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.
Standing Stone (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SP 257 282
Archaeology & History
We have found only one reference to this lost standing stone that could once be seen adjacent to the very well-preserved Chastleton Barrow Camp to the east of the village. In her scarce little work on the history of Chastleton House, Margaret Dickins (1900) told that,
“the oldest thing to be seen at Chastleton is the prehistoric stone, which till lately served as a field gate post on the Barrow Hill.”
This monolith was one in a series of megalithic sites in and around the village that have been destroyed due to the actions of ill-informed land-owners. In this case, the standing stone was in close association with the subsequent Iron Age encampment (this missing stone should not be confused with the nearby Goose Stones, greatly damaged).
Bennett, P. & Chanter, James, The Complete Rollright Stones, forthcoming
A rare find this! In October 1981, in deepest Gloucestershire on the edge of the Nottingham Hill Iron Age hillfort, archaeologists sifting through what they ostensibly called “occupational debris” along the western edge of the huge enclosed monument, found a singular piece of local oolitic limestone etched with an archetypal cup-and-ring design! The carving was on a typical ‘portable’ piece of stone and would not have been amiss had it been uncovered in a neolithic or Bronze Age cairn in our more northern climes. But this southern example is something of an anomaly.
In Morris & Marshall’s (1983) description of the stone they told how,
“it was found as a loose block lying with the worked surface uppermost, and half-embedded in the plough-soil, together with other slabs and irregular lumps of oolitic limestone of similar size, and of closely related rock-type. The object is a discreet slab with an unworked under-surface weathered by percolation of ground-water along a joint.”
They found that the carved stone was typical of other rocks making up the ramparts at the outer-edges of the hillfort, and at some point in its history may possibly having been included in the walled structures of the fortress itself. However, this is unlikely to have been the original use of the carving. Its inclusion in the Iron Age ramparts would more be a likely consequence of it being appropriated from another, much earlier archaeological site in the area — a chambered tomb or long barrow for example. This re-use of cup-marked stones in the Cotswolds is known to have occurred in the village of Salford, on the church cross-base, 18.75 miles (30.2km) east of here.
The Nottingham Hill cup-and-ring was described in some detail by Morris & Marshall (1983). The rock on which it was carved measured one square-foot in size and barely 3 inches thick. The central cup-mark measured,
“approximately 15.5cm in diameter, and a shallow radial groove (channel 1) leads from it to the edge of the stone. The central cup-mark is surrounded close to its lip by a penannular channel or ‘ring’ (channel 2), which has a small depression at one end. This end of channel 2 appears to be discontinuous with channel 1, but there is a very lightly pecked connection at the other end. Outside channel 2 is a second shallower ring or channel (channel 3) but because of its shallowness it is difficult to determine whether it links with the radial channel 1. Channel 3 contains a clear, small cup-mark part-way along its length, and is quite definite on one side of the central cup-mark, and on the other side it is possibly mirrored by a rather indistinct depression or cup-mark and length of channel. Channel 3 is not continuous throughout its length, ending where it meets the edge of the stone beyond the small cup-marks.”
It is obvious that the carving, whenever it was made, was not subjected to long-term exposure to the outside air, as the carved design would have eroded quite quickly on the oolitic limestone.
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, England, Ancient and Historical Monuments in the County of Gloucester: Volume 1 – Iron Age and Romano-British Monuments in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, HMSO: London 1976.
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.
In Pennick & Devereux’s (1989) early assessment of our enigmatic cursus monuments, he wrote the following brief notes of this particular site:
“The crop marks of another fragmentary cursus were found in Gloucestershire immediately north of Lechlade, to the west of the River Leach. The crop marks aligned northwest-southeast for 174 yards (160 metres) and were 160 feet (50 metres) wide. Only the square northwest end is known. Excavations were carried out in 1965 in advance of gravel workings. No finds were reported, but two out of three cuttings revealed a post-hole on the inside of the ditch.”
Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.