Wessex from the Air Plate 31

Wessex from the Air Plate 31 is in Wessex from the Air.

Reference No. 241. County, Dorset. 9 SE. and 10 SW. (131: B. 3,C. 3 ). Parish, Wimborne St. Giles. Latitude. 50° 57' 10" N. Longitude. 1° 58' 25" W. Height above Sea-level. 320 ft. (97 metres). Geological Formation. Upper Chalk. Time and Date of Photograph, 6.42 p.m., 14th July [1928]. Height of Aeroplane. 4,500 ft. (1,371 metres). Speed of Shutter. 1/90th of a second.

Oakley Down lies alongside of the main road from Salisbury to Blandford and Dorchester. (A tiny piece of the road is seen in the bottom left-hand corner of the plate.) The barrows shown here lie on the left (or south-east) side of the road as you go towards Blandford, just beyond the eleventh milestone from Salisbury. The group is one of the finest in Wessex. Diagonally through the middle of it runs the causeway of the Roman road from Sorbiodunum (Old Sarum) to Badbury Rings and on to Dorchester (Durnovaria). Here it has long been known as Ackling Dyke. It is still 7 ft. 6 in. high, and the crown (10 ft. 6 in. wide) is perfect except where it has been dug into to obtain road-metal. The surface is formed of flint beach-pebbles of Tertiary age; they must have been transported at least a mile, the nearest natural occurrence being on the top of Pentridge Hill. Across the valley is a group of prehistoric fields, the banks on whose lower sides are very clearly seen.

The best place to view the barrows is from the top of no. 16, a typical bell-barrow and the highest in the group. As one reaches the top, there appears below on the other side the perfect round of the disc-barrow (no. 13) with its two small tumps. Let us imagine that we are now seated on this eminence (16), and let us take a leisurely survey of the history of Oakley Down and its barrows.

The group is a cemetery which was in use during the Copper Age and the first and longer part of the Bronze Age. The earliest object discovered in the graves is the flat, riveted copper knife from Barrow 9; and the disposition of the four other disc-barrows (6, 7, 8, and 28) round the margin of the group suggests that they are the latest members of it. The fifth, too (13), has an asymmetrical position, and looks later than 16, on which we are supposed to be sitting. At a much later date, probably during Romano-British times, the down was laid under cultivation; and the marks can be seen, with greater or less distinctness, on the plate. Owing to the level nature of the ground, no large lynchets were formed, as on the much steeper hill-side opposite; but the parallel lines are unmistakable remnants of ploughing. An attempt has been made in the diagram to restore their plan; on the original photograph every line so marked can be seen. The arrangement seems to be laid out with due regard to the Roman road, and that is evidence for the date assigned. The disc-barrow (no. 28) was evidently ploughed over; and that accounts for its relatively faint appearance. The other barrows were apparently left alone by the plough; but some were nearly obliterated (such as 21 and 23), and the ditches and margins of others were mutilated. That is the best way to account for the disappearance of one- third of the outer bank of the disc-barrow 13, and a corresponding obliteration of the margin of 14. The peculiar appearance of, for instance, 18, 19, and 20 is probably due to ploughing which has been carried over the ditch up to the foot of the mound itself. All who have seen an ancient bank or barrow standing to-day unploughed in a ploughed field, will appreciate the resemblance here presented.

With the coming of the Saxons there was introduced a new system of agriculture. The fields we have been describing reverted to pasture, and the uplands became once more a wilderness. The populous Romano-British villages of Cranborne Chase (Rotherley and Woodcutts are the classic examples) ceased to be inhabited. Bokerley Dyke is a mute witness of fighting here about this time. Later, we get a glimpse of Oakley Down in the year 851, when the Old English Chronicle records that Æthelwulf, at the head of the West-Saxon army, gained a great victory over the Danes. The late Mr. W. H. Stevenson identified the site of this battle with the ‘Aclee be suðan Wudigan gæte ’ (i. e. Woodyates) of 970; and ‘Aclee’ is again mentioned in the bounds of Handley in 956 (see note at end). That the battle took place here and not elsewhere, may be regarded as probable. It was the last historical event that has been recorded of Oakley Down. Of previous fights no record is preserved, though we may be sure that they occurred. The barrows, however, are no evidence of a battle; they are the cemetery of the community; and such groups of prehistoric burial-mounds are no more proof of a battle than are those mounds which are to be found in any churchyard. They were all opened in 1803 and 1804 by Sir Richard Colt Hoare and his collaborator, Mr. William Cunnington. The following notes are abridged from Sir Richard’s account in Ancient Wiltshire (i, 1812, pp. 238-43), supplemented by personal observations.

