Tag Archives: hampshire

The Bramdean Circle of Stones

Nineteenth century (with more ancient leanings)

Circle of stones, Bramdean

Circle of stones, Bramdean

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?

Mound of stones at Brockwood with headstone on the left. Circle of stones pictured on the other side of the road.

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.

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Circle of stones at Bramdean

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.

Refreshments

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The Fox at Bramdean

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.

Further reading

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00369226008735792?journalCode=rsgj19#.VOnFMPmsUYE

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=5236076&jid=GEO&volumeId=3&issueId=04&aid=5236072

http://www.hampshire-history.com/colonel-meinertzhagen/

https://archive.org/stream/treelifterorane00greegoog#page/n11/mode/2up

http://www.thefoxbramdean.co.uk/

 

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Petersfield Heath

Early Bronze Age 2200 BC –> 1500 BC

I took a brief foray into the Bronze Age today, going for a wander around Petersfield Heath just down the road from me in Hampshire.  Like the Trundle, this is a place I’ve been visiting most of my life and while during my formative years I thought the Trundle was just a big hill, similarly I thought Petersfield Heath was merely a boating lake.  I now realise there is far more to it than that and it transpires that the 90 acres of the healthland there has a long and fascinating multi-age history dating back at least as far as the Bronze Age.

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Bronze Age barrow at Petersfield Heath

There are are a very impressive twenty one barrows at Petersfield Heath, one of the most complex groups of these burial mounds in southern England. They are situated to the north of the Heath Pond  and once you realise they are there you bump into them at almost every turn.  They are effectively in two main clusters, one of which begins just beyond the pond and the other which is a little further back surrounding the cricket ground.  A number of the barrows have conifers growing on top of them which were planted there in Victorian times.  The heathland was used for grazing stock from the Middle Ages until the 1920s.  It has also been used for peat digging, turf cutting, and various leisure pursuits.  The pond was created in the 18th century and in the late 19th century a golf course was constructed and remained there until 1998; it is now being returned to heathland.  All in all, the Heath has seen a lot of activity and use over the centuries and it is fortuitous that so many of the barrows have survived to the present day.

The OS coordinates are  SU 757 230 and parking is plentiful in the car park on the B2146.

 

The archaeology bit

The twenty one barrows (or tumuli) in evidence at Petersfield Heath comprise fifteen bowl barrows, three saucer barrows, two disc barrows and one bell barrow, the latter three types being much less commonly found than bowl barrows and along with pond barrows they are sometimes collectively known as ‘fancy’ or ‘Wessex’ barrows (I favour the former).  It’s fairly obvious that the given names for the different types of barrow are based on their physical appearance.  As an etymological aside, the word ‘tumulus’ derives from the Latin for mound or small hill, while ‘barrow’ can be traced back to the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) word beorg, which is related to berg, which in turn means ‘mountain’.  Alternative names in use in different parts of Britain are howe, lowe, cairn, tump, toot, cop and knap.

In Hampshire it is estimated that around three quarters of the original Bronze Age barrows have been lost over time to ploughing and other changes to the landscape so a large concentration like the one at Petersfield is an important link to the lives of our ancestors.  There would certainly have been more barrows here originally and in fact a 19th century Ordnance Survey map indicates that some have been lost as a result of the modern housing development to the north and east of the Heath.  Similarly, it is probable that more barrows were destroyed when the pond was created.  Multiple barrows like this are usually classed as a cemetery which refers to the traditional interpretation of these as burial mounds.  Human remains are indeed usually found within them although this is not always the case and there could be several reasons for their absence including their having been removed, perhaps during antiquarian investigations during the 18th and 19th centuries, the natural breakdown of remains over time, or never having been present in the first place.  The human remains can be both inhumations (in the crouched position as is usual in Bronze Age contexts) and cremations, often in urns, and sometimes they are interred with grave goods such as pottery, weapons, tools and jewellery.  Overall it seems there is a variety of burial practices going on, between different mounds and within individual ones, indicating different approaches to the disposal of the dead, which can be speculated upon alongside the possible ceremonial practices that may have taken place before, during and after the construction of the barrows themselves in their particular locations.

Bronze Age barrow at Petersfield Heath

Bronze Age barrow at Petersfield Heath

Bronze Age barrows are often found near rivers, lakes and springs and regularly on middle and lower slopes rather than higher ground within the landscape.  It is interesting to consider the reasons for these choices of locations and both ritualistic and practical explanations have been suggested, such as people’s beliefs about the role of water within the Bronze Age world and drainage of the barrows themselves, perhaps allowing life to ‘seep away’ or literally to prevent damage to the mounds due to natural forces.  It is possible to see patterns in the distribution of surviving barrows in particular localities in relation to the landscape they inhabit and potentially with the route ways of Bronze Age people going about the business of their lives, indicating both pragmatic and belief-based concerns.  It has also been shown that some are aligned with celestial features and it seems that, although we separate prehistory into distinct eras for the sake of our modern day understanding, there are many themes and features that overlap throughout time.

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Bronze Age barrow at Petersfield Heath

The late eminent archaeologist, Stuart Piggott, who was born and educated in Petersfield, carried out the only survey to date of the barrows at the Heath back in 1930 when he was a student at Churcher’s College. However, Petersfield Museum has applied for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to conduct a four-year fieldwork and research project and hopefully this will be successful and enable a more detailed understanding of these prehistoric monuments.  I am planning to dust off my trowel and be involved in this myself along with another local project involving three Bronze Age barrows at Black Down in Haslemere, also planned for this year.

Folklore

I haven’t found any folklore pertaining to the Petersfield Heath barrows specifically but general folklore regarding barrows often involves people entering them, either invited or uninvited, and making off with valuable items from within them, subsequently suffering misfortune as a result.  In one version, a farmer drinks from a cup he is offered and disappears off with it, later returning to find that his wife is dead, his children elderly and nobody in the village remembers him, which has been interpreted to symbolise the passage of time and barrows separating the living from the dead. In general barrows are seen in folklore as magical places with links to faerie folk and providing an entrance to the realm of the goddess.  Whether you buy that or not there is, to me anyway, something very special about these ancient mounds and perhaps even more so in places like Petersfield Heath where they are surrounded by modernity and walked around (and on) every day by people going about their daily 21st century lives.

Refreshments

The Old Drum in Chapel Street, Petersfield, is a nicely modernised and dog-friendly establishment.  I would suggest a pint of 4.2% Triple FFF Moondance which I like not only for its pleasing colour and flavour but also because it has a wolf on its label and is the name of a rather good Van Morrison song.  It was also very popular back in my Haslemere Beer Festival days when I worked hard behind the bar in return for free beer throughout the evening (the only problem being there was no time to actually drink it).

References

http://www.archaeologyuk.org/ba/ba43/ba43feat.html

http://www.easthampshire.org/2013/02/the-petersfield-heath-barrow-cemetery-project/

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/south-downs/explore/petersfield-heath/

http://www3.hants.gov.uk/countryside/petersfield-heath.htm

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=243051#aRt

http://www.templeresearch.eclipse.co.uk/bronze/tomalin.htm

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