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Devil's Quoits

Henge

<b>Devil's Quoits</b>Posted by JaneImage © Jane
Nearest Town:Witney (7km WNW)
OS Ref (GB):   SP411048 / Sheet: 164
Latitude:51° 44' 23.59" N
Longitude:   1° 24' 16.92" W

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Fieldnotes

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Visited 13.11.11

This site has been on my 'hit list' for a few years and at last I had the chance to visit.
Following a nice day in Oxford visiting my niece in university (the brains of the family!) and looking around the city at the wonderful architecture, it was time to see something of even more interest to me.

The site was easy enough to find (the recycling plant is well sign posted from miles around). Opposite the entrance to the recycling skips is a gravel car park with room for about 6 cars – park here. A gravel path then takes you from the car park, along the side of the lake and directly to the Henge. It is a less than 10 minute stroll and was very pleasant in the unusual November sunshine. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, no wind and definitely T-shirt weather. There were plenty of swans and various breeds of duck to look at while birds twittered away in the bushes and trees.

I tried to encourage the others to come but Karen stayed with the children in the car as Sophie was asleep and Dafydd preferred to watch a Scooby Doo DVD!!

Arriving at the Henge I was immediately taken by it. I know it is a reconstruction but I thought it was fab all the same. A low outer bank (1 metre high) with an inner ditch f about the same depth. I counted 28 stones ranging in height from 1 metre to 2.5 metres. There was only one other visitor, a lady quietly taking photos from various angles. We said hello but kept our distance so we could each enjoy the Henge in our own particular way.

Despite the surrounding landfill I thought this was a cracker of a site and well worth travelling some distance to visit. Despite being a reconstruction it somehow felt very 'real' to me. It certainly gives a good 'feel' of how Henges would have been when newly constructed.

When I visit Henges in future I will think back to my visit here and no doubt will have a better appreciation of what I am seeing. Looking at photos in a book is one thing but actually visiting a site gives you that 'extra something'- although I am sure I don't need to tell that to anyone reading this!

In short – visit. You won't be disappointed.
Posted by CARL
16th November 2011ce

Visited on 17th April 2011

We'd been thinking about visiting this site for a while, so it being a gloriously sunny day we thought it'd be nice to take a trip down to Oxfordshire.

Nice and easy to find, just headed for Stanton Harcourt and followed the signs for the landfill site. Parked off at the first available layby (fortunately no problems were encountered from officious men in hi-vis jackets) and trekked off around the lake looking for the stones.

Well you can't really miss them as you get near, a huge embanked henge dotted with twenty-eight satisfyingly chunky large stones. The henge has the classic entranceway leading into and out of the circle, and it looked like there was an outlying stone to the south.

The stones themselves are of a strange type of local conglomerate rock, which looked as if it was about to come apart at any moment, most of them are modern replacements, the older stones seemingly identifyable by their darker more weathered colour.

The monument itself originated as a henge, with evidence of postholes having once been in the centre, before the final phase of the erection of the stones around 2,500 BCE.

We had a picnic in the circle, the only sounds the cries of birds and the honking of the geese in the nearby lake, and the ground around us scattered in bones scavenged from the tip by the ever present birds. It certainly has a different atmosphere here, with the landfill site looming incongruously in front of you, somehow you can just tell it's a reconstruction and not an 'authentic' site, even if no-one had told you so, but it is nice that someone has bothered to reconstruct the circle after all it has suffered in the past, and don't let it put you off visiting, for it is an impressive place.
Ravenfeather Posted by Ravenfeather
10th August 2011ce

Visited 22 May 2010

I had arranged to spend today with my oldest and closest female friend for a general potter in the vicinity of Oxford. A beautiful summer's day rolled out before us and I suggested we do a detour to Stanton Harcourt to see the 'reconstructed' stone circle I had read so much about. I knew from previous TMA posts that it was next to a recycling plant near Stanton Harcourt so we were soon tootling around the lake towards the layby opposite a portacabin office. As we pulled up a man in a yellow jacket came out in our direction, my friend said in her best posh voice "We've come to see the stone circle". He was obviously taken with her as he couldn't have been more helpful, telling us where to park and where to walk. A few minutes later he reappeared with a rather attractive information sheet produced by Wardell Armstrong, the engineering company responsible for reinstating the site. The leaflet headed "Dix Pit Landfill Devil's Quoits" explained the background to the project; the Devil's Quoits Circle had been one of the most important Henge sites in Britain dating back four and half thousand years, used by the local people from the Thames Valley Region. The circle was some 75m in diameter with a two metre ditch and outer Henge bank surrounding them. The three original stones were geologically assessed and the new stones were sourced locally from the same conglomerate stone.

