Tinkinswood & St Lythans

Early Neolithic 4000 BC -> 3300 BC

I was in Cardiff this weekend for the Europa Conference on People, place and time in Neolithic and Chalcolithic Europe and took the opportunity to visit two burial chambers I had been wanting to see for some time, Tinkinswood and St Lythans.  They are about two and a half miles apart and easily accessed from Duffryn Lane not far from St Nicholas, six miles west of Cardiff ( OS map references ST 092733 and ST 100722, respectively).

 

DSC09158

Both monuments are managed by Cadw and have rather fun wind-up interpretative audio guide units on site that give a decent background summary in a choice of Welsh and English covering the topics The Neolithic Period, The Tomb Builders, Building a Tomb and Explore and More. Be warned though: the audio content is much the same at both sites with just a few subtle detail differences in the second topic.

The archaeology bit

Tinkinswood

Tinkinswood burial chamber

Tinkinswood was constructed in the early Neolithic period around 6000 years ago and when it was excavated in 1914 it was found to hold the remains of more than 50 people along with pottery fragments and worked flint.  The capstone (more of which in a moment) weighs around 40 tons, which is around the same as an articulated lorry, apparently.  It poured with rain during my visit and naturally I sought shelter within the chamber which gave me chance to marvel at the vast roof and how it could have been raised into its position all those years ago without the help of modern machinery – and to be grateful that after the excavations a supporting pillar was added.   At that time also the outside walls were re-clad in a herringbone style which I also saw a few weeks ago at Stoney Littleton (see previous entry).  Outside the chamber is a stone-lined pit, the function of which is unknown although it has been suggested that bodies were collected or processed there, perhaps excarnated (defleshed), prior to deposition in the chamber itself.

St Lythans

St Lythans burial chamber

I found St Lythans to be the more photogenic of the two monuments although it was challenging in the heavy downpour that persisted pretty much until I left.  It is known locally as Gwal-y-filiast which translates rather wonderfully as ‘the kennel of the greyhound bitch’ and it does have a bit of a doghouse-like feel to it.  In fact, in the 19th century it was used as an animal shelter and I can testify that it was quite fitting as a human shelter on the day of my visit.  The chamber, which also dates back to the early Neolithic, is only a small part of the original monument, some of the remainder of which is just visible from the gate to the field and apparently measures around 24 metres long by 11 metres wide.  The capstone here weighs 35 tons and the chamber as a whole has a pleasing dolmen appearance even though it would originally probably have looked more like the earthen-clad Tinkinswood tomb. Similarly, human remains and pottery were recovered from the site during antiquarian investigations.  Whereas Tinkinswood is situated on a level and fairly unobtrusive location within the present day landscape, St Lythans is more impressively and visibly located on a hill top and its lack of mound has the effect of making it stand out all the more.

Returning to the capstones and the Europa conference, a project is currently under way by Dr Vicki Cummings of the University of Central Lancashire with Professor Colin Richards of the University of Manchester looking into Building the Great Dolmens of Britain and Ireland.  It seems that a dolmen can be defined as ‘a careful way of displaying a big stone in a distinctive way’ that ‘sometimes also creates a burial space’ and one thing that has been found in sites investigated so far is that the capstones may have originated at the location of the dolmen and been raised above supporting stones in situ rather than being transported in from elsewhere. Examples of this are Pentre Ifan and Carreg Samson in Pembrokeshire which, when excavated, were found to lie within big pits thought to have been the original location of their capstones.  As well as in west Wales there are concentrations of dolmen in Cornwall and much of Ireland and it will be very interesting to see how this research pans out particularly in terms of the potential interpretations concerning the significance of special locations and monuments in the Neolithic.

