Not much to report on this site. Very little to see other than some 'lumps and bumbs' in the fields. Not worth the effort unless you happen to be in the area with time to spend. At least it is another E.H. site ticked off my list. On another plus point there is a good view of a white horse carved out of the hillside in the distance. Not much else to recommend a visit I'm afraid.
I like approaching sites on foot, so I parked in the village and walked. Marden is special amongst its similarly monumental friends (Avebury, Durrington..) because it uses a stream as part of its boundary; its banks and ditches only surround it on three sides. Crossing the stream and entering the henge I was fairly disgusted to see the meadow by the stream had been sold and houses are to be built on it. Surely a nationally important place should deserve more protection?
It's a further walk than you think to the banks on the far side of the monument. I felt pretty confused about their layout to start with. But when you get there look for the stile hidden up in the hedge (almost opposite the big trees, where there is a tiny spot on the road you could park in) - that's where you'll find the plan on the EH board that's in Earthstepper's photo. I then realised what a tiny proportion of the place is under the EHs guardianship.
Now I could see where the Silburyesque Hatfield Barrow had been. It was too cold to keep still, so I jumped back down onto the road and started to walk back towards the spot. A car heading for the village slowed next to me. "Can you tell me how far Marden is?" a coiffeured woman enquired. I restrained any sarcastic remarks. As she drove on I reflected on how the huge henge could go unnoticed in the modern world. I thought on: the Hatfield Barrow itself would have been a locally famous enigma, something in local people's consciousness for literally thousands of years. I felt really outraged. How could somebody just come along and ruin it?
I stood there mentally grasping for clues, trying desperately to understand what the mound would have been like. I probably looked bizarre: a shivering figure staring at an empty field. As the wind dropped and the sun finally appeared I got something of it in my mind. It loomed up in front of me. So ok, to some Marden isn't more than a few low banks and an empty meadow. But to me, just to visit the place and exercise my imagination, it was well worth it. I felt really pleased to have been in the same place where this huge mound once stood.
Some time since, a young woman of the village, a member of one of the very few families who have resided on the spot continually for upwards of a century, told my son that a great battle had been fought ages ago on Marden down between men with red heads and men with black heads, and that the red-headed men won, she added that the dead were buried in a large cave on the down, and that nobody had ever dared to enter it. I have not been able to identify the cave, but it seems exceedingly probable that after the fight the slain were collected and buried with more than usual care, because the closest enquiry I have made has failed to trace any record of human remains, armour or weapons having been unearthed at any time in the neighbourhood.
In the barrow fields, beneath Camden's great sepulchral monument (Camden, writing in 1590, [says that] "the largest barrow in these parts, except Silbury, exists" in the parish), tradition says that great treasure is buried, and an old inhabitant assured me that once or twice it had been searched for ...
Weirdness local to Marden - a settlement (now a house) lay to the east of the henge, called 'Puckshipton'. John Chandler (see link below) says this means 'The Goblin's Cattle Shed'. What must have happened here for the place to acquire this name? Or is it actually related to the henge itself (probably an ideal place for a goblin to corral his cattle). It is very close to the place where the Ridgeway crossed the River Avon (I take it at SU099577), a spot which was known as Wifelesford ('weevils'-ford').
The lengthily titled 1832 book "The Family Topographer: Being a Compendious Account of the Antient and Present State of the Counties of England' by Samuel Tymms (volume two, "Western Circuit") refers to the mound as
"Earthworks, Marden, called Beechingstoke tumulus or Hatfield barrow, 35 feet high, and covers about an acre of ground."
- I thought I'd mention it as I've not seen the mound given this name before. It was more convincingly near Marden, but Beechingstoke is on the same side of the river (stream) so it may be a matter of territory.
This is part of a letter from James Norris, Esq. to Dr Withering. Nonesuch-House, Feb. 9, 1798. The idea of a moat reminds me of Silbury and its seasonal moat. Growing crops on the mound seems a bit bizarre. But maybe in pre-combine days it was easier to harvest.
.. near the village of Marden, is a remarkable tumulus called Hatfield-barrow; the only work of the kind, I believe, to be found in this lowland vale, although so very frequent on the elevated downs on both sides. It stands in an enclosure, and is above the usual size, and nearly hemispherical; it is surrounded by a broad circular intrenchment, which, from being constantly supplied with water by innate springs, forms a sort of moat, which does not become dry even in the midst of summer; a circumstance I have never found attending any other barrow. In this water ditch, the Menyanthese trifoliata or bogbean, plentifully grows: a plant which I have not seen elsewhere in that neighbourhood. The whole of the barrow is at present ploughed over, and is said to be more fertile than the surrounding field. I have seen it clothed with wheat ready for the sickle; when the richness of colour, and the beautiful undulations of the corn, formed an object as pleasing as it was uncommon.
