SARSEN STONES: THE OLD ONES OF THE DOWNS, By Rebecca Davies BSc (Hons)
Introduction to Wiltshire’s Sarsen Stones
Wiltshire’s Sarsen Stones
A Canadian friend came to stay and, since they were a Neo-pagan, I decided to show them Avebury stone circle, a favourite place of mine. This didn’t go exactly to plan. For a start they were most upset because some Early Medieval people had decided to build their village on a sacred site.
To my perplexment and sadness my visitors found this was quite unacceptable. But then I’ve found that neo-pagans can be perplexing and saddening.
I once showed another new-ager Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, a stirring Shinto tale, and they were most horrified. But then, explaining that the world’s most technologically advanced society is pagan often doesn’t work out well.
I thought better of trying to explain that Avebury was not a sacred site to the Saxons and, after pacifying them with a pint of cider at the Red Lion, took them up the byway leading to Fyfield Down.
This was to show them wild sarsens in their natural habitat.
I am gratified to say that they enjoyed this trip very much.
Origins of the names of Wiltshire’s Sarsen Stones
t’s probable that the stones themselves got their names from the Knights Templar who had a Preceptory at Rockley. (Blackwell & Fowler). They called them Saracen stones because they’re alien to the soft chalk. Their other name, Grey Wethers derives from the way they look like a flock of sheep, particularly on a misty morning. (Delorme).
“I shall conclude with the stones called the Grey Wethers; which lye scattered all over the downes about Marleborough, and incumber the ground for at least seven miles diameter; and in many places they are, as it were, sown so thick, that travellers in the twylight at a distance take them to be flocks of sheep (wethers) from whence they have their name.” (Aubrey)
Formation and geology
Sarsens are the remains of a tough overlay of the chalk, now eroded away, formed of silicate cemented sand and are a very dense rock; one cubic foot weighs 150 lb. (Delorme).
These rocks are the survivors of sandy islands in the Cretaceous seas, Many sarsens have holes in them formed by the roots of tropical trees. They’re relics of a more fanciful time. (Hungerford Virtual Museum).
Later the stones were part of a periglacial landscape, redistributed by meltwater. Fyfield downs contain many examples of this climatic era for the geological student to seek out. (Hungerford Virtual Museum).
Sarsens are always found on chalk downs. Yet it’s not inevitable that chalk downs harbour sarsens. You can find them from Kent to Suffolk and across the channel on the French chalklands around Dieppe. Oddly though they seem to be absent from the Isle of Wight. (Delorme).
Nor are they exactly plentiful on Salisbury plain. They are common on the Marlborough downs, both in fields and in the forest.
West Wood is today famed for its bluebells. But in the past there was a considerable extractive industry in these woods including sarsens. There are the remains of sarsen crushing machines and plenty of loose cut stone.(Archaeology Data Service.)
Recently it was proven that this is the source of the sarsen component of Stonehenge. (BBC News).
The usage of sarsens
Over the millennia the sarsens have had many uses. In the first instance they were erected as part of megalithic monuments such as Avebury stone circle and Stonehenge. Then later their superior strength lent form to Windsor castle. (Delorme).
Exploring the village of Winterbourne Monkton I saw sarsens at every turn.
Sarsens are tactile, they invite touching and climbing upon. They come in a variety of colours, greys, creams, oranges and browns. Sarsens are well worth visiting.
The best place to see sarsens today is Fyfield Down. But there’s also a small National Trust estate at Lockeridge Dene and Piggledene which are a bit more accessible. All three places are Geological Sites of Special Scientific Interest. (National Trust).
But yet, there are many sarsens round and about Swindon, mostly upon the east side. (Hidden Swindon).
Pretty much all parks have them. You may well have seen them without actually noticing them.
Rebecca Davies is a private Researcher. Coming from the antiquity rich county of Wiltshire it was only natural for her to become aware of our ancestors and ancient landscapes. In her early forties, quite by accident, she left her home town of Swindon and travelled to Cornwall to study Archaeology. This has enabled her to develop special interests in Early Medieval Christianity, Industrial History, Vikings and Experimental Archaeology. (Though really she is fascinated by anything curious she might grab at).
