I drove along the well maintained minor road north of the village of Shurton (Not signposted Hinkley Point power station - merely: Dead End)
Fortunately the first security barrier was open with no guard on duty. This allowed me to (somewhat nervously) drive through and the Barrow could be easily seen on the right of the road – behind the high security fencing).
I continued to drive forward to look for somewhere to turn around and saw a second barrier which was manned. Luckily there was a place to turn around and I drove slowly back out of the power station.
As I say, the Barrow is easy enough to see and looked to be about 2 metres high and 20 metres across. Two small trees were growing out of its side. Not a place to hang around too long.
A nuclear power station next to a Bronze Age Barrow – how is that for a clash of cultures!
[visted 08/07/07] Another failed site, this time through not wanting to turn up unanounced at a Nuclear Power Station and asking to see their barrow. I did get to the gates and could see the barrow just inside the gates in a fenced off tree covered enclosure, but it was the other side of some (open) security gates and a large barbed wire fence. Call me overly cautious but in the current climate I figured discretion really was the better part of valour. There is a number for them on the British Energy website so I might give them a ring next time I'm heading that way.
Access is after sundown wearing ninja suits and night goggles.
The prehistoric burial mound known as Wick Barrow is over 5,000 years old. This film describes the folk-lore associated with the site and the archaeological excavations carried out in the early 20th century by the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society.
The film contains an interview with Victor Ambrus who created an archaeological reconstruction drawing of how the mound may have looked over 4,000 years ago.
More from 'Local Traditions of the Quantocks' by C. W. Whistler
(in Folklore, Vol. 19, No. 1. (Mar. 30, 1908), pp. 31-51.), which I seem to have overlooked. Must have been the Pixy Effect.
The Pixy legends of the district are of no unusual type. Belief in "Pixy leading" is general, and only a few years since a woman, lost in a sudden evening mist within a few minutes walk across the fields from her house, and unable to regain the pathway or find the stile, became actually demented from terror, firmly believing that she was "Pixy led." The legends have one special centre round a large mound on the Wick "moor", exploration of which has this year yielded some very remarkable results. The mound is about ninety feet across by eleven feet high, mainly composed of stones, and it was said to move bodily about the field in whose centre it stands.
Barrows moving about? How very unusual. But I do refer you to Grinsell's cautious remarks below.
Grinsell mentions the story of the broken peel (see below) in his 'Archaeology of Exmoor' (1970). He says that similar stories have been recorded in England - at Beedon Barrow for example, but that it has 'a Scandinavian flavour'. "Miss R.L. Tongue has mentioned another Scandinavian motif (the theft of a gold cup from the fairies) from the Quantock Hills, although apparently not connected with any barrow."
One final point needs to be added. The Wick Barrow tradition seems to have been first recorded for that site by Rev C. W. Whistler, Rector of Stockland Bristol from 1895 to 1909; he was also an energetic member of the Viking Society of Great Britain and Ireland, for which he was secretary for the Bridgwater area. Because of this the present writer just wonders how vivid his imagination was.
He thought Miss Tongue was quite imaginative too, I believe.
Oh how I would have loved to meet Mr Grinsell. He collects all this folklore but he is such a cynic. I'd like to think we would have got on well.
Hinckley Point [sic], on the Severn Coast, where an Atomic Power Station has been built within the last few years, was considered for centuries to be fairy-haunted land. The neighbourhood is full of pixy tales and beliefs, and the Quantock people are quite outspoken in their expectation of disaster for the intruding Power Station. It has had, and is still having, a more than reasonable number of setbacks. There have been some bad accidents which are freely ascribed in the countryside to its being built where it is. Usually, West Somerset people will not discuss their still-remembered fairy-beliefs, but in this case their speech is suggestive and indicates a full knowledge of the tradition.
