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

Round Dikes, Addingham, West Yorkshire

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – SE 0552 5013

Also Known as:

  1. Round Dykes
  2. The Camp

Getting Here

Round Dikes on 1850 map

First highlighted on the 1850 Ordnance Survey map of western Addingham in the same year William Howson described it, this large oval embankment sits on the eastern side of Counter Hill, amidst its gigantic earthworks, with attending tumuli, cup-and-rings, buried standing stones and other enclosures, like one huge prehistoric family of ancient sites!  The earthworks here are in slightly better condition than the nearby ones at Marchup, as we can still make out the ditch marking the site.

There have been many literary visitors to the Round Dikes and its cluster of sites.  One of the early ones was by the renowned historians and antiquarians, Forrest & Grainge (1868) who, in the second part of their ‘rambles’ exploring the prehistoric sites on and around Rombald’s Moor in the 1860s, told us:

“The Camp—known locally as Round Dykes—is of an irregular oval shape, the longest axis measuring over all 300 feet, and the shorter 250 feet.  The trench outside the vallum is about 15 feet wide, and 4 or 5 feet in depth.  The area is level, showing no indications of buildings or works of any kind.  A feeble spring of water rises at one corner.  The trench is regular and even, and does not appear to have ever been used as a series of pit dwellings.  This work commands a large and splendid view of Wharfedale…”

Although suggested by Thomas Whitaker (1878) in his magnum opus on the history of Craven, to have been constructed by the Romans—who laid a road nearby on top of another earlier trackway—the site is obviously prehistoric.  But when the late great Harry Speight (1900) ventured over for a gander at the end of the 1890s, he too thought it might be Roman.  Finding the place to be “thickly overgrown with ling,” it was still in very good condition he said, telling “how its outline is almost as perfect as when made seventeen or eighteen centuries ago.” He continued:

“The form bespeaks a rather late date, having the characteristic angles, which makes the ordinary streight-sided rectangle into an octogan, giving it the appearance superficially of a round or oval.  Its dimensions are based on the most approved form of castramentation, the length being one-third greater than the breadth, namely sixty yards wide and eighty yards long.  A watch-mound has been thrown up within the southwest angle, and the whole camp defended with a double rampart having an intervening ditch.  There is an old and excellent spring of water on the east sie of the camp; the site having been well chosen, commanding as it does, a splendid view of the valley and Street as it runs towards Olicana.”

By the time Eric Cowling (1946) came and looked at these earthworks, the opinion had truly swayed to seeing Round Dikes as a prehistoric site and not Roman.  Cowling placed it firmly in the Iron Age!  His profile of the site told:

“On the Western slope of Counter Hill and with a wide view of Wharfedale to the east is a second enclosure with five sides.  Three of these form the three sides of a square and the remaining two bend outwards to enclose a spring on the lower eastern side.  This enclosure is one hundred feet across from east to west and in the opposite direction the greatest measurement is seventy-three feet.  The ditch is fifteen feet wide and varies in depth from three to five feet and there appears to have been an entrance in the eastern angle.  There is an unfinished look about the earthwork; the inner and outer banks vary in height and are not continuous.  The position is badly sited for defence, being overlooked from the higher ground to the west.  The site would be very suitable for excavation, for it has been untouched by cultivation and is undisturbed.”

E.T. Cowling’s plan

And as far as I’m aware, no such excavation has yet been done here; and as we all know the local archaeologist is pretty poor when it comes doing such things round here, so god only knows when the real explorers and scientists will ever get their teeth into the place!  However, the writers and archaeology consultants John and Phillip Dixon told that “a limited survey of parts of Round Dykes defined nine hut circles or parts of circles and possible hearth sites” in the 1980s.  And although they ascribe the large earthwork as being Iron Age, the tumulus which sits near the southern edge of the enclosure is ascribed as Bronze Age.

It’s likely that the internal tumulus (a separate profile of it is forthcoming) was of communal and religious importance at Round Dykes.  There was probably ritual function here within the enclosure, though only at certain times, when and where the ancestral spirits in the tomb awoke or were required to help the living.  The spring of water on the eastern side of the enclosure, above the tumulus, was obviously not just the main drinking supply for the people who stayed here, but would also have had ritual importance (water, forget not, is tantamount to blood in ancestral cosmologies, and not a ‘commodity’ as the half-witted retards in modern culture have profaned it in their shallow beliefs).  In the Lands of the Dead, water is vital for gods, spirits and the sustenance of the underworlds. (Eliade 1979)  You might not think that; judæochristians might not think that — but the worlds of experience are much wider and deeper than the failing beliefs of atheists and monotheists…

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  2. Bennett, Paul, The Prehistoric Sites of Counter Hill, Addingham, forthcoming 2013.
  3. Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
  4. Forrest, C. & Grainge, William, A Ramble on Rumbald’s Moor, among the Dwellings, Cairns and Circles of the Ancient Britons in the Spring of 1868: Part 2 – Counterhill and Castleberg, W.T. Lamb: Wakefield 1868.
  5. Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys through Brigantia – volume 1: Walks in Craven, Airedale and Wharfedale, Aussteiger Publications: Barnoldswick 1990.
  6. Eliade, Mircea, A History of Religious Ideas – volume 1, Collins: London 1979.
  7. Howson, William, An Illustrated Guide to the Curiosities of Craven, Whittaker: Settle 1850.
  8. Speight, Harry, Upper Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1900.
  9. Whitaker, Thomas Dunham, The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven in the County of York, (3rd edition) Joseph Dodgson: Leeds 1878.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.947245, -1.917385 Round Dikes

