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Show anyone a picture of the British Archaeology Trust’s logo for RESCUE (seen below), and ask them to describe it, and 9 times out of ten the answer will be along the lines of “Stonehenge on a bulldozer”. And of course, that’s what the logo depicts, but being totally pedantic, it actually depicts just the stones of Stonehenge. The ‘henge‘ part tends to get forgotten. Why is that?
Probably because henges are among the least understood of the monuments left behind by our ancient ancestors, and are often not very visually stimulating, consisting of a circular bank, and inner ditch with one or more entrance causeways.
In fact, stone settings associated with henges are often very much in the minority. Stonehenge we’ve already mentioned of course, and Avebury (where the henge component of the monument is on a much larger scale) is similarly well known. A henge such as the Stripple Stones in Cornwall is much less well known and not nearly as accessible! Beyond that it becomes difficult to extend the list of henges with stones in the south. Knowlton Henge in Dorset is famous for its stones, but that’s because they are in the form of a Norman Church, set within the henge boundaries!
In the Midlands, the best known example of a henge with stones is probably Arbor Low in Derbyshire, where all of the stones are fallen, thus resembling a clock-face when viewed from above, as in the satellite image below, taken from Google Maps. Much further north, the Ring of Brodgar is well known, but again it is not considered a true henge by some, due to the complete lack of an external bank outside the rock-cut ditch. By comparison, the Thornborough Henges, a set of three large henges in Yorkshire, are completely stone free and meet the official definition well.
There are many more, much smaller henges to be found the length and breadth of Britain, many investigated to a greater or lesser extent, many known only from cropmarks identified via aerial or satellite photography. Sadly, many of these lesser henges are often ploughed out, almost to oblivion, such at the Weston Hill henge, near Baldock in Hertfordshire.
Finally, as the QI page on henges reminds us:
Oddly enough, though, the word ‘henge’ is a back-formation from ‘Stonehenge’, coined by Thomas Kendrick, later Keeper of British Antiquities at the British Museum, in 1932. The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘stone’ and ‘gallows’, implying that they thought it to be a place of execution (of course Stonehenge was already many centuries old in Anglo-Saxon times).
Oh, and the Mirror? Looking at the brief definition of a henge given above, it actually excludes Stonehenge from being defined as a true henge as there, the bank is on the inside, making it a ‘reversed-henge’! …and don’t get me started on how many of the examples on the Clonehenge web site omit the henge altogether!!
- English Heritage: Prehistoric Henges and Circles (PDF)
- Monuments Protection Program Class Description
- Wikipedia article on henges
I visited (and wrote about) the Norton Community Archaeology Group’s (NCAG) Open Day last year. The weather for thIs year’s event last weekend could not have been more of a contrast! Whereas high factor sunblock and sunshades were the order of the day last year, waterproofs and galoshes were a definite requirement this year as the rain was light but continuous the whole time I was there.
My timings were all out (I thought the event started earlier than it did), so preparations were still under way among the hardy volunteers when I arrived on site. I am therefore deeply indebted to Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, North Hertfordshire District Council’s Archaeology Officer, who took time out of his busy schedule to give me a little one-on-one time and explain a little of what has been found this year.
There were three main features within the excavation immediately apparent, the largest of which was the trench shown above. This was cut across the line of the henge ditch and bank, and most excitingly, some evidence has been found of a possible earlier causewayed enclosure. Keith had previously suggested that the henge monument was of an early ‘formative henge’ type, but the discovery of a possible causewayed enclosure is icing on the cake.
At the eastern entrance to the henge, compressed chalk pits have been found, ideally sized for inhumation, but with no significant finds within them.
Whilst the possible causewayed enclosure is icing, there’s a cherry too! A neolithic ‘plank house’ feature has also been identified, close to the ditch.
Mike Parker-Pearson has recently visited the site and corroborated Keith’s interpretation of the findings, which makes this quite an important site, possibly nationally important, as the easternmost henge found to date.
Preparations for the Open Day were ongoing, and with the site due to close down on Sunday, Keith was getting heavily involved in what work remains, so I thanked him once again for his time and left him to it.
Investigations on site have been ongoing for a few years now – Full site diaries can be found on the NCAG blog and wider information about the group can be found on the main web site – but there will sadly be no dig next year, as Keith will be involved in another project elsewhere. Scandalously, it appears that the site may be given over to allotment use. The Group Chairman, Chris Hobbs introduced himself to me as I was leaving and stressed that he hopes to find out more about the potential plans for the site in the coming weeks.
So while the Stapleton’s Field site obviously has much more of a story to tell (and an interim report will be published in due course), the future is uncertain – it’s a case of watch this space.
Note: Apologies to all involved for any inaccuracies in my account above, I was working from memory rather than notes.
All pictures above © Alan S.
At last the nature of the mysterious heart shaped feature next to Rob and Tracey’s henge in New South Wales can be revealed!
Here it is…
“I used dye” says Rob. “It took a while”.
