Down Farm, Basingstoke, Hampshire

Barrow (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SU 6018 5013

Archaeology & History

Downs Farm tumulus on 1897 map

Downs Farm tumulus on 1897 map

On the western edges of Basingstoke, at Kempshott, could once be found this ancient site—destroyed many decades ago.  It was one of number of similar prehistoric burial mounds in the area.  First described in a listing of tumuli by Mr Andrews (1898) who told us that it was “oval” in shape, the monument was completely destroyed in 1939 and according to the Royal Commission (1979) lads,

“its site now lies beneath a house at the southwest corner of Kempshott Lane and Homesteads Lane.”

When the house where it once stood was being constructed, a collared urn was recovered from the tomb, which the Royal Commission thought indicated “that the monument (was) likely to have been of early Bronze Age date”—but obviously we cannot be sure.  The site was listed in Leslie Grinsell’s (1979) extensive survey of prehistoric tombs in the area, in which he suggested it may have been a long barrow.

References:

  1. Andrews, S., “A Short List of Some Tumuli in North Hampshire,” in Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society, volume 4, 1898.
  2. Grinsell, Leslie V., “Hampshire Barrows – part 3,” in Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society, volume 14, 1940.
  3. Royal Commission on Historic Monuments, England, Long Barrows in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, HMSO: London 1979.
  4. Willis, G.W., “Bronze Age Burials round Basingstoke,” in Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society, volume 18, 1953.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Downs Farm barrow

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Downs Farm barrow 51.247214, -1.139228 Downs Farm barrow

Beckhampton Penning, Avebury, Wiltshire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SU 0986 6713

Archaeology & History

Smith’s plan of the site

This all-but-destroyed megalithic ring is all-but-unknown in most of the archaeological gazetteers — including even Burl’s (2000) magnum opus!  But we know it was there.  And according to the Avebury authority Pete Glastonbury , there “are a couple or three small stones buried on the hill but nothing else to see.”  Which is a pity, as the site sounds like it was something to behold in bygone times.  Although it seems to have been described initially by the legendary druidical antiquarian, William Stukeley, a more lengthy description followed in the 19th century by the reverend A.C. Smith (1885), when he and a friend took it upon themselves to cut back some of the turf that was covering a number of stones — and they weren’t to be disappointed!

The site itself appears to have stood right on the southern boundary line of Avebury parish, meaning that the site could have been named and cited on any early boundary perambulation records that might exist of the parish. (do any of you Wiltshire folk have access to any such old records?)  But if there are no such early accounts, the earliest record we’ll have to stick with is good old Mr Stukeley (1743), who only gave it a passing mention, saying:

“Upon the heath south of Silbury was a very large oblong work like a long barrow, made only of stones pitch’d in the ground; no tumulus.  Mr Smith before-mentioned told me his cousin took the stones away (then) fourteen years ago, to make mere (boundary, PB) stones withal.  I take it to have been an Archdruid’s, tho’ humble, yet magnificent; being 350 feet or 200 cubits long.”

Nearly 150 years later Reverend Smith gave us a more detailed account, and ground-plan, describing the place as,

“a stone circle, of considerable dimensions, though imperfect and formed of very small sarsens, but which I believe to have been in some way connected with Abury.  Though it appears to have been mentioned by Stukeley one hundred and fifty years ago, it had been long since buried, and completely forgotten till I was fortunate enough to discover it by digging in the year 1877.  I was led to the discovery by the suspicious look of certain stones which, though scattered in no regular form, appeared as if they might have once stood erect, in some sort of order, on the segment of a large circle.  I had often stopped to examine them as I wandered over that part of the downs; till at last previous suspicions ripened into conviction, as closer observation revealed sundry other stones just showing above the ground, and there also seemed to be faint indications of a trench, all pointing, with more or less accuracy, to the supposed circle.  Not to dwell upon the details of the investigation, which, however, were of singular interest to me, the result was that (with the permission of both owner and occupier of the land, and assisted by Mr William Long), I probed the ground in every direction, and uncovered the turf wherever a stone was found: and on our first day’s work we unearthed no less than twenty-two sarsen stones, all forming part of the circle, and lying from two to twelve inches below the surface.  These stones were all of small size, some of them very small, but that they were placed by the hand of man in the positions they now occupy, in many cases nearly touching one another, and that they formed part of a large circle or oblong, admits, I think, of no doubt.  I say part of a circle, because, though the northern, southern and eastern segments are tolerably well defined, I could find scarcely a single stone on what should be the western segment to complete the circle.  That the area thus enclosed is not insignificant will appear from the diameter (in length, or from north to south, 261 feet; and in breadth, or from east to west, 216 feet).  Again, its position (due south of Silbury, and within full view of it, as well as the Sanctuary on Overton Hill, and with Abury immediately behind Silbury, due north of it, from which also Silbury is equidistant) seems to intimate that it may have had some connection with the great temple.”

