Location Analysis: Clothall and Therfield Heath, Hertfordshire

Evidence of demolition of a 'ritual landscape'. Thu 20 July 2023

Crop mark junction in a Kelshall field, Hertfordshire. Source: Google Maps

It's not an unusual pattern. Three narrow lanes intersect a wider through-way at a small rectangle. At Five Lanes, in Llanelli, the rectangle is still called 'The Square':

Five Lanes, Llanelli. Source: Google Maps

The evidence collected on this page is left over from analysis of Hertfordshire's Royston Cave - Part One - How Royston Really Got its Name. It will make much more sense if read after Location Analysis: Royston - Part Three - Who Put the 'Ick' into Icknield Way.

Archaeologists say Therfield Heath's 'enigmatic' and 'rather curious' remains are evidence of a 'ritual landscape'.

What does 'ritual landscape' mean?

It means 'a landscape of carcass consumption and processing sites'. 1

'Enigmatic' and 'rather curious' means sites like these two.

1. Barkway earthworks, Therfield:

Barkway, Rokey Wood, Periwinkle Hill. Source: Finds... around Romano-British Baldock

This crop-mark is on Therfield Heath, about a mile east of Boycott. It used to be a 1,000 year old Norman castle. Now it's a a 2,000 year old Roman temple.

All around it are clues to what it really was.

From Finds from Sacred Places in the Landscape around Romano-British Baldock, Gil Burleigh, Lucerna 54, January 2018, p10, under 'Barkway':

Interestingly, the place-name ‘Rokey’ - Rokeye in 1287 - means ‘rook-frequented enclosure’, the ‘enclosure’ perhaps being the area within the temenos boundary (Gover et al 1938, 173). The name ‘Periwinkle Hill’ may refer to the finding of numerous periwinkle shells, perhaps the debris from ritual feasting during the Roman period, just as thousands of oyster shells were deposited after Romano-British ritual cult feasts...

Rooks will have re-distributed small bones left by 'ritual feasting'.

In north west Europe, carrion birds - crows, rooks and ravens - are associated with the region's castles. Most famously with the Tower of London, whose raven mythology is a Victorian Romantic Movement cover-up.

With the decline in body parts, Britain's ravens have largely gone. But Britain's rookeries likely indicate places where low-value body parts were recycled:

It's supposed to have died out with the Celts. Source: Britannia

Carcass processing was probably never this decorous, but more like just another shitty job.

Bird food may explain Royston Cave's carving of a bird over-flying a market day slaughtering. The apparently much-changed area beneath Royston Cave's bird carving may even have shown human body parts thrown as bird food.

Bigger bones will have been ground into marl. At locations which sometimes show up as anomalous mounds of chalky clay. As we shall soon see at Sandon. And possibly near Bassingbourn.

2. John O'Gaunt's House, Bassingbourn:

Its owner's nickname was 'The Butcher'. Source: Google Maps

John O'Gaunt's House is an enigmatic crop-mark outside Bassingbourn, just north of Royston.

From John O'Gaunt's House', Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire: a fifteenth-century landscape, Susan Oosthuizen and Christopher Taylor:

Nothing similar seems to have been recorded anywhere else in Britain and it is hoped that this paper will encourage other workers to suggest parallels.

It stands at about 25 metres above OD (sea level) on chalk marl, and is set on an almost imperceptible north to south ridge between two parallel north-flowing streams some 600 metres to 700 metres apart. Both streams have been much altered in the past and are now largely artificial drainage channels

That's a discreet way of saying it stood on a quay poking into the fen. The two ditches continued inland as wide artificial channels. Like the Chichester-Portsmouth tidal channels and Rome's longest known canal - the nearby Car Dyke.

Oosthuizen says the south-pointing 'avenue' at the John O'Gaunt's House crop-mark has a direct line-of-sight with Therfield Heath long barrow 4.5km away.

She doesn't mention - and as far as I know, no-one does - that nearby Wimpole Estate's grand drive also lines up with Therfield Heath:

Wimpole Estate in purple; John O'Gaunt's in red. Source: OS via The Megalithic Portal

Get a bird's eye view of Wimpole Hall's drive from Google Maps.

Wimpole's view sight-line south may have originally looked like this:

Source: Shadow Rome - III: The Earth Movers

Why align two medieval structures on 'ancient' barrows three miles away?

John O'Gaunt's 'avenue' can also be tracked to Devil's Hopscotch via a system of ditches, the former Litlington Mere (meaning 'lake') and a complex crop-mark - arriving at the Devil's Hopscotch via the now filled-in 'Mile Ditches'.

Mapped, these two lines of sight and Mile Ditch route look like this:

Remnants of connection between John O'Gaunt's House and Devil's Hopscotch.


