"It undoubtedly is one of the noblest sepulchres of the kind in Great Britain; and probably contains the fragments of many brave chieftains, whome some fatal battle near the spot forbad to revisit their natal country."
As so often, here is the pervasive idea that 'foreigners' built the tombs (and only foreigners could have built such tombs).
He also says:
"The field in which this barrow stands has from time immemorial been called the Fairy field; and the common people say that strange noises have been heard underneath the hill, and visions, portentous to children, have been seen waving in the thickets that crown its summit."
[ST 52056179] Fairy Toot [TI] Long Barrow [GT]. (1) Fairy Toot comprises the remains of a long barrow with transepted gallery. In 1788 it was 150 feet N-S and 75 feet E-W and 40 feet high. It was being destroyed for road metalling and T. Bere describes a port-hole stone which led to a gallery with several chambers containing skeletal remains. Only a single human cranium is now in Bristol City Museum. The bulk of the barrow was made of small white stones covered with 5-6 inches of soil. [See AO/62/302/6 for an 18th C. view of the barrow.] The barrow is now divided into two mounds, ten feet in diameter and four feet high; a cowshed occupies part of the site. (2-4) The most obvious remains of this long barrow is a small tree covered mound 2.5m high. This is composed of small limestone slabs and it would seem that the old lime kiln immediately to the south used stone from the barrow. To the north of the mound a crescentic scarp, maximum height 0.9m, almost certainly represents the northern extremity of the barrow. Surveyed at 1:2500 (See AO/65/237/2 for an 18th/19th century illustration of the gallery) (a). (5) References to a lost cave at Burrington, containing not less the 100 skeletons, possibly due to confusion in early sources with Fairy Toot long barrow, although there is no suggestion that as many as 100 skeletons were found here (6-7)
The aerial photographs of this area were examined as part of the Mendip Hills AONB project of the National Mapping Programme. No evidence for this site was seen on the available aerial photographs (8).
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.
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. ...
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?
Up to 1787 it was as far as is known quite complete, but in that year it fell on evil days and was doomed to deplorable and wanton ruination and unpardonable obliteration..
..The entrance stone had a hole through its centre and blocked the opening to the avenue where the unmortared walls terminated..
.. When visiting the site some years ago the writer was informed by a man that tradition says all the bones from the barrow were buried in a hole on the North side of the field, and it is quite possible that this was done on Bere's advice and in order to save them*.
*The Reverend T Bere 'discovered' the barrow and recognised its importance, writing letters of his findings to the Gentleman's Magazine and the Bath Chronicle in the latter part of the 18th century. He was the Rector of Butcombe (his church is only a stone's throw away). The choice of the word 'save' is quite ambiguous - was he trying to save them from being thrown away / taken as souvenirs and so on - or trying to 'Save' them by giving them a burial (albeit not a Christian one). Ok it's probably the former. But why not stick them in a box?
It is the Rev Bere's drawing that has been posted by JD525 above.
Text from 'Notes on some chambered long barrows of North Somerset.' Arthur Bulleid.
Som. Arch. Nat. Hist. Soc. Proc. 1941 v87 p56-71.
The Reverend John Collinson wrote the following in his 'History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset' in the 1780s - without him what record would we have of the site in its better days?
"This place.. has been variously written as Nimet, Nempnett, Nemlet, Emmet, and Emet.."
(It has been suggested that the name is from the Roman? Celtic? 'nemeton' - sacred grove).
"..a small distance eastward from the church stands a large tumulus 50 yds in length, 20 in breadth and 15 in height, and covered on its top with ash trees, briars and thick shrubs. On opening it some time ago its composition throughout was found to be a mass of stones supported on each side lengthwise by a wall of thin flakes. The distance between the two walls is about 8 ft and the intermediate space is filled up with two rows of cells, or cavities, formed by very large stones set edgewise.
These cells, the entrance into which is at the south end, run in a direction north to south, and are divided from each other by vast stones placed on their edges, and covered with others still larger by way of architrave.
In one of them were found seven skulls, one quite perfect; in another a vast heap of small human bones and horses' teeth. All the cells are not yet opened.."
I still haven't been to the site, but it should still be pretty impressive. A two page report (PDF document) on the barrow is available via the 'Magic' website, at http://www.magic.gov.uk/rsm/22826.pdf
The report suggests that apart from the chamber, the rest is still there - a mound 60m long, 25m wide and 2.5m high, retained by a dry stone wall. It says that "despite disturbance of the site, the Fair Toot long barrow survives comparatively well".
It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, on the national monument register as '22826', and is described as "The Fairy Toot long barrow 350m SSW of Howgrove Farm".
How could I resist adding a site with a name like this? But technically there won't be much to see. Before it was ruined it was probably as beautiful as Stoney Littleton, and had at least three pairs of sidechambers. I've seen it mentioned elsewhere, but I came across something about it in the library, in the Proceedings of the Bath Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club (vol 3 for 1877).
It was 150ft north to south, and 76ft east to west. The chambers were closed by a perforated stone 13ft north of the entrance (I suppose this means it was kind of 'horned' like Stoney Littleton - also it's interesting that the stone was perforated). It had large slabs infilled by dry stone walling inside, and a drystone wall outside with the earth mound above it.
"The waywarden wanted stones for the road, and so found the chambers... A limekiln has been built on the site and the stones..burned into lime; also a fold-yard constructed at another point, and the stones used for walling! A very small portion still remains.."
"Such monuments.. are destroyed through ignorance of their true value, and the use which may be made of them. The spots of land on which they stand not unfrequently fall into the possession of persons quite unable to comprehend their value or importance, and for the sake of a little temporary gain a record of past ages is ruined irretrievably!"
I suppose there may also be stones left in any walls to the field? Otherwise the site rather serves as a reminder as what could have happened to similar barrows like Hetty Pegler's Tump and Stoney Littleton if they hadn't been brought under the wing of local Antiquarian societies, and the last paragraph of the quote above is probably as true now as it was then.
'Tumboracos' sent a letter to The Gentleman's Magazine in 1789 in response to Bere's. He sounds very (too?) level headed and he pushes for the date of the barrow to be accepted as pre-Roman. He doesn't believe Bere's story about an eight-foot skeleton either, and tells a little anecdote about breathlessly running to see a skeleton found in a barrow dug by three soldiers, who claimed it was that of 'a prodigious giant'. But actually when he held the femur up to one of them they had to concede it was of ordinary size (it made him feel better to have a little rant). And I guess it's true that people have "a natural promptness to magnify casual discoveries into the marvellous" as he says. Though that's quite nice sometimes.