Bronze Age 2500 -> 700 BC
A devilish double bill this time featuring two easily confused Bronze Age barrow cemeteries in Sussex: the Devil’s Humps at Stoughton and the Devil’s Jumps at Treyford. In no particular order…
The Devils’ Humps (aka the King’s Graves) comprise two bell barrows and two ditched bowl barrows and are situated on the edge of the Kingley Vale nature reserve. I parked at the car park at the bottom of Stoughton Down on the outskirts of the village and took the steep climb up the hill following a very pleasant 4.5 mile walk downloaded from iFootpath.com.
At the brow of the hill the barrows are the dominant feature and there are fabulous views of the South Downs to either side with Chichester Cathedral easily visible to the south with Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight beyond. I visited on a Bank Holiday Monday and, unsurprisingly, there were large numbers of people up there taking in the views and clambering over the barrows. I reflected that this has probably been the case at certain times for millennia and the ancient trackway that traverses the barrows is further testament to the barrows’enduring role and place within the landscape.
The archaeology bit
The two bowl barrows of the Devil’s Humps were investigated in 1853 and one of them was excavated at this time (although this was apparently not the first time), revealing burnt bones resting on burnt earth, a whetstone, a horse’s tooth, pottery sherds and stag horns, all of which are now in the British Museum. The bowl barrows measure 24 metres and 28 metres in diameter and around 3 metres high. One of the two bell barrows was excavated by Grinsell in 1933 and the finds – a flint scraper and some pottery sherds – are held in Lewes Museum. The bell barrows’ diameters are 21 metres and 23.5 metres respectively and they are also both 3 metres high. They each have surrounding berms measuring around 3.5 meters and surviving ditches 3.5 metres wide and half a metre deep (https://historicengland.org.uk).
Here’s a nice piece of drone footage by Dom Escott showing the barrows to good effect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tveCoPLrjlI
I encountered the Devil’s Jumps while walking a section of the South Downs Way with the wonderful Elizabeth Bennett. We parked in the National Trust car park on Harting Down and headed off up the hill and over the Downs in the general direction of Cocking, which is a decent 7-mile walk away. The Jumps are somewhere in the middle of the route and appear with no warning, a proud and impressive group of barrows that suddenly appears on the south face of Treyford Hill as you emerge from the trackway through the densely wooded interior of the hill top.
The interpretation sign describes the Devil’s Jumps as “the best example of a Bronze Age barrow cemetery on the South Downs”. The cemetery was excavated also in 1853 and cremated bone was recovered from within the ground surface between two of the mounds although no human remains were found in the smaller, outlying barrows. The cemetery, which is linear and runs north-east/south-west is aligned with sunset on Midsummer Day, although these days the trees spoil the effect a little. There are five bell barrows ranging in size of central diameter from 20-26 metres, with central berms of 3 or 4 m wide, ditches up to 6m wide, with overall mound diameters of 37-45 m and heights of 2.7-5.3 m; the bowl barrows survive as low earthworks (https://historicengland.org.uk).
Confusingly, there is another place called the Devil’s Jumps (or Devil’s Three Jumps) up the road at Churt in Surrey; however, these are naturally occurring hillocks, not barrows.
It is said that the Devil once amused himself by jumping between the Humps and the Jumps and, in the process, disturbed Thor from his slumber. Thor was not best pleased but the Devil just laughed at him, further provoking Thor’s anger to the extent that he threw a large rock or hammer (the accounts vary) at the Devil who made his leave, although his jumps remained. Sussex has a number of other Devil-themed landscape features including Devil’s Dyke, Devil’s Bog, Devil’s Book, the Devil’s Ditch and the Devil’s Road so, it seems, he has traditionally been much in evidence in the county. Apparently, should you wish to meet said demon, this can be achieved by running round the Devil’s Humps seven times. The Humps, also known as the King’s Graves, are said to be the tombs of Viking leaders buried in 894 with the adjacent yew wood marking the battlefield site. Furthermore it is said that the Vikings, or perhaps druids, haunt these woods and that the trees come to life and wander about. Looking at some of them I can quite believe it.
In Stoughton there is a pub called the Hare and Hounds, which I didn’t visit, but it looked very pleasing from the outside and comes highly recommended by these people who also mention that the pub stocks five real ales (something the pub’s own website, oddly, doesn’t mention). After my visit to the Devil’s, Humps instead I went to the tea shop in the nearby village of Compton and had a very pleasant coffee and cake.
The pub nearest to the Devil’s Jumps is one of my all time favourites: the Royal Oak at Hooksway. A proper walkers’ pub that serves good wholesome food and a decent selection of often local ales in a cosy, welcoming atmosphere. It even has a resident ghost.
Franks, A.W. (1854) Sussex Archaeological Collection, Vol. 7, 53-54
Grinsell, L.V. (1934) Sussex Barrows in Sussex Archaeological Collections Vol. 75, 247
Simpson, J. 2002 (2nd edn) The Folklore of Sussex. London: The History Press