above steyning crop

River and Hill

Bells, Bowls and other Barrows

By Jim Hindle, May 25 2012 08:00AM

They’re so commonly seen around here it’s tempting at times to take them for granted; the low, curved mounds that speak in an earthy language of their own of distant cultures and what would otherwise be long forgotten burials; nobility or warriors or chieftains who may have been considered royal, if sovereignty was even then exclusive. There are said to be around a thousand barrows throughout the county, of which not more than eighty are fully intact. The impact of the treasure hunters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is well known, as is that of early, informal archaeology. Also post war farming on the Downs – where most of the barrows occur – as well as the spread of towns throughout the region - has undoubtably exerted a heavy toll in terms of what barrows survive.

The Downs west of Alfriston and Lewes are said to be the most prolific for barrows in the wider county, but there may yet be many more surviving, hidden beneath the sprawling plantations that cover so much of the West Sussex Downs. As Leslie Grinsell remarked in the ‘thirties: “all along the ridgeway, at intervals of never more than a few hundred yards, are an enormous number of barrows”. Though they come in several forms, nine tenths of the Sussex barrows are the ‘bowl’ type, further catagorised in some cases as “saucers” or even the strangely titled “Druid No. 2”. But there are many others: bell barrows, disc barrows, ring mounds, platform barrows even long barrows such as the ‘Camel’s Humps’ on Malling Down (also known as the ‘Warrior’s Grave’) and that on Firle Beacon, both thought to once have contained wooden chambers similar to those of stone found in Wiltshire, the Cotswolds and many others places throughout Britain. Barrows wholly or largely comprised of flint cairns were plundered for buildings or roads at least as far back as the mid eighteen hundreds and quite likely for a long time before.

They sit like memories or markers to another time, tagged along the way with younger names and legends whose roots may still stretch further back than we might think: ‘King’s Graves’, ‘Watch Ways’, ‘The Devil’s Jumps’, ‘The Mill Ball’, ‘The Black Burgh’, ‘Four Lord’s Burgh’, ‘Thunder’s Barrow’, ‘Bunker’s Mound’, ‘Pipering Barrow’, ‘Gill’s Grave’, ‘Money Burgh’, ‘Males Burgh’, ‘Long Burgh’, ‘The Hunter’s Burgh’...

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