Books, Prehistory, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Number 140, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Volume 140 Article 2

Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Volume 140 Article 2 is in .

1924. The "Blue Stone" From Boles Barrow [Map]1 By B. Howard Cunnington (age 63), F.S.A., Scot.

Note 1. The Society is indebted to Mr. Cunnington for the kind gift of the plates illustrating this paper. - Editor

In the Wilts Archxælogical Magazine, Vol. xli., No. 133, pp. 172—4, is a note on the finding of a "Blue hard Stone ye same as at Stonehenge," in Boles Barrow by Wm. Cunnington, F.S.A., of Heytesbury. This note left many points undecided, but since it was written other important facts bearing on the subject have come to light.

In order that the subject may be complete, I venture, at the risk of repetition, to give a full account of what is known of the matter.

William Cunnington, F.S.A., of Heytesbury, who died December 31st, 1810, shortly after the publication of the first volume of "Ancient Wilts," left a number of letters,and copies of letters (now bound in six books), that had been sent, or received, by him during his archeological researches. These, a few years ago, came into my possession. Among them isa copy of a letter in the handwriting of his daughter, Elizabeth, to Mr. Wyndham, as follows:-

"to H. P. Wyndham, Esqre.


"July 18th, 1801.


"A few days ago Farmer Fricker, of Imber, made an offer to assist me with two or three men to open Bolesbarrow. I therefore accepted his offer and as it proves an interesting barrow, and also another proof in support of your hypothesis that these very large oblong Barrows are Battle Barrows, I trouble you with the following detail.

"Bolesbarrow situated on the highest ground on Heytesbury Downs about midway between the above place and the Village of Imber, is a large oblong Barrow 150 feet long in the base, by 94 feet wide, elevation 10½ feet though it appears much higher. When upon this barrow it appears like an Egg cut in two lengthways, the convex side upwards.2 This Barrow was probaby erected to meet the four cardinal points, it now varies but a few points (allowing for the variations of the needle). We began by making a section of considerable width and length across the Barrow near the East end. After digging to the depth of 2 feet 9 inches we found a Human Skeleton lying 8S.W. to N.E., but we found no Urn or Arms or anything with it except a Brass Buckle and two thin bits of brass. This Skeleton must have been the remains of a stout man as the bones were large, the Thigh Bones measured in the extreme length 20 inches, extreme width from shoulder to shoulder 19 inches, the Bones were very sound and the teeth very perfect. Towards the centre of the Barrow at about 18 inches deep we found two more Skeletons, these were interred with their heads to the south, one of them lying on his side. On examining the interior parts of the Barrow we found it composed entirely of white Marl Stone till we came to the depth of four feet and a half, where was found a ridge of large stones3 and flints which extended wider as we worked down.

"At the depth of 10½ feet, the base of the Barrow, we found a floor of Flints regularly laid. On these were the remains of a great many Human bodies, but placed in no regular order. As upon a Skull we found the Back bones and ribbs of another Skeleton, and upon the neck of another two Thigh bones.

"It therefore appeared they were thrown together without order, and this great pile of Stones and Flints raised lengthways along the centre of the Barrow over them (I suppose it might extend two-thirds of the length of the Barrow). Afterwards this pile (in form like the ridge of a house) was covered with Marl excavated from the North and South sides of the Barrow the two ends being level with the Plain. Although we had four men at work for three days, yet we could not explore more of the base of the Barrow than a space of about six by ten feet (a very small part in proportion to the whole). Yet in this space we found Thirteen Skulls.

'"A great many of the bones were very sound and the enamel of the teeth remarkably white. We found a piece of a Skull that appeared to have been cut off by aSword. It is rather remarkable that we found no arms, urn, or.any memorial that may throw light on the Antiquity of the Barrow. In most that I have opened there has been found broken pottery, Charred Wood, and oftentimes Ashes: but here we only found one small piece of Bone that had been burnt, but no other sign of Fire. The Stones that composed so large a part of this ridge over the Bodies are of the same species of Stone as the very large Stones at Stonehenge4, what the Country people call Sarsens, by which they understand a Stone that is not quarried. They are often found just under the turf in the vallies in our Downs. 'They have the appearance of very old Landmarks. I have brought away Ten to my house, one of them which appears to have been broken from the end of a larger Stone has some rude characters upon it, but whether formed by art or the sportings of nature I cannot say, the lines look something like the lines in the palm of the hand.

