Books, Prehistory, Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, Introduction
Introduction is in Long Barrows of the Cotswolds.
In this Introduction I shall deal only with the Long Barrows of the Cotswolds.
Books, Prehistory, Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, Introduction, I Distribution
Considered in relation to the rest of England, the Cotswold Long Barrows form a distinct group, as may be seen from the map. Within this group there are two regions where they are more thickly set: (a) the Swell region; (b) the Avening region.
Books, Prehistory, Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, Introduction, I Distribution, a The Swell Region
( a ) The Swell Region. Within a region a thousand yards square are the remains of five Long Barrows. (Four of these still exist; one - represented by the Whistlestone [No. 107]- has been removed to another site). Just beyond is the Hoarstone [No. 92] - probably the remains of a sixth. These remains all lie on the west side of the river Dickler, between the villages of Upper and Lower Swell. About two miles to the west, on the western slopes of the upper Slaughter valley, are three more; and in between are the probable remains of another. The periphery of this region of concentration is almost or quite blank; eastwards there are none till Rollright is reached, nine miles to the N.E. Now there must be some reason for the presence of ten Long Barrows - seven are still in existence - within an area two miles square. It postulates a concentration of population; and in those primitive neolithic days men were closely dependent upon Nature in their choice of settlement. What were the attractions of the Swell district ? I think the main one was the abundant perennial supply of water. The very name of Swell may indicate the presence of springs; or possibly be the ancient name of the river here; its derivation is doubtful, and early forms do not help. One would refer it either to O.E. swellan, to swell, or to O.E. swelgan, to swallow. From the latter comes O.E. swelgend, defined by Bosworth and Toller as "a place which swallows up (lit. or fig.), a very deep place, an abyss, a gulf, whirlpool; vorago, barathrum." Its use in the charters suggests that swelgend may have been used for a place where a stream sinks into limestone - a swallow-hole in fact. However this may be, the well at Lower Swell has long been famous. A former Rector refers1 to "the once marvellous village spring, once sending forth its 240 gallons per minute." The sides of the valley here are lined with springs, feeding the Dickler; and the same reasons which proved so attractive to the builders of the Long Barrows were probably equally so to the Roman, the Saxon and the mediaeval settlers who have left traces of their habitations close by. Higher up, in the direction of Condicote, these springs become much less frequent.
Note 1. Trans. B. and G.A.S. vii. 76. I do not know whether this refers to the old Lady Well (near the Church) which was probably a sacred well from very early times or to some other.
A similar explanation will account for the smaller group at Eyford. Here, at a place now called Chalk Hill1 , there is marked "Seven Springs" in Isaac Taylor's Map of 1777; and the valley of the Slaughter is thickly set with springs below the bridge at Burn Cottages. Above the bridge there seem to be few or none. Hither, no doubt, the Neolithic herdsmen came with their flocks and herds from the great sheep-walks and cow-pastures around Guiting Hill, Kineton Thorns, Swell Wold and Eyford Hill. Even to this day the field in which one of the Long Barrows lies is called by the older generation Cow Common.
Note 1. I am convinced there must be more discoveries to be made at Chalk Hill (unless quarrying has destroyed them); I have not been able to make a proper search, however.
The following extract from a letter, dated November 13th, 1922, and addressed to the author by Mr. L. Richardson of Cheltenham, will be of interest. Mr. Richardson, who is preparing a Memoir on the Water Supply of Gloucestershire for the Geological Survey, says:- "Chalk Hill proper is high up, and only small springs are there thrown out by the Fuller's Earth. The big springs near there are the source of the 'Eye' and the 'Roaring Wells' of Eyford. They are thrown out by the Upper Lias Clay and give rise - except in dry weather - to the 'Eye,' which lower down is called the Slaughter Brook. In Eyford Park, on the northern outskirts of which are the above-mentioned springs, is 'Milton's Well' - another small spring thrown out by the Upper Lias Clay. The 'Eye' (Slaughter Brook) flows into the Dickler in the Vale of Bourton. . Water issues copiously at Waterhead, and is impounded near its outburst to form Donnington mill-pond. Moreton-in-Marsh derives its supply from here. The Dickler, above Waterhead, flows mostly underground - is a bourne. . There is a strong spring at Lower Swell, that mentioned by Canon Royce. It is used to supply Lower Swell, and there is a strong overflow. The district in which all the above springs are situate is certainly noteworthy for the number of good springs comparatively close together, and the fact supports your suggestion."
The geological cause of the abundant springs is the exposure in the valley-sides of impervious liassic clays, through which the rainwater that has fallen on the oolitic uplands cannot permeate. At the junction of the overlying oolitic limestone beds with the lias clays a spring-line is formed.
Books, Prehistory, Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, Introduction, I Distribution, b The Avening Region
(b) The Avening Region. The same causes again may be invoked to account for the concentration in the region round Avening and Bisley. It would be tedious to examine each instance in detail. It will be sufficient to draw attention to the facts which are brought out by the map, where the presence of a spring is indicated by the letter 'S.'
It should be remarked that the number of Long Barrows in this region was probably greater than now appears. The numerous named stones near Minchinhampton are probably relics of destroyed Long Barrows; and in the large parish of Bisley there seem to be some which have not yet been accurately located.1
In the vicinity of Gatcombe is a concentration of the same kind as at Lower Swell.
Note 1. See under Devil's Garden, Cob Stone and Bisley. Some of this information has come to hand since I was in the district; and I have therefore not had the opportunity of investigating further.
Books, Prehistory, Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, Introduction, I Distribution, c Other Distributions
Other Distributions. It will be profitable to compare the distribution of Long Barrows with that of other objects over the same area.
One of the most remarkable features of the Cotswolds is the extraordinary abundance of flint arrowheads there. I know of no district in England where they have been found in such immense numbers. They consist of two main types, barbed and tanged, and leaf-shaped. The barbed and tanged arrowheads, which are more common here than the leaf-shaped, have never been found with a primary interment in a Long Barrow, and they are therefore regarded as belonging to a subsequent period. Leaf-shaped arrowheads on the other hand, have in several instances been found with primary interments in LOng Barrows, and are rightly regarded therefore as belonging to the period of construction. Two such leaf-shaped arrowheads were found in the south chamber of Windmill Tump, Rodmarton; another was found in Chamber 4 at Notgrove; and another in West Tump. Other examples have been recorded in Wiltshire. The material for a study of the local distribution of flint arrowheads is preserved in the Cheltenham Museum, in the Royce Collection at Stow-on-the-Wold, in the British Museum, and in the private collections of Mr. A. E. W. Paine of Cheltenham, Mr. Witchell of Stroud and others. In very few instances is the exact site of discovery recorded; in the Royce Collection an attempt is made, but the present condition of this fine collection is such that its scientific value is much impaired, and it cannot be used for study as it should. It contains literally hundreds of arrowheads, all found within the radius of a few miles of Lower Swell. One drawer alone is full of loose arrowheads, which may be taken up by the handful. The majority in this collection, and in others, consists of barbed and tanged specimens, but leaf-shaped arrowheads are by no means uncommon. The ratio is difficult to estimate under the existing conditions of labelling, but in the Royce Collection I should estimate the proportion of leaf-shaped to other types as being about the same as that of Long to Round Barrows in the Cotswolds. That is exactly what one would expect. Equally normal is the extraordinary abundance of arrowheads in the Swell district, which, as we have seen, was a region where population was concentrated.
If we wish to find a parallel for this remarkable phenomenon we must look to the limestone moors of Derbyshire and Staffordshire. There we find the same abundance (and I believe proportion) of both types of arrowhead. That region was, like the Cotswolds, a region of relatively dense population, both in the Late Neolithic Period and the succeeding Bronze Age.
An interesting point, however, is that in other regions, which, from the evidence of barrows, we know to have been centres of habitation, arrowheads of both kinds are comparatively rare. No part of England was more thickly inhabited during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages than the Marlborough Downs, Salisbury Plain and the Dorset uplands. Yet the local museums and private collections do not contain nearly so large a number of arrowheads as those of Gloucestershire. I doubt whether there are in all the Wiltshire Collections put together as many arrowheads as are to be found in the Royce Collection alone.
This is not due to an absence of local collectors, for Wiltshire has always had its full share of these; and indeed has had more than the Cotswolds. In Wiltshire the region where arrowheads are most common is undoubtedly that around Avebury, where (as we shall see on a later occasion) Long Barrows are thickly concentrated.
Several interesting conclusions may be drawn from this. But first of all I must draw attention to a remarkable fact noticed by Canon Greenwell1, namely, the almost complete absence of stone axes in the Cotswolds.2 What is the reason for this dearth of axes ? It is most difficult to think of any satisfactory answer. I can only suggest that few were lost; and that broken or worn-out axes were chipped up into arrowheads and scrapers. An axe is less easily lost than those smaller implements; and we know that it was the regular practice of the people who lived on Windmill Hill near Avebury to use up damaged polished axes in this way. Flint does not occur naturally in the Cotswolds in lumps large enough for axes, and every fragment may have been treasured up and re-used, just as, later, broken pieces of bronze implements were carefully preserved for the melting pot. I admit, however, that this suggested explanation is a very unsatisfactory one.
Note 1. British Barrows, pp. 443-4.
Note 2. They may be briefly enumerated here: a polished stone axe from near the Long Barrow at Uley" (now in Guy's Hospital Museum); a polished axe (which has not yet been seen by an archeologist) found at Chedworth; 19 fragments of polished flint axes in the Cardew Collection at Cheltenham. There is not a single complete specimen in the Cheltenham Museum, nor a single specimen - perfect and unbroken - in the Royce Collection. In the Gloucester Museum are three: (i) from "pit dwellings at Westbridge near Wotton-under-Edge (2) from the Stancombe side of Stinchcombe Hill, and (3) from the Long Stone, Minchinhampton."
The abundance of arrowheads is easily explained. They were easy to make - the Brandon flint-workers of to-day will show you how easy - and exceedingly easy to lose. They show that the people of the Cotswolds must have been great hunters as well as shepherds and cowherds. Indeed there seems to have been little agriculture in this region throughout prehistoric times. Cultivation banks are almost entirely absent, and so are the agricultural hill-top village communities of the Iron Age which are so abundant on the chalk downs. During the Middle Ages the region was famed for its wool; and the great sheep-walks remained virgin pasture right up to the end of the last century.