Now why can’t English Heritage do stuff like that?! ***
*** Please note, that’s just a joke. Adding things on or near Scheduled Ancient Monuments is definitely a bad thing to do!
Here is a letter we’ve sent to Mr Penny. You never know, it might be worth it.
Dear Mr Penny,
According to the police and English Heritage it is important that proper consideration is given to the impact of a crime on a heritage asset. We’d like to explain why we think that hasn’t happened at Priddy (and to propose a solution):
1. Your financial circumstances suggest a £48,000 penalty is relatively inconsequential.
2. It also looks lenient relative to previous heritage crimes, few or none of which had such a catastrophic impact.
3. Despite the value of your land possibly having been enhanced by what you did no confiscation order was applied.
4. Although not precisely equivalent, it looks anomalous that had you been convicted of metal detecting on the henge your equipment would have been confiscated whereas you still retain your bulldozer.
As you know (as it was your barrister that proposed it) restorative justice formed the backbone of the penalty. Trouble is, that’s supposed to comprise “restitution or reparative measures” whereas if you bulldoze something away it is absolutely gone so there can be neither restitution, restoration, reparation nor justice.
Worse, we feel that by offering to pay for rebuilding and then keeping that offer open with respect to the less costly plan to merely carry out a research project you established very low parameters to the amount of restorative justice you have been subject to. (An investigation costing only £38,000 will be very limited in both scope and the amount of knowledge gathered – archaeological investigations typically involve hundreds of thousands of pounds!).
Hence we feel you have got away rather lightly for the heritage crime of the century and that morally at least you still owe a significant measure of restitution to the community. We also feel there will be an on-going negative impact: the court has effectively put a very low price on top-of-the-scale heritage assets and now potential developers can do their sums and perhaps calculate it is worthwhile not playing by the rules. A much higher penalty would have been good for heritage.
May we therefore request that for the sake of your reputation, the feelings of those who feel justice is yet to be done and the good of prehistoric heritage in general that you now consider making a series of significant ex gratia donations to some of the many worthy conservation projects currently in need of support?
Many people feel the Priddy decision was about right. We’re less certain. £48,000 is not a lot for a top-of-the-scale heritage crime committed by someone wealthy enough to afford to pay a lot more. “More” would have had two useful effects: it would have provided a stronger deterrent for others and it would have established a high “top tariff”, thereby stiffening penalties for lesser heritage crimes. So why wasn’t it higher? We weren’t there so can’t know for sure but there may be clues in the press reports:
Evidently Mr Penny’s barrister wanted the hearing adjourned for six-months until restoration had begun. Was that because (as someone on BAJR forum suggested) he felt the penalty would be lower once less damage was visible? It seems plausible. Mr Maunder, representing English Heritage, countered that the matter shouldn’t be dealt with on the defendant’s terms but he did propose that the work be done or supervised using Mr Penny’s resources “under the eye of English Heritage”.
Was that the point when Mr Penny got lucky? For although the idea of “restoration” was quickly abandoned in favour of a research project, the principle of him paying for the work was retained. Thus, when the scope and cost of the intended work was reduced, so did his contribution, meaning that the punishment was no longer fitted to the crime but to the scale of the research project.
What a shame the research project wasn’t far more expensive – or that it couldn’t have been expanded beyond the excavation of a filled swallet hole to embrace all the other Priddy circles and indeed the nearby monuments thought to be associated with them – the Priddy nine barrows and Ashen hill barrow cemeteries. That way, perhaps, far more could be learned, a much greater deterrent could have been established and everyone except the culprit would have benefitted. Mr Penny and his advisors, who already had zero cards to play, could hardly complain that he was being asked to pay for research on places he hadn’t damaged – for how could they deny that the only way to learn about something he had destroyed without trace was to look elsewhere? How else could Mr Penny achieve his obvious wish to make amends?
When we say tarmacked we mean treated like Tarmac plc would – utterly destroyed for money while lots of aren’t-we-caring claptrap is mouthed by the culprits. Why can’t they just build on the ruddy thing without insulting people with the silly chat?
The site is at Bishop’s Stortford. Thousands of new homes are to be built on the town’s ironically termed “Areas of Special Restraint”. The county council’s historic environment unit says:
“Interpretation is tentative at this stage but the Hazel End site, involving trenches on both fields alongside Hazel End Road, has identified the remains of a probable burial mound, of Late Neolithic (c4500-2500BC) or Early Bronze Age date (c2500-1700BC) several ditches, pits and post-holes of probable Bronze Age date, and, in the lower field next to the River Stort, a roughly cobbled surface covered with Late Iron Age and Roman pottery. “Investigations within the larger area, enclosed by the bypass, have identified an enclosure and ditches of probable Iron Age date (c800-100BC) an enclosure of possible Roman date (further excavation may clarify this) and also another prehistoric burial or possible henge (a ritual enclosure) of late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age date (c3000-1700BC). “This circular, ditched feature appears to contain several cremation burials in the ditch and it has a central feature that may also be a burial. If so, it is potentially, an important find.”
