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Snail Down

Barrow / Cairn Cemetery


The writer was.. fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of a Mr. M---, who was born in Everleigh about 1880. Mr. M---, a gardener, knew a number of legends and traditions which, he said, "were handed down to me from my grandfather." Many of his points were corroborated by other villagers of his generation.

Very little information could be obtained about local reaction to the [1950s] excavation, but the general feeling seemed to be that it was regarded as faintly improper - an act of disturbing the dead.. The local aetiology of the place-name Snail Down .. was given thus; "Snail Down is called that because of the number of snails you find on it." In actual fact the area is unusually poor in mollusc life.. Mr L. V. Grinsell.. suggests that a double bell-barrow amongst the Snail Down group, when viewed from a certain angle, has the appearance of a giant snail in motion, and this may well be the true explanation.

The barrows in the group (there are at least thirty) are locally explained as the burial places of "the people killed in the battle of Sidbury Hill." The latter is crowned by an Iron Age hill fort which looms over the downs..

...A remarkable and genuine example of folk-memory occurred during the [Snail Down] excavation. It was known that Sir Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington of Devizes had already dug the two barrows which were being examined.. It was the practice of this cautious and enlightened antiquary [WC] to place a small bronze disc, bearing his name and the date, in the sites which he dug and filled in, and one such, with the inscription "William Cunnington - 1805", was discovered, together with the actual mark in the chalk made by the workman's spade at the time.
An old shepherd who frequented the downs, and who gave his age as 77, volunteered the information that he, as a boy, had spoken to an old man (who died at the age of 93), and that this old man could remember people digging up the barrows on Snail Down, an act for which, it was alleged, they had been put in prison! If the old man had died about 1880-1885, he would have been between 13 and 18 when Cunnington excavated: since the shepherd was born in 1876, he could have been a boy of nine or ten when the old man quitted this life. Links of two generations spanning 150 years are, according to The Sunday Times, not uncommon, but it is still satisfactory to find such an interesting and unusual one. The gloss of the "imprisonment", it is suggested, may reflect local opinion of Cunnington's desecration of the dead.
Folklore from a Wiltshire Village
Charles Thomas
Folklore, Vol. 65, No. 3/4. (Dec., 1954), pp. 165-168.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
1st October 2006ce
Edited 1st October 2006ce

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