There is yet another puzzling lacuna in the objects found in the Cotswolds- the almost complete absence of beakers. With the exception of a fragment1 from Eyford, and of some small fragments with oblong punch-marks in the Gloucester Museum2, I do not know of a single instance in Gloucestershire. This may partly be due to lack of excavation. Very few Cotswold Round Barrows have been excavated; scientific method has been conspicuously absent; "mere" potsherds have been neglected, and even when preserved have been retained by the finders in too many instances, with the almost invariable result that they have now been lost. In those few barrows3 where dateable objects were found, the remains seem to belong to the full Bronze Age- the period of bronze knife-daggers - or to an even later part of it (Swell 216, where a bronze razor and cinerary urns with overhanging rim were found).
Note 1. This fragment may be amongst the objects in the Rolieston Collection at Oxford. Whether it was in reality part of a beaker is uncertain.
Note 2. Found "in a round barrow near Nailsworth'' in 1869, and presented by Mr. G. F. Playne of Nailsworth in 1874.
Note 3. Such as those at Snowshill and Notgrove. See Arch, Hi, 70. and Trans, B, and G, A, S, vii, 70 and 71.
Objects characteristic of the first - or æneolithic - period are completely lacking. There is not a single recorded instance of the discovery of any of the characteristic types- slate wrist-guards (Armschutzplatten), flint daggers, conical buttons, flint knife-daggers, copper blades- all of which have been found in the Round Barrows of Wiltshire associated with beakers and brachycephalic skeletons. We are driven to the conclusion, hinted at by Thurnam1, that the neolithic inhabitants of the Cotswolds were less affected by the invasion of the round-headed Beakerfolk than were their kinsmen in the south. It even seems possible that they continued burying their dead in Long Barrows when the people of Wiltshire had begun to bury them in round ones; so that some at least of the Cotswold Long Barrows may belong to the ^neolithic period of the rest of England. Even in Wiltshire we know that Long Barrows were still being made - or used - after the arrival of the Beaker-folk.2
Note 1. Mem. Anthr, Soc, i.
Note 2. This is proved by the discovery of beaker-fragments associated with fragments of round-bottomed bowls in the West Kennet Long Barrow. They are now in the Devizes Museum.
It is tempting to prolong these speculations based upon negative evidence. Why are there no stone circles in Gloucestershire? Is this to be connected with the suggested absence of the Beaker-folk ? And why are there no disc-barrows ? Observe that the moment we cross the Evenlode we find a small burial-circle (near the Cross Hands, see pp. 175-6), a typical stone circle (at Rollright), and a disc barrow (seen by Stukeley, Abiiry, p. 12). Further, these anomalies occur on an "island" or outlier of habitation nearer to the settlement-area of the Beaker-folk round Oxford. Are we to regard the Rollright uplands as a westward extension - a frontier post, so to speak - of the Oxfordshire Beakerfolk ?- as an overlap between the old and the new cultures. The older being represented by the King Stone Long Barrow and the Whispering Knights, the younger by the stone circle, the round barrows, the vanished disc barrow, and the burial circle. The absence of stone circles, burial circles, and disc-barrows in the Cotswolds proper is a strong argument that these three types of monument do not belong to the Long Barrow culture-circle. Other evidence in support will appear when Sheet I has been dealt with.1
Note 1. The round earthwork at Condicote may have had the ditch on the inside of the bank. If so, it would have been presumably a sacred circle rather than a defensive camp. But it is impossible to be certain of this fact by mere observation, only excavation can decide on which side the ditch really is. In its present condition mere inspection is inadequate to decide this most important point, and I merely mention it in the hope that excavation will be undertaken. A single trench through the rampart, prolonged inside for a few yards, would be sufficient.
Books, Prehistory, Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, Introduction, I Distribution, Position
Position. Many of the Long Barrows are placed on the edge of valleys. Such for instance, are those of Juniper Hill, Lamborough Banks, Belas Knap, Eyford, New Close and Slate Pits Copse. Others, such as Lyneham, Crickley, King Stone and the Whispering Knights seem to be placed on or near the centre of a ridge of high ground, and to have some relation to a ridge way track. That ridgeways are of very ancient origin is highly probable, and has been suggested by Sir Arthur Evans and Dr. Grundy. But it is always very difficult to prove them to have existed at any given date in prehistoric times. We can rarely, if ever, go beyond the realms of mere probability. A prehistoric date, however, can hardly be denied to such tracks as Buckle Street, which is accompanied by barrows from Willersley Hill to its termination at Bourton-on-the-Water.1 The ancient sites at Rollright are all situated just below the highest point of the ridge and on the southern slope. They are all within a stone's throw of the modern road, which is certainly a very ancient one, and which itself deliberately avoids the crest of the hill. These facts indicate that the builders of the monuments lived to the south of them, as the topography itself also suggests. The crest of the ridge may have been shunned by the road on account of its bleakness, a fact familiar to all those who have frequented that region in winter, during a period of north-easterly winds.
Note 1. Barrows occur on Willersey Hill itself (one Long and one Round), near Scarborough Farm (Round), at Salterns Pool (Round), at the cross-roads a mile S.W. of Trafalgar Farm, in Kineton Thorns (Round), and Wagborough Bush (Round). All except the first of these intervals approximates very closely to a mile and a half.
The question of proximity of Long Barrows to each other has already been dealt with in the Professional Paper. Another possible aspect of the same subject is suggested by certain Long Barrows which may be placed end to end. No certain instance is known to me in this region; but there are two so placed at Barton Stacey in Hampshire. The Long Barrow at Juniper Hill may really be two placed end to end. Witts believed that there were two so placed at Camp; the present condition of the southern barrow however, is such that his opinion cannot be tested without excavation. Another doubtful instance occurs at College Plantation; but here again, excavation only can determine whether one of the mounds - the western - is a true Long Barrow.
A few words must be said to anticipate an objection which has frequently been made. It is said that arguments about distribution are vitiated at the outset by the upsetting effect of agricultural operations. Barrows, it is said, occur most thickly on land that has for long been, or still is, virgin soil; their absence elsewhere is due to destruction by ploughing. But that is not so here. No district of the Cotswolds has been subjected to more ploughing than the neighbourhood of Lower Swell - an ancient Saxon settlement. Apart from any question of Roman agriculture - and we have remains of a Roman villa at Lower Swell - there can be no doubt that from mediaeval times at least, cultivation was extended all round the Long Barrows that cluster so thickly near the Church; and it is certain that it has gone on there ever since, and is still continuing. But in no period until the present (beginning, say, 300 years ago) was the destruction of these primeval burial-places so lightly undertaken or so thoroughly carried out. An even stronger argument is the absence of barrows, both long and round, in certain tracts of virgin country. Agricultural operations have never been carried on extensively1 in the Forest of Dean, the Central Weald, or the New Forest. Yet large tracts of the first and last region, and the whole of the Central Weald are entirely destitute of barrows, and indeed of almost every kind of prehistoric remains, fixed or portable. In the f Cotswolds a check is afforded by the distribution of leaf-shaped arrow-heads, themselves, be it noted, picked up mainly on ploughed fields; for at least one of the most prolific regions- the Swell district - coincides exactly with a region where Long Barrows have been seen to concentrate.
Note 1. Except, of course, in a few isolated clearings still inhabited.
Books, Prehistory, Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, Introduction, II Purpose
That Long Barrows were intended for the burial of the dead must be obvious from the facts enumerated in this book. These facts speak for themselves and are a full and sufficient answer to those - if any there be I still - who have doubts as to their purpose. A few words must be said i about the ossuary theory. According to those who hold this view - and S the present writer is one - the bones deposited in the burial-chambers had I already been buried or exposed for a time elsewhere; and were subsequently dug up or collected for solemn re-burial in a permanent and more I imposing resting-place. There is a good deal of evidence for this theory; and there are many facts which are more satisfactorily explained by it than by any other. In the majority of instances where excavation has been carefully conducted, and where accurate observations have been made, complete skeletons have not been found, but the incomplete remains of several skeletons. In one instance (Pole's Wood South) the size of the burial chamber was not great enough to have contained the total number of bodies found in it, supposing all these to have been placed in it immediately after death. If we are justified in believing that the religion of the Long Barrow people in England was akin to that of the Mediterranean peoples, and that both were branches of a single, once uniform, cult, we may quote in support the instances of secondary burial recorded in Italy and Sicily.1 This strange custom was still observed in the West Indies in the 17th century. In a letter to John Aubrey, the Wiltshire antiquary, dated October 16th, 1689, Sir Hans Sloane thus describes it2: "All I could learn at Jamaica concerning the way of sepulture of the ancient Indian inhabitants was that they put the bodies of their dead into the natural caves of the rocks, and that after some time, wherein the fleshy and other more corruptible parts of the carcases were consumed, they took the dust and bones and laid them in urns in the same cavities of the rocks; and shutt up all entrances into these caves with loose stones adapted together the best way they could without any cement." He then describes the discovery of a cave in the Red Hills, four miles from St. Jago de la Vega, in the plantations of one Mr. Barnes, which was walled up in this way and contained "one carcase, bones all in order, and the rest of the cave filled with pots wherein were bones of men and children; the pots or urnes were oval, about i-| foot in diameter and 3 inches deep, of a dirty reddish colour, and on the upper part of their rim or ledge there stood an ear not one inch square on which were made some lines grossly enough cut near the upper edge." In another cave in the east of the island were found "similar urns with covers to them on which were made the figures of alligators and other creatures of that kind."
Note 1. See Professional Paper, No. 6, p. 5.
Note 2. Copied from a MS. transcript, by Colt Hoare (1810), of extracts from Aubrey's Monumenta Britannica^ in the Devizes Library ("Wilts MS.").
The broken condition of the bones in these Cotswold Long Barrows is, however, such as to suggest that mere re-burial is not by itself a sufficient explanation. The fractures are often such as would require considerable force; and the fact that different parts of the same bone are found some distance apart proves that the fracture cannot have been caused by any collapse of the superstructure. Moreover the same phenomena have been observed in unrifled and perfect chambers. The period of temporary burial would not have been sufficient to reduce the bones to a friable, mineralised condition, which requires centuries of inhumation. The breaking up of the bones would seem therefore, to have been intentional, and was perhaps of a ritual character. What this ritual was, or what beliefs lay behind the custom of secondary burial we do not know, and we cannot expect to find out by excavation. For an explanation we must look to the accounts of anthropologists who have actually observed this custom being carried out.
It has been suggested that the burial chambers in these Cotswold Long Barrows were modelled upon stone huts used by their builders for habitation. Common sense tells us that people who could build as well as they could would not build only tombs. But not a single one of these hypothetical dwellings has survived in this region; and we have therefore no direct evidence. True, a "round underground hut, formed of dry walling" is said to have existed in the "immediate vicinity" of the Long Barrow called Lamborough Banks (No. 34), in 1865, but for this single instance we have only the authority of the Rev. S. Lysons, whose book, Our British Ancestors, does not inspire confidence.1 No traces of it now survive, if it ever existed. Canon Greenwell discussed the possibility of his Swell 317 (round) being a hut, and concluded, quite rightly as I think, that it was a burial chamber.
