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STONE CIRCLES, CROMLECHS, ETC.
CIRCLES formed of upright or other stones exist in various parts of the kingdom, and are popularly known as “Druidical circles," “Druids' circles," “Druid temples,” “ Druid stones,” etc. They vary considerably in their size and characteristics, and many singular beliefs and stories are connected with them in different districts. In some places they are looked upon as the abodes of fairies, who are said there to sit in solemn conclave, and there, too, to hold their high festivals. In other places “Hob Hurst,” or “Hob i'th' Hurst,” is firmly believed to haunt, and live in, these circles (and also in some barrows), and this belief is so strong in the rustic mind that people will not, for fear of harm, pass them at certain hours—“Hob” being said to be a spiteful sprite who delights in doing mischief alike to man and to beast.
The bases of grave-mounds were frequently defined by these circles of stones, and sometimes by a
shallow ditch or fosse, and occasionally by a combination of both. To this circumstance the origin of many of the circles remaining to this day is to be traced, while there can be but little, if any, doubt that others of far larger dimensions, and of different construction, have originally also been connected with sepulchral purposes and rites. A few words on the plans and dimensions of some of the larger structures, without at all entering into the question of their various uses, will be serviceable for comparison.
Abury, the largest of our English circles, appears originally to have consisted of a circle of somewhat irregular form, measuring 1260 feet in diameter in one direction, and 1170 the other, surrounded by an agger and ditch ; and the supposed avenues leading to it extending over a mile in length, and of an average breadth of forty feet. Within this general enclosure are two other circles, the one 325, and the other 270, feet in diameter. Near it is Silbury Hill, a mound of earth 500 feet in diameter at its base, and 170 feet in height; and numerous grave-mounds are spread over the surrounding country.
Stonehenge appears to have been a circle about 300 feet in diameter, surrounded by a fosse, and having, as supposed, an avenue leading to it. In this enclosure (of which here and there a stone still exists) was the famous circle whose remains are so well known. This is about 106 feet in diameter, and, besides the inner or horse-shoe arrangement of stones, consists of a circle of small stones of a kind not found in the district, surrounded by a later circle of much larger stones, with transoms of the kind known as “Sarcens,” which occur on Salisbury Plain. “It is evident,” says Sir John Lubbock, “that Stonehenge was at one time a spot of great sanctity. A glance at the ordnance map will show that the tumuli cluster in great numbers round, and within sight of it; within a radius of three miles, there are about three hundred burial mounds, while the rest of the country is comparatively free from them. If, then, we could determine the date of these tumuli, we should be justified, I think, in referring the Great Temple itself to the same period. Now, of these barrows, Sir Richard Colt Hoare examined a great number, 151 of which had not been previously opened. Of these the great majority contained interments by cremation in the manner usual during the Bronze age. Only two contained any iron weapons, and these were both secondary interments; that is to say, the owners of the iron weapons were not the original occupiers of the tumuli. Of the other burial mounds, no less than thirty-nine contained objects of bronze; and one of them, in which were found a spear-head and pin of bronze, was still more connected with the temple by the presence of fragments, not only of Sarcen stones, but also of the blue stones which form the inner circle at Stonehenge, and which, according to Sir R. C. Hoare, do not naturally occur in Wiltshire.
Stonehenge then may, I think, be regarded as a monument of the Bronze age, though apparently it was not all erected at one time, the inner circle of small unwrought blue stones being probably older than the rest; as regards Abury, since the stones are all in their natural condition, while those of Stonehenge are roughly hewn, it seems reasonable to conclude that Abury is the older of the two, and belongs either to the close of the Stone age or to the commencement of that of Bronze. Both Abury and Stonehenge were, I believe, used as temples. Many of the stone circles have, however, been proved to be burial-places.
The large circle at Stanton Drew is about 360 feet in diameter, the average height of the stones being about twelve feet; while the average of those at Stonehenge is about twenty-one feet. “ The stones are placed at equal distances, and the number of them had probably some significance. The two inner circles at Abury, the lesser circle at Stennis, and one at Stanton Drew, each consisted of twelve; the outer circles at Abury, the outer circles and transoms at Stonehenge, the large circle at Stanton Drew, and the circle at Arbor Low, each of thirty; those of Rollrich and Stennis, each of sixty; and the large enclosing circle of Abury of one hundred stones. Four circles at Boscawen-ûn and adjacent places in Cornwall, have each been formed of nineteen stones.” A very frequent number of stones for the lesser circles was nine.