From p236 of The Miscellaneous Tracts of the Late William Withering. Vol 1. 1822. Online at Google Books.
From 'The Ancient History of Wiltshire' by Sir Richard Colt Hoare - with an excerpt from his 1809 journal, giving more details about the downfall of the barrow. Silbury pokers be warned.
The enormous tumulus.. called HATFIELD BARROW, is situated on the East side of the area; it is of a circular form, and has a deep and wide ditch around it, which in winter is nearly full of water, although the soil consists of a greenish sand.* From having been some time in tillage, the height is probably decreased some feet; its elevation about the floor of the barrow (viz. the original soil) is at present twenty two feet and a half..
We began our operations by making a large square opening in the centre, but the tumulus being composed of sand, which continually slipped down, we afterwards carried our section in the form of an inverted cone. When at the depth of about twenty two feet on the east side of the section, and eighteen on the west side, we came to the bottom of the barrow, but from the heavy masses of sand that still continued to slip down, several days elapsed before we could clear the space of about 23 by 24ft of the floor.
... but alas! notwithstanding all our energy and exertions, we were doomed to remain in ignorance respecting the original destination of this gigantic barrow; and fortunately had not (added to our disappointment [sic?]) to regret the loss of several of our labourers, who most providentially escaped an untimely end by having been called off from their work by Mr Cunnington, at a time when the soil of the barrow appeared sound, but proved otherwise by falling in very shortly after the men had quitted their labours...
On revisiting this ground in the autumn of the year 1818, I had the unexpected mortification to find, that the great barrow had been completely levelled to the ground, and no signs remained of its previous existence.
Marden not only had its huge banks and the Hatfield Barrow - it had another mysterious mound. You can see where it was on the picture of the map above (quaintly marked 'site of tumulus'). William Cunnington described the 60m diameter feature in 1807 (he was Colt Hoare's foreman and chief Hatfield Barrow Ruiner):
"Its vallum [bank] is slightly raised and the interior rises gradually to a low apex. On digging within the area we found a few bits of old pottery, and a little charred wood but no marks of any interment."
Sixty metres is pretty big - only a little smaller than the size of Woodhenge. Mike Pitts (in Hengeworld) hints that the feature could have been a Woodhenge-style enclosure with posts, rather than a barrow.. but of course (in line with the general lack of investigation at Marden?) the spot has never been archaeologically examined...
Mike Pitts mentions the following in his 'Hengeworld' book:
In 1769, John Mayo (local vicar) wrote a letter to the Society of Antiquaries in London. A farmer had levelled part of the bank surrounding Marden the previous year and had found a human skeleton, which Mayo reckoned to have been a person "about 6ft 2 or 3 inches high."
Interestingly, he also noted that "a great many Staggs Horns were digged up." - of course, antlers have been found at many other neolithic sites (Avebury for example), having been used to dig out the giant ditches.
In Burl's 'Prehistoric Henges' he states that the huge earthworks of Marden and Durrington Walls, etc are so big, and contain so much evidence of permanent occupation, that they have to be interpreted as settlement sites, rather than 'henges'.
Clearly 'ritual' things were going on at Marden - after all, it contained the Hatfield Barrow, and even has a little henge within its boundary. But its area is huge at 14ha, much bigger than any 'normal' henge. Burl (incongruously) says you could park 16,000 cars in it if you wanted. He thinks it was more a territorial centre, with the earthworks having a defensive role, rather than being the henge itself.
Extracts from a note-book by Sir R C Hoare.
(Wilts Arch and Nat Hist Mag vol 22)
Sat. Oct 10, 1807.
Mild and fine day. Went in a chaise to Marden, a village on the right of the great road leading to Devizes. Here there is a very singular earthen work that has been unnoticed by antiquaries. From the circumstances of the ditch being on the inside, and the vallum without, we may safely pronounce it to have been a religious, not a military work. Its form, however, is not circular like that of Abury, but very irregular...
Curiosity is not alone confined to this outward and stupendous vallum. The interior of the arc contains two very interesting fragments of antiquity. A large tumulus, the third, I think, in size after Silbury and the Castle Hill at Marlborough. This tumulus is named in the map Hatfield barrow. The etymology of which, as given me by a native farmer, was derived from the unproductive quality of the soil, which occasioned it being called Hatefield.
