In days of olde there were heathen sites around the edges of the beautiful Rollright Stones complex that have sadly fallen prey to the intensive agriculture of more modern ‘civilized’ times. It’s become the way of things….. One site of importance in this geomythic pantheon was the ‘Gough’s Barrow’—so named after a drawing was done of the site by Richard Gough, editor of the 1789 edition of Camden’s Britannia. As far as I’m aware, it is the only one ever done of this monument. The Oxford archaeologist George Lambrick (1988) saw “every reason to accept the position and details of the barrow”, upon which stood at least two large stones—one of which gained the description of a ‘druidical pillar.’
Stukeley’s 1743 drawing
The same barrow may have been recorded in one of drawings of the great William Stukeley, who visited the Rollright Stones in 1710 and then again in 1723. On the left-side of the adjacent drawing you can see a denuded mound close to the edge of the picture, similar in shape and form to that drawn by Richard Gough. It is probably the same tumulus or barrow. Trial excavations at the site in 1983 looked for any remains of the old tomb, but nothing significant was uncovered. Lambrick estimated that the site probably measured “about 18m wide and 20m long east-west,” and “was a megalithic barrow and was therefore probably Neolithic in origin.”
Bennett, Paul & Chanter, James, The Complete Rollright Stones, forthcoming
Bennett, Paul & Wilson, Tom, The Old Stones of Rollright and District, Cockley Press: Chipping Norton 1999.
Burl, Aubrey, Great Stone Circles, Yale University Press 1999.
Lambrick, George, The Rollright Stones, English Heritage 1988.
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…..
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.
Bennett, Paul & Wilson, Tom, The Old Stones of Rollright and District, Cockley: London 1999.
Brooks, J.A., Ghosts and Witches of the Cotswolds, Jarrold: Norwich 1992.
Conder, Edward, “An Account of the Exploration of Lyneham Barrow, Oxon,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, volume 15, 1895.
Crawford, O.G.S., Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, John Bellows: Oxford 1925.
Dyer, James, Discovering Regional Archaeology: The Cotswolds and the Upper Thames, Shire: Tring 1970.
L.V. Grinsell’s Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
James, Dave, “A Brief Foray into Oxfordshire,” in Gloucestershire Earth Mysteries 14, 1992.
Passmore, A.D., “Lyneham Barrow, Oxfordshire,” in Antiquaries Journal, 5:2, April 1925.
Turner, Mark, Folklore and mysteries of the Cotswolds, Hale: London 1993.
Easy enough this one. Take the B4066 west of Woodchester past the Boundary Court and over the cattle grid for 100 yards or so. Note the fence up the slope to your left (south) up the field here head for the triangulation pillar. Once there keep walking for about another 100 yards. You can’t miss it!
Archaeology & History
The mad craniologist John Thurnam (1810-73) was one of several old-school fellas who helped to excavate this grand site on one occasion. Thinking that human sacrifice lay behind virtually all of the burial mounds, Thurnam was part of the Cotteswold Field Club group who investigated the place; and, because of his intellectual capacity in cranial investigations, was listened to by the budding archaeo’s of the day cos he was cleverer than them (hero worshipping). A bit naive of them, but such is the way of some folk! Yet their early account of this site (devoid of Thurnam’s weird notions) is quite invaluable, even today. Described in an address by their President in the Proceedings in 1865, the article tells:
“The Club met at Stroud. The principal work of the day was the opening of a ‘barrow’ on Bown Hill…which had formed the subject of discussion towards the end of the previous season when, the period of the year being too far advanced, the work of exploration was deferred. Workmen had been employed under Dr Paine and Dr Witchell on the two previous days; but beyond the discovery of the entrance to the sepulchral chambers no great progress had been made in the excavation of the mound which, from its size and solidity, proved to be a very laborious operation. In order, therefore, to expedite matters, a strong force of labourers, 22 in number, had been employed from an early hour on the day of the meeting. The mound, which measured about 60 yards in length by 17 in extreme width, was seen to be constructed of angular masses of stone, heaped together without any order or regularity, amongst which were scattered blocks of considerable size and weight.
“The excavators had opened a trench about 100 feet in length, in a direction due east and west by compass. The western extremity was the broadest, the mound gradually diminishing in width to the opposite end. The workmen had struck upon the entrance which, when exposed, showed a chamber formed of five large, unhewn stones, two on each side and one placed transversely, the dimensions of which were 4 feet in width by 8 feet 6 inches in length. There was no covering stone, but the entrance was flanked on either side by a wall of dry masonry, very neatly fitted, forming a segment of a circle, which, if completed, would have enclosed a well-like chamber in front of the entrance to the tumulus. This wall had been abruptly broken off; but there were amongst those present some who thought they detected signs of it having been at one time continuous. It was evident that the whole structure had been thoroughly ransacked and broken up by former explorers; and so completely had the work of devestation been accomplished that hardly one stone was left upon another. The chambers, with the one exception already noted, had been entirely demolished, and but a few bones scattered throughout the whole tumulus remained, all more or less in a fragmentary condition. These fragments comprised one fully developed frontal bone, male; portions of two male lower jaws, and portions of two female skulls; several thigh bones, and bones of the leg and foot, including the remains of children, but all much broken. There were found the remains of six indiiduals at the least, viz, two men, two women and two children, the latter between six and eight years of age. There were several bones of cattle and calves; teeth of horse and ox; a portion of the bones of the foreleg of a dog; several boar’s teeth, tusks and grinders, and parts of jaw bones; a bone ‘scoop’, formed of a shank bone of a horse; and a large quantity of a black unctuous substance, having the appearance of wood or animal charcoal; but no burnt bones. A small portion of a small flint flake was detected in the black paste. Besides the organic remains above enumerated, some pieces of rude pottery were found, which, with a Roman brass coin of the Emperor Germanicus, complete the list of objects yielded…”
A few years later George Witts’ (1883) described the tomb but added little to the description above. When Crawford (1925) came here in December, 1920, the greatest height of the tomb was just ten feet and he described that “the extreme eastern end has been destroyed by quarrying.” He could clearly discern various trenches and the remains of previous excavations around the tomb, but added little further, apart from an important geomantic ingredient:
“It stands near the highest point (763 feet) of the hill and commands a magnificent view. South eastwards can be seen the Berkshire Downs (probably the White Horse Hill and Wayland’s Smithy); northwards May Hill and the Malvern Hills are visible; in the western distance are the Brecknock Beacons and the Black Mountains…”
Crawford later received further notes about the 1863 dig at Bown Hill from the son of Dr Paine that had been written following the original excavation. Although they convey little extra from the above account, I’ll add the notes to this entry in the near future.
Crawford, O.G.S., The Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, John Bellows: Gloucester 1925.
Darvill, Timothy, Prehistoric Gloucestershire, Alan Sutton: Gloucester 1987.
Grinsell, L.V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
Guide, W.V., ‘Address to the Cotteswold Naturalists’ Field Club,’ in Proceedings of the Cotteswold Naturalists’ Field Club, volume 3, 1865.
Witts, George, Archaeological Handbook of Gloucestershire, G. Norman: Cheltenham 1883.