F. J. Bennett, “On the meridional position of megaliths in Kent compared with those of Wilts, and also with those of earth-works and churches”

South Eastern Naturalist, 9, 29–36 (1904)

This paper is here republished complete; in the 1982 edition of British Geomantic Pioneers it was abridged.


On the meridional* position of Megaliths in Kent compared with those of Wilts, and also with those of Earth-works and Churches.


* By the words Meridional Line I mean one with a general N. and S. trend—not an absolute N. and S. line—as position must count both in the cases of Churches and Camps.

So very little is really known about megaliths that any further information, however small, needs no apology, I think, on my part in bringing it before this Congress.

My object also is to promote discussion. This may result, perhaps, in steps being taken to restore the fallen stones. To do this some excavation will be necessary, and this, if carefully done after the plan advocated by the late General Pitt Rivers, should result in some important information.

The work of this nature recently done at Stonehenge afforded definite information on matters only conjectural before. A most careful survey should be first made of the surrounding area, with contour lines at frequent intervals, with accompanying plans and models such as may so well be seen in that most admirable Pitt Rivers’ Museum at Farnham Royal.

I would suggest that our great Kentish megaliths at Coldrum be first taken in hand. A trench cut through the ditch and mound might reveal the age of this.

All the megaliths that I have seen seem to be composed of unhewn, naturally detached, masses of local stone, left often by denudation after the softer portions had been removed by various denuding agencies.

This is certainly the case in Kent and also in Wilts. Stonehenge is the only exception as far as I know where stones had been dressed on the spot or imported from a distance, so that megaliths are very much dependent upon the local geology.

The larger supply and larger size of the sarsen stones in Wilts, compared with those in Kent, may perhaps have something to do with the fact that the Eocene strata furnishing them thin away there to the west.

But the prehistoric folk of Kent did their best with the smaller stones, and the smaller supply, and we are justly proud of our Kentish megaliths. The area also for their erection was more limited.

It would also be an interesting matter of observation to note, especially in the case of the older churches, the use of naturally shaped surface stones used in their construction, thus connecting them with the megaliths. I have seen this in some of our Kentish churches, and Mr. Benjn. Harrison of Ightham informs me that be had remarked to the late Sir Joseph Prestwich on the fact of so {30} many pieces of Oldbury stone and Ironstone being found in the oldest part of Otford church (Anglo-Saxon), and states that the old churches (near Ightham) are usually built of surface picked stones from a drift and not quarried ones. He also informs me that Kemsing church is said to be on the site of a Pagan temple and proved so by finds in later years. But we must now come to the subject matter of the paper.

Some ten or twelve years ago, when engaged on the Geological Survey in the neighbourhood of Marlborough, Wilts, I was much interested in noting a certain relative order and distance in the position of Avebury, Silbury, and a stone circle south of it.

Just about that time I had been told that someone had stated as a remarkable fact that Avebury, Silbury, Stonehenge, Ogbury camp, Old and New Sarum, were all along a north and south line.

The only published reference that I have found about this is in The Druidical Temples of the County of Wilts, published in 18451846 by the Rev. E. Duke, M.A., F.S.A., F.L.S. The book is a very discursive one, treating of ancient mythologies and seeking to connect these with Stonehenge, &c., it has no index, and the subject matter is most difficult to follow.

On p. 6 he speaks of the meridional line 16 miles in length including, as he considers, seven temples, viz.:—to Venus, the Earth, the Sun, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. He commences this line at the north with a stone circle at Winterbourne-Bassett, and takes in Avebury, Silbury, Walkers Hill, Easterly camp, and Stonehenge, and gives a diagram to illustrate this, and I understand considers he was the first to call attention to this meridional line.

I thought no more about this till I came to reside in this district some few years ago, and then, on visiting Coldrum and Addington, I was much struck by their meridional position, and also that they were one mile apart, and that they seemed at one time to have been connected by a possible via sacra, marked out by stones of which some six or seven along a path south of Coldrum or Addington still remain.

I then noticed that Kit’s Coty House and the Countless Stones were similarly situated. This led me to re-examine the Marlborough sheet of the Wilts map to see if the megaliths north of the Devil’s Den, close to, and west of Marlborough, followed the same line. I found that the two Kistvaens, as they are termed on the map consulted, were both north of the Devil’s Den, and the last one was two miles from that well-known megalith.

So that here we have this interesting fact, that the Kentish megaliths follow the same meridional line as those in Wilts.

