Books, Prehistory, Avebury A Temple of British Druids, Avebury Chapter VIII

Avebury Chapter VIII is in Avebury A Temple of British Druids, With Some Others, Described by William Stukeley.

A description of the other great avenue from Bekamton, a mile off, which is the hinderpart of the snake, proceeding from the circle. The cove [Map] on the midway of it called Longstones, or the Devil's coits. The avenue terminated in a valley. Some animal bones found in a stone, whence a conjecture concerning their age. Of the number of the stones. Solomon's temple compared with ours. The mechanicks of the Druids called magick. Of the effect of the weather upon the stones.

After I had carefully laid down the plan of Kennet avenue, and not understanding the full purport of it; in the year 1722, I found out this other, extending itself above a mile from the town of Abury, by another direction. It goes toward the village of Bekamton [Map], therefore I call it Bekamton avenue. 'Tis really the hinderpart of the hieroglyphic snake, which the Druids meant here to picture out, in this most portentous size.

The former avenue goes out of Abury town at the south-east point; this full west, at the interval of 25 stones, or a quadrant of the great circle from Kennet avenue, and proceeds by the south side of the churchyard. Two stones lie by the parsonage-gate on the right hand. Those opposite to them on the left hand, in a pasture, were taken away 1702, as marked in the ground-plot of Abury. Reuben Horsal remembers three standing in the pasture. One now lies in the floor of the house in the churchyard. A little farther, one lies at the corner of the next house, on the right hand, by the lane turning off to the right, to the bridge. Another was broke in pieces to build that house with, anno 1714. Two more lie on the left hand, opposite. It then passes the beck, south of the bridge. Most of the stones hereabouts have been made use of about the bridge, and the causeway leading to it. A little spring arises at Horslip north-west, and so runs by here to Silbury-hill, where the real head of the Kennet is. But sometimes by a sudden descent of rain coming from Monkton and Broad-Hinton, this is very deep. The picture here humours the reality so far, as this may be called the vent of the snake.

Now the avenue passes along a lane to the left hand of the Caln road, by a stone house called Goldsmiths-farm, and so thro' farmer Griffin's yard, thro' one barn that stands across the avenue, then by another which stands on itsdirection. Two stones and their opposites still lie in the foundation; immediately after this, it enters the open plowed fields; the Caln road running all this while north of it. If we look back and observe the bearings of Abury steeple, and other objects, a discerning eye finds, that it makes a great sweep or curve northwards. The avenue entring the open corn-fields, runs for some time by the hedge, on the right hand. When it has crossed the way leading from South-street, we discern here and there the remains of it, in its road to Longstone cove. Farmer Griffin broke near 20 of the stones of this part of the avenue.

Table XVIII. The Entrance of Kennet avenue into Abury [Map] 14 May 1724.

1724. This Longstone cove [Map], vulgarly called long stones, is properly a cove, as the old Britons called 'em, composed of three stones, like that most magnificent one we described, in the center of the northern temple at Abury; behind the inn. They are set upon the ark of a circle, regarding each other with an obtuse angle. This is set on the north side of the avenue; one of the stones of that side makes the back of the cove. This is the only particularity in which this avenue differs from the former. I take it to be chiefly a judicious affectation of variety, and served as a sacellum or proseucha to the neighbourhood on ordinary days of devotion, viz. the sabbath-days. For if the Druids came hither in Abraham's time, and were disciples of his, as it appears to me; we cannot doubt of their observance of the sabbath. It stands on the midway of the length of the avenue, being the fiftieth stone. This opens to the south-east, as that of the northern temple to the north-east. 'Tis placed upon an eminence, the highest ground which the avenue passes over: these are called Longstone-fields from it. You have a good prospect hence, seeing Abury toward which the ground descends to the brook: Overton-hill, Silbury, Bekamton; and a fine country all around. Many stones by the way are just buried under the surface of the earth. Many lie in the balks and meres, and many fragments are removed, to make boundaries for the fields; but more whole ones have been burnt to build withal, within every body's memory. One stone still remains standing, near Longstone cove.

Longstone cove, because standing in the open fields, between the Caln road and that to the Bath, is more talked of by the people of this country, than the larger, and more numerous in Abury town. Dr. Musgrave mentions it in his Belgium Britannicum, page 44. and in his map thereof.

Mr. Aubury in his manuscript observations published with Mr. Camden's Britannia, speaks of them by the name of the Devil's coits. Three huge stones then standing. It was really a grand and noble work. The stone left standing is 16 feet high, as many broad, 3½ thick. The back stone is fallen flat on the ground, of like dimension.

annis solvit sublapsa vetustas [in years he paid off the old age which had fallen away]:

Fertur in abruptum magnus mons [He is carried on a steep mountain] Virg. Æn. 12.

