|Aubrey noted that "No history gives any account of this hill; the tradition only is, that King Sil or Zel, as the countrey folke pronounce, was buried here on horseback, and that the hill was raysed while a posset of milke was seething.."
Or you could believe the story that it was dumped there by the devil - it's a story found all over Britain about various mysterious mounds and hills. The people of Marlborough hated the people of Devizes, and somehow they'd got the devil to agree to smother them with a big spadeful of earth, to get them out of their hair for good. A cobbler (or St John?) was walking towards Marlborough with a cartload of worn out shoes, which he was going to mend. He asked the devil what he was doing. On hearing the reply he explained that he'd set out from Devizes a very long time ago, and pointed to all the shoes in his cart - explaining that he'd worn them out along the way. The devil's very lazy, so he decided he couldn't be bothered to walk such a distance. He dropped the spadeful of earth by the side of the road in disgust, and it became Silbury Hill.
Jordan (in her 'folklore of Ancient Wiltshire' records another variation which she heard from a old local man. He claimed that the devil was travelling from Salisbury plain and Stonehenge to smother the people at Avebury, complaining that there was too much religion in the area. Grinsell's source (Folklore v24) completes the story:
"but the priests saw him coming and set to work with their charms and incussations, and they fixed him while he was yet a nice way off, till at last he flings down his shovelful just where he was stood. And THAT'S Silbury."
A turn up for the books - the Devil actually trying to get rid of a pagan site?
On a moonlit night you might see King Sil in golden armour ride by the hill. Perhaps that's because he's buried on horseback - or maybe in a golden coffin. A headless man is also sometimes seen. Kathleen Wiltshire (in her 'Ghosts and Legends of the Wiltshire Countryside') recounted how she'd been told these legends when she was a small girl, by an old stone-breaker, Worthy Gaisford.
Posted by Rhiannon
15th May 2002ce
Edited 21st July 2005ce