Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 1860 V7 Pages 321-333

Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 1860 V7 Pages 321-333 is in Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 1860 V7.

On Wayland's Smithy [Map], and on the Traditions connected with it by John Thurnam (age 51), M.D., F.S.A.

The ruinous ortholithic chamber, known as Wayland Smith's Cave, was doubtless a sepulchral monument of the same general description as the chambered long-barrows at West Kennet in this county, at Uley in Gloucestershire and at Stoney Littleton [Map], near Wellow, in Somersetshire. All of these have now been more or less carefully examined, and have been found to consist of long mounds of earth and stones, wider and higher at one end than the other; under which larger end is a chamber or series of chambers built up of large stones; the chambers, if more than one, arranged transept-fashion, with a gallery or covered passage leading to them from the edge of the tumulus. Such is likewise the construction of the great chambered barrows of New Grange and Dowth, near the Boyne in Ireland, and also of those in Caithness, in Scotland, excepting that in all these the enclosing mounds are of a circular and not of an oblong form.1

Note 1. The sepulchral chambers of Du Tus and L' Ancresse, in Guernsey, explored by Mr. Lukis, were also covered by round tumuli, and surrounded by circles of standing stones. (Journ. Brit. Archæol. Assoc., vol. i. , p. 26, vol. iv., p, 329.) The mounds covering the great chamber of Gavr Innis, in Brittany, (Ibid, vol. iii., p. 269,) and the Giant's Caves of Scilly are also circular. The oblong tumulus with chambers confined to its eastern or southern end, is, so far as we know, peculiar to the counties of Somerset, Wilts, Gloucester and Berks. Though with analogies to both, it corresponds more nearly with the Giants Chamber" than with the so-called " Cromlechs of Denmark, as these are described by Professor Worsaae. Primeval Antiquities, " 1849, pp. 78, 86.

Professor Donaldson's description of the ruined chamber appears to be a very accurate and careful one ; and his plan, so far as it relates to this part of the structure, and to the original position of the displaced covering stones, is a very acceptable contribution to the ichnography of early British remains. Professor Donaldson's attention was attracted by three stones about fifteen feet to the east of the ruined chamber, which he supposes formed part of "a circular and accordingly, in his restored outside ring" or "enclosure;" plan, he shows a circle of such stones, of a diameter of about 50 feet, with the cruciform chambers in the centre. The notion that "Wayland Smith's Cave" was "enclosed within a circle of stones is one already adopted by Mr. J. Y. Akerman, in his Observations on this celebrated monument ; "in which he remarks that "traces of this circle are still visible around the cromlech."1 We owe to a notice by the -painstaking, though desultory, John Aubrey, the possibility of correcting this inference, and of showing that the peristalith, or ring of stones, by which the tumulus was certainly surrounded, had an oval or oblong, not a circular, arrangement. This is the disposition of the enclosing stones which obtained in the case of the long-barrow at West Kennet already alluded to, and also in that called the Millbarrow at Monkton, in the same neighbourhood, and about fifteen miles distant from Wayland Smith's Cave. In both of these mounds, the chambers as well as the enclosing stones were of the Sarsen blocks of the district, similar to those used in the construction of the Berkshire "Cave."

Note 1. Archæologia 1847, vol. xxxii., p, 312. The plan and view of the Cave, which accompany Mr. Akerman's paper, are from actual admeasurement by Mr. C. W. Edmonds, who shows a few stones overlooked by Professor Donaldson.

In the unpublished work of Aubrey, the "Monumenta Britannica," the old Wiltshire antiquary, after treating of "Barrows" and Urnes," has a separate heading of "Sepulchres," which he distinguishes by this name from ordinary barrows or tumuli of earth. He notices and gives sketches of one in Anglesey, (Y Lleche, near Holyhead,) one at Banner's Down near Bath, and of the megalithic chamber near Saumur, in France. His more numerous examples, however, are all from North Wilts; and comprise the long stone barrows at Monkton and West Rennet, referred to above ; another on the down between Marlborough and Hackpen, probably that of which the ruinous remains may be seen near Rockley ; that called Lugbury [Map], near Castle Combe ; that at Lanhill near Chippenham ;1 and that called the Giant's Caves, at Luckington. Two less distinctive examples, at Leighterton and Lasbury in Gloucestershire2, are added, and then follows the brief description of "Wayland Smyth." Aubrey's first acquaintance with this monument appears to have been derived from Elias Ashmole, the Berkshire historian and founder of the Ashmolean Museum. Aubrey's original notice of it is so vague as to be of little value, though sufficient to prove our point. It is as follows:-

About a mile from White-Horse-hill (in Berkshire) on the top of the hill are a great many great stones, which were layed there on purpose; but as tumbled out of a cart: without any order ; but some of them are placed edgewise: they are a good breadth ; and in length about * * * * yards.—From Elias Ashmole, Esq."

