The writer was.. fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of a Mr. M---, who was born in Everleigh about 1880. Mr. M---, a gardener, knew a number of legends and traditions which, he said, "were handed down to me from my grandfather." Many of his points were corroborated by other villagers of his generation.
Very little information could be obtained about local reaction to the [1950s] excavation, but the general feeling seemed to be that it was regarded as faintly improper - an act of disturbing the dead.. The local aetiology of the place-name Snail Down .. was given thus; "Snail Down is called that because of the number of snails you find on it." In actual fact the area is unusually poor in mollusc life.. Mr L. V. Grinsell.. suggests that a double bell-barrow amongst the Snail Down group, when viewed from a certain angle, has the appearance of a giant snail in motion, and this may well be the true explanation.
The barrows in the group (there are at least thirty) are locally explained as the burial places of "the people killed in the battle of Sidbury Hill." The latter is crowned by an Iron Age hill fort which looms over the downs..
...A remarkable and genuine example of folk-memory occurred during the [Snail Down] excavation. It was known that Sir Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington of Devizes had already dug the two barrows which were being examined.. It was the practice of this cautious and enlightened antiquary [WC] to place a small bronze disc, bearing his name and the date, in the sites which he dug and filled in, and one such, with the inscription "William Cunnington - 1805", was discovered, together with the actual mark in the chalk made by the workman's spade at the time.
An old shepherd who frequented the downs, and who gave his age as 77, volunteered the information that he, as a boy, had spoken to an old man (who died at the age of 93), and that this old man could remember people digging up the barrows on Snail Down, an act for which, it was alleged, they had been put in prison! If the old man had died about 1880-1885, he would have been between 13 and 18 when Cunnington excavated: since the shepherd was born in 1876, he could have been a boy of nine or ten when the old man quitted this life. Links of two generations spanning 150 years are, according to The Sunday Times, not uncommon, but it is still satisfactory to find such an interesting and unusual one. The gloss of the "imprisonment", it is suggested, may reflect local opinion of Cunnington's desecration of the dead.
Folklore from a Wiltshire Village
Folklore, Vol. 65, No. 3/4. (Dec., 1954), pp. 165-168.
A Bronze Age barrow cemetery originally comprising approximately 29 barrows with several other isolated from the main group to the south west. Most of the barrows were investigated by Colt Hoare in the 19th century with further excavations carried out in the 1950s by Thomas with finds deposited at Devizes Museum. The barrows suffered considerable damage during the Second World War from tanks and it is believed that at least ten were obliterated.
(Centred SU 217520) Tumuli (NR). (1)
A barrow cemetery comprising of bowl, bell, disc and saucer barrows on Snail Down (see plan). Excavation by Thomas in 1953, 1955 (3) and 1957 (4), following damage by tanks during the 1939-45 war, has now obliterated ten of the original twenty-nine barrows. There are several more barrows isolated from the main group to the south-west (SU 25 SW 9 and SU 25 SW 92).
The barrows have been recorded incorporating the numbering schemes adopted by Thomas (2-4), Grinsell (5), and Colt Hoare (6). All the barrows excepting Thomas's 9 (SU 25 SW 125), 11 (SU 25 SW 126), 12 (SU 25 SW 127), 25 (SU 25 SW 116) and 4 (SU 25 SW 104) or 6 (SU 25 SW 122) were excavated by Colt Hoare. (5-6)
Thomas's barrows 5-13 (2) (SU 25 SW 121-128) comprises of a group of nine small bowl barrows, some touching. They were
constructed by scraped-up topsoil but excavation has almost destroyed them, some at least apparently contained burials
after cremation. The barrows had been built over the remains of an earlier occupation site. A large number of post and stake-
holes together with sherds of beakers and grooved ware, and stone and flint implements. The finds from the excavations went to Devizes Museums. (2-4)
Twenty eight features were published on the OS 25" c. 1910 of which one, that between Thomas's 3 (SU 25 SW 103) and 6 (SU 25 SW 122) at SU 21635206 was evidently not in existence by 1957 since it is not recorded by Grinsell or noted by Thomas. It is conceivably the site of a further barrow. Two previously unpublished barrows Thomas's 11 (SU 25 SW 126) and 28 (SU 25 SW 119), were recorded and excavated and are now reduced to 'sites', with nine others, 1 (SU 25 SW 101), 6 (SU 25 SW 122), 9 (SU 25 SW 125), 11 (SU 25 SW 126), 12 (SU 25 SW 127), 13 (SU 25 SW 128), 21 (SU 25 SW 112), 23 (SU 25 SW 114), 24 (SU 25 SW 115), which were published. Most of the eighteen surviving barrows are damaged to some extent and there is clearly an unofficial tank route which crosses all the larger mounds. The dimensions given for the barrows are substantially correct
OS 1:2500 survey revised. (7)
This barrow cemetery was surveyed at 1:1000 by RCHME field staff as part of the SPTA Project (for further details see project archive). Set in open chalk downland, the cemetery comprises 28 barrows set in a loose arc, and deliminated by a series of linear ditches. A `celtic' field system underlies the linear ditches. (8)
( 1) Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date) OS 6" 1926
( 2) Nicholas Thomas 1960 A guide to prehistoric England Page(s)15,20,223-7
( 3) The Wiltshire archaeological and natural history magazine 56, 1955-6 Page(s)127-48
( 4) The Wiltshire archaeological and natural history magazine 57, 1958-60 Page(s)5-8
( 5) edited by R B Pugh and Elizabeth Crittall 1957 A history of Wiltshire: volume 1, part 1 The Victoria history of the counties of England 1, 1957 Page(s)209, 213-4,217,223
( 6) by Sir Richard Colt Hoare; introduction by Jack Simmons and D D A Simpson 1975 The ancient history of Wiltshire 1, 1812 Page(s)181-5
( 7) Field Investigators Comments F1 NVQ 04-APR-72
( 8) Field Investigators Comments D Field/12-12-93/RCHME:SPTA Project
Colt Hoare described and interpreted the contents of one of the large Snail Down barrows, bringing to life its occupant:
"The body of the deceased had been burned, and the bones and ashes piled up in a small heap, which was surrounded by a circular wreath of horns of the red deer, within which, and amidst the ashes, were five beautiful arrow-heads cut out of flint, and a small red pebble..
Thus we most clearly see the profession of the Briton here interred. In the flint arrow-heads we recognize his fatal implements of destruction; in the stag's horns we see the victims of his skill as a hunter; and the bones of the dog deposited in the same grave, and above those of his master, commemorate his faithful attendant in the chase, and perhaps his unfortunate victim in death."