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“… near the village of Marden, is a remarkable tumulus called Hatfield-barrow; the only work of the kind, I believe, to be found in this lowland vale, although so very frequent on the elevated downs on both sides. It stands in an enclosure, and is above the usual size, and nearly hemispherical; it is surrounded by a broad circular intrenchment, which, from being constantly supplied with water by innate springs, forms a sort of moat, which does not become dry even in the midst of summer; a circumstance I have never found attending any other barrow. In this water ditch, the Menyanthese trifoliata or bogbean, plentifully grows: a plant which I have not seen elsewhere in that neighbourhood. The whole of the barrow is at present ploughed over, and is said to be more fertile than the surrounding field. I have seen it clothed with wheat ready for the sickle; when the richness of colour, and the beautiful undulations of the corn, formed an object as pleasing as it was uncommon.”

From part of a letter by James Norris Esq dated 9 February 1798.


Stonehenge by Gideon Fidler (1856-1935)

To return to the Holly-Tree. When I awoke next day, it was freezing hard, and the lowering sky threatened more snow. My breakfast cleared away, I drew my chair into its former place, and, with the fire getting so much the better of the landscape that I sat in twilight, resumed my Inn remembrances. That was a good Inn down in Wiltshire where I put up once, in the days of the hard Wiltshire ale, and before all beer was bitterness. It was on the skirts of Salisbury Plain, and the midnight wind that rattled my lattice window came moaning at me from Stonehenge. There was a hanger-on at that establishment (a supernaturally preserved Druid I believe him to have been, and to be still), with long white hair, and a flinty blue eye always looking afar off; who claimed to have been a shepherd, and who seemed to be ever watching for the reappearance, on the verge of the horizon, of some ghostly flock of sheep that had been mutton for many ages. He was a man with a weird belief in him that no one could count the stones of Stonehenge twice, and make the same number of them; likewise, that any one who counted them three times nine times, and then stood in the centre and said, “I dare!” would behold a tremendous apparition, and be stricken dead.

From the Holly-Tree by Charles Dickens (1812-1870).


Stonehenge © Richard Misrach

The wind, playing upon the edifice, produced a booming tune, like the note of some gigantic one-stringed harp. No other sound came from it, and lifting his hand and advancing a step or two, Clare felt the vertical surface of the structure. It seemed to be of solid stone, without joint or moulding. Carrying his fingers onward he found that what he had come in contact with was a colossal rectangular pillar; by stretching out his left hand he could feel a similar one adjoining. At an indefinite height overhead something made the black sky blacker, which had the semblance of a vast architrave uniting the pillars horizontally. They carefully entered beneath and between; the surfaces echoed their soft rustle; but they seemed to be still out of doors. The place was roofless.

In the far north-east sky he could see between the pillars a level streak of light. The uniform concavity of black cloud was lifting bodily like the lid of a pot, letting in at the earth’s edge the coming day, against which the towering monoliths and trilithons began to be blackly defined.

The band of silver paleness along the east horizon made even the distant parts of the Great Plain appear dark and near; and the whole enormous landscape bore that impress of reserve, taciturnity, and hesitation which is usual just before day. The eastward pillars and their architraves stood up blackly against the light, and the great flame-shaped Sun-stone beyond them; and the Stone of Sacrifice midway. Presently the night wind died out, and the quivering little pools in the cup-like hollows of the stones lay still.

From Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) by Thomas Hardy.


All along the vallies, stones of considerable bigness
Piggledene in winter. Image credit Willow

In the afternoon come to Abebury, where, seeing great stones like those of Stonage standing up, I stopped, and took a countryman of that town, and he carried me and shewed me a place trenched in, like Old Sarum almost, with great stones pitched in it, some bigger than those at Stonage in figure, to my great admiration: and he told me that most people of learning, coming by, do come and view them, and that the King did so: and that the Mount cast hard by is called Selbury, from one King Seall buried there, as tradition says. I did give this man 1s. So took coach again, seeing one place with great high stones pitched round, which, I believe, was once some particular building, in some measure like that of Stonage. But, about a mile off, it was prodigious to see how full the Downes are of great stones; and all along the vallies, stones of considerable bigness, most of them growing certainly out of the ground so thick as to cover the ground, which makes me think the less of the wonder of Stonage, for hence they might undoubtedly supply themselves with stones, as well as those at Abebury.

