Nunwick Henge, Ripon, North Yorkshire

Henge Monument:  OS Grid Reference – SE 3229 7484

Archaeology & History

A couple of miles west of the Hutton Moor henge we find the faint remans of another large prehistoric ritual site, soon to fade from existence.  Although the local farmer was aware of the existence of this ‘earth circle’ in his fields in the 1940s, the place wasn’t officially catalogued until Prof. J.K. St. Joseph noticed it following an aerial survey of the region in 1951 (from whence the aerial photo comes).  Today sadly, much of the site has succumbed to the ravages of excessive agricultural activity and is all but destroyed.  Faint traces of it can be seen at ground level when the crops are down, but most of it’s gone.  Even when first discovered, the remains were sparse, as the photo (below) shows.

Early aerial photo of Nunwick henge
Mr Dymond’s early ground- plan (from YAJ, 1963)

Neolithic in origin, the site was excavated in 1961 by D.P. Dymond who explored a portion of the bank and ditch and stripped a small internal section.  His findings showed it to be structurally similar to the other henges in the area and of considerable size.  Measuring 690 feet across, the henge spread across two fields and was bisected by a hedge and farm track.  When Dymond first explored the henge he reported how the surrounding bank was between 1-3 feet high and had been spread to a width of 120 feet; the ditch was just a couple of feet deep; and the original ‘entrances’ north and south of the ring were still just visible as “slight depressions in the bank.”

The Nunwick henge was classed as a Class II henge (after Atkinson).  Five feet smaller than the Thornborough (south) Henge, its entrances are close to north-south.  The River Ure is less than half-a-mile from the site and the presence of other streams close by further emphasizes water as a potentially relevant ingredient. This element  seems to have had some factor in the structure of the henge as there were many water-worn stones found in the embankment, which probably came from the nearby river.  However, like many henges, very few remains were discovered upon excavation here, as Mr Dymond’s (1963) account tells:

“The 1961 Excavation was restricted to a single long section through the northwest side of the circle, to examine the structural details of the bank and ditch, and to confirm the apparent absence of an outer ditch.

“A small area, 22ft square, was stripped inside the ditch to test for pits or postholes, but nothing was found in the sandy silt which covers the gravel deposits.  Air-photographs gave no indication of a former presence of standing features within the enclosure.

“The ditch was found to be 45ft wide and 5ft 10in deep, with a wide, shallow profile.  Allowing for the destruction by ploughing of the upper edges of the ditch, the orignal dimensions of the ditch were undoubtedly greater.  The edges of the ditch were not easy to see in excavation, as the fill was similar to the natural gravel subsoil and some slumping had occurred on the loose gravel faces.  The ditch had apparently silted slowly with material washed in from both sides.  At an early stage in the silting, when the accumulation was about 1ft, there had been occupation in a limited area, revealed by a circular patch of burnt material, 10ft in diameter, which contained many split pot-boilers reddened by fire.

“Between the ditch and bank there was originally a berm of 30ft.  On the surface, this is not visible as the bank shades imperceptibly into the ditch.  The bank was originally about 60ft wide, but is now considerably spread on both sides.  In the 1961 section the bank survived only 18in high; this was sufficient, however, to show clear traces of tip-lines and the interleaving of loads.  The lowest two inches of bank material consist partly of turf… Under the bank, the original turf-line was visible as a purple-black line, 1-3in thick, with traces of a weakly developed iron-pan.  In the original composition on the bank there were many water-worn stones (3-9in across), now in the outer spread and in the bottom of the ditch; on the northern side of the circle where the bank is best preserved there are large quantities of these stones on the plough soil.  Quarried from the bottom of the ditch, where the aggregate of the gravels was much larger, these stones were probably on the top of the bank.

“Two square were dug outside the bank, on the line of the section to text for an outer ditch.  This confirmed the evidence of air-photographs that no such ditch existed.  Of the six henges in the Ripon area, Nunwick is therefore the only one without two ditches.

“No dating evidence was found in the 1961 excavation.  Three worked flints however, were picked up from the plough soil of the southwestern field near the henge. They consist of two waste flakes and a small flake scraper of opaque brown flint.”

Archaeologists and ley hunters alike have described how the Nunwick Henge aligns with the three prominent Thornborough Henges to the north.  Significant…?

References:

  1. Dymond, D.P., “The Henge Monument at Nunwick, near Ripon – 1961 Excavation,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, part 161 (volume 41), 1963.
  2. Wainwright, Geoffrey J., “A Review of Henge Monuments in the Light of Recent Research,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 35, 1969.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Nunwick Henge

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Nunwick Henge 54.168348, -1.506907 Nunwick Henge

Hutton Moor Henge, Dishforth, North Yorkshire

Henge:  OS Grid Reference – SE 3525 7351

Getting Here

Hutton Moor Henge from above (photo © Pete Glastonbury)

From junction 49 on the A1 (M), Dishforth turn-off, bear west on the Copt Hewick and Ripon road.  100 yards past Copt Hewick, take the track on the right-side of the road, leading to Blois Hall and further up to Low Barn.  Once at Low Barn, go north through the trees called Harland’s Plantation and the barely visible henge remains are in the field on the other side – as PeteG’s fine aerial photo here shows!

