megalithic Sites in Britain, Oxford University Press 1967.
  21. Wheatley, Dennis, The Rollright Ring, Braden Press: Swindon n.d. (c.1990)

Links

  1. The Whispering Knights on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Whispering Knights

loading map - please wait...

Whispering Knights 51.975249, -1.565603 Whispering Knights

Salford Cross Cup-Marks, Oxfordshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SP 28644 28058

Getting Here

Pretty simple this one.  From Chipping Norton, head west on the A44 for a coupla miles till you hit the lovely Salford village.  The church stands out, so head for it and, as you walk towards the building, watch for the small stone cross in front of you.

Archaeology & History

Salford Cross cup-markings

This is curious.  Very curious!  We might expect to find cup-markings occasionally on some of the cross-bases or other early christian monuments in northern England and Scotland, but to find them in the heart of a small Oxfordshire village where the tradition of cup-marked stones is unknown, was something of a surprise when Tom Wilson and I (1999) found it, to say the least!  But this is what we’re looking at here.

Salford Cross remains

On the remains of an old medieval cross, whose broken shaft has seen better days,  as the photo shows — and as a personal viewing shows even clearer — there are 3 simple cup-markings etched on one side of the cross-base in Salford churchyard.   The cups certainly aint natural, but then also they don’t have the archaic looks of the prehistoric carvings from Yorkshire to Scotland.  It would be good if we had a more extensive history of the cross monument itself, perhaps saying precisely where the stones which make it up came from, but local records tell us nothing it seems.  If we could ascertain that parts of it were made up of some remains taken from some local prehistoric ‘pagan’ tomb (and a number of tombs have been found in and around this area), then some sense could be thrown upon its position here.  But until we can ascertain more about the history of the cross, the three clear cup-markings on the cross-base remain somewhat of a mystery.

Folklore

Lovers of ley lore will be intrigued to find this carved cross-base is on a very accurate ley linking the King Stone, Rollright stone circle, Little Rollright church (where a standing stone can be found in the walling just before it), the Salford Cross and the site of another cross on the hill outside the village.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul & Wilson, Tom, The Old Stones of Rollright and District, Cockley: London 1999.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Salford cupmarks

loading map - please wait...

Salford cupmarks 51.950298, -1.584634 Salford cupmarks

Cornwell Stone, Salford, Oxfordshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid References – SP 2770 2785

Getting Here

Go west along the A44 from Salford village ’til just before the crossroad with the A436. 100 yards before here there’s a small left turn, downhill, past Hollis Hill Farm and Park Farm. Before reaching Cornwell at the bottom, walk into the fields to your left and find the township boundary (on 1:25,000 OS maps), which is marked with old hedges.  It’s in here!

Archaeology & History

Walk along the line of old hedges, checking either side if it’s overgrown, until you find this well-worn three-foot tall standing stone (exact coordinate SP 2770 2785) standing in the hedgerow. It’s a cute little thing which may have marked the old boundary line, but it has a distinctly prehistoric feel and look to it, in a region where many old prehistoric remains still linger…

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul & Wilson, Tom, The Old Stones of Rollright and District, Cockley: London 1999.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Cornwell stone

loading map - please wait...

Cornwell stone 51.948529, -1.598433 Cornwell stone

Lyneham Barrow, Ascot-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire

Long Barrow:  OS Grid Reference – SP 2975 2107

Getting Here

Lyneham Barrow stone

Pretty easy really.  From Shipton-under-Wychwood take the A361 road north (to Chipping Norton) for just over 2 miles.  You’ll pass the TV mast on your right and then a small country lane sign-posted to Ascott-under-Wychwood.  Go past this and then stop at the next right-turn a half-mile further up the road.  The barrow is about 100 yards before this turning, in the hedgerow, on the left-hand side of the road!

Archaeology & History

This once great and proud neolithic monument is today but a shadow of its former self.  Described by various antiquarians and archaeologists over the years, O.G.S. Crawford (1925) included it in his fine survey, telling:

“The barrow is between 160 and 170 feet long and stands in two fields on the west side of the Chipping Norton and Burford main road… In the northern field, at the NE end of the barrow, stands a single upright stone, 6 feet high, 5 feet broad and 1 foot 6 inches thick.  This stone is stated to be buried three feet deep in the ground and its height is given by Conder as 10 feet 6 inches.  When visited October 18, 1922, a large piece of the top had been broken off, but replaced in position.”