No. 7 is a disc-barrow with two tumps, one in the centre, and the other, as may be seen, beside it. From this fact it may be concluded (as also in the case of no. 13) that the non-central tump was added later, some time after the central interment had been deposited. It was excavated by Mr. Cunnington in 1803, and it was found that one of the tumps had already been opened, and ‘ the other contained an interment of burned bones, with amber beads ’.

No. 8 is another disc-barrow, partially destroyed by the Roman road, as Stukeley also observed two hundred years ago. It has always hitherto been supposed to be circular, and is so marked on the 25-in. ordnance map; but this photograph shows that it is elliptical, the two tumps standing symmetrically at its foci. They must, therefore, be strictly contemporary, unlike those of nos. 7 and 13. Both appeared to Colt Hoare and his collaborator to have been opened before;

‘... but on examining them we found ourselves repaid for our want of confidence in former explorators.... At the depth of rather more than 3 feet [in the tump farthest from the Roman road] we discovered a small cist containing the burned bones of one person, accompanied by about 100 amber beads of great variety [Fig. 40, a], and some flat pieces of amber [Fig. 40, b] There were besides, a small brass [w, for ‘bronze’] pin and an arrowhead of the same metal [Fig. 40, c]. The other mound, that nearest to the Roman road, had, as well as the former, fragments of pottery intermixed with the soil; but we persevered in our researches, and at the depth of about 4 feet from the surface, discovered a cist containing burned bones, with several beads of glass, jet and amber.... This interment also had its little brass [sic, for ‘ bronze ’] pin and a most beautiful little cup [Fig. 40, d].

No. 9, a bell-barrow, produced a most interesting primary interment, above which, only a foot and a half below the surface, were two skeletons, with one of which was a beaker. Near its feet was ‘ a large heap of burned bones piled up together without any cist ’. Under the skeleton was a quantity of flints, amongst which were found the broken fragments of a polished axe of igneous rock (Fig. 41, d) and large pieces of stag’s horn. At the depth of 11 ft. was found a skeleton lying on its left side in the contracted position. At its side was a copper knife (Fig. 41, a) with some remains of its wooden scabbard; and two jet buttons with V-shaped perforations (Figs. 41, f and 41 g). 'Near the thigh-bone of the skeleton was another ornament of jet, resembling a pulley (Fig. 41, h), four very perfect arrowheads of flint [only three survive. Fig. 41, b], a flint fabricator (Fig. 41, c) and a small awl of copper or bronze (Fig. 41, e). a fine urn, probably the Drinking Cup [or beaker] lay broken at the feet of this British hero.’

The objects here illustrated, with the possible exception of D, all, therefore, belonged to the primary interment and are, therefore, contemporary; the beaker, also contemporary, has not survived.

'No. 10 bore the appearance of a low long barrow.’ There is, however, no sign of side ditches, and the south end is the higher. 'Our first section was made towards the north, where we found a cist with burned bones, and at the southern end was a similar interment, but no cist. In the centre was another deposit of burned bones and an elegant little incense cup, illustrated on Colt Hoare's Plate XXXIII, Fig. 4. It is decorated all over and has vertical perforations for suspension. A full description of it, with a woodcut, is given in the Devizes Catalogue (Stourhead Collection, 1890), p. 84, no. 201; and by Dr. Thurnam in Archaeologia vol. xliii, p, 373.

No. 11 is not visible on the air-photograph. It is small and flat and yielded a ‘similar interment at a depth of about 12 in. from the surface ’.

No. 12 is a large flat barrow in which we made two sections, but could discover no sepulchral signs whatever.’ It is now distinguished by the heather which grows on it, giving it a dark appearance on the plate.

No. 13 had already been opened, but yielded a ‘ fine amber bead figured on Hoare’s Plate XXXII, 2. It is the disc-barrow already referred to, immediately below us, with two tumps. It is one of the finest examples of its kind.

No. 14 yielded three burnt interments, one covered by an inverted urn, of which no account is given, and which is not known to have survived.

No. 15 contained a skeleton lying east and west.

No. 16, on which we are supposed to be sitting, ‘is the largest barrow in the group, and has baffled our attempts, although we made a section 12 ft. square, and dug to the depth of 12 ft. 6 in. On the floor of the barrow we perceived evident marks of cremation.'

No. 17. 'Immediately under the turf we discovered an interment of burned bones, and proceeding further, saw a prodigious quantity of ashes and charred wood, and were afterwards gratified with the sight of a very large sepulchral urn inverted within a cist cut in the native chalk. On taking it out, we observed several pieces of decayed linen, of a reddish brown colour, lying like cobwebs on the calcined bones. This urn is rather of an oval form, and is the largest we have ever found except the Stonehenge urn.’ The ditch round this barrow is several feet from the foot of the mound; and the diameter, measuring from the centre of the ditch on each side, is 120 ft. The ditch is barely visible as such, having suffered probably from the early ploughing already referred to; but it can easily be seen from the top of no. 16, as also from an aeroplane, by means of the belt of dark green grass growing over it. The barrow, as a whole, is really a disc-barrow with an unusually large central tump. Traces of the outer bank can be detected on the plate, where it appears as a band of Ughter colour. The ditch, and consequently the true character of this barrow, was observed independently by both Mr. H. S. Toms and myself, before the air-photograph was taken.