Folklore

As the rain was setting in at Tinkinswood I did wonder if I would end up having to spend the night there.  Had I done so and it had been the night preceding May Day, St John’s Day or Midwinter Day, according to folklore, I would have either died, gone raving mad or become a poet.  Also, had I danced there on the Sabbath, I could have ended up being turned to stone like the other poor women who now stand silently as boulders south of the tomb.  At St Lythans meanwhile it is said that the field it inhabits is cursed and nothing grows there (this certainly doesn’t affect the grass however which was knee-high and thriving when I visited). Had I visited on Halloween I could have wished for anything and had it granted by the stones so I must remember to return on 31 October to do that. Meanwhile on Midsummer’s Eve the capstone is said to spin three times, which I would love to see.  This is my favourite bit of folklore for St Lythans, another Welsh name for which is Maes-y-Felin which translates as ‘The Mill in the Meadow’.

References

http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/stlythansburialchamber

http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/tinkinswoodburialchamber

 

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Stoney Littleton

Early Neolithic 4000 BC -> 3300 BC

Route to the barrow (with photobombing dog)

Route to the barrow (with photobombing dog)

Stoney Littleton is a well and truly accessible chambered long barrow on a hilltop in Somerset surrounded by fields and – currently – lambs.  It is just down the road from the village of Wellow which itself is only six miles from Bath.  It is well signposted and a drive down a single track lane (halfway down which you start to think, ‘this can’t be right’) brings you to a small parking area beside a stream where a wooden bridge bearing the sign ‘Stoney Littleton Long Barrow. Ancient Monument’ guides you across, over stiles, and on a ten minute walk uphill through a couple of fields to the one containing the barrow (OS grid reference ST 735572).  The property is managed by English Heritage and I was disappointed to find there was no interpretation board present – I would love to see this rectified at some point.

 

The archaeology bit

Stoney Littleton long barrow

Stoney Littleton long barrow

The long barrow is thought to have been constructed around 3500 BC.  At 30 metres long it is only half the length of Bevis’s Thumb in Sussex and Combe Gibbet in Berkshire (see earlier entries) but size isn’t everything and it has plenty of other things going for it.  For one thing, the location of Stoney Littleton is rather pleasant and peaceful in the heart of rural Somerset making it possible to go back in time in your mind and get a feel for how it might have been in Neolithic times when the barrow was in use. The barrow has a dry stone wall running around it and its entrance is also paved, all of which is impressive enough.  Most excitingly, however, it can be entered and explored, albeit by crouching or crawling at first as the height ranges from 1.2 m to 1.8. It is also dark and a torch or Flashlight app is very necessary.  Inside the slabbed interior there are seven burial chambers arranged in three opposing pairs to the sides, like the transepts in a church, with a single one at the north-west end, noteworthy as this is the only barrow known to have this particular layout.

Inside

Inside

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, investigations of the barrow took place in the 18th and 19th centuries when anything went and quite literally in this case when in 1760 the landowner, a farmer, raided the it for building stone. Subsequently whatever the barrow contained was pilfered and in 1816 an antiquarian, a Reverend John Skinner, carried out excavations and is reported to have recovered burnt and disarticulated human remains, sadly since lost. Wouldn’t it be wonderful in these instances if some descendent of the original excavator discovered the missing remains in amongst inherited family belongings and handed them over to a friendly osteoarchaeologist to study?

Tantalisingly there is mention of the human remains at Stoney Littleton having been arranged by skeletal elements within the different burial chambers (Bulleid, 1941, 57) rather than in apparently random piles as is seen more usually.  Although it is not always straightforward to be sure that spatial arrangement is by design rather than accident there are certainly cases where it can only have been deliberate, such as when multiple skulls are placed away from the rest of skeletons (Smith & Brickley, 2009, 65).  Unfortunately the people whose remains were buried within the chambers at Stoney Littleton are likely to remain an enigma but at least their monumental resting place can provide a tangible glimpse of mortuary practices in the Neolithic.

Edit: I have since discovered that some of the human remains at least are still in existence in a museum archive, which is good news!