This damage was reported around the same time and described in the early “Notes” of The Antiquaries Journal by a Mr A.D. Passmore (1925), who wrote:

“About 30ft from the north-east end of this long barrow stands a large monolith now nearly 6ft above ground…and roughly 6ft wide and just under 2ft thick, of local stone.  At the top is an ancient and natural fissure extending right across the stone and penetrating some way downwards obliquely.  Early in 1923, either by foul play or natural decay, another crack appeared spreading towards the first about a right-angle, the result being that a large piece at the top of the monolith became detached.  Such an opportunity of mischief was speedily taken advantage of and the piece of stone, weighing over 4 cwt, was pushed off and fell to the ground.  In August 1924 the owner of the land, his man, and the writer spread a bed of cement and hoisted up the large broken mass and relaid it in its bed.”

But even in their day, the tomb had already been opened up and checked out, by a Lord Moreton and a Mr Edward Conder, in 1894 no less!  Conder’s account (1895) of the inside of this ancient tomb told:

“There were found (1) a chamber at right angles to the long axis of the barrow; on the south-eastern side of the barrow were two uprights, 4 feet 2 inches by 2 feet 1o inches, and 1 foot 9 inches by 2 feet 8 inches.  At the north-western end of the chamber were two uprights set with their long faces (edges?) abutting.  On the surface-line at the level of the base of the barrow were traces of paving and fragments of bone, pottery and charcoal.  (2) Chamber, a little south of the south-east corner of No.1,  slightly above the ground level.  It was formed of three uprights, on the north, east and west sides respectively, and a paving slab with a perforation 4 inches in diameter.  At the north-eastern end of the barrow was a ridge of large ‘rug’ stones up to 8 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 2½ feet thick, terminating in a standing stone…10 feet 6 inches high…buried 3 feet below ground level.  At the southwest end was a standing stone, 4½ feet by 3 feet by 11 inches thick, in a horizontal position lying east and west, 2 feet below the surface. At various points were found skulls and human and animal bones and hearths, with no indications of date, and (as secondary interments) two Saxon graves.”

Today, poor old Lyneham Barrow is much overgrown and could do with a bittova face-lift to bring it back to life.  But I wouldn’t hold y’ breath…..

Folklore

At the crossroads just above this old tomb, the ghost of a white lady is said to roam.  And at the old quarry on the other side of the road a decidedly shamanistic tale speaks of an old lady who lived in a cave and guarded great treasure!  Her spirit is sometimes seen wandering about in and around the fields hereby.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul & Wilson, Tom, The Old Stones of Rollright and District, Cockley: London 1999.
  2. Brooks, J.A., Ghosts and Witches of the Cotswolds, Jarrold: Norwich 1992.
  3. Conder, Edward, “An Account of the Exploration of Lyneham Barrow, Oxon,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, volume 15, 1895.
  4. Crawford, O.G.S., Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, John Bellows: Oxford 1925.
  5. Dyer, James, Discovering Regional Archaeology: The Cotswolds and the Upper Thames, Shire: Tring 1970.
  6. L.V. Grinsell’s Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
  7. James, Dave, “A Brief Foray into Oxfordshire,” in Gloucestershire Earth Mysteries 14, 1992.
  8. Passmore, A.D., “Lyneham Barrow, Oxfordshire,” in Antiquaries Journal, 5:2, April 1925.
  9. Turner, Mark, Folklore and mysteries of the Cotswolds, Hale: London 1993.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Lyneham Barrow

loading map - please wait...

Lyneham Barrow 51.887397, -1.569199 Lyneham Barrow

Hawk Stone, Spelsbury, Oxfordshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SP 33923 23544

Getting Here

Hawk Stone on 1885 map
Hawk Stone on 1885 map

Best visited out of season before the corn’s been planted. It makes it  easier to find and doesn’t annoy the land-owner here, who tends to be a decent dood.  From Chipping Norton go southeast along the B2046 road to Charlbury.  After about 1½ miles take the second right turning down the small country lane.  Go slowly down here for less than half a mile, watching the fields on your right.  You’re damn close!