She would describe herself as apart from University, mostly self-educated. Her interests are “eclectic” ranging from Bushcraft to Local history to Classic Cars. She does not think Swindon to be boring at all.
Her ambition is to have even more adventures in Heritage.
Known by everyone as Chelle, Michelle White is in training for a gruelling 48 hour challenge to run more than 251 miles on a treadmill. The aim? To raise £4,800 for charity.
The 48-year-old, who lives with her family in North Swindon, set herself this personal challenge after getting the running bug a mere five years ago. She started running after losing her mum Linda to lung cancer and wanting to do something in her memory.
I did Race For Life after mum passed away and that was it. Since then I’ve run thousands of miles from 10k runs to half marathons to marathons. I did the London Marathon last year in 3 hours 43 minutes. I’m classed in the top five per cent of runners for my age group. I also did this year’s virtual London Marathon running to Bromley and back, completing it in 3 hours and 24 minutes.”
On Friday November 20, Chelle will start running on a treadmill at the premises of Any Time Fitness in Old Town – one of her sponsors. She’ll attempt to win a Guinness World Record for miles run on a treadmill in 48 hours. This currently stands at 200 miles for women and 251 for men. Chelle wants to beat both records.
About Doing it for Dan
Doing It For Dan is a charity created in memory of Daniel Climance. He died, aged 11 after, in a road traffic collision in Purton while cycling.
His parents set up the charity. It provides grants to individuals, teams and organisations around Swindon and Wiltshire that give young people the chance to take part in sport. Dan was sports mad himself, particularly when it came to football and martial arts.
His mum Helen said: “We’re thrilled Chelle has offered to do this and support Doing It For Dan. We’ll use any money she raises to support young people in taking part in sporting activities. Something that was so important to my son and also to his wellbeing. To be able to help others engage in sporting activities is wonderful.”
Dedication to running
Chelle’s dedication to running is even more inspiring because she suffers from an incurable auto immune condition, rheumatoid arthritis. Her condition which causes joints to swell and become very painful. They can become permanently distorted. After her diagnosis, Chelle was put on strong drugs. Yet she found her quality of life was poor with constant sickness and exhaustion.
“I have RA, it doesn’t define me,” Chelle said. “I decided I don’t want to take drugs which make me feel terrible, I want to live my best life. Now I take painkillers only when necessary, I exercise and I have recently adopted a vegan diet. That hasn’t been easy but it’s made a world of difference.
Since training for the event I’ve lost two stones, when I didn’t have two stones to lose and this shows the real toil of training. I couldn’t be more serious about this endeavour.
To support Chelle’s efforts – runner doing it for Dan
Cabinet approves plans for Cultural Quarter in Swindon town centre
Cabinet approves Cultural Quarter Plans – they met last night (Wed 20th Oct) to discuss the proposals.
They gave the go-ahead to building the cultural quarter on the Kimmerfields regeneration site. The site lies between the railway station and opposite the former Debenhams building on Fleming Way.
The Council has spent the past year working at close quarters with key partners in Swindon’s arts, cultural and business sectors. They’ve laid meticulous plans to create a new cultural quarter. One that will help revitalise the town centre and boost the town’s cultural offer.
A Ten-Year Plan
It’s expected that the plans for the cultural quarter will come to fruition over the next 10 years. They include, among other things:
A new theatre
Digital media and arts hub …
… and new facilities to display Swindon’s nationally-significant art collection.
Councillor Dale Heenan, SBC’s Cabinet Member for the Town Centre, Culture and Heritage, said:
“I’m delighted that so many people have agreed that this positive vision is a credible, realistic and deliverable approach for improving Swindon town centre over the next 10 years.
“My Cabinet colleagues and I are full of determination to see a new Wyvern Theatre built by 2030. It will have a 1,200 capacity – that’s double the number of seats today. With that our town can attract the big national and regional shows and performers. We also support the creation of a wider cultural quarter. Something that includes a new museum, art gallery, dance centre and digital studio.
