Riddle of the rocks

Wadsley and Loxley Commoners stone circle investigation: Amateur archaeologist Roger Manktelow with one of the stones
Wadsley and Loxley Commoners stone circle investigation: Amateur archaeologist Roger Manktelow with one of the stones

WADSLEY Common has many mysteries, as visitors to the regular Wadsley Ghost Walks will know.

But last weekend there was a new source of wonder to the dog walkers and joggers passing by the Long Lane car park.

Wadsley and Loxley Commoners stone circle investigation: Archaeologist Michael McCoy (left) in the smaller circle with Tony Goodall

Wadsley and Loxley Commoners stone circle investigation: Archaeologist Michael McCoy (left) in the smaller circle with Tony Goodall

Who were all these people with string, tape measures and chocolate biscuits? Why were they spending hours staring at rocks and heather?

“Are we looking at Stonehenge on the top of Wadsley Common? No, I don’t think so,” said archaeologist Michael McCoy. “But I think there is a possibility of something here, maybe something Neolithic, but what it was for we just don’t know. Maybe it was just part of life.”

The Wadsley and Loxley Commoners were running a preliminary archaeological survey on a potential stone circle (or circles).

A range of stones were uncovered by a clearance near the Long Lane trig point two years ago, and after waiting for the go-ahead from the council, the commoners enlisted the help of local professional Michael and amateur archaeologist (and Wadsley Commoner) Roger Manktelow to help them look more closely at the site.

“We set up a baseline with a long tape measure and then measure the stones from that,” Roger explained. “Then once it’s all drawn in, you can get some idea if there’s any symmetry or if it’s just a scatter of rock – and we’re not ruling that out.”

Around 20 commoners, amateur archaeologists and keen locals took part in the survey.

“My gut instinct is that there is something here but what we have I don’t know,” said Roger.

Commoner Alan Bailey was among the clearance team that originally came across the stones.

The commoners had also heard from an elderly local lady that she had picnicked at a stone circle on the common when she was a girl.

“We said at the time, ‘Oh, this looks like a circle,’ but you realise when you have a field full of stones, it’s very easy to get carried away,” said Alan.

The experts on hand on Sunday said there were three broad possibilities.

Firstly, the Wadsley stones may just be a field full of stones left behind by the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago. The whole area could just be rocks, with only those poking through the heather visible, said Michael McCoy.

The positioning of two standing stones would tend to weigh against this.

Secondly, the stones might simply be a folly, placed in henge-like fashion by labourers in the employment of eccentric former landowner Dr Henry Payne 150 years ago.

And thirdly, (and what even the hardened scientists were hoping for, it seemed) was that the stones on Wadsley are indeed a prehistoric structure placed by the Wadsley Commoners of 4,000 or more years ago.

As possible man-made formations, Michael and Roger had identified two small circles a few metres in diameter and a possible larger circle up to 60 metres across.

“The small circle is a real possibility, I think,” said Michael. “It looks like a void in the middle, with a set number of stones around the edge which could have been moved around.”

Standing stones nearby could have just been set up on their own, for reasons unknown.

“Such stones could have just been spaces for people to gather, so they could come back to the same place every year, or just markers for people in the landscape – there are lots of ideas.”

“Stone circles are not round generally, as they they didn’t have the benefits of GPS in those days,” said Roger.

“Many also had a bank and ditch around them but I can’t see one here, although we are looking at the levels of the stones in the survey.”

The position of the ditch varies: some circles have it outside the circles, possibly as protection against human attackers.

“But in some, the ditch is on the inside, which suggests they were protecting themselves from something within. Spirits, perhaps.”

Wadsley ghost story collector John Robinson is keen to find such material for future ghost walks.

“I was at a meeting in the Lord Mayor’s chambers recently and I mentioned during a lull in the conversation that we might have found a stone circle on Wadsley Common. And the lady on my right, said: ‘Oh yes, I’m a druid, I’ve known about it for years.’”

John hopes the stones will help to generate even more interest in Wadsley Common. The commoners are looking into a funding bid to set up a Heritage Trail to help people discover local history and prehistory.

There could also be further archaeological surface surveys, although digging would be unlikely due to the common’s status as a nature reserve.

“I hope this will create interest and be another feather in the common’s cap,” said John Robinson.

“I’d love it to appear as a stone circle on future maps. I’m not sure we’ll get druids up here on Midsummer Eve, but as to the Ghost Walks, I’d say watch this space.”

lMore information: www.wadsley-loxley.org