|Here is Thomas Bere's letter to the Gentleman's Magazine, in May 1789. He'd already written to the Bath Chronicle in January in the hope that someone would get in touch with him about the barrow (but no-one had). I apologise for such a long quotation but I feel it's great to have such a detailed enthusiastic description of the site. And I love the way he describes being inside the chambers and seeing the skulls by candlelight.
The barrow is, from North to South, 150 feet; from East to West 75 feet. This looks more like a designed proportion than the effect of chance. It has been immemorially known by the name of Fairy's Toote, and considered still, by our sagacious provincials, as the haunts of ghosts, goblins, and fairies. This may be deemed the electrical tremblings of very remote superstition. The idle tale travelled down through many an age, long, long after the cadavers from which it originated had ceased to be had in remembrance.When the Proprietor seemed quite keen to prop up the insides to admit visitors, it seems such a shame that something went wrong somewhere and now the barrow lies in disarray. It could so easily have gone the other way and have been restored like at Stoney Littleton?
Desirous of obtaining stone for the adjacent roads, the proprietor ordered his workmen to see what the Toote was made of. They accordingly commenced their labours at the Southern extremity, and soon came to the stone D, which then was at A, with a considerable West inclination, and no doubt served for a door to the sepulchre, which, prior (and in some cases subsequent) to Christianity, was the common mode of securing the entrance of these repositories. Such was that which was placed at the mouth of the cave wherein our blessed Saviour was interred.
The stone D being passed, an admirable unmortar'd wall appeared on the left-hand, and no doubt a similar one after the dotted line on the right once existed, as we find it in the same direction at F. This wall was built of thin irregular base freestone, less in length and breadth, but in general thicker, than common Dutch chimney tile. Its height was somewhat more than four feet; its thickness about fourteen inches. Thirteen feet directly North from A (where the stone D stood) the perforated stone B appears, inclining to the North about thirty degrees, and shutting up the avenue between the unmorta'd walls.
-- Working round the East side, at I a cell presented itself, two feet three inches broad, four feet high, and nine feet from South to North. Here were found a perfect human skull, the teeth entire, all sound, and of the most delicate white; it lay against the inside of the stone B, the body having been deposited North and South. Several other pieces of skulls, human spinal joints, arm bone, &c. were found herein; and particularly the thigh bone of a very large quadruped, which, by comparing with the same bone of an ox, I conjecture to have belonged to an animal of that species. As the skull appeared to me larger than common, I was willing to form some conjecture of the height of that body to which it belonged, and applied my rule to it, taking the painter's datum, of allowing eight faces (from the hair on the forehead to the chin) for the whole, found it gave something more than eight feet. With this the length of the sepulchre agrees, being, as was before observed, nine feet. In this cell was also found the tooth of some large beast; but no one that has seen it can guess of what genus.
At the termination of the first sepulchre, the horizontal stones in the top of the avenue had fallen down. With some difficulty, and no little danger, I obtruded far enough to see, by the light of a candle, two other similar catacombs, one to the right, the other on the left side of the avenue, containing several human skulls, and other bones; but which, from the imminent hazard of being buried in the ruins of the surrounding masses, have not yet been entered. This, as far as it goes, is a true account of the discoveries at the Southern extremity of the tumulus.
The lateral section at G has afforded as yet nothing more than a view of the unmortar'd wall, seen in the Southern extremity at H, and here at F, with the continuation of the central avenue seen at B, and here from C to C. This avenue is constructed of very large rock fragments, consisting of three stones, two perpendicular and one horizontal, as may be seen in the representation E. Three cells are here discernible, two of which are on the West side, and one on the East; these also have human bones. The proprietor means now to proceed from B to CC, propping up the avenue with wooden posts, in the same manner in which our miners do in their adits, to the lapis caluminaris veins. This mode will give the visitor an opportunity of seeing the different cells with safety and convenience.
I have only to add, that the tumulus is formed of small whitish stone, of which the neighbourhood affords plenty; and that the exterior appears to have been turfed, yet there remains a stratum, five or six inches deep, of grassed earth on the stones. The view I took on the spot, in one of the sneaping[*] days of the last rigorous season. I can therefore say nothing for it, but that, if it be not a good drawing, it is a true representation. When the central avenue is cleared, I purpose to send you the ichnography. ...
*[as in nippily cold?]
Posted by Rhiannon
18th November 2011ce
Edited 18th November 2011ce