Castle Hill, Little Wittenham, Oxfordshire

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – SU 5696 9244

Also Known as:

  1. Sinodun Camp
  2. Wittenham Clumps

Getting Here

Either reach this from Dorchester’s Dyke Hills by crossing the bridge over the Thames at its southwestern side and walk thru the village and up the fields to the wooded rise on your left; or simply get take the road between Brightwell-cum-Sotwell to the delightful village of Little Wittenham and, on your right-hand side, notes the unmissable clump of trees and rise in the fields on your right.  That’s the place!

Archaeology & History

Major Allen’s 1932 photo

To be found on the southern side of the River Thames, across from the huge Dyke Hills camp, this prominent enclosed hillfort was thought to be a place where the tribal peoples of differing groups converged — the Dubonni, the Catuvellauni, and Atrebates peoples.  And to this day it remains impressive.  Long thought to have been merely the province of Iron Age settlers, in more recent years it has shown to have had a longer and richer history than academics previously dare write about.  In Jean Cook’s (1985) fine work on the archaeology of the region, she described the typical narrative Castle Hill elicited from professionals until only a few years back, saying:

“The hillfort on Wittenham Clumps covers approximately 4 hectares (c. 10 acres) and comprises a single ditch and rampart.  It commands superb views northwards up the Thames valley and to the south and west across the Vale of White Horse to the Berkshire Downs, where a series of similar hillforts follows the line of an ancient route — the Ridgeway.  The fort has never been excavated, although frequent past ploughings have produced Iron Age and early Saxon sherds as well as Romano-British pottery.  However, to the south of the hillfort…a well-stratified Iron Age settlement was found.  It seems probable on the basis of other excavated sites that the fort was permanently occupied.  It would have developed as  a regional administrative and political centre, with specialist craftsmen and traders and would have performed some of the same functions as a medieval market town.”

Although Cook’s latter remarks should be addressed with caution (market economics was far from the mythic perspectives of Iron Age people), this great site was of obvious importance.  But later excavations at the site in 2002-03 showed that the site had in fact been used by neolithic people and, around the tops, flints and other remains were found that took human activity here back into mesolithic times, with some finds dated around 6000 BC!  More surprisingly (to archaeologists anyway) was that Castle Hill continued to be used way into medieval times!

Thankfully much of this place is still pretty well-preserved and is well worth exploring to historians, pagans and walkers.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Cook, Jean, “Before the Roman Conquest,” in Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
  2. Cook, Jean & Rowley, Trevor (eds.), Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.

Links:

  1. An Interim Summary Report on Excavations at Castle Hill, Wittenham Clumps

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Castle Hill

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Castle Hill 51.627848, -1.178521 Castle Hill

Dyke Hills, Dorchester, Oxfordshire

Settlement:  OS Grid Reference – SU 5735 9364

Also Known as:

  1. Dorchester Dykes
  2. Dorchester Fort

Getting Here

Easy to find.  From Dorchester town centre, take the road at the bottom of town where the church is and walk along to the end where a footpath takes you into the field.  Once here you’ll note a rise in the land at the end, stretching away to the west and the River Thames.  That’s your Dyke Hills!

Archaeology & History

Plan of Dyke Hills (after Cook, 1985)

This site is another example of the considerable neglect shown to the prehistoric archaeological remains in and around the Dorchester region, despite Jean Cook (1985) describing the place as “a site of major local, regional and national importance.”  Which is a pity, as the site here was once huge and it seems that much could have been learned from here.  (you’ve gotta ask: do those doods who allegedly work for English Heritage care more for the ancient sites, or the money their organization gets?)

Lane-Fox’s 1870 survey

It would seem that the majority of the site was Iron Age in nature, with snifflings of Bronze Age remains scattered here and there. The primary position of the massive dykes and construction of internal domestic structures immediately below (south) of the dykes, was hemmed in on all sides by the surrounding River Thames and one of its tributaries, giving the place an excellent position in terms of food, plus shelter and protection from any intrusive tribes or hungry winter animals.

The first excavation at the huge dykes that define the northern edge of this ‘monument’ was done in 1870 by the renowned General Pitt-Rivers, then later Colonel Lane-Fox (at the time the Secretary of London’s Ethnological Society), as they were very concerned about the damage that was being inflicted upon the site, when the local landowner allowed sections of the banking to be “reduced for cultivation.”  An article in the Saturday Review magazine on July 2, 1870, told of these concerns and what was written — as Jean Cook so rightly tells — “has a depressingly modern ring to it”:

