Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 1878 V17 Pages 327-335

Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 1878 V17 Pages 327-335 is in Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 1878 V17.

Abury Notes [Map]. By William Long, Esq., M.A., F.S.A.

West Hay, Wrington, November 26th, 1877.

My Dear Mr. Smith,

Since our visit to Abury the other day, I have been looking over 'Abury Illustrated,' and amongst the Addenda and Notes appended to the extra copies (after the Magazine was issued) there are two or three which I think might, with advantage, be printed in the Society's Periodical. I have somewhat altered the wording of them, and I have added some remarks by Dr. Thurnam on the Kennet Avenue and Sanctuary. As the 'vexed question' of the Beckhampton Avenue has been pretty well threshed out in the Society's paper on 'Abury' (vol. 4), and in Canon Jackson's 'Wiltshire Collections,' I have not returned to the subject, but have added a note on Stukeley's 'Dracontium.'

I am

Very sincerely yours,

William Long.

The Vallum and Central Circles at Avbury

The general accuracy of Aubrey's survey of the great circle and vallum (plate ii., fig. 1.), made with a "plain tables," is confirmed by the elaborate survey made by Mr. Crocker, for Sir R. C. Hoare, one hundred and fifty years subsequently. This last, however, deviates less from the circular form than that of Aubrey, whose error in this particular attaches principally to the east quadrant. Stukeley's plan is an exact circle, and has no pretensions to be regarded as the result of a survey. In comparing the two plans of Aubrey and Stukeley, our attention is next attracted by the very much larger diameter which Aubrey gives to the remains of the northern than to that of the southern circle. It must be supposed that either these circles were put in from the eye only, or that by some error Aubrey drew them to different scales. His accuracy in this respect is impugned by Crocker's survey, which is altogether in favor of Stukeley, who says that they are "of like form and dimensions." On a visit to Abury, January 22nd, I858, the writer, in company with Dr. Thurnam, carefully inspected the remaining stones of these circles, and the hollows in the turf which indicate the position of several which have been long since removed. By this examination Stukeley's accuracy was clearly established as to the circular form, and similar, if not identical, diameter of the northern and southern "circles." His estimate of the number of stones (thirty), composing each of the outer circles of these "temples," appeared altogether probable. Of the inner circles, no traces whatever, even of hollows in the turf, were to be seen. One stone of each of these circles was all that remained in Stukeley's days. That of the northern was still standing at the time of Mr. Crocker's survey. The existence, indeed of these circles rests almost entirely on Dr. Stukeley's testimony; which, as he gives dates for the removal of individual stones, cannot be set aside; and we think his statement, as to their consisting of twelve stones each, must be admitted as probable.1 The distance of the inner from its larger containing circle is shown by the position of the single stone in Crocker's plan; and it is clear, that to complete a circle at this distance, the number of stones required would be twelve; the diameter of the inner circle, as compared with that of the outer, being in the proportion of four to ten. The slovenliness of Aubrey's survey, as to these circles, can hardly be too much regretted; for, bad he laid down with care the stones which remained in his day, their original number and arranoement could scarcely now have been open to doubt. In the centre of the northern temple Aubrey lays down the three stones of the Cove," all of which were standing in bis day, and gives a ground-plan and rude sketch of them, in the corner of the paper on which his survey is delineated. This plan is of much interest as being the only direct evidence as to the nature of this cove, when complete. The most central of the stones in his plan of the southern temple is probably intended for the large fallen one, which, by Stukeley, was regarded as a central obelisk; though, that there was originally only a single stone in this situation, as Stukeley supposes, and not a cove of three stunes as in the northern temple, there is certainly no proof. The vallum has among the villagers the popular name of the "Wall-dyke." It is generally described (as in the text, p. 19, 1. 16) as having a flat ledge, twelve feet wide, midway between the top of the mound and bottom of the fosse. This ledge, however, only exists in the south-eastern portion of the vallum, viz., between the entrance of the Kennet avenue and that of the modern road to Rockley.

Note 1. It may here be remarked as curious that in Stukeley's Rude General Sketch of the wonderful Relique of Antiquity at Abury, Wiltshire, as it ap- peared to us, May 19th, 1719," (Stukeley's Commonplace Book, folio 1717-48, lately in the possession of Sir William Tite,) the southern circle (of a somewhat spiral form) is larger than the northern circle, and that there are no indications in either of them of the inner circle of twelve stones which Stukeley subse- quently held to have been contained within each of these circles of thirty stones.