"It appears rather strange that the dead bodies (if of the Victorious Party) should have been interred with so little ceremony as in this Barrow, and if they were the Dead Bodies of an Enemy they should take the pains to pave the bottom of the Barrow and collect such large Flints and Stones as composed the centre for this must have been a work of considerable labour.

'Since I wrote this letter I have opened the above Barrow at the East of the Skeletons, as also at the West of them,iby which IJ find the Skeletons lay from the East End and much nearer to the centre of the Barrow. At the East End we found the heads and Horns of seven or more Oxen, also a large Cist close to the Skeletons, but owing to the great height of the Barrow the large Stones came rolling down so fast upon us that we were obliged to desist from exploring it further."5

Note 2. The large end to the east.

Note 3. The stones were from about 28lbs. to 200 lbs. weight [in Wm. Cunnington's handwriting].

Note 4. Since writing the above I discover among them the Blue hard Stone also, ye same to some of the upright Stones in ye inner Circle at Stonehenge [in Wm. Cunnington's handwriting].

Note 5. Extracts from this letter appear in A. W., p. 87, but no reference to the Blue Stone or removal of the stones to Heytesbury. (B. H.C.)

In another letter addressed to John Britton and dated Heytesbury, Nov. 8th, 1802, he says:-

"I think I showed you a great variety of the stones found in a large oblong Barrow near this place that are of the same kind with several of those at Stonehenge."2

Note 2. Boles Barrow is about 2½ miles N. of Heytesbury and about 14 miles due west of Stonehenge. It is Heytesbury I. in list of Long Barrows of Wiltshire, W.A.M., xxxviii., p. 392, which see for the subsequent history of the Barrow. (B.H.C.)

A third letter, bound up with the others, of which the following is an extract, is in the handwriting of Eliza Cunnington, a granddaughter of William Cunnington of Heytesbury. It was written in 1864 and describes the garden of the house at Heytesbury:-

"In front of the house at Heytesbury was a lawn with a very fine pear tree. At the end of the lawn was a large summer house. The walls were constructed of limbs of trees and covered outside with heather and inside with moss. Smaller houses were constructed on either side. On the floor of the largest (2.e., the first-mentioned) was a plan of Avebury formed of large pebbles to represent the stones and the main circle, the two avenues branched off right and left, to the two smaller houses. In the centre of one of these was a circle of pebbles to represent the head of a serpent according to Stukeley, ce. A group of ancient elm trees almost surrounded the structure. A circle of blocks of stone from Boles barrow, near Imber, was placed round a weeping ash at the end of the lawn a few yards from the summer house. By the side of the gravel walk surrounding the lawn was a large block of granite from Dartmoor which formed a convenient seat. It was not, as has been supposed, a stone brought from Stonehenge, but was presented to Mr. Cunnington by Sir Richard Colt Hoare."

A note in pencil, by William Cunnington, F.G.S. (grandson), follows, viz.:-

"Canon Jackson was informed that this stone had been brought from Stonehenge! Anyone who examined it would have found that it never belonged to Stonehenge."

After reading these letters I made every enquiry at Heytesbury with the view of identifying the house and garden, but with no result. Even the oldest inhabitant did not know where William Cunnington had lived. A short time afterwards (1921) the last of his granddaughters died, and amongst her effects was a water colour sketch of an old house (see Plate I.), and on the back of it was written "The house where Grandpapa lived at Heytesbury."' With the aid of this picture I was able to find the house and garden. It is now known as No. 108, Heytesbury, and is almost opposite to the entrance gate leading to Heytesbury House. It is now (1923) in the occupation of Mr. Bennett. The house to-day is just as it was in 1806 when Philip Crocker made the sketch and sent it to Wm. Cunnington with the following letter, which is bound up with the rest:-

"Dear Sir,

"I send you the drawing of what may truly be called your seat of domestic comfort and happiness, and where I still wish you many many years continuance. The young ladies must forgive me in introducing them in the subject for considering them as favourite with their good Grandmother I could not relinquish the wish of placing them in the foreground.

"Yours sincerely, "Phil. Crocker."

It was Philip Crocker who made most of the sketches of the antiquities figured in Ancient Wilts.

