The CROOKSBURY LINE at around 232 degrees would seem to be aligned to the mid-winter sunset. At just over 7 Druid Miles (DM) the line passes through St Bartholomew’s Church at Wanborough. At just over 8 DM, and on the extremity of visibility, lies the site of the Hogs Back Barrow on a high ridge which appears to be the aiming point for the midwinter sunset. The line then passes close by Hillbury Hillfort, but it is another alignment which passes through the fort itself. The line then carries on to Culverswell Barrow. Although precisely on the line it is slightly beyond the 12 DM point at the crest of the hill. Carrying on down the hill the alignment terminates between two very close tumuli known as Crooksbury Barrows. Nothing has so far been found beyond this point.
RED LETTER DAY
On 25 July 1979 I finally proved to my own satisfaction that at least one of the alignments was laid out intentionally by prehistoric peoples. I had always realised that my case would be greatly enhanced by the discovery of a previously unrecorded barrow in a precise location predetermined by myself prior to a site visit. It had seemed logical that one would be more likely to find a prehistoric site on the highest point of an alignment and so profiles were produced using the contours shown on the Ordnance Survey six inch to the mile maps. These proved very useful for the demonstration of sightlines and showed several high points where no ancient site was recorded. One of the most prominent of these was at Culverswell Hill on Crooksbury Common at the south western end of the CROOKSBURY LINE. The alignment was followed on a compass bearing from the well-preserved bowl barrows about 300 m to the South West. After negotiating some dense rhododendron bushes I emerged onto the pine covered plateau to the North West of the bluff to be confronted by a large mound surrounded by a shallow ditch. It was so obviously a barrow that it was quite beyond me that it was unknown to the Surrey Archaeological Society. The top was deeply cut by a badly eroded cross- trench indicating that it had been dug into at some time in the distant past but had remained unrecorded. The following weekend a tacheometric traverse was carried out from Littleworth Cross to the mound through the nearby Crooksbury barrows and back to the road thus establishing a grid reference for my survey pegs by the barrow to one metre of accuracy. When plotted onto the 1 to 1250 Ordnance Survey sheet it would seem to be in alignment as predicted.
The barrow has since been visited by the County Archaeologist who requested the county’s foremost expert on the Bronze Age. Mr Stuart Needham, to give his opinion. Mr Needham ruled out the alternatives such as a windmill stead, or landscaping and concluded his report by expressing great surprise that such a fine prehistoric monument had remained unrecorded in an area well known for its earthworks. I suspect that one reason is that most people walking in this area of Scots pine covered sandy hills would use the established paths. The path which crosses below the bluff affords a view up to the barrow but as no ditch is visible from the south side owing to the erosion of the slope, the earthwork appears to be merely the top of the small hill. The ditch and mound are only obvious when viewed from the North, the least accessible direction.
Letter to Dr D G Bird, County Archaeological Officer, from Stuart Needham.
ROUND MOUND ON CULVERSWELL HILL C. SU 89234561.
Thank you for notifying of this earthwork; I have recently had the opportunity of visiting the site. I found a sizeable round mound approximately 24.8m diameter and perhaps approaching 2m in height.
The top of the mound has been mutilated in the past by the digging of a cross-shaped trench, now much silted. Around roughly half of the mound’s base may be detected traces of a ditch 2.8m across and at present barely 0.2m deep. The mound is sited on the end of an eastward facing spur with steep slopes on three sides. The ditch peters out here, perhaps there having been no necessity for it, or otherwise it has been removed or concealed by a greater degree of erosion down the slopes. Inspection of the side of a foxhole suggested a possible composite mound structure, but as usual such evidence is ambiguous. The ground to the west rises gently and evenly with no indications of undulations frequent in this sort of sandy terrain resulting from natural agencies, or extractive disturbance. There are some rhododendron clumps immediately to the west of the mound, but no sign of any associated landscaping.
In my opinion the extant features – the size, circular plan, evidence for a ditch, and its siting – are strongly in favour of it being a genuine ditched bowl barrow, which would of course normally be referable to the earlier Bronze Age. Other possibilities such as a natural mound, a feature of relatively recent landscaping, or the base of a post windmill, can I think be reasonably dismissed for the present.
It really is astonishing that that such a fine upstanding monument should have escaped notice for so long in view of the proximity of the triple (sic) bell barrow on Crooksbury Common!
In the summer of 2015 the site was visited with the purpose of carrying out a GPS survey and the resultant coordinates were added to the AutoCAD database. This showed that the original survey was accurate and that the barrow was indeed perfectly on the alignment.
Exploration of potential sites had ground to a halt whilst the summer growth of 2017 was at its most prolific. With lack of outdoor research to do but with the urge to get out on a beautiful September day, I thought it would be good to see how Culverswell Barrow was looking – what a delight it was to see that it was now revealed in all it’s glory by recent forestry work.
I have previously described my interest in the possibilities of using LIDAR contours and that I have downloaded the Crooksbury area. The picture below shows the barrow located within the LIDAR contours and moved slightly to coincide with the landform. This brings it more perfectly onto the alignment and a few metres nearer to the twelve Druid Miles position. My early theodolite research, before the growth of silver birch obscured the view, suggested that the line from Whitmoor Barrow, through Hogs Back Barrow, was aligned to the mid-winter sunset.
Clicking on the PDF link below will show that the diameter is 26.5 metres (87 feet) and that the altitude is 110.25 metres.
There is a small car park about half a kilometre south of Littleworth Cross on the west side of the road and from here a forestry track goes past the barrow on the south side. Since my previous visit the site has been extensively cleared of Scots Pines and for the first time the barrow is clearly visible. In the picture below, taken from the forestry track, the barrow can be seen on the horizon in the centre of the photograph.
The picture below shows how the ground is ravaged by the extraction works but happily the barrow itself does not appear to have been much affected by the tracking of large machinery, possibly because it is dry as opposed to the more boggy ground below it where some deep tyre tracks are visible in the sandy surface.
Below is the best view I could get of the barrow showing how prominent is its position in the landscape with uninterrupted views to the South Downs.
Standing on the highest point it can be seen that the bracken is obscuring the surface and a return visit in the spring, once this has died back, is anticipated.