The next thing I noticed in the Marlborough map was that north of Avebury Church were three other churches, all a mile apart, and that north again was the Winterbourne-Bassett stone circle and Binknoll camp. So that there you have four churches separated by {31} the same distance that Avebury is from Silbury, and this from the stone circle to the south of it.

So that the meridional line, 31 miles long, starting from Binknoll camp, takes the four churches—Avebury, Silbury, the stone circles, Easterly camp, Stonehenge, Ogbury camp, Old Sarum, New Sarum, Clearbury camp—certainly a most interesting and remarkable fact.

I then looked to see if some of the other churches in that sheet also followed meridional lines and included camps and tumuli, and most of them certainly seemed to do so. I also noted that several of the churches were one mile apart.

Turning again to Kent, and especially to our area, I found that from the foot of the chalk escarpment and north of this and the Thames, and to the east and also the west of Maidstone, the churches seemed to follow meridional lines, including castles, camps, and tumuli, and also that many of the churches again were one mile apart, as in Wilts. Maps were prepared and shown to illustrate this paper; megaliths were indicated by blue, camps and tumuli by green, and churches by red, circles. These meridional lines depart sometimes a little from the north or south (as might be expected) where the position of the church or camp had to be considered.

In that part of the map comprising the Wealden Forest area, the churches seen rather to follow east and west lines, a fact noted in the discussion and dealt with in my reply.

As to why a north and south line should be chosen we can only conjecture. It seems easier to suggest a reason in the cases of the camps and churches than in that of the megaliths. Camps and churches were used in former days for signalling purposes by means of Beacon fires. The great highway for invaders was the sea and the Thames, and this latter is to the north of the chalk escarpment in our area, and it was in that direction that the landings would take place, and from which the signals would first come, and so to the north they would naturally look for such warnings of danger. It is also noteworthy that the parishes run up from the foot of the chalk escarpment in long, narrow parallelograms, with a north and south direction. Mr. Topley was the first to notice this. Something of the kind, too, may have governed the directions of the megaliths, but we must not forget that these have been so much mutilated, and have even been entirely removed in some cases, so that caution is needed in dealing with them.

Then we may say a few words about the mile interval that separates some of the churches. I have found this to be the case in several maps dealing with other areas than those touched on in this paper. Of course, there is always an element of uncertainty in comparing weights and measures of the present day, when the standards have become scientifically fixed, with those of other {32} times and countries, with a varying and by no means fixed standard.

Still it seems worthy of note that we find megaliths separated by the same interval as churches. Sometimes these churches occur in groups of three or four, and sometimes also the distances are a little under and sometimes a little over our mile of to day. Further investigation on these points seems needed.

It may also be found that the churches along north and south lines may be of older date than those that seem to follow east and west lines.

Another matter of much interest to us in Kent is that in the case of some of the churches near our megaliths we find sarsen stones associated either in the foundations or in the walls.

In the case of Cobham church—just north of which are the remains of a stone circle—we find lying on the ground just outside the north porch a large sarsen of a grotesque outline, another leans against the wall of the west end, and another is built into the south wall.

Just outside Meopham churchyard are two very large sarsens. These are found associated with the ruined churches of Maplescombe, Punish, and Paddlesworth, and notably in the foundations of Trotterscliffe Church. Broken up they enter largely into the walls of many others. Outside the churchyard wall of Birling Church are some good-sized sarsens. This leads to the suggestion that some of our churches occupy the sites of the stone circles. We know the early Christian bishops forbad the worship of stones, trees, and wells, but no doubt for some time without much effect. Compromises may afterwards have been arrived at and the stone circles utilised in the building of the Christian churches, so that this seems to point to a continuity of worship right down from pre-historic to Christian times.

The Rev. H. N. Hutchinson, in his work Prehistoric Man and Beast, pp. 258–259, says:—“Many churches have been built on the sites of stone circles. There is a common Gaelic phrase—‘Am bheil thu dol don clachan (are you going to the stones)?’—that is to say, ‘Are you going to church?’ ” And, again, the “Gaelic word clachan signifies both a circle of stones and a place of worship.” All this seems to closely connect our churches with the megaliths, and must add much to the interest of both.

We will now take some meridional lines in Kent, including in some cases both megaliths, camps, tulnuli and churches, and shall begin in the west.

1. Woolwich and Edenbridge, meridional. Woolwich, this now occupying a most important spot on the river, may have done so in long past times.
Shooter’s Hill.—A most marked elevation and of much strategic importance from the earliest times, no doubt.
Chislehurst Church.—Here, also, are numerous Dene-Holes and the now famous caves.
Farnborough Church, Cudham Church, Westerham Church, Knockholt Church.
Edenbridge Church.—Just south of the church are marked on the map the words Devil’s Den in antique type, what this is I do not know. We also have Hever Castle to the south.

