The new Ashmolean Museum in Oxford was opened to the public last weekend 7/8th November.
Today, I had some spare time and as it was wet and windy it was a perfect day to visit. The ground floor is given over to the Ancient World. Unfortunately the European Prehistory room is not ready yet (I was told to give it another month)... continues...
I don't understand how the traditional rhyme isn't already written here. So I don't apologise for the length of the following:
[...] Folklore and science, romance and archaeology, the unlearned and the learned, have all contributed answers [to the meaning of the stones]. From the folklore of the neighbourhood we have gleaned the story of the stones which has undoubtedly proved the most popular, and which will probably be attached to them as long as they stand. Indeed it is probable that if we searched the whole of England we should not find a site in which the folklore is a more living thing.
The story is well-enough known, but here it is:--
A certain King set out to conquer all England and had arrived at the head of his forces at the hill on which Rollright stands. He had almost reached its crest when a witch who claimed the ground appeared and stopped him with the words -
Seven long strides shalt thou take and
If Long Compton thou canst see
King of England thou shalt be.
Exulting greatly, thinking his victory assured, the King called out -
Stick, stock, stone,
As King of England I'll be known.
and took the seven long strides, when, lo! there arose before him a mound of earth, which at the completion of the strides prevented him from seeing the village of Long Compton below. The witch then pronounced the doom --
As Long Compton thou canst not see,
King of England thou shalt not be,
Rise up stick, stand still stone,
For King of England thou shalt be none.
Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be,
And I myself an eldern tree.
And so it came about.
[...] The elder is abundant all around the stones and several bushes have been pointed out as that embodying the witch. If you find the right one and cut it her blood oozes out, and the stones are seen to shiver, in an endeavour to come to life, for when the witch's blood is drawn her spell is broken and the King and his army will pursue their triumphant march.
On Midsummer eve, when the elder was in bloom it was formerly the custom for people to come to the King Stone and stand in a circle. Then an elder bush near by was cut and those present have affirmed that the King moved his head. The inhabitants of the district have, however, a dread of breaking the spell, and the writer was told, not so long ago, that those of Long Compton will not burn elder sticks in their grates.
The fairies dance round the King Stone of nights. One Will Hughes, of Long Compton, now gathered to his fathers, had seen them. They were little folk, he said, like little girls to look at. His wife's mother, who had been murdered as a witch, remembered a hole in the bank out of which the fairies came, and she and her playmates had often placed a flat stone over the opening to keep them in, but it had always been turned over before the morning. Folklore and religion blend in the attitude felt towards the spot and Sir Arthur Evans tells of a labourer who always went to the stones on Good Friday, for there he would be on Holy ground.
Away to the south-east on the edge of the large field in which the circle is situated, is a rather jumbled group of five large stones, called the Whispering Knights, which are said to be five treacherous officers who had detached themselves from the King's army and were plotting treason when the spell operated. They have their own particular piece of folklore and at midnight are said to run down the hill to drink at a spring in little Rollright spinney, every night according to some, only at special seasons according to others. At dusk, it is said, you can hear them whispering to each other.
Many of the stories attached to Rollright are to be found in other parts of Europe, and it is evident that we have in them something more than local superstition, but the subject is too great to be discussed here.
Another legend says that the stones become men at midnight, join hands and dance round in a circle and in Cornwall the name "Stone Dance" is attached to such circles as Rollright, the explanation there being that they are dancers turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath.
[...] Rollright and its kindred circles were to the prehistoric people who erected and used them, places as sacred as our cathedrals and churches are to us to-day. That it should come, as it did yesterday afternoon, under the auctioneer's hammer in a public saleroom, would have filled our ancestors, could they have foreseen and understood such a contingency, with the same kind of horror we should feel if the same auctioneers were to offer Westminster Abbey to the highest bidder.
From an article in the Banbury Guardian, 30th June 1927.
This is a very British (i.e. a somewhat awkward, but rather endearingly so) trumpeting of the stone. The besuited Mr Chadwick is an accomplished musician in his other videos, so it must be nice for him to add Blowing Stone to his list of instruments.
I was struck by how similar the sound is to the carnyx - like those on the Gundestrup cauldron (you can hear some on this video ) - or is that just me overthinking things :)
Summary of Proceedings of the Bath Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club for the years 1865-6.
[...] The first [Excursion] of the season, to Wantage, the Berkshire White Horse, and Uffington, was a success in every way, due chiefly to the admirable arrangements made by Mr. Wasbrough for the transit and conveyance of the members. Under this gentleman's guidance the chief points of interest in the birth place of King Alfred were visited [...]. Leaving Wantage the members proceeded in carriages to the foot of the Downs, and essayed a blast upon the blowing stone (a mass of perforated silicious sandstone, said to have been formerly used for sounding an alarm over the neighbouring country).
The united efforts of all Bath were unable to produce a sound from the trumpet shaped hole. A native trumpeter, however, being found was more successful, and satisfied all present that when in its original place on the top of the Downs a most effective alarm could be raised.
Mr Aubrey's account of it is this. "About a mile [or less] from the Hill [White-Horse Hill] there are a great many large stones, which though very confused, must yet be laid there on purpose. Some of them are placed edgwise, but the rest are so disorderly, that one would imagine, they were tumbled out of a cart."
The disorder which Mr Aubrey speaks of, is occasioned, by the people having thrown down some of the stones (for they all seem originally to have been set on edge) and broken them to pieces to mend their highways. Those that are left, enclose a piece of ground of an irregular figure at present, but which formerly might have been an oblong square, extending duly North and South.
On the eastside of the Southern extremity, stand Three Squarish flat stones of about four or five feet over each way, set on edge, and supporting a Fourth of much larger dimensions, lying flat upon them. These altogether form a Cavern or sheltering place.
