Category Archives: Cannibals

Prehistoric Britain (or more precisely: Prehistoric Woking!)

(or even more precisely: Prehistoric Horsell!)

I wrote a blog article a few weeks ago introducing the three prehistoric burial mounds or Barrows in Horsell common. If you are interested in that article please use the link at the bottom of this page. It also described the exact location of the barrows using satellite photography. In that blog I mentioned that I was sure there was a fourth significant prehistoric structure but at that time I did not have suitable photographs to describe it in more detail. Today as well as providing more photographs of the larger mounds I will present a better description of the fourth structure. In addition there are a number of other objects in the common which, because of their close proximity to the larger prehistoric barrows, could also be the remains of other ancient burials.

Horsell Common Archaeological Site Sign
Horsell Common Archaeological Site Sign

Let me start with the sign at the entrance to the archaeological site. This describes the position of the three large mounds together with a summary of their history. If you click on the picture you should be able to increase the size to make it easier to read. Then just click over the left arrow on your search engine to return to this page.

The sign describes two bell barrows (the word bell refers to the typical shape of such prehistoric burial mounds) with a disc barrow between them. The disc barrow is quite hard to distinguish on the ground due to the vegetation which has grown over it. The satellite photo in my earlier blog article more clearly indicated the site of the disc barrow as a circular clearing in the trees adjacent to the larger more obvious bell barrow.

The photograph below is of the large bell barrow.

Largest Prehistoric Burial Mound in Horsell Common
Largest Prehistoric Burial Mound in Horsell Common

At the very top of this article is a picture of this barrow taken when it was covered in snow which helps to emphasize its profile. The photograph without snow was taken from the opposite side at the end of April 2012 and also shows the old path which went over the top of the barrow. This path crosses over the burial mound close to a point where it has clearly been excavated, many years ago, possibly by treasure hunters. I have found no record of any formal archaeological excavation or finds here. There was however a written description of the location of the two bell barrows as early as 1718 by the antiquarian John Aubrey in his ‘History of Surrey’.

The other bell barrow on Horsell Common is more overgrown making it harder to distinguish the exact size and shape. It also appears to have been disturbed in the past. This mound is adjacent to the Monument Road car park, directly behind the sign in the photograph above. The following photographs were taken from three different positions.

Horsell Common Bell Barrow Nr 2 Rear view
Horsell Common Bell Barrow Nr 2 Rear view
Horsell Common Bell Barrow Nr 2 Right or Office side
Horsell Common Bell Barrow Nr 2 Right or Office side
Horsell Common Bell Barrow Nr 2 Front or Road side
Horsell Common Bell Barrow Nr 2 Front or Road side

Moving now to the other structure which I came across a couple of years ago. If you follow the path over the road past the two other barrows and keep going in roughly a straight line you will come across a circular raised ridge where the vegetation is clearly different to that which is growing nearby. This is not as large as the other structures and there is no obvious large mound in the centre. Therefore I would presume it is more likely to be the remains of a disk barrow.

Fourth Prehistoric Burial Barrow in Horsell Common
Fourth Prehistoric Burial Barrow in Horsell Common

The following three photographs are taken from different positions to illustrate its shape and size. Similar burial grounds in Wiltshire can include ten or even more barrows and therefore it would not be unusual to find more than three large barrows here. Since the people who built these structures lived from agriculture it seems unlikely that they would used more fertile land for their burial grounds and the satellite photographs from my earlier blog article highlight that even today there is very little vegetation able to grow in this clearing. Much of the rest of the common nearby has been repopulated by trees: it is presumed the stone age farmers cleared the original forests for agriculture but that with time the poor quality of the soil caused it to revert to heathland. In fact it is probably the very unsuitability of this location for farming that has helped to ensure that we can still identify these structures today, despite being around 4000 years old. In other locations, where the soil is more fertile, agriculture has destroyed the remains of many ancient burial sites.

Horsell Common Barrow Nr 4 Left side
Horsell Common Barrow Nr 4 Left side
Horsell Common Barrow Nr 4 Right side
Horsell Common Barrow Nr 4 Right side
Horsell Common Barrow Nr 4 Rear side
Horsell Common Barrow Nr 4 Rear side

Finally I would like to include some other photographs taken in this area to illustrate other examples of what I believe could be ancient burial sites. These three structures appear to be typical of barrow type mounds and all show signs of disturbance, again possibly by treasure hunters or amateur archaeologists.

Horsell Common Disturbed Mound A
Horsell Common Disturbed Mound A
Horsell Common Disturbed Mound B
Horsell Common Disturbed Mound B
Horsell Common Disturbed Mound C
Horsell Common Disturbed Mound C
Horsell Common Disturbed Mound C rear view
Horsell Common Disturbed Mound C rear view

The last photograph is of another smaller circular structure which may well be disc barrow which has been overgrown by trees. The circular markings in the ground vegetation are still quite distinct.

Horsell Common Smaller Ring Structure Near Large Barrows
Horsell Common Smaller Ring Structure Near Large Barrows

The Horsell Common Preservation Society has recently laid down a 1.2 km circular easy access trail which starts and finishes at a new car park opened on the side of monument road where all except for one of these structures can be found. This means that it is quite easy to stroll through this part of the common (called Woodham Common) and see for yourself the prehistoric burial sites – perhaps you may even find some other archeological treasures that have not yet been documented.

Here is the link to my earlier blog which has satellite photographs and also links to sites with more information about Ancient British burial structures. If you require more help finding any of these structures or have some interesting prehistoric information of your own please contact me via the comments box below.

Chris Duggleby,

6th May 2012

Horsell Common Preservation Society Welcome Sign Near Prehistoric Britain Site
Horsell Common Preservation Society Welcome Sign Near Prehistoric Britain Site

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Searching for Cannibals in Woking, Surrey, England

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