The Hurlers: three stone circles with paired outlying stones


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
St. Cleer
National Grid Reference:
SX 25784 71374

Reasons for Designation

Bodmin Moor, the largest of the Cornish granite uplands, has long been recognised to have exceptional preservation of archaeological remains. The Moor has been the subject of detailed archaeological survey and is one of the best recorded upland landscapes in England. The extensive relict landscapes of prehistoric, medieval and post-medieval date provide direct evidence for human exploitation of the Moor from the earliest prehistoric period onwards. The well-preserved and often visible relationship between settlement sites, field systems, ceremonial and funerary monuments as well as later industrial remains provides significant insights into successive changes in the pattern of land use through time. Stone circles are prehistoric monuments comprising one or more circles of upright or recumbent stones. The circle of stones may be surrounded by earthwork features such as enclosing banks and ditches. Single upright stones may be found within the circle or outside it and avenues of stones radiating out from the circle occur at some sites. Burial cairns may also be found close to and on occasion within the circle. Stone circles are found throughout England, although they are concentrated in western areas, with particular clusters in upland areas such as Bodmin and Dartmoor in the south-west and the Lake District and the rest of Cumbria in the north-west. This distribution may be more a reflection of present survival rather than an original pattern. Where excavated they have been found to date from the Late Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age (c.2400-1000 BC). It is clear that they were designed and laid out carefully, frequently exhibiting very regularly spaced stones, the heights of which also appear to have been of some importance. We do not fully understand the uses for which these monuments were originally constructed but it is clear that they had considerable ritual importance for the societies that used them. In many instances excavation has indicated that they provided a focus for burials and rituals that accompanied interment of the dead. Some circles appear to have had a calendrical function, helping mark the passage of time and seasons, this being indicated by the careful alignment of stones to mark important solar or lunar events such as sunrise or sunset at midsummer or midwinter. At other sites the spacing of individual circles throughout the landscape has led to a suggestion that each one provided some form of tribal gathering point for a specific social group. Of the 150 or so stone circles identified in England sixteen are located on Bodmin Moor. As a rare monument type which provides an important insight into prehistoric ritual activity all surviving examples are worthy of preservation.

The Hurler stone circles and their outlying stones have survived well, with only minor disturbances caused by the later boundary bank and tin-mining pits. The limited excavation and reconstruction in 1935-6 have considerably enhanced the academic and public understanding of the monument while leaving substantial areas intact. Close groupings of three stone circles as at this monument are extremely rare nationally and the group of three large regular stone circles at The Hurlers is unique. The monument's proximity to, and linear relationships with, the many other broadly contemporary ceremonial and funerary monuments on Craddock and Rillaton Moors demonstrates well the nature of ritual activities during the later Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The Hurlers' importance is reflected in its frequent mention in national and local reviews of this class of monument. The Hurlers are one of the earliest prehistoric monuments to have been described and depicted, in the later 16th century, and their frequent description by the major antiquaries from the early 17th century onwards gives the monument an important place in the development of archaeological studies.