We set off along the gravel path – lake, willows and wild fowl on one side and fairly new tree plantation on the other. The circle itself was unlike any I have yet seen; even in the brilliant mid-day sunshine the landfill site in the background initially gave it a stark feel, however, this soon disappeared. Within minutes of our arrival a pair red kites soared overhead and glided down as low as I have ever seen red kites. Their interest was clearly the landfill site but what a display. They glided on thermal currents giving us a splendid view of their reddish brown tail feathers which strangely enough echoed the colour of the stones.

Seen from the far Henge bank the circle comes to life and the knowledge that it will still be there in another hundred years when the landfill has long since been abandoned was very satisfying. Later we sat on the stones near the entrance stile while I made a few notes - my friend called for me to look up … the kites had returned to give us yet another magnificent aerial display.

A great day … and many thanks to the lovely people we met earlier who gave us clear and accurate directions.

Footnote: The gates of the recycling plant close at 5.00pm (on Saturday anyway) so only day time visits are viable by car.
tjj Posted by tjj
22nd May 2010ce
Edited 23rd May 2010ce

What a spectacular site. What struck me the most is how quickly you forget that this is a reconstruction. It really doesn't seem to matter. I'd expected the experience to be tempered by the knowledge that the site isn't original or 'genuine', but frankly, it just looks so stunning that all such thoughts are driven from the mind.

I was also surprised at how little the surrounding tip impacts upon the site. And when it does, it almost enriches it in a strange way. The fact that such a unique and stunning location can exist in such against such an incongruous backdrop is somehow rewarding in its own right. Perhaps it helps that the site is reconstructed rather than original, because it feels as though something has been miraculously salvaged where there might otherwise be nothing at all.

When entering the tip, I wasn't at all clear where to park, so I ended up parking in the wrong place (of which more later). Basically, there's a small parking area just to your left as you pass the public recycling area (with a "congregation point" sign, but no parking sign and no sign for the quoits). Once parked, there, there's an obvious public footpath leading to the stones.

The one thing that marred the experience for me was the horrible little jobsworth oink who took an attitude with me for parking in the wrong place. It wasn't clear where to park, there was nobody visible to ask, and my car was tucked well out of the way of passing trucks, but this bloke still had the demeanour of personal affront that only ever seems to grace small-minded little men who've been waiting years to exercise the slight modicum of power that's fallen into their sad little laps. There were threats of locked gates and rude reprimands for missed signposts - where a simple smile and an indication of the correct place to park would have sufficed. It's a shame, because the company that own the site have obviously put a huge amount of effort into supporting the reconstruction, and it would be nice if their staff could show a little more enthusiasm for the project - or at least a little less belligerence.
Posted by Mustard
21st February 2010ce
Edited 23rd February 2010ce

Quoit a resurrection

WOW! It's true, the stones are all finally up!

Me and Rupe walked the dog round the bottom end of the lake this afternoon (rather than parking up by the recycling centre) to find this:

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/68766/images/devils_quoits.html
http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/68767/images/devils_quoits.html

As well as the stones going up, the henge had been mown and looked all 'coifed' and magnificent, and the hundreds of rabbits I saw last month with ocifant were gone.

We paused by the biggest of the original stones – it was thrilling to see it back up again, looking just like in the 1882 photo by Henry Taunt. I took a photo, as the shadows looked remarkably similar to that in Taunt's picture.

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/68765/devils_quoits.html

To my knowledge this complete reconstruction of a site using what is left of the original stones, plus some new ones, is unique. Interesting that it's the painstaking excavation of Oxford Archaeology working with site owner Hanson who have made it happen.

As we were leaving, two blokes wearing florescent yellow jackets and hard hats from the portakabin at the dump approached us. They had seen us as we walked round the top of the bank. One wore a tie and had clean hands (obviously the site manager) and the other wore a sweaty T-shirt, big shit-kicking boots and had dirty hands (obviously a workman). They asked what we were doing there as there is no public access. I told them the dog gets walked up there every day (by my kids) as we only live 'over there' *points towards to village*.

A charm offensive was needed to diffuse any whiff of trespass, so I enthused about the stones (not difficult!) and how over the years we'd watched the work continuing and how excited we were to see the stones go up on Wednesday. This seemed to do the trick.