“…the fortress at Dorchester and the fortress on Sinodun (Castle Hill) are among the most speaking monuments of the earliest history of our island, and till lately they were among its most perfect monuments.  But it is a grievous truth that while we are writing, the dykes at Dorchester are being levelled.  Hitherto the neighbourhood ground has been grazed and the harmless sheep is no foe to history; but it has lately occurred to the owner of the ground hat a few shillings more of yearly profit might be gained by turning pasture land into arable; and to such a sordid motive as this these precious antiquities are at this very moment being sacrificed.  At least a third of the dyke has already been lowered, and will gradually be utterly destroyed beneath the yearly passage of ruin’s merciless plough share.  Such wanton destruction naturally aroused the indignation of men of taste and knowledge, especially in the neighbouring University.  A vigourous appeal to the owner to stay his hand was made by some of the most eminent Oxford residents, and an attempt was made to call public attention to the subject by describing the state of the case in various newspapers…”

Lane-Fox’s 1872 photo

But the digging into the dykes continued.  For some time at least — until Colonel Lane-Fox himself went to the see the landowner and “persuaded” him to stop what he was doing.  A method we should always keep in mind ourselves…

The modern state of the Dyke Hills is summarised once again in Jean Cook’s (1985) fine survey of the region, where she wrote:

“This great enclosure, known to archaeologists as an oppidum, covered 46 hectares (c. 114 acres) and as defended by a massive double bank and ditch to the north and to the east.  The southern and western boundaries have all but disappeared, but can be traced in lines of modern field boundaries beyond which the Thames forms a natural boundary.  The interior is (now) empty, but cropmarks reveal that it is full of enclosures, pits and circular houses aligned along a regular pattern of internal roads.  Although there has been no scientific excavation within Dyke Hills, ploughing of the site has produced one of the densest concentrations of Iron Age coins in Britain.”

It would appear that this site was of considerable importance for local tribes and would have been home to powerful chiefs and impressive-looking shamans!  The large Castle Hill site immediately across the river would have had obvious links to this once-omportant prehistoric settlement.

References:

  1. Cook, Jean, “Before the Roman Conquest,” in Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
  2. Cook, Jean & Rowley, Trevor (eds.), Dorchester through the Ages, Oxford University 1985.
  3. Williams, Geoffrey, The Iron Age Hillforts of England, Horace Books 1993.

 © Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Dyke Hills settlement

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Dyke Hills settlement 51.638652, -1.173026 Dyke Hills settlement

The Carrs, Ovenden, Halifax, West Yorkshire

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – SE 0555 2993

Also Known as:

  1. Rough Carrs

Getting Here

Aerial view of enclosure & outlying earthworks

Troublesome to get to if you don’t know the area. You can get here rom Halifax, up through Highroad Well towards Wainstalls, keeping to the road that leads to the Oxenhope windmills.  A short distance before the windmills, as the road levels out, keep your eye out on the right where the valley drops down (east) to the Halifax golf-course.  If you’re coming from Oxenhope, walk up past the windmills at Nab End until the road starts going back downhill.  As you look down and walk past the valley with the golf course in it, a footpath is on your left running diagonally over a field.  Cross the stile and walk alongside the wall for about 200 yards until you reach a gate on your left.  Go through this and walk along until you see the ditched earthworks that make up this little-known monument…

Archaeology & History

Not to be confused with the large circular enclosure that once crowned the nearby Hunter Hill, the nature and age of this large D-shaped earthwork has long been a source of speculation, with the majority of it centring around a Roman origin — and for good reason, it has to be said!

NW section of earthworks
Southern section of ditch

More than 280 yards (260m) in circumference, its north-south axis measures 82 yards (75m) at the greatest and 88 yards (81m) east-west.  Its main feature is a decent ditch that averages 8-10 feet across round most of the D-shaped feature, and between 2-3 feet deep.  It would obviously have been deeper than this when the ditches were first dug, but it’s now very overgrown across the entire site with Juncus grasses and tribbles (tussocks). A small internal ditch runs into the enclosure from the northern side.  Its function is unknown.  A small mound near the centre of the site has been posited by Calderdale archaeologists to be modern remains.

Carrs enclosure on 1852 map
Carrs enclosure on 1852 map

Although the main feature is the D-shaped earthwork, other features are apparent.  For example, what looks like another man-made dyke cutting into the site on the southwestern side is in fact a natural stream channel.  This natural feature may have been an integral part of the enclosure when it was first built.  Above the northwestern edge of the ditch (as can be seen on the aerial photo) are other earthworks that run around the western edge of the main feature.  This is probably what F.A. Leyland (1867) meant when he described there to be “the remains of several lines of intrenchments” here.  Also coming into the southwestern side are what are thought to be the remains of a Roman Road.  Early OS-maps (above) show the road running within yards of this enclosure — and it was this which, logically, led many earlier researchers to posit the notion that this site was in fact Roman.  However, a dig here in 1951 recovered prehistoric pottery, which knocked the date back to the Iron Age.

Northern line of ditch

On the south and east sides, parts of the ditch and embankment have been removed by quarrying and farm-workings, with the walling on the eastern side completely ruining that part of the monument.   A great number of flints have been found on the hills above here.  I’m unable to give a more detailed exposition on the archaeological finds at this site as I don’t have a copy of Mr Varley’s (1997) essay that he wrote for the Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society, which apparently gives more info.  When I manage to get a copy of the journal/essay, I’ll add the relevant data to this profile.

