Also in Mr Britton's 1801 'Beauties of Wilshire' it's mentioned that Alfred's Tower "was erected [in 1772) by Mr. Henry Hoare, to commemorate a signal victory which Alfred obtained over the Danes near this spot... Tradition (which has commonly some foundation for its stories) says that there was so much blood shed in the above-mentioned battle, that the water was stained therewith three leagues below Christ-church."
And to link the King Alfred and the beacon stories together (see misc. post), the website devoted to the tower quotes Harper's Weekly from 1901: "Local tradition says that on Stourton hill... the beacon was lighted that summoned the men of three counties to Alfred's standard."
The site also suggests that the boundaries of those three counties (Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset) once met up here. Probably.
(ST 74573541) Jack's Castle Tumulus (GT) (1) A bell barrow, called Jack's Castle or Selwood Barrow, measuring 66ft in diameter, 10ft high, with a berm 15ft wide and 1ft deep. It was excavated by Colt Hoare and found to comprise soft sand covering a cairn of 'picked flint' which contained a primary cisted cremation burial. This was accompanied by a flat bronze dagger with a wooden sheath and a battle axe of non-ophitic dolerite, (Petrological Classn No 292) now in Devizes Museum. As described by Grinsell except that the ditch is now only traceable in the eastern half and is narrower and shallower than when he visited the barrow. Somewhat overgrown with laurel etc but undisturbed by afforestation. 1:2500 survey revised.
Here is Richard Colt Hoare's description of the same excavation:
A little to the west of Alfred's Tower is a large mound of earth, vulgarly called JACK'S CASTLE, and generally considered as one of those beacons, where in former times, fires were lighted to alarm the neighbourhood on the approach of an enemy: "And flaming beacons cast their blaze afar,
The dreadful signal of invasive war."
Its elevated situation over the great forest of Selwood, commanding a distant view of the Severn, was well adapted to such a purpose, and might have been so used; but I always had considered its original destination to have been sepulchral, and so, on opening, it proved to be.
After digging for some feet through a soft sand, we came to a thick stratum of picked flints, under which was deposited an interment of bones very minutely burned, enclosed within a cist, and amongst them a small lance head of brass, and an axe or hammer of a species of stone, called Sienite.. The lance head had been esteemed valuable by the Briton its possessor, for it was protected by a sheath of wood. The axe is one of the most perfect we have discovered, and is very nicely formed. The high antiquity of this tumulus, which I shall call SELWOOD BARROW, is satisfactorily proved by the articles found within it.
This is an interesting letter from Richard Fenton, a lawyer and author who became friends with Colt-Hoare after meeting him at Stourhead House, as he recounts below. It gives rather an insight into the way barrows were excavated at the time.
Stourton, November 14, 1807.
MY DEAR CHARLES,
Here we still are, notwithstanding the unpleasantness of the season, fascinated by the superior charms of this lovely place, where the absence of summer is so happily supplied by groves of evergreens, that winter cannot be felt.
Yesterday we partook of a treat, such as I had never been a guest at before. Hearing that it was in contemplation to open an immense tumulus with the popular name of Jack's Castle, in the vicinity of that memorable spot where Alfred's Tower rises, which had been always considered to have been a beacon, and probably might have been made use of for that purpose several hundred years after its first erection; I signified to the landlord, that if he thought there would be no impropriety in it, I should be happy to be present at this ceremony. He said he was well assured that nothing could be more gratifying to Sir Richard Hoare than the presence of any gentleman actuated by such curiosity; adding, that he would, with our permission, as it were from himself, get our wishes made known. This produced a most polite invitation from the Baronet, and we hastened to obey the summons.
The men employed to open those primitive sepulchres, and who by almost, constant experience are deeply skilled in the operation, had been sent early in the morning to prepare the work, which by twelve o'clock, when the company assembled, was in such a state of forwardness as to render every stroke of the pick-axe, and every motion of the shovel, highly critical and interesting, charcoal being perceived, the never failing criterion of its having been sepulchral. On this symptom the gentleman who presided at this business, and under whose eye the solemn process was graduated, descended into the opening that had been made, and by some minute, and to us mystic observations, feeling as it were the pulse of the barrow, was justified in pronouncing that "the consummation devoutly to be wished" was at hand; for no sooner had he pronounced this, than the cyst or factitious cavity, in which, instead of an urn, the ashes of the dead were deposited, was discovered, among which was found a stone hatchet, with a red blotch over part of it, as if it had been stained with blood, grown after a lapse of ages to look like red paint, time not having the power to efface it: this little weapon was highly finished. There was likewise a piece of a spear's head, of brass or mixed metal, the produce of countries more civilized, the effect of barter, for it hardly can be supposed that a people who had the means of fabricating such a weapon of metal would submit to the slow and tiresome process of resorting to stone and flint.
Extracted from Richard Fenton's 'A Barrister's Tour through Somerset . . .' and taken from Richard Soar's 'Barn Elms' website at http://www.barnelms.com/
(Without the trees would this site have been intervisible with White Sheet Hill? Read petroglyph sid's remarks on the link - Alfred's Tower is very close to the barrow)