Archaeology & History

The Hawk Stone

This impressive, weather-worn, eight-foot tall standing stone stands aloft in the middle of a field due west of the road between Chalford Green and Dean.  It’s an excellent monolith and one which, I think, has a lot more occult history known of it than described here.  Thought by O.G.S. Crawford (1925) and others in the past to have been “formerly part of a chambered structure,”  or prehistoric chambered tomb like that of the Hoar Stone at nearby Enstone, no remains of such a structure unfortunately remain today.  It is first illustrated and named on a local map of the region in 1743 CE, and the stone at least has fortunately managed to escape the intense agricultural ravages endemic to this part of the country.

The name “Hawk” stone has been fancied by some to relate to some obscure resemblence to a Hawk, or because there very often are hawks hovering over those upland fields – but these are unlikely.  It’s thought by place-name authorities more likely to derive from a corruption of ‘Hoar’ meaning a grey or boundary stone; and as it stands just yards east of the present township boundary line, this derivation seems more probable.

To all lovers of megalithic sites, we highly recommend a visit here!

Folklore

In local folklore and in the opinion of some earlier historians, the Hawk Stone formed an integral part of a stone circle here, but there is little known evidence to substantiate this.

Hawk Stone in summer
Hawk Stone in winter

A creation legend attached to this site tells that the stone was thrown, or dragged across the land, by a old witch or hag — though we are not told from where.  This is a motif found at megalithic sites all across the country (see Bord & Bord 1977; Grinsell 1976, etc).  In Corbett’s History of Spelsbury (1962) the author told of the folklore spoken of by one Mr Caleb Lainchbury who

“said the cleft at the top of the Hawk Stone at Dean was supposed to of been made by the chains of the witches who were tied to it and burnt. As witches seem to have been extremely rare in Oxfordshire it cannot have been a very common practise to burn them at Dean; but there may indeed have been some kind of fire ceremonies near the stone.”

Grinsell (1976) also tells how the Hawk Stone has that animistic property, bestowed upon other old monoliths, of coming to life and going “down to the water to drink when it hears the clock strike 12.”

This evidently important and visually impressive monolith also plays an important part in an incredibly precise alignment (ley) running roughly east-west across the landscape.  At first, Tom Wilson (1999) thought the alignment had previously gone unnoticed, but later we later found a reference to the same line in an early copy of The Ley Hunter (Cooper 1979). It links up with other important megalithic sites, such as the Hoar Stones at Enstone, Buswell’s thicket, and the ancient Sarsden Cross.

Similarly, when Tom Graves’ (1980) was doing some dowsing experiments at the Rollright stone circle a few miles west, he found what he described as an ‘overground’ (or ley) linking the ring of stones to the Hawk Stone, but no other connecting sites are known along this line.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul & Wilson, Tom, The Old Stones of Rollright and District, Cockley: London 1999.
  2. Bord, Janet & Colin, The Secret Country, BCA: London 1977.
  3. Cooper, Roy, “Some Oxfordshire Leys,” in The Ley Hunter, 86, 1979.
  4. Corbett, Elsie, A History of Spelsbury, Cheney & Sons: Banbury 1962.
  5. Crawford, O.G.S., The Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, John Bellows: Gloucester 1925.
  6. Gelling, Margaret, The Place-Names of Oxfordshire – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1954.
  7. Graves, Tom, Needles of Stone, Granada: London 1980.
  8. Grinsell, L.V., Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain, David & Charles: Newton Abbot 1976.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Hawk Stone

loading map - please wait...

Hawk Stone 51.909411, -1.508277 Hawk Stone

Boulter’s Barn Stone, Churchill, Oxfordshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SP 2938 2569

Also known as:

  1. Churchill Stone

Getting Here

Boulter's Barn standing stone, Churchill (Tom Wilson)
Boulter’s Barn stone (© Tom Wilson)

This stone stands on the south-side of the B4450 just north of the crossroads, halfway between Churchill and Chipping Norton.  Generally troublesome to see at first as it tends to get hidden in the hedgerow, but it aint too difficult to locate with a bitta patience.

Archaeology & History

First described in O.G.S. Crawford’s (1925) fine survey of megalithic remains following a letter he received from a local man, Mr A.D. Passmore, who first drew it to the attention of archaeologists.  Crawford told:

“This stone is a little over a mile southwest of Chipping Norton station.  It stands in the hedge on the northwest side of the road and is about four feet high… Nothing more is known about it, but it seems not unlikely that it may be of considerable antiquity.”