“It won’t be the Council paying for the estimated £80m cost, so the hard work now begins. Over the next six months the Council will work with partners in the arts sector and funding bodies.
This work will prepare the full financial business case and an investment prospectus to make this vision one step closer to reality.”
“Too often Swindon’s young people are disadvantaged by lack of experience or aspiration. Yet every week in Swindon schools, I see how art awakens imagination, education and empowerment.
“The town is making a bold commitment to future generations with this plan. Swindon won’t only be a place to live and work, but a place to dream and achieve as well.”
The cultural quarter plans enjoy cross-party support on the Council. The proposals are in their infancy. Thus residents should not expect to see any building work on site for a while yet. But the Council believes in being bold and brave in its ambitions for Swindon and to spearhead town centre regeneration.
Great news for children in North Swindon who love singing, dancing and acting with a new performing arts class for North Swindon. The class will start at the Great Western Academy on Thursday November 5th.
The classes will be in the sports hall at Great Western Academy in William Morris Way (SN25 2PP) weekly from Thursday November 5 from 5.30pm to 6.30pm.
Founder Fi Da Silva Adams said: “We’re starting the Great Western AllStars for children aged between four and 11 years old.
“We have an ethos of empowering children who can sing their favourite music, create their own dramatic scene, share their own dance moves and feel safe and secure in doing so. If they don’t want to perform they don’t have to. We want to create a fantastic, relaxing and fun experience for them.”
The Before Times
Until now, RPA were holding classes in local primary schools. But those schools are not allowing third parties to use their facilities to until 2021. Fi Da Silva Adams and her team of leaders believe youngsters need to get back to activities as soon as possible for their mental and physical wellbeing.
“Our classes are a safe and Covid-secure environment where we ‘re serious about social distancing. It’s our belief that children need to look forward to taking part in activities which bring them joy. And that’s why we’ve now found an alternative venue for our class.”
RPA leader Jade Carroll will run the new performing arts class for North Swindon with her thirteen years of dance experience.
RPA leader Jade Carroll will run the new group with her thirteen years of dance experience.
She said: “I’m excited to be starting this new class and look forward to meeting the children and their parents. We do ask that everyone books in advance so that we can ensure safe social distancing measures.
Note though that everyone’s first session is free of charge!”
Fi Da Silva Adams founded RPA in 2007. The team have run online sessions throughout lockdown. They’re now getting back to Covid-safe classes across Swindon and surrounding areas.
The organisation received a grant from Arts Council England through the Covid19 Emergency Fund to enable them to continue supporting local children.
All their teachers are DBS checked, trained in first aid and receive full training in safeguarding protocols. It specialises in empowering young people to celebrate their individuality through the power of performing arts.
Kimmerfields site identified as location for Swindon’s new Cultural Quarter
Kimmerfields for Swindon’s new Cultural Quarter – or looks that way anyway.
Exciting plans to rejuvenate the arts in Swindon could get a huge boost next week. Why? It’s when members of Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet decide on where to build a brand new cultural quarter.
Over the past 12 months, the Council has worked at close quarters with key partners in Swindon’s arts, cultural and business sectors. Together they’ve developed a credible and deliverable plan to create a new Cultural Quarter. The aim of it to help revitalise the town centre and boost the town’s cultural offer.
The Council’s Cabinet will discuss a report next Wednesday (21 Oct). It proposes to move the Wyvern Theatre and build the cultural quarter on the derelict Kimmerfields site. A key site which lies between the railway station and opposite Debenhams on Fleming Way. Kimmerfields will also be home to the new flagship Zurich office. This is the first major office development in Swindon town centre for 20 years.
Built in the 1960s, the town’s Wyvern Theatre is reaching the end of its life and new cultural forms and audiences need new facilities in which to thrive. Engineering reports highlight that there is a need for over £20 million of refurbishments.
It’s expected that the plans for the cultural quarter will come to fruition over the next decade. It will include, among other things:
A new theatre
A dance centre,
Digital media and arts hub and …
… new facilities to display Swindon’s nationally-significant art collection.