Note 1. His derivation of Hetty Pegier's Tump from two Hebrew words, i.e., Hete, meaning "heat, fire, burning," and "peleg" meaning "distribution," will give some idea of the character of his work. "As far as we can make out any meaning at all from his book, English is Welsh and Welsh is Hebrew," wrote Professor Freeman in a most amusing notice of it (Saturday Review, Nov. 25th, 1865).
The almost complete absence of habitations belonging to the Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages in England is a most puzzling fact. People who made Long Barrows must have had some form of permanent settlement; yet neither here, nor as we shall see, in Wessex, have any traces whatever been found.1 Their absence in Wessex is the more strange; for we can hardly regard Avebury and Stonehenge as the work of wandering shepherds.
Note 1. Since this was written some traces have been found in Wiltshire; but full investigation is now taking place.
Books, Prehistory, Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, Introduction, III Age
Nothing that has been found with the primary interments of the Cotswold Long Barrows is inconsistent with the hypothesis that they belong to the late Neolithic Period. No trace of metal and no metal object has ever been found. The discovery of leaf-shaped arrowheads at Notgrove (41), West Tump (52) and Rodmarton (56) is in agreement with Thurnam's attribution^; of this type to the Long Barrow period; no barbed and tanged arrowhead has ever, in this country, been found in a Long Barrow. We are not helped much by the discovery of bone implements at Bown Hill (15), Pole's Wood East (44) and Belas Knap (12); their value is due rather to the paucity of Long Barrow types than to any intrinsic merit. The two beads from Eyford (24)§ and Notgrove (41) respectively, are new since Thurnam's classic article, and they are both likely to prove valuable for purposes of dating.
Pottery. Most of the pottery found in the Gloucestershire Long Barrows is so fragmentary that it is of little use for comparative purposes; moreover most of it has disappeared. The fragment from Nympsfield appCErs to have borne the maggot pattern usually associated with round-bottomed bowls.1 That from Gatcombe Lodge may have been similarly ornamented; the fragment illustrated in Lysons' letter certainly had a herring-bone device upon it. The "debris of a vessel of very coarse pottery, nearly black" found in the intact northern chamber at Rodmarton (56) was regarded by Thurnam as "the most important find of pottery yet made in the Chambered Long Barrows of this district." It has now been lost; at any rate its present whereabouts are unknown2; but Thurnam had seen it and recorded that it was of identical fabric with that found in the Long Barrow at Norton Bavant, Wilts, J now in the British Museum. A new feature is presented by the flat "bead-rim" of a fragment from Notgrove. (See p. 117).
Note 1. See Mr. R. A. Smith's article in Arch lxii.
Note 2. If it exists it is probably with the rest of Lysons' collection, wherever that may be.
Note 3. Figured in Arch, xlii., p. 195, fig. 4. It should be noted that Thurnam, who always chose his words carefully, compares the fabric, not the shape, of the two vessels.
The most important (because the most perfect) piece of Neolithic pottery from the Cotswolds is the vessel1 found at the eastern end of Pole's Wood South (45). It was not associated with an interment, but "was found just over the facing of the north 'horn,' near to its eastern extremity, and not much below the present surface of the mound." (Greenwell, Brit. Barrows, p. 523). Mr. R. A. Smith describes it as "4 inches high, the ware pinkish brown, fairly thin and hard, with a fair proportion of grit; and the ornamentation consists of curving but irregular groups of lines made with a toothed stick. Though the ware is comparatively thin, and the bottom flat, the profile recalls that of the Neolithic bowls, and is distinct from any recognised Bronze Age type." (Arch. Ixii, 347, fig. 14). It will be seen from the drawing (reproduced here, by kind permission of the Society of Antiquaries, on p. 128), that the bottom, though less rounded than that of the vessels from Peterborough and Mortlake, is hardly flat; it would be more correct to describe it as "rounded."
Note 1. Now in the British Museum, Wall-case 18.
In the Royce Collection at Stow-on-the-Wold is a large piece of a small plain round-bottomed vessel with straight unmoulded lip. It has no label; but its paste has the characteristic admixture of pounded fossil shell noted by Thurnam as characteristic of Neolithic pottery in certain districts. It was probably found in one of the Long Barrows in the Swell district excavated by Royce; but in the absence of any label its value is slight.
Roman Rifling. The fact that the Romans rifled barrows has long been known. The evidence from this region is confirmatory. The finds consist of (i) Bown Hill [coin of Germanicus]; (2) Hetty Pegler's Tump [coins of the "three sons of Constantine"]; (3) Randwick [Roman horse-shoe and potsherds]; (4) Windmill Tump, Rodmarton [coin of Claudius Gothicus]; (5) Hoar Stone, Enstone [Roman pottery]1. In all these barrows the position in which the Roman remains were found proved that the mound had been dug into during the Roman occupation.
In several of the Long Barrows secondary burials of the Saxon period have been found in the upper part of the mound or cairn. There would seem to be no object in making more than a passing reference here to this practice, since its occurrence is noted in the detailed descriptions, and it seems to have little bearing on our subject.
Note 1. See also Pen-y-Wyrlod (7), Brecknockshire.
Bronze Age Cists. I have already referred to the possibility that Long Barrows may have continued being made in this region during the first period of the Bronze Age, more properly called the Aeneolithic Period. That they did not continue to be made much after this period is probable from the fact that stone cists in round barrows have been found, containing bronze knife-daggers of a type which belongs to the second period of the Bronze Age. The difference has been well summed up by Canon Greenwell (Brit. Barrows, p. 451):- "The principal feature which marks the difference between the earlier and the later mode of burial in barrows of a time before the introduction of iron, and where stone receptacles for the body have been constructed within the mound, appears to be this. In the earlier places of sepulture [i.e. in this district. Long Barrows] the bodies, burnt or unburnt, have been deposited in what may be called chambers, that is, receptacles which are not entirely closed, and into which, in many cases, access was had by a gallery or passage; in the later ones the bodies were placed in a cist, that is, a receptacle entirely closed, and into which it was not intended that access in the future should be had." Generally speaking, cists occur in Round Barrows and chambers in Long ones. But it will be noted that in Brecknockshire cists occur also in some of the Long Barrows (e.g., Tyisaf and Pen-y-Wyrlod); while in Gloucestershire a chamber was found in a Round Barrow which formed one of five in a row and touching each other.1 Canon Greenwell attributed this barrow (his No. 217), to a transitional period; and regarded it as certainly of sepulchral origin. It had been rifled and no remains were found of any primary interment. In structure it closely resembled the chambers of Long Barrows. (Plans of this group of Round Barrows, including that with the chamber in question, are given on p. 91. Although not strictly germane to the subject of this book, these barrows are not unconnected with the later evolution of burial chambers, and the plans have not previously been published.)2
Note 1. In the field called Cow Common, close to the Long Barrow (21) and to the west of it. The others in the row were certainly of the Bronze Age.
Note 2. I have to thank Mr. Roland Austin, Librarian of Gloucester, for facilities in copying these plans from the originals, by Sir Henry Dryden, which are in his charge.
In Trans. Bristol and Gloucestershire Archeological Society, Vol. vii, 70 and 71, Canon Royce described the opening of a Round Barrow of the Bronze Age east of Notgrove station. It was encountered (and partially or wholly destroyed) when the railway cutting was made. The mound seems to have consisted of a core of topsoil, covered by "a kind of slight roofing of slates carried up about one-third of the slope of the barrow." This suggests that the slates were derived from the excavation of a surrounding ditch, dug after the bulk of the earthen mound had been piled up. If so, there would be a parallel here to the bell-barrow at Roundwood, Hants, (described in the Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club, Vol. ix.. Part 2). In the centre "under a beehive-like capping of stones, in size two feet by ten inches but tapering off" was "a cist, four feet square, each side facing the cardinal points." (See plan). In the centre of the cist "on a floor of carefully laid slates, was deposited a small heap of decomposed [he probably means 'burnt'] matter with small broken bones above it. There were two portions of skulls .... To the west of this little heap, a small triangular bronze implement, much corroded, perforated at the base with two holes. This instrument was sent to Dr. Rolleston, and is probably in the Oxford Museum. This burial was, of course, after cremation."1 The bronze implement referred to is figured on Plate 10 of the same volume, and is evidently a typical knife-dagger belonging to Period II of the Bronze Age. Its present abode is unknown, unless it is still buried (for the second time) in the store rooms of the Oxford University Museum, where the rest of the Rolleston collection is believed to be.
Note 1. Further on it is stated that the stones of this cist were conveyed to Copse Hill [a large country house in the parish of Upper Slaughter, half-a-mile E.N.E. of the village] and set up there on the site of another burial-ground, but not after their original position or arrangement."
A third instance of a burial-cist of the Bronze Age was described by Canon Greenwell (Arch. Lir, 70). It was in a barrow at Snowshill in the north of Gloucestershire. "At the centre, and partly sunk below the level of the natural surface, was a cist formed of four slabs of stone set on edge, with a single stone for a cover. It was 4 feet long, 3 feet wide and 2| feet deep. It contained the much decayed skeleton of, presumably, a man, with whom were associated two bronze daggers, a bronze pin, and a perforated axe-hammer of stone." (Illustrated there in Figs. 31 - 34). These objects all belong to the end of what may be called the knife-dagger period. One of the daggers had a socket of the Arreton type. It will be observed that all resemblance to a chamber has vanished, the cist being of the type commonly found throughout Britain during the Early Bronze Age.1
Note 1. The exact range in time of this type of cist is uncertain. It was in common use during the beaker period, and occurs even in certain late Long Barrows; and it seems to have lasted on until the Early Iron Age in some districts. It was, however, essentially a Bronze Age, not a Neolithic, type in this country.
Books, Prehistory, Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, Introduction, IV Structure
A few observations on structure may be added to those in the introduction to the first part. Some of them have been suggested by helpful criticisms of the earlier publication, particularly those of Dr. Ashby and Mr. J. G. Wood, though it is only right to add that the points raised by them were not overlooked when I visited the sites in 1 920-1.