Ammonite in situ

Ammonite in situ

Folklore

Interestingly there is a fossilised ammonite built into the bottom left-hand side of the entrance to the long barrow.  It is thought that the large Lias limestone containing this ammonite could have been transported from as far as five miles away by the barrow’s Neolithic builders, suggesting that they felt it was worth the effort of doing so for some reason important to them.  In historical times ammonites were often thought of and referred to as ‘snake stones’; perhaps there was a comparable belief concerning ammonites in prehistory.

References

Bulleid, A, 1941 ‘Notes on some chambered long barrows of North Somerset’ in Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society 87, 56-71

Smith, M & Brickley, M 2009 People of the Long Barrows, Stroud: The History Press

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stoney-littleton-long-barrow/, accessed 29.04.14

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/earth/fossils/fossil-folklore/themes/decoration03.htm, accessed 29.04.14

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Whitehawk

Early Neolithic 4000 BC -> 3300 BC

Atop Whitehawk Hill in Brighton, overlooking the city, the racecourse and the South Downs, is the Neolithic causewayed enclosure formerly known as Whitehawk Camp (OS grid reference TQ330048).  It’s easy to find once you know where it is (it took me longer this time than the previous occasion when I visited the site and had a pair of local archaeology enthusiasts with me). Fortunately, the recently-added concrete bollards on Manor Hill, which were put in place to solve a traveller trespass problem, also serve as effective location markers.

Whitehawk (and bollards)

View from Whitehawk (and bollards)

Unlike the causewayed enclosure at the Trundle, near Chichester,  (see earlier entry) which occupies a fairly idyllic location surrounded by fields and downland with views of aesthetically pleasing villages and Goodwood racecourse, Whitehawk’s locality has a much more urban feel to it. Alongside the racecourse itself and the nearby allotment gardens, the site overlooks the sprawling Whitehawk housing estate to the east, has residential roads around it and is surprisingly close to the centre of Brighton itself.  It is therefore a bit more difficult to picture the site as it would have been during the Neolithic when it must have dominated the landscape. Having said all that, there are some great views over the South Downs on the other side and the surviving sections of the enclosure in evidence today indicate the impressive size of the monument and with a little imagination its former glory can still be envisaged and marvelled at.

 

The archaeology bit

Excavated in the 1920s and 30s by Cecil Curwen, ‘Whitehawk Camp’ was so-called because these mysterious monuments were often interpreted as camps or settlement sites in those days, hence the original nomenclature, but this has since been superseded by the more descriptive ’causewayed enclosure’, leaving the actual function or functions very much open to debate.  Whitehawk comprises a maximum of five interrupted circular rings of ditches enclosing up to 7 hectares of land between the transmitter mast to the south and the racecourse to the north.  We know that Whitehawk causewayed enclosure and its Sussex contemporaries were built around 5600 years ago, more than 1000 years earlier than the stone circle enclosures of Stonehenge and Avebury. Thanks to the recent Gathering Time early Neolithic dating project conducted by Cardiff University and English Heritage, we now know that Whitehawk itself was probably built between the middle of the 37th century and the end of the 36th century cal BC with the major period of construction likely to have taken place in the second half of the 37th century cal BC.  Its main phase of use has been identified as having lasted for between 75 and 260 years.  Following the Mesolithic era typified by nomadic hunter gatherer people, Whitehawk would have been part of the probable first  wave of British Neolithicisation which began in the south-east of England around 4050 cal BC, from likely origins in continental Europe, and spread throughout the rest of the British Isles over the following two and a half centuries or so as Neolithic practices and culture, such as farming and the construction of monumental structures, were adopted by British people.

