The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian


Mersea Mount

Round Barrow(s)

Also known as:
  • Barrow Hill Farm

Nearest Town:Brightlingsea (6km NE)
OS Ref (GB):   TM022143 / Sheet: 168
Latitude:51° 47' 24.88" N
Longitude:   0° 55' 56.11" E

Added by Rhiannon

Discussion Topics0 discussions
Start a topic

Show map   (inline Google Map)


Add folklore Add folklore
He drew her to the top of the mount; there they were clear of the mist, which lay like snow below and round them, covering the morass and the water. The clear cut crescent moon hung over a clump of pines on Mersea.

Rebow looked at it, then waved an arm in the direction. "Do you see Grim's Hoe yonder? -- That great barrow with the Scotch pines on top? Do you know how it comes there? Have you heard the tale?"
Mehalah was silent.
"I will tell you, for I often think of it, and so will you when you have been told the tale. In the old times when the Danes came here, they wintered on Mersea Isle, and in the summer they cruised all along the coast, burning and plundering and murdering. There were two chiefs to them, brothers who loved one another; they were twins, born the same hour, and they had but one heart and soul; what one willed the other, what one desired that the other desired also. One spring they sailed up the creek to St. Osyth's, and there they took Osyth and killed her. She had a sister, very beautiful, and she fell to the lot of the brothers. They brought her back to Mersea, and then each would have her for his own. So the brothers fell out whose she should be, and all their love turned to jealousy, and their brotherhood to enmity, and it came about that they fought with their long swords who should have the maid. They fought, and smote, and hacked one another till their armour was broken, and their flesh was cut off, and their blood flowed away, and by nightfall they were both dead. Thereupon the Danes drew their ship up to the top of the hill just above the Strood, and they placed the maid in the hold with a dead brother on either side of her, in his tattered harness, sword in hand, and they heaped a mountain over them and buried them all, the living and the dead together."

Rebow paused, and pointed to the moon hung over the hoe. "When the new moon appears, the flesh grows on their bones, and the blood stanches, and the wounds close, and breath comes back behind their ribs. When the moon is full they rise in the ship's hold and fall on one another, and if you listen at full moon on the hoe you can hear the brothers fighting below in the heart of the barrow. You hear them swear and curse and cry out, and you hear the clash of their swords. But when the moon wanes the sounds grow fainter, their armour falls to bits, their flesh drops away, the blood oozes out of all the hacked veins, and at last all is still. Then, when there is no moon, you can hear the maid mourning and sobbing: you can hear her quite distinctly till the new moon reappears, and then she is hushed, for the brothers are recovering for a new fight. This will go on month after month, year after year, till one conquers the other and wins the maid; but that will never be, for the brothers are of the same age, and equally strong, and equally resolute."
From 'Mehalah' by the Revd Sabine Baring-Gould (1880).

Baring-Gould was reverend of East Mersea for ten years. He was quite the story-teller and wrote a huge number of books (fiction and non-fiction). It's suggested he totally invented this bloodthirsty tale - inspired no doubt by various tales he'd come across in his archaeological and folkloric researches though.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
13th February 2012ce

So sue me. I admit it, this is Roman. But it's so rare to find a Roman round barrow. And the record on Magic says "It has been suggested that they are the graves of native British aristocrats who chose to perpetuate aspects of Iron Age burial practice." This one (being in East Anglia) might be as early as the first decades of the Roman occupation. It's like an example of 'when in Rome' behaviour (or old habits die hard, if you want another phrase).

The following is from the Gentleman's Magazine for June 1840, p114.
In reading an account of Essex, I find the following: "The Borough, or rather Barrow Hills, on the north side of the Black Water Bay, were considerable in number. These tumuli are supposed to have been raised indiscriminately over the bodies of the Danes and Saxons that fell in the battles occasioned by the frequent landing of the former in this part of the coast*. The lands on which the Barrow hills stood were completely inclosed from the sea in 1807, and the whole are now levelled, ONE EXCEPTED."

This Barrow I heard was going to be cleared away for manure. I made a point of visiting it under an idea that it might be proved a Roman one; ==when I arrived at the spot, I found it to be a bowl barrow, about fourteen yards diameter, and about six or seven feet high, and rather more than half of it cut away, and what surprises me, not a single urn, bone, or ashes, nor any mark to be found; -- perhaps the barrows being mostly under water during the tide may account for the disappearance of bones, &c. if there were any placed; = or rather that the Danes and Saxons were not so careful as the Romans in preserving the remains of their friends.

I met one of the old inhabitants who lived in the parish more than forty years; he remembered the number of barrows being destroyed, and said, not a single bone or urn was ever found in them.
J. A. Repton reports.

Perhaps this barrow isn't the exact one mentioned (can the sea have come in this far? I suppose it's more than possible). But it's certainly one of those being talked of in this area.

*this sounds like a local explanation? and one so convincing that Mr Repton seems to abandon his own theory about the barrows being Roman.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
12th May 2007ce
Edited 12th May 2007ce


Add a link Add a link

Mersea Museum

Pictures of the barrow, with links to more pictures and information in the menu on the left.

There's a special talk on Wednesday 28th March to commemorate 100 years since the barrow's opening. The museum opens properly for the summer at the beginning of May.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
13th February 2012ce