Archaeology & History

At ground-level there’s not too much to see of this once fine henge, thanks to the usual excesses of modern agriculture and modern industry.  Which is a pity, as the completed monument here was similar in size and lay-out to the three huge henges a few miles north at Thornborough.  Archaeologist Jan Harding (2003) believes this and the Thornborough henges and others nearby, suggests “there was a unity of purpose behind” all of them, in terms of their lay-out, alignments and ritual purpose.  He may be right.  Aubrey Burl thinks similarly, noting how,

“The central plateau of these enclosures are remarkably similar in shape and size, slightly ovoid and varying no more than 5 metres or so from a norm of 97 by 92 metres.  All have their entrances near the northwest and southeast following the lie of the land.

Each of them could have held as many as two thousand people and yet they crowd together in a narrow rectangle 11km (7 miles) long and no more than 1.5km (1 mile) across, like an avenue of architect-designed houses with a river frontage to their west.”

Intriguing stuff – and all from the neolithic period.  But focussing on Hutton Moor’s monument, …

In Walbran’s (1851) historical work on Ripon and district, he gave us one of the earliest descriptions of Hutton Moor’s henge, telling:

“we have far more direct and conclusive evidence, that the immediate vicinity of Ripon was regarded with peculiar interest and veneration ; since one of the tribes of the Brigantian Celts had chosen it as their station for the dispensation of justice and the celebration of religious rites ; in fact, had made it the seat of their government. This position — novel as it may be — is, I believe, sufficiently proved.by a remarkable earth-work on the high land near ” Blows Hall,” commanding extensive prospects up and down the Vale of Ure, as well as of the distant ranges of hills which form the side screens of the great Yorkshire plain. Like Abury and Stonehenge, which it rivals in antiquity, its outline is that of a circle, of which the diameter is not less than 680 feet ; but no stones remain, nor indeed does that material seem to have been used in its formation. Though recent agricultural operations have partially effaced the regularity and proportion of its plan, it is sufficiently evident that it was enclosed by a lofty mound and corresponding trench — the latter being inside, and a platform or space about thirty feet wide intervening.

“…At two opposite points, bearing nearly north and south, the mound and trench, for about the space of twenty-five feet, have been discontinued, in order to form an approach to the area of the temple. Outside the mound, also, are some slight vestiges of a further avenue, but too indefinite to be traced. But, however obscure the denotation of its several parts may have become, the antiquity and purpose of the place, as a temple for the performance of Druidical rites, is satisfactorily ascertained by the existence of at least eight large Celtic barrows in its immediate vicinity ; one of which, being on the very ridge of the vale, and planted with fir trees, forms a conspicuous and useful object to guide a stranger to the site. Two of these barrows were opened five years ago, but I found nothing but a few calcined human bones, the ashes of the oaken funeral pile, and some fragments of flint arrow-heads, such as are still used by the North-American Indians. Several bronze spear-heads and celts have, however, been found in the neighbourhood, within recollection.”

Walbran also described there being some upright stones at the henge:

“two small pyramids or obelisks, built on the mound of the temple, about fifty years ago, in the place, it is said, of two similar erections, apparently of high antiquity.”

Loveday (1998) addressed some interesting notes about potential alignment features at henges first described in Anthony Harding’s (1987) text, Hutton Moor included — i.e., the angle of their respective entrances/exits very closely mirror the alignment of adjacent Roman roads.  Curious correlates akin to the ley hunter’s assertions find the alignment or direction of nearby Roman roads is echoed in the alignments of henge entrances.  Now this wouldn’t seem too unusual, but in 4 out of 5 henges, this peculiar parallel has been found.  The Hutton Moor henge is no exception; with its aligned entrances closely paralleling the ancient straight Roman road of the A1 (though there are evidences of a pre-Roman track preceding the Roman construction), less than a mile to the east.  The same alignment is echoed in all of the Ure Valley henges.

Folklore

Ley alignment at Hutton henge

This is a site that seems to have been laid out in some form of linear arrangement in prehistoric times.  The notion was first posited in Norrie Ward’s (1969) work, but later expanded in Devereux & Thomson’s (1979) survey of prehistoric alignments.  Although the axis of the henge doesn’t line up with other sites surveyed, they include it in what’s known as the “Devil’s Arrow’s Ley” and the western side of the henge lines up with the Devil’s Arrows and other sites along the line.  When this ley was assessed for statistical probability, Robert Forrest found the alignment to have a probability much greater than that of chance.

References:

  1. Atkinson, R.J.C., “The Henge Monuments of Great Britain,” in Atkinson, Piggott & Sandars’ Excavations at Dorchester, Oxon, Ashmolean Museum 1951.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, Prehistoric Henges, Shire: Princes Risborough 1997.
  3. Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  4. Harding, Anthony F. & Lee, G.E., Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain, BAR 175: Oxford 1987.
  5. Harding, Jan, Henge Monuments of the British Isles, Tempus: Stroud 2003.
  6. Loveday, Roy, “Double Entrance Henges”, in Prehistoric Ritual and Religion, Sutton: Stroud 1998.
  7. Walbran, John Richard, A Guide to Ripon, Harrogate, Fountains Abbey, Bolton Priory, W. Harrison: Ripon 1851.

Acknowledgements:

Huge thanks to Paul Devereux for use of his ley alignment drawing.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Hutton Moor henge

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Hutton Moor henge 54.156201, -1.461726 Hutton Moor henge