Nineteenth century (with more ancient leanings)
In the summer, due to the copious vegetation, it is easy to drive along the A272 through Bramdean in Hampshire towards East Meon without noticing the circle of stones just behind a bus shelter on the left-hand side of the road; in the winter however it is far more prominent – and rather unexpected. Just before the bus shelter is a small crossroads and it is possible to park alongside the stones on the side of the lane. The diminutive stone circle includes two remaining dolmen/trilithon-type formations from a possible original five. Additionally, on the opposite side of the road, is a large flint mound. Both monuments convey a sense of the ancient past but certainly to someone with archaeological leanings the circle in particular feels somewhat more recent in its construction. The first time I saw it I remember thinking what a wonderful thing for the local people to have constructed next to the bus shelter…but why?
The archaeology bit
Having absent-mindedly wondered about the circle since I had first noticed it on one of my various trips to Winchester, I happened to stop for a drink in a pub called The Fox (more of which later), situated a little way before the stones on the A272 on the edge of Bramdean village. On the wall behind the table where I sat – it must have been fate! – was a picture frame containing some black and white magazine cuttings about the stones. They appear to come from the Country Life magazine letters page and comprise some photographs of the stones and two letters, the first from a gentleman (not disgusted) from Tunbridge Wells who likens the stones to a ‘Stonehenge effect at Port Talbot’ that appeared in a previous issue. Unfortunately there are no dates on the correspondence but I wonder if the Port Talbot reference in question is the ‘Foamhenge’ constructed in 2010 at Margam Country Park for the filming of the Dr Who episode The Pandorica Opens in which Matt Smith battled Cybermen in the series finale?
The other letter in the frame is from J.A.C. Greenwood of Rogate in Hampshire, the great-great nephew of Colonel George Greenwood of Brockwood (formerly Brookwood) House, a large property down the lane on the other side of the crossroads where the circle is, past the flint mound. Mr Greenwood writes that his great-great uncle erected both monuments and the mound is the burial place of his favourite horse. He was a very distinguished horseman, recognised by Queen Victoria, and wrote a book called Hints on Horsemanship in 1839. However, there is a headstone on the mound that reads: ‘HERE LIES COL. R MEINERTZHAGEN’S HORSE MELKSHAM BURIED UNDER THESE STONES WHO DIED AT THIS PLACE IN 1910’. Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen was, by all accounts, a colourful character, apparently a passionate ornithologist, general science buff, some time spy and assassin. Curiously however he was born in 1878, three years after Colonel Greenwood’s death and Melksham the horse obviously could not have been connected to Colonel Greenwood if the inscription on the headstone is accurate.
As regards the circle of stones, J.A.C. Greenwood says there are two possible explanations of the Colonel’s motivation for building the it in 1845 or thereabouts:
“One…is that he wished to see how long it would be before they were regarded as relics of the ancient past – this is commonly said of them today. The alternative is that they were a demonstration of the power of his tree-lifter”.
The tree-lifter was the Colonel’s invention for transplanting trees up to 30 feet in height with their ball of earth intact, a feat the apparatus apparently made possible for a single individual to do at a rate of one tree per day. The somewhat aptly-named Colonel Greenwood was very enthusiastic about the importance of trees to the landscape and wrote a book in 1844 called The Tree-lifter, Or a new method of transplanting forest trees, which is available online via Internet Archive (link below). Colonel Greenwood is said to have excavated local archaeological sites and was a keen geologist referred to as ‘the father of subaerialism’, ascribing the greater inequalities in the earth’s surface to atmospheric influences. He published a further book in 1857 entitled Rain and Rivers. It was said in his obituary that “had he fallen amongst geologists in early life, instead of amongst ‘thoroughbreds’, he would doubtless have occupied a leading place among men of science”. This seems rather a pity but I’m glad the monument lives on. Incidentally, the colonel is buried nearby at All Saints church, Hinton Ampner, his grave stone a recumbent sarsen which stands out pleasingly amongst all the more traditional ones.
We partook of a pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord in The Fox, a welcoming, dog-friendly country pub, recently under new management. I don’t see Landlord anywhere near as often as I would like but always choose it given the chance. It has won more awards than any other beer and deservedly so. The barman in The Fox remarked that he’d only put it on the night before and it was already overtaking Doom Bar as the punters’ beer of choice.