This tumulus is not placed in the centre of the area, but towards the northern angle of it, or rather north-western. As our operations on it are not yet terminated I can give no account either of its contents or destination. From the moisture of the substratum of sand I have much doubt if we shall be able effectually to explore it.
Our workmen had a most providential escape, by being taken off to another spot by Mr Cunnington, when during their absence several ton weight of earth fell in, at a time when the floor of the barrow was nearly uncovered.
On the south-west side of the enclosure is a low circular work - very similar to one we know near Southley Wood [here?], Warminster - it is intersected by a hedge.
The manoeuvres of the day being interrupted by the heavy fall of earth, I left Marden and ascended the chalk hills...
...Returned to Everley gratified and benefitted, as usual, by my ride amongst the Britons."
To the casual observer Marden Henge might look like a field full of dandelions, but it actually belongs to the 'superhenges' that include Avebury, Mount Pleasant, Durrington and others. It's one of the largest henge monuments spanning 530m by 360m and was built c2400BC. The land it's on was cleared some time before this (they can tell from the types of snails found at the site). Excavation of the site in the 60s showed that there had been a 10.5m diameter timber structure within the henge - though the post holes were very shallow, which suggests it was open to the sky.
The henge is bordered on one side by the River Avon. It's been suggested that via the river there could have been communication between this site and the one at Durrington. These two henges are both near water - it seems that the superhenges are also associated with causewayed enclosures: Avebury with Windmill Hill, Mount Pleasant with Maiden Castle, and Marden to Rybury and Knap Hill.
The Hatfield Barrow was reputedly a mound like its neighbours at Marlborough and Silbury - Neolithic and with no burial inside. It was much smaller though, only a fifth of the size of Marlborough Mound. In 1768 the Reverend Mayo recorded that the mound was 70yds to 80yds (70ish m) in diameter and 30ft (9m) high. Regrettably it no longer exists.
William Cunnington excavated the sandy mound in October 1807. Eight men worked for him over ten days, sinking a great conical pit into the top. In the core Cunnington found some ash, some charred wood, some sherds of pot, and bones of red deer, pig, and a large bird.
Almost immediately (and hardly surprising to the workmen, surely) the sides started to fall in and the mound slumped into a heap. Great. Within a few years a tidy fellow called Mr Perry shovelled the remainder into the ditch of the henge, and by 1818 there was nothing to see.
The Marvellous Marden Henge – talk given by Jim Leary, 5th February 2011. Jim Leary talk was on the excavation which took place at Marden Henge in the summer of 2010.
Situated approximately half-way between Avebury and Stonehenge, near the head of the River Avon, it is the least known henge; there is no stone circle.
First recorded 1806 in Gough's edition of Camden's Britannia. Excavated by Richard Colt Hoare, William Cunnington and Philip Crocker in 1809.
In 1809 a shaft was sunk to the bottom of Hatfield Barrow (thought to be approximately nine metres high). The barrow, being constructed of greensand, became unstable and collapsed in on itself. Findings were published in Colt Hoare's Ancient Britain; around 1818 the mound was levelled by the farmer.
Geoffrey Wainwright did some work in 1969 and conclusively showed it was late Neolithic – the southern barrow remains, though hidden from view. The southern bank of the henge is open and faces out towards the river Avon; a geophys survey also showed there was a south-east entrance.
The most important finding of the 2010 excavation was patch of chalk on the southern bank which was almost certainly the floor of a Neolithic building; part of a hearth is visible and although excavation was not fully completed, it is thought to be the best preserved Neolithic building in England – superior even to Durrington Walls. There is a nearby midden (rubbish dump) where pig bones and highly decorated Neolithic pottery were found. Also found were two beautifully preserved flint arrowheads and two bone pins.
Jim Leary would very much like to continue the work – and we can only hope that in today's uncertain financial climate it will be possible.
"Included in the 3,500 records of items in the collections of Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes recently uploaded to the www.wiltshireheritagecollections.org.uk/ website, are records for the artefacts found at the 1969 excavation of Marden Henge, currently being excavated by English Heritage.
"The prehistoric site at Marden is 8 miles south east of Devizes and halfway between Avebury and Stonehenge. It is the largest henge monument in Britain, enclosing an area of around 14 hectares with its enormous bank and ditch. English Heritage's current excavations at Marden have resulted in more new and important discoveries being made, including the floor of a prehistoric rectangular building, estimated to be some 4,500 years old!"