A ley running through the circle (image courtesy Paul Devereux)

Smith then proceeded to query the nature of the monument, commenting on how Sir John Lubbock and members of the British Archaeological Association were intrigued by the remains, but a little perplexed and unable “to form any opinion” as to the exact nature of the site.  But this didn’t stop mythographer and historian Michael Dames (1977) who, in his classic Avebury Cycle, suggested that the site “marked the navel of the landscape goddess” in the region.

The site didn’t go unnoticed in Devereux and Thomson’s (1979) classic Ley Hunter’s Companion, where it plays an important point along a ley that runs north-south for 13 miles between Bincknoll Castle at the north, to Marden Henge at the south.  Such an alignment had been noted much earlier by other archaeologists and historians.

The site does look strange for a stone circle in Smith’s ground-plan and has more the hallmarks of a type of enclosure or settlement of some sort.  It certainly wouldn’t be out of place, design-wise, as a prehistoric settlement in our more northern climes.  However, without further data it seems we may never know the true nature of this old stone site…

References:

  1. Dames, Michael, The Avebury Cycle, Thames & Hudson: London 1977.
  2. Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  3. Glastonbury, Pete, “Silbury ‘stone circle’ Query,” private comm., March 6, 2011.
  4. Smith, A.C., A Guide to the British and Roman Antiquities of the North Wiltshire Downs, Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Society 1885.
  5. Stukeley, William, Abury, A Temple of the British Druids, W. Innys & R. Manby: London 1743.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Beckhampton Penning

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Beckhampton Penning 51.403151, -1.859587 Beckhampton Penning

Broad Stones, Clatford, Wiltshire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SU 161 684

Also Known as:

  1. Clatford Stone Circle

Archaeology & History

John Aubrey’s early drawing (soz about the crap quality)

Also known as the Clatford Circle, it was described by both of the old pioneers, John Aubrey and William Stukeley: Aubrey saying the monument could be found “in a lane leading from Kennet to Marlborough… (consisting) of eight huge large stones, roughly hewn… in a circle, which never could be by chance.”  Will Stukeley reckoned that four other stones close by, “may possibly have been the beginning of an avenue.”  We might never know for sure.

The local Avebury authority, Pete Glastonbury, showed us a spot which he thinks may have been the where the circle stood, and where a couple of decent-looking stones lay by the side of the track that could have once been a part of this circle.  It looked as good a contender as anything else.  Has all trace of this monument truly been destroyed?

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, Prehistoric Avebury, Yale University Press 2002.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Clatford stone circle

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Clatford stone circle 51.414836, -1.769241 Clatford stone circle

Lesser Cursus, Larkhill, Wiltshire

Cursus Monument:  OS Grid Reference – SU 1056 4350

Also Known as:

  1. Small Cursus
  2. Stonehenge Smaller Cursus

Archaeology & History

James Fergusson’s drawing of both cursus monuments

Just like its much larger companion, the Stonehenge Cursus earthwork a short distance to the south, this Lesser or Small Cursus is generally deemed by archaeologists to “speak of a clear religious or ritual aspect to this patch of downland that…reaches back generations before the first Stonehenge was built.” (Pitts 2001)  The monument was aligned roughly east-west, showing possible relationships with the rising and setting of both sun and moon. (though I wouldn’t get too carried away with that misself…)

When Fergusson (1872) described this and its larger cursus companion a few hundred yards away, he thought they may have been dug to mark out lines of battle in prehistoric times, denouncing the horse-racing course hypothesis that was still in vogue at the time.  His theory drew evidence from the numerous prehistoric tombs scattering this area of Salisbury Plain, but seemed more influenced by notions of prehistoric barbarism and warfare than ideas relating to a cult of the dead — which was yet to reach it heights in the archaeological minds of Victorian England.  But, like other cursus monuments all over the British Isles, this one also seemed to have a distinct relationship with monuments of the dead: for at its western extremity (until being ploughed out of existence) was a large round barrow, catalogued as the “Winterbourne 35” tomb.  Tim Darvill (2006) tells its wider tale:

