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Folklore Posts by wysefool

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Uffington White Horse (Hill Figure)

'One great occasion in the Vale was the pastime accompanying the scouring of Uffington's White Horse. It usually took place in Uffington Castle but occasionally moved to Kingston Lisle or Seven Barrows Farm...'

From 'Rural Life in the Vale of the White Horse' by Nigel Hammond.


Interesting that the festival didn't always take place at Uffington Castle:

The Kingston Lisle site must be because Mr Atkins owned the Estate there (and it's reasonably close by, and must have had an inn or tavern).

Seven Barrows Farm (near the Lambourn Seven Barrows site) may have been in the area of the barrows, but after you've finished scouring, that's a fair trek across the downs (you'd probably go past Rams Hill and head towards it that way). Did they get the payment in beer on the hill (and therefore wandered drunk over to Seven Barrows Farm) or when they arrived?

Wayland's Smithy (Long Barrow)

If you along the Rudgeway go,
About a mile for aught I know,
There Wayland's cave then you may see,
Surrounded by a group of trees.

They say that in this cave did dwell
A smith that was invisible;
At last he was found out, they say,
He blew up the place and vlod away.

To Devonshire then he did go,
Full of sorrow, grief and woe,
Never to return again;
So here I'll add the shepherd's name -

Job Cork.

'Job Cork's poem also indicates the site had trees around it before those planted by Lord Craven in 1810.' - Clive Alfred Spinnage

Uffington White Horse (Hill Figure)


'The Great Mare', the goddess of a horse cult who is most likely to be identified with the Irish édáin echraidhe or macha and the welsh Rhiannon. As goddess of horses, she was of great importance within a horse-based culture such as that of the Celts. Her image appears on over 300 stones in Gaul, although rarely in Britain, and she is usually depicted riding side-saddle. In Romano-Celtic imagery she is constantly associated with corn, fruit and, strangely, serpents (my italics) - strangely because serpents are natural enemies of the horses. These associations led her also being considered a goddess of fertility and nourishment.

Extract from Celtic Myth and Legend by Mike-Dixon-Kennedy.


A nice connection between a horse and a serpent? the white horse and dragon hill?


Blowing Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

'Famous among local relics is the Blowing Stone, moved from the Ridgeway to Kingstone Lisle and to be seen at a farm below Blowing Stone Hill. A mournful wail is achieved by blowing into a hole in this stone. Some say this was the stone used by King Alfred for summoning his troops, others that it is of Druidical origin, and a third opinion places it among many large stones found locally and believed to be survivals of the ice age.'

The Berkshire Book
by the Berkshire Federation of Women's Institutes

Uffington White Horse (Hill Figure)

extract from:

Exploring the Ridgeway by Alan Charles

'... The cleaning of the horse (the scouring) was an important part of the open-air festivals that took place on the hill at intervals of seven years or so until 1857. These were great occasions for games, competitions, dancing, singing and drinking. It was reported that 30,000 people atened the festival in the year 1780. A local saying tells us that 'while men sleep, the Horse climbs up the Hill'. This is not as outrageous as it sounds, for as the soil falls away from the upper edges and exposes more of the chalk, and the lower edges silt up and become colonized by grass, so the horse does indeed climb the hill!

Scutchamer Knob (Artificial Mound)

extract from 'Berkshire' by Ian Yarrow

'There are various ways of spelling this name, of which Cwichelmeslaew, the burial-place of Cwichelm, is the most difficult to spell and pronounce. Scutchamer is believed by some to be a corruption of Scotchman's Knob, while others see in it a reference to Captain Scutchamer, a gentlemen killed in the Civil Wars. The "Knob" in its grove may have been a barrow, but nothing has been found inside it that will settle the matter, though some Iron Age pottery discovered in the surrounding ditch may indicate its age. Birinus, the missionary, preached from here in the seventh century, and shire moots sat on it.'

with the original name of the site being 'Cuckhamsley' (deriving from Cwichelmshlaew), where does the 'Scutch' come from? To Scutch is to separate fibres (i.e. flax) and I assume the same is true of wool. The Berkshire Downs were reknowned for sheep and sheep fairs (east ilsley), and I have read (but can't find it among the library - argh!) a reference to Scutchamers Knob being used as a meeting place for a sheep fair.