The Kennet Avenue and "Sanctuary [Map]."

The inaccuracies in Aubrey’s sketch (plate ii. fig 2), entitled by him "The whole view of Aubury with the Walkes and the lesser Temple appendant to it,’ are best explained by accepting it as a "draught of it donne by memorie only." of the avenue appears to have been interrupted; and this interruption, His more careful survey he says, "hindered me from measuring it,’ and the survey seems never to have been resumed. His sketch is probably too rectilinear, and inaccurate therefore as regards the angle which it makes at West Kennet, before ascending Overton Hill, to join the circles there, called the "Sanctuary." "From Kynet," he says, "it turnes with a right angle eastward crossing the river and ascends up the hill to another monument of the same kind." Aubrey, who tells us he " writt upon the spott from the monuments themselves," must here indeed have "writt,’’ as he says, " as he rode a gallop; "the statement that the avenue crossed the river being at variance with his own plan (perhaps we should read "crossed the road," instead of "crossed the river"). The angle must certainly have been very w from a right angle. The stones which formed it near the village West Kennet had many of them in Stukeley’s time been removed and destroyed, as he himself tells us (p. 30). Notwithstanding ese defects, Dr. Stukeley had clearly sufficient evidence for his statement that the avenue "makes a mighty curve to the left" (i.e., the east, p. 31). This, in his "Scenographic view" of the whole temple,is represented as a very gradual curve, which, if produced to an angle, would be a very obtuse one. Stukeley’s draught of this avenue from Abury to Kennet, in the sketch book before mentioned, is very like that given by Aubrey, and running in a straight line to " Kennett Town,’ would require as complete a right angle as Aubrey’s to connect the avenue with the circles on Overton Hill. Stukeley alludes to Aubrey’s description of this avenue, which had been printed in Gibson’s Camden, and says of it, "he [Aubrey] did not see that ’tis but one avenue from Aubury to Overton Hill, having no apprehension of the double curve it makes." It is, very possibly, a copy of Aubrey’s own sketch of this avenue, made by his friend, Edward Llwyd, to which Stukeley, at a subsequent page, refers, when he says, " he did not discern the curve of it," but "has drawn [it] as a straight line." An error, the reverse of that of Aubrey, is found in Crocker’s plan, in 1812, in which the bold curve of the avenue at Kennet is entirely overlooked, and its course represented as a very slight curve, entirely on the east side of the village, whereas it must have passed through its very centre. This is clear enough from Stukeley’s description, and is even now confirmed by the large stone in the garden opposite the brewery, which was buried there by Mr. Butler, who, with reason, believed it to have formed part of the avenue, and who pointed out the situation of a second stone in a hedge-bottom a little farther to the west. The existence of these stones we may conclude was not known to Sir Richard Hoare, or Mr. Crocker.1

Note 1. With reference to these Kennet stones, which would, in great measure, determine the character of the angular curve made at this part of the avenue, I find the following among my Abury memoranda, The first is a communication from Mr. W. Cunnington: "The late Mr. Butler, of Kennet, a good antiquary, and an early supporter of the ‘ Wiltshire Topographical Society,’ gave me, a few months before his death, in 1873, the following information relating to the Kennet Avenue. He remembered a stone which stood near Mr. Kemm’s house, at West Kennet. When the road was altered some years ago, as this stone was standing in the middle of the proposed route, it was thrown down, and buried under the road, where it, no doubt, still exists. Further on, where there are now two cottages, at the foot of Overton Hill, on the right-hand side of the road, stood two stones, which he remembered were broken up by order of the road-commissioners early in the present century. Mrs B. told me that while this work of destruction was going on, two gentlemen from London, in a post chaise, saw the men thus engaged. They drew up and expressed their disapproval in warm language; one of them winding up by telling the foreman that a man who would undertake such work, ought not to die in his bed. The man's name was Shipway, he lived at Avebury; and, added Mr. B., the saying of the gentleman was fulfilled, for the man hung himself." The following letter from Mr. Butler appears to have been addressed to Dr. Thurnam:—

Kennet Brewery, near Marlborough, Wilts',

January 21st, 1858.