[..]The elderly, and not so elderly, find a ghoulish pleasure in recounting the accidents and dangers attendant on its building. One or two grim watchers have tallied up deaths and near-deaths at one a year since the beginning of the desecration. Of these they say, 'Ah! they won't stop till there's seven.' Are these victims to placate the River Severn or the vengeful pixy-people? An answer to modern boasting abou the triumphs of science is: 'You and I won't be here come a hundred years time. But They'll have 'en! Hundred years be nothing to They. They can bide.'
Watching Folklore Grow
R. L. Tongue
Folklore, Vol. 75, No. 2. (Summer, 1964), pp. 110-112.
More local stories about the Pixies' Mound, from Berta Lawrence's 1973 'Somerset Legends'.
The hill was excavated in 1907 but local workmen were not keen to help. Some of those that did lend a hand experienced bad luck or illness - just as many people had predicted - and their wives persuaded them not to return to the work. After dark strange pixy music had been heard, and a circular wall of stones was discovered inside the mound - surely proof of the pixies' house?
When work was interrupted, some people said King Edward VII himself had stopped it because the excavation was so unlucky. The digging turned up 'a stone sword as long as a man's arm' and 'a wonderful bronze flagon' (somewhat exaggerated descriptions of the flint knife and pottery beaker that were found). A crouched skeleton was removed to Taunton museum. Was it Hubba himself (see the folklore at nearby Cynwit Castle)?
Yet another piece of folklore attached to the site - this one to be found in R Evans' 'Somerset stories of the supernatural' (2001) (and noted in Bord's 'Fairy Sites' book).
Once it was considered unlucky to traverse the mound. A local man who was protesting against the building of the nuclear power station said that it would be built 'over his dead body'. Out riding in the area (and apparently unaware of its reputation) he rode over the mound. Later he was killed in a fall from his horse. And of course, the power station was inevitably built.
This story seems to hang together so poorly (why would the fairies want to bring him bad luck when he was trying to save the tone of the neighbourhood?) that can one only assume it's actually based on Real Happenings, the story being concocted around them to make sense of two unpleasant events?
Whilst reading 'The Holy Wells of Somerset' (D E Horne 1923), I spotted one called 'St Sativola's Well' or St Sidwell, close to the barrow.
The field in which the barrow lies is Barrow Sidwells - a never failing spring is to be found within a stone's throw westward of the tumulus. 'Within living memory Stoke Courcy women used to bring their children to this well to be washed, if suffering fom any ailment of skin or eyes, and this healing reputation is still well known, even if the water is less sought after.'
Saint Sidwell was martyred near Exeter in the 6th century. Apparently she'd come into some inherited land, and her evil stepmother wanted it. The latter bribed two harvesters to bump the poor girl off. As Ms-soon-to-be-St Sidwell knelt in prayer in the field, they sneaked up and decapitated her with a scythe. Where her head fell, a spring instantly sprung up. You can see her in Exeter Cathedral's east window. (story in Reader's Digest 'Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain).
Reading the fortean times website, I came across a post by 'Marion':
In the very early seventies I lived in the village of Stogursey , about two miles from the Hinkley Point nuclear reactor , I was only five but I still remember the absolute certaintly of the villagers young and old alike that the station had been built on a 'fairy's house' and the fairies were still well pi**ed with the whole affair ! Several people had died during the building of the reactor - proof that the villagers were right ! There was a serious accident one night when a turbine shaft sheared off and went through a twelve foot ( or whatever ) thick wall , this was because a protective statue of a fairy had been moved or removed ! This statue was also said to move on it's own and no one wanted to work on site at night . There was also an impression that more went on but people wouldn't talk about it . And everyone was deadly serious about it too , it wasn't a joke to them .
Delightfully located just outside Hinkley Point nuclear power station, Wick Barrow is also known as 'Pixies' Mound'. I noticed on the HP website that they intend to Enhance the Appearance of Pixies Mound. Goodness knows what this means, hopefully they will just mow it now and again.
In this mound the pixies were said to live, and an old barn close at hand is the last place where they were seen by "Mr. Rawlin's uncle." He heard the sound of threshing, and crept up to the barn to see who was making free with his corn. As he came near he heard voice.