Corbelling. Dr. Ashby raises the question of corbelling as evidence for date - whether it is possible on these grounds to distinguish earlier and later types of burial-chambers. In Sardinia it is possible to trace a development; in the earlier stages the capstones rest directly upon the tops of the supporting side stones; in the later they do not do so, but upon an interpolated course of corbelled stonework. This has the advantage of narrowing the roof-space to be covered, and so reducing the size of the capstone required.1 In the district covered by Sheet 8 evidence of this kind is scanty. Corbelling, indeed, occurs at Gatcombe Lodge, Uley, Rodmarton and Belas Knap; but it may also have occurred at the Whispering Knights, the Hoar Stone of Enstone and the other typical "dolmens" on the Welsh border. In the first two instances the capstone has fallen; but whether fallen or not, few capstones in this district rest directly upon all their supports.2 Sometimes3 this would have been impossible on account of the difference in height of the uprights. How are we to know that in such cases the difficiencies were not filled by wedges of flat stones ? The destruction of the protecting mound would account for their disappearance, which would in any case be sure to occur sooner or later when the chamber became exposed. Wanton destroyers would attack these weak spots first, even if only to have the fun of seeing the capstone collapse; this would frequently occur when the wedges were removed; and in fact, this may be a reason why so few capstones remain in position.
Note 1. The evolution of the Sardinian Giants' Tombs from the dolmen has been firmly established by Dr. Duncan Mackenzie upon other structural grounds. See Papers of the British School at Rome, Vols. V. (1910), pp. 87-137, and vi. (1913), pp. 127-170.
Note 2. Arthur's Stone, Dorstone (No. 60), appears to be an instance.
Note 3. For instance, at Enstone.
An actual instance of "mixed" structure occurs at Hetty Pegler's Tump, Uley. Here, out of the seventeen uprights forming the passage and chambers, eight directly support the capstones, and the remaining nine are separated therefrom by corbelling. The Rev. R. Jowett Burton of Chalford, to whom I am indebted for these observations, adds: "The stones between the uprights and capstones are wedges to fill in the uneven top of the upright." A similar mixture occurs in the north chamber at Gatcombe Lodge, where all except one upright are separated from the single huge capstone by corbelling. At Rodmarton there is walling or corbelling between all the uprights and capstones in both the north and south chambers. If then, we assume corbelling to be evidence of lateness of date, Rodmarton will be later than Uley, and Gatcombe Lodge will be intermediate. This conclusion is in agreement with the argument from plan set out in Professional Paper, No. 6, p. 4, where priority is postulated for the true (Uley) over the false (Rodmarton) passage-grave type.
"Dolmens." Inaccurate statements have frequently been made about those burial chambers which are at present free-standing or nearly so- that is, those which are not buried in a mound or cairn. It is assumed that there was a class of burial-chamber which was never covered; or that the covering mound was round. That in other regions burial-chambers occur in round, not long, mounds or cairns, is certain; but there is no evidence of any such in the area of Sheet 8, or indeed anywhere in England, east and south-east of the Severn. As for the presence of a mound, reference to the text will show that traces of a mound exist, or can be proved formerly to have existed, at all the now freestanding "dolmens Enstone, Whispering Knights, Arthur's Stone, Y Garn Llwyd and Cleppa Park are instances. Now these last differ in not a single essential point from the burial-chambers which occur in Long Barrows. If the covering mound or cairn at Gatcombe Lodge or Rodmarton were to be carried away, there would be left the remains of a small but quite typical free-standing "dolmen." Yet it is quite certain that in both these instances (and many other similar) we have to do with structures which are integral parts of a Long Barrow. If, as has been suggested, the free-standing "dolmens" of this region were originally covered in a round mound - which is a pure assumption - it is rather curious that these hypothetical round mounds should all have vanished when so many of the long ones have survived. And it would surely be a little unreasonable to suppose that round mounds disappear more readily than long ones ! In effect, the supporters of the "round mound" really say: "Burial-chambers in Long Barrows are distinct from 'dolmens,' because 'dolmens' stood in a round mound. This (now free-standing) 'dolmen' is a typical 'dolmen'; therefore it must have been covered (if at all) by a round mound." I repeat that I am dealing only with the district covered by Sheet 8, where, as I believe, megalithic chambers were covered only by long mounds or cairns.
"Dolmens" which are at present free-standing, often give an impression of greater height and size than those which are covered up. That this impression is misleading can be proved by measurements. The available material has been given wherever possible, in the text. In some instances, however, the height of uprights is less than it should be because the debris of excavation or natural silting from the mound has covered their bases.
Dry Walling and Uprights. It is natural to suppose that dry walling gradually superseded uprights, just as the corbelled arch may have superseded the capstone. But there is no proof that it did so. Ortholithic building was in use during the Bronze Age, though hardly on a megalithic scale, and dry walling replaced the usual upright slabs in some of the chambers at Notgrove- a barrow of the true passage-grave type - and at Belas Knap. When once dry walling had been invented and used to fill the interstices between the uprights themselves and between these and the capstone, the use of upright slabs became unnecessary, but it continued.
The Presence of Suitable Stone. That the presence or absence of suitable stone had no influence upon the distribution of Long Barrows is certain. Suitable stone occurs in Gloucestershire west of the Severn, and in a great many other parts of Sheet 8; but Long Barrows are absent. On the other hand, when they could not get suitable stone, they made a wooden chamber and an earthen mound, as we shall see when we come to deal with Sheet 1 1 . There are, in fact, more Long Barrows of this earthen kind than of the stone-chambered type. Lastly, we may refer under this heading to a curious fact which remains to be explained. The distribution of Long Barrows is not a complete guide to the distribution of population during the Long Barrow period. For there were settlements in that huge eastern region where Long Barrows are absent - probably on the banks of the Thames at Wallingford, Hedsor and Mortlake, and certainly on the shore of the Fens at Peterborough. The discovery of neolithic pottery at all these places makes it reasonable to infer settlement there. Moreover, the people used exactly the same kind of round-bottomed pottery as that which was found in the West Kennet Long Barrow and, if we may judge from a single lost fragment badly drawn, in the Nympsfield Long Barrow. Why did they not make Long Barrows ?
Orientation. With one exception- Belas Knap- the "business end" of the Long Barrows within this area is to the east, north-east, or south-east. It is also invariably higher and broader than the other end.
Ditches. There is no evidence for the presence of side-ditches accompanying any of the barrows in this area, except the two in Berkshire - Wayland's Smithy [Map] and Churn - which belong properly to the Wessex series where such ditches are the rule. In some of the Gloucestershire instances which occur on apparently virgin down - Selsley Tumps, Coberley and Lodge Park, for instance - this absence of ditches appears to be certainly an original feature and not due to subsequent silting up. This is a very natural result of the geological conditions. To get the necessary materials for the mound or cairn deep excavation was unnecessary. Shallow surface clearance of the upper disintegrated oolitic layers was enough. It was a waste of time to attempt quarrying the deeper, unweakened strata. In chalk districts, on the other hand, not only is the rock itself much softer, but its hardness does not increase in the same proportion as lower strata are reached. It gets more compact, of course, but is still workable with rude implements - as the great ditch at Avebury proves.
Working, Sculpture. With the possible exception of the shelf on one of the uprights at Belas Knap, q.v., there is no proof of the working of the stones composing these Long Barrows. Nor have cup-and-ring marks been observed anywhere in this area. It is also not unlikely that the port-hole1 stones at Belas Knap may have been artificially chipped in some cases; but this is conjectural. There is no certain means of distinguishing artificially chipped oolite from that which has been chipped or broken by natural means. Since, however, some of the holed stones of other regions have certainly been produced artificially, there seems no reason to suppose that some of the Cotswold examples may not have been intentionally chipped. The point is really hardly worth discussing.
Note 1. For further information about these port-holes see my O. S. Professional Paper No, 6, p. 5 and note on p. 73 of this book (under Belas Knap).
Portals. The principal "points" of a chambered Long Barrow may be described as the burial-chambers, the portal and the ground in front of it, the surrounding wall and the covering mound or cairn. Next after the burial-chambers, the portal is the most interesting feature. It consists (in the typical instance of Belas Knap) of two upright stones about 4 feet apart, supporting a lintel, with a flat slab set between them. In Barrows of the false passage-grave type1 the portal led either to a single chamber immediately beyond, or nowhere at all. It is, therefore, in examples of the last type, a purely ceremonial survival. Originally the portal was without doubt functional; it stood at the threshold of the tomb, and through it passed the corpse to its last home. Outside it, when closed and made fast, may have gathered the people of the tribe to do reverence to the spirit of the dead and perhaps to leave their offerings. When later it became the custom to make chambers, each opening outwards in the sides of the barrows, the holy place may still have been needed for secondary ritual performances there. It may thus have become, in fact, a kind of altar and it is to be observed that, with a single exception (Belas Knap), the portal is at the east end of the barrow. The portal is a regular feature of the Sardinian Giants' Tombs; and it occurs in the megalithic temples of Malta in a position which, when analysed, corresponds exactly to its position in, for instance, Hetty Pegler's Tump, at Uley. In the Mediterranean region the megalithic religion was - nay, still is - endemic, and the custom of placing the altar at the east end of Christian churches was probably derived ultimately from the neolithic practice. The evolution however, took place, not in these islands but somewhere in the Mediterranean, the home of many prehistoric rites adopted by Christianity.
Note 1. For a description of the true and false passage-grave types, see the introduction to my O.S. Professional Paper No. 6. A foreign example of the false passage-grave type is to be seen in Calvados; see "Le Tumulus de la Hogue à Fontenay-le-Marmion (Calvados); Étude des Tumulus néolithiques du Calvados et de l'Orne; par Léon Coutil," -Mém, Soc, Préh, française, Vol iv., 1915-19, pp. 65-138.
How comes it that we find spread over a large part of the Old World so many symbols of a common cult ? The symbols are a little different in details in each region, but there is sufficient resemblance to prove an ultimate community of origin. Let us, following anthropological methods, take one instance from the modern world, and, projecting ourselves as far into the future as before into the past, imagine the archaeologist of about A.D. 4844 reviewing the results of excavation. He finds, in the Old World, in the Early Scientific Period, the survivals of three main cults, agreeing (so far as he can judge from church-plans and the discovery of "cult objects") in general outlines, but differing in details. He argues from this a religion that was once common and undivided and that originated at one time and in one place. As time went on, this religion, he will reason, developed local peculiarities - evolved in fact, like any other living organism - until finally there appeared little in common between each, except certain fundamental facts. Their relations are found to be those of distant cousins descended from a common ancestor. That was, in my opinion, exactly the relation between the megalithic cults of, say, England, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean. Each branch - or cult-region - may have been influenced to some extent by the other, through trade or migration; but, generally speaking, each evolved along independent lines from a common origin to a different conclusion.