Sir, I am sorry you did not send in your man Then you was here. Though I was very unwell, I was not so much but I could have seen you, and J could have explained what I knew of the stone (better) than I can on paper. I only know ot one stone now the Bath Road, and that lies a few feet on the Marlborough side of the cottage which is nearly opposite Mrs. Kemm's house. I do noi remember its being buried, but from what I have heard it must have been-about 1807-8, or 9. There vas a stone broke in the winter of 1824-5, on the north side of the road further on towards Marl. borough, and which there is no doubt was one of the avenue. It had fallen and was buried by the scraping of the road, and was broke to make the present foot-path, as partly buried in the bank on the south side of the road is some of the stones which is believed to be a part of the avenue. I know of no other stones round, except it is one I had buried in my garden, which from the sizes and situation, I believe must have been one of the avenue.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

George Butler."

In a memorandum in Dr. Thurnam's handwriting, dated April 20th, 1860, I find as follows: Stone in Mr. Butler's garden buried seven feet deep, about two yards within door, and about thirty paces from edge of road opposite easternmost window of Mr. B.'s house. A second stone was discovered in burying a horse, three years ago, in a sort of paddock, close to garden to west. This shown by charcoal and ashes such as left by old-fashioned destruction of sarsens. The place of this about four times as far from road, and opposite to end of west wall of Mr. Butler's brewery and house. A third stone a little to north, north-west, in bank of hedge in same field (once line of Kennet and Abury road, until early in the century.) This looked for in bank of hedge, but not found. The sort of curve made by junction with two stones remaining of avenue clearly seen. A stone opposite to Mrs. Kemm's house in road below path and another nearer to cottage very near in Marlborough road, as before described,"

Aubrey's description of the double circle on Overton Hill is marked by his usual negligence and haste. In it are left blank spaces for the name of the monument, and number of the stones, which were never filled up. He evidently writes from memory, without notes, as is proved by his words, "I doe well remember there is a circular trench about this monument or temple,"—nothing of which kind is shown on his plan (plate iii., fig 1), and the existence of which is denied by Stukeley (p. 32). Aubrey's plan, however, of these concentric circles or "sanctuary," and of the termination of the Kennet avenue, would at first sight appear to have been carefully made on the spot, though apparently from eye, aided only by measurements made by pacing. Even of this, however, we shall see reason to doubt. His enumeration of the stones which formed the circles are given with great precision on the plan, as fifteen in the inner, and twenty-two in the outer circle. In face of so exact a statement it would have been natural to prefer Aubrey's account of these circles to that of Stukeley, written seventy years later, when they were much dilapidated. Stukeley's sketches were made in 1723, and we learn from him, that though only about a third of the stones were then in place, yet that "the vacancy of every stone was most obvious, and the hollows still left fresh" (p. 31). Stukeley himself saw only about half the circles, but says he had abundant testimony as to their condition when complete, sixteen years previously. All this, however, shows that there was room for doubt as to the actual number of stones, and that it would be a question whether the express statement of the less careful Aubrey, who had the entire monument before him, should or should not be preferred to the computation of the laborious though speculative Stukeley, who could only study its imperfect remains. That Stukeley's statement in this instance must be accepted rather than Aubrey's, is however apparent from an early notice of these circles which is to be found in the curious work: "A Fool's Bolt soon shott at Stonage," which is evidently by an eyewitness, and must have been written within a few years of Aubrey's own description, and is as follows: On seven burrowes hill, 4 miles west of Marleburrow near London way, are 40 great stones sometimes standing, but now lying in a large circle, inclosing an inner circle of 16 stones, great stones, now lying also, testified to be an old British trophie by the Anglo-British name thereof (viz ) Seaven Burrowes and by those 7 huge burrowes very near it with fragments of men's bones.1

Note 1. This piece was printed by Hearne, with Langtoft's Chronicle, in 1725. These seven barrows appear to be the seofon beorgas of an Anglo-Saxon charter of the tenth century, referring to Kennet. (Cod. Dip., No. 571.) Wilts Arch. is a notice of a circle of stones near Mag., vi., 327. In the "Fool's Bolt" Marlborough, evidently that marked fig. 2, plate 3, of Mr. Long's "Abury," and noticed by him in page 346, of vol. iv., Wilts Mag. It is as follows: "The first was also called Manton, near Marlburrow from a pettie Stonage there ot eight huge stones, now called the broad stones, antiently standing, but now, lying circularly in London way, testified to be a British trophie, by the fragments of men's bones found on the burrows on the fields adjoining."