“Levelled by ploughing between 1934 and 1954, the Lesser Cursus was investigated in 1983 as part of the Stonehenge Environs Project… Three trenches were cut into different parts of this large monument, showing that there were at least two main phases to its construction.  Phase 1 comprised a slightly trapezoidal enclosure 200m by 60m, whose ditch may have been recut more than once and in part at least deliberately back-filled.  In Phase 2 this early enclosure was remodelled by elongating the whole structure eastwards by another 200m.  This extension comprised only two parallel side ditches, making the whole thing about 400m long with a rectilinear enclosure at the west end with entrances in its northeast and southeast corners giving access into a second rectilinear space, in this case open to the east.”

Lesser Cursus aerial view
Ground-plan of the Lesser Cursus (after Richards 1990)

The entire structure had finds dating from the periods between 3650-2900 BC; and the aerial imagery showing an oval-shaped structure near the eastern end was confirmed by geophysical surveys — though precisely what this is has yet to be ascertained.

It seems likely that this and other cursus monuments were, to a very great degree, not only related to mortuary practices but — as their development occurred at the same time as the destruction of Britain’s great forests began — to be monuments to the gods themselves.  This seems very evident at a couple of cursus monuments where animal deposits were made in some of the great mounds at their terminii, where archaeologists had previously assumed— incorrectly — the mounds to have been human burial mounds.  More about this in due course…

References:

  1. Darvill, Tim, Stonehenge: The Biography of a Landscape, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  2. Devereux, Paul, The Haunted Land, Piatkus: London 2001.
  3. Fergusson, James, Rude Stone Monuments in all Countries, John Murray: London 1872.
  4. Loveday, Roy, Inscribed Across the Landscape, Tempus: Stroud 2006.
  5. North, John, Stonehenge, Harper-Collins: London 1997.
  6. Pitts, Mike, Hengeworld, Arrow: London 2001.
  7. Richards, Julian, The Stonehenge Environs Project, English Heritage: London 1990.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Lesser Cursus

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Lesser Cursus 51.190700, -1.850138 Lesser Cursus

Holed Stone, West Overton, Wiltshire

Enclosure & Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SU 1285 7151

Aerial image of site
Aerial image of site

Getting Here

Follow the same directions to reach the Polisher Stone at the top-end of Overton Down as it meets Fyfield Down. From here, walk down the slope for 100 yards or so where you’ll notice, just above the long grassy level, a line of ancient walling running nearly east to west.  It’s very close to the yellow marker in the attached aerial image shot to the right. If you walk along this line of walling you’ll find it.

Archaeology & History

Overton’s Holed Stone

As I’ve only been here once, and briefly — under the guidance of the Avebury expert Pete Glastonbury — my bearings on this site may need revising.  There are two distinct sections of walling here: one has been excavated by Peter Fowler and his team; the other hasn’t. (correct me if I’m wrong Pete)  And in Fowler’s (2000) fine survey of this area he does not describe this very distinct holed-stone in the line of walling, or adjacent “linear ditch F4”, as it was called.  But then, many archaeologists don’t tend to find items such as these of any interest (unless their education stretches to other arenas, which isn’t usually the case). But the stone seems to be in a section of walling that isn’t in their survey; standing out in aerial imagery as a less well-defined, but still obvious line of walling that is closer to the fence, 70-80 yards north, with a decidedly Iron-Age look about it!

But, precision aside! — as you can see in the photos, the holed stone here isn’t very tall — less than 2 feet high; though we don’t know how deep the stone is set into the ground.  This spot is on my “must visit again” list for the next time we’re down here!

Folklore

Veritable vagabonds, Mikki, June, PeteG & Geoff, readying themselves for fertility rites!
Veritable vagabonds, Mikki, June, PeteG & Geoff, readying themselves for fertility rites!

There’s nowt specific to this stone, nor line of walling, nor settlement (as far as I know), but it seems right to mention the fact that in British and European folklore and peasant traditions, that holed stones just like the one found here have always been imbued with aspects of fertility — for obvious reasons. Others like this have also acquired portentous abilities; whilst others have become places where deeds and bonds were struck, with the stone playing ‘witness’ to promises made.