Only a very small proportion of Whitehawk has been excavated so far and, apart from the original excavations over three seasons in 1929, 1932-3 and 1935, there has only been some small scale investigation carried out in the 1990s since.  The 1920s/30s excavations resulted in a sizeable archive of archaelogical evidence comprising large numbers of flint tools, pottery, bones of ox, cattle, sheep/goat, pig and deer,  and the complete skeleton of a roe deer deposited at the base of a pit.  My personal interest in Whitehawk centres around the human remains found there, which include a number of disarticulated bones, including skull fragments, and four complete burials including an eight year old boy and a young woman buried alongside her newborn baby. Rather grimly intriguing also is Curwen’s account of a hearth in one of the ditches containing human brain-pans in amongst the animal bones and pottery vessels. ‘Brain-pan’ incidentally is not a name you hear very often these days; it’s more usual for ‘cranium’ to be used now, more’s the pity.  Anyway, given the volume of finds from the little area that has been excavated so far it is very exciting to think what could potentially be recovered in the future and what this could tell us about the enclosure itself and the people who used it and those who were buried there.  I was therefore delighted to hear that Heritage Lottery funding has been granted to the sum of nearly £100,000 to carry out further work on the Whitehawk archive and at the site itself this year.

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/caa/whitehawk-hlf

References

Bayliss, A., Healy, F. & Whittle, A., 2011 Gathering Time: Dating the Early Neolithic Enclosures of Southern Britain and Ireland, Vol 1, Oxford, Oxbow

Curwen, E.C. 1934 ‘Excavations in Whitehawk Neolithic Camp, Brighton, 1932-3’ in The Antiquaries Journal 14, 124-128

Curwen, E.C. 1936 ‘Excavations in Whitehawk Camp, Brighton, third season, 1935’ in Sussex Archaeological Collections 77, 59-92

Ross Williamson, R.P. 1930 ‘Excavations in Whitehawk Neolithic Camp, near Brighton’ in Sussex Archaeological Collections 71, 57-96

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=402382&sort=4&search=all&criteria=whitehawk%20camp&rational=q&recordsperpage=10, accessed 22.04.2014

 

 

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The Long Man of Wilmington +

It’s been nearly a month since my last blog, I’m afraid, due to lack of time.  This will therefore be a bumper entry featuring two sites and one exhibition in East Sussex, and a slight detour in between.

Beachy Head Woman

Beachy Head Woman

So today I started by heading over to Eastbourne to take in the Eastbourne Ancestors exhibition.  It’s housed in the Pavilion on the Royal Parade on the sea front and is easy to find.  There is plenty of parking in the car park for the Redoubt Fortress, which is next door.  It’s only a small exhibition and is very much aimed at the layperson.  However, what got it on my list of places to visit is that it is an osteoarchaeological exhibition, showcasing the results of a £73,800 Heritage Lottery funded project to analyse the sizeable collection of human skeletal remains recovered from archaeological excavations in the town over the years and held in store by Eastbourne Heritage Service.  More than 300 skeletons were analysed using modern techniques to identify the demographics and pathology of the skeletal remains.  In addition, in 11 selected cases radiocarbon dating and isotope analysis was carried out to identify when they died, what their diet consisted of and where they originated from.

The exhibition features skeletal remains, grave goods and reconstructions including one of so-called Beachy Head Woman, who lived around Eastbourne in the middle Roman period but whose ethnic origins were in sub-Saharan Africa.  She lived to be around 22-25, was 4ft 9in – 5ft 1in tall, had an ossified haematoma on her right femur, and ate a lot of fish and vegetables. Apparently further investigation is under way to find out more about her, as indeed are studies of the remainder of the collection within the constraints of the remaining funding.

Don't do it!

Don’t do it!

Following a cappuccino and a scone in the Pavilion cafe I followed the coast road with the thought in my mind that you can’t visit Eastbourne without paying Beachy Head a visit, neither of which I had been to before today. Despite a brief appearance by the sun when I entered the Pavilion a haar had descended by the time I re-emerged and there was a bit of a chill in the air.  However, undeterred, I parked up near the Belle Tout lighthouse (now a B&B with a fantastic view) and wandered along the coastal path taking care not to get too close to the edge, unlike the lady pictured.  I’m pleased to report that she didn’t fall over the edge and neither did the various other people with smartphones, tablets and cameras doing similar crazy things.  The Beachy Head chaplaincy vehicle in the layby and Samaritans sticker on the parking meter were however reminders of the darker side of things at the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain at a maximum of 162 m above sea level.

