In early March, I briefly visited The Long Barrow at All Cannings, a 21st-century columbarium inspired by the design of early Neolithic chambered long barrows. Situated in glorious countryside of the Vale of Pewsey, its form and location mirrors monuments over 5,000 years old, some of which have been systematically (and sometimes repeatedly) investigated by archaeologists since the 19th century: the tombs of Britain’s earliest farming communities.
On that visit, I simply walked around the outside in failing light and peered inside this unique and truly beautiful burial monument which is built to receive the ashes of many hundreds of people. The ashes will not be buried but held in niches within domed-roofed and circular-planned chambers and along the central passage.
Later that month, I got a chance to visit again. Aware of my interest in mortuary monuments past and present, the owner, Mr Tim Daw, very kindly agreed to open up the monument and show me inside. I didn’t think it was appropriate to photograph, so I defer readers to The Long Barrow’s website and my previous blog entry for formal descriptions and details.
I would like to convey my additional impressions of the inside and outside, informed by the second visit and the information generously supplied by Mr Daw. I got to look around twice, once with Tim and then a second time when my son finally decided to explore with us.
Going inside the monument was both exciting and intriguing. In addition to the points raised in my earlier post, I found the follow:
- Like any piece of architecture, looking at the photographs and experiencing the space are different things; it was surprisingly spacious and this was not a deception of the photographs.
- Getting to explore inside allowed me to further appreciate the transition from light to dark as one enters (akin to other reconstructed chambered tombs).
- I also appreciated better the spatial arrangement of passage and chambers, the effect of using dry stone pillars to demarcate the columns of niches, the four large circular chambers and their sense of coherence rather than as simply antechambers from a central passage.
- I was particularly struck but the single niche-wide aperture allowing access to a fifth small chamber.
- Tim had kindly lit the chambers to allow us to explore them in dim light. The quiet, the calm, the relative warmth and the crisp lines of the design, and the stunning domes need to be experienced first hand.
- Many niches have been reserved, but as a very new monument, very few are yet taken. In other words, many reserved remain still open empty niches.
- Another key impression was the diversity of ways in which the small number of spaces now occupied have been elaborated. There is a transition between occupied and unoccupied niches, since those occupied might yet have covering slabs over them, while some unoccupied ones, or partly occupied, might have a covering slab.
- Only a very few of fixed covering slabs; urns sealed in and no longer accessible.
- The architectural design allows for considerable freedom of expression for each leased niche. The containers on display (and when concealed, described by Tim) varied from modest vases and caskets to elaborate and bespoke vessels and boxes of all manner of materials.
- Equally varied is the styles of the slabs placed over occupied niches some simply with surnames of the occupants, others with basic biographical details akin to a gravestone in a cemetery or churchyard, but others with distinctive elaborate designs.
- My final impression is that it still looks largely empty and there is an aesthetic in the emptiness itself. Unless some modern crematoria where ‘reserved’ gets stuck on yet-to-be-used memorial spaces, the spaces that are empty look fine and beautfiful as they are.
Looking Around and Out
Unlike before, I got to walk up onto and along the monument. Its shape and design mirror the nearby long barrows and its scale and character are appreciated best through walking along its spine. I was impressed by its steepness and I liked how it raised above the sodden fields following fresh rain.
I knew that All Cannings was situated in a landscape rich in prehistoric monuments including Bronze Age barrows. Also, to the north-east of the Long Barrow is Rybury – a Neolithic causewayed enclosure in Clifford’s Hill later elaborated into an Iron Age hillfort. Tim pointed out that the precise location of the Long Barrow is intervisible with two other long barrows of Neolithic date, one to the north called Kitchen Barrow on the side of the slopes of the Marlborough Downs. The second is more dramatically situated to the east: Adam’s Grave long barrow.
Thanks to Tim for showing us around and I hope to visit again in the future.