A note must also be made of another, previously unrecognized enclosure on the same hilltop a couple of hundred yards to the west from here.  Very little trace of it is still visible at ground level, but the outline of the curvaceous quadrilateral ditch form can be seen from the air.  It would appear from its form to be consistent with an Iron Age enclosure, though without further research this has to be proclaimed as hypothetical.  No excavations are planned here in the near future.

Folklore

In F.A. Leyland’s (1867) superb commentary to Mr Watson’s History of Halifax, he told us:

“There is a well-preserved tradition amongst the inhabitants that a battle in which numbers fell was fought at a place called the Slaughters or Slaughter Gap, in the hollow between the Carrs and Hunter-hill.  Fragments of gun-barrels and locks, with human bones, have been found about the place…”

But Leyland deemed the armoury finds here — that appeared to substantiate the folklore — were from a much later period in history than the enclosure.  But I must draw attention to the remarkable Mixenden Finds, as they’ve become known: a collection of finely polished prehistoric axes and other stone remains a few hundred yards below The Carrs and which may relate to such folklore.

References:

  1. Leyland, F.A., The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax, by the Reverend John Watson, M.A., R.Leyland: Halifax n.d. (c.1867)
  2. Varley, Raymond, “The Excavation of Castle Stead at Manywells Height, near Cullingworth, West Yorkshire,” in Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society, volume 19, 1997.
  3. Varley, Raymond A., “Lost Neolithic and Bronze Age Finds from Mixenden, near Halifax, West Yorkshire,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 70, 1998.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

The Carrs enclosure

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The Carrs enclosure 53.765690, -1.917286 The Carrs enclosure

Counter Hill, Addingham, West Yorkshire

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – SE 051 501

Getting Here

Counter Hill, looking north

You can come from various angles to approach this site, but I reckon the best is from along the old trackway of Parson’s Lane, between Addingham and Marchup.  From Silsden go up the long hill (A6034) towards Addingham until the hill levels out, then turn left on Cringles Lane (keep your eyes peeled!) for about 500 yards until you reach the Millenium Way or Parson’s Lane track, to your right.  As you walk along this usually boggy old track, the rounded green hill ahead, to the left, if where you’re heading.  Less than 100 yards past the little tumulus of High Marchup there’s a stile on your left that takes you into the field.  You’ll notice the depression that runs across near the top, at an angle.  That’s part of the earthworks!

Archaeology & History

The Counter Hill earthworks just over the far western edge of Rombald’s Moor – thought to be Iron Age – are truly gigantic.   More than ¾-mile across along its longest NW-SE axis, and a half-mile from north-south at its widest point, this huge ellipse-shaped earthwork surrounds the rounded peaked hill that gives the site its name: Counter Hill.  And although Harry Speight (1900) thought the hill got its name from the old Celtic conaltradh, or Irish conaltra, as in the ‘hill of debate or conversation’ — a possibility — the place-name master Mr Smith (1961) reckoned its name comes from little other than ‘cow turd hill’!  We may never know for sure…

Earthworks south of Counter Hill
Cowling’s 1946 plan

The Lancashire historian Thomas Dunham Whitaker (1878) appears to have been one of the first people to describe the Counter Hill remains, though due to the sheer size of the encampment he thought that it was Roman in nature.  Within the huge enclosure we also find two large inner enclosures, known as the Round Dikes and the Marchup earthworks.  Whitaker’s description of Counter Hill told:

“There are two encampments, on different sides of the hill, about half a mile from each other: one in the township of Addingham, the other in the parish of Kildwick; the first commanding a direct view of Wharfedale, the second an oblique one of Airedale; but though invisible to each other, both look down aslant upon Castleburg (Nesfield) and Ilkley.  Within the camp on Addingham Moor are a tumulus and a perennial spring; but by a position very unusual in such encampments, it is commanded on the west by a higher ground, rising immediately from the foss.  The inconvenience, however, is remedied by an expedient altogether new, so far as I have observed, in Roman castramentation, which is a line of circumvallation, enclosing both camps, and surround the whole hill: an area, probably, of 200 acres.  A garrison calculated for the defence of such an outline must have been nothing less than an army.  But it would be of great use in confining the horses and other cattle necessary for the soldiers’ use, which, in the unenclosed state of the country at the time, might otherwise have wandered many miles without interruption.  The outlines of these remains is very irregular; it is well known, however, that in their summer encampments the Romans were far from confining themselves to a quadrangular figure, and when we consider their situation near the Street, and the anxious attention with which they have been placed, so as to be in view of Ilkley or Castleburg, there can be little danger of a mistake in ascribing them to that people.”

Counter Hill earthworks, looking west

And though Whitaker’s sincerity and carefully worded logic for the period is quite erudite (much moreso than the greater majority of historians in modern times), his proclamation of the Counter Hill earthworks as Roman is very probably wrong (soz Tom).  The embankments are much more probably Iron Age in nature and are very probably the result of indigenous tribal-folk than that of the incoming Romans.  Most modern archaeologists and historians tend to see the entrenchments as being from such a period and I have to concur.

Folklore

The old antiquarian Edmund Bogg (1904) wrote that the Counter Hill earthworks were built as a result “of the struggle between the Anglians and the Celt,” long ago.  The great Yorkshire historian Harry Speight (1900) narrated similar lore just a few years earlier, but told that the tradition was  “of how the Romans drove the natives from this commanding site of Counter Hill.”