Expected costs for the whole thing are in the region of £80m. Of course the coronavirus pandemic has placed on hold most funding routes for cultural projects and capital infrastructure. That said, the Council expects an announcement of new schemes later this year and into next. This work will ensure Swindon is well prepared for the next round of bids.
An economic impact assessment has concluded that the cultural quarter could add more than £35m a year to Swindon’s economy. In addition it could create as many as 1,200 jobs for the town.
Assuming the reaching of an agreement at Cabinet next week, progression of the plans will take place via a partnership. This approach will bring together:
Swindon’s arts sector
diverse public and private sector stakeholders and
All working together to develop and sustain a long-term cultural offer of internationally recognised scale and quality for all Swindon’s citizens.
Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Town Centre, Culture and Heritage, said: “When I took over as cabinet member, I made it clear to everyone that there needed to be a focus on fewer, more impactful projects. Projects that will make a visible difference to Swindon. And that change doesn’t happen overnight.
The jigsaw is coming together
“The pieces of the jigsaw are coming together. There are now cranes and diggers on site for the first new office development in 20 years. Further, expect imminent decisions for £50 million of funding bids for the town centre, a refurbished Health Hydro, completion of the fantastic Carriage Works regeneration, new Hampton by Hilton and Premier Inn hotels and much more.
Now is the time to present plans for a new Cultural Quarter and build on Swindon’s momentum to ensure that, by 2030, we will see a very different town centre.
“Cabinet’s ambition is to see the building of a new Wyvern Theatre with capacity doubled to 1,200 seats. This way we can attract the best national and regional shows and performers for residents to enjoy. We also want to deliver a new museum and art gallery that is proud to display Swindon’s nationally recognised collection of artefacts and exhibits.
“If approved by Cabinet next week, the next six months will see focus placed on writing the financial business case and investment prospectus, for the £78m needed to bring the Culture Quarter to life. This is a fantastic opportunity for Swindon and we must grasp it with both hands.”
Two prospective sites
The process of identifying an appropriate location for the cultural quarter involved the consideration of two sites:
1. The current one at Princes Street, with the existing Wyvern, former town hall and Central Library at its core and … 2. … the Kimmerfields site.
Options were developed for both sites. Then, following an analysis of the relative strengths, opportunities and weaknesses of the two sites, a preferred solution of development at Kimmerfields came into view. A viable and attractive back up opportunity at the Princes Street site will also be available were this not to progress.
The Kimmerfields site has significant development benefits, with much of it already cleared and ready for construction. It occupies a central location close to the railway station. And, as a gateway to the heart of the town centre, it provides the opportunity to spearhead town centre regeneration.
The proposals sit against a backdrop of significant change happening in high streets and town centres across the country. These changes are both pre and post pandemic, affecting footfall and the viability of retail led centres. Investment in Swindon’s cultural offer represents an opportunity. An opportunity to address these challenges by driving footfall in the town centre and allowing other amenities and businesses to prosper.
Viv Slayford, Artistic Director at Swindon Dance, said: “Swindon Dance has had its base in the town hall for over 40 years. And while the building has been the bedrock to our early development it is now a cap on our future growth.
“Moving to the cultural quarter will give us the space and facilities to continue to grow and prosper across all areas of our work. That in professional and non-professional, local and international. It will also enable us to work with Swindon’s other cultural organisations. To kick start the town’s economy and bring the passion and heart back to our town centre.
“Swindon Dance has a national and international reputation for developing young and professional talent in the dance world. It supports the growth of the art-form on the international stage. What’s more it makes quality dance projects accessible to our local community regardless of a persons’ background.”
Back to SWELP
Paddy Bradley, CEO of the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “This is an exciting project for Swindon – so rich in both arts and culture. Swindon has always had a fantastic cultural offering. From its amazing art and museum collections, through to its nationally recognised dance and theatre companies and vibrant music scene.
“The choice of the Kimmerfields site for this development is an inspired one. It links the railway station transport hub with the town centre through a cultural quarter buzzing with people.
We’re delighted at The SWLEP to help cement the future of Swindon’s cultural sector allowing it to expand and thrive.”