But to return. Leaving out barrows known to belong to the true passage-grave type, where the portal had a practical use, there are in the Cotswolds1 two certain instances of a single "portal-chamber" without entrance passage - Bown Hill (15) and Randwick (47). At Bown Hill a "chamber of five large unhewn stones" was found at the east end, against which the incurving dry walls abutted. At Randwick was the chamber, the plan of which is given on p. 130. Both these chambers contained burials; but only at Randwick is the published record sufficiently exact to be of any use as evidence. Remains indicating portals without any clear evidence of a chamber have been found at Camp (16) where the dilapidated ruins of the portals still exist at the south end; at Gatcombe Lodge where the remains of the two uprights can still be seen, and the incurving walls have been recorded but are now destroyed or covered with fallen debris; at Lodge Park (37) where the portal survives intact with the lintel and may or may not lead to a chamber; at West Tump, where two uprights only, without a lintel, were found, and where excavations proved that a chamber did not exist2; at Willersey, where "large stones" are said to have been found at the east end; at Lanhill, and at Lugbury [Map], Wiltshire, and at Windmill Tump, Rodmarton, where were two uprights five feet apart and about 8| feet high. (The rest of the account of the portal at Rodmarton is unsatisfactory. A fallen lintel is still to be seen there; but I am now inclined to discount many of the details given by Lysons to whose description I referred in Professional Paper No. 6.) There are certainly other instances, but these are enough to prove that portals were a common feature.
Note 1. I purposely omit the Brecknockshire examples which belong to a different group. The evolutionary position, and indeed, the true character "according to plan" of such barrows as Ty Illtyd, is still obscure; and it will remain so until some really thorough excavation of a whole Long Barrow (not merely of the burial chambers) has been carried out.
Note 2. The tops of the uprights were, to judge from the photographs, almost flush with the surface, so that a lintel may have existed, but have been removed before the barrow was discovered by Witts.
Books, Prehistory, Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, Introduction, V Fauna and Flora
Strictly speaking, the human remains should be dealt with under this heading. I do not, however, propose to do so, as I am not competent to discuss the anatomical side of the evidence. I shall merely call attention to two facts (i) the confirmation of Thurnam's dictum (based of course, on some of the evidence here recited); (3) the remarkable evidence of violent deaths provided by the skulls from Belas Knap. It is strange that Thurnam did not refer to this; to my mind the evidence is clear and convincing. The skulls have not all been described, and should most certainly be examined by an expert, preferably a police surgeon. (A summary of different views on "Neolithic Man" with full references, will be found in Rice Holmes' Ancient Britain (1907) pp. 393-409).
The animals included in the primary burials are ox (bos longifrons and primigenius) sheep, pig, goat, horse, dog, red deer, roe deer (I give the English names, as in most cases the Latin name of the species was not given in the original account). The evidence for the presence of the horse is clear, and I must take this opportunity of calling attention to the fact, since in a previous work (Man and His Past, 1920, p. 125) I questioned the fact.
The pig seems to have played an important part in the life of these times. In several instances the lower jaw of a pig was found in close association with primary interments - in Hetty Pegler's Tump (31), Cow Common (21), Pole's Wood South (45), and perhaps at Randwick (47). In the first barrow a perforated boar's tusk was found.
No evidence of the contemporary neolithic flora has been obtained from the Long Barrows of the district.
Books, Prehistory, Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, Introduction, VI Folklore
Both Stone Circles and Long Barrows had a religious character, and it is one of the objects of these researches to discover evidence of the beliefs and ritual of their makers. It is an exceedingly difficult task; and here, for once, excavation helps us little. The best clues are in the customs and traditions which have been recorded about individual monuments. But the passing of three or four thousand years and the disturbing influence of at least five invasions1 have both wrought much havoc.
Note 1. See Note p. 44.
When however, we find stories attached to monuments in the Cotswolds, which resemble stories told of similar (and probably contemporary) monuments in Brittany or the Channel Islands, we may reasonably argue that they are the faint echoes of a common cult. Such for instance, is the tale of midnight flirtings. Mr. Passmore was fortunate enough to catch this elusive and hitherto unrecorded bit of folk-lore from a child whom he saw near the Long Stone at Minchinhampton. The story was that when it heard the clock strike twelve, the stone ran round the field. The complementary part - ^which usually accompanies this tale - the association with water - is supplied by Gwal-y-filiast (112) which is said to go down to the sea and swim about like a fish when it hears the cock crow at night. This story, or something like it, is believed by Colonel de Guerin to account for the name "La Roque qui tourne" applied in 1549 to a stone in Guernsey. He says1:- "Though no legend concerning it has survived, it is very likely, from its name that there was once attached to it one that is very widespread in France, namely, how once a year, most usually at midnight on Xmas Eve, menhirs and the stones of certain dolmens go down to the streams or rivers to drink, disclosing stores of fairy gold beneath their bases; but woe to him who steps down into the hole to steal the treasure; for as the last stroke of twelve sounds, the stone returns and crushes him to death."2 There is no hint of hidden treasure in the two instances I have just cited, but this element is supplied in the tale- whether historical or not does not concern us - of Molly Dreamer who is said to have spent much time digging into the Gatcombe Lodge barrow and others in the district in search of treasure. I have not come across any other actual instance of this belief attached to the Long Barrows of this district; but it is still widely held of all sorts of barrows.
Note 1. Transactions of the Guernsey Society of Natural Science^ 1921, p. 44.
Note 2. For Cornish parallels see R. Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England^ 3rd edition, 1881, pp. 179, 187*
Another connecting link with the south is in the name Gwal-y-filiast - the Greyhound's Lair. Are we to see in this a connection with the Dog of Death1, whose memory is not yet extinct in Devon and Cornwall ? Our present hold upon him is so slight that we must postpone further dealings with him until that region is investigated.
Note 1. See Colonel de Guerin, op. cit., p. 36.
Links with the south and east are provided by the name "giant" associated with megalithic monuments. Only one instance of this association occurs in this region, but there must be many more hidden in tithe maps and in the memories of a few countrymen of the old sort. Near Bisley are two upright slabs, the remains of a Long Barrow, called the Giant's Stones, and the field adjoining that in which they stand is called Giant's Ground. The Tombe dei Giganti of Sardinia, which are nothing but chambered Long Barrows of a particular type, are instances from the south; and in the east we find the Hunenbedden and Jasttestuer of Holland and Denmark. The significance of the term is difficult to determine; how old is it ? We know that in England it has a respectable antiquity, for Geoffrey of Monmouth records the old name of Stonehenge as being "chorea gigantum" ("chorea" there is probably a Latinization of "gorsedd.") This very natural attribution of huge oblong graves and the like to huge men is not likely to have been made by the people who set them up. It is more likely that it dates from a time when the megalithic religion- if one may be so bold as to speak of such - was already fading away.
A similarly late origin may be given to the tale about Wayland's Smithy and the invisible blacksmith. It is a tale of the Iron Age, not of the Stone Age. The presence of an important Iron Age camp on Uffington Hill close by, and of pits of the same period immediately to the north east, is quite sufficient to account for the legend. A similar tale is said to have been recorded by Pytheas about Stromboli, the Forge of Vulcan [Schol. Apollon. Rhod. iv. 761; Schol. Callim. Hymn. Dian. 47; references quoted by Sir Clements Markham in Geographical Journal, vol. i (June, 1893), p. 523, where an excellent account of Pytheas' voyage and discovery of Britain in the 4th century B.C. is given].
The Long Stone at Minchinhampton provides us with yet another clue to ancient practices; it is said that ricketty children were passed through the hole in it to cure them. The existing hole is much too small to allow of this, but the custom may have prevailed when the burial chamber was more perfect. Speaking of La Pierre Percee in Guernsey, Colonel de Guerin says1:- "Pierced megaliths were considered to possess medical virtues, and in France have frequently been Christianised by being dedicated to some saint. They are resorted to even at the present in many parts by sufferers from various maladies, who either rub the part affected against the stone, or pass the diseased limb through the hole in the hopes of cure." There is no reason to suppose that the hole in the Long Stone is artificial, and it is certainly not analogous to the perforated stones found in certain burial-chambers. It is however, brought into direct connection with them by this custom.2
Note 1. Op. cit., p. 34.
Note 2. For perforated stones in Scotland, see D. Wilson, Prehistoric Annals, 1863, pp. 142-146; in Cornwall, R. Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England, 1881, pp. 171, 299. other instances in Folk Memory, by W. Johnson (Oxford 1908), pp. 127-8.
There is a widespread popular idea that "megalithic" stones of all kinds are so firmly fixed in the ground that they cannot be moved; that they extend as far below the ground as they do above, or further; and that attempts to move them in the past have failed completely, the tackle having broken at the first pull, or have been followed by evident signs of supernatural wrath. I was told that the Hoar Stone at Swell was thus firmly fixed, ten feet below the ground. A similar legend is attached to the Whispering Knights, and we shall come across it again in other regions. The "excavation" of Ty Illtyd in the 17th century is said to have been discouraged by thunder and lightning, a very common tale which I have often heard told of round barrows in Wessex. Of course all these stories are devoid of any basis in fact. The ease with which the stones can be moved, and have in many cases been moved, will be clear to readers of the following notes. Nothing indeed, is so strange as the very shallow depth of the holes in which the stones usually stand (those of Avebury are often barely a foot or two in the ground). There is also an idea that it brings bad luck to move them, an idea which is of course, incompatible with the stories of immovability. One cannot help wondering whether there may not linger in these tales some dim remembrance of the great hauling and pulling which must have taken place when the monuments were erected. There is a suggestive persistence in the accounts of powerful teams of horses harnessed to uproot the stones; and may not the primitive ropes have often given way under the strain ?
Stories of underground passages are told of the barrows at Lodge Park and Lamborough Banks. The significance of these is doubtful.
I was told that soldiers were thought to be buried in the Long Barrow at Blackquarries Hill. This- and the equivalent of "men killed in battle is the usual belief of the origin of nearly all barrows. It seems to be a natural explanation invented to account for burials not in consecrated ground. The countryman cannot imagine a time when his village church was not; and it was only in times of war that men would be buried in so unorthodox a place.
Thurnam, however, gives (Arch.. xlii, pp. 202, 204), a quotation from Beowulf which, with his comments, is of great interest. "In the very early Anglo-Saxon poem of Beowulf, there is a notice of what was evidently a chambered tumulus, the main features of which are described with considerable minuteness. In its recesses were treasures, - weapons and rich ornaments and vessels of heathen gold, - watched over, as the story goes, for three hundred winters by a dragon. The barrow was of stone, with a passage under it unknown to men (italics mine), the work of giants, the cave within built up with stone arches and made fast on props."
Beneath the hoary stone
Under the earth-mound
On giants' work he gazed.
The eternal cave held fast On props, with vaults of stone.