A few years later Leslie Grinsell (1936) mentioned it in his fine survey of prehistoric English tombs and associated remains, describing here, “a large stone which may be the remains of a megalithic monument.”  Tom Wilson then illustrated it in our crappy little Old Stones of Rollright (1999) work (which really needs updating and expanding).  It’s a cute little stone and may have once served as a companion to a prehistoric tomb as there are many others nearby.  It is also quite close to one of the local boundary lines and, p’raps, might once have served as a marker hereabouts.  We might never know…

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul & Wilson, Tom, The Old Stones of Rollright and District, Cockley: London 1999.
  2. Crawford, O.G.S., The Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, John Bellows: Gloucester 1925.
  3. Grinsell, Leslie V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Boulters Barn stone

loading map - please wait...

Boulters Barn stone 51.928995, -1.574005 Boulters Barn stone

Lidstone, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

Standing Stones:  OS Grid Reference – SP 35487 24627

Also Known as:

  1. King Lud’s Stone
  2. Leodwine’s stone

Getting Here

Just get to the top of the hill thru the village and where the sharp bend turns, you’ll find one of the monoliths up against the wall above the roadside (hard to find in the undergrowth sometimes!).  The other stone is on the eastern side of the road through Lidstone from the A44, halfway into the village itself.

Archaeology & History

Lidstone monolith
Lidstone monolith

There are two small stones to be found in the lovely little hamlet of Lidstone.  The main one—Leodwin’s Stone—is at coordinate SP 35517 24656; and the smaller stone further up the hill is at SP 35487 24627.  First described in a treatise from 1235 AD as Lidenstan, the great place-name writer Ekwall (1940) thought this derived from ‘Leodwine’s Stone.” A few years later Gelling (1954) told us that “there is a monolith at Lidstone”, which she thought gave rise to the place-name, and not some chap named Leodwine.  Whichever it may be, we certainly have two small upright stones here — both worth having a look at if such things take your interest. (Tom Wilson and I included them in our short survey of the standing stones of the region in 1999) Further up at the top of the hill from here are the remains of an old tumulus.

Folklore

Said by Caroline Pumphrey (1990) to be the resting place of old King Lud, one of England’s last great pagan kings; another local writer Elsie Corbett (1962) also told a tale well-known to folklore students about this little monolith.  She related how a local man they knew as Mr Hitchcock told them,

“that they used to kid the boys there by telling them that when the stone hears the clock strike twelve it goes down to the stream to drink, and that it was just a ‘catch’ because there was no striking clock in the first place; but it is a ‘catch’ tacked onto some tale that must have been told in the hamlet long ages before there were clocks at all.”

The said stream is a short distance due north of here, down the little valley.  The tale may come from it once acting as a shadow-marker, highlighting midday when the sun was high in the sky due south.  Makes sense of the folktale anyway!

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul & Wilson, Tom, The Old Stones of Rollright and District, Cockley: London 1999.
  2. Corbett, Elsie, A History of Spelsbury, Cheney & Sons: Banbury 1962.
  3. Ekwall, Eilert, Oxford Dictionary of Place-Names, OUP: Oxford 1940.
  4. Gelling, Margaret, The Place-Names of Oxfordshire – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1954.
  5. Pumphrey, Caroline, Charlbury of our Childhood, Sessions Books: York 1990.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Lidstone stones

loading map - please wait...

Lidstone stones 51.919062, -1.485424 Lidstone stones

Rollright Stones, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

Stone Circle:  OS Grid Reference – SP 29578 30869

Also known as:

  1. King’s Men
  2. The Rollrights
  3. Rowldrich

Getting Here

One of Camden’s early drawings

All sorts of ways to get here – all via road I’m afraid.  Those southern-types aint into walking over fields and ambling about like we can do ‘ere up North.  Best way to get here really, is get to Chipping Norton (a good little town with many good folk there), and ask!  Take the road out of the town to Over Norton, taking the first road left as you enter the village. Go along this country  lane for a mile until you reach a crossroads at the top of the hill. Turn right at the crossroads and watch out for the parking space at the roadside a few hundred yards along. Stop there and walk through the gate to go round to the other side of the trees. (if there’s a Rollright Trust member there loitering in the entrance asking you for some money to walk or sit by the stone circle – don’t give ’em it!  They’ve used the cash for poisoning the wildlife in the past (killing the moles, field mice and other indigenous creatures there) and then lied about what they did (reckoning it was nowt to do with them!), so I wouldn’t trust them).