The garden has been altered somewhat and the moss-house (or summerhouse) removed, as well as several of the trees. A careful search on two occasions resulted in the discovery of three sarsen stones, and of the block of granite referred to in Eliza Cunnington's description of the garden, but no "Blue Stone."

Early this year (1923) I happened to mention the matter of the "Blue Stone" to Lord Heytesbury and he kindly promised to make enquiries amongst his relatives to find out if they knew anything about it. I was agreeably surprised not long afterwards to receive a letter from Lord Heytesbury saying that he thought he had found the Blue Stone, and if I could meet him he would show it tome. A visit to Heytesbury House resulted in the discovery of the Blue Stone standing upright under a large beech tree on the lawn immediately facing what is now the entrance to the house. (See Plate II.)

This stone stands 2ft. 6in. high, is 2ft. 8in. wide at the point of the broken corner, 2ft. 2in. wide at the top, and 1ft. 4in. thick. It is covered with lichen on the west (left) side. The back, front, and top are smooth. A large piece has apparently been broken off from both sides towards the bottom, otherwise the sides are smooth also. The base has one corner somewhat rounded off. (See Plate III.) Itis quite possible that this stone is a part of a larger one and had been either intentionally or accidentally broken off, but it certainly has been dressed on its faces, and is not a rough block as quarried.

Shortly after our visit Lord Heytesbury kindly sent me the following account of the stone that he had received from his aunt, the Hon. Mrs. Hamersley, now living at Salisbury, but formerly at Heytesbury House:-

"The stone was removed from the late Mr. Wm. Cunnington's garden at Heytesbury to its present site at Heytesbury House before 1860. It was called the 'Stonehenge Stone' and was placed under the beech tree where it now is."

The fact that it was called the "Stonehenge Stone" doubtless arose from its similarity to the Blue Stones as stated in the letter to Mr. Wyndham.

At the time of my visit a small piece on the left side had been flaked and cracked by the frost and readily came away by the insertion of the blade of a knife. This piece was sent to Dr. H. H. Thomas, of the Geological Survey, for identification, without any hint as to its origin, but merely stating that it was a piece of a block found in Wiltshire many miles from Stonehenge. Dr. Thomas kindly examined it and reported:-

"There is no doubt at all that the specimen you sent me is of the spotted Prescelly type and identical with the spotted Blue stones of Stonehenge. Is it possible it is one of the missing stones of Stonehenge, or do you think it is one that was kept 'en route'?"

In view of this evidence there can be little doubt that the stone now standing in the grounds of Heytesbury House is the one found by William Cunnington in Boles Barrow.

Since the results of Dr. Thomas's researches have been made known (see report to the Society of Antiquaries in The Antiquaries' Journal, July, 1923), it is practically certain that the "foreign" stones of Stonehenge were brought from a distance, and, in all probability, from the Prescelly mountains in Pembrokeshire.

The discovery, therefore, of a Blue Stone in a long barrow has a different and more special significance than it had when my first note on the subject was written in 1920. It must be assumed that the bringing of the stones to Wiltshire was only undertaken on account of some very special value attached to them at the time, and that it is in the highest degree improbable that the undertaking was repeated at different periods, and their acquisition can only be regarded as one event.

The conclusion, therefore, is inevitable that the event of the arrival of Blue Stones in Wiltshire preceded the building of Boles Barrow. If, as is not seriously debated, Boles Barrow, in common with the other long barrows of the district, is of Neolithic age, it shows that the original construction of Stonehenge, from which the arrival of the Blue Stones cannot be separated, also falls within that period. But the original plan of Stonehenge need not, indeed probably did not, include the complicated structure with which we are familiar.

The question has been raised as to whether the stone found in Boles Barrow ever actually formed a part of Stonehenge, or was specially chosen for its funereal purpose and commandeered by the way. 'his is a question that is not likely ever to be answered with any certainty, and in any case it does not materially affect the real value of the discovery as to the date of the arrival of the Blue Stones.

It is proposed that the Blue Stone at Heytesbury House shall remain where it is and be scheduled under H.M. Office of Works (Ancient Monuments).

I should like to take this opportunity of thanking Col. Lord Heytesbury for the valuable assistance he has given in finding the stone and the keen interest he has taken in the matter.

Note By The Rev. G. H. Engleheart, F.S.A.