(Beowulf, C. 34, 36, 37)
In this passage the following points should be noted: (i) the name "hoar stone," so common in England also; (2) the mention of an earthen mound as a recognized component part of a chambered barrow; (3) the attribution to giants; (4) the description of a burial-chamber formed of upright slabs, and (doubtless) corbelled roofing.
I have not been able to discover the source of the first line of the above translation, but the following is the original version of the rest:-
Seah on enta geweorc
Hu tha Stan bogan
(Beowulf, II. 2717-3719).
Literally translated this is - "He saw giants' work, how the stone bow, fast on supports, held within the eternal earth-house."
A curious story is attached to the field next (on the north) to that in which Woodbarrow is situated. It is called Royal Oak, and I was told by an old countryman (Frederic Norman, of Chedworth) that the name was applied to an oak in the adjacent wood which broke into leaf "a fortnight afore the rest." The story may have no connection with the barrow, but I cannot help thinking that it has.
It is difficult to see any other than the obvious meaning in the rhyme relating to the King Stone at Rollright:-
If Long Compton thou canst see1
Then King of England shalt thou be.
This is now possible, since the Long Barrow which obstructs the view northwards has had its height reduced by ploughing. But the King Stone is not yet King of England.
A parallel may be cited from not far off in Northamptonshire. Speaking of the tradition of a battle between Saxons and Danes at Danesmore, Northants, Hamper says:-1 "the people there have a notable rhime, which they make the Danes to say upon the point of battle.'Tis this:-
If we can Padwell overgoe
And Horestone we can see,
Then Lords of England we shall be.
Padwell is a noted flush spring in Edgcote grounds; Horestone, a famous old stone on the borders of Warwickshire in Wardlinton field (co. Oxon)."
Note 1. Arch. XXV, 54, quoting "Morton, p. 542."
A similar type of story is quoted in Leland's Collectanea (Hearne, 1774, vol. 3, p. 91):- The ancient ford of Rithpencarn "ad quod publica strata ducebat" across the Nant-pentarn near Newport, Monmouth; "de quo Merlinus Sylvester mentionem faciens, in haec verba prorupit:- 'Cum fortem lentiginosum in dextrales Britones irruere videris, si Rithpencarn transierit, Cambriae vires noveris enervare.'"
The Folklore of the Rollright district has been so fully described by Sir Arthur Evans that I have decided, with his permission, to reprint verbatim that portion of his article (including footnotes) on the Rollright Stones.1
Note 1. Folklore, Vol. vi, 1895, pp. 18-33.
The Folklore of Rollright by Sir Arthur Evans.
"The folklore of which the Rollright stones have become the centre is of the highest interest, and it would be difficult to find any English site in which it is more living at the present day, I have myself taken down from the lips of the country people in the immediate neighbourhood, but especially about Little Rollright, a quantity of tales relating to the stones; and though the stories were generally prefaced by an explanatory statement that the teller of them simply repeated what he had heard, and that such things could not really have happened, there was often a reserve of half-belief in the old tales,
"With regard to the King-stone and the circle, or the 'King's men' as they are called, the main outlines of the story are as follows:-
"A certain King - the name is not, as a rule, remembered1 - had set forth at the head of his forces to conquer all England. But as he went up the hill on which Rowldrich stands, there appeared to him the Witch* to whom the ground belonged. The king was now within a few steps of the crest of the hill from which the village of Long Compton would be visible in the combe below, when she stopped him with the words 'Seven long strides shalt thou take,'2 and
"If Long Compton thou canst see,
King of England thou shalt be.
" The King, who now thought his success assured, cried out exultingly,
"Stick, Stock, Stone,
As King of England I shall be known."
"So he took seven strides forward, but lo ! and behold, instead of looking down on Long Compton, there rose before him the long mound of earth which still stands before the King-stone, and the Witch said:
As Long Compton thou canst not see
King of England thou shalt not be.
Rise up, stick, and stand still, stone,
For King of England thou shalt be none;
Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be
And I myself an eldern tree."3
"Thereupon the King and his army were turned into stones where they stood, the King on the side of the mound, and his army in a circle behind him, while the Witch herself became an elder tree. But some day, they do say, the spell will be broken. The stones will turn into flesh and blood once more, and the King will start as an armed warrior at the head of his army to overcome his enemies and rule over all the land. The last touch sets us thinking of Arthur at Avilion or Barbarossa in the cave at Kyifhauser. Some say that there is a great cave beneath the King-stone, and according to some the same exists beneath the circle too.
Note 1. Only once, in answer to many enquiries, I was told that he was sometimes called King Charles. Mr. Hurst heard him spoken of as "King Billy" which recalls the Breton "Roi Guillaume," attached to similar monuments.
Note 2. In other versions the King uses the words himself. The seven strides" are also mentioned in a note on the Rollright stones by J. W. Lodowick (Notes and Queries, 1876, p, 291). Mr. Lodowick's informant, an old man born and bred at Great Rollright, called the King "a Danish King," but we see here probably the influence of literary conjectures like those of Camden about Rollo the Dane,
Note 3. This is the best version that I myself have been able to hear from the country people. The epithet applied to the stones is uncertain. Another version has "Fall down, King," instead of "fese up, stick"; but the latter, referring to the metamorphosis of the Witch herself, is decidely the better version. Another version runs, "Rise up, mound, and stand still, stone."
"The Witch-Elder still watches over the victims of her magic. As to the exact position of the tree, however, the tradition is shifting. According to some accounts it used to stand in the field not far from the dolmen called the "Whispering Knights." Some say that it was near the circle, but was blown down not many years ago. Others say that it is be to found in the hedge by the road not far from the Kingstone, or further in the field beyond the mound, where an elder bush that stood by a large stone was some years since pointed out to a friend as "the Witch." As a matter of fact the elder still grows in luxuriant clumps along every hedgerow and wherever a waste patch is to be found in the country round. When the district was wilder the stones must have been surrounded by a dense elder thicket. Indeed the idea may well have grown up that Dame Elder had turned the King and his army into stone for molesting 'her ancient solitary reign.
"The proof that the elder is a witch is that it bleeds when it is cut. And with regard to this I came upon a remarkable tradition, which an old woman, the wife of a man of eighty, told me she had heard many years ago from her husband's mother. On Midsummer Eve, when the 'eldern tree' was in blossom, it was the custom for people to come up to the King-stone and stand in a circle. Then the 'eldern' was cut, and as it bled 'the King moved his head.'1 It is to be observed that this breaking of the spell by blood-letting itself fits on to a very widespread superstition regarding witches, of which I found many surviving expressions in the neighbouring village of Long Compton. They say there that if you only draw her blood, 'be it but a pin's prick,' the witch loses all power for the time.
Note 1. This turning round of the King-stone is paralleled by many French legends, the favourite time being mid-day or at the sound of the Angelus.
"For the 'eldern-tree' to bleed it must be in blossom. The more sceptical spirits amongst the country people explain the matter by the catch, 'If you cut the elder with your hand on it, it will bleed,' but among the children at least the more literal belief in the bleeding elder has not died out. An old man of Little Rollright told me that some years ago he was up by the stones and a ploughboy asked him whether it was really true that the elder-tree bled if it was cut. . 'Lend me your knife,' said the old man, and forthwith stuck it into the bark. 'Won't you pull it out ?' said the boy. 'Pull it out yourself !' was the reply, but the boy was too scared to do so. It was only at last, as they were about to go home for the night, that the boy, fearful that he would lose his knife altogether, approached the tree 'tottering with fright and all of a tremble,' and snatching it out, rushed away without waiting to see whether the tree bled or not.
In these interesting superstitions we see traces of a time when the elder-tree was itself regarded as a supernatural being, a Tree-Goddess akin to the Dryads of old, before human witchcraft was called in to explain this survival of primitive animism. The idea of the sacred tree bleeding when injured is very widespread, and recalls the oak of Ceres described by Ovid1:
"Cujus ut in trunco fecit manus impia vulnus
Hand aliter fluxit discussa cortice sanguis
Quam solet, ante aras ingens ubi victima taums
Concidit, abrupta cruor e cervice profundi."
Note 1. Met., vm., 743.
"The special superstitions attached to the elder are perhaps explained by the effects of drinks such as are prepared from its berries1 and blossoms. We learn from one of Andersen's fairy tales that those who drink of elder-flower tea see the 'Elder Mother' (Hyldemoer) herself in their dreams, seated amidst her sweet-scented flowers and foliage. In Denmark the tree itself has been seen to move about in the twilight. In Nether-Saxony before undercutting an elder, it was usual to go down on bended knees and pray as follows: 'Dame Elder, give me some of thy wood, and I will give thee some of mine when it grows in the forest.'2 In Ireland the elder is regarded as unholy. Of the early association of this tree with witchcraft in this country, a record is preserved in the canons of King Eadgar3, which speak of the 'vain practices that are carried on with elders.
Note 1. The blood-red berries themselves partly account for the lingering on of the superstitious belief in the quasi-human life of elder trees. In parts of Essex the dwarf-elder is called "Dane's blood."
Note 2. Arnkiel, i., 179. Thorpe, N. Myth, n, 168: "As I in my younger days have heard I'd seen." See on the Elder Cult, R. Perrott, "Gleanings of Legendary Mythology," in Arch. Comb., 1863, 226. In Sudermanland, Sweden, the juniper bleeds when cut. The belief in the magical virtues of elder-springs is widespread in England and elsewhere.
Note 3. Cap, i6. Thorpe, ii, 248.
"The fairies dance round the King-stone of nights. Will Hughes, a man of Long Compton, now dead, had actually seen them dancing round. 'They were little folk like girls to look at.' He often told a friend who related this to me about the fairies and what hours they danced. His widow, Betsy Hughes, whose mother had been murdered as a witch, and who is now between seventy and eighty, told me that when she was a girl and used to work in the hedgerows, she remembered a hole in the bank by the King-stone, from which it was said the fairies came out to dance at night. Many a time she and her playmates had placed a flat stone over the hole of an evening to keep the fairies in, but they always found it turned over next morning.
"Chips were taken from the King-stone 'for luck,' and by soldiers 'to be good for England in battle.' Betsy Hughes told me that her son, who had gone to India as a soldier, had taken a chip with him, 'but it brought him no luck, for he died of typhus.' A man told me that he had been offered as much as a pound for a chip at Faringdon Fair; and the Welsh drovers who used to trench the road with their cattle before the railway was made, used continually to be chipping off pieces, so that formerly the stone was much bigger than it is now.1 A man at Great Rollright gave me a chip that he had kept in his house for years.
This is corroborated by a writer in Notes and Queries (1859, p. 393 ) who on visiting Rowldrich was informed by his local guide that the stones were daily diminishing "because people from Wales kept chipping off bits to keep the Devil off."