Archaeology & History

Southern arc of stones
Southern arc of stones

There’s masses to be said on this site, which I can’t add all in one go (I’ve literally got a full unpublished book on the many aspects if this lovely site) — so this entry will be updated occasionally with additional bits and bats of info and images as time floats by.

This remarkable and quite atmospheric megalithic complex has so much to say for itself that entire books have been written on the place (see the extensive references below), dealing with its archaeology, folklore and ritual use.

1920s Ground-plan
Mr Taunt’s 1907 plan

The King’s Men is a near-perfect circle of oolitic limestone uprights.  Thought for centuries to be the memorial site of some victory by the Danish King Rollo, they have been described by many historians, travellers and antiquarians from the 14th century upwards.  Several early writers described a sort of “avenue” running from the circle, not unlike the one perceived at Stonehenge and elsewhere.  Evidence for this cannot be fully disregarded, as there are some recumbent monoliths along the road beside the stone complex, known as the Jurassic Way.  This was a prehistoric trade route and it is more likely than not that some other uprights would have been nearby.

The Rollright Stones were used as the prime base for what was known as the Dragon Project: an exploratory examination of potential electromagnetic anomalies that were recorded at the standing stones here by scientists, geomancers and archaeologists who were involved daily monitoring work over many years.  Much of this was published in Paul Devereux’s book, Places of Power – required reading for everyone who pretends an interest in megalithic sciences.

Northern section of the ring
Northern section of the ring

The Rollright complex today consists primarily of three sites: the Whispering Knight’s portal dolmen, the King’s Men stone circle, and the King Stone.  Of these, it is the stone circle which draws most attention. Several alignments are connected with the complex.  The original ritual use of the place would have, primarily, involved rites of passage and death rituals; though it seems obvious that menstrual rites were also an important social event here.  After dark, this stone circle has distinctly ‘female’ spirit, sometimes manifesting in a quite wrathful form (please don’t confuse any of the modern witchcraft mythos with such things – they are fundamentally different in both social and ritual aspects). Women obviously played a large part in the ritual use and geomantic layout of the original complex.  It also seems likely that the stone circle was used as a moot spot, which may have been in use until medieval times.  The recent discovery of the carving of a family crest, at least 500 years old, implies this.

Until Tom Wilson and I lived in the hut at the circle in the 1990s, previous reports of ‘carvings’ at the stone circle were few and debatable.  But two of the stones in the Rollright circle have quite distinct carvings on them.  The most pronounced is etched on the tallest stone (stone 1 – Barnatt Survey) and comprises of a typical heraldic shield – although we cannot, as yet, ascertain the motif in the middle of the shield.  This was first seen by a visiting tourist who wanted to remain anonymous, but the finding was written up in an article I wrote shortly afterwards. (Bennett 1999)  The image below – reproduced courtesy of Alistair Carty’s Archaeoptics Limited laser scanning company – clearly shows the carving, which confirmed the initial discovery.  The report of his findings can be read here.

Shield carving on tallest stone
Shield carving on tallest stone (© Archaeoptics Ltd)
L.V. Grinsell’s 1930 photo

Not unsurprisingly, since the discovery of the shield various screwy interpretations have been put forward to account for the design.  My favourite has to be the one suggested by a pagan friend of the Rollright Trust, who, occult-like and all secret (y’ get the drift) reckoned it was all to do with King Arthur!  Needless to say, my response of, “Y’ talking bollox mate!” was received somewhat nervously by pagan Karin Attwood and the twee little entourage who were discussing the shield, in the usual ‘secrecy – secrecy’ hush-hush tone of false witches and similar idiots!

A few months later I found another set of carvings on stone 62 (Barnatt survey), comprising a set of Ogham letters. These Ogham are very faint and are best observed before midday, when lighting conditions highlight them much clearer. If anyone can decipher them, it would be greatly appreciated. (though please don’t gimme some shit about King Arthur)

Folklore

Folklore ascribes that the number of stones in the complex cannot be counted (a motif found at other megalithic sites) and, intriguingly, of the surveys done here, no two are the same!  One early illustration of the circle shows 30 stones, nother describes 46, and one survey describes just 22 stones!  As the 20th century progressed the numbers increased dramatically, with surveys differing at 58, 60, 71, 72, 73, 77 and 105. The present-day ‘guesstimate’ is about 77. Weird!