Note 1. Within the last few years these two mounds have been excavated and the results published in the Wiltshire Archæol. Mag., vol. iii., pp. 67, 164.

Note 2. Oblong stone barrows, having chambers, cists, or pillar-stones at one end, are common in the oolitic district of Gloucestershire ; where, as in the neighbouring part of Wiltshire, they are of course formed of blocks of oolite. Such exist at Boxwell, Avening, Gatcombe and Duntesbourne Abbots, (Archæologia, vol. xvi., p. 361) ; and, as we write, one has been explored, by the Cotswold Club, at Nympsfield, very near that at Uley, referred to at p. 326. In this, likewise, the remains of double cruciform chambers have been found.

At a later period, Aubrey must have visited the spot himself, and made the ground plan, which, reduced from a sketch inserted in the Monumenta Britannica, is here figured for the first time, from a facsimile, for the use of which we are obliged to the Rev. Canon Jackson. On this plan, Aubrey tells us that the Sepulchre is 74 paces long, 24 broade," and that the chamber or cave at the south end is "like that by Holy-head," meaning no doubt that of Y Lleche, which he had already described.3 He adds a note as to the size of the stones, which he says were 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 foote.4 The plan itself was clearly not laid down from measurements, and can have no pretensions to minute accuracy. We cannot, however, but conclude from it, that the continuous embankment opposite the north end of the cave, to which Professor Donaldson refers, and where he would place an "alley of stones leading to an opening in the outer ring," consists of the remains of the northern end of this oblong tumulus.

Note 3. The notice of this sepulchre in the Monumenta Britannica is as follows:

"In Anglesey, about a mile from Holy-head, on a hill near the way that leads to Beaumaris are placed certain great rude stones much after the fashion of this draught here (in margin): * * * *. The cavity is about five foot; I remember a mountain beast (or two) were at shade within it." Sir Timothy Littleton, one of the judges that went this circuit obtained a further account for Aubrey, from "a resident justice of the peace at Holyhead from which it appears that these great rough stones were about 20 in number and between 4 and 5 foot high: at the northern end stand two stones on end about two yards high above ground. Some are sunk deep and some fallen flat, which are almost overgrown with earth and grasse. They are called Y Lleche [Map] (i.e. The Stones.) They stand upon a hillock, in the parish of Caer-Gybi."There is no notice of this monument either in Pennant or Rowland ; though part of the preceding account was copied in Gibson's Camden, (1695, p. 679.) They are clearly the stones above Holy-head referred to by Aubrey in his description of Avebury Wiltshire Archæol. Mag., vol iv., p. 317.

Note 4. Aubrey's inserted notice of Wayland Smyth contains in almost every line some ill founded assertion or crude hvpothesis ; it is as follows:—

Mdm. On the top of White-Horse-hill is a Barrow called by the name of dragon-Hill. This rich and pleasant Vale of White Horse, Hengist or Horsa (a Saxon king—vide in Drayton's Polyolbion) tooke into his possession. Hengist signifies a horse, as also Horsa. The White-Horse was their Standard at the Conquest of Britaine, which is the origine of the White Horse cutt out in this chalkie hill, which is seen many miles from thence ; by the several barrows hereabout one may perceive here how many (?) battels fought. That Uter Pendragon fought against the Saxons is certayne: perhaps was here slayne, from whence Dragon-hill may take its denomination. And this great sepulchre called Wayland Smyth is not unlikely to be a great and rude monument of Hengist or Horsa, for in their countrey remaine many monuments like it. Vide Olai Wormii Monumenta Danica, v. p. 16."

Then follows the sketch of the monument, as in our anastatic plate, headed Wayland Smyth, about half-a-mile west from the White Horse in Berks."