[...] All the account, which the country people are able to give of it, is "At this place lived formerly an invisible Smith; and if a traveller's Horse had lost a Shoe upon the road, he had no more to do, than to bring the Horse to this place, with a piece of money, and leaving both there for some little time, he might come again and find the money gone, but the Horse now shod." The stones standing upon the Rudge way as it is called; (which was the situation, that they chose for burial monuments) I suppose, gave occasion to the whole being called WAYLAND-SMITH; which is the name it was always known by to the country people.
From 'A letter to Dr Mead' by Francis Wise (1738).
After this manner our Horse is formed, on the side of an high and steep hill, facing the North west. His dimensions are extended over an acre of ground, or thereabouts: his Head, Neck, Body and Tail, consist of one white line; as does also each of his Four Legs. This is done by cutting a trench into the chalk, of about two or three feet deep, and about ten feet broad. The Chalk of the trench being of a brighter colour, than the turf which surrounds it, the rays of the afternoon's Sun darting upon it makes the whole figure visible for ten or a dozen, nay fifteen miles, if I am rightly informed.
The Horse at first view is enough to raise the admiration of every curious spectator, being designed in so masterlike a manner, that it may defy the painter's skill, to give a more exact description of that animal: which were it not so apparent, would hardly gain belief with an antiquary, who considers to how low an ebb the art of drawing was sunk at that time; as appears from the works of their best makers, the Saxon coins, and the jewel of King Alfred, described by Dr Hickes and others, and now preserved in the Museum at Oxford.
If we consider it further, we must otherwise allow, that no small skill in Opticks was requisite, both for the choice of the ground, and for disposing rude lines, as they appear to a person on the spot, in such a manner, as to form so beautiful a representation.
And again, if durability was intended, the ingenuity of the artist will appear still greater. For from its barren soil, and steep situation, it has nothing to fear from the inroads of the plough, the grazing of larger cattle, or the stagnation of waters; all of which contribute more or less to efface things of this sort.
When I saw it, the Head had suffered a little, and wanted reparation; and the extremities of his hinder legs from their unavoidable situation, have by the fall of rains been filled up in some measure with the washings of the upper parts; so that in the nearest view of him, the Tail, which does not suffer the same inconvenience, and has continued entire from the beginning, seems longer than his legs. The supplies which nature is continually affording, occasion the turf on the upper verge of his body, for want of continuity, to crumble, and fall off into the white trench, which in many years time produces small specks of turf, and not a little obscures the brightness of the Horse.
Though there is no danger from hence of the whole figure being obliterated; yet the neighbouring inhabitants have a custom of Scouring the Horse, as they call it; at which time a solemn festival is celebrated, and manlike games with prizes exhibited, which no doubt had their original in the Saxon times, in memory of the victory.
This falling of the turf into the trench is the reason likewise, why the country people erroneously imagine, that the Horse, since his first fabrication, has shifted his quarters, and is got higher upon the Hill, than formerly.
Francis Wise, who is convinced it's all down to the Saxons (and unfairly rubbishes the latter's drawing skills to compound his error), in 'A letter to Dr Mead concerning some antiquities in Berkshire' (1738).
Between the Ickleton-way and White-horse-hill, under the Horse, stands a large Barrow, which the common people living hereabouts, call DRAGON-HILL, and they have a tradition, that "Here St George killed the Dragon." The Horse too is brought into the Legend, as belonging to that Saint, who is usually pictured on Horse-back. They shew besides a bare place on the top of it, which is a plain of about forty or fifty yards over, where the turf, I don't know by what means, can gain no footing; which they imagine proceeds "from the venemous blood that issued from the Dragon's wound."
Francis Wise: 'A letter to Dr Mead concerning some antiquities in Berkshire' (1738).
It's funny how sometimes fate lends a hand and you end up being back at a place a lot sooner than expected!
Following an overnight stop in Northamptonshire (to visit a couple of English Heritage sites) I had planned to take a different route home but fate (or my poor map reading!) led us past the Rollright Stones again.
Dafydd was happy with this as he stayed in the car yesterday as he was having a bit of a 'temper tantrum'. Once he had calmed down he really wanted to see the circle but by them we were miles away heading north.
This time we first crossed the road to see the Kings Stone (I told him the story) and then back to the stone circle. Luck was on our side again as most people were either on their way back to their cars or heading over to the Whispering Knights. There were only a couple of people at the circle. I showed Dafydd the entrance and we walked anti-clockwise around the circle (why do I always seem to go anti-clockwise when walking around a stone circle?)
The sun was still shining and despite a few more fluffy white clouds in evidence the weather was even warmer than yesterday. The added bonus was there was no 'boom, boom, boom' to be heard! Wlaking around I spotted many coins pushed into various holes and several ribbons tied to the branches of nearby trees.
It was an unexpected treat to be back so soon. It goes to show - you never kniow................. :)
Only two years since my last visit? Seems longer.
Some sites have that affect.
The more I visit the Rollrights the more I like them.
The sun was shining brightly and there was not a breath of wind. It was very warm as I approached the gate. Luckily a coach load of American tourists were just leaving so when I got to the circle there was only a couple of people there. Luck was certainly with me as they too shortly left and I managed to have the circle to myself for about 5 minutes.
The surrounding fields had been harvested and in the distance the sun painted pretty patches of light and shadows across the fields. All was picture perfect.
The only thing to spoil the occasion was some muppet in the lay by who obviously thought everyone wanted to hear his/her 'boom, boom, boom' type of music blasting from his/her car. Grrrr.
All too soon other people arrived so I headed back to the car and away from the 'boom, boom, boom'. Hopefully things will me more tranquil and atmospheric on my next visit - whenever that is?
If you have never visited the Rollrights, make sure it is somewhere near the top of your 'to do' list.