References:

  1. Bogg, Edmund, Higher Wharfeland: The Dale of Romance, James Miles: Leeds 1904.
  2. Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
  3. Fletcher, J.S., A Pictureseque History of Yorkshire – Part IX, J.M. Dent: London 1901.
  4. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 6, Cambridge University Press 1961.
  5. Speight, Harry, Upper Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1900.
  6. Whitaker, T.D., The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven, 3rd edition, Joseph Dodgson: Leeds 1878.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Counter Hill

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Counter Hill 53.946980, -1.923785 Counter Hill

Devil’s Dyke, Poynings, Sussex

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – TQ 260 111

Also Known as:

  1. Brighton Dyke
  2. Poor Man’s Wall 

Getting Here

Map of Devil's Dyke
Map of Devil’s Dyke

Plenty of ways of approaching this huge fella!  Personally, I’d take it from the steep valley immediately east and north where the ramparts drop you down the hill, if only to get a decent idea of the scale of the thing!  But those of you into taking it easy can do no better than take the country road south out of Poynings village (towards Brighton), down Saddlescombe Road, for just under a mile, where you should take a right-hand turn along the Summer Down lane for a mile. You’ll then hit the Devil’s Dyke Road. Turn right here and go to the end.  You’re right in the middle of it!

Archaeology & History

Early plan of Devil’s Dyke ‘camp’

Although most of this huge monument hasn’t been given the investigation it deserves — hence making knowledge of its origins more speculative than factual — as Jacquetta Hawkes (1973) wrote, seemingly all those years ago now, “it is known that a village lying half in and round them was occupied in the Belgic period at the end of the Iron Age.”  And it’s certainly big enough!  The encircling circuit of dykes themselves stretch all the way round a distance of more than 2150 yards long (that’s 1.22 miles, or 1.97km!), with the longest east-west axis being more than half-a-mile across.

Nowadays it seems, the Devil’s Dyke is the name given to the steep valley below the encampment, but a hundred years back it was the camp itself that was known by this name.  Described by the wandering antiquarian R. Hippisley Cox (1927) as “a camp containing forty acres (with) very steep and difficult approaches,” another early account in The Antiquaries Journal — commenting on a ground-plan of the site from the Brighton and Hove Herald of 1925 — told:

“The heavy encircling lines represent ramparts, and the thin line marks the outer margin of the accompanying ditch.  A spur renders the earthwork weakest on the south-west, and the rampart is therefore highest between the points 1 and 3, rising 21ft vertically above the ditch, which is nearly filled up at the present time.  On the north-west there is steep slope outside the camp, and the ramparts are considerably lower, the iner ditch being nearly obliterated.  The outer rampart is now wanting betwen 7 and 8, but this inner one becomes stronger as the outer slope of the ground decreases, only to die away again on the south-east where the camp overlooks the steep Dyke Valley.  A double-bank and inner ditch can still be traced from the north-east angle to a point near the old golf-club house.”

I first came here as a young lad and the site was lost on me (in them days, if monuments weren’t stiff and upright, I really didn’t see the point!).  These days however, the size of it alone blows you away somewhat.

Folklore

As you’d expect the creation myths of this site and its edges relate to our old heathen friend, the devil!  The landscape itself was, in old lore, the work of the devil (though prior to this, the devil was known in peasant-lore to be a legendary giant, though I am unaware of the name/s of the giant in question); and the great valley below the Devil’s Dyke encampment was actually dug out by Old Nick in the old tales.  That old folklorist Jacqueline Simpson (1973) takes up the story:

“The Devil…had been infuriated by the conversion of Sussex, one of the last strongholds of paganism in England, and more particularly by the way the men of the Weald were building churches in all their villages.  So he swore that he would dig right through the Downs in a single night, to let in the sea and drown them all.  He started just near Poynings and dug and dug most furiously, sending great clods of earth flying left and right — one became Chanctonbury, another Cissbury,  another Rackham Hill, and yet another Mount Caburn.  Towards midnight, the noise he was making disturbed an old woman, who looked out to see what was going on.  As soon as she understood what he was up to, she lit a candle and set it on her window-sill, holding up a sieve in front of it to make a dimly glowing globe.  The Devil looked round, and thought this was the rising sun.  At first he could hardly believe his eyes, but then he heard a cock crowing — for the old woman, just to make quite sure, had knocked her cockerel off his perch.  So Satan flew away, leaving his work half done.  Some say that as he went out over the Channel, a great dollop of earth fell from his cloven hoof, and that’s how the Isle of Wight was made; others, that he bounded straight over into Surry, where the impact of his landing formed the hollow known as his Punch Bowl.”

That’s the story anyway — take it or leave it!  Of importance in this fable is the figure of the “old woman”: a much watered-down version of the cailleach figure of more ancient northern and Irish climes, where tales of her doings are still very much alive.  And many are the tales of her battles with other giant figures, just as we evidently once had here.