My next port of call was the Litlington Horse, that is the new one, which I passed quite by chance and noticed out of the corner of my eye.  There was previously a chalk horse on Hindover (aka High and Over) Hill (OS grid reference TQ 510 009) which was cut around 1838, perhaps to mark Queen Victoria’s coronation it has been suggested.  The present day horse is thought to have been cut as a replacement for the original in 1924/5 and is only around 100m from the first one’s position on the hill.  Its present day raised foreleg was apparently a 1983 modification.

Old Man of Wilmington

The Long Man of Wilmington

I then continued down the road to take in the Long Man of Wilmington on Windover Hill (OS grid reference TQ542034).  He’s quite a striking presence in the landscape and I wasn’t surprised to find that he is Europe’s largest representation of the human form.  Pleasingly his origins continue to baffle archaeologists and historians alike.  Theories include him being the creation of a Mediaeval monk from a nearby priory or that he was the work of the Romans, there being a Roman coin featuring a similar figure, or similarly the Anglo Saxons due to a likeness on some ornaments from that era. The purpose of the Long Man is also debated: could he be a depiction of a warrior or perhaps a fertility symbol?  Talking of which, the original artist missed out an important part of the male anatomy and so, it seems, modern day people sometimes feel the need to correct this with paint with varying levels of skill.  The current effort is pretty poor, I think.

The archaeology bit

The Long Man of Wilmington inhabits a significant known Neolithic landscape on the South Downs which includes the flint mines at Coombe Hill and the Giant’s Grave and Hunter’s Burgh long barrows and is is certainly possible that he was a part of things back then. There are also Bronze Age barrows in the vicinity and a Bronze Age axe hoard was found nearby so there is more than one prehistoric possibility for his origins.

The Long Man was excavated in 1969 and it was found that the original cut was deeper than it is now thereby making a bolder previous outline.  A resistivity survey at that time also revealed that the staves depicted as being held by the Long Man were probably longer than they are currently.  Fragments of red tile, previously found scattered within the outline, were analysed by Barry Cunliffe and found to be Roman indicating that the chalk figure at least dates back to the Romano British era although, of course, the Romans may merely have maintained or appropriated the Long Man for their own purposes and his creation may well have been prior to this.

Folklore

Parallels have been drawn with the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset and the presence of a Mediaeval monastic house near to both chalk giants has been used over the years to support an ecclesiastical connection.  Although the Roman tile fragments mentioned above clearly contradict this, talk of heretical monk occultists must have been a favourite explanation in the past.  It was also said that the giant represented Beowulf taking on Grendel.  He has been given numerous other identities over the years, all of heroic figures or deities, ranging from Thor to the Prophet Mohammed, as I suppose is only natural given his manly stature and pose.  My personal preference however is for him to be a Neolithic fertility symbol and that would seem to be as good an interpretation as any for the time being until such time as new archaeological evidence comes to light to disprove this or otherwise.

Refreshments

Just down the road from the man himself is the Giant’s Rest pub in Wilmington, a nice enough country pub (albeit very close to the A27) which has a good menu and, more importantly, is a stockist of ales from the nearby Long Man Brewery.  What other beer to have than the Long Man?

References

http://www.eastbournemuseums.co.uk/ancestors.aspx

http://www.giantsrest.co.uk/index.php

http://www.longmanbrewery.com/our-beers/

http://www.sussexarch.org.uk/saaf/wilmington.html

http://sussexpast.co.uk/properties-to-discover/the-long-man

http://www.wiltshirewhitehorses.org.uk/others.html

 

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Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story

My favourite statistic is that more people visit museums than go to football matches on a Saturday in this country.  It therefore follows that only a fool would visit the Natural History Museum on this day of the week…DSC08671-001