The urn (Fig. 42) from it was identified by Thurnam (Archaeologia, xliii. 346, note b) with one in the Stourhead Collection, and is illustrated by him. He described it as follows:

‘It is 18½ in. high; with a rim of 4 in. decorated with oblique rows of impressed cord ornament enclosed between vertical lines of the same, and ranging alternately right and left, so that two adjoining rows produce together a complicated chevron. At the shoulder is a row of thumbnail-shaped impressions— to be seen on two other of the urns at Stourhead— but which in this urn have been incised with a pointed implement. Two other features are nearly, if not quite unique. At the mouth the rim slopes downwards and inwards, decorated wth an impressed broad chevron-pattern of eleven angles, within each of which is a hole, leading to a second hole, an inch or two below on the inside of the urn. These eleven perforations may have been intended for cordage, by means of which a covering of cloth was kept in place. At the bottom, inside, there is a cross with arms of equal length, formed by the impression of two twisted cords or thongs, which seems to have escaped Sir Richard Hoare's notice.'

Thurnam's illustration is reproduced on p. 179, by kind permission of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

No. 18 is a large circular, bowl-shaped barrow, ditched round. At the depth of seven feet and a half, and on the floor, lay a skeleton with its head to the north-east and its legs and thighs drawn up close together. The skull was pressed flat, and near it lay part of a deer's horn, perforated in the stem.' (Illustrated on Hoare's Plate XXXII.)

No. 19 is another bowl, smaller than the last. It contained, within a round cist cut in the chalk, the burned bones of one body, and two very small arrowheads

No. 20 is another, intermediate in size and position between 18 and 19. It produced a splendid sepulchral urn which was broken [and does not, therefore, seem to have been kept]. On removing the fragments we discovered an interment of burned bones, over which was a considerable quantity of decayed linen cloth, the filaments of which, at first sight, appeared like hair. This deposit was accompanied by a round pin (Fig. 43, B) and an arrowhead [sic] of bone (Fig. 43, c), and a very perfect spearhead of brass [sic, for ' bronze'] (Fig. 43, A), with a great part of the wooden handle adhering to it, by which we were enabled clearly to see the mode by which it had been fastened.' The perforated bone implement is certainly not an arrowhead, whatever its use may have been; and the bronze knife is of a kind typical of the Early Bronze Age.

No. 21 has been ploughed flat, but is still visible. It contained c a little cist full of charcoal very finely burned, and on the outside of it some fragments of coarse pottery and burned bone, which indicated a prior opening

No. 22 is a long barrow [though not a true one] very similar in form, as well as in its contents, to No. 10, for it contained three interments. That towards the north consisted of ashes and burned bones enclosed within a cist. That towards the south produced a similar deposit with a very large urn of coarse and thick pottery, together with a pair of bone tweezers. The central interment was also enclosed within a sepulchral urn of rude pottery, together with one amber bead. These diminutive long barrows differ very materially from those of the larger sort, in which we have almost invariably found the interments deposited at the east and broadest end.’ It may be added that in this case, as also in that of no. lo, no side-ditches are visible.

No. 23, being a low and broad barrow, we found some difficulty in ascertaining its centre, and we failed in our first attempts upon it; bht a second trial, and a larger excavation, led us to an interment of burned bones deposited within an inverted um of very coarse unbaked pottery.’ It is now heather-covered.

No. 28 'contained the deposit of a skeleton’. That is all the brief record says. I conclude that the skeleton was a secondary, perhaps Saxon, interment. Mr. Harold Peake and I found a Saxon skeleton, with an iron spearhead, as a secondary interment in the tump of a discbarrow near Botley Copse, Great Bedwyn. Below it was a burnt interment with a bronze pin or pricker. No absolutely certain instance is recorded of an inhumation in a disc-barrow. (See Thurnam, Arch. xliii. 294, note b.)

It will be observed that the burnt bones of the deceased had in two instances been wrapped in a cloth, remains of which were seen by the excavators. We may compare the account of Hector’s burial in the Iliad. After extinguishing the funeral pyre with wine:

His brothers then, and friends, the snowy bones

Gathered into an urn of gold, still pouring out their moans.

Then wrapped they in soft purple veils the rich um, digg’d a pit,

Grav’d it, built up the grave with stones, and quickly piled on it

A barrow. (Chapman’s translation.)