The man in the tie said they'd be a public opening in late August/early September. He also told me that once it was open, they planned to limit access to it with a fence "like at Stonehenge", he said, to stop people walking all over it, wearing it down and to prevent rabbits recolonising it and denuding it. "Like hell that's going to happen" I thought. He said that all the rabbits had been gassed last week and they were keen to keep them off – they were damaging the ditch and bank very badly.

I asked the man with the dirty hands if he was part of the team who put the stones up. He was! He said it felt pretty special to be part of it, which I thought was nice.

So there you have it.

And as we walked back to Rupe's house he said: "your stone-hugger friends will be excited … ooh, there's two of them now!" and at that moment Vybik John and Common Era pulled up in a car. I told them which way to walk round the lake to the stones without being spotted by the site staff.

Please remember if you visit the henge that you are technically trespassing.
Jane Posted by Jane
4th July 2008ce
Edited 7th July 2008ce

Many thanks to Jane for taking over to see the henge earlier today. As previously stated, this lies in the middle of landfill, on private land. However, we weren't challenged at all and spent some time looking around the henge and watching the birds all around.

I was extremely surprised at the extent of the site - for some reason I'd only expected an arc of stones at the edge of a gravel pit!

Although only partially restored, it's possible to relate to the previous splendour of this place, even amongst all the rubbish. The rabbits have made a real mess of the restored part of the ditch, and there are copious deposits of bones (no feathers) all across the site. I expect the bones have been dropped by the many crows and kites around. However, it looks as if some progress is being made as a large number of pits have been dug, including an outlier close to the circle, presumably ready to receive the stones strewn in the centre of the site. The pits are not evenly spaced, suggesting that they have been based upon previous digs noting the original positions of the stones. I look forward to eventually seeing the porject completed!
ocifant Posted by ocifant
1st June 2008ce

I was lucky enough to meet up with Jane and Moth two weekends ago and we went to visit Devil's Quoits.

It has to be stressed that there is still NO PUBLIC ACCESS to this site and they do not welcome visitors, but Jane was able to work her magic and we were granted brief access to the site. This point needs to be made as if you try and make your way to the site you are going to be setting yourself up for disappointment and a wasted journey. It is well and truly off limits.

I have to say I was impressed by what I saw. Much work has been done since the last postings and the site now resembles a henge and stone circle, as opposed to a filthy great pit or building site.

The henge has been fully reconstructed and two of the original three stones, in addition to six new stones have been erected. There is still much to be done but it was wonderful to gain a tangible view of what the henge must have once looked like.

The largest of the original stones has still to be erected but it's trench is dug and it has been raised on to wooden struts, so hopefully this will be done soon.

Slightly disappointingly, the company that bought the site from Hansen, WRG (Waste Resource Group) Ltd's PR Manager said that no work was scheduled for the foreseeable future.

Two factors are affecting the site, feathers and rabbit holes. I would say, when building a rabbit fence around something, that you check there's no rabbits inside what you're enclosing. Either that or the fence is completely innaffectual. One area of the henge has become riddled with rabbit holes.

And when the sun shines the whole area shimmers silvery white, by the feathers shed from various thousands of geese and other birds that have used the site as a temporary home whilst they make use of the lake to the south of the area.
jacksprat Posted by jacksprat
19th March 2006ce
Edited 23rd May 2006ce

Devil’s Quoits, 9th March 2002

This site has occupied a curious place in my imagination for several years now – I’ve always known almost exactly where it was, but always felt as if it was untouchable, beyond reach, to be imagined but not experienced. I first read about it, as a passing reference, in Aubery Burl’s field guide many years ago. Not quite so many years ago I failed to get onto a rare organised visit organised by organised southern stone circle freaks. Only when the topic of the site was raised a few weeks ago did I finally decide to get down there and find out just what was going on, and why this site is so difficult to visit, or at least seems that way.

Located just south-west of Oxford, on the edge of the village of Stanton Harcourt, the Devil’s Quoits have suffered unjustly from their favourable location. Once the centre of considerable Bronze Age activity (records show this to rival Avebury, Flag Fen and Glynsaithmaen as a prehistoric cultural centre), first medieval agriculture, then wartime ‘necessity’, then construction (this is a rich gravel bed extraction area), and finally, the greatest insult of all, landfill. The henge and barrows ploughed out and destroyed, the stones flattened to build the runway, the earth scarred and ripped to provide the raw materials for road-building, and the wounds tended with the rotting garbage of our throw-away society. To study the progress of British civilisation, look no further.