Given the distance from 'the Knob' to East Ilsley sheep fair, maybe it was a place the shepherds and flocks stayed at, the night before arrival at the fair?


A 'scotch' can be a tool for 'scutching', although the fact that the site is sometimes referred to as Scotsmans Knob (that's quite an unplesant thought if you're a sassenach) may also be because one of the tracks just before the knob goes north! (i.e. to Scotland).


Thats quite enough about knobs, i'm off to look at knockers ( you idiot, there's somebody at the door)

Blowing Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

This stone, which utter'd many a blast,
In silence lay for ages past,
By man unheard, by man unseen.
Tradition said it once had been,
And that for miles its loud alarms
Were heard, when Alfred blew to arms;
And this tradition had it still
The stone was on the White Horse Hill.
From sire to son the Blow Stone tale
Thus circles round the White Horse Vale.

In recent times this stone was found,
Imbedded near the battle ground.
The wandering shepherds first saw there
And Atkins has preserved with care
This mystic remnant of the day
When Alfred ruled with regal sway;
And when the wise decrees of fate
Made friend and foe confess him great,
This trumpet loudly did proclaim
His wars, his wisdom, and his fame.

- from a poem entitled A Day on the Downs, 1855

Wayland's Smithy (Long Barrow)

"...Then let my tale be told,
While yet my stones stand firm on English mould,
To those among ye who yet love our tongue,
How Wayland the Smith forged here of old."

K M Buck, The Song of Wayland

Hangman's Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

From White Horse Hill and Surrounding Country by L V Grinsell.

'There is another Hangmanstone, 4+1/2 feet high, south of the Lambourn Seven Barrows, and many others exist in southern England, some being connected with a legend of a man whoe stole sheep and rested at the stone with the sheep tied by a cord; but in its efforts to get away the sheep twisted the cord round the man's neck and strangled him. This legend has not, however, been recorded of the Berkshire stones, so far as I know.'

Compare with som text from; Memories of Old Berkshire, by Jane M Taylor O.B.E.

'By the side of a lonely road near where we lived is a very large, rather flat stone, known locally as 'Hangman Stone'. The story is that a man stole a sheep, tied it by the legs and hung it around his neck to carry it home. He grew tired, and sat down on the stone to rest. The sheep struggled and the cord hanged the man; and to this day that road is called Hangman Stone Lane, and it is still haunted by the ghost of the sheep stealer.'

Whiteleaf Cross (Christianised Site)

from 'Chiltern Country' by H J Massingham (1944)

'...50 feet high by 25 long, from a pyramidal base (Bledlow Cross has none) 340 feet wide. It can be seen from Shotover and many a point in the vale, just as the White Horse can from Faringdon Folly and many a point in the vale. The Sinodun Hills are visible from Whiteleaf and the blue veil of the Berkshire Downs as though let down from heaven. The Cross saw and was meant to be seen with the range of the falcon.

As I argued in a book written some years ago, it has stood or rather leaned against the bluff above the Way from the time when tin ingots on men's shoulders, flint from the factories at Grime's Graves, wool-tods on pack horses, sheep, cattle and ponies, chapmen and pedlars, pilgrims and soldiery passed along the Ridge Way on the summit, first as a solar or phallic sign and from the eighteenth century onwards as a cross.'

Wayland's Smithy (Long Barrow)

Norse (or Teutonic) Mythology

Wayland (alt: Weland, Volund, Vulcan et al) appears in various guises in various mythologies (even Ancient Greece!). In the Northern Mythology he and his brothers come into contact with the Valkyrs, beautiful ladies with swan plummage who can fly, only to lose them later. Wayland pursues his love with zeal and this causes him to be captured and enslaved. He is put to work creating weapons of magical power and during his capture suffers the loss of an eye and a cut achilles hill resulting in a lame leg.

I thoroughly recommend anyone interested in wayland smithy to read up on the Norse Mythology for the full story, it is truly a wonderful tale.

