The Three Kings four poster stone circle and round cairn


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015525

Date first listed: 25-Feb-1972

Date of most recent amendment: 07-Apr-1997


Ordnance survey map of The Three Kings four poster stone circle and round cairn
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Rochester

National Grid Reference: NT 77425 00922


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

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 the 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. A four-poster stone circle is a rectangular or sub-rectangular setting of four or five stones, which are, or were once, upright. The corner stones of the rectangle usually lie on the perimeter of a circle. They are confined to high ground, clustered on Exmoor, the North Yorkshire Moors, Northumberland, Cumbria and West Yorkshire with outliers in Shropshire and Derbyshire. Of the 250 or so stone circles identified in England only 22 are examples of four-posters. As a rare monument type which provides an important insight into prehistoric ritual activity all surviving examples are worthy of preservation.

Despite the fact that the The Three Kings four poster stone circle has undergone part excavation, significant archaeological deposits survive at The monument, especially in and immediately around the sockets of the three upright stones which remained in position throughout the excavation. Taken with other known ritual and funerary monuments of a similar date in the vicinity, this monument and the importance of its setting in the landscape will add considerably to our understanding of Bronze Age ritual and society.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the remains of a four poster stone circle situated at the eastern end of a broad terrace overlooking the River Rede and commanding views to the east, south and north. The stone setting is formed of four irregular blocks of sandstone on average 1.4m high and on average 0.9m wide set on the edge of a circle 4.2m in diameter. It is thought that the stones were quarried locally as several sandstone outcrops lie in the immediate vicinity of the monument. Prior to 1971 three of the stones were standing while the fourth stone at the south east corner of the monument was recumbant; there was no discernable difference in the heights of the three standing stones. Part excavation in 1971 revealed the existence of the fourth stone hole, indicating that this stone was originally upstanding. The remains of a Bronze Age round cairn were uncovered within the interior of the stone setting. At the centre of the cairn there was stone lined elliptical space used for the deposition of cremated bones in an urn. Flecks of charcoal within the central space and a flint tool beneath the cairn were uncovered. It is believed that the cairn predated the construction of the stone circle. The landscape setting of this monument is of great importance as, although it was situated in order to command extensive views, its position means that it is not easily visible from the valley below.

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.

Legacy System number: 25074

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Burl, A, Jones, N, 'Archaeologia Aeliana 4th ser' in The Excavation of the Three King's Stone Circle, Northumberland, (1971)
Burl, A, Jones, N, 'Archaeologia Aeliana 4th ser' in The Excavation of the Three King's Stone Circle, Northumberland, (1971), 1-13
Burl, A, (1996)

End of official listing