"Notwithstanding the prevalence of this practice there were many who held that to do an injury to the stones was fraught with danger. In Wales one of the most frequent punishments that falls upon those who thus transgress against the stones is the breaking down of the transgressor's waggon1, and this belief still survives at Rowldrich. A ploughman informed me that one day a man who was driving along the road from Banbury swore to a friend who was with him that he would carry off a chip of the King-stone 'though his wheel locked.' He got down from his cart and chipped a piece off the stone, but when he tried to drive on he found that one wheel was locked in such a way that nothing he could do would make it go round again.
Note 1. Cf. Barnwell, "On some South Wales Cromlechs," Arch. Comb., 1872, p. 135.
"A curious kind of sanctity seems to linger about the spot. As one of my informants - a well-to-do farmer of the neighbourhood - was going along the road at the top of the hill one Good Friday, he met a labouring man that he knew, who stopped him and said, 'Where do you think I be going ? Why, I be a going to the King-stones, for there I shall be on holy ground.' The man who told me this said that 'Some think the place was consecrated ground in the old Romish days.' It appears, moreover, from a passage in Stukeley, that the oblong hollow by the King-stone was in old times a place of festal pilgrimage. Stukeley1 relates that near the 'Archdruid's Barrow,' as he calls the mound, 'by that called the King-stone, is a square plot, oblong, formed on the turf. Hither on a certain day of the year the young men and maidens customarily meet and make merry with cakes and ale.' He himself suggests that 'this seems to be the remain of the very ancient festival here celebrated in memory of the interr'd for whom the long barrow and temple were made.' However this may be, it seems highly probable that the Midsummer's Eve gathering described to me by the old woman, when the blossoming elder was cut, and the merrymaking described by Dr. Stukeley, were one and the same festival.
Note 1. Abury, p. 13
"Various other traditions are attached to the King-stones, the name by which the stone circle as well as the 'King' himself are known to the inhabitants. The King-stones and the 'Whispering Knights' of the neighbouring dolmen are said to go down the hill at midnight to drink of a spring in Little Rollright Spinney. According to some accounts they go down -every night when the clock strikes twelve; according to others at certain special seasons, 'on Saints' days, for instance.' What is more, the gap in the bushes is pointed out through which they go down to the water. In some versions of the tale, the King1 also goes down to the stream at the same hour with his men; but the others say that 'the King goes down to the water to drink when he hears the clock strike twelve,' meaning, as my informant was at pains to explain to me, that as he cannot hear the clock he stays where he is. One sceptic informed me that he had passed by the stones many a time at midnight and never seen them move. Here we certainly seem to be on Celtic ground, and recall the Breton tales of how the stones at Carnac go down to the sea on Christmas Eve, or how those on the heath at Plouhinec once every hundred years rush hurtling down 'like a troop of drunken giants' to drink at the Intel brook2 Once a year the 'Pierre de Minuit' goes to drink in the Yonne. Legends of the kind seem very widespread, not only in Brittany but in other parts of France, where megaliths are found2 . They recur in Ireland, where, for example, the white boulder of Cronebane3 goes down every Mayday morning to wash at the Meeting of the Waters. The superstition does not seem to be unknown elsewhere in our own island.4
"At midnight, again, the stones of the circle become men again for a moment, join hands, and dance round in the air. This dance recalls the Chorea Gigantum, or 'Giants' Dance,' which was transported, as Giraldus Cambrensis tells us, from Ireland to Salisbury Plain, and is better known as Stonehenge. In Cornwall, indeed, the usual name for such stone circles is Dawns-men, or the Stone-dance; and Borlase observes that 'in the circular figure there is a very ancient dance or play ('tis called Trematheeves) still practised among the Cornish.5' In Cornwall the tale usually runs that they were men turned into stones for dancing on Sunday.
Note 1. Sometimes, too, the King's men with him. In some accounts the stones descend to drink at a stream by Long Compton.
Note 2. See Emile Souvestre, Le Foyer Breton, p. 186, seqq.
Note 3. Examples are collected by S. Reinach. *'Les Monuments de pierre brute dans le langage et les croyances popuiaires'' (Rev, Arckiologique, 1893, p, 343). The French stones generally go down on Christmas Eve, once a year or once a century.
Note 4. A similar belief attaches itself to King Arthur and his knights in the Cadbury folklore. They come riding down from Camelot to drink of the waters of a spring by Sutton Monks Church on the eve of every Christmas Day. (J, A. Ben.net, Cadbury, p. 4). According to another account related to me by Mrs. Church, King Arthur goes down to drink on St. John's Eve, and anyone he meets, if not of perfectly pure life, he strikes dead.
Note 5. Borlase, Antiquities of Cornwall (Oxford, p, 18. In Cornwall and elsewhere the explanation that these are dancers turned into stone for dancing on the Lord's Day" is very general. So too of "Hurlers."
"These circle stones at Rollright cannot be counted. Men have come from a distance and tried over and over again to reckon up their number, but they never could count them twice the same.1 A baker once swore that he would count the stones. So he baked a quantity of penny loaves, and set a loaf on every stone, but when he tried to count his loaves, he could not reckon up the number rightly, for he always found one stone without a loaf, and however often he laid them on there was always one missing. 'The man will never live who shall count the stones three times and find the number the same.' The superstition that the stones cannot be counted is found in the case of the ruined dolmen at Aylesford known as the 'Countless Stones' and elsewhere in the account already referred to of the 'Marvels of Britain,' inserted in Nennius' History. So, too, in Sir Philip Sidney's poem on the Seven Wonders of England it is said of the Stones of Stonehenge, 'No eye can count them just.' There appears a similar tale of the tomb of Anir, son of Arthur Knight, which cannot be measured. Sometimes the length appears six foot, sometimes nine, sometimes fifteen, but the measurement never comes out the same.
A similar version of this is given in Notes and Queries, No. 168. "You will hear of a certain baker who resolved not to be outwitted, so hied to the spot with a basketful of small loaves, one of which he placed on every stone. In vain he tried; either his loaves were not suffciently numerous or some sorcery displaced them, and he gave up in despair." On another occasion, according to Mr. Thomas Beesley, in his paper on the Rollright Stones, communicated to the North Oxfordshire Archseological Society in 1854 (Trans,, Vol. I, p. 63), a man who wished to count the stones placed his basket on the stone at which he began, but when he thought he had completed the circle and looked for his basket it had been spirited away.
"The 'Whispering Knights' are traitors who, when the King with his army hard by were about to engage with the enemy, withdrew themselves privily apart, and were plotting treason together, when they were turned into stone by the Witch. Some, however, say that they are at prayer. I was told that once upon a time the big flat stone (the capstone) was taken away to make a bridge across the brook at Little Rollright.1 It took a score of horses to drag it down the hill, for at first it would not move, and they had to strain and strain to get it along till every bit of the harness was broken. At last they got it to the brook by Rollright Farm, and with great difficulty laid it across to serve as a bridge. But every night the stone turned over back again and was found in the morning lying on the grass. So when this had happened three nights running they saw that the stone must be taken back to whence it came. This time they set a single horse to it, and the single horse took it up the hill quite easily, though it had taken twenty times that number to drag it down, and that they could hardly do. With regard to this tale I found generally the most absolute belief among the country people, one man going so far as to say that there were those now living who had spoken to men who had helped to bring the stone down and up again, and 'that it was done in Farmer Baker's day who was not so very long dead.' Stukeley at the beginning of the last century had heard the same story in a somewhat different shape. A man who had removed one of the larger stones was smitten with remorse or religious fear, and according to one version of the story as it is still told, 'Farmer Baker had no rest' till he had taken the stone back to its fellows. So, too, at Stanton Harcourt there is a tradition that one of the 'Devil's Quoits' was removed to make a bridge and then replaced. No doubt in its original form the tradition took the same poetical shape as at Rollright; but in the rationalized version that has been preserved, the stone was simply replaced by a member of the Harcourt family. But the essence of the Rollright story, the refusal of the stones to stay at the spot to which they had been removed, reappears in one of the earliest bits of old British folklore that has been preserved to us. Nennius, in his account of the 'Marvels of Britain,' relates that in the land of Buelt is a stone on a cairn with the imprint of the foot of the dog of Arthur Knight, and which Arthur himself set up. 'And men come and carry off the stone in their hands for the space of a day and a night, and next day it is found again upon the cairn.'2
Note 1. According to another account at Long Compton. In Notes and Queries, 1876, p. 291 , appears the following version of the story. "It was said that a miller in Long Compton thinking the stone would be useful in damming the water of his mill, carried it away and used it for that purpose, but he found that whatever water was dammed up in the day disappeared in the night, and thinking that it was done by the witches, and that they would punish him for his impertinence in removing the stone, he took it back again; and, though it required three horses to take it to Long Compton, one easily brought it back." In another version, given in Folklore Record (II, 177), the stone is wanted by a farmer for his outhouse. In taking it down-hill his waggon is broken and the horses killed. Next his crops failed, cattle died, etc. His only remaining horse is put into a cart and takes it up with ease. Then all goes well with him.
The number of the horses on the two occasions varied in the different accounts given me. In one case it was 40 and i, in another 21 and 3, in others 12 and 8, 8 and i, 6 and i, 23 and i; but in most versions the stone was dragged up again by a single horse. At Long Compton the stone is said to have been taken down to a brook in "the Hollow" on that side of the hill which takes its rise beneath some ancient elms.
Note 2. Nennius, Historia Britonum^ 73, "Est aliud mirabile in regione qui dicitur Buelt. Est ibi cumulus lapidum et unus lapis superpositus super congestum, cum vestigio canis in eo. Quando venatus est porcum Troynt, impressit Cabal, qui erat canis Arthur! militis, vestigium in lapide, et Arthur postea congregavit congestum lapidum sub lapide in quo erat vestigium canis sui et vocatur Cain Cabal. Et veniunt homines et tollunt lapidem in manibus suis per spacium diei et noctis, et in crastino die invenitur super congestum suum.'' In a mediaeval collection of the Mirabilia Britannice, published by Hearne as an appendix to his edition of Robert of Gloucester (Vol II, p. 572, seqq,)y there is a similar tale. "Lapis est non magnus in vertice mentis quern si quis portaverit spacio duorum miliarium vel quantumcumque voluerit subsequent! die sine dubio in eodem loco in vertice mentis unde assumptus fuerit inveniri." (p. 574). Cam Cavall still gives its name to a mountain in the upper part of Bualth, or Builth, in Breconshire, and "on one of the cairns of this mountain is a stone that still bears the impression of the dog's feet (Arch. Camb.y 1874, p. 88; cf. Mabinogion, ii, 260). In another British legend of a similar nature the stone altogether refuses to be moved. In the "Vita Sancti Winifrede'' (Rees, Lives of the Cambro-British Saints^ p. 205), a certain knight tries to remove St. Beuno's stone, which interferes with a mill-course. A hundred yoke of oxen fail, however, to remove it, and the knight himself, trying to stir it with his foot, his leg withers.