The other was carried off by that destroyer Richard Fowler, together with many more, but seven years ago (when I was there). The people that saw it broken in pieces by fire, assured me there were perfect flints in its composition and bones. And I verily believe I saw a piece of this same stone in a garden-wall of the little alehouse below in Bekamton-road, which had evidently a bone in it. Whence probably we may conclude, that these stones were formed by nature since Noah's deluge, and these bones are of an antediluvian animal, which casually fell into the petrifying matter. They told me the stone contained 20 good loads, that the bones were in the middle of the stone, and as hard as the stone. That stone now standing, was the right hand or eastern jamb of the cove.

A little way hence is a bit of heath-ground, but the plough will soon have devoured it. Here remains a great barrow, called Longstone long barrow [Map] ; and from hence we see innumerable more barrows. The avenue continued its journey by the corn fields. Three stones lie still by the field-road coming from South-street to the Caln-road. Mr. Alexander told me he remembered several stones standing by the parting of the roads under Bekamton, demolished by Richard Fowler. Then it descends by the road to Cherill, 'till it comes to the Bath-road, close by the Roman-road, and there in the low valley it terminates, near a fine group of barrows, under Cherill-hill, in the way to Oldbury-camp; this is west of Bekamton-village. This point facing that group of barrows and looking up the hill is a most solemn and awful place; a descent all the way from Longstone cove, and directed to a descent, a great way further, down the Bath-road, where no less than five valleys meet. And in this very point only you can see the temple [Map] on Overton-hill, on the south side of Silbury-hill [Map].

Here I am sufficiently satisfied this avenue terminated, at the like distance from Abury-town, as Overton-hill was, in the former avenue; 100 stones on a side, 4000 cubits in length; ten stadia or the eastern mile. Several stones are left dispersedly on banks and meres of the lands. One great stone belonging to this end of the avenue, lies buried almost under ground, in the plowed land between the barrow west of Longstone long barrow, and the last hedge in the town of Bekamton. Richard Fowler shewed me the ground here, whence he took several stones and demolished them. I am equally satisfied there was no temple or circle of stones at this end of it. 1. Because it would be absurd in drawing. The head of the snake was aptly represented by that double circle on Overton-hill: but this place, the tail of the snake, admitted no such thing, and I doubt not but it grew narrower and narrower as before we observed, of the neck of the snake. 2. Here is not the least report of such a thing among the country people. It would most assuredly have been well known, because every stone was demolished within memory, when I was there. I cannot doubt but many have suffered since; and I have had very disagreeable accounts thereof sent to me. I apprehend this end of the avenue drew narrower in imitation of the tail of a snake, and that one stone stood in the middle of the end, by way of close. This I infer from the manner of the end of that avenue of the Druid temple at Classerness; which I take to be the tail of a snake. Of which hereafter.

For a more mathematical determination of this end of the avenue, see Chap X. at the end.

The avenue took another circular sweep of a contrary manner, as it descended from Longstone cove, bending southward.

——pars cætera campum [the rest of the field]

Ponè legit, sinuatque immensa volumine terga. [Ponè reads, and closes the back with an immense volume.]

as Virgil writes of this creature, Æneid II.

And it went over variety of elevations and depressures as the other of Kennet avenue; but that terminated on a hill, as this in a valley. With great judgment, they thus laid out the ground, to make the whole more picture-like.

Table XIX. Continuation of Kennet avenue 24 May 1724.

Bekamton-village lies very low, at the bottom of a valley subject to inundations, and the ground is springy: they can't make cellars there: whereas Abury is very dry, and their wells deep.

There are many barrows on the south downs, between St. Anne's-hill and Bekamton, which chiefly regard this avenue. Many as we go up to the Roman camp of Oldbury, and in Yatesbury-field. And pretty near the termination, in the valley of Bekamton under Cherill-hill, is a group or line of half a score of very different forms, which make a pretty appearance. So the valley along the present road from Bekamton to the Devizes and Bath, is full of barrows on both sides; all regarding this part of the sacred work, the tail of the snake.

I am confident, the reader by this time has conceived a just notion of this wonderful work, which we have described with as much brevity as possible; and at the same time he will resent its fate, that a few miserable farmers should, within the space of 20 years, destroy this the noblest monument, which is probably on the face of the globe; which has stood so many ages, and was made to stand as many more. The grandeur of the work has rendered it altogether unnecessary to add any heightning, or any flourishes. I leave it as an out-line of the most masterly hand, a picture that requires no colouring.

Concerning the forms of the religious performances here, I can say but little, more than that I see nothing, but what appears to be in the ancient patriarchal mode, before covered temples were introduced in the world; the æra of which time, I am fully convinced, was that of the Mosaick tabernacle. We may well assert this to be ancienter than that time; as the largest, so probably one of the most ancient in the Britannic isles. The Druids were tempted to make this work here, by the appearance of the stones on the downs, on the other side of Hakpen-hill, called the gray weathers. Finding the ground all overspread with these enormous masses, they had no difficulty in resolving, and they made none in putting their resolution in execution; in conveying 650 of the choicest of them, to make this notable temple. Thus we cast up the number.

