Late Neolithic 3000 -> 2000 BC
Bronze Age 2000 -> 700 BC
Just down the road from me in Hampshire is the parish of Whitehill which also encompasses the Army town of Bordon, both not far from Woolmer Forest, a former Mediaeval hunting forest bordering West Sussex and now part of the South Downs National Park. Within the military and residential density of the Bordon and Whitehill environs are a number of Late Neolithic/Bronze Age remains which have, perhaps miraculously, survived to the present day. The location of my visit was the Whitehill village hall, which is easy to find off the A325, postcode GU35 9BW.
Rather conveniently, the two barrows I went to look at are located within the village hall car park itself. You really can’t miss them and how wonderful to have these ancient earthworks in such a public place in the hub of the community. They have, of course, been there for several thousand years while the village hall itself dates back only to 1919 in its first incarnation as an Army hut. It was demolished in the 1940s and the barrows were left in peace again until 1974 when the second hall was built; and this was replaced with the current building in 1987.
There is an interpretation board on the side wall of the hall which, although positioned frustratingly high up, gives a decent summary of the Whitehill barrows and Bronze Age barrows in general and includes a nice reconstruction illustration by Time Team’s Victor Ambrus. The sign was installed last year as a result of a collaboration between the local heritage society and Hampshire County Council.
The archaeology bit
The two round barrows at Whitehill village hall are by no means isolated examples of these monuments in the area. For a start there is another one by the radio mast in the Army’s adjacent Hogmoor Inclosure (‘inclosure’ being the archaic spelling of ‘enclosure’, so little used now that it looks wrong). The interpretation board however says that this third barrow is very eroded and therefore I didn’t bother taking a look at it. Also in Whitehill though is a round barrow cemetery on the crest of a ridge 200 metres south-west of Woolmer Cottages comprising eleven bowl barrows, ten of which are in linear alignment. They are all closely spaced and include two adjoining pairs, one at each end of the ridge. They are all roughly circular or oval in shape and range from 9 to 26 metres in diameter and 0.6 to 2 metres high. Some have unfortunately suffered much damage as a result of the modern excavation of military dugouts.
There is a further round barrow cemetery on a ridge in nearby Woolmer Forest, overlooking Woolmer Pond. Here five barrows are closely spaced together along a sandy ridge with a further one 80 metres to the east. Then there are three bowl barrows at the end of another ridge in Woolmer Forest, overlooking Brimstone Inclosure and Queen’s Bank spaced over a 110 metre alignment, three more bowl barrows on a ridge running alongside the A3, and another one overlooking Woolmer Down and Weavers Down. Furthermore there are three disc barrows on another sandy ridge on Woolmer Down.
In addition to the barrows themselves, several Bronze Age hoards have been found in the locality. One, at the Brimstone Inclosure, comprised arm rings, torcs and a palstave. Another from Woolmer Pond contained rings, torcs, and an axe. And then there is the Hogmoor Hoard, now held in the British Museum due to its national importance, which constitutes swords, sheaths, spearheads and rings. Hoards throughout prehistory may have been buried with a view to later retrieval or perhaps as votive offerings so an association between these hoards and the barrows themselves would be an interesting consideration.
So it appears there was much activity in the Whitehill/Woolmer Forest area during the late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age. As discussed in my earlier blog about the barrow complex at Petersfield Heath, the function of barrows during prehistory is unlikely to be straightforward and probably involves being a focal point for a number of social activities and concerns such as burial, worship, feasting or territory marking, for example.
The Woolmer Forest Heritage Society is the local organisation which champions the significant archaeology of the area. Although I saw several tanks drive past during my short visit today, the Army is in fact in the process of withdrawing from Bordon and this will be completed by the end of 2015 after which an eco-town development of potentially thousands of houses will take its place. As the society acknowledges, it will be vital to ensure that the heritage planning guidelines are adhered to throughout the substantial construction programme in order to safeguard the archaeology of the area.
I didn’t go in today but, handily, there is a pub just over the road from Whitehill village hall called The Roadmaker (previously the Prince of Wales and it dates back to the 18th century). Amongst all the uninspiring lagers and draft cider the only real ale mentioned on its website is at least a jolly good one: Butcombe Bitter from the West Country, 4% and very palatable.