References:

  1. Fowler, Peter, Landscape Plotted and Pierced: Landscape History and Local Archaeology in Fyfield and Overton, Wiltshire, Society of Antiquaries: London 2000.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Holed Stone

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Holed Stone 51.442427, -1.816462 Holed Stone

The Polisher, West Overton, Wiltshire

‘Standing Stone’:  OS Grid Reference – SU 1283 7150

Also Known as:

  1. OD II (Fowler)
  2. Parsons Penning Stone
  3. The Polissoir

Getting Here

The Polisher at rest

We were graciously guided to this spot by local archaeological authority, Pete Glastonbury — which is good, cos otherwise it’d have probably taken us all day to find the damn thing!  Best way to get here is out of the Avebury circle, east, up for about a mile up the Herepath or Green Street till you hit the ancient track of the Ridgeway.  Turn left and walk up the gentle slope for another 350 yards or so, then note the footpath on your right.  Go down the slope for about 150 yards, keeping your eyes peeled for the smooth rock with the slits in it, not far from the Holed Stone!

Archaeology & History

Although classified on the Wiltshire Sites & Monuments Record as an “unclassified feature,” this is one of a number of whetstones (as we call ’em up North) that feature in various settings in and around the Avebury region: literally, a rock used for sharpening axes, daggers and other metallic artifacts. First rediscovered in the spring of 1963 by a Mr Inigo Jones when he was out exploring the many rocks hereby for rare lichens and any more cup-markings like the one at nearby Fyfield Down, the site we see today is merely a long piece of stone with five or six long lines or grooves cut into the top-end, along which the ancient weapons and tools slid and cut into the rock, sharpening them.

It was thought until recently that this was the prime function of this stone; but following excavation work done here by Pete Fowler and his team in 1963, it seems that the stone actually stood upright!  Digs were made on three sides of the stone and some earlier disturbance seemed apparent:

“The material appeared to be redeposited on top of an earlier ground surface, inferentially of medieval or earlier date.  At the north end of the sarsen bench, the lip of a pit or trench was partly excavated.  It showed clearly in plan as a feature dug into the top of an undated surface level with the disturbed top of the clay-with-flints; it was filled with flinty, clayey humus similar to that through which it was cut.  In the top of that fill was a heavily weathered sarsen, c 0.6m by 0.45m, and a cluster of smaller, broken sarsen stones.  The hole was at least 0.45m deep, its bottom as excavated marked by an increase in the density of flints.  The evidence, though incomplete, suggested very strongly that the feature was part of a hole dug to take the pollisoir as an upright stone.” (my italics, Ed)

In the same dig, a medieval coin of King John (1199-1216) and the remains of a medieval horseshoe were found beneath the stone, giving Fowler and his team the notion that the stone had been split and pushed over at this period.  Consistent evidence of activity from the neolithic period onwards was expected and found here.

In Lacaille’s (1963) original description of the site, he gave a most accurate description of the dimensions of the stone and its incisions.  Highlighting its proximity to a cluster of other stones, as well as being close to a wide ditch, Lacaille’s measurements were thus:

“From 1ft (0.31m) above ground at its south end the regular surface of the sarsen slopes to the grass, its main axis being aligned about 15° west of the true north and south line.  In length the stone measures 5ft 6in (1.68m) above the grass, and 2ft 10in (0.86m) in width.

“Closely grouped in the south-eastern corner of the sarsen there are six hollows.  In plan the largest and southernmost is of long elliptical shape, 1ft 8in (0.5m) long and 9in (0.23m) at widest and 1in (0.0254m) deep.  From its wider end near the eastern long margin there protrudes a short groove.  Beside this, and curving slightly inward, there is another groove, 1¼in (0.028m) wide and ½in (0.013m) deep.  It is as long as the large basin-like cavity.  Next to it there runs one of similar length and width, but of only half the depth.  In turn, a third groove, ½in (0.013m) wide, 1ft 8in (0.5m) long, has been worn at right angles to the long edge but to a much deeper hollow than its companions.  At 2in (o.051m) to the north a lesser version of the main basin occurs.  Like this it measures 1ft 8in (0.5m) in length, but is only 2¼in (0.058m) wide and ¾in (0.016m) deep.  Vague in places over its interior length of 10in (0.25m), but attaining a maximum width of 1¼in (0.028m), a last hollowing shows faintly at both ends and nowhere deeper than 1/8in (0.0032m).”

