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Scheduled Monument record MDR1535 - Arbor Low circle-henge, Middleton and Smerrill

Type and Period (3)

Protected Status/Designation

Full Description

Arbor Low is located nearly due north of Stonehenge slightly off the summit of a hill. On a clear day the summit of Chinley Hill, some 15 miles away can be seen through a hollow in the nearby hills. This falls on a line 30 degrees west of north and if continued past Chinley Hill passes close by two lows on Chelmorton Low and between two lows below Brown Edge. In the opposite direction, the line passes through two other lows. The opposite line, pointing 30 degrees east of north passes through the summit of Longstone Edge and Stannage Edge. The perforated hole stone, if standing, would probably also have been in this line of sight. It seems likely that Arbor Low's gateways and positions of unobstructed view were aligned 30 degrees west of north, 30 degrees east of north and one due south. (1) The external bank of Arbor Low (six to seven feet) and internal rock-cut ditch (nine to ten feet) is interrupted by two opposite causeways. A ring of 42 stones is located around the edge of the central area. Within this area, a central feature was found to contain the extended skeleton of a man. The henge is connected with a round barrow (Gib Hill) [SMR 10114] by a small bank and ditch [SMR 31041]. There is an another barrow east of the south entrance [SMR 10107]. (3, 6, 7, 10) A number of flint artefacts, including a flint discoidal knife have been recovered from Arbor Low, by J F Lucas in 1867. (2, 10, 18, 20) Other material found near Arbor Low includes a part of a jet ring, of unknown date, found in April 1852, and a 'group VII stone axe', found at the same time; and a spherical piece of chert, found January 1840. A leaf shaped arrow-head has also been found at Arbor Low by C. Littlewood. It retains some of the cortex and its edges are pressure-flaked. Now in Derby Museum. (4, 16) Arbor Low consists of four parts, all of differing dates; the earth circle and ditch, the circle of small standing stones, the circle and centre setting of bigger stones and a Bronze Age barrow [SMR 10109]. (5) Arbor Low is a Class II Henge Monument consisting of a ring of 42 stones, now mostly flat [1951], with a central cove, surrounded by a ditch and external bank. A single bank "avenue" [SMR 31041] leads off to south-west, possibly towards Gib Hill [SMR 10114]. (8) By 1952, all of the stones were recumbent and there were some signs of mutilation of the bank. (9) The construction of the Arbor Low complex probably spans a few centuries. Although it is clear that the barrow adjacent to the henge is later in date. (12) Arbor Low circle-henge is situated on the false crest of a high limestone ridge at 370 metres Ordnance Datum. The name appears to derive from 'Eorthburg Hlaw' which means Earthwork Mound. The monument consists of a massive bank and ditch surrounding a central area with stone settings. It was excavated in 1901 to 1902 by Gray, although earlier diggings have been undertaken but are poorly recorded. Gray excavated two trenches through the bank; to the west it was constructed of limestone rubble and to the east it was mainly limestone boulders. The internal quarry ditch is less regular in measurement than the bank. It defines an oval central area with an approximate diameter of 40 metres by 52 metres. Gray dug six trenches in the ditch including the terminals. Finds included 13 ox teeth, antler tine, flint flakes, a flint scraper and a barbed and tanged arrowhead. Two wide gaps in the ditch form 'entrances' into the central area. Within the south-south-east entrance is a low limestone stump set radially and nearby is its top which has broken and fallen across the entrance. No excavations have been carried to confirm if more portal stones exist within the entrances. A two metre diameter pit in the north-west entrance may have been dug to remove a stone. Between three and six metres from the inner edge of the ditch are the ruined remains of a stone circle. Today there are 50 to 52 limestone slabs and fragments of stone in a crude ring, with two fragments which have fallen into the ditch. Many of these stones appear to fit back together and therefore there were probably 41 to 43 stones originally. The stone circle diameter was probably c.42 metres by 37 metres. Gray suggested that the stones came from some distance away as their colour does not match the local limestone. At the centre of the site is a ruined setting called 'the cove'. Originally this may have been rectangular, about three to six metres across and with at least six stones. An extended male skeleton was uncovered within the cove laid with the head orientated south-south-east. The majority of the central area defined by the circle remains unexcavated. The south-eastern quadrant of the henge has been disturbed by the superimposition of a large barrow [SMR 10109]. A few metres beyond the henge to the south-east is a low barrow [SMR 10107]. (21, 23) Arbor Low is a located on a broad ridge top with good visibility over the northern half of the land and the Monyash basin. (22) The monument is situated in the central uplands of the limestone plateau of Derbyshire and includes, within two areas, Arbor Low henge and stone circle, the linear bank adjoining the henge, and the bowl barrow superimposed on the east side of the henge bank. The henge comprises a massive bank and internal quarry ditch surrounding an oval area with a diameter of c.40 metres by 52 metres. The ditch varies between seven metres and 12 metres wide and has been demonstrated by Gray, who carried out partial excavations of the site in 1901 to 1902, to have been two to three metres deep originally with steep rock-cut sides. The bank, which is c. two metres high and between eight metres and ten metres wide, is roughly circular and has an external diameter of 90 metres by 85 metres. It is estimated originally to have been c. three metres high and is broken by two entrances, one to the north-west and the other to the south-south-east. The ditch is crossed by causeways at the entrances, the former nine metres wide and the latter six metres wide. Gray excavated both terminals of the ditch at the north-west entrance, uncovering the remains of bone and antler tools, flint flakes and a number of flint artefacts which included scrapers, a leaf-shaped arrowhead and a barbed and tanged arrowhead. Traces of fire were also found, together with a series of ledges which Gray interpreted as steps. Antler tines were found at the south-south-east entrance and are also taken to be the remains of tools used to construct the henge. A stone in this entrance, and a corresponding pit in the north-west causeway, indicate that both entrances may originally have contained portal stones. Within the henge are the remains of a large irregular stone circle originally comprising 41 to 43 upright limestone slabs. Of these, only one is still standing and several are broken so that there are now more than 50 stumps and fragments. The stones were roughly equally spaced in the ring and varied in height between one metre and nearly three metres with the tallest stones standing near the entrances of the henge. At the centre of the circle is a ruined stone-setting called the cove which consisted of at least six stones believed to have been set in a rectangle. Gray excavated part of the cove and found, on the east side, within an oval arrangement of large blocks, an extended skeleton laid with its head to the south-south-east. Several metres north-east of this he found traces of another human burial, in a pit disturbed by an earlier unrecorded excavation. (24) Large later Neolithic sites such as the Arbor Low complex tend to occupy important watersheds. These locations could suggest that complexes were built at neutral locations for 'inter-group' meetings, or in disputed boundary or seasonally-used zones. Alternatively, they may be central places, or a combination of both of these explanations. (26) Photos taken in 2010 reveal extent of erosion damage. (29) A digital copy of a water-colour and site plan of Arbor Low, made by General Pitt-Rivers, was sent to the HER via the Pitt Rivers Museum. It was drawn in 1884 when he was first Inspector of Ancient Monuments. It is from a newly-discovered album of images donated to the museum by the Pitt-Rivers family. (30)