Perhaps the first thought arising from Mr. Cunnington's paper is of the recompense to him and the gain to archeology from his careful preservation and investigation of the documents described. O sz sic omnes! 'That care, aided by good fortune, has forged an unbroken chain of evidence to verify the finding of this stone within a Neolithic barrow, and, by an inference from which there seems no escape, to assign to Neolithic times at least the © "foreign" or igneous stone rings of Stonehenge. This is, of course, a — corroboration rather than a discovery. It has long been the settled conviction of the best Continental inquirers that the European megalithic monuments as a whole are of a pre-metallic or of the very earliest metallic period (c.f. for instance, Déchelette, Manuel d' Archéologiec, Vol. I., pp. 374 et seg.). The evidence yielded so far by the recent excavations at Stonehenge has all gone to support this conclusion. Indeed no metal whatever has been found that can be proved contemporaneous with even the larger and perhaps later erection of the sarsens. The small and solitary stain of jj bronze found in 1901 may easily be accounted for by a burrowing animal |§ smearing against a stone a decayed coin carried down from the surface. The Neolithic period was, no doubt, of immense duration, with room within itself for constructions and reconstructions widely separated in time.

Furthermore, the story of this stone as told by Mr. Cunnington, may serve to strengthen in an unsought and remarkable way the surmise of Dr. H. H. Thomas (Antiqguaries Journal, July, 1923,) as to the conveyance of J, the foreign stones. His arguments for overland carriage (pp. 254, 255) seem overwhelming, and Boles Barrow is in the direct line of the shortest and most obvious route from the home of the stones in Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge. We may then imagine—we are here in the region of guesses— but legitimate guesses—that a stone was accidentally broken in transit somewhere near Boles Barrow, and that the piece or pieces were gathered up, together with sarsen boulders, and used for their central cairn by the raisers of the barrow. It has been argued from the stone being smooth in part that it may be a dressed stone brought back from Stonehenge. Wecan conceive that a stone reckoned sacred might be brought from a distance if to serve some monumental purpose. But a heavy object would hardly be carried many miles only to be cast into a rough heap with other common and abundant stones. And it must be taken into account that the foreign stones were not quarried but were picked up as boulders, more or less worn and smoothed by the action of ice and exposure through ages to the weather. Fragments of the exterior or "skin" of the foreign stones thus smoothed occur in the surface soil of Stonehenge,and one at least shows unmistakable ice-striation.

The stone (which seems to have disappeared) of Wm. Cunnington's first letter "with some rude characters upon it ... "is possibly comparable with the apparently carved sarsen on Chute Causeway, described and illustrated in Dr. Williams-Freeman's "Field Archeology, &c.," and both stones bring to mind the Carnac carvings. This, and the chance of finding other foreign stones, or the rest of the broken one, make a thorough exploration of Boles Barrow very desirable.

Note. The following letter, now in the possession of Mr. R. S. Newall, of Fisherton de la Mere, throws some additional light on this stone. It is a letter from Mr. Wyndham, written in 1802 to Sir R. Colt Hoare on the subject of Boles Barrow, and after describing the appearance of the barrow and the skeletons on much the same lines as in Wm. Cunnington's letter above, he goes on to say:— "The stones that composed so large a part of the ridge over the bodies, which are from 28lbs. to 200lbs. in weight, are similar in substance to many at Stonehenge and are often found peeping out from the turf or just under it, in the vallies of our downs like those near Abury, from whence the immense stones of that Temple and of Stonehenge were probably selected, and it is remarkable that the amazing quantity of large stones in the vicinity of Avebury are constantly found in such vallies where a succession of springs occasionally breaking had gradually carried off the mould and exposed the stones to sight."

"One of the large stones in this barrow and now in the possession of Mr. Cunnington, appeared to have been a part only of a larger stone and visibly broken from it; which, when entire, had a hollow smooth basin formed in it with some sinaig ond deep lines engraved on the outside of the stone. The fragment itself plainly denotes it, tho' people may differ in opinion whether the above circumstances were natural or artificial, but for my own part I have no doubt of the latter."

From this it appears probable that Mr. Wyndham either had other letters from Mr. Cunnington on the subject or had had conversations with him concerning the stones, as the above letter contains information that does not appear in the "Cunnington to Wyndham" letter of July, 1801. It is clear from the context of this letter that the stone referred to is one of the sarsens, and in no way concerns the Blue Stone now at Heytesbury House. (B. H. C.)