  • Black marker: John O'Gaunt's bone marl and hide consolidation and transhipment depot
  • Red markers: Sites on former waterways between Bassingbourn and Devil's Hopscotch
  • Green line: Oosthuizen's line-of-sight from John O'Gaunt's House to Therfield Heath long barrow
  • Orange line: Line-of-sight from Wimpole Hall to Therfield Heath barrow (Rumbold's Mount)
  • Yellow line: Former waterway between Bassingbourn and Devil's Hopscotch
  • Blue line: Icknield Way routes between Baldock/Weston and Royston

GPS locations in this mapping software are too lo-fi to show Oosthuizen's line-of-sight terminating on Therfield Heath long barrow. And to lo-fi to show where the Wimpole Hall line-of-sight crosses Therfield Heath.

Instead, here's an image of the Oosthuizen sight-line termination and proposed termination for a Wimpole Hall sight-line:

Sight-line terminations at Therfield Heath. Source: Rumbolds Mount

Tumuli are shown as green cross-hatched circles. The five on the top left are Therfield Heath's Five Hills.

You are looking at two communication lines - possibly semaphore - into a busy stock market. The lines from facilities on the river Rhee, 5km (3 miles) to the north.

Location Analysis: Royston Cave - Part Three mentioned evidence of carcass processing around Odsey. Today it's passed off as a collection of differently dated mounds and the remains of a Roman cemetery.

But Deadman's Hill continued north beyond Odsey into Guilden Mordern before continuing further north. Guilden Morden was also a carcass processing site.

Its name is a relic of the gild-owned land mentioned in Royston Cave histories. Gild is self-explanatory. 'Morden' is a relic of 'the right of murder' - the right to run an abbatoir. See see Houses of Austin Canons: Royston Priory.

Odsey, Ashwell and the Morderns were once so noted for 'remains' - Roman and otherwise - that maps were made of them. In the early 19th century, somebody thoughtfully planted trees on much of the evidence. Trees stop farmers ploughing up hard-to-explain quantities of bone. But the area's strange layout is still visible on modern maps.

Therfield and Odsey Heaths present too much IHASFEMR evidence to do them justice. So this page looks at two areas of Therfield Heath: around Sandon, Kelshall and Boycott; and around Weston, Clothall and Toggs.

Even then, it is just a fly-by.

Sandon, Kelshall and Boycott:

Evidence of former large boundaries around former carcass processing sites.


  • Red marker: Site with evidence of human carcass processing
  • Red outline: District with evidence of human carcass processing
  • Blue marker: Sites examined in Location Analysis: Royston - Part Two
  • Blue line: Icknield Way routes between Baldock/Weston and Royston

Sandon and Kelshall seem to have been a complex of selection and processing sites, presumably for ket being brought from Baldock/Weston to Royston and to the London-Cambridge road. Now the A10.

'The Mount' at Sandon is a peculiar landscape feature with peculiar folklore:

Ground bone mound. Sandon Mill mount. Source

From The Mount, Sandon - North Hertfordshire Museum:

According to the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England) in 1911, it is a ‘moated tumulus’. This is not a recognised term in archaeology and shows that the surveyor had difficulty recognising what it was.

The Hertfordshire folklorist William Blyth Gerish (1864-1921) recorded a gruesome story about The Mount. A house belonging to a wealthy man stood on the top of it and a local boy overheard some men plotting to burgle it. They spotted the boy, captured him, and threated to flay him (remove his skin) if he told anyone what he had overheard. The brave lad did tell the owners

The attempted burglary was foiled, but the thieves caught the boy and carried out their threat. The boy survived the ordeal, saying that the most painful part of being flayed was having the skin removed from his fingertips and his toes.

Modern re-tellings of this story reduce the flaying to just his fingers and toes.

Excavations in 1933 dug through a destroyed post-mill lying on an 80cm (2ft 6in) thick layer described as 'chalky clay'. This anamolous deposit sounds like the mill's output stored beneath the structure at the time it was destroyed. Ground bone in sacks that had rotted away.

Not possible?

From The very evil custom of interring the dead in towns, The Penny Magazine, 1834-08-02:

Many tons of human bones are sent each year from London to the north, where they are crushed in mills contrived for the purpose, and used as manure.

Apparently, human bone marl was so valuable it was even profitable to import dead bodies from abroad. See Narborough human bone mill.

Opponents of the 19th century's new-fangled mass cemeteries opposed them for reasons of space and hygiene. They proposed an alternative: cremation, then burial of urns with the dead's ashes. But they also knew why cemeteries had become popular.

From Notae ferales : a few words on the modern system of interment, its evils and their remedy, 'Charon, Royal College of Surgeons of England, 1851, p13:

As a matter of reason and propriety : and of taste and feeling also we avow an unhesitating preference for Urn-burial. "To be knaved out of our graves, to have our skulls made drinking bowls, and our bones turned into pipes, to delight and sport our enemies, are tragical abominations, escaped in burning burials..."

