Marden Henge - what do we know?

7 Aug 2010

Actually, we still know very little. The latest bit of archaeological investigation has now come to an end (see BBC News August 6th) and we know more than what was known previously - but that is not a lot as the excavations were made in just one small section of what is a huge site. Indeed, English Heritage have no say on most of the henge. So, looking around in order to find some useful information on Marden, we might take stock of some folklore associated with the place, and what better place than the Readers Digest Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain (page 168) where it is recorded that a battle is associated with the henge, between black haired and red haired people (usually interpreted as a clash between locals and Anglo Saxons and/or Vikings but possibly a battle in the sky of the kind envisaged by Baillie in The Celtic Gods). An antiquarian in the 18th century described Hatfield Barrow (inside the henge) as unusual in size (150m in diameter and 7m high), smaller than Silbury and the mound in Marlborough School grounds, but substantial, and he said it stood in an enclosure and was nearly hemispherical. It was surround by a broad trench supplied with water from a spring, and resembled a moat. Some people have suggested there was a moat at Silbury too - and Len Saunders of the SIS, wrote about this - in relation to other factors at Silbury. In the trench bog bean was growing in profusion, a useful observation as this might indicate the trench was damp throughout the year. Later on in the 18th century we learn the barrow had been ploughed over and there was wheat growing on it. In the early years of the 19th century Sir Richard Colt Hoare decided to dig into the barrow to see if there was a burial, but like Silbury - there was nothing. His diggings caused the barrow to collapse. The location of Marden on the valley bottom of the Vale of Pewsey is quite different from where barrows were normally located - on the Downs. Hence, that is again a similarity it possesses with Silbury. By 1818 the barrow or mound had completely been levelled to the ground by the farmer and apparently, the soil had been used to fill in the ditches. This has not been verified. However, there is also mention of another mound or barrow inside Marden Henge, recorded by William Cunnington, the supervisor of the workmen employed by Colt Hoare. This was also dug out and pottery and charred wood was found and considered as not of interest. Archaeologist Mike Pitts, in his book Hengeworld mentions that in the 18th century the farmer (at that time) tried to level part of the outer bank of the henge and in so doing discovered a human skeleton - as well as antler horns (used to dig out the ditch and bank).