We might include in this line, as so close to it, the following churches a little west of it, viz.: Eltham Church and Palace, Mottingham Church, the name also suggests a moot, an old meeting-place; Keston Church, and Hutcircles, with an old camp north of it; Down Church, Cudham Church.

2. Erith and Penshurst meridional.—Erith Church, this was no doubt an important river post; Crayford Church, Bexley Church, The four Cray Churches, Chelsfield Church, Farningham, Eynesford and Lullingstone Churches, Shoreham Church, Otford Church (? Anglo-Saxon) and Palace, Chevening Church, Sevenoaks Church, Knowle House, Ide Hill Church, Weald Church, Chiddingstone Church, Penshurst Church and Castle.

Some considerable deviations will be seen, the disturbing causes are here the valley courses.

3. Purfleet to Bidborough meridional.—Here also might be included with this the churches in the Darenth Valley as so close to it on the west.

Purfleet Church, and the Beacon Hill, a little to the east of it, Dartford Church, Wilmington Church, Darenth Church, Sutton-at-Hone, South Darenth Church, Horton Kirby Church, Maplescombe Church, in ruins and with large sarsens in the interior; Kemsing Church, Seal Church, Under River Church, Hildenborough Church, Bidborough Church.

4. West Thurrock and Tunbridge Wells meridional.—Here also we have to include other churches close to it.

West Thurrock Church.—Here we also have a Beacon. Greenhithe Church, Stone Church, and Stone Castle. Suggestive names:—Galley Hill, Swanscombe Church (and earthworks), Southfleet Church,* Longfield Church, Fawkham Church, Hartley Church, Ash Church, Ridley Church, Stanstead Church, Wrotham Church, Ightham Court-House (with two moated mounds), Oldbury Camp and Rock Shelters, and on the well-marked ridge there is a possible serpent, whilst serpent-worship (according to Dr. Phené, the authority on this) was formerly celebrated there.

* If we include this we must also include Grays Church, Little Thurrock Church, and Northfleet Church, andRead ‘to’ ? the north of it.

Redwell Tumulus.—One mile south of the church, with springs at the base of the tumulus. Rosewood Pit dwellings, Plaxtol Church, Fairlawn Park (with possible stone circles there), Shipborne {34} Church, Tonbridge Castle and Church, Tunbridge Wells rocks. These are of most remarkable form, and so could hardly have escaped worship in prehistoric times. The Toad-Rock suggests a totem.

This surely is a most interesting line. At Galley Hill, too, a possible Palæolithic skeleton was found at some depth in a gravel pit containing implements of that age.

5. Gravesend and Brenchley meridional.—Here again we have to include churches a little outside the direct line. This line also includes five megaliths; these, however, are along a north and south line.

The megaliths in question are, starting from the north, the stone circle, a little north of Cobham Church, the hardly-known remarkable group of fallen stones in Cockadams Shaw-wood near Harvel. Here the stones lie touching one another in a line, as if they had once formed part of a structure; then the Coldrum group just two miles south of the former; then the two megaliths at Addington.

Gravesend.—Perhaps the two churches across the river to the north should also be included, viz., Chadwell Church, associated with which is St. Chad’s well, and West Tilbury Church. Gravesend must be a place of great antiquity.

Ifield Church.—This and the four others that follow are almost equidistant from each other. Nursted Church, Cobham Church, with the sarsens noticed before, Meopham Church, also with sarsens, Luddesdowne Church. Here in the farmstead close by are some very large sarsens used for gateposts, and others, smaller ones, used in the walls of the buildings, here also are the remains of a very old manor house. Punish Church, in ruins, enclosing a large sarsen, the group of sarsens in the wood above mentioned near Harvel. The Coldrum megaliths, Birling Church, and to the east of this, Trotterscliffe Church, the Addington Stone Circles, Addington Church. This is said to be built on an artificial mound. I can see no proof of this. The hill on which it stands has an artificial appearance, but the Folkestone Bed Sand composing it tends often to form conical detached hills, due no doubt to the ironstone it contains in lenticular beds, and one of these may cap and so protect the summit and give it an artificial appearance, causing it perhaps to have been selected for a sacred site probably from prehistoric times. Ryarsh Church, and, to the east, Offham Church and West Malling Church. These three are very close together, Addington, Ryarsh, and Malling being only very little more than one mile apart, while Malling is exactly one mile distant from Ryarsh. St. Leonard’s Tower and Chapel, and also the Springhead there, the deciding factor for locating both, no doubt. Roman urns, etc., have also been found close to the spring-head. Mereworth Church, West Peckham Church, East Peckham Church. The churches in this group are almost equidistant, Mereworth being exactly one {35} mile away from East Peckham Church; south of this are two Earthworks one mile apart, the first at Moat Wood, the last at Hale Street, Hale Church, and Paddock Wood Church, while again south is Brenchley Church, with an earthwork bank north of it.

