S'dale Barrows
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Just on the Chobham - Sunningdale parish boundary lies several bronze-age barrows.

The OS map shows one small barrow in the garden of Heatherside / Round Barrow House in the Ridgemount Rd.  This has not been excavated.

The major barrow lay just inside the Chobham parish border south of the clubhouse of Sunningdale Golf Course (SCC SMR 1863; map ref SU952664).  It does not seem to have survived - except maybe as a raised tee.  When it was opened in December, 1901, it contained twenty-three cinerary urns and two cremated interments without urns.  Of these seven urns are in Reading Museum; one and fragments in Guildford Museum; one in private hands at Sunningdale.  The Surrey Heath Museum has reproductions and a fragment.

The following describes the excavation of the barrow.  It is a transcription of Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Series II., Vol. XXI., p. 303.  It was reproduced in the Surrey Archaeological Collections, Vol 35, p17 - published by the Surrey Archaeological Society 1924.

"0. A. Shrubsole Esq. read the following paper on a tumulus containing urns of the Bronze Age, near Sunningdale Berks, and on a burial place of the Bronze Age at Sulham, Berks. (Note.-Sunningdale is on the Berkshire-Surrey border, but the Barrow is in Surrey.-E. Gardner)

In December 1901, Mr. W. G. Craig of Camberley, communicated to the Curators of the Reading Museum the fact that, in the course of laying out the ground for Golf Links at Sunningdale, he had met with some ancient pottery (believed by him to be Roman) with a request that the matter might be investigated.

On visiting the spot it was seen that three British urns had been unearthed in the course of removing earth from the top of a mound which was intended to be a 'teeing' place.

This mound was in fact, although not so indicated on the ordnance Survey Map, a round barrow of large size, situated on a part of the heather-clad tract known as Chobham Common, a little over 200 feet above the sea level, and about a furlong South of Sunningdale Station. It was about 6 feet in height and 75 feet in diameter.

Permission having been obtained from Mr. T. R. Roberts it was decided at once to open the barrow. For this purpose Mr. Craig lent us some of his workmen, and under the supervision of Mr. T. W. Colyer, the Assistant Curator at the Reading Museum, and myself, a trench four feet wide was cut through the barrow from North to South, and was carried to a depth slightly below the original surface level. A similar trench was subsequently cut at right angles to this. In digging these trenches, and in previous shallow excavations, eleven urns, and one interment of cremated bones without an urn, were met with, all more or less near the surface of the mound: but we did not find any primary interment or any indication of one, although the excavation was considerably widened at the centre of the barrow, and was continued to two feet below the natural surface, as great a depth as was possible at the time. As the ground was required by the contractors, and as we found no disturbance of the soil or anything affording us any encouragement to go further I had the trenches filled in. While the result is not absolutely conclusive, I think there is some high probability that there was no primary interment in this case.

We then turned over the soil of the mound with the result that twelve more urns were brought to light. In all eleven urns were found in the normal or upright position, and twelve were inverted. In addition to these, in two instances we found cremated remains without an urn, deposited in hollows about 18 inches deep, which had been lined with pieces of soft sandstone, and covered over with a slab of conglomerate. Both these materials were probably derived from the local gravel.

There is evidence therefore of 25 interments, with a distinct preference for the South West side of the mound; for on the North West, North East, and South East sides, taken together, there were only seven interments, and these were near the middle. This preference for the sunny side, is of course in accordance with custom, but it is noteworthy that even the South East side has been neglected, as will be seen by the ground plan.

Some of the urns were found about a foot below the present surface, others were quite near the surface; but it should be mentioned that some years previously the barrow had been lowered about two feet by a former occupier of the land, with the result that most of the urns were mutilated and some possibly destroyed. Very few have been obtained entire. In most cases according to position, either the top or bottom of the urn has been removed. Fortunately in the cases where the urns were inverted, we have been enabled to see the nature of the ornamentation. It is to be regretted that this interesting series of urns has been to a large extent dispersed before all of them could be properly examined, repaired, and figured. Mr. Roberts however kindly presented seven of the portions of urns to the Reading Museum, and these have been carefully restored as far as practicable by Mr. T. W. Colyer, who also rendered valuable assistance in the work of investigation. The notes taken of the remainder are necessarily imperfect, and with regard to three of them we have no details.

The following is a summary of the results:

No.

Condition.

Present Height. Inches.

Dia Inches.

Position.

Shape, etc.

1

Upper part nearly gone

16

15

Upright

Cup shaped. A fillet impressed with dots 3 inches below rim.

2

Upper part gone

12

15

Upright

Barrel shape. No ornament now visible.

3

Imperfect

Inverted

-

4

Lower half gone

8 1/2

16

Inverted

Nearly cylindrical. Plain fillet below rim. Well baked.

5

Imperfect

15

Upright

-

6

Fragments

14

Upright

-

7

Upper half gone

7

14

-

No ornament now visible.

8

Lower part gone

9

13 1/2

Inverted

Cylindrical. Rim marked by dots: 1 inch below it is a band with punctured holes. 3 1/2 inches below it a fillet with finger impressions.

9

Upper part gone

- Upright

-

10

Fragments

Upright

-

11

No urn -

- -

Ashes deposited in hollow lined with stones and covered by slab.

12

Restored: base smashed

16

18

Inverted

Flower-pot shape, slightly contracted at top, rim projecting. 3 1/2 inches below it a narrow fillet, with impressed dots. Part of a plain vessel 4 3/4 inches in diameter found in the urn. This is the largest of the urns.