"How i do tweat," said one.
"So thee do tweat, do 'ee?" answered another, "well then, I do tweat and double tweat, looky zee!"
Mr. Rawlins's uncle looked over the half-door, and there were the pixies with their red caps.
"Well done, my little vellows!" he cried, and at that they fled, and have been seen no more.
The story is not unusual, of course, and occurs in connection with other old barns and relatives of other living men elsewhere in the district.
Another less common legend, but one which is found elsewhere in England and Scandinavia alike, is that of a ploughman who was at work in one of the Sidwell fields. As he worked he heard what he took to be a child crying, and lamenting that it had "broken its peel," round the barrow. The "peel" is the long wooden shovel with which the bread is put into the old brick-ovens, but the man went to see if he could find the child, whom he supposed must have wandered from home. He could see no one, but on the side of the mound was the broken peel, which he mended with string, being good natured, and supposing that the child could not be far away. When he left work in the evening he went to see if the peel had been recovered. It was gone, but in its place was a cake hot from the oven of the grateful pixy.
There is no treasure-legend attached to the mound [..] It was said that "beautiful music comes from it of a night," and [..] "that a Dane was buried there." But the most persistent statement concerning the mound was that "if it were digged down by day, it would be put back that night."
Local Traditions of the Quantocks
C. W. Whistler
Folklore, Vol. 19, No. 1. (Mar. 30, 1908), pp. 31-51.
Presumably he ate the cake thinking it was a present for him- but what if it was just out cooling?! And note that usually you should refuse fairy food - but generally it's ok if it's a gift for you (under which circumstances it could be dangerously rude to refuse).
(edited to provide earlier versions of the stories).
(ST 2090 4557) Pixies' Mound (NAT) Tumulus (NR) Wick Barrow, also known as Pixies' Mound or Burrow Sidwell, was excavated by H St G Gray in 1907. It was found to be a round mound, some 84 feet in diameter by 5 feet high, built mainly of large stones up to 2 1/2 feet in length. It contained a roughly circular walled enclosure built of dry stone, with maximum diameter of 31 1/2 feet, height 3' 6" and thickness about 18" at the top. No central burial was found but there had been an earlier excavation at the centre, which showed as a depression. On re-excavation, it showed as a shaft, at the bottom of which was found a Roman mortarium rimsherd and a nearby coin of Constantine I. These finds are considered to be evidence of a Roman excavation into the mound, but could be the result of a later (say 19th cent.) excavation, disturbing the surface material containing the Roman objects. Three secondary crouched inhumations were found; one accompanied by a bell-beaker, a second by a necked-beaker and a third by a necked-beaker and a flint knife-dagger. Ashbee (3) describes these as eccentric cists containing, disarticulated skeletons, but there is no evidence of cists in the report. Nearer to the centre, at a depth of 18", a mass of mixed and confused human bones was found packed close together in an oval area some 6 x 2 feet, the lias stones about them being much larger than elsewhere. This seems to be the only evidence for a possible cist in the mound. The bones represent some five adults and a child. Some of the long bones were broken and one skull was marked by impressions of woven fabric. The type of skull and unusually marked platycremism of 'tibia' bones in this group, led the excavator to suggest that they were
Neolithic and had been brought from elsewhere to be re-interred. A fragment of pottery found nearby and a similar fragment from
near one of the beaker burials, although thought to be Bronze Age, from the description, having finger tip and nail impressions, may well have been neolithic.
Other apparently disturbed human remains were found near the surface of the barrow, and some were found on the NE in 1880 and 1902-3. The latter were probably exposed by the tenant-farmer who began to demolish the barrow early in the 19th century but was stopped. The finds are in Taunton Museum. (2-3)
A ditchless mound now overgrown, surveyed at 1/2500. Finds seen on display at Taunton Museum. (4)
This barrow, diameter 27.0m, height 1.7m, is under an impenetrable cover of thorn. The survey of 22.10.64 has been accepted and transferred to the PFD.
