Julian's Bower turf cut maze


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016428

Date first listed: 25-Jan-1927

Date of most recent amendment: 16-Apr-1999


Ordnance survey map of Julian's Bower turf cut maze
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: North Lincolnshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Alkborough

National Grid Reference: SE 88018 21756

Reasons for Designation

Mazes have a long lived history and have a variety of form and purpose, most commonly as garden features. They are thought by some to derive from prehistoric cup and ring marked stones and other megalithic sculpture with spiral designs, several examples of which are found in the British Isles. The earliest recognized maze design is the seven ring classical or Cretan labyrinth, single pathed and found as designs carved on stone, cut into turf or marked by boulders. Mazes also exist as designs on Roman produced mosaic pavements; and six are known to be in Britain. The medieval Church adopted a new design of maze, the earliest known full sized example being the pavement maze in Chartres Cathedral laid out in 1235. These medieval Christian mazes are circular or octagonal, with a single path following 11 concentric rings and forming an overall cruciform design, probably meant to be used as a penance, completed on the knees to gain forgiveness for sins. More secular uses of mazes continued until at least the 18th century, although between 1649 and 1659 maze games were one of the activities either discouraged or outlawed by the Puritan dominated Republic. The first more complicated puzzle mazes developed from the 15th century as features of ornamental gardens, with paths separated by hedges or flower borders, the most famous being the Hampton Court maze which was laid out in 1689-96. In the 19th century there was a revival of interest in mazes of all designs which continued into the 20th century. It is thought that there were over 100 medieval turf cut mazes in England of which the approximate locations of 60 are known. Of these, less than eight are believed to survive in their original locations. A number of other maze types are also known, including small finger mazes carved on natural rock walls in Cornwall, and at least one boulder maze on the Isles of Scilly. Mazes are a rare monument type, providing an unusual insight into early social, recreational, religious and ritual activity. All examples still in their original position and with a documented antiquity are likely to be nationally important.

Julian's Bower is a well preserved example of a turf maze, its sunken form demonstrating its great age. It has been suggested that the maze was cut by Spalding Priory before 1220, and thus predates the pavement maze in Chartres Cathedral. It is one of the few surviving turf mazes believed to be medieval in origin.


The monument includes a circular maze cut into the turf on the edge of the scarp above the River Trent floodplain. The earliest known documentary reference to the maze at Alkborough is in the Diary of Abraham de la Pryme written between 1671 and 1704. However, the maze is thought to be at least medieval in origin, and it is believed to have been cut as a monastic penitence maze. The church and land at Alkborough was granted to Spalding Priory sometime before 1146 when the Bishop of Lincoln settled a dispute between the priory and Peterborough Abbey which also held land in Alkborough and Walcott. Alkborough church is recorded as a dependancy of Spalding Priory with a prior, three monks and a secular chaplain until at least 1220 and at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1534, Spalding still held a grange and a rectory at Alkborough. The copy of the maze design in the floor of the porch to Alkborough Church and in one of the stained glass windows date to 1887. These were installed by Goulton Constable, an antiquarian and owner of Walcott Hall, as a means of preserving the design in case the turf maze ever became overgrown and lost. The maze is circular, and of traditional medieval Christian design, similar to the pavement maze in Chartres Cathedral, France. It has a single convoluted path which threads its way through 11 concentric rings to reach the centre. The whole maze is just over 12m in diameter and formed by cutting away the turf either side of the path. Maintenance of the maze over the centuries has now left the surface of the maze up to 0.5m below the surrounding ground surface.

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: 32624

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Fisher, A, Kingham, D, Mazes, (1997), 3-10
Record Card, North Lincolnshire SMR, 41,

End of official listing