Location Analysis: Royston Cave - Part Three

Who put the 'Ick' into Icknield Way? Mon 17 July 2023

Mass lynchings depicted in Royston Cave. Source: The Origins and Use of the Royston Cave, 3rd Ed, Joseph Beldam, 1884

Three mass lynchings at top and one at bottom right. Plus a big chap making ready with a sword.

Note the gibbets are large but low. Remember that.

And note the hats. William Stukeley and Charles Parkin depicted the figure on the right wearing a hat like a bishop's mitre:

Mitre of the abbat-toir gods. Source: An Answer to, or Remarks Upon Dr Stukeley's Origines Roystonianea, Charles Parkin, 1844 edition, Tab II, p28

While some depictions of this carving show a hat similar to bronze hats found in the former Holy Roman Empire:

Your choice: the hat on the left or the hat on the right. Source: Horae ferales

At top right, the lynchings appear to show females. At top left, top centre and at bottom right, the lynchings appear to show males. The ratio conforms to common stock breeding practice: retain most females; discard most males.

These Royston wall carvings were reproduced as mass hangings until late in the 19th century 1.

Today, the top right section of these wall carvings looks like this:

Big trucks and compost worms are blamed for any changes.

Currently, this carving looks like a grid behind a mound. With a man on the right who may be standing behind a counter.

Assuming this section of Royston's carvings really did depict lynched humans, then some time after Beldam's sketch, the lynched figures were erased and deep lines were incised between them.

Though Royston historians still say the grid depicts a mass of people:

Clearly an army. And a Knights Templar army at that. Source: Royston Cave - A Mystery beneath the Streets

Only one large army event is associated with Royston. That's the New Model Army's 1647-06-10 rendezvous on Therfield Heath to swear loyalty to Fairfax and Cromwell prior to the army's entry into London 40 miles south.

But - as we shall see - this overseer is more likely to be a Marquis of Salisbury, a 'prior' of Royston or an auctioneer employee. And rather than inspecting the New Model Army, he's more likely to be auctioneering carcasses.

Attributing Royston's mysteries to the Knights Templar helpfully suggests Royston Cave depicts mass hangings from the Middle East and not from genteel Hertfordshire:

That's right. You heard her correctly. Source: Royston Cave - A Mystery beneath the Streets

When Sylvia Beamon says 'Weston', she means the village of Weston just south of Baldock. Weston used to be called 'Damask Green'.

The stock route she mentions is the Icknield Way. In the past it was a multi-path network linking multiple sites north and south of the current A505.

Her route is - roughly - this route:

Icknield Way between Baldock, Weston and Royston.

Today's Icknield Way is a picturesque country path:

It's much nicer without the bodies. Source: By Stargoose and Hanglands

However, Royston Cave's lynchings show us what travellers would have seen between Baldock and Weston in the west and Royston in the east.

The first were on the hillside above where the paths from Baldock and Weston intersect. In a large, shared-ownership field on the edge of Clothall village.

From Clothall - Victoria County History:

The strips are still divided among the three chief landowners: the rector, the Marquess of Salisbury and Miss Cotton Browne. On the hill-side the scarped terraces, or 'lynches,' form a distinctive feature of the parish.

From Lynchet - Wikipedia:

commonly referred to as "strip lynchets". Lynchets appear predominantly in Southern Britain and many are in areas close to Iron Age forts and other earthworks, including later Roman earthworks and earlier barrows

The word is the diminutive form of lynch

Remember that: 'lynches', 'lynchets' and 'strip lynchets' are commonly found near Roman and earlier earthworks.

Lynches are easy to find near southern England's skin-trade routes:

Well-preserved lynches at Bishopstone, Wiltshire. Source: Lynchet

That's 'Bishopstone' as in The International Bluestone. But the key detail here is the pattern of stripes.

Clothall Field has been sub-divided and machine-farmed since the early 19th century but the overgrown remains of some lynches are still visible. The lynches shown below are at the western end of the field, close to Baldock, Weston and Clothall:

Traces of lynches at the western edge of Clothall Field.


  • Red line: Icknield Way
  • Blue line: Remains of lynches

Google Maps satellite imagery also shows Clothall Field's lynches.

Why would you lynch children before selling them in Royston market?


  • Hanging enables blood to be drained and collected for other uses.
  • A drained carcass is easier to transport and process.

Lynches assist in the 'hung and drawn' parts of 'hung, drawn and quartered'. They provided a cost-effective way to dry the crop before further processing.

And to cook mass:

Source: A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies

From A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies:

They erected certain Gibbets, large, but low made, so that their feet almost reached the ground

Low lynches also put cooked food within easy reach:

It's a far-right thing. Source: Pedro de Mendoza

Clothall's lynches mark where stock was harvested for Clothall's various 'hospitality' venues. Presumably for skins too, given the area's name, its location midway between London and Cambridge and its excellent transport links.