Ghosts have been reported by local people upon this hill-top site; and there are a number of other folktales to be found here…which I’ll unfold over time as the months pass by…

References:

  1. Anon., “Notes: The Brighton Dyke,” in The Antiquaries Journal, 5:4, October 1925.
  2. Clinch, G., “Ancient Earthworks,” in Victoria County History of Sussex – volume 2 (edited by W. Page), St. Catherine’s Press: London 1905.
  3. Cox, R. Hippisley, The Green Roads of England, Methuen: London 1927.
  4. Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide to the Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales, Chatto & Windus: London 1973.
  5. Hogg, A.H.A., “Some Aspects of Surface Fieldwork,” in The Iron Age and its Hillforts (edited by M. Jesson & David Hill), Southampton University Archaeology Society 1971.
  6. Simpson, Jacqueline, The Folklore of Sussex, Batsford: London 1973.
  7. Simpson, Jacqueline, “Sussex Local Legends,” in Folklore Journal, volume 84, 1973.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Devil's Dyke

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Devil\'s Dyke 50.886007, -0.209097 Devil\'s Dyke

Catstones Ring, Harden, West Yorkshire

Earthworks:  OS Grid Reference – SE 0680 3808

Also Known as:

  1. Blood Dykes

Getting Here

Catstones Ring on 1852 OS-map

Various ways here. From Keighley, go up the Halifax Road, first left after the Ingrow West train station, uphill, then up the long zizaggy road till you hit the pub at the crossroads.  Park up and walk along the road in front of the pub for 1-200 yards and look at the hill above you! Alternatively, from Bingley go up to Harden on the B6429 and literally just where the village ends, there’s a small right-turn (if you’re going past the fields on either side, you’ve just missed the turning!). Go up there till the road reaches the top and stop! Catstones Hill is in the heather over the wall on your left!

Archaeology & History

A somewhat anomalous earthwork site, with lots of archaeohistorical speculation behind it, but no firm conclusion as to its precise nature as yet.  Defined variously as an earthwork, an enclosure (for both people and cattle!) and a settlement by respective archaeologists over the years, there is little to be seen of the place on the ground and it doesn’t tend to bring raptures of delight to the common antiquarian. When William Keighley (1858) described this place, Catstones Ring was,

“enclosed on three sides by a considerable bank of earth, and bears evident marks of the plough. The country people believe it to have been an intrenchment or camp.”

Mrs Ella Armitage (1905) thought this site may have been “a prehistoric fort,” but said little more about it.  In the same year however, Mr Butler Wood (1905) gave us a much better account of the place, describing Catstones Ring as “the most striking earthwork in the neighbourhood of Bradford.”  His broader description told that:

“It encloses the crest and slope of a hill, and measures 266 yards on the east side (which is perfect), and 100 yards on the north side; the latter, however, being traceable at least 100 yards further across cultivated fields.  The south side is almost obliterated by quarries, while the western portion has disappeared altogether.  The fosse which surrounded this fine fortification is still visible on the eastern side.”

A couple of years later two short notes were made of the site in Forshaw’s Yorkshire Notes and Queries.  Peter Craik (1907) of Keighley described the dimensions of the main ring as being “110 x 320 yards (rough guess),” and he also described finding the remains of a cairn in the outer dyke section (marked as ‘X’ on Craik’s diagram, below).  On the nature of the site, he wrote:

“Catstones would appear to have been built as a defence against invasion from the south, for in contrast to the early defensible approach from that direction is the fact that to the  north lies the undulating expanse of Harden Moor, which for the most part is on a level with the ring, even the highest point in the immediate vicinity being without the main circle, though enclosed in a minor outwork.  The large extent of the ring makes it rather difficult to believe that enough men could be collected in the immediate neighbourhood to man the lines satisfactorily; and again as a shelter for cattle, etc, in time of war it does not appear to be well designed, for most of the interior would be commanded within easy range of arrows.  Certain old excavations exist within the ring; probably they were made in search of gravel or some such material, but is this conjecture certain?  Can they possibly mark the site of dwellings?”

J.J. Brigg (1907) followed up Craik’s short piece with the suggestion that the site was Roman in origin, saying:

“In showing the 6in map to Professor Bosanquet of Liverpool…he said there was no reason why it should not be Roman, merely because there is no masonry.  The Roman legions went into laager* every night, and it is quite possible that some very large body of soldiers halting there for the night might have thrown up an earthwork and planted thereon the stakes which they always carried with them for that purpose.”

But I think this is most unlikely.  Very little has been found here to give us a better idea of dates and function; and in a limited excavation here in 1962, no artifacts of any kind were located.  A little more recently, J.J. Keighley (1981) has suggested the site to be Iron Age in date, describing it as one of the most impressive sites of its kind in the region. The Catstones Ring is “a 6.5 hectare quadrangular ditched enclosure,” he wrote, which he thought had been much destroyed by the adjacent quarrying.

“Aerial photographs taken by the County Archaeology Unit in 1977 however, shows that the southeastern corner of the enclosure and parts of its southern ditch survived the quarrying. Villy (1921) observed an outwork to the north of the main enclosure, which was visible on aerial photographs taken in 1948, and the 1977 aerial photographs…show a possible annexe attached to the outside of the northeastern corner of the main enclosure.”

P. Craik’s 1907 drawing

This extended section of Catstones’ main earthworks were, in fact, first described in the article by Peter Craik (1907), as shown in the hand-drawn plan of the site here.  And in all honesty, virtually nowt’s been done since these early antiquarians diggings and essays.  The information from the present day Sites and Monuments Record says that the site is a “late prehistoric enclosed settlement” and that quarrying has destroyed much of the west side.