An Early Bronze Age round barrow excavated by Harold St George Gray in April, August and September 1907. The excavation technique was very much of its time, and fairly typical of Gray, rendering interpretation difficult. The barrow had also suffered much disturbance - as well as ploughing and an unrecorded episode of excavation (see below), the tenant farmer in the early 19th century had attempted to level the mound before being "duly stopped". The barrow appears to have been at least a two phase structure. At the centre, a primary mound was surrounded by a retaining drystone wall up to 3 feet 10 inches high and 31 feet in maximum diameter. The mound was subsequently enlarged to a diameter of circa 84 feet by the addition of large quantities of lias stone, some blocks up to 2.5 feet long. The central area had been disturbed by a previous episode of digging. Gray found a Roman sherd and a Roman coin within its backfill and suggested the excavation had occurred in the Roman period, suggesting that "they left the piece of mortarium and the coin as evidence that they had "rifled this part of the barrow". It seems more likely that the excavation was of rather more recent date, the Roman finds suggesting that some deposit of that date had been disturbed as well as the earlier occupants. This earlier episode had clearly disturbed the burials within this central mound. Large quantities of fragmentary human remains were found throughout its fill, while 1.5 feet below the surface was a mass of mixed bones representing at least 6 individuals. 3 secondary crouched inhumations, all adult males and each accompanied by a Beaker, were found within the central area at relatively shallow depths, but undisturbed by the earlier excavation. One was also accompanied by a flint dagger and flint knife; another by a group of flints including 4 scrapers. Other finds fromthe mound included potsherds, flints and further fragmentary human bones. Human remains had been found on and around the barrow on at least three occasions prior to the excavation - circa 1880 a Mr Rawlins found part of a skeleton beneath a large slab of lias; in 1902-3 a Mr House found further human bones, and according to Gray he "authenticated his previous 'find' by digging out, with our permission, other bones close to the surface, in the same position, during the time of the excavations"; and Gray also adds that "human bones were found in draining the field". (2)
A very fair response was made to the appeal issued on behalf of your Society and the Viking Club for funds for carrying out a careful exploration of Wick Barrow (better known locally as 'Pixies' Patch,') near Stogursey. The excavations were carried out under the directio of Mr. H. St. George Gray who was ably assisted by the Rev. C. W. Whistler (your Society's Local Secretary for Cannington), and Mr. Albany Major (Editor to the Viking Club). The work has not been completed, but an interim report has been issued to subscribers. The secondary interments so far uncovered date back to the early Bronze Age, and your Museum has already been enriched by an extremely fine flint knife-dagger and two well ornamented drinking-vessels found with the skeletons. The work will be resumed early in the autumn and further subscriptions towards the work are solicited.
The highest interest was taken by members of the Society and others in the excavations conducted at Wick Barrow [...] the operations were witnessed by sometimes as many as sixty at a time.
(Disclaimer: this does include the 'R' word, but is in the interests of understanding later views of the barrow.)
The Somerset historic environment record says that the mound lay for a time within a Roman settlement. Roman pottery and a coin were found inside in a 1907 excavation (so the Romans could have dug into it - though the articles might have fallen in from yet another digging episode). The barrow contained the remains of many people - a mixture of bones in the centre (said to be Neolithic) and a number of secondary inhumations with beakers and a flint knife. The mound itself was built mainly of large stones (up to 2.5ft long), with a circular drystone enclosure at the centre.
It kind of raises thoughts about why they chose to settle right next to the barrow. Local 'Romanised' families keeping on the good side of local ancestors? Handy for a spring? Didn't even notice it? I don't know. But lots of people have used handy barrows as asource of stone - these people apparently didn't.
A photo of the barrow, by Pauline Rook. Plus there are great photos of its excavation on this page: http://archaeologyathinkleypoint.wordpress.com/wick-barrow/
including a photo of one its inhabitants. A skull that is, not a pixie. I think the pixies must have moved out for the excavation - the stones are laid bare.