art: 1. The King's Men; 2. The Rollrights

A ’countless’ stone circle and small group of monuments standing on the Jurassic Way. Dating from 2500BCE, 77 stones are still standing from an initial 105, many having been removed in the C19th - although around 30 were re-erected in 1882. Made up of local limestone from nearby fields, none are above 6 tons in weight or 4’ in height. Stukeley endearingly described the stones as “corroded like worm-eaten wood” - though they are possibly smoothed on the inner circle side. The circle’s diameter is 108’, with a slight embankment but no ditch, and a portalled entrance to the south east aligned to the midsummer moonrise. The Rollright Stones have the distinction of being Britain’s eastern-most stone circle. A C17th excavation by Sheldon found nothing within the circle, although a human jawbone, knife and flint scraper have been discovered at the Whispering Knights, a portal dolmen burial chamber in a neighbouring field to the east. This site predates the circle by around 1000 years. Nearby to the north, the solitary King Stone possibly acted as a marker for a bronze age cairn and cemetery, and is the most recent of the monuments, dating from roughly 1000 years after the circle. It stands 8’ tall with a peculiar shape due to Victorian habits of chipping off pieces for souvenirs. Whilst these are the three most visual sites in the complex, there is evidence of a neolithic burial chamber to the north west of the circle, bronze age barrows around the King Stone and to the south of the Rollrights, and an iron age settlement to the north east. The stones, local villages of Little and Great Rollright owe their names to the modern corruption of Hrolla-landriht - ‘the land with special rights to Rolla’. The legend concerning this ancient site involves a King, some knights, his army, and a witch who was obviously having a good day. Crossing the Cotswolds, the King was challenged thus: “Seven long strides thou shalt take, and if Long Compton thou can see, King of England thou shalt be.” Whilst the King’s men gathered in a circle and his knights whispered treachery nearby, the King strode forward only to find his view blocked by an unexpected rise. “As Long Compton thou canst not see,” exclaimed the witch, “King of England thou shalt not be. Rise up stick and stand still stone, for King of England thou shalt be none. Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be and I myself an elder tree!” Quite.
OS: SP.296.308 South of a minor road, west off the A3400 2 miles north from Chipping Norton.

oil on canvas, 32" x 40", 2000, £400
Ltd Ed prints available (/500), Postcard prints available

I gave this composition an almost Great War artist's sky of doom: with its legend of literally petrified soldiers this place is also silent with an air of desolation - although that's not a bad thing! In fact the only sounds you are likely to hear are from the occasional outdoor theatre performance. One of the first paintings I completed in this series, actually a late autumnal view as the trees begin to wither in keeping with the site's ambiance, and with some figure-like shadows lurking behind the stones.
Click HERE to read The King's Men

ink & charcoal, A3, 2000, NFS

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