But you can’t. This site is still a working landfill site, home of a never-ending procession of bin-wagons, bulldozers and responsible landscape gardeners, as an unwelcome a prospect for Neolithic explorers as could be imagined. But prompted by a throwaway question, and still smarting from being too disorganised to make the previous visit 2 years ago, I took the bold step of ringing up the site, and asking, no, demanding, to be allowed on to the site, to inspect the damage for myself. In one of those strange twists that came to define the day, the lads on the site were really helpful, and could see no problem in me turning up, with up to 9 friends, pretty much any time I liked. That’s it, you can visit anytime you like, you only have to ask, and you’re in.

As the site is still a working landfill site, and is going to remain that way for a while, you have to follow Health and Safety regulations when on-site, which means high-visibility jacket/vest and hard-hat, but the site office can lend you these, and you really want to be wearing wellies as well.

7 of us got together, and turned up on a fiendishly blustery day in March 2002. We parked up, signed in, kitted out and walked the 800 feet from the site office to the remains of the Devils Quoits henge, alongside an enormous gravel pit lake, which according to my map of the area, previously was home to dozens of barrows. By the waters edge are a variety of felled stones in a variety of conditions, piled up, half-buried and up on display. Most prominent is the stone clearly recognisable from the 19th century photograph (aka “Quoit A”), then towering above the self-photographer, now lying on the ground, still with a deep groove on it’s right-hand side. Slightly to the south are 2 half-buried stones, man height, which we took to be the other 2 stones standing in 1940. To the north is a genuine “pile of broken rocks”, which were apparently discovered in the 1988 excavations. These are not thought to have been part of the circle, but have been kept anyway, “just in case”. If all you’re interested in is seeing big stones tower above you, then you’re going to be disappointed, for the time being anyway. All the stones have been recovered from their graves, but await res-erection.

To the east of this megalithic graveyard is a far more impressive sight – the henge returns! And what a beauty it is, roughly equal in size to an Avebury inner-circle or Stanton Drew. This was a true giant among the henges, the focus of what seems to have been a site of huge importance, quite plainly the result of a lot of effort and hard-labour. The reconstructed ditch is deep and wide. It’s hard to imagine on a bleak pre-equinox spring morning, with rubbish blowing about, a disturbingly large number of dead birds crunching underfoot, and heavy plant roaring in every direction, but this was the centre of a barrow cemetery stretching for miles in every direction, the focus of a determined and extremely able society, of which we know just about nothing, and have literally thrown away the chance of discovering.

The Oxford Archaeological Unit (OAU) are working hard to make amends and cling onto what little we have, along with the heavy machinery of the Waste Recycling Group. 3 excavations have uncovered the surviving stones, the location of the stone holes, and the dimensions of the henge ditch. The ground has been brought down to the level of the site at the time of construction (various datum levels remain to show the level before work started, with little grass hairpieces) and the immense ditch dug out. The OAU have calculated the labour required to raise each stone by hand, and plan to reunite each surviving stone back to it’s place after their oh-so brief immersion in the soil. Missing stones are to be replaced with likely substitutes, from the local conglomerate. An awesome weekend awaits the strong, curious and adventurous.

The end-result should be a cut-above the average “landfill-turned-countrypark” that are becoming increasingly common. A great scar has been inflicted on what was once a site of intense activity. The countless barrows are gone, never to return, but a peaceful place for the future beckons. Visit it often, and marvel at the changes.
Posted by RiotGibbon
12th March 2002ce

I lived in Stanton Harcourt between 1993 and 1997 and now live in the next village (Eynsham) and although I knew the Quoits were there, I never saw them until October 2002 where I was treated to acarefully re-constructed building site.

It'll be great when they are re-erected and reopened for public scrutiny, however, one Stanton Harcourt resident reported to me that there may be some opposition from certain (small minded!) villagers as they fear that displaying them again might attract 'undesirable-types' to the village.
Jane Posted by Jane
17th January 2002ce
Edited 3rd August 2010ce

Folklore

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This version has a happier outcome for the Devil:
At a short distance from the village are the disconnected stones known as the Devil's Quoits [..]; the name arises from the popular tradition that the Devil played here with a beggar for his soul, and won by the throwing of these huge stones.
p89 in 'A Handbook for Travellers in Berks, Bucks and Oxfordshire', published by John Murray (1860).
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
11th September 2007ce

