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.
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.”
Among the doom and gloom of Covid and Brexit and town centre shop closures there’s some good local news in the restoration of The Watchers.
The Watchers form part of the West Swindon sculpture walk. These sculptures are a culturally significant part of the West Swindon landscape, installed in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Roger Ogle has done much to champion them – then much later than him – so have I. I’ve featuredThe Watchers and the rest of the trail on this blog and in my new guide book.
Despite the fact that they’ve been shamefully neglected by our town’s leaders for decades now, they remain things of enjoyment and an untapped resource I’m sure. If the powers that be did but know it.
Anyhoo! Last year the chap on this sculpture sadly suffered decapitation. But rejoice! For, thanks to Swindon stonemason Toby Robson,The Watchers are Restored. But more on that in a bit!
‘Artist: Carleton Attwood. Material: Cement Fondue. Project details: Funded by R.S. McColl and E.H.Bradley Building Projects Ltd. The sculpture represents guardian figures looking over the community.’
‘The Watchers, 1982, by Carleton Attwood (1908 to 1985) at Toothill Village Centre. The first sculpture in West Swindon, cast in ferro-concrete at Swindon’s town hall studios, is one of Carleton’s last works. Sculptor Pat Elmore had to complete the piece as Carleton suffered ill-health. Thanks to Carleton’s ill-health.
The work represents the guardians of the new community.’
The story behind the sculpture
The story goes that Carleton got the idea for this piece of public art from a family he observed at a Swindon town football match.
The day was a rainy one and the father was holding his raincoat around his wife. She in turn shielded their child with their raincoat and the child the dog.
The restoration of The Watchers
Now back to the resoration. There’s a nice piece here inThe Swindon Advertiser about the restoration. Said Toby: ‘… it’s a big challenge because the sculpture is more than 40 years old. And nobody knows what materials went into it originally in terms of sand and the cement mix used. Nobody remembers.
I chatted to Toby just yesterday and he told me that the community had been so supportive and interested in what he was doing and how heart-warming he’d found that.
Some photos from Toby of the work in progress:
And now the finished product. Ta da!The Watchers are Restored!
Freshbrook gets performing arts class – so children in West Swindon who love singing, dancing and acting can try out a new class which starts in Freshbrook on Wednesday September 30.
One of the town’s leading performing arts groups, Revolution Performing Arts, is offering Covid-safe, socially distanced small group classes at Freshbrook Community Centre. The classes are every week, on Wednesday, from 5.30pm to 6.30pm.
Founder Fi Da Silva Adams said: “We’re starting the Freshbrook All Stars at the community centre for children aged between four and 11 years old.
“Our classes are a safe space for children to express themselves. 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.”
RPA leader Jade Carroll will run the Freshbrook group. She has thirteen years’ experience of dance and has worked with RPA for two years.
Jade 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 though. That’s so we can ensure safe social distancing measures. That said everyone’s first session is free of charge!”
Fiona Di Silva Adams founded Revolution Performing Arts in 2007. Her team have run online sessions throughout lockdown.
They’re now getting back to some in-person classes across Swindon. The organisation received a grant from Arts Council England through the Covid19 Emergency Fund. This allowed them to continue supporting children in Swindon.
Revolution Performing Arts runs sessions in after school clubs and also open classes in other community venues. All their teachers are DBS checked, trained in first aid and receive full training in safeguarding protocols.
RPA specialises in empowering young people to celebrate their individuality through the power of performing arts. To enrol for the new Freshbrook class visit www.revolutionpa.co.uk/enrol
YOUNGSTERS PUT ON THEIR DANCING SHOES AS THEY GET BACK TOGETHER – SAFELY
Latest news from Revolution Performing Arts
16th September 2020
RPA Youngsters Don Dancing Shoes. And young people in Swindon who love singing, dancing and acting are getting back to the studio after many months of online classes.
One of the town’s leading voices in performing arts, Fi Da Silva Adams, worked hard with her team to return to socially-distanced performing arts classes last week.
“Our online classes were a life line for many young people during lockdown,” said Fi. Fi is the MD and founder of Revolution Performing Arts which, as a rule,supports around 350 young people on a weekly basis.
“Young people still had an outlet and an opportunity to experience our empowerment through the arts experience. So they got a thrill from seeing their friends, even if it in the virtual world.
“Now we are doing a phased, Covid-safe return to classes so that children can get back together in a mindful manner and it’s been wonderful.”
In-Person Session – RPA Youngsters Don Dancing Shoes
One of the first parents to attend an ‘in-person’ session at Shaw Church in West Swindon was Emma King. Her daughter Darcy felt excited to attend a real-world class. RPA are soon to launch classes are in Freshbrook and Shrivenham too.
Emma said: “What a return! First class back after summer and lockdown and it was amazing! The measures to ensure the safety and happiness of the children and us parents was outstanding, from entering the building to leaving. You could see the smiles from the children and they were so excited to be back.”
Revolution Performing Arts, founded in 2007, has felt the effect of lockdown with half of the business based in schools. Fi knew she’d have to innovate. So her team offered online classes and now a phased return to distanced classes.
She said: “As schools are still reluctant to have external clubs in I had to diversify. So we decided to launch a programme of new sessions. These new session include more performing arts open classes, circus theatre arts, musical theatre, ballet for fun, RPA Sing, RPA Dance, RPA Street and RPA Act. We’re now offering some of these classes in person at venues around Swindon.
“It’s so exciting. I’m so grateful for the Covid19 Emergency Fund Grant from Arts Council England. And the hundreds of parents who stood by us and kept us going all through lockdown.”
Revolution Performing Arts
Revolution Performing Arts runs sessions in after school clubs and also open classes in church halls.
It specialises in empowering young people to celebrate their individuality through the power of performing arts.