The monument includes a linear group of three adjacent prehistoric stone circles, known as 'The Hurlers', and, to their west, a close-spaced pair of outlying upright stones, known as 'The Pipers', situated on eastern Craddock Moor on south-east Bodmin Moor. Later, post-medieval, tin-mining in the vicinity resulted in a series of small pits within the southern circle and part of the central circle, while later mining produced an embanked watercourse, now levelled, crossing the central circle. Two post-medieval earthwork platforms for storing peat are located between the stone circles and the outlying stones. The Hurlers are visible as a linear arrangement of three prehistoric stone circles on a NNE-SSW axis, the axis tilted slightly as it passes through the central circle. They extend over 162m of a gentle south-facing slope in a broad shallow upland basin between Caradon Hill, Rillaton Moor and the main plateau of Craddock Moor. The slabs of the stone circles and the outliers are all of granite; many have flat inner faces and several also have flattened tops. Knowledge of their visible remains has been considerably supplemented by detailed antiquarian accounts and by limited excavation and reconstruction in 1935-6 by the archaeologist C A Ralegh Radford. The northern stone circle survives with fifteen visible original stones. The 1935-6 excavations revealed buried stone-holes of a further ten missing stones, now represented on the surface by small marker stones of the reconstruction. These surviving and missing stones are distributed about a true circular plan measuring 34.7m in diameter. They are regularly spaced, except at the north-west where a small surface outcrop impinges on the circle's course. The regular spacing implies the former existence of a further five stones not located, giving an original total of 30. The surviving stones are upright or leaning slabs, between 1.07m and 1.55m long, equating with their vertical height, and graded such that the tallest are located in the SSE sector. The 1935-6 excavations also revealed a strip of granite paving, 1.8m wide, running NNE-SSW in the 27.4m gap between this and the central stone circle. A series of shallow hollows along one edge of the natural outcrop in the north-west sector derive from an early post-medieval attempt to split the slab. The central circle survives with fourteen original stones and fourteen markers of missing stones' holes found in the 1935-6 excavations. The stones and markers show an original regular spacing about a near-circular course, bulging slightly to the east and measuring 43.4m east-west by 41.7m north-south. The regular spacing implies the former presence of a further unlocated stone at the SSW at a position disturbed by a post-medieval tin-mining pit, giving an original total of 29 stones in this circle. The surviving original stones range from 1.4m to 1.74m in length, and hence vertical height, graded with the largest stones towards the south, with an exception in the south-east sector whose height has been reduced by later fracture. The 1935-6 excavations revealed a layer of quartz crystals within this circle, considered to form a ritual deposit but derived from the hammer-dressing of the circle's stones. These excavations also revealed a small slab located 6m south of the circle's centre; this slab was re-erected. The southern stone circle, separated from the central circle by a gap of 25.3m, survives with nine original stones, two erect and seven fallen. Four shallow hollows on the line of the circle are considered to mark the sites of missing stones but this circle was not subject to the 1935-6 excavation and restoration so the locations of most of its missing stones are not yet known. The surviving stones and stone-hollows are distributed about a true circular course measuring 32.8m in diameter. Regular stone-spacing is apparent in the eastern and south-western sectors, giving an original total of 29 stones when projected around the full circuit. The surviving stones range in length, and hence vertical height, from 1.1m to 2.35m, but there is no evidence for their grading at this circle. The paired outlying stones, The Pipers, are situated 118m south-west of the centre of the central circle. Situated 2m apart on the WSW-ENE axis, each stone is an erect granite pillar of roughly squared section, up to 0.55m wide and 0.45m thick, standing 1.9m high with a blunt tip. The monument forms an element in an extensive dispersed grouping of later Neolithic - Bronze Age ceremonial and funerary monuments on Craddock Moor and Caradon Hill, one of several such major ritual foci on Bodmin Moor. The Hurlers stone circles share direct linear relationships with certain other broadly contemporary members of this group. The axis through the centres of the northern two circles aligns directly on the massive Rillaton Barrow, 460m NNE of the northern circle and on the skyline when viewed from the latter. The tilt in the Hurlers' axis as it passes through the central circle aligns the southern pair of circles directly on a prehistoric round cairn situated 215m SSW of the southern circle on the opposite slope of the basin. The Hurlers also share a linear relationship with another prehistoric stone circle, the Craddock Moor stone circle, situated 1.038km to the WNW. A further 525m WNW along the alignment from The Hurlers through the Craddock Moor stone circle is a prehistoric ritual embanked avenue, the axis of whose rubble banks shares the overall alignment to The Hurlers. Finally, 295m WNW of the avenue is a prehistoric stone row whose axis is perpendicular to the alignment through the avenue to The Hurlers. From the 16th century, exploitation of the tin ore in this area was carried out by the digging of rows of small pits, called lode-back pits, following the WNW-ESE lodes of tin ore. A double row of these pits, averaging 2m-3m in diameter and 5m-8m apart, each surrounded by its heap of spoil, exploited 'the Prosper Lode', visible on early air photos as passing through the monument between the central and southern circles of The Hurlers. Further, similar pits were dug to both sides of the rows, prospecting for the edges of the lode. Two such pits are located in the SSW sector of The Hurlers central circle and a scatter of at least seven such pits extends NNE-SSW across the interior of The Hurlers southern circle. Several pits within and west of the monument were infilled and levelled during the 1935-6 reconstruction of The Hurlers. A 19th century tin-miners' water-course, called a leat, was also levelled in 1935-6 where it crossed the northern sector of the central circle on a WNW-ESE axis, though it remains faintly visible on some aerial photographs. The exploitation of surface peat in this area resulted in several peat stack platforms where peat was stored before removal off the moor. These are visible as small sub-rectangular platforms defined by a shallow ditch and outer bank. Two of these are located within the monument, 5m and 40m west of The Hurlers southern circle. The Hurlers are one of the earliest historically-described monuments in Cornwall, being mentioned and drawn in 1584 by the cartographer Norden. They were subsequently described in detail by Carew in 1602 who records the origin of their name in local tradition as men who were turned to stone for playing the game of hurling on the Sabbath. The Hurlers feature in most of the major antiquarian and popular descriptions of Cornwall's ancient monuments and are among the best-known prehistoric stone circles nationally. They also occupy a prominent place in most academic national reviews of stone circles and prehistorical ritual monuments.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Barnatt, J, Prehistoric Cornwall: The Ceremonial Monuments, (1982)
Barnatt, J, Prehistoric Cornwall: The Ceremonial Monuments, (1982)
Barnatt, J, Prehistoric Cornwall: The Ceremonial Monuments, (1982)
Barnatt, J, Prehistoric Cornwall: The Ceremonial Monuments, (1982)
Burl, A, The Stone Circles of the British Isles, (1976)
Sharpe, A, The Minions Area Archaeological Survey and Management (Volume 2), (1989)
Sharpe, A, The Minions Area Archaeological Survey and Management (Volume 2), (1989)
Christie, P M, Rose, P G, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Davidstow Moor, Cornwall. The Medieval And Later Sites., , Vol. 26, (1987)
CAU/RCHME, The Bodmin Moor Survey, Unpubl. draft text consulted 1992/93
CAU/RCHME, The Bodmin Moor Survey, Unpubl. draft text consulted 1993
consulted 1992, Carter, A. RCHME, 1:2500 AP plot and field trace for SX 2571,
consulted 1992, Carter, A./CAU/RCHME, 1:2500 AP plots and field traces for SX2471-2; SX2571; SX2671,
consulted 1992, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 1402,
consulted 1992, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 1402.01,
consulted 1992, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 1402.02,
consulted 1992, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 1402.03,
consulted 1992, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 1407,
consulted 1992, Ministry of Works, Guardianship Agreements: The Pipers and the Hurlers, (1935)
Linkinhorne Parish entry, Wallis, J., The Cornwall Register...Past and Present State of the 209 Parishes, (1847)
Title: 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map, sheet SX 27/37; Pathfinder 1339 Source Date: 1988 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 27/37; Pathfinder Series 1339 Source Date: 1988 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

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