Searching for Cannibals in Woking, Surrey, England

While you read why not listen to my album ‘Electro Baroque‘ (all tracks are also available on iTunes using the link here)? Classical music using modern instruments:

or if you prefer to listen to my electro/techno album ‘Studio Valiumm‘ here are the videos (also on iTunes using the link here):

More info about my music is at the dedicated website www.TRANSFORMATES.com

Some people spend their weekends going shopping, visiting the local park or having a barbecue in the garden. I have rather more exciting hobbies like, for example, searching for cannibals in the woodlands around Surrey.

Bridge Reflections over Surrey Canal

Bridge reflections over a Surrey canal: Woodham Locks on Basingstoke Canal, near Woking in Surrey (not far from the prehistoric burial mounds in Horsell Common).

Now you may ask, where did I get this interest in cannibalism? And what makes me think that I will find evidence of cannibals in the nice, quaint English countryside. Well if you remember from my Duggleby History page (from the menu above) the centre piece of the village of Duggleby in Yorkshire is a Neolithic ‘Barrow’ or 5000 year old prehistoric burial mound. This was surrounded by a man-made circular enclosure which can today only be seen using aerial or satellite imaging (see the Google map image below). It is believed that the positioning of this very large burial mound had something to do with a magical river, the Gypsey Race, which sporadically flowed from a series of springs nearby.


Excavations of the site uncovered the remains of ancient chieftains who were buried thousands of years ago as well as the bones of the animals which were eaten during what appeared to be very elaborate burial ceremonies. Interestingly some of these partly eaten remains were the bones of fellow humans leading to the conclusion that our ancestors, at least those in and around what is now the village of Duggleby, were Cannibals. As a descendant of that village I would like to think that the ancient art of eating ones neighbour was not just restricted to the village of Duggleby: hence my quest for other signs of ancient cannibalism in the UK.

As my UK base is in Surrey this seemed like a good enough place to start. My home overlooks the Basingstoke canal and I often journey along the canal path, past a couple of bridges, until I reach one of the many entrances to Horsell Common. As the ground is very springy in the common I can go jogging there without doing too much damage to my ageing knees. This can be tremendous fun, particularly when the locals are out training their un-tethered Rottweilers how to differentiate between nimble rabbits and old joggers’ legs.

Horsell Common Running Track

My Horsell Common running track not far from where the Martians landed (from H.G.Wells’ book ‘War of the Worlds’)

One of my runs takes me past three Bronze Age barrows (burial mounds) which are believed to be over 4000 years old. They are thought to be the final resting place of Bronze Age nobility. These people had developed the art of making tools and weapons from bronze and had used these skills to reclaim the tree covered land for agricultural use. It is believed their cremated remains were buried underneath these barrows.

Close up of Woking's Prehistoric Burial Mound in Horsell Common

Close up of Woking’s Prehistoric Burial Mound in Horsell Common

The three burial mounds comprise of two bell barrows and one disc barrow. The picture above is of the larger bell barrow on the side of the common which is opposite the Monument Road car park. I took the photograph when there was some snow on the ground to emphasize the profile of the barrow. At the end of this blog entry I have also included a wider view photograph to give a better indication of the large size of this Bronze Age structure. The following photograph is of the sign at the entrance to the car park which shows the location of the three barrows and provides some information about their history. There is evidence they have been disturbed in the past by antiquarians or treasure hunters but there is no record of any remains or artefacts being found.

Sign for Bronze Age Barrows in Horsell Common

Sign for Bronze Age Barrows in Horsell Common

I find it particularly interesting to consider that the Duggleby Barrow and these Barrow’s in Horsell Common are separated by many hundreds of miles and yet clearly such structures appear to have been as common in Bronze age Britain as churches are today. This is all the more amazing when you remember that the population of the UK was considerably smaller then. Bell and Disc barrows are more commonly found in Wiltshire where sometimes they are in groups of 10 or more. They are very rare in Surrey and their presence in Horsell Common could be indicative that nobility migrated here from Wessex to develop the wooded land for agriculture. Unfortunately once the trees were removed the soil quality diminished giving rise to the Surrey Heathland.

Many people are aware that Woking hosted the UK’s first ‘modern’ cremation at the newly built ‘London’ crematorium in 1884. Few however realise that Woking (or Wochinges as it was called in the Domesday Book in 1086) was hosting formal cremation ceremonies 4000 years earlier. Below is a satellite picture which includes the larger bell barrow from my photograph (on the left) and the disc barrow to its right.  The smaller bell barrow (on the other side of Monument road adjacent to the car park) cannot easily be seen from the air because it is now overgrown with trees.