13

Slightly damaged

Upright

On foundation of sandstone fragments.

14

Base gone

7

9 1/2

Inverted

On foundation of sandstone fragments. Similar fragments were packed round the urn. Barrel shaped, cracked, a hole drilled each side of the crack. Plain fillet 3 1/2 inches from rim. Part of a vessel 4 inches in diameter found inside.

15

Fragments

Inverted

-

16

Imperfect

Inverted

-

17

Base gone

8

10

Inverted

Barrel shaped; found on a basis of soft sandstone.  Some fragments also shown.

18

No urn -

- -

Similar to No. 11.

19

Fragments

Inverted

-

20

Fragments

Inverted

21

Fragments

Inverted

22

Entire

9

7

Inverted

Barrel shaped; base rounded. Four bosses on the urn, which is the smallest of the series; a flint "strike-light" was found inside.

23

No particulars

- -

-

24

No particulars

- -

-

25

No particulars

- -

-

The urns are all of course hand-made pottery, from 2 to 4 inch in thickness, imperfectly to fairly well baked, and strengthened by small quantities of flint in the paste. They all belong to the same general type (being mostly flowerpot or barrel shaped) which, according to Canon Greenwell is characteristic of Dorsetshire and the neighbouring districts (vide `British Barrows,' Fig. 55, urn from Bishopston, South Wilts, p. 68; see also Rev. A. C. Smith, British and Roman Antiquities of North Wiltshire, p. ii). This is also the type of the urns found at Sulham (Berks) to be hereafter described, and of those found at Dummer (Hants) which are in the Reading Museum. Nevertheless there is considerable difference in the size, shape and ornamentation of the Sunningdale urns, from which it is reasonable to infer that the interments took place at different times, and that the barrow in which they were placed was in fact the cemetery of a village community. The makers of the urns were on the whole sparing in the use of ornament. There is no linear pattern on any of them; but the form and the design are always in excellent taste. All the urns were filled with burnt bones and charcoal, mixed in some cases with earth. The two interments without urns may have been the remains of children or of persons of small importance; but in these cases the ashes were deposited with considerable care. Although, with the exception of a flint pebble which appears to be a ` strike-alight ' no artificial object other than the pottery has been found, there can be little hesitation in assigning this round barrow with its contents to the age of Bronze. The difference in the size of the urns may indicate perhaps in most cases differences of age; but the large urn with a small vessel inside suggests a person of some importance in the community. In one other instance (No. 14) part of a small vessel was found.

As already stated more than half the urns were found in an inverted position. Two explanations of this practice have been offered, one being that it was intended to more effectually secure the contents. In this case it is not easy to see why some urns should be inverted and others not. Another explanation is that it was thought to be a means of preventing the spirit of the deceased from returning to vex the living. This fear of the dead is quite in accordance with existing beliefs in many parts of the World and may have led to the practice of cremation, as we know it has led to other devices to keep the spirit from doing harm; and it is only natural to suppose that some spirits would be feared more than others.

On the assumption that there is no primary interment in this tumulus, the question may be asked: Why then was it raised ? An explanation seems to present itself in the fact that tumuli had come to be regarded as sacred places, as domed tombs are at the present day in various parts of the world; and where cremation was a settled custom, there was an obvious economy in having a common consecrated ground for persons of no political importance.

This, it may be added, is not an isolated example in Berkshire. Among the group of barrows, known as `Seven Barrows,' near Lambourn, one, in which no primary interment was found, was stated to have been `completely filled with British urns' (Rev. J. Adams, Trans. of the Newbury District Field Club, i. 178, 197). In this case wood ashes were found on the floor in the centre of the mound.

With regard to the group of urns found at Sulham without a tumulus, it may have been thought that the naturally elevated ground, sufficiently answered the purpose.

At a short distance from the Sunningdale tumulus containing the urns, and, on slightly lower ground, are two very small tumuli in good preservation; but as they are on the Golf drive, we were unable to obtain permission to examine them (They were still untouched, June, 1912)."

Eric Gardner in the Surrey Archaeological Collections then writes

"The paper then goes on to describe the very similar urns found at Sulham in Berkshire, and also some Bronze Age urns found at Grovelands Gravel Pit, Tilehurst Road, Reading; Wallingford; Theale, near Reading; Padworth; Mortimer; and Maidenhead.

Brief mention is also made of similar finds in Dorset, viz.: Wareham, twenty-four urns (Warne, The Celtic Tumuli of Dorset) ; Upwey Down, nearly twenty urns; Woodsford, twelve urns, some inverted in a low tumulus; Rimbury, near Charlbury Hill, nearly one hundred urns.

Mr. Reginald Smith contributed a note to the effect that urns very similar to the Sunningdale specimens had been found at Ashford, Middlesex (Journal Brit. Arch. Assoc., Vol. XXVII., P. 449). Most of them were inverted and the bases had been ploughed off. They are in the British Museum. Smaller specimens with a row of bosses near the lip were known from Neolithic times, but one found at Colchester similar to those at Sunningdale had an iron spear-head inside, which suggested the latest Bronze Age or transition to that of iron.

The illustrations, are of the urns in the Reading Museum. One incomplete urn and many fragments formerly in the Club House of the Sunningdale Golf Club, were kindly deposited in the Guildford Museum by permission of the committee of the club in 1913.

The photographs of the urns were taken by Mr. T. W. Colyer, assistant Curator of the Reading Museum, and I gratefully acknowledge his permission to publish them."