Although Aubrey is our best witness, we do not depend entirely on him for the fact that this monument formed part of a long barrow. Wise, who followed Aubrey about seventy years later, described it in 1738, whilst in much the same condition as when seen by his predecessor, and long before the trees which now cover it had been planted, or many of the outlying stones removed, which was done towards the close of the last century, for the purpose of building a barn." 2 Wise says expressly that "the stones that are left enclose a piece of ground of an irregular figure at present, but which formerly might have been an oblong square, extending duly North and South;"1 —a description which is borne out by the sketches of the monument which accompany his letter. Wise describes the "Cavern" as on the east side of the southern extremity of the enclosed piece of ground raised a few feet above the common level ," and as consisting of Three squarish flat stones of about four or five feet over each way, set on edge, and supporting a Fourth of much larger dimensions, lying flat upon them. These altogether form a Cavern * * * * which may shelter ten or a dozen sheep from a storm." "There seem," says Wise, "to have been two approaches to our Altar (for so he would make the flat stone) "through rows of large stones set on edge, one from the South, the other from the West, the latter leading directly into the Cavern." What Wise regarded as a western approach is really a side chamber, differing only from that opposite to it on the east, in having its covering stone removed.

Note 1. Letter to Dr. Mead concerning Antiquities in Berkshire, 1738, pp. 34—39. Wise attributes Wayland Smith's Cave to the Danes, making it the sepulchre of their king Bagsec, slain at Ascesdun in 871 ; as Aubrey, with equal improbability, makes it the monument of Hengist or Horsa. Sir Walter Scott (Notes to Kenilworth, chap. 13,) adopts Wise's view; but he never saw the place, and, as the author of the Scouring of the White Horse" (1859 p. 69) says, "He should have known better. The Danish king was no more buried there than in Westminster."

Sir R. C. Hoare had free access to Aubrey's "Monumenta Britannica," and it was hardly possible that he should take this monument for any other than "a long barrow, having a kistvaen of stones within it, to protect the place of interment. A line of stones encircled the head of the barrow, of which I noticed four standing in their original position ; the corresponding four on the opposite side had been displaced * * *. The long barrows almost invariably point towards the east, at which end is found the sepulchral deposit, but this barrow deviates from the general rule, by pointing north and south. The adit or avenue, the stones of which still remain, goes strait from south to north, then turns abruptly to the east, where we find the kistvaen, covered by the large incumbent stone, which measures ten feet by nine."2

Note 2. 2 Ancient Wilts, vol. ii., p. 47. The writer has condensed and in part transposed, Sir Richard's description. It is not improbable that the barrow and the gallery leading to the chambers pointed to the south, rather than the east, in consequence of the position of the Ridgeway in that direction.

Sir Richard Hoare did not recognise that, in addition to the more perfect chamber existing on the east side of what he calls the adit, there had been a similar lateral chamber opposite to it on the west side; the two, with the central passage leading to them, giving to the ground-plan the form of a Latin cross. Such a cruciform arrangement of sepulchral chambers prevails in the great chambered cairns of New Grange and Dowth in Ireland ; in the equally remarkable Maes-Howe, near Stenness in Orkney, lately opened by Mr. James Farrar, M.P.1, and in those lesser cairns in Caithness, examined a few years since, by Mr. A. H. Rhind.2 In the chambered barrow of West Kennet there were no lateral chambers, but one large terminal one, into which the gallery opened.3 At Uley in Gloucestershire, and at Stoney Littleton [Map] and Nempnet [Map] in Somersetshire, the lateral chambers did not consist of a single pair; but of two pairs at Uley, three at Stoney Littleton [Map], and of at least five in that called the 'Fairies' Toote formerly existing at Nempnet [Map].4

Note 1. Archæol. Journal, vol. xviii., p. 353. See also "Notice of Runic Inscriptions Discovered in Maes-Howe," 1862; printed by Mr. Farrer, for private circulation.

Note 2. Ulster Journal Of Archæology, 1854, vol. ii., p. 100. The great Irish cairns near the Boyne, have been surrounded by peristaliths or rings of standing stones.

Note 3. Archæologia, vol. xxxviii., p. 403.

Note 4. For Uley, see Archæol. Journal, vol. xi. p. 315; for Stoney Littleton [Map], Archæologia, vol. xix., p. 13; and for Nempnet [Map], Gentleman's Magazine, 1789, vol. lix, p.392. All these are reviewed, in a paper by the Rev. H. M. Scarth, in the Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archæological Society, vol. viii., p. 35.