The outer circle of Abury town 100

The outer circle of the northern temple 030

The inner circle 012

The cove 003

The outer circle of the southern temple 030

The inner circle 012

The ambre or central obelisc 001

The ring stone 001

The avenue of Kennet 200

The outer circle of Hakpen 040

The inner 018

The avenue of Bekamton 200

Longstone cove jambs 002

The inclosing stone of the serpent's tail 001


The square of Solomon's temple was 700 cubits; the diameter of Abury is 800. But Abury, in square content, is to Solomon's temple as 50 to 49. If we take into the account the vallum of Abury, we find this would hold incomparably more people than the other, as spectators or assistants. An hun38dred oxen in sacrifice was an hecatomb. Twenty two thousand were offered by Solomon at the dedication, beside other animals. Three times in the year the whole nation of Israel assembled there, to pay their devotions and sacrifices, the aboriginal covenant made between God and man, in order to obtain favour and pardon. For ought we know, there might be as many here, and on the same account. I believe their most common times of these extraordinary religious meetings were on the four quarters of the year, the equinoxes and solstices.

We may well wonder how these people could bring together so many of these great stones, and set them up so exactly. The stones they had not far to fetch, only from the other side of the Hakpen, from the gray weathers. Their vicinity, their lying on the surface of the ground, the soil here being solid chalk, was the great inducement for the Druids, in these most early ages, to build this temple. The manner of their mechanics, which undoubtedly was very simple, must be equally surprizing. I apprehend, they brought the stones upon strong carriages, and drew them by men. For even in Cæsar's time, there was an infinite multitude of people. Their manner of raising the stones seems to have been with tall trees, used for leavers, and no doubt very artfully applyed. The method of fixing these enormous blocks of stone was, to dig a hole in the solid chalk, and ram the foundation of it in, with lesser stones, flints, and coggles, very artfully. They are not let in above two feet and a half deep. And the country being all a solid bed of chalk, was another reason why here, as at Stonehenge, they chose it for this extraordinary building. The conducting and rightly managing an immense number of hands, the providing for their maintenance, was a matter of wisdom and great authority. The marvellous effect produced, might well establish the glory of the Druids of Britain, which echoed across the ocean, and very much favoured the opinion mankind had conceived of their practising magick. For magick is nothing else but the science that teaches us to perform wonderful and surprizing things, in the later acceptation of the word. And in very many ages after the Druid times, mankind had the same notion, and the vulgar have to this day, concerning these works. And most probably from them sprung the character, which Pliny gives of our british Druids practising magic, and being so great proficients therein, as to equal the persian and chaldean magi, "so that one would even think," says he, "the Druids had taught it them."

I judge it much more probable, the Druids learned it from them, at least they both derive it from the same original fountain. And whatever they might practise of real magic, the notion of mankind concerning them, received strength from the name magi, which they might bring with them from the east. Magus there originally signifies no more than a priest, or person who officiates in sacreds. The word comes from maaghim meditabundi, people of a contemplative, retired life; whom more commonly in the west, they called Druids. I am not dubious in thinking the times we are talking of, when this temple of Abury was built, are of the extremest antiquity, near that of Abraham. I was very often on the spot, furnished with what I thought a convincing argument, from considering the wear of the weather, what effect it had upon these stones of a very firm texture, a kind of gray marble. And thus my reasoning was founded.

I had sufficient opportunity of comparing the effect of the weather upon the stones here, and upon those at Stonehenge. For some years together, I went from one to the other directly, staying a fortnight or more at each 39place to make my observations. Nothing is more manifest, than that the stones of Stonehenge have been chizeled, some quite round, some on three sides, easily to be distinguished. The stones of Abury are absolutely untouched of tool. No doubt, at that time of day, the aboriginal patriarchal method from the foundation of the world was observed, not to admit a tool upon them. Even when Solomon's temple was built, tho' the stones were all carved with great art, yet that was done before they were brought to the building; for no ax or hammer was heard thereon. The like, probably, may be said of Stonehenge.

Table XX. The HAKPEN or snakes head temple on Overton hill, calld the Sanctuary [Map].

It seems likely, that when Stonehenge was built, the Druids had some notice from phœnician traders, of the nature of Solomon's temple; therefore they made their impost work, as some kind of advance, toward a covered temple, and likewise chizeled their stones in compliance thereto. By using the best of my judgment, in comparing the effect of the weather upon Stonehenge and Abury, I could easily induce myself to think that Abury was as old again. For in some places there were cavities a yard long, corroded by time, and on those sides that originally lay on the ground, which, if they had not been exposed to the weather, by being set upright, would have been smooth. Several other persons of good judgment have been of the same sentiment.

RUBEN HORSALL Clark of Abury & Antiquarian. July 29 1722