The Saxons have many mythological associations with the Norse tradition and you can see how the story of Wayland has been carried from Remote Scandinavia, through mainland Europe and with the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, into England and then to leafy Oxfordshire.

Although the folklore relates to the Anglo-Saxon mythology of a Neolithic Long barrow (many thousands of years difference!), it is still an interesting aside.

Tied up with Wayland Smithy are a number of stones and barrows relating to the tale. Wittich's Hill, a barrow (Wittich was the son of Wayland) and Beaghild's burial place (a princess whom Wayland ravished), another barrow are but two in the local area.

the secret passage

There is some folklore concerning Waylands that a secret passage lies underneath it and opens up in Ashbury coombes (a mile or so away). Shepherds in the late 19th century used to strike a crowbar into the ground near to the 'cave' (as it was then before reconstruction in the 1960s) and hear a hollow sound.

I guess they were half right! Later archaeology helped us understand that Waylands had a number of stages of construct. The hollow sound was likely to have been an earlier grave lying underneath the present sarsen faced long barrow.

I have also read of the secret passage connecting to White Horse Hill. The two sites seem always to be closey linked in folklore.

Dragon Hill (Artificial Mound)

Ah, the old story of St George and the Dragon is attached to Dragon Hill, as it is to many places. Could it be a big analogy? Is St George the Christian faith and the Dragon the Pagan one? Such a significant place of heathen worship for centuries (nee Millennia) must have had to have been conquered.

Wayland's Smithy (Long Barrow)

Female and Male stones?

The huge sarsens that guard the front of the tomb are four in number. Two other original large stones are missing. Are they in any particular shape? I have always looked at the lozenge (or diamond) shaped stones as female (think hips!) and the thinner more upright stones as male (think phallus!). This appears to be the case at Waylands Smithy (look at some of the piccies). I think the missing one on the left hand side was male and the missing one on the right hand side middle was female.

The avenue at Avebury sometimes leads me to a similar conclusion with male and female stones.

Scutchamer Knob (Artificial Mound)

from BERKSHIRE by F G Brabant (1911)

This entry is in an old book about Berkshire from 1911. It does mention the 'knob' as being a barrow, but I imagine every lump was termed a barrow in those days.

Scutchamore Knob is a remarkable barrow on the ridge of the downs, two and a half miles S. of East Hendred. It stands in the centre of a fine clump of beeches, and a large hole has been dug on its N. side. The name is a corruption of Cwichelm's hlaew (or hill), which has also been altered to Schoomchamfly. Cwichelm was a chieftan or prince in authority under the King of Wessex, and he may well have defended the line of the downs against the advance of the Mercians, as his son Cuthred did, somewhat later. In 871, the Danes, after leaving Reading, are said in the Saxon Chronicle to have 'turned along Ashdown to Cwichelm's hlaew' just before the battle of Ashdown. In 1006 the Danes, after burning Wallingford and Cholsey, turned again to Cwichelm's hlaew, and stayed there out of bravado, because it had often been said that if they came to Cwichelm's hlaew they would never go to the sea.

Blowing Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

The blowing stone legend is related to King Alfred, like many places in the local area. The victorians were very fond of King Alfred and romanticised him heavily. The statue of him in the marketplace at Wantage is a lasting testiment to their love of the 'first english king'.

The legend concerns the battles of King Alfred against the mighty Dane. It is said that he called his armies to battle by using the blowing stone as a huge horn which echoed around the vale (of the white horse).

I have found many references to the blowing stone being moved from somewhere on the ridgeway to its present position. This seems very likely. The legend is surely just a legend created much later in the life of the blowing stone.

Could it be more like a continuation of a pre-christian (i.e. heathen) tradition of 'kissing the stone' - pagan stone worship in the 21st Century? in the middle of rural Oxfordshire?

maybe, maybe not but you kiss the blarney stone in Ireland as well...

Scutchamer Knob (Artificial Mound)

Scutchamer Knob was once a 'moot' or 'gemot' place in Anglo-Saxon times. This basically means a 'meeting place' and was used for the local Anglo-Saxon leaders as a sort of 'Berkshire Parliament'. (Originally it was in Berkshire but the boundaries between Berkshire and Oxfordshire changed in the mid 1970's).