The Polisher & its marks
Celoria & Lacaille’s 1963 drawing of the stone

It appears that this fallen standing stone was being used to sharpen knives and axes whilst it stood upright and, in all probability, as a result of this ability would have been possessed of magickal properties to our ancestors.  Metalwork was an important province of shamanism and smiths, whose practices were deeply enmeshed in the very creation of mythical cosmologies.  Hence, the simple act nowadays of sharpening metal tools onto rocks would not have been a mere profanity to the people who came and used this stone to re-empower their weapons, but would have been entwined within a magickal cosmology.  The spirit inherent in this stone would likely have been named and recognised.  Today it is forgotten…

It also seems that this standing stone was part of some ancient walling.  Aerial views clearly show it along the line of some sort of enclosure that runs down the slope, along the bottom and back up and around.  In the same stretch of this enclosure walling we find the Holed Stone a little further down the slope.  And holed stones, as any student of folklore and occult history will tell you, have long-established magickal properties of their own…

References:

  1. Fowler, Peter, Landscape Plotted and Pierced: Landscape History and Local Archaeology in Fyfield and Overton, Wiltshire, Society of Antiquaries: London 2000.
  2. Grigson, Geoffrey, The Shell Country Alphabet, Michael Joseph: London 1966.
  3. Lacaille, A.D., ‘Three Grinding Stones,’ in Antiquity Journal, volume 43, 1963.
  4. Watts, Ken, “Fyfield and Overton Downs, Wiltshire: A Prehistoric and Historic Landscape,” in 3rd Stone, no. 33, January-March 1999.

Links:

  1. The Polisher – on The Megalithic Portal

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Overton Down Tomb, West Overton, Wiltshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SU 1305 7052

Getting Here

Overton Down cairn (image © Pete Glastonbury*)

From the Avebury stone circle, walk out eastwards and straight up the ancient Ridgeway for about a mile until it levels out and meets up with the adjoining track upon the hilltop. Instead of going left or right, go straight across and onto the footpath that crosses Overton Down, until you reach the wide horse-racing track lookalike called ‘the Gallops.’  Stop – don’t go on it – and follow the fence down for a coupla hundred yards till you’ll see the fenced-off rise with a modern ‘barrow’ enclosed within. You’re very close! From here, go another 100 yards or so down and keep your eyes on the rise of land with rocks scattered around it.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

From all accounts, there’s been nowt of any consequence written about this site — which is bloody incredible to be honest!!  We came here on a fine day (that’s Mikki, Geoff and June) in the company of the local Avebury magus, Pete Glastonbury.  Crossing Overton Down towards an experimental “barrow” that some archaeo’s have knocked-up, the rise in the land here stands out quite clearly, saying (at the very least), “look at me!”  But until Pete Fowler (2000) first described this “unrecorded kerbed round barrow” a few years back, it had escaped the noses of all previous archaeological surveys!  How!?

What the hell do archaeologists in the Avebury area do with themselves if they can’t pick this sorta monument out!?  But anyway…

Overton Down cairn – looking NW

This is quite a large rounded cairn structure by the look of it.  At least 30-feet across, probably kerbed from the initial look (only for a few minutes, sadly).  Local writer Terence Meaden has apparently found the site of some importance in his studies (not yet published).  Its position here in the landscape was what caught my attention more than anything: it stands on the crest of the hill and has superb uninterrupted views far across the Avebury landscape.  This siting was obviously quite deliberate. Less than 100 yards due north of here are two curiously placed stones which may ‘frame’ the cairn for a southern lunar alignment.  I had no time to look at this really, so it would be good if some local Avebury dood could check this out.  The outlying stones may be merely fortuitous, but it’d be good to know for sure!

The site has been plotted amidst a mass of landscape changes dating from the neolithic to medieval periods.  It seems probable, on first impression, that the ‘cairn’ is of Bronze Age in character (though could be earlier), but until detailed analysis has been made we obviously won’t know for sure. A short distance to the south we have the much-denuded Overton Down site X1: another Bronze Age burial that yielded three beaker graves when Fowler excavated the place in the 1960s.

For those of you into geomancy, meditation and the subjective realms of genius loci, this one really grabbed me.  Give it a go and lemme know what you get.  But please, no stupid pagan or New Age offerings — the site doesn’t need that sorta thing.

References:

  1. Fowler, Peter, Landscape Plotted and Pierced: Landscape History and Local Archaeology in Fyfield and Overton, Wiltshire, Society of Antiquaries: London 2000.

* Pete Glastonbury is a Wiltshire-based photographer specialising in Landscapes, Astronomy, Archaeology, Infra-Red, Experimental Digital Photography and High Dynamic Range Panoramic photography.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Overton Down tomb

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Overton Down tomb 51.433478, -1.813673 Overton Down tomb