Folklore tells that if you can count the stones three times in a row and get the same number, you may have any wish you choose.  But recently this has become reversed and it is said to be a curse if you count three times the same.  Intriguingly, modern visitors who allege no superstitious beliefs, will not count the stones a third time if the same number crops up twice.

The best-known folk tale of this place is of the King, his men and the knights, who “were once men who were changed into vast rocks and fossilised,” as Camden first put it in 1586.  The King’s men sometimes go to drink at a well near Little Rollright, as does the king, but he only goes at certain times.  At midnight however, on certain days, the King’s Men have sometimes been known to come to life, join hands and dance in a circle.  This sounds more like a folk remnant of ritual use here.

Faerie folk are said to live beneath the circle, in great caverns, some of which are linked up to the single monolith across the road. Ravenhill [1926] described how local folk had sometimes seen the little people dancing around the circle by moonlight, but nobody has seen them of late.

…to be continued…!

References:

  1. Anonymous, The Rollright Stones: Theories and Legends, privately printed, n.d.
  2. Anonymous, ‘Oxfordshire Mysteries,’ in The Ley Hunter 86, 1979.
  3. Aubrey, John, Monumenta Britannica, Milbourne Port 1980.
  4. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain (2 volumes), BAR: Oxford 1989.
  5. Beesley, T., ‘The Rollright Stones,’ in Trans. N.Oxon Arch. Soc., 1, 1855.
  6. Bennett, Paul, ‘Remarkable Carving found at the King’s Men Stone Circle, Rollright, Oxfordshire,’ in Right Times 5, 1999.
  7. Bennett, Paul & Wilson, Tom, The Old Stones of Rollright and District, Cockley Press: London 1999.
  8. Bloxham, Christine, Folklore of Oxfordshire, Tempus 2005.
  9. Bord, Janet & Colin, The Secret Country, Paul Elek: London 1976.
  10. Bord, Janet & Colin, A Guide to Ancient Sites in Britain, Paladin 1979.
  11. Brooker, Charles, ‘Magnetism and the Standing Stones,’ in New Scientist, January 1983.
  12. Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, New Haven & London 1995.
  13. Burl, Aubrey, Great Stone Circles, Yale University Press: New York & London 1999.
  14. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  15. Clayton, Peter, Archaeological Sites of Britain, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London 1976.
  16. Cooper, Roy, ‘Some Oxfordshire Leys,’ in The Ley Hunter 86, 1979.
  17. Cowper, B.H., ‘Oxfordshire Legend in Stone,’ Notes & Queries (1st series), 7, January 15, 1853.
  18. Crawford, O.G.S., Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, John Bellows: Oxford 1932.
  19. D., A.J., ‘Rollwright or Rollright,’ in Notes & Queries, 2nd series, 7, 1859.
  20. Devereux, Paul, ‘Is This the Image of the Earth Force?’ in The Ley Hunter 87, 1979.
  21. Devereux, Paul, ‘Operation Merlin,’ in The Ley Hunter 88, 1980.
  22. Devereux, Paul, ‘Operation Merlin 2,’ in The Ley Hunter 89, 1980.
  23. Devereux, Paul, ‘The Third Merlin,’ in The Ley Hunter 92, 1981.
  24. Devereux, Paul, Places of Power, Blandford: London 1990.
  25. Devereux, Paul, The Sacred Place, Cassell: London 2000.
  26. Devereux, Paul, Steele, John & Kubrin, David, Earthmind, Harper & Row: New York 1989.
  27. Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  28. Dyer, James, Discovering Regional Archaeology: The Cotswolds and the Upper Thames, Shire: Tring 1970.
  29. Evans, Arthur J., ‘The Rollright Stones,’ in Trans. Bristol & Glouc. Arch. Soc., 40, 1892.
  30. Evans, Arthur J., ‘The Rollright Stones and their Folklore (3 parts),’ in Folklore Journal, 1895.
  31. Graves, Tom, Dowsing, Techniques and Application, Turnstone: London 1976.
  32. Graves, Tom, Needles of Stone, Granada: London 1980.
  33. Graves, Tom (ed.), Dowsing and Archaeology, Turnstone: Wellingborough 1980.
  34. Gray, William, The Rollright Ritual, Helios: Cheltenham 1975.
  35. Grinsell, Leslie V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
  36. Grinsell, Leslie V., The Rollright Stones and their Folklore, Toucan Press: Guernsey 1977.
  37. Hamper, W., ‘Observations on certain Ancient Pillars of Memorial, called Hoar Stones,’ in Archaeologia, 25, 1833.
  38. Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide to the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales, BCA: London 1973.
  39. Higgins, Geoffrey, The Celtic Druids, Rowland Hunter: London 1829.
  40. Krupp, E.C., In Search of Ancient Astronomies, Chatto & Windus: London 1979.
  41. Lambrick, George, The Rollright Stones: The Archaeology and Folklore of the Stones and their Surroundings, Oxford Archaeology Review 1983. (Reprinted and updated in 1988.)
  42. Liebreich, Karen, UneXplained: Spine-tingling tales from Real Places in Great Britain and Ireland, Kindle 2012.
  43. Michell, John, Megalithomania, Thames & Hudson: London 1982.
  44. Millson, Cecilia, Tales of Old Oxfordshire, Countryside Books: Newbury 1983.
  45. Ravenhill, T.H., The Rollright Stones and the Men Who Erected Them, Little Rollright 1926.
  46. Richardson, Alan, Spirits of the Stones, Virgin: London 2001.
  47. Robins, Don, ‘The Dragon Awakes,’ in The Ley Hunter 87, 1979.
  48. Robins, Don, ‘The Dragon Project and the Talking Stones,’ in New Scientist, October 1982.
  49. Robins, Don, Circles of Silence, Souvenir Press: London 1985.
  50. Saltzman, L.F. (ed.), Victoria County History of Oxford, Dawsons: London 1970 (first published 1939).
  51. Stanley, Christopher C., ‘A Rollright Processional Way?’ in The Ley Hunter 90, 1981.
  52. Taunt, Harry, The Rollright Stones: The Stonehenge of Oxfordshire, Oxford 1907.
  53. Thom, Alexander & Thom, A.S., ‘Rings and Menhirs: Geometry and Astronomy in the Neolithic Age,’ in E.C. Krupp, 1979.
  54. Thom, Alexander, Megalithic Sites in Britain, Oxford University Press 1967.
  55. Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, H.A.W., Megalithic Rings, BAR: Oxford 1980.
  56. Turner, Mark, Folklore and Mysteries of the Cotswolds, Hale: London 1993.