As I rambled through this area (escaping from yet another Rottweiler!), I followed the path past the large Bell barrow in the direction away from the road and came across another interesting circular earth structure. This was also a ditch, albeit smaller than the other barrows but nonetheless quite distinctive. Perhaps there are other barrows in this area still waiting to be discovered? If you look at the wider aerial photograph below you may just be able to make out a circular structure towards the edge of the clearing in trees to the far left of the more pronounced circular ditch of the bell barrow. A large number of the more common round mound type of barrows have already been identified in Chobham common.


If you are interested in finding out more about prehistoric Burial Mounds in the UK there is a free booklet provided by the English heritage society: simply following this link and download the pdf file.

Clearly this exciting search for our prehistoric origins (and the quest to confirm I am not alone in being descended from cannibals) will continue…..

Over 4000 Year Old Burial Mound in Surrey 1

Over 4000 year old burial mound in Horsell Common, near Woking in Surrey

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11 thoughts on “Searching for Cannibals in Woking, Surrey, England

  1. Hi Chris, I have spent a few years photographing on Horsell Common and have noted the mounds and barrows mentioned. I too came across the apparent 4th barrow and wondered if it was indeed a Bronze Age phenomenon. One point is that the 4th disc is not round, it is very distinctly oval. Either that or it is 1 to 3 overlapping circles which makes it a bit odd.

    • Hi David,
      I would concur – it is a couple of years since I last looked but I do remember thinking that the markings appeared to be from two circular structures which overlapped. Nice to know I am not the only one wandering around the common with a camera.
      Seasons greetings,
      Chris.

  2. I discovered these sites after googling wokings history. Slightly underwhelming once I got there. I wonder how they know it’s bronze age considering no artefacts were found..

    • Hi Dave,
      I have to admit that apart from the big one, most of the barrows require some detective work to locate them – Even the big one needed a sprinkling of snow to help me bring out its shape in the photo. Sadly when I put together this article in 2012 there was evidence all over the site of many amateur excavations – I understand that most of these were from treasure hunters around the 19th/early 20th Centuries – this probably explains why there are no ‘official’ artefacts which would help to provide more information about the site. I suspect it was the structural similarity to other sites which helped to ‘age’ the barrows. I am sure you have already read them as part of your web search but here are a couple of links from the Historic England Scheduled Monuments records which provide more details:
      https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1009485
      https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1009483
      Thanks for taking the time to provide your comments,
      All the best,
      Chris.

      • hi again chris, strange question but have you looked into the history of the sandpits in horsell common? im kinda intrigued as to why there is sand in the middle of the woods there 🙂

        • Hi David,
          well of course the best known explanation is that this is where the Martians first landed in H.G.Wells’ “War of the Worlds” and their space craft threw up sand over vast areas of the common upon impact (When Mr Wells lived in Woking he was a regular visitor to the common which no doubt inspired his creative mind). A slightly less exciting explanation is that many of the local residents over the last few hundred years found the ready availability of sand in the common a cheap way to realise their building projects. Many of the older houses in Horsell will have sand from the pits. This appears to be the main reason for the excavation – more recently the sand has been used for paths around the common and as a cheap and ready resource during Surrey flooding emergencies. In case you haven’t seen it here is a link from the Horsell Common Preservation Society: http://www.horsellcommon.org.uk/sites/the-sandpit/

          Geologically speaking much of the area around here is very sandy which no doubt goes someway to explaining the rather larger rabbit population (it also probably also made it easier for the bronze age folk to dig their many burial mounds).
          Cheers, Chris.

  3. Chris
    Thanks for forwarding this blog. We walk and cycle on Horsell Common very often but not in the area where the barrows are situated. We will now explore that bit of the common to see the barrows in person.

    All the best

    Andy

    • Great to hear it Andy, its a bit off the normal tracks so let me know if you need help finding it (although the aerial maps should help). Happy hunting, Chris.

  4. Vor dem wäre ich ohnehin hier in Thalham sicher.

    Mach weiter so, gehe davon aus Du bist auch in dem sicheren Bayern. Gruß an unseren Sohn Pascal.

    Schönes Wochenende

    Monika

  5. Hallo

    schön über die alte Heimat zu lesen, da ich die Umgebung ja sehr gut kenne, kommen viele Erinnerungen hoch, nun kann ich noch etwas lernen und das in englischer Sprache die ich leider immer mehr verlerne.

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