Sources/Archives (30)

  • <1> Article in serial: Matthews, T. 1907. 'Some notes on Arbor Low and other lows in the High Peak', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 29. pp 103-112.
  • <2> Bibliographic reference: Evans, J. 1897. Ancient Stone Implements of Great Britain. pp 72, 343, 352.
  • <3> Article in serial: Gray, H S G. 1902. 'Arbor Low Stone Circle: Excavation in 1901 and 1902', Archaeologia. Volume 58 (26?). pp 41-77, 483, plans.
  • <4> Bibliographic reference: Bateman, T. 1855. Descriptive Catalogue of the Antiquities at Lomberdale House. G223, L79.
  • <5> Article in serial: Barham, B. 1928-29. 'Arbor Low and the holed stone', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 50, pp 79-84. p 81.
  • <6> Article in serial: Clark, G. 1936. "The Timber Monument at Arminghall and its Affinities", Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. Vol. 2.
  • <7> Bibliographic reference: Van Gitten, A E. 1938. 'Continental Bell or Disc Barrows in Holland', Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. Vol.4. p 262.
  • <8> Bibliographic reference: Atkinson, R et al.. 1951. Excavations at Dorchester, Oxon. p 31.
  • <9> Personal Observation: F1 FC 19-AUG-52.
  • <10> Article in serial: Fowler, M. 1955. 'The Transition from the late Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 75, pp 77-112. pp 78-79, 97.
  • <11> Personal Observation: F2 FC 28-APR-66.
  • <12> Article in serial: Radley, J. 1968. 'The origin of Arbor Low henge monument', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 88. pp 100-103.
  • <13> Article in serial: Wainwright, G J. 1969. 'A Review of Henge Monuments in the Light of Recent Research', Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. vol.35. p 112.
  • <14> Article in serial: Burl, A. 1969. 'Henges: internal features and regional groups’, Archaeological Journal. Vol. 126. pp 1-28.
  • <15> Unpublished document: Lewis, G (University of Liverpool). 1970. The Bronze Age in the Southern Pennines. p 513.
  • <16> Aerial Photograph: 1972. AP: DCC Survey: 8. AP 16_178L.
  • <17> Bibliographic reference: Burl, A. 1976. The Stone Circles of the British Isles. pp 343, 396.
  • <18> Bibliographic reference: Marsden, B. 1977. The Burial Mounds of Derbyshire. p 73.
  • <19> Bibliographic reference: Burl, A. 1979. Rings of Stone: The Prehistoric Stone Circles of Britain and Ireland. p 216.
  • <20> Index: North Derbyshire Archaeological Trust (NDAT). North Derbyshire Archaeological Trust Index. 1499,1532,2632.
  • <21> Bibliographic reference: Hart, C (NDAT). 1981. The North Derbyshire Archaeological Survey to AD 1500. p 41.
  • <22> Unpublished document: Barnatt, J. 1989. The Peak District Barrow Survey (updated 1994). Site 8:8.
  • <23> Unpublished document: Barnatt, J (PDNPA). 1993. Upper Oldhams Farm, Stanton Estate Land, Middleton-by-Youlgreave, Derbyshire, archaeological survey, 1993, archaeological interpretation. p 31.
  • <24> Scheduling record: English Heritage. 1994. Scheduling Notification: Arbor Low henge, large irregular stone circle, linear bank and bowl barrow.
  • <25> Bibliographic reference: Barnatt, J and Collis, J. 1996. Barrows in the Peak District: Recent Research. pp 65-6.
  • <27> Photograph: Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA). Slide Collection. 10108.1-35; 10108.50-53 (1996).
  • <28> Photograph: Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA). Black and white photograph collection. 418.25A-26A; 461.4-14; 464.34-36; 465.2,5-6; 535.1-19 (1999).
  • <29> Unpublished document: Wheal, S (PDNPA). 2008. Scheduled Monument Monitoring Form: Arbor Low Henge.
  • <30> Photograph: Photograph Collection, Conservation & Design section, Derbyshire County Council. HER Images (digital).
  • <31> Unpublished document: Martin, L (English Heritage). 1998. Arbor Low, Derbyshire: Report on Geophysical Survey, August 1998.



Grid reference Centred SK 1603 6355 (90m by 90m) (Centre)

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Record last edited

Aug 1 2020 1:50PM

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