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Banburyshire’s Ancient Sites – Rollright Stones:

‘The King’s Men’ Circle

Frozen in their dance, ‘The King’s Men’ hold their circle amidst the trees. These ancient stones are almost certainly not arranged as they were laid out, though the location has lost none of its splendour.

Landscape image: ‘The King’s Men Circle’, 14th March 2019.
The King’s Men Circle

Representing a change in culture in the early Bronze Age, The King’s Men circle is the middle part of this site, erected around 4,500 years ago. That’s a little over a thousand years after The Whispering Knights visible just across the field; and a thousand years before The King Stone across the road.

Or to put it another way, this site was first laid-out about the same time that the first Egyptian pyramids were erected. Though of course our modern culture doesn’t value these stones, and the culture which created them, to the same extent as the Egyptian Pharaohs.

Summary for ‘The King’s Men’:

Location: Rollright, Oxfordshire

Type: ‘Standing Stones, Circles, and Megaliths’.

Condition: Restored late Neolithic/Bronze Age stone circle.

Access: Owned by private trust; open most days, please leave a donation in the box if there is no one there.

OS Grid Ref.: SP295308.

Further information: The Rollright Trust.

Walks posts or videos for this site:

Looks can be deceptive. The site has been so altered by the changing views towards ‘pagan monuments’, that what we are presented with today is only loosely what was built here over four millennia ago.

The King’s Men circle has been significantly damaged and cack-handedly restored over many centuries. Stones have been taken away. Other stones in-situ have been broken, or damaged by antiquarians chipping pieces off to collect mementos. Natural weathering has also eroded as much as ten centimetres from the surface of the stones since they were first erected.

This site was one of the first few to be protected under the first ‘modern’ historic conservation laws passed in 1882. The site was ‘restored’ in the late Nineteenth Century, though a lot of that work was based upon the archaeological conjecture, and assumptions about the origins of these sites, at that time.

Many of the stones grouped close together may have once been large single stones that were broken apart over time. Later archaeology suggests that the stones were originally packed in a tight circle, and the gaps we see today are the remnant of stones that were removed over time.

Despite past damage, the site has improved over recent years with the setting up of a trust to look after the site. The lovely Three Færies willow sculpture is once such example (modelled on the Færies from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which I once saw performed here many years ago).

What’s also curious is how this site relates to others, not only locally, but further afield. With the The Cotswold Ridgeway running through the site, and The Jurassic Way just a couple of miles away, this site was part of a national cultural network dating back perhaps six or seven thousand years.

Recent evidence suggest that our ancient ancestors travelled with their animals for big festivals at Avebury, or on from there south towards Stonehenge (click this… it’s a brilliant paper!).

Located about half-way between the Lincolnshire Wolds and Stonehenge and Avebury, and with a history which pre-dates the erection of those monuments, this site was one of a number that gave ancient peoples a mental map to interpret the world they inhabited. Likely far more sophisticated, and with a detailed understanding of the landscape and ecology, than we might give them credit for today.

The King’s Men circle is many things to many people. Venerated for its place in our ancient culture by some; merely a historical tourist curiosity to others. But if ancient peoples travelled the country, and this network of sites represented their culture as a whole, it would be wrong to look at this site as a single point.

For me, understanding the imperfections of how we see it today, makes its place in that greater story of our place in the world more, rather than less understandable. While the site represents an enigmatic presence of our ancient ancestors in this modern world, experiencing how this site connects to the landscape all around enables us to perceive directly how they may have viewed their place in the world.

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