Folklore

Harry Speight (1892) reported the earthworks here to have been a site where a great battle once took place, between the local people and the early Scottish tribes.

References:

  1. Armitage, E., ‘The Non-Sepulchral Earthworks of Yorkshire,’ in Bradford Antiquary, New Series 2, 1905.
  2. Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann: Milverton 2001.
  3. Brigg, John J., “Catstones Ring,” in C.F. Forshaw’s Yorkshire Notes & Queries, volume 3 (H.C. Derwent: Bradford 1907).
  4. Craik, Peter, “Catstones Ring,” in C.F. Forshaw’s Yorkshire Notes & Queries, volume 3 (H.C. Derwent: Bradford 1907).
  5. Keighley, J.J., “The Prehistoric Period,” in Faull & Moorhouse’s, West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Survey to AD 1500 (WYMCC: Wakefield 1981).
  6. Keighley, William, Keighley, Past and Present, R. Aked: Keighley 1858.
  7. Speight, Harry, Chronicles and Stories of Old Bingley, Elliott Stock: London 1892.
  8. Villy, Francis, Some Intrenchments of Large Size in the Keighley District, Keighley 1908.
  9. Villy, Francis, “The Slag-Heaps of Harden,” in Bradford Antiquary, volume 6, 1921.
  10. Wood, Butler, ‘Pre-Historic Antiquities of the Bradford District,’ in Bradford Antiquary, New Series 2, 1905.

* a formation of armoured vehicles used for quick resupply or refueling.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Catstones Ring

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Catstones Ring 53.838928, -1.898146 Catstones Ring

Danes Dyke, Flamborough, East Yorkshire

Earthworks:  OS Grid Reference – TA 2156 6923 (south) to TA 2131 7323

Getting Here

A 2½-mile long earthwork can obviously be reached from all sorts of ways, but coming out of Flamborough towards Bridlington (B1255 road) you can go down the Home Farm road and park up; and from here walk up the pleasant woodland walk, literally from coast to coast, where you’ll see good portions of the earthwork intact.

Archaeology & History

An impressive site by any means.  Running from Dykes End on its southern edge for 2½ mile, roughly north, until hitting the North Sea again at the other Dykes End, this great earthwork had little to do with the Danes.  It seems to have been originally started around 3000 years ago in the early Iron Age.  As Mr Gower (1975) told:

“Excavations carried out at the end of the (19th) century revealed traces of a flint workshop and many arroheads were found… The earthwork is about 18 feet high and on the western side is a ditch 60 feet wide.  Several openings are to be seen, but these are probably comparatively recent.”

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Gower, E., Flamborough, Dalesman: Clapham 1975.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Danes Dyke

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Danes Dyke 54.122145, -0.145407 Danes Dyke

Stanwick Fortifications, North Yorkshire

Settlement:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 1783 1229

1850 map of village & earthworks

Getting Here

From Scotch Corner on the A1, head on the A66 and take the first right up to and straight thru Melsonby village at the crossroads and on for a few more miles till you hit the hamlet of Stanwick-St.-John.  You’re now in the middle of the fortifications and earthworks! (check the map, right) Get to the nearby church of St. John’s and you’re on what once could have been a henge.

Archaeology & History

Although the Roman’s came here, the origins of this huge enclosure and settlement — between the hamlets of Eppleby and Stanwick St. John — are at least Iron Age.  It’s very probable that this place has been used by people since at least the Bronze Age, if not earlier — but let’s keep to playing safe (for a change) and repeat what the professionals have found!  Stanwick was recorded in Domesday as Stenwege and Steinwege, which A.H. Smith (1928) and later etymologists tell us means “stone walls,” which obviously relates “to some ancient rock entrenchments found in the township”, or the Stanwick Fortifications no less!

Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s (1954) account of the history and excavation of these huge ramparts found that it was a centre of some importance to the Brigantians. His view was that it was the rebel stronghold of the Brigantian figure called Venutius, ex-partner of the Queen Cartimandua.  Archaeologists who did further work here in the 1980s concluded that it was one of Cartimandua’s “estates” — possibly even the original capital city of Brigantia.

Church on the circular henge-like remains (phot courtesy Pete Glastonbury)
Church on the circular henge-like remains (photo © Pete Glastonbury)

The settlement was enlarged and fortified considerably upon the arrival of the Romans in the first century. Splitting them into three phases, the earliest Phase I area (Iron Age) covered 17-acres; Phase II was extended over 130 acres; and Phase 3 extended the enclosure over another 600 acres.  A further extension of earthworks appears to have occurred, but Wheeler believed them to have been constructed at a much later period.  To allow for a decent discourse on this huge site and its multiperiod settlement, I’m gonna quote extensively Mr Wheeler’s (1954) text on the site, who headed a team of archaeologists in the summers of 1951 and 1952 and explored various sections of this huge arena.

In the introduction to his work, Mortimer briefly mentioned the finding of some chariot burials found close by, though less certain is the exact spot where these important remains came from.  He wrote:

“Of the three accounts, the earliest, dating from shortly after the discovery, states that the objects ‘were deposited together in a pit at a depth of about five feet within the entrenchment at Stanwick.  Near by large iron hoops were found.’  Two years later MacLauchlan showed the find-spot on his map…as a little to the northeast of Lower Langdale, well outside the main Stanwick earthworks, and, in spite of variant accounts, his evidence may be regarded as authoritative.”

