A megalithic monument in the Shoulder of Mutton field, Attingham Park
A megalithic monument in the Shoulder of Mutton field, Attingham Park

Yesterday, I posted about the lifting of the curse of the red trousers and my visit to Attingham Park, Shropshire. Today I want to reflect on one of two points of archaeological interest from visiting the site.

One concerns the children’s play area near the walled garden at Attingham Park. The National Trust website refers to it thus: “Our Shoulder of Mutton playing field near the Orchard is an exciting new development for 2012, featuring loads of things to explore. It’s a long-term project which we’ll be adding to all the time.”

Well, fresh from the discovery of an ‘effigy mound’ at Wepre Park. I was interested in spotting whether any further examples were present here. Instead, I found a megalithic monument worthy of the likes of Chris Chippendale, Cornelius Holtorf and all who are fascinating with the our use of megaliths in the contemporary past.

Daughter no. 2 processing around the northern stone circle

One of the new features of the play area is a large dumbbell-shaped arrangement of large stone blocks. The northern stone circle contained 12 stones of different size and heights. 2 further blocks provided the link. 18 smaller blocks formed a southern circle of very similar, but slightly narrower, diameter. Moreover, the southern circle is marked out as different not only in the number of stones forming its parameter. A 19th stone was placed towards the centre of the arrangement.

More intriguing still, all were ashlar blocks with faces showing the signs of being worked and some with moulding unquestionably denoting their previous use as an elements of built architecture in the Georgian style.

The southern circle

One large rectangular low stone had a central inset rectangle as might be made to receive a plaque. Significantly, this inset stone was situated at the northernmost end of the northern circle.

Whether marking an astronomical alignment, graves of the dead or symbolic houses reflecting the habitus of the contemporary society linking the living and the dead, the pairing was clearly significant. Moreover, the differences between the numbers of stones and the shapes of stones utilised between the two circles and the fact that only one, the southern, had a centrally place stone, indicate that the circles served different purposes. Finally, the reuse of stone from a powerful, ancient dwelling, likewise evidently was part of a conscious selection process that charged the new construction with legitimacy in relation to the works of ancestors or ‘giants’. 

Detail of the northern circle and the two ‘link’ stones

I need to find out, but it looks as leftover masonry from the main house at Attingham has a new ‘afterlife’ existence as a pair of linked stone circles. Still, one can but muse as to what Professor Julian Thomas of the University of Manchester would make of it. After all, he has hit the headlines this summer because of his co-directed excavations in Dorstone Hill, Herefordshire finding Neolithic cairns built over deliberately destroyed houses. Is this a modern version of the same process?