Wayland's Smithy

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Wayland's Smithy
a pathway flanked by standing stones leads up to a stone entrance
The long barrow entrance
Wayland's Smithy is located in Oxfordshire
Wayland's Smithy
Map showing location in Oxfordshire
Location near Ashbury
Region Oxfordshire England
Coordinates 51°34′2.02″N 1°35′42.95″W / 51.5672278°N 1.5952639°W / 51.5672278; -1.5952639Coordinates: 51°34′2.02″N 1°35′42.95″W / 51.5672278°N 1.5952639°W / 51.5672278; -1.5952639
Type long barrow and chamber tomb
Periods Neolithic
Site notes
Excavation dates 1962-63
Archaeologists Stuart Piggott
Condition Restored
Public access Yes
Website English Heritage
Designated 1882 [1]
Reference no. PRN7306[2]

Wayland's Smithy is a Neolithic long barrow and chamber tomb site located near the Uffington White Horse and Uffington Castle, at Ashbury in the English county of Oxfordshire. It is very near to The Ridgeway, an ancient road running along the Berkshire Downs.

The Ridgeway (Uffington Castle ringfort in distance on left).

The later mound was 185 feet (56 m) long and 43 feet (13 m) wide at the south end. Its present appearance is the result of restoration following excavations undertaken by Stuart Piggott and Richard Atkinson in 1962–63. They demonstrated that the site had been built in two different phases, a timber-chambered oval barrow built around 3590 and 3550 BC and a later stone-chambered long barrow in around 3460 to 3400 BC.[3]

Site description[edit]

The wooden mortuary house mainly consisted of a paved stone floor with two large posts at either end. A single crouched burial had been placed at one end and the mostly disarticulated remains of a further 14 individuals were scattered in front of it. Analysis of these remains indicated that they had been subjected to excarnation before burial and deposited in possibly four different phases. Postholes at one end have been interpreted as supporting a timber facade. The whole monument was covered by an earth barrow with material excavated from two flanking ditches and measured around 20m in length.[3]

The later stone tomb consists of two opposing transept chambers and terminal chamber; along with the longer entrance chamber, this gives the burial area a cruciform appearance in plan. At the entrance four large sarsen stones stand (originally six, but two are lost), having been returned to their upright locations following the 1962 excavations.[4] It is classified by archaeologists as one of the Severn-Cotswold tombs. The large trapezoidal earth barrow erected over it was revetted with a stone kerb and its material was again excavated from two large flanking ditches. Excavation in 1919 revealed the jumbled remains of seven adults and one child.[5]

The site is important as it illustrates a transition from a timber-chambered barrow to stone-chamber tomb over a period that may have been as short as 50 years. Carbon dating of the burials in the second tomb suggest it was a late use of this style of burial, being similar to West Kennet Long Barrow, which had been in use 200 years before.[5]

Wayland's Smithy is one of many prehistoric sites associated with Wayland or Wolund, a Germanic smith-god. The name was seemingly applied to the site by the Saxons who settled in the area some four thousand years after Wayland's Smithy was built. The first documented use of the name was in 955 AD, in a Saxon charter of King Eadred.[6]

According to legend, a traveller whose horse has lost a shoe can leave the animal and a silver coin on the capstone at Wayland's Smithy. When he returns next morning he will find that his horse has been re-shod and the money gone. It is conjectured that the invisible smith may have been linked to this site for many centuries before the Saxons recognized him as Wayland. The Ancient Britons may have been accustomed to making votive offerings to a local god.

In recent years, at this and other ancient sites, such as the West Kennet Long Barrow, some visitors have left objects, including horseshoes, flowers, nuts, grain, fruit, and feathers.

Cultural references[edit]

Walter Scott's Elizabethan novel Kenilworth (published 1821) features both the stone chambered tomb and a character named 'Wayland Smith'.[6]

Julian Cope included a song called "Wayland's Smithy Has Wings" on his 1992 album The Skellington Chronicles.

Author Patricia Kennealy-Morrison has a protagonist named Turk Wayland in her Rennie Stride mystery series, and sets a scene at the end of the fourth book, A Hard Slay's Night: Murder at the Royal Albert Hall, at Wayland's Smithy.

Rudyard Kipling, in his interlinked collection of stories Puck of Pook's Hill, set many of the stories near the Smithy, and told of the arrival of the smith god in the first.

Both the Uffington White Horse and Wayland's Smithy were incorporated into the BBC 1978 miniseries, The Moon Stallion, produced in 1978. In the serial, set in 1906, the stones are associated with witchcraft.[7]

The British music group Radiohead recorded a music video here for their non album single Pop Is Dead.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hunter, Robert (1907). "Wikisource link to Appendix A". The Preservation of Places of Interest or Beauty. Manchester University Press. Wikisource. 
  2. ^ Museums and Archaeology - Oxfordshire Historic Environment Record
  3. ^ a b Archaeological history and research: English Heritage, accessed 27 June 2014
  4. ^ Ancient Britain - Wayland's Smithy
  5. ^ a b history and research: Waylands Smithy II. English Heritage, accessed 27 June 2014
  6. ^ a b berkshirehistory.com/waylands_smithy, David Nash Ford, 2003. Accessed 27 June 2014
  7. ^ Bramwell 2009, pp. 167, 173–174.

Sources and further reading[edit]

  • Bramwell, Peter (2009). Pagan Themes in Modern Children's Fiction: Green Man, Shamanism, Earth Mysteries. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-21839-0. 

External links[edit]