The numbers here given confirm Stukeley exactly as to the outer circle, and Aubrey's number, twenty-six, must, we think, be rejected in favor of the complete number of forty. As to the inner circle, there is less variation in the three accounts, Aubrey's number being fifteen; sixteen the number in the "Fool's Bolt;" and Stukeley's, eighteen; between which it is impossible to decide, though we may fairly give the preference to Stukeley. With the proofs before us of Aubrey's carelessness, it would be difficult to insist on the curious manner in which, in his sketch, the avenue on Overton Hill is narrowed and bent, as it approaches the circles of the sanctuary.

Dilapidations Described By The Rev. C. Lucas.

The Rev. Charles Lucas, Curate of Abury, and author of the poem referred to at p. 361 of Wilts Magazine, vol. iv. [Note 2], thus speaks of the dilapidations in the two avenues, which had come under his notice before the publication of his book, in 1795. The stones from the neck (of the serpent) were taken by a Mr. Nalder, by order of the landlord, Mr. Grubbe, to build the farm house, now Mr. Tanner's; and most of the [West] Kennet houses are built from that part of the avenue. In 1794 Mr. Tanner destroyed seven, eight, or nine, and the only regular part, six or eight pair, are on the new-ploughed lands (late downs) the property of Richard Jones, Esq., a minor.

The Beckhampton avenue was also visible, though not so perfect as the other, in the memory of the late Mr. John Clements1 (aged eighty-one at the time of his death), who could clearly point it out. This had been chiefly demolished by Farmer Griffin, and Richard Fowler. The two stones in the cove [Map]2 are all that now remain, and with diffculty they were saved by applying from the farmer to the landlord. Mr. John Brown is now the owner of this estate."

Stukeley's account of this latter avenue derives not unimportant confirmation from these recollections of the "ancient Clements," who probably in his boyhood was an eyewitness of Dr. Stukeley's surveys.

Note 1. John Clements was a grocer in Abury aud born in 1714. The two hundred years, from John Aubrey's early visits to the present time, are bridged over by the lives of three persons residing at or near Abury, viz., "Parson Brunsdon," John Clements, and the Rev. Charles Lucas.

Note 2. The lesser and more northern of these stones did not belong to the cove.

Stukeley's "Dracontium."

It is probable that after the statements and plans of Twining, Stukeley, and Lucas, with respect to the (so-called) Beckhampton Avenue, there will always be persons disposed to believe in the existence of an avenue of stones on that side of Abury, although they may not be in accord as to the distance to which it may have extended from the great circle in that direction.

Whatever views may be entertained in this respect by present or future antiquaries, it is to be hoped that the Dracontian theory, which Stukeley propounded, may be allowed to die out, never to be revived. Sir Richard C. Hoare acquiesced in it in an unhesitatincp and unenquiring spirit; but Mr. Algernon Herbert rose against it, and scouted it in no measured terms: "Before these extravagances [the connection of the name of Abury with Abiri] had been broached, Dr. Stukeley had maintained that the avenue was a serpent, and the terminal circle its head. That has been adopted for a fact; antiquaries now talk as freely of the serpent of Abury as of the sphinx in Egypt; and until lately, I had slumbered in acquiescence to this It was easy generally received, but gross deception " (p. 104). for him to show, that all ages and religions had notions concerning a serpent, but he felt that he made no progress by a parade of such learning. All the world talked about serpents; but from the beginning of the world to his days, no human being had ever heard of a building laid out in the shape of a serpent. His 'Οφεως Κεφαλη' [Serpents Head] in Bæotia had nothing to do with a serpent's body, only with his head; and it was no representation of his head, but a mark of the spot where his head had been cut off. Paus., ix. c. 19. It was of small use to say that Apollo's killing the serpent Python signified 'Phut's building an enormous serpentine temple,' and that Hercules healing a wound he had reveiedd, the virtues of the herb dracunculus1can be understood no otherwise than that Hercules made a serpentine temple, for there are certain limits to the credulity of mankind (p. 68, p. 75).