6. East Tilbury and Yalding meridional.—Here again, owing to the grouping of churches on either side of the line, we have to include these:—
East Tilbury Church, Higham Church, where also many antiquities have been found; Higham Upshire Church, Shorne Church, with ancient earthworks there; Caxton Church, here also Palæolithic implements have been found and there are here prehistoric cultivation-terraces and Roman remains.
Lower Halling Church, Wouldham Church, just across the river, a tumulus at Holborough, and again just across the river the remains of a Mithraic Temple, Snodland Church, Burham Church, with a Roman Villa and Road to the south of it.
New Hythe, a ruined church used as a dwelling house; Leybourne Church, Leybourne Castle, Ditton Church, East Malling Church; these three are almost equidistant, one of them less, and one more than one mile apart. The Churches of Wateringbury, Teston, Barming, West Farleigh, and Nettlestead, of which Wateringbury, Nettlestead, Teston, and Barming are one mile apart. Yalding Church, with Hunton on the east of it.

7. Cliffe-Cooling and Maidstone, meridional.—This is an important one as including three megaliths, again north and south, as well as churches and castles.
The megaliths are those of Horstead, Kits Coty and Countless Stones.
Horstead is the traditional burial-place of Horsa; a megalith once stood here.
Kits Coty.—So well known, but very different now from what it once was, having been connected with a long tumulus apparently. Near it to the north-east are other recumbent sarsen stones.
Countless Stones.—These were thrown down some 150 years ago. A little to the west of these are other sarsens by the spring-head at Tottington Farm. South again of this are Allington Castle and the tumulus once in the churchyard.
Cliffe Church, Cooling Church and Castle, Frindsbury Church, Rochester Castle and Cathedral, Horstead, Kits Coty, Countless Stones, Allington Castle, Church and Tumulus, Maidstone Church, Castle and Palace, while due south of them you have Tovil, Loose, and Linton Churches.

8. High Halstow and Boughton-Monchelsea meridional.
High Halstow Church, Hoo Church, and Roman remains, Gillingham Church and Roman remains, Luton Church, Boxley Church and Abbey, Penenden Heath, with the ancient Moot Hill there, and {36} British camp three miles south of the former, Boughton-Monchelsea Church.

9. Stoke and Chart Sutton meridional.—This is interesting as including two camps and a tumulus.
Stoke Church.—The word stoke is supposed to indicate an old fort or stockade.
Rainham Church, Bredhurst Church, Binbury Camp, Thornham Camp, Castle and Church, while close to this is Detling Church, with Deneholes close to it, Bearstead Tumulus, Bearstead Church, Otham Church, Langley Church, Chart Sutton and Sutton Valence Church.

10. Upchurch and Ulcombe meridional.—Upchurch Church.—This place is also celebrated as being the locality where the well-known Roman Upchurch ware was made.
Hartlip Church.—Here also Roman remains have been found. Stockbury Church and Castle, a prehistoric one, Bicknor Church, Hucking Church, Hollingbourne Hill, here I have seen what may be earthworks and not all attributable, I think, to tip, etc., from the old chalk-workings there; here also appear to be Deneholes, and the old cultivation terraces there are well-marked.
Hollingbourne Church. A tumulus also is shown on an old map at Eyhorne Street, Leeds Castle, East Sutton, and Ulcombe Churches; these are one mile apart.

Having now given the meridional lines, or what appear to be so, east and west of Maidstone, including nearly all the churches in the area, this brings the paper to a close. The persistence of these among the older erections, such as megaliths, tumuli, and camps, and the inclusion with them of so many churches and the apparent meridional position of many of these, and their equidistance in many cases, seems more than a mere coincidence; and though it may not prove anything, it warrants, I think, further investigation along these lines.

It also seems to suggest that where you have one megalith, tumulus, or camp, you may look for others in the former traces of them, along a north or south line. The separation, too, of megaliths and churches apparently by almost equidistant lines of division sometimes equal to our mile, or only differing a little from it, and perhaps by multiples of a mile in places, with unhewn stones used in their construction, also seems a further connecting link between them, and suggests an interesting line of enquiry.