So anyway, a little detour from my usual rambles today but one which still involved walking into the past and therefore probably just about counts.  The One Million Years exhibition is an accessible summary of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project and the current knowledge in this ever changing field.  The first thing you encounter is head casts of the four species of human in our history: Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.  The exhibition certainly goes a long way to giving Homo neanderthalensis a better image.  For one thing, Ned the resident model Neanderthal is quite a good looking young man with a rather knowing look in his eye.  He is supposed to be in his 20s but looks older and wiser,  but then his life was probably arduous and his life expectancy was only 50 years.  The message comes across quite well, I think, that our probable closest relatives were intelligent, resourceful and successful, occupying Britain for at least 350,000 years (compared to Homo sapiens who have only managed about 40,000 so far).  I’m not sure if the Homo sapiens model has been given a name too but he is also rather ruggedly handsome and I liked his body painting.

Homo sapiens

Homo sapiens

There are some very fine flint and bone implements on display and the exhibition also covers climate and environment and the fauna that inhabited this land all those years ago.  In some ways it seems a shame we no longer have lions, wolves, mammoths and the like roaming around.  My favourite object on display was the skull cup from Gough’s Cave in Somerset.  Three of these were found in the cave, two made from adult skulls and one from a child’s. Although this is clear evidence of cannibalism, it is thought that the skill and effort involved in the fashioning of vessels from human bone was representative of more than a purely pragmatic act and may have been symbolic in some way.  Almost as interesting to me were the skeletal remains of a 33,000 year old Welshman recovered from Paviland (Goat) Cave in south Wales, which were found decorated with jewellery and dye, the earliest example of modern humans’ burial ritual in Britain.  Anyway, an enjoyable exhibition and I am now firmly of the opinion that I would like my DNA analysed to see if there’s any Neanderthal in me.  Bill Bailey, it turns out, is 1.5% Neanderthal so I’d be in good company.

Incidentally, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition was both inspiring and fascinating too.  There is much to learn from the write-ups on the methods as well as the camera settings used.  As was the case last time I went to this annual exhibition, the split of Canon/Nikon cameras used was probably about 50/50 (although I am happy to be corrected by anyone who has actually done the maths).

http://www.ahobproject.org/, accessed 08.03.14

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/temporary-exhibitions/britain-million-years/index.html, accessed 08.03.14

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/wpy/visit/index.html, accessed 08.03.14

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Cissbury Ring

Early Neolithic 4000 BC -> 3300 BC

Iron Age 800 BC -> 43 AD

Bottoms up

Having covered earthen long barrows and causewayed enclosures I thought it was time to pay a visit to the third major monument type of the early Neolithic: a flint mine.  Cissbury Ring is actually an Iron Age hillfort – the largest in Sussex – and occupies a fantastic location on the beautiful South Downs with extensive views across Sussex and Hampshire.  Within and without the hillfort are more than 200 flint mine shafts dating back to 5000 years ago, visible now as distinctive circular depressions in the ground.

Cissbury Ring Hillfort

Cissbury Ring Hillfort

It’s a straightforward site to find by following the road through Findon village off the A24, past the two pubs (slightly more of which later) and all the way to the end at which point  there is a car park, and then it’s a short (but steep) walk up to the hillfort.

The archaeology bit

There are fifteen known Neolithic flint mines in Britain, ten of them in the south, two in East Anglia, two in Scotland and one in Ireland.  Their locations, not always where the best quality flint seams are found, suggest that other factors were considered important by the Neolithic people who dug them laboriously with antler picks and other primitive tools.  Furthermore the recovery of human remains and other items apparently deposited deliberately in the mine shafts as well as carvings on the walls of the galleries, suggest that there was more than simply mining for resources involved and that the mines, in common with other aspects of the Neolithic world, were part of a wider and considerably more complex environment.

Cissbury flint mines

Cissbury flint mines

Cissbury was first excavated in the 19th century and then further investigations took place in the 1950s under the direction of John Pull, a Post Office employee and archaeology enthusiast.  He tended to publicised his findings in the local press due to his falling out with the local archaeological society when they rejected his written account of the Cissbury excavations and published one of their own.  He spent many years excavating Sussex flint mines and other sites but met a tragic and premature end when he was shot in a bank raid, leaving much unwritten investigation.