Note 1. A species of Arum.

Therefore Dr. Stukeley boldly asserted, that the snake-shaped temple was a well-known thing, and denominated of old time a Dracontium. Mr. Twining had held the candle to him, when he coined the word Cunetium for a wedge-shaped temple. 'The temples of old made in the form of a serpent were called, for that reason, Dracontia.' 'Dracontia was a name among the first learned nations, for the very ancient sort of temples of which they could give no account, nor well explain their meaning upon it. Strabo, xiv.' (See Abury, p. 9, p. 54, p. 55.) The last words seem inconsistent; for if they called it Dracontiun for resembling a draco, they could perfectly well explain their meaning. These impudent fictions have obtained an extraordinary currency. Hence (said Mr. W. Cooke) were these temples called Dracontia.'- (Patr. and Druid. Rel., p. 28.) Sir R. Colt Hoare mentions 'that class called by the ancients Dracontia,' as a notorious fact. Anc. N. Wilts, p. 67, p. 70. 'Even temples from their resemblance in form, assumed the title of Dracontia.' Mod. N. Wilts, ll., p. 51. Mr. Bathurst Deane, in Archæologia, xxv., has an essay on Dracontia, in which the common learning of serpent-worship is brought up, and everything receives from it a Dracontian colour. We hear of the god Ophel, alias Apollo, and his Dracontic tripod; we see 'defined the nature and object of a Dracontium; and we learn that dracon is derived from derech on, avenue of the sun, althouogh General de Penhouet 'does not understand the term dracontium' in that way. It is quite immaterial how he understood a term that hath no existence; otherwise I think the General is much in the right.

This oft-repeated name, Dracontium, is nowhere to be found. It is unknown to Stephens and Facciolati. And 'Strabo xiv' has not a word of allusion to any part of this topic. When we see the assertion, upon which the whole case is made to hinge supported by no reference except a false one, we can make sure that there is none to produce. That name and the assertions concerning it were a deliberate forgery which supine credulity has screened from detection a hundred years (Cyclops Christianus, pp. 106-7).

Wessex from the Air Plate 36. Literary References

John Aubrey, Mon. Brit. (Bodleian Library, Oxford); plan of Avebury made 1663; reproduced in facsimile in W.A.M., vol. vii.

Willaim Stukeley, Abury, a temple of the British Druids, 1743.

William Long, ‘Abury Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine, vol. iv (January 1858), pp. 309-63. (This is by far thebest existing account of Avebury.)

Facsimiles of Aubrey’s plans of Avebury, and corrigenda of preceding paper; W.A.M. vii (December 1861) ,pp, 224—6.

The Rev, A, C. Smith, 'Excavations at Avebury W,A.M, x (January 1867), pp. 209-16. (An account of excavations made there by Mr. Smith, associated with Messrs. W. G. Lukis, W. Cunnington, and King, 29th September to 5th October 1865. Excavations were made in the Northern Inner Circle, near and also within the Cove itself, in the mound or embankment to the south-east, in the Southern Circle, and through the Great Outer Bank.)

William Long, 'Abury Notes’, W.A.M. xvii (March 1878), pp. 327-35. (Valuable notes on lost, buried, or destroyed stones in the circles and avenues, especially the Kennet Avenue.)

The Rev. Bryan King, Vicar of Avebury, ‘Avebury— The Beckhampton Avenue’, W.A.M. xviii (November 1879), pp.  377-83. (A vigorous defence of the Beckhampton Avenue, supported by evidence.)

Mrs. M. E. Cunnington, ‘The Re-erection of two fallen stones, and discovery of an interment with drinking-cup (beaker) at Avebury’, W.A.M. xxxviii (June 1913), pp. 1-11.

‘A buried stone in the Kennet Avenue’, W.A.M. xxxviii (June 1913), pp. 12—14.

H. St. George Gray, Reports on Excavations at Avebury; published in the Reports of the British Association for the years 1908 (401-11), 1909 (271-84), 1911 (141-52), 1915 (174-89), 1922 (326-33).