AcknowledgementsHUGE thanks to Marion Woolley for her images in this site profile, and other memorable ventures at this awesome megalithic ring!

Links

  1. Rollright Stones on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Rollright circle

loading map - please wait...

Rollright circle 51.975519, -1.570830 Rollright circle

Serpent’s Well, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – SP 31 27?

Archaeology & History

This legendary-sounding spring of water was described in field-name listings from the 1770 Enclosure Acts, but nothing seems to have been written about it since.  To me at least, there seems little doubt that this site would have been a sacred or legendary water-site. Curiously it is in William Henderson’s collection of northern folk-tales where we find a mention of further dragon lore from the township, albeit briefly, where he wrote:

“Near Chipping Norton, in Oxfordshire, A.D. 1349, was a serpent with two heads, faces like women, and great wings after the manner of a bat.”

In Nigel Pennick’s (1997) overview of dragon legends he copied Henderson’s earlier note, but neither of them gave specific indications relating the legend with our Serpent’s Well.  So, to those of you who live in and around Chipping Norton (where I spent two very good years living with Sir Wilson at the Rollright Stones) – what has become of it?  Where exactly is it?  And does anyone know anything more behind this tale and any further history behind the ‘Serpent’s Well’?

References:

  1. Gelling, Margaret, The Place-Names of Oxfordshire, Cambridge University Press 1953-54.
  2. Henderson, William, Notes on the Folk-lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders, Folklore Society: London 1879.
  3. Pennick, Nigel, Dragons of the West, Capall Bann: Chieveley 1997.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Serpents Well

loading map - please wait...

Serpents Well 51.940563, -1.550472 Serpents Well