The flint mines at Cissbury are mainly situated at the western end of the later hillfort, with more outside the ramparts.  They are easily identifiable craters in the ground, measuring up to six metres in diameter with a depth of up to three metres.  Although human remains are unusual finds in Neolithic flint mines three skeletons were recovered during the Cissbury excavations: two females in the base layers of the mines with no obvious care afforded to them and a male in the upper fill in a crouched burial position.  The apparently different treatment of the sexes in life and death in terms of location and perhaps burial rites can be contemplated in this case.  With our modern day perspective, flint mines have often been regarded as male domains but an alternative view is that women would have been more suited to working in confined spaces due to their smaller stature.

Folklore

There is said to be a tunnel below Cissbury leading to nearby Offington Hall in which there is supposed to be treasure, unfortunately well guarded by serpents.  Cissbury itself is said to have been created by none other than the Devil while he was digging his Dyke near Brighton (actually the longest, deepest and widest dry valley in Britain), throwing earth around the general area.  And at the time of the midsummer solstice fairies are said to dance around Cissbury Ring.  A return in June to check this out could be on the cards on the basis that it must be a lovely place to watch the sun go down even if it turns out there aren’t any fairies and maybe a UFO will fly past, as others have claimed.

Refreshments

The two pubs in Findon, The Gun Inn and The Village House Inn, look very promising from the outside but on this occasion the refreshments were sampled in a hostelry nearer to home.

The Halfway Bridge, Lodsworth

The Halfway Bridge, Lodsworth, at dusk

The Halfway Bridge at Lodsworth is a pub I’ve driven past numerous times over the years but never stopped at before.  It’s a nicely updated, comfortable pub with unfailingly friendly staff and good beers including Doombar from the West Country and Langham’s from just down the road in West Sussex.  The classic and highly recommended Hip Hop was on offer but my personal favourite was Halfway to Heaven, 3.5% and goes down very nicely.  The food is good too and both the Caesar salad and fish and chips can be highly recommended.

References

Barber, M., Field, D. & Topping, P. The Neolithic Flint Mines of England 1999, Swindon, English Heritage

Lewis-Williams, D.P. & Pearce, D. Inside the Neolithic Mind 2005, London: Thames & Hudson

Russell, M. Rough Quarries, Rocks and Hills: John Pull and the Neolithic Flint Mines of Sussex 2001, Oxford: Oxbow

https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/south-downs/explore/chanctonbury-cissbury/, accessed 07.03.14

http://www.sussexarch.org.uk/saaf/cissbury.html, accessed 07.03.14

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Combe Gibbet

Early Neolithic 4000 BC -> 3300 BC

The clue’s in the name with this one.  Combe Gibbet is a Neolithic long barrow on Inkpen Hill (aka Inkpen Beacon, aka Gallows Down) around four miles south of Hungerford in Berkshire, not far from the borders of both Hampshire and Wiltshire. It is reached via a short, steep, somewhat bumpy track and you can park right by the access gate.

National Grid Reference: SU 36474 62235    Postcode: RG17 9EL

 

The archaeology bit

'Information board'

Once an information board

The barrow is around 65 m long and 20 m wide and its height ranges from 0.5 m and 1.5 m.  It is orientated east-west and has surviving full-length flanking ditches to the north and south with a depth of 0.5 m.  Of the 500 or so long barrows in England, Combe Gibbet is one of only three known in the county of Berkshire and geographically it is likely that these have connections to the more dense concentration of these monuments in Wiltshire and Dorset.  There is no record of the barrow having been excavated at any time and, unfortunately for my research, no record of any human remains having been found there, or any other finds for that matter with the exception of two probable Neolithic flint flakes from the surface handed in to Newbury Museum. The information board has seen better days and it would be nice to see this rectified.