It adds: “The finds would have to be excavated in detail and recorded before new homes could be built. Alternatively they could potentially be protected and preserved – barring new construction.”
Compare and contrast the caring, sharing developers:
“As expected on a site of this size and in this location – on the edge of a historic town – there’s archaeology but not of any particular significance and it would not prevent development occurring on our site.
“As a responsible developer we are responding to the finds by extending some of the trenches to check whether there’s anything else there.
“The finds are of local interest, but the condition is such that do not warrant preservation in situ.”
The penalty for bulldozing part of the Priddy Henges will soon be known. Bearing in mind some recent lesser cases (12 months in jail for stealing lead from a church roof and a £2,600 fine for installing uPVC windows in a listed farmhouse) Mr Penny might expect very bad news. On the other hand, imprisoning octogenarians for long periods is hardly appropriate, so it may well be that he’ll get what many will say is a light sentence and one that is insufficient deterrent to others.
But is focussing on the punishment missing the point? Isn’t reminding people there’s a punishment the real priority? In front of the King Stone at the Rollrights there’s a very old fashioned sign telling people that any person injuring or damaging it “will be liable to prosecution according to law”.
There’s no information board at the henge that Mr Penny damaged, they’re pretty expensive. But who knows, if there had been a simple, inexpensive warning notice, similar to the one at the King Stone, near the gate through which the bulldozer was driven, maybe the damage wouldn’t have happened.
The Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments of Thornborough, North Yorkshire
Sat 21 July; 13.00-17.30
To the north of Ripon, in Yorkshire’s North Riding, are some remarkable prehistoric monuments. No less than six giant henges, along with many other Neolithic and Bronze Age sites, can be found here, suggesting this was a special landscape between 4000-1500 BC. The most famous of these monuments is the alignment of three henges at Thornborough.
It is a truly spectacular icon of Neolithic Britain – and its story offers an enthralling insight into prehistoric life. This event, organised by the Thornborough Heritage Trust, is dedicated to Thornborough’s remarkable prehistory. An introductory talk (1-2.15pm) by Dr. Jan Harding, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Newcastle University, will be followed by an opportunity to handle prehistoric finds, including flint and pottery found at Thornborough (2.15-3.30pm). The event will culminate in a two hour walk of the monument complex (3.30-5.30pm), , An entry fee of £1 per person will enable participants to attend the talk, handle the artefacts, and go on the walking tour. Refreshments will be available for a charge. The event will be held in the West Tanfield Memorial Hall. The village of West Tanfield can be found on the A6108 to the north of Ripon in North Yorkshire. Limited parking is available outside the hall.,
Location: West Tanfield Memorial Hall, West Tanfield, Ripon HG4 5JU.
As the Thornborough Trust note on their blog:
“We are greatly concerned about the condition of Thornborough’s central henge. Animal disturbance to its earthwork has been a problem in recent years, and concerned individuals contacted English Heritage 16 months ago to alert them as to its deteriorating state. We contacted them again in May 2012. The decline in the physical integrity of its bank is alarming and suggests that action is urgently needed.” (See their photograph of the damage here.)
At the same time, it has been reported on the Megalithic Portal that access to the Northern Henge has been been formally blocked (see their photograph here.) The Northern Henge is the only one of the three henges that isn’t included in the stewardship agreement although ironically it is far better preserved than the other two (albeit severely compromised by large trees – which must surely be causing far more damage than any number of visitors would do).
It seems that the long tale of neglect and exploitation of this monument complex is still continuing. Campaigners have been pointing out for some time that actually none of the Henges has formal access arrangements and that allowing people to visit them was crucial to safeguarding their future. Dr Jan Harding, senior archaeology lecturer at Newcastle University, said: “Despite being of unique cultural value and being described by English Heritage as the most important prehistoric site between Stonehenge and the Orkneys, it is closed to visitors, lacks educational information and sits in an extensively quarried landscape. At the moment, there isn’t even a display board. Getting some kind of formal access for the public is vital.”
If you’d like to help then Thornborough Charitable Trust would be happy to hear from you.
More news on the sentencing of Roger Penny, the landowner who allowed the partial destuction of one of the Priddy Henges. After he pleaded guilty at the Magistrates hearing in April to permitting the execution of works affecting a scheduled monument, Mr Penny was sent to Taunton Crown Court for sentencing as the Magistrate’s sentencing powers were too limited given the nature of the offence. He was due in Crown Court on the 18th May but sentencing has now been adjourned until the 6th July.
Mr Penny has offered to return the land to the care of English Heritage or make any reparations as may be required. At the very least he should pay to rebuild the henge to its previous state. English Heritage should also take him up on the offer of taking this henge into state care and open it up for public access.
The Magistrates Court can impose a maximum fine of £5000 whereas the Crown Court can impose an unlimited fine or up to two years imprisonment.