Many thousands of people every year go inside West Kennet Long Barrow, in Wiltshire, south-west England, one of the largest and best-preserved burial chambers in Britain. Many fewer have been right into the centre of Silbury Hill, 30m below the mound. This is what I had the privilege to do in 2007, when English Heritage conducted an emergency operation to stabilise the hill, weakened by centuries of burrowing.
The Roman invasion of AD43 stands less than halfway in time between the building of Silbury Hill and the present day. Its origins, purpose and meaning have been lost in the depths of time but we do know that it and West Kennet Long Barrow were components of a ceremonial landscape linked with the stone circle at Avebury. The 2007 excavation showed that the hill grew in phases and was made of soils from different places, perhaps brought by people who wanted to associate themselves with it.
A number of long barrows were built in the vicinity of Silbury, the largest being the close-by barrow at West Kennet. We don’t know exactly what these were used for either. Many were used for burial at some point but it is very likely that they had a ceremonial purpose, perhaps connected with the emerging agricultural economy.
Both the long barrow and the mound were included on the original schedule of monuments of 1882, and when they were put up for sale in 1873 they were bought by Sir John Lubbock, the promoter of the original Ancient Monuments Act. Lubbock immediately put them in the guardianship of the Ancient Monuments Board. When he was eventually awarded a peerage, he took the title Lord Avebury.
Edited extract from the ‘Director’s Choice’ series by Simon Thurley (Scala)
Garden of England
A Grade I-listed dog kennel
Kent’s architectural delights are well-known, apart from England’s only Grade I-listed dog kennel, writes Daisy Wyatt. It was built in the late 19th century, in the same Tudor style as its manor house, Ightham Mote. This National Trust property, 30 minutes from Lullingstone Roman villa, sits in 546 acres.
Just a stroll away from the villa lies Lullingstone Castle, whose heritage can be traced back to the time of the Domesday Book. The manor house was built in 1497, although its red-brick façade is Queen Anne. The queen stayed there and has a bath and ice house in the grounds named after her.
Chartwell is another Victorian-fronted Tudor family estate, described by the National Trust as “an example of Victorian architecture at its least attractive”.