The history bit

Long Barrow with added gibbet

Long Barrow with added gibbet

However what makes this long barrow fun is the presence of a gibbet on top of it. It is a double gibbet, that is one designed to hang two people simultaneously. I had never previously considered the possibility of a gibbet-for-two, not even when playing Hangman, but I can see now that this would have been useful in certain situations.  The Combe Gibbet gibbet stands 7.6 m tall, 25 m from the east end of the barrow.  The gibbet you see today is the seventh one to stand on the site, the original one having been placed there in 1676, more of which in a moment.  The subsequent gibbets were erected in the years 1850, 1949, 1950, 1970, 1979 and this one in 1992.  The original gibbet rotted and in turn the replacement met its demise at the hands of a lightening strike.  Two of the following gibbets were felled by vandals, reportedly in protest at the practice of hanging, one was blown down by high winds and another burned by vandals.  The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act of 1965 suspended capital punishment for murder in Britain and, of course, the punishment subsequently ceased permanently so the gibbet’s continued existence for the past 48 years has been symbolic, and rather strikingly so as it can be seen from quite some distance away.

Combe Gibbet

Combe Gibbet

The 17th century gibbet was erected to hang married George Bromham (possibly Broomham) from the village of Combe and widow Dorothy Newman from the nearby village of Inkpen who were found guilty of the murder of Bromham’s wife, Martha, and their son, Robert Bromham.  The trial at Winchester Assizes heard that George Bromham and Dorothy Newman beat Martha and Robert to death with staves very close to where the gibbet now stands, having been caught in the act of infidelity.  Apparently, the local ‘village idiot’, Mad Thomas, witnessed the event and reported the crime, leading to their conviction.  Based on these facts alone it can be wondered how safe the conviction was.  Anyway, the ‘hanging in [iron] chaynes’ took place on 3 March 1676 on the double gibbet erected on top of the barrow which was neutrally situated due to the parish boundaries of Combe and Inkpen stopping at the previously mentioned ditches, thereby enabling the cost of the gibbet and the ‘chaynes’ to be split equally, which seems only fair. The dead bodies were reportedly taken down the hill to Inkpen where they were kept in the barn at the Crown and Garter Inn before being returned to the gibbet for their ‘final hanging’ on 6 March.  I must say that the view from Combe Gibbet is wonderful and far reaching and today there were sheep grazing all around and several buzzards flying very low overhead.  I’m sure there are worse places to meet your maker.

Folklore

The method used by the convicted murderers to do away with poor Martha and Robert Bromham varies in different accounts. Some say they were killed by poisoning and/or drowning in a dew pond (incidentally, according to some accounts, Dorothy Newman’s own two children were murdered).  Alternatively, and rather horrifically, it has been said that Martha was killed by having her face thrust into a hornet’s nest by her husband.

Refreshments

Crown and Garter, Inkpen

Crown and Garter, Inkpen

Rather excitingly, the Crown and Garter Inn is still in Inkpen and still a pub and still has its barn in situ (now B&B accommodation called Gibbet Barn).  This would have been the perfect refreshment stop for today’s outing but, disappointingly, the pub is currently closed for refurbishment and not due to open again until August, according to a gentleman overheard talking about it in the The Swan Inn, a little further down the road.

The Swan Inn, Inkpen

The Swan Inn, Inkpen

Meanwhile The Swan is a nice, quiet pub and twice the West Berkshire CAMRA pub of the year.  It stocks Butt’s organic ales and the Jester was a pleasant, quaffable beer; the Traditional a little stronger. The barman was very friendly and helpful and the beef (from Inkpen itself) and onion pie is highly recommended.

 

References

http://www.hungerfordvirtualmuseum.co.uk/Places/Combe_Gibbet/combe_gibbet.html, accessed 27.02.14

http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle_print.aspx?uid=1013198&showMap=1&showText=1, accessed 27.02.14

http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/berkshire/ancient-sites/combe-gibbet-and-walbury-hillfort.html, accessed 27.02.14

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=228788&sort=4&search=all&criteria=combe%20gibbet&rational=q&recordsperpage=10, accessed 27.02.14

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