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Our friends at Clonehenge have announced a new competition!

Announcing the Clonehenge Group Henging Contest! (Participation is voluntary.) The deadline will be March 1, but if it turns out we need to we can push it further. Anyone who wants to participate would make Stonehenge out of found objects or trash (or both), any size, and post pictures to our Facebook group. We’re not going to make a lot of rules and if someone varies a little from the materials mentioned, we’re likely to turn a blind eye. The one solid rule is no henges from pre-made kits.

The point is to make the Stonehenge you feel inspired to make. Depending what we get, we’ll figure out winning categories. Funniness counts, of course, but accurate ones that aren’t funny will also be valued. If you go for beauty instead, we will enjoy that, too. You will no doubt come up with things we would never think of. We live for that.

You can make it as Stonehenge may have been when it was complete or Stonehenge as it is now, or some portion of either. Lone trilithons are okay if that’s how the spirit moves you, but it’s harder to win that way.

Remember, curved lintels on the outer circle are the way to my heart. I have seen enough Spinal Tap references in the last 12 years to last me ten lifetimes so if you go there, don’t count on me. But I won’t be the only judge.

Ready, set, start your henges!

No mention yet of any prize, but it should be interesting seeing how creative people can be! Will you be entering?

Surprise, surprise! A planning application has just been submitted to North Yorkshire County Council by Tarmac applying to extend its Nosterfield Quarry. As part of it, it is proposing to ‘gift’ to an appropriate body in perpetuity control of the Central and Southern henges. Sounds kind. Until you recall that Tarmac has wrecked most of the landscape of the henges already. And that giving gifts has long been part of its strategy….


In July 2005 the Journal reported that “In an attempt to appease local opposition a strip of land between Thornborough Moor and Nosterfield has been offered to the village for recreational purposes” and the next month it was reported they’d offered to donate 60 acres of land around the Northern Henge to the nation. However, six months later we were reporting the other side of the story: “Quarrying in the vicinity of the Thornborough Henges has caused widespread concern for many years. About half of the original complex has been destroyed, a landfill site is being operated immediately adjacent to the central monuments and quarrying is still ongoing close by at Nosterfield, also within the monument complex”.


So Tarmac’s latest gesture isn’t something to celebrate greatly. Gifting control of the Central and Southern Henges is no big deal since they are scheduled and can’t be quarried – and indeed are probably a burden to be responsible for. So it’s probably best to think of Tarmac more as a crocodile, to be treated with caution not gratitude. Just over ten years ago we quoted our colleague, Thornborough campaigner George Chaplin.  His words turned out to be prophetic: “Tarmac have not given up in their ambition to extend the existing quarry. They intend to appeal against the refusal and the danger remains very real for the whole of the remaining surroundings”.

A recent press release from the University of Reading:

Our knowledge of the people who worshipped at Stonehenge and worked on its construction is set to be transformed through a new project led by the University of Reading.

This summer, in collaboration with Historic England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Wiltshire Museum, archaeologists are embarking on an exciting three-year excavation in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire.

Situated between the iconic prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the Vale of Pewsey is a barely explored archaeological region of huge international importance. The project will investigate Marden Henge. Built around 2400 BC ‘Marden’ is the largest henge in the country and one of Britain’s most important but least understood prehistoric monuments.

Marden Henge photographed on 06-DEC-2006. © Historic England

Marden Henge photographed on 06-DEC-2006. © Historic England

Excavation within the Henge will focus on the surface of a Neolithic building revealed during earlier excavations. The people who used this building will have seen Stonehenge in full swing, perhaps even helped to haul the huge stones upright.

Dr Jim Leary, from the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology and Director of the Archaeology Field School, said: “This excavation is the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Stonehenge and its surrounds. The Vale of Pewsey is a relatively untouched archaeological treasure-chest under the shadow of one of the wonders of the world.

“Why Stonehenge was built remains a mystery. How the giant stones were transported almost defy belief. It must have been an astonishing, perhaps frightening, sight. Using the latest survey, excavation and scientific techniques, the project will reveal priceless insight into the lives of those who witnessed its construction.

“Marden Henge is located on a line which connects Stonehenge and Avebury. This poses some fascinating questions. Were the three monuments competing against each other? Or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? We hope to find out.”

The Vale of Pewsey is not only rich in Neolithic archaeology. It is home to a variety of other fascinating historical monuments from various periods in history, including Roman settlements, a deserted medieval village and post-medieval water meadows. A suite of other investigations along the River Avon will explore the vital role of the Vale’s environment throughout history.

Dr Leary continued: “One of the many wonderful opportunities this excavation presents is to reveal the secret of the Vale itself. Communities throughout time settled and thrived there – a key aim of the dig is to further our understanding of how the use of the landscape evolved – from prehistory to history.”

Duncan Wilson, Historic England Chief Executive, added: “Bigger than Avebury, ten times the size of Stonehenge and half way between the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites, comparatively little is known about this fascinating and ancient landscape. The work will help Historic England focus on identifying sites for protection and improved management, as well as adding a new dimension to our understanding of this important archaeological environment.”