The chamber which retains its covering stone intact, and which forms the so called cave or smithy of Wayland, measures about 5 feet in length, by 4 in width. It is at present about 4½ feet in height in the interior. This, however, can hardly be regarded as the true height of the chamber. That in the West Kennet chambered barrow, likewise formed of large Sarsen blocks, was between 7 and 8 feet in height; and there can be little doubt that the uprights which support the cap-stone in the Berkshire example extend almost as much below the present surface as they stand above it. This is an opinion in which the writer is confirmed by a resident gentleman Of intelligence, who at his request, some years since, examined the stones in reference to this question. There is, further, every reason to suppose that, whatever may be the case as to the western and terminal chambers, this eastern one has never been cleared out to the bottom, and that it would repay the trouble of excavation, by the disclosure of the original sepulchral deposit. It is much to be desired that such an examination should be made, as might be done at no great expense and without injury to this now celebrated monument. Had the zealous antiquary, Mr. E. Martin Atkins, of Kingston Lisle, been longer spared to us, he might perhaps, with the permission of Lord Craven, and residing as be did in the immediate neighbourhood, have undertaken this examination.1

Note . About the year 1810, the ground covering and surrounding the stones was planted With fir trees and beeches, forming a circular plantation, such as the people here call a "folly" - Wayland's Folly. Two years ago, the firs having died were cut down, but the exterior ring of beeches remains. The whole spot is now in a neglected state ; covered with elder-bushes, briars and nettles, which render its inspection very difficult and sadly interfere with the religio loci. It is much to be desired that the whole enclosure within the beeches should be cleared and put in order, as was done, by Lord Craven's direction, some forty years since, when, as Scott tells us, the monument itself was cleared out and made considerably more conspicuous." It should be added to what is stated above, that the shepherds and others say, that on driving a crow-bar into the ground near the Cave, "a very hollow sound is produced, and that they are satisfied there is a cavity beneath.

Nearly all the more remarkable sepulchral mounds of our country bear traces, when excavated, of a prior opening. They appear to have been rifled in search of treasure, in very early times, and especially perhaps during the Roman period. This, on the White Horse Hill, in the parish of Ashbury, seems not only to have been dug into, but to have been in part levelled and cleared away, and the contained chambers, or cromlechs2, as they are sometimes called, exposed, and, to a great extent, thrown down. The chamber, which was allowed to retain its cap-stone, seems in early, and probably pagan, Saxon times to have received the name of Weland's Smithy. Such at least was its name in the tenth century, as is proved by a charter of Eadredf A.D. 955, in which "Weland's Smithy" (Welandes smi[Saxon Letters]an) is named in the boundaries of an estate at Compton near Ashdown, where the smithy is represented as situate on the west side of a wide road, or opening (geat), near the Ridge-way.3 It is clear, as has been observed by Mr. T. Wright, that the name of Weland's Smithy could not have been assigned to this place unless the chamber were then exposed.4

Note 2. Cromlechs are probably all sepulchral monuments ; but, With Sir Gardner Wilkinson, the writer thinks a broad distinction is to be drawn between the cromlech and the subterraneous chamber which has been covered with a mound, such as was this of Ashbury. The cromlech has been confounded with the subterraneous chamber which frequently has a long covered passage leading into it; * * * but this last is not properly a cromlech," (Journ. Brit. Archæol. Assoc. vol. xvi, p. 116.) ; though it has received that name, as the Cromlech Du Tug, in Guernsey. Some Cromlechs stand on a platform, slightly raised above the adjacent ground, but I know of none that have been covered by a tumulus, or mound Of earth, Of which they form the chamber." Ibid, Vol. xvii. P. 47.

Note 3. Kemble, Cod. Diplom., NO. 1172. Eádred grants "ministro su0 Ælfheho eight "cassatos" at "Cumtune" (sc. Compton Beauchamp, in Berks) juxta montem qui vocatur Æscesdun (Ash-down)." MS. Cott. Claud., B. vi., fol. 406.

Note 4. Archæologia, vol. xxxiii., p. 268. Journal Brit. Archæol. Association, vol. xvi., p. 51,

A few remarks must be made on the name. This is clearly a slight corruption of the Saxon name of Weland's Smithy. The local designation for the last two centuries has been simply Wayland Wayland Smith's Cave, as the present generation have learned to call it. As Wayland-Smyth " it appears in the MS. of Aubrey ; as "Wayland-Smith" in the pages of Wise, and the same even in those of Gough3 and King4, and in Lysons5, as late as 1813. Wise offers an etymology for the name. After giving the story of the invisible smith, he proceeds as follows stones standing upon the Rudge-way, as it is called, I suppose, gave occasion to the

Note 3. Gough's Camden, 1789; 2nd Ed. 1806, vol. i., p. 221.

Note 4. King, Munimenta Antiqua 1799, vol. i. p. 130.

Note 5. Lysons, Berkshire, 1813, p. 215. A little way to the west of Uflington Castle, near the ridgeway leading over the Downs, there is a considerable tumulus, commonly called Wayland-Smith; (Vide ante, p. 316.) Lysons gives a small view of the chamber, Showing its position with reference to the Ridgeway and to Uffington Castle.