"Similar stories of megaliths returning to the place whence they had been removed by impious hands are also rife in France. Thus a holy stone in Poitou carried away by the people of the district during the Revolution returned next day of itself. With reference to this M. Salomon Reinach1 appositely compares the ancient legend of the Penates, who when transported from Lavinium to Alba returned to their own home.
Note 1. Op, dt., p. 344; Varro de lingua latina, v. 144.
"Perhaps, however, the most interesting feature in the Rollright folklore, so far as concerns the 'Whispering Knights,' is that the dolmen has become to the young girls of the neighbourhood a kind of primitive oracle. At least it has been so used within the memory of man. Old Betsy Hughes, of whom mention has already been made, informed me that years ago, at the time of the barley harvest, when they were often out till dusk in the fields near the 'Whispering Knights,' one of the girls would say to another 'Let us go and hear them whisper.' Then they would go to the stones and one at a time would put her ear to one of the crevices. But 'first one would laugh and then another,' and she herself never heard any whispering. Another old crone told me that the stones were thought to tell of the future. 'When I was a girl we used to go up at certain seasons to the 'Whispering Knights,' and climb up on to one of the stones to hear them whisper. Time and again I have heard them whisper - ^but perhaps, after all, it was only the wind.' Who that has stood on the wooded steep that overhangs the ruined sanctuary of Dordona, and has heard the breeze rustling through the prickly leaves of its immemorial oak-wood, will not understand this primitive impression ?
Whispering stones of the same kind are known in the Pyrenees1; and in other parts of France megalithic blocks are known to sing or talk, like the Pierre qui chante of the Yonne, and the two menhirs known as Fistillerien on the Isle of Sein2. It looks as if primitive oracles of this nature had once been widely diffused in the Celtic and Iberian lands.
Note 1. In the Glen of Larboust, Bulletin de la Société d'Anthropologie de Paris, 1877, pp. 241, 242, 244.
Note 2. S. Reinach, Les Monuments de pierre brute dans le langage et les croyances populaires." (Rev. Archéologique, 1893, pp. 337, 344).
"Some of the tales about Rollright appear already in i6th and 17th century writers. Camden's allusion has already been quoted. Stukeley1 repeats Camden's story of the men turned into stone, etc., and says, 'This story the country people for some miles round are very fond of, and take it very ill if anyone doubts of it: nay, they are in danger of being stoned for their unbelief. They have likewise rhymes and sayings relating thereto.' Further on2 he says, 'The people who live at Chippin Norton and all the country round our first described temple of Rowldrich affirm most constantly, and as surely believe it, that the stones composing this work are a king, his nobles, and Commons turned into stones. They quote an ancient proverb for it concerning that tali stone called the King-stone:
If Long Compton thou canst see,
Then King of England shalt thou be.
Note 1. Abury, p. 13.
Note 2. Abury, p. 83.
"Stukeley himself notices that 'the very same report remains at the Druid temple of Stanton Drew,' Somersetshire. 'This noble monument is vulgarly called the Weddings; and they say'tis a company at a nuptial solemnity thus petrify'd. In an orchard near the church is a cove [Map] consisting of three stones like that of the northern circle in Abury or that of Longstones; this they call the parson, the bride, and bridegroom. Other circles are said to be the company dancing; and a separate parcel of stones standing a little from the rest are call'd the fidlers, or the band of musick.'
"Stonehenge, regarded as the 'Giants' Dance,' 'Long Meg and her Daughters,' near Penrith, and 'The Nine Ladies' near Bakewell in Derbyshire, are other English examples of the same kind of tradition that at once suggest themselves. The stone alignments of Carnac and Ashdown are armies turned into stone. Classical parallels, such as the transformation into rocks of the Sidonian maids, companions of Melicertes1, or of Niobe and her daughters, or biblical, such as Lot's wife turned into the pillar of salt, illustrate the same idea. But in the case of the megalithic blocks composing the stone circles of primeval days, this ever-recurring tradition of their having been originally human beings turned into stone is in all probability, in some sense, coeval with the monuments themselves.
Note 1. Ovid, Met.j IV, 549 seqq. Dr. Stukeley cites this parallel.
"For the best commentary on these traditions we have in fact only to turn to certain parts of our Indian dominions, where megalithic piles in every respect the counterparts to those erected in Britain in prehistoric times are set up by the native tribes to this day. In their beliefs the connexion between the erection of these great stone monuments and the cult of departed spirits is brought out at every step. In some cases the setting up of these stones is not a mere honorary act, but the stone itself in some mysterious way personifies the departed and absorbs, as it were, his ghost. The Khassias, for instance, a very wild jungle tribe of Bombay, set up a tall rough slab of stone near the house representing the deceased, to which they make daily oblations. In their eyes, then, it is the actual person, as it were, in a stony form. So too the dolmens are in some parts regarded as themselves the deified spirit of the departed, and thus as a demon or god.
"We have moreover an interesting trace of the former prevalence of such ideas in Western Europe in a passage of Aristotle referring to the sepulchral rites of the Iberians, the representatives of the older pre-Celtic population of Gaul, Spain, and Britain, from whom in a large measure the Celts themselves seem to have taken over their megalithic cult. Aristotle says1 that the warlike Iberians set pointed stones round their graves, and that each of these stones placed round a warrior's grave represented a slain enemy.
Politics, III, 2.
"If, as is probable, human sacrifice was resorted to at these primitive funerals, the stones set round the grave might actually represent, and according to the Indian notion even to a certain extent personate, a human victim. So we find the memorial stones set over the grave in more than one region regarded as a kind of equivalent for the deceased, and in later times carved with his image, at first rude like the Kamenaye Babe, or the Stone Women of the barrows that strew the Russian steppes, but in a more civilised society gradually assuming, as in ancient Greece, a more perfect or ideal likeness of the departed. It has been recently observed that many of the French megaliths contain traces of human features. Traditions such as those that still live on the site of Rollright and elsewhere, that these rude stone circles and dolmens and menhirs were once themselves flesh and blood, may I venture to think be traced back to those once widely prevalent primitive notions which transferred to the stone that marked the resting place of the departed something of his very material being - notions which lie at the root of so much later idolatry. Occasionally the dolmen itself is personified and represents the deified departed; and in India, where every stage of this primitive belief may still be studied by modern observers, we find it leading up to local traditions regarding megalithic piles precisely similar to those that live on in our own folk-lore. At Shahpur, for instance, in the Deccan, there is a great parallelogram of stones enclosing a low tumulus which contains layers of human ashes. One of these surrounding stones larger than the others is here supposed to be the chief and the others his men, and they are believed to be watching grey cattle in the middle space where stands the barrow.1
Note 1. Col. Meadows Taylor, "Description of Cairns, Cromlechs, Kdstvaens, and other Celtic, Druidical, or Scythian Monuments in the Deccan." (Trans, of R. Irish Academy, 1862 , pt. II, p. 329)
"It is only by going back within the primitive circle of such ideas as these that we can hope to find the clue to the ancient lore which is still handed on by these Oxfordshire villagers. The recurring tradition of the baker who brings small loaves, one for each stone and then tries to count them- may it not go back to the times when offerings of small cakes and food offerings were still made as in India at the present day to such hoar-stones. The stones in this primitive belief had a being of their own - they might indeed be regarded, and often were regarded- as the stony dwelling places of souls that once were human. Could human kindness, then, refuse them such small offerings of food ? There, too, on the parched hill-top, how often might they pant for the water brooks below ! What more natural than that when the darkness of night threw over them its invisible mantle - at the hour when spells are broken - they too should snatch a momentary life and hasten down to quench the thirst of ages ?"
Books, Prehistory, Long Barrows of the Cotswolds, Introduction, VII Present And Future State
The present state of the Long Barrows is deplorable; and the future state of most of them will be still more so, unless measures are at once taken to preserve them. It is not enough to have scheduled some of them under the Ancient Monuments Act, excellent though that is. That protects them from their owners, but not from the casual visitor. To guard against the latter, only one really satisfactory method has been devised - an unclimbable iron railing. Unsightly though it is, it is yet no more so than the carved names of visitors or the remains of their cooking-places. That this destruction by trippers is really happening to-day was brought home to me at Belas Knap, where the capstone of the portal and once perfect wall - perhaps the oldest stone wall in England- which I saw on my first visit in 1920, had suffered irreparable damage when Mr. Herdman and I visited the barrow in 1922. We protect our ancient castles, and rightly, though they are relics of a regime that one might think better forgotten; but are we to allow the graves of our earliest ancestors to be desecrated without taking effective measures to preserve them? Surely these far older monuments deserve preferential treatment ! They are the oldest structures we have - far older than castle-mound or Roman road, older than hill-top camp or bronze age barrow, as old perhaps as Stonehenge itself.
NOTE. - The five invasions which affected the south of England are those of the Beaker-folk, the Celtic peoples, the Romans, the Saxons and the Normans. Not all of them were equally destructive of that continuity of country life which is essential for the survival of primitive ideas. The greatest breaks were caused probably by the Celtic invaders, and by the Saxons. It is in regions which have been least invaded, or more precisely where alien settlement has been rare - such as the so-called "Celtic fringe," - it is here that folk-lore is most abundant. Not the least of the difficulties of using folk-lore to reconstruct primitive religion is the difficulty of unstratifying the layers of tradition in a region like Wessex, where each invasion has left its deposit. Some go back no further than the Middle Ages; I suspect a mediaeval (or at any rate post-Roman) origin for those tales which are identical in trivial details and nomenclature and which are told of similarly named sites geographically distant from each other. The story attached to Hangman's Stones is of this type (See Notes and Queries 12 S., xi, 50-52). The stories of supernatural frustration of building probably go back no further than the Saxon period. Recently extinct cults, such as that of the stag-masked dance, may have a palaeolithic origin (See Trans. Preh. Soc. East Anglia, Vol. iii, 1921 , p. 457). But it is dangerous to generalise in the present state of our knowledge. The task of classifying folk-lore according to its origin is one for future investigators. It cannot profitably be undertaken until the main culture-periods and culture-circles have been determined. It is thus dependent upon the progress of prehistoric archaeology which (I say it in no disparaging sense) has only just begun to emerge from what, following Professor Sir Flinders Petrie, one might call its archaic period. (See his Revolutions in Civilization, Harper Bros., 3/6).