Benson Cursus, Benson, Oxfordshire

Cursus Monument:  OS Grid Reference – SU 624 910 to SU 629 919

Also Known as:

  1. Crowmarsh Cursus

Archaeology & History

Major Allen’s 1933 photo

Any remains of this once sacred site are now beneath the airport between Benson and Ewelme, a couple of miles northeast of Wallingford, on the eastern side of the River Thames.  A great pity.  It was one of the early cursus monuments discovered as a result of Major G.W. Allen’s many aerial surveys in southern England — as shown in his photo here  — and subsequently described in Mr Leeds’ (1934) Antiquaries Journal article.  A cluster of cursus monuments were built in this part of England in neolithic times, and Roy Loveday (2006) includes the Benson Cursus as an ingredient within the ‘sacred landscape’ region of what he calls “the Dorchester-on-Thames complex.”  The Benson Cursus and surrounding regional monuments,

“in fact possesses features that would declare it as an inter-regional sanctuary if encountered in an historical setting; namely, intensity of monument construction, longevity of respect, addition of later exotic monuments with far-flung parallels, large numbers of burials, and placement in a landscape structured, partly at least, by other monuments.  These elements recur from Delphi to Uppsala, and from Pachacarmaca to Mecca, at sites that Mircea Eliade (sic) has termed hierophanies — locations where the otherworld of gods and ancestors communicate with the living.”

Loveday’s 2006 plan
Benson Cursus plan (after Barclay & Lambrick)

It’s good to know that the correct paradigms are at last emerging from those archaeocentric minds!

In Mr Loveday’s (2006) plan of the cursus, no entrances could be found into the monument apart from a small section along the northeastern length of the structure (left).  From its southernmost point, this giant monument runs along a SSW-NNE alignment — one echoed in other nearby cursuses — for 1192 yards (1090m) and is 71 yards (65m) across, covering 7.3 hectares in all.  No internal structures were noted anywhere within the monument.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Barclay, A., Lambrick, G., Moore, J. & Robinson, M., Lines in the Landscape, OAU: Oxford 2003.
  2. Benson, D. & Miles, D., The Upper Thames Valley: An Archaeological Survey of the River Gravels, Oxford Archaeology Unit 1974.
  3. Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harcourt, Brace & World: New York 1959.
  4. Leeds, E.T., “Rectangular Enclosures of the Bronze Age in the Upper Thames Valley, in Antiquaries Journal, 14:4, 1934.
  5. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape, Tempus: Stroud 2006.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Benson cursus

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Benson cursus 51.618573, -1.095573 Benson cursus

Tarry Stone, Cookham, Berkshire

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SU 89745 85392

Also Known as:

  1. Cookham Stone
  2. Tarrystone

Getting Here

Old postcard of the Tarry Stone

Dead easy!  Just about in the middle of the village, by the side of the road where a seat allows the weary walker a chance to sit and rest, the Tarry Stone stands before it, with a plaque on the wall above the seat.  The old postcard here shows its situation clear enough!

Archaeology & History

The history of this large rock near the middle of Cookham village is important in the history of the old village, though there is no direct evidence to give it a prehistoric pedigree.  It was known to be an ancient boundary stone and is included in perambulation records of the area, where local people would annually walk and redefine the landscape of Cookham: a pastime known across the land, but which fell into disuse in Victorian times.  Such perambulations are thought to trace way back into the mythic lands of prehistory — so the Tarry Stone here may well have an archaic provenance.

The known history of the stone was gathered and described in Stephen Darby’s (1899) rare work on the place-name history of Cookham.  He wrote:

“A stone 3½ ft high, by 4 ft long, and 2½ ft thick. This formerly stood in Cookham village, about two feet from Dodson’s fence, where the roads parted to the church and the ferry. It is now in the Mill Garden at Cookham, where it was removed by the late George Venables when he was church-warden. This stone was formerly known as Cookham Stone.

“A.D. 1506: The tithing man presents that the Warrener ought to hold sports at Cookham Stone on the day of Assumption; and he has not done so (Cookham Manor Court Rolls).

“The stone was originally a boundary stone to the property of the Abbot of Cirencester, whose house was close by, as is shown in the will of John Luffenham, A.D. 1423.”

An old plaque that was once attached to the rock told, “The Tarry Stone at which sports were held before 1507 AD, stood formerly 50 yards NNE and was replaced here AD 1909 by order of the parish council.”  The position described “50 yards away” was next to an old pub with the fascinating legendary name of ‘Bel and the Old Dragon’!

Folklore

Dennis Curran’s 1976 drawing

One of the main reasons this site has been included here is the legendary attachments.  When the stone was moved from its original position in 1839 by a certain George Venables, to nearby Mill House Gardens, local people told how the Venable family thereafter were cursed.  It was thereafter moved back to its earlier site!

The stone has been suggested as a meteorite — a theme that was echoed in Peter Ackroyd’s Thames (2007), but the Tarry Stone is a regional sarsen rock, albeit peppered with erosion holes, giving a more ‘foreign’ look to it!

Cookham was also the village where the spirit of the god Herne “winds his horn and the music of his hounds can be heard from across the common.”  (Yarrow 1974)  The stone was also the focal point of village games in earlier centuries.

References:

  1. Ackroyd, Peter, The Thames: Sacred River, Chatto & Windus: London 2007.
  2. Darby, Stephen, Place and Field-Names of Cookham, Berkshire, privately printed: London 1899.
  3. Hallam, Elizabeth, Domesday Heritage, Arrow: London 1986.
  4. Yarrow, Ian, Berkshire, Hale: London 1974.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.560292, -0.706767 Tarry Stone