The Vale of Pewsey excavation also marks the start of the new University of Reading Archaeology Field School. Previously run at the world-famous Roman town site of Silchester, the Field School will see archaeology students and enthusiasts from Reading and across the globe join the excavation.

The six week dig runs from 15th June to 25th July. Visitors are welcome to see the excavation in progress every day, except Fridays, between 10:00am and 5pm. Groups must book in advance.

There will also be a chance for the public to visit the site at two exciting Open Days on Saturday 4th July and Saturday 18th July. To visit the excavation follow Sat Nav SN10 3RH.

We forgot to add this to the previous update!

Jan 29, 2015

Thank you for your e-mail. My last update on this project had been in November last year, when the archaeological contractor had confirmed that the reinstatement had been completed but final photos were needed. I hadn’t heard anything since and as I was in the area yesterday I visited the site to see how the reinstated bank now looks. I can report that it is in good condition with a thin covering of grass. It is currently fenced off to protect it until the grass is well established.

I am awaiting an update on the publication and will contact you with details once I know more. If you have any further questions please do contact me.

Kind Regards

Mel Barge (Ms) | Inspector of Ancient Monuments

After a week or three of pestering English Heritage before Christmas about the seeming stagnation regarding the repair of the Priddy Henge damaged by workmen representing Roger Penny, we finally received the following press release below. Apologies about the delay getting it to you, Christmas and New Year got in the way. A report on the geofizz carried out as mentioned below is also now available to read.



In May 2011, large-scale unauthorised damage took place on one of the four Priddy Circles, a group of large, circular earthworks of prehistoric date which are protected as Scheduled Monuments. In October 2012, following a prosecution brought by English Heritage, the owner of Priddy Circle 1, Mr Penny, pleaded guilty to carrying out the unauthorised works. He agreed to pay for repairs to the monument and other mitigation works at a cost of around £38,000. He was also fined £2,500 by Taunton Crown Court and ordered to pay costs of £7,500.

The circle is designated and protected under the Ancient Monuments & Archaeological Areas Act 1979 and under this legislation it is a criminal offence to undertake works to a Scheduled Monument without the consent of the Secretary State (known as Scheduled Monument Consent).

In addition to a substantial fine and costs, Mr Penny signed a Voluntary Agreement committing him to funding a package of ‘reinstatement’ works, the detail of which was to be approved by English Heritage. Although we argued that some archaeological investigation should be an important part of an overall package of restorative justice works, the court was clear that the focus of the work funded by Mr Penny should be on aspects of physical reinstatement as opposed to archaeological investigation of the damaged areas.


Given the national and international significance of the Priddy Circles, English Heritage felt it important that the damage caused to the monument should not be repaired without some archaeological investigation taking place. Therefore, a programme archaeological work was designed by English Heritage, focusing on the parts of the monument that had been either been damaged or disturbed. The work was commissioned to run alongside the evaluation phase of the reinstatement works, which was necessary to inform decisions on whether to restore areas of the circle that had been subject to earthmoving.

Over Spring and Summer of this year, English Heritage, together with archaeological contractors AC Archaeology, undertook a programme of assessment and evaluation, including a geophysical survey of the damaged parts of the site. The results of this work helped in the design of an archaeological excavation which was carried out in September and October 2013, and focused on an area of deep wheel-rutting caused by the creation of a track way through the site during the unauthorised works.

The fieldwork is now completed and post-excavation analysis and recording are currently underway, including the use of specialist scientific dating techniques by English Heritage at our laboratory in Portsmouth. The results will be published in due course, and it is hoped they will advance our knowledge and understanding of this rare and early monument type, in addition to helping inform management decisions for the Priddy Circles and similar monuments elsewhere.

The final part of the reinstatement works is due to take place early in the New Year, when some reconstruction of the bulldozed circle bank will take place. This is a limited piece of work with two objectives – firstly, to restore some of the form and legibility of the circle and secondly to cover over and protect important Neolithic archaeology which had been left exposed by the damage. When this work is completed, Mr Penny’s obligations under the Voluntary Agreement will have been met and the Scheduled Monument will once again be in a stable condition for posterity.


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.

Logo: RESCUE, the British Archaeology Trust

Logo: RESCUE, the British Archaeology Trust

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!

Knowlton Church and Henge © Alan S.

Knowlton Church and Henge © Alan S.

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.


Arbor Low henge, as seen on Google maps satellite view. © Google inc.

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!!

Further Links:

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.

The main trench across the henge ditch

The main trench across the henge ditch

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.

The chalk pits at the eastern entrance to the henge.

The chalk pits at the eastern entrance to the henge.

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.

Excavation of the plank house feature

Excavation of the plank house feature

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.

Keith (in shorts), directing operations in the rain.

Keith (in shorts), directing operations in the rain.

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!

013(1) - Copy

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.

and 5:
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?

Yours faithfully,

Heritage Action

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?


March 2023

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