Nothing more is said of these finds throughout the book.  Instead, Mortimer guides us through their dig, beginning with the structural sequence of the extensive earthworks that constitute Stanwick’s fortifications, from Phase 1 onwards, saying:

Plan showing 3-phase evolution of the Stanwick earthworks from the Iron Age period at the top, to Phase 3 works in the 1st century AD (from Wheeler’s ‘Stanwick Fortifications’, 1954)

Phase I.  The nucleus of the whole system is a fortified enclosure, some 17 acres in extent, situated to the south of Stanwick Church and the Mary Wild beck, on and around a low hill known as ‘The Tofts’… The name ‘Tofts’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “Site of a homestead”, or “An eminence, knoll or hillock in a flat region; esp. one suitable for the site of a house.”  Appropriately the field is described by the farmer as a ‘dirty’ one; it produces an abundant crop of nettles which have to be cut twice a year and are a common sequel to ancient occupation.  The enclosure is, or rather was, roughly triangular on plan, conforming approximately with the mild contours of the hill and to that extent meriting the exaggerated designation of ‘hill-fort.’  On the west its rampart and ditch are excellently preserved in a stretch of plantation known as ‘The Terrace’ or ‘The Duchess’s Walk’, where the single bank of unrevetted earthwork rises some 24ft above the ditch… The southern corner has been almost completely obliterated, but a part of it can be traced faintly in the walled garden southeast of the The Terrace.  A stretch of the eastern side still stands up boldly beside the road from Stanwick Church to (the former) Stanwick Hall, but a large part of this side has been demolished for the making of the road, and some dumps of earth immediately east of Church Lodge may be a result of this process.  The northern side approached but stopped short of the brook, and is marked by remains of a counterscarp bank… The main rampart was here thrown into the ditch anciently, doubtless when this portion of the work was included in and superseded by the work of Phase II.  Near the northwestern corner was a stone-flanked entrance, now partially obscured by the northern end-wall of the Terrace plantation.  The rampart was of earth, apparently without stone or timber revetment, the ditch was V-shaped save where, on the northern or lowest side, its completion in depth was stopped by water and the counterscarp bank already referred to was added as compensation.

Phase II.  Subsequently, at a moment which will be defined in the sequel as not later than AD 60, the hill-fort was supplemented by a new enclosure over 130 acres in extent, so designed as to outline the slight ridge north of the brook, to bend inward round the nearer foot of Henah Hill on the east, and farther west to cut off the northern end of the hill-fort, obviously in order to enclose the brook and its margin hereabouts.  Southeast of Stanwick Church, the marshy course of the brook for a distance of over 300 yards was regarded as a sufficient obstacle, without rampart and ditch, though whether supplemented by a palisade is not known.  As already indicated, that part of the Phase I earthwork which now lay inside the new enclosure was largely obliterated by filling its rampart into its ditch.

The enclosure constituting Phase II had an entrance near its western corner…where 50ft of the ditch, partially rock-cut, were cleared with notable results… There may have been another entrance under the present road-junction immediately east of the Stanwick vicarage, in the middle of the northern side, or less probably, at an existing gap 150 yards further to the southeast.  The rampart was of earth, aligned initially at the back on a small marking-out trench and bank; in front it was revetted with a vertical drystone wall.  The ditch was cut in the boulder-clay and partially in the underlying limestone…

Phase III.  At a date which will be defined as about a dozen years later (c. AD 72), a similar though longer system, enclosing a further 600 acres, was added to Phase II.  It impinges almost at a right angle upon, and implies the pre-existence of, Phase II on the east, and terminates upon the ditch of Phase II on the west.  An entrance can be seen near the middle of the southern side, and less certainly a gap in Forcett Park may represent a second entrance in the western side.  Further stretches of the mary Wild beck were included. The rampart, like that of Site A, incorporated a marking-out trench and bank at the rear, and was fronted with a vertical stone revetment.

Phase IV.  To the southern side of Phase III was added at an unknown period an enclosure of some 100 acres, now subdivided by traces of a double earthwork extending southwards from a point east  of the southern entrance of Phase III… This double earthwork however, is of an entirely different character from those already considered, and appears indeed to overlap the rampart of Phase III at a point where the latter had already been broken through.  It is comparable with some of the double banks which constitute or are incorporated in the Scots Dike at Lower Langdale, farther east; and the Phase IV enclosure is in fact linked with the Scots Dike by a semi-obliterated ditch extending eastwards from its southeastern corner.  Phase IV…may, as has been suspected, relate to the Anglo-Saxon period.”

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.
  2. Wheeler, Mortimer, ‘The Stanwick Excavations, 1951,’ in Antiquaries Journal, January 1952.
  3. The Stanwick Fortifications, North Riding of Yorkshire, OUP & Society of Antiquaries: London 1954.

Links: – Stanwick Iron Age Hillfort – For an extensive overview of the archaeology of this large site, you can do no better than this web-page.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Stanwick hillfort

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Stanwick hillfort 54.505615, -1.726164 Stanwick hillfort