Close to Sandon Mount and its skin flaying folklore are the remains of Hide Hall. An 1807 map (claiming to be a reproduction of a 1646 map called Hertfordia comitatvs vernacule Hertfordshire) shows the now mostly disappeared facility:

'Hide' means 'skin'. Source: Hertfordia comitatvs vernacule Hertfordshire

Part of Hide Hall remains as Hyde Hall Farm, visible here on Google Maps. It's not to be confused with Great Hyde Hall 22 miles away near Sawbridgeworth. Though both may have been in the skin trade.

A skin processing facility usually had a watertight barn - a 'chepstow':

Hyde Hall barn, Sandon, Hertfordshire. Source: Sandon - Herts Memories

A village chepstow survives as 'Chepstow House' in Harrold, Bedfordshire. It's across a narrow lane from Harrold's village butcher. Harrold is also notable for the large number of chapels lining its high street.

In addition to its destroyed mill, its crop-marks and its placename remnants of lost processing facilities, the name 'Sandon' may indicate a destructive event ended Therfield's human skin trade. Sandon and its variants ('Santon', 'Sandown' etc) tend to appear near the sand patches that inexplicably appeared in eastern England in the 17th and 18th centuries. Similarly, Royston's St John the Baptist church is built on a foundation of sand.

Moving patches of sand and anomalous sand below buildings are very hard to explain. But analysis points to a wide-scale destruction event across this area shortly before the 18th century..

Tracks and roads create a rounded square around Kelshall and a lozenge around Boycott. Their routes suggest these tracks serviced important sites. They are fingerprints of former logistics and service networks:

Tracks around the Boycott lozenge. Source: Therfield Heath & Greens

Kelshall and Boycott were probably associated with the facilities that entertained state and international visitors visiting the Royston of James I. But the Boycott lozenge is also a candidate site for Therfield Heath's 'medieval tournaments'. Its layout is reminiscent of a Mayan ball-court or a Roman gladiatorial arena:

Roman Arena, Bobadela, Coimbra, Portugal. Source: Google Maps

Britain's tournament grounds and 'Roman' arenas disappeared beneath railway sidings and the plough. One of 14 survivors narrowly missed being converted into railway sidings late in the 19th century:

Maumbury Rings, Dorchester. Source: Google Maps

Tournament arenas meet the same requirements as gladiatorial arenas. They need more space for the combatants to take a run at each; space for most of the audience to watch from the sides, not the ends.

The Boycott lozenge's shape, name and associations suggest Therfield Heath bred and prepared the best for James I and his guests.

The best prey money could buy:

Out of the mouths of babes. Source: The Witcher

See also Dating the Intelligent Pig.

Weston and Clothall:

Evidence of Clothall's disappeared skin processing industry was mentioned in Location analysis: Royston Cave - Part Three.

Evidence of the social scene enabled by its wealth continues as the sites of destroyed inns, destroyed 'hospitals' and mansions. According to Clothall - Victoria County History, what we see is:

  • Quickswood: Destroyed mansion. Farmhouse built next to it.
  • Clothallbury buildings: Destroyed. Farm apparently incorporates remains.
  • Clothalbury mansion: Only traces remain of extensive moated mansion.
  • Clothall Hospital candidate site 1: Site known as Hook's manor house.
  • Clothall Hospital candidate site 2: Moated site with no other remains.
  • Tabard Inn: Completely demolished inn owned by the gild of Baldock.

A 'tabard' is a simple a form of tunic. Americans call it a 'cobbler apron'. They were probably common around Weston and Clothall.

Icknield Way processing sites between Weston and Royston


  • Black marker: Destroyed inn/brothel
  • Green marker: Destroyed manor house
  • Dull Yellow marker: Modern building built on or from ruin
  • Yellow area: Area focused on Marquis of Salisbury's Quickswood estate
  • Blue marker: Sites examined in Location Analysis: Royston - Part Three

According to Victoria County History, Clothall Hospital was moved because it was being attacked. Victoria County History does not say why the Tabard Inn disappeared or why the road it was on is called Burnt House Lane. Nor why the field next to it was called Chapels. It only says the land was owned by Baldock's gild.

The elite centre appears to have been the marquis of Salisbury's Quickswood estate. The map shows Icknield Way passed just north of the Quickswood estate.

A reasonable question would be: in what activities was the owner of Quickswood involved in at the time Quickswood was destroyed?

The beginnings of an answer to might be found in the strangely detailed and oddly light-hearted biography of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury.

© All rights reserved. The original author retains ownership and rights.

  1. Maslow's Razor: Animals prioritise physical needs before spiritual needs. Ancient relics reflect this. 

More in category: Location Analysis
More by tag: #geology, #human bone, #Manimal Farm, #medieval retail