Beacon Hill is a very conspicuous landmark, just above Eynsham Bridge, on the Berkshire side of the Thames, about two and a half miles in a straight line from the "Quoits." [..] The devil was playing quoits on Beacon Hill on a Sunday, and in a rage at being told it was wrong, he threw these three to where they are now.
One of the quoits standing in Walker's Field was once taken away and put over a ditch called the "Back Ditch" in the "Farm Close" to make a bridge; but it was always slipping, and although often put back, it would not rest, and they were obliged at last to take it back to where it now stands. Wheel marks can still be seen on it - (From Chas. Batts, labourer, of Stanton Harcourt, aged 35, who had it from his father. January 1 1898).
{Mr. Akerman, in 1858, records a rationalised version of the same story, as follows: "There is a tradition in the neighbourhood that the northernmost stone was once removed by an occupier of the land, and laid across a watercourse, where it served as a bridge over which waggons and carts for some time passed, and that it was restored to its old locality at the request of one of the Harcourt family. A grove in this stone, eight inches from the top, seven inches in width, and about three inches deep, is believed to have been caused by the wheels of the vehicles when it lay prostrate."}

{Joseph Goodlake of Stanton Harcourt (now of Yarnton), aged 63, in March, 1901, gave me the following particulars which he had from his father: "When the war was in England, the fighting ended at Stanton by those stones, and from there across to Stanlake Down by Cut Mill. Harcourt was the general; he was Emperor in England; he is buried in the church with his sword and gun and clothes." Further: "When the war was in England the officers used to hide behind them" (the Devil's Quoits) "from the bullets," and the men used to pick the bullets out of them when my informant was young.}

{The legend connecting the Quoits with a battle is confirmed by a story told by Tom Hughes [Scouring of the White Horse, 1859]: "An old man in that village" (Stanton Harcourt) "told me that a battle was fought there, which the English were very near losing, who was in the thick of it, and called out, 'Stan' to un, Harcourt, stan' to un, Harcourt,' and that Harcourt won the battle, and the village has been called Stanton Harcourt ever since."}
From:Stray Notes on Oxfordshire Folklore, by Percy Manning, in Folklore, Vol. 13, No. 3. (Sep. 29, 1902), pp. 288-295.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
30th September 2006ce
Edited 30th September 2006ce

There is a story that tells of how the henge was given its name.

In the book 'Oxfordshire Folklore', by Christine Bloxham (tempus 2005), it is said that the Devil was playing a game of quoits and was told off by God, because it was a Sunday and there was to be no recreation.

In a petulant fit of anger the Devil threw the quoits as far as he could and where they landed became the site we now know.
jacksprat Posted by jacksprat
19th March 2006ce
Edited 19th March 2006ce

One Stanton Harcourt resident told me that some years ago, her neighbour, an old man, now deceased, who had lived his whole life in the village, had been told by his father that he knew the location of one of the 'lost' stones. It was buried beneath the what is now the Stanton Harcourt cricket pitch. Anyone got an instrument for reading subterranean densities? Jane Posted by Jane
6th March 2003ce
Edited 6th March 2003ce

Miscellaneous

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Access: when you get to the end of the lane, turn left and park facing the lake. Get permission to visit the henge by signing in at the weighbridge/reception building behind you and walk off round the right hand side of the lake for 400 ms. You can't miss it.

Dix Pit Waste Disposal Centre, Stanton Harcourt is open Mon-Sun 8.30-5.00 (winter) and 8.30-8.00 (summer).

Oh, and wear wellies!
Jane Posted by Jane
2nd November 2003ce
Edited 2nd November 2003ce

Here is a quote from the book "Stanton Harcourt, a moment in time", which gives a bit more detail.

"...The Devil's Quoits were a major ceremonial site in the Thames Valley 4500 years ago. The village of Stanton Harcourt derives its name from them"

("Stanton" means settlement near the stones, the "Harcourt" bit comes from the local family who still live in the manor) ...

"Thirty five stones were set in a 75 metre circle, with a two metre ditch surrounding them. The gravel extracted from the ditch formed a bank outside it. Most of the monument was destroyed by medieval farmers. The remaining three stones were buried in 1940 to make a wartime aerodrome. Excavations took place by the Upper Thames Archeological Committee in the early 1970s when the site was used for gravel extraction. Part of the ditch was excavated amd more recently the remainder of the the holes for the stones have been located by the Oxford Archeological Unit..."
Jane Posted by Jane
2nd November 2003ce

Links

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The Devil's Quoits - Youtube


wickerman Posted by wickerman
6th December 2012ce

From British Archaeology magazine


an article about the re-building of the Quoits, by archaeologist Gill Hey
Jane Posted by Jane
1st September 2009ce

Place: Planning in harmony with the land


Liam Rogers's (winter 2001) discussion of how the site might be restored sensitively.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
13th June 2002ce