The road labelled on this map as 'Clothall Road' (the A507) continues south east through a hamlet called 'Toggs'. That's English slang for 'clothes'. Think 'toga'. Clothall Road continues to Cumberlows, passing several fields with names associated with parchment and vellum processing:

Stock that survived selection by Clothall's hoteliers and drapers was driven eastwards around the north of Quickswood (the marquis of Salisbury's estate) to Wallington village. There they would have passed Manor Farm and 'The Stores'. The Stores is the cottage at 2 Kit's Lane.

From Wallington, Hertfordshire:

The author George Orwell lived in a small cottage at 2 Kits Lane

Orwell wrote his notable book Animal Farm in 1944 - probably much of it while he was at the village and certainly drew on his experiences there for inspiration, especially Manor Farm and The Great Barn.

The Wallington stretch of Icknield Way is also loaded with clues:

Animal Farm sites at Wallington village.


  • Dull yellow marker: George Orwell's cottage at 2 Kit's Lane
  • Green marker: Manor Farm
  • Black markers: Icknield Way crosses Cat Ditch, Cat Ditch Dyke and Deadman's Hill
  • Red line: Icknield Way
  • Yellow line: Deadman's Hill

Beyond Wallington they were herded to junctions with Cat Ditch Lane and Cat Ditch Dyke.

Hopefully, Royston Cave's carvings explain what they saw as they approached Deadman's Hill. Deadman's Hill is a lane. It heads north west to Odsey, whose array of evidence for human carcass processing is summarised in Location Analysis: Clothall and Therfield Heath, Hertfordshire. Deadman's Hill passes Gallows Hill as it nears Odsey.

The significance of 'Cat', 'Cot', 'Ket' and 'Kit' is less obvious. Their meaning is set out across Grimsby Serpent Mound and the various Ice Age Sites of Britain's Serpents pieces.

Survivors of their encounter with Cat Ditch and Deadman's Hill went through further selection and sale as they passed Sandon and Kelshall on the heights of Therfield Heath.

Some stock were split off for different treatment around Boycott before being re-exported north towards Royston. It's possible that Boycott specialised in castration but nearby placenames and folklore suggest the area's primary activities involved continued culling and processing of carcasses into bone and hides. Again, see Location Analysis: Clothall and Therfield Heath, Hertfordshire.

After the Sandon, Kelshall, Boycott and Therfield complex, their next major encounter was with the 'enigmatic' Devils Hopscotch site at the south-western edge of Royston:

The hills and pens of Devil's Hopscotch. Source: The Devil's Hopscotch

Viewed from above, its five pens are the squares nestled between two hills. Just above the centre:

LIDAR view of Devil's Hopscotch. Source: Devil's Hopscotch: ArchiUK

Note the light and dark stripes visible on the southern hill and the suggestion of stripes on the hill to the east.

Remember that pattern? There are remains of lynches all around Devil's Hopscotch.

Key features of Devil's Hopscotch.


  • Green marker: Pens
  • Red markers: Hills, mounds and barrows
  • Red line: Icknield Way

The grid and mound depicted in today's Royston Cave carving may be an attempt to turn depictions of mass lynchings into the distinctive pens next to Church Hill:

Church Hill as modern visitors see it. Source: By Stargoose and Hanglands

From By Stargoose and Hanglands:

This grassy hummock is known as Church Hill

These are wild Pasque Flowers (pulsatilla vulgaris) and they are a rare plant indeed, occurring in just a handful of places in the UK. They get their name from "Paschal", meaning associated with Easter, as that's the time they flower.

I can find no reference to a church ever having stood near this spot. The only mention on the HeritageGateway website (a fine resource for anyone wanting to find out about historic building and sites in England) is of some low banks below the hill, these almost imperceptible square structures are thought to be medieval sheep pens, but have the imaginative local folk name of "The Devil's Hopscotch".

Local folklore imagined more than just a name and an enigma. It imagined a selection process. Possibly for that combination of balance, stamina and obedience that makes for a great slave. At a great price.

From The Devil's Hopscotch:

Local tradition states that if you hop round the hopscotch nine times without stopping the Devil will appear.

We've seen this before. In the Cambridgeshire village of March in Mark of the Flesh Market. Selection failure followed by an appearance by the Devil is a common trope in English folklore.

In The Hopscotch, HeritageGateway describes what sounds like the remains of a payment booth at the entrance to Devil's Hopscotch. It also says there were no lynchets within the enclosure but adds:

Traces of a small building and a terraced field were found to the NW of the Hopscotch

This is near a now filled-in feature called The Mile Ditches. Crop marks and terrain suggest it was a canal and lane that ran north-north-west to Bassingbourn, north of Royston. Where it terminated by the mysterious crop-mark called John O'Gaunt's House and the Knights Hospitallar preceptory near the River Rhee hamlet of Wendy. See Location Analysis: Clothall and Therfield Heath, Hertfordshire.

However, we're not yet done with Royston Cave's carvings. The next part starts an analysis of Royston Cave's crucifix scene.

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

  1. Though the drawing of mass lynchings may have been sketched in around 1851 for an earlier edition of The Origins and Uses of Royston Cave, Joseph Beldam. 

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