Local law and justice would have been decided here. The tradition of meeting outdoors to deal with important matters, as opposed to indoors, has its roots in the Germanic (i.e. A-S).

It was at this place that criminals would be tried and sentenced (sometimes to death). See 'Kilman knoll' nearby on the OS map as a possible site for the hangings.

Originally named 'Cwicchelmeshlaew' (or variaitions on the spelling), the place literally meant 'the law of Cwichelm' and referred to one of the early Wessex Anglo-Saxon sub-kings (a long time before Alfred the Great). This gives a date of use in the early Anglo-Saxon period, early in the 600's AD.

The place became symbolic in the later viking invasions and expansion into the area. The Wessex Anglo-Saxons were some of the last to resist the mighty and all-conquering viking invasions. It was sad if the vikings ever reached as far as Scutchamer Knob, then they wouldn't escape alive. This was reached by the vikings and sort of came true. Alfred led the local Saxons to victory against the Danes in the Battle of Ashdown in the year 871 AD somewhere in the local area (there are various places suggested for this site). The invaders were beaten and retreated back to Reading. This was a pivotal point in Anglo-Saxon times as the vikings had never suffered such a defeat on a large scale before. Although Alfred the Great suffered further defeat at the hand of the viking hordes and ended up fleeing to the Somerset marshes later, it showed they could be beaten.

Scutchamer Knob has had an important place to play in the history of England. The Anglo-Saxons of the kingdom of Wessex came out stronger than the other A-S kingdoms of England at the time of the viking invasions and went to to form the country we now know as England. Out of Wessex, came England.

Blewburton Hill (Hillfort)

Realting to the naming of Blewbury village... Which came first? the hillfort? or the village? I suspect the village nearby was named after the iron age hillfort. The placename evidence suggests that the latter part of the placename of the village of Blewbury, the 'bury' is a derivative of 'burh' or 'byrig' in Anglo-saxon times. This means 'Hill fort'. Although not all placenames that end in 'bury' mean 'hillfort', many do relate to an ancient structure, be it, barrow or hill fort.

An early recording of the placename in the year 944 is 'Bleobyrig'. After the Normans came, it was recorded in the DB in 1086 as 'Blidberia'. What a difference a new ruler makes in terms of culture (and indeed, spelling!)

So then, the village was named after the iron age hillfort.

Lord Wantage Monument Barrow (Round Barrow(s))

The monument to Lord Wantage positioned high up on the ridgeway, is rumoured to be built upon a bronze age barrow. I have come across a reference to this a few times in some local research. Lord Wantage was a soldier and became a local landowner. He is most rembered for his services in the Crimean war and for the success of Ardington (a nearby village) as a model farming village, providing work for the local agricultural community in hard times.

Given the high up position (common for the siting of a lot of barrows of the bronze age), this wouldn't suprise me.

In the area around the monument are some other barrow sites (marked on OS Explorer 170 map). This again is additional evidence.
Live near the Ridgeway and most interested in sites 'up the rudge'.

Hates: people leaving rubbish at Wayland Smithy (groan, gripe, rant, rage, dribble etc!)

Loves: people taking their rubbish away with them in bags. And yes, that includes nitelites, coins (at least make them silver!), glass, sweet wrappers and dog ends.

Q. what's brown and sticky?
A. try collecting firewood at Waylands.
THINK. would you shit in a church?

... ... ... here endeth the rant

} cUrReNt NoNsEnSe {

Doesn't pagan to a roman just mean some old person who lives in the sticks?

"Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?"

"God dammit Jim, I'm a Doctor not a Dealer"

"We have sat waiting like this many times before. Sometimes I tire... of the fighting and killing. At night, I can hear the call of my race. They wait for me. When I join them, we will be forgotten."

"We're dealing with a Gnome! A Devil!... A Devil? Now you listen to me. The Devil in the Keep wears a black uniform, has a Death's Head in his cap, and calls himself a Sturmbannführer!"

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