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703).


Barrows at Beckhampton and Overton Hill by William Stukeley


When the ritual and whatever its accompaniment may have been of masks, effigies and offerings have vanished so long ago, when there is no stir of emotion and the ghost which keeps emotion alive, when the very people responsible for raising these mounds have been overwhelmed, absorbed and forgotten, then their detailed study can become lifeless enough. Better perhaps to look at them with knowledge but with knowledge unexpressed, these round barrows that are like the floating bubbles of events drowned in time.

Jacquetta Hawkes


Avebury, south-west quadrant © The Heritage Trust

To-day, among these ancient memories, has taken me out of myself wonderfully. I can’t tell you how good Avebury has been for me. This afternoon half my consciousness has seemed to be a tattooed creature wearing a knife of stone.

From The Secret Places of the Heart by H G Wells.


Elizabeth Missing Sewell (1815-1906)

THERE is a village amongst the Wiltshire Downs lying in a hollow below broad green pastures and chalky hills. It has but one long street and a few straggling cottages and grey farmhouses amongst gardens and trees–happy and homelike as an oasis in the desert to the traveller who first looks upon them from the heights; and near it and within it stand smooth stones, giant in size, and deep and mysterious in their meaning, the relics of a heathen worship; and high grassy banks, upon which children play, and along which labourers plod, without a thought of the history pictured before their eyes, mark the precincts of those ancient temples. In the centre of the village is the Rectory (Vicarage), not looking towards the street, but fronting a pleasant garden and green fields, across which was a path leading to a vast mound said to be the work of human hands. Marvellous it is even as the mystic stones that tell of the creed of the generations gone by; and solemn and peaceful are the blue mists that rest upon it in the early morning, veiling its outlines as the shadows of the past. I have lingered at the garden gate day after day, gazing upon the old circular hill, and hearing no sound to break the stillness of the air, until I could have fancied that peace–the peace of a world which has never echoed to the sound of a human voice–the peace of the spirits who rest in hope, was lingering amidst that quiet village.

Avebury, from Experience of Life by Elizabeth Missing Sewell (1815-1906). See also the poem From Western Lands by Mary S Cope (1852-1882) here.


Wonderful indeed it is, a vast circumvallation that was already two thousand years old before the dawn of British history; a great wall of earth with its ditch most strangely on its inner and not on its outer side; and within this enclosure gigantic survivors of the great circles of unhewn stone that, even as late as Tudor days, were almost complete. A whole village, a church, a pretty manor house have been built, for the most part, out of the ancient megaliths; the great wall is sufficient to embrace them all with their gardens and paddocks; four cross-roads meet at the village centre. There are drawings of Avebury before these things arose there, when it was a lonely wonder on the plain, but for the most part the destruction was already done before the Mayflower sailed. To the southward stands the cone of Silbury Hill; its shadow creeps up and down the intervening meadows as the seasons change. Around this lonely place rise the Downs, now bare sheep pastures, in broad undulations, with a wart-like barrow here and there, and from it radiate, creeping up to gain and hold the crests of the hills, the abandoned trackways of that forgotten world. These trackways, these green roads of England, these roads already disused when the Romans made their highway past Silbury Hill to Bath, can still be traced for scores of miles through the land, running to Salisbury and the English Channel, eastward to the crossing at the Straits and westward to Wales, to ferries over the Severn, and southwestward into Devon and Cornwall.

From The Secret Places of the Heart (1922) by H G Wells.



June 2022
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