So too, no doubt, did they carry out the funeral rites of the heroes on Oakley Down, three thousand years ago or more.

It remains to describe the objects at the top of the photograph, marked A and b.

A is a long mound whose north-east end is narrower and curiously twisted. It has no sideditches, but has the appearance of being a burial-mound, and may be one of the same kind as nos. 10 and 22 described above.

B is a small square enclosure. There is a gap or entrance in the side nearest the Roman road, lacing a traveller descending the hill and going in a northerly direction. The ditch is on the inside, and on the outside of it is a bank. The length of the sides, measured on the inside of this bank, is 45 ft.; measured on the outside of the bank, the north and south sides are 68 ft. long and the east and west sides 64 ft. The central area seems to be raised a little, but not so much that one would describe it as a mound. One is tempted to connect it with the Roman road. It cannot, however, be an outpost, like those between Ardoch and Gask in Perthshire, for they are all round, and moreover this one lies right at the bottom of a valley. It might, however, have been some kind of a roadside shelter.

In conclusion I cannot do better than quote Mr. Sumner:

'Nowhere in Cranborne Chase will you find, close together, such various and imposing barrows— long, bowl, bell, and disc. They are all to be found here,1 and they represent the finest of their kind. This place is a British Campo Santo between the derelict Adding Dyke, on one side, along which the Roman legions tramped from Dumovaria to Sorbiodunum in the early centuries of our era, and the white highway on the other side, along which motors now rush at top speed over the solitary downs. Both roads in t hei r straight courses have cut into the barrow circles, and both thus express a silent disregard for departed glory.’

Note 1. A true long barrow, Wor Barrow, falls outside the photograph.

Literary References

W. Stukeley, Itinerarium Curiosim, and ed., 1776, p. 188.

R. Colt Hoare, Ancient Wiltshire, i, 1812, pp. 238-43.

Heywood Sumner, Ancient Earthworks of Cranbome Chase, 1913, pp. 48-50.

Catalogue of the Devizes Museum, Part I, The Stourhead CoUection, 1896. (On sale at the Museum; contains an account of the objects found which are in this Museum.)


Birch, Cartularium Saxonicum, iii, no. 970.

These bounds are given in the Shaftesbury Cartulary (Brit. Mus. MS. Harl. 61, f. 20 b), a fourteenth-century manuscript. The date there given is a.d. 956. The bounds begin at litlen ac lee, at the north-eastern corner of the parish. The next point, pegan beorh, must be Wor Barrow, the celebrated long barrow excavated by General Pitt-Rivers. This was called 'Row Barrow' by a shepherd I met there, and it is probable that this latter is the correct form, derived from ruwan beorh rough barrow — perhaps an alternative more general name, used in addition to the specific pegan beorh. The metathesis is due to the tendency in the Wessex dialect, of adding an initial ‘w'; another instance occurs on the old 2-in. MS. Map of 1807-8, where Oakley Down is spelt Woakly.

Professor Stenton, with the reservation that the late manuscript may contain a misreading of the original OE. text1 says in a letter to me (15 August 1925): ‘Pegan beorh may be translated “Pega’s barrow". There is evidence of an OE. personal name Pæga (masculine) and Pæge (feminine).’

The next point, berendes beorh, again seems to be a personal name and occurs in Barnsley, Gloucestershire (OE. Beorondeslea, Bœrendeslea). Professor Stenton supposes it to be really the present participle of beran, to bear, used as a personal name.

Then the bounds turn south-west. Mes delle is probably Endless Pit, a spring-pond, immediately above which. General Pitt-Rivers says, on his map, ‘occasional springs in winter’. It is at the point where the road from Handley comes into the main road.

The get [gate] at seuen diche is the point where the boundary meets the continuation of the ditches figured on Plate XVI (the actual spot falls outside the plate). These ditches were known in Aubrey’s time (seventeenth century) as Seven Ditches (Hutchins’s Dorset, iii. 609, quoting at second-hand from Aubrey, Mon. Brit., Part 2, chap, i, fol. 39); and the adjacent Roman road farther north near Vernditch is called seuenstrete in a medieval copy of the bounds of Damerham (Birch, Cart. Sax. ii, no. 817, a.d. 940-6; Bodleian, MS. Wood. I, fol. 228 b). If the seuen represents an OE. personal name, it is not Sevenna (as stated by Dr. Grundy), which is an impossible OE. name, but Seofa, gen. Seofan.

We must not linger over these bounds. It appears that the mylen stede must have been where the parish boundary crosses the Farnham Valley just above Minchington; tilluckes lege is represented by Tinkley; mealeburg seems to describe Misdeberry (called Maplebury in 1618).

O.G.S.C. (age 41)

Note 1. 'Rugan’ suggests itself as an emendation for ‘pegan'.