Group of henge monuments, an associated group of round barrows, a Saxon cemetery, and a Norman church at Knowlton


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020580

Date first listed: 15-Oct-1924

Date of most recent amendment: 05-Jul-2002


Ordnance survey map of Group of henge monuments, an associated group of round barrows, a Saxon cemetery, and a Norman church at Knowlton
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Dorset

District: East Dorset (District Authority)

Parish: Woodlands

National Grid Reference: SU 01740 09999, SU 01835 10098, SU 02019 10169, SU 02046 10325, SU 02222 10143, SU 02404 10057, SU 02442 10306, SU 02487 09944, SU 02622 10123


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

Reasons for Designation

Cranborne Chase is an area of chalkland well known for its high number, density and diversity of archaeological remains. These include a rare combination of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age sites, comprising one of the largest concentrations of burial monuments in England, the largest known cursus (a linear ritual monument) and a significant number and range of henge monuments (Late Neolithic ceremonial centres). Other important remains include a variety of enclosures, settlements, field systems and linear boundaries which date throughout prehistory and into the Romano-British and medieval periods. This high level of survival of archaeological remains is due largely to the later history of the Chase. Cranborne Chase formed a Royal Hunting Ground from at least Norman times, and much of the archaeological survival within the area resulted from associated laws controlling land-use which applied until 1830. The unique archaeological character of the Chase has attracted much attention over the years, notably during the later 19th century, by the pioneering work on the Chase of General Pitt-Rivers, Sir Richard Colt Hoare and Edward Cunnington, often regarded as the fathers of British archaeology. Archaeological investigations have continued throughout the 20th century and to the present day.

Despite some reduction by ploughing, the Knowlton Circles complex survives as a combination of earthwork and associated buried remains and is known from partial excavations to contain archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the monument and the landscape in which it was constructed. Knowlton represents one of the most significant groups of henge monuments representing Late Neolithic ceremonial or ritual centres in England, being one of few instances where many forms of the henge tradition occur in close proximity. Associated with the henge group is one of the most dense concentrations of round barrows (Late Neolithic to Bronze Age burial monuments) in Dorset, and containing one of the largest examples of an individual barrow. The barrow group represents the only major example in Dorset (and one of few examples in Wessex) to be situated in an area without an earlier long barrow tradition. The presence of a medieval church within the Central Circle represents an unusual integration of pagan and Christian symbolism. In addition, the presence of burials of probable Saxon date close to the church provides further information concerning earlier medieval economy and society within the area. The central henge and Knowlton Church are in the care of the Secretary of State and are on public display.


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


The monument, which falls into nine separate areas of protection, includes a group of henge monuments, an associated group of round barrows, a Saxon cemetery, and a Norman church, all situated on level ground in the upper Allen valley, within the area of Cranborne Chase. The group of monuments is often referred to as the `Knowlton Circles' and forms a discrete cluster of sites which was surveyed by the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England (RCHME) in 1975. The best preserved of the henges is known variously as the `Central Circle' and `Church Henge'. This enclosure is oval in plan, with dimensions of 106m by 94m. It is defined by a ditch 10m wide and up to 1m deep, surrounded by banks 10m wide and up to 1.75m high. There are now three entrances, although it is unknown whether all are original. Within the henge, there are several later enclosures and a Norman church (Listed Grade II*). The church is built of flint, with some sandstone and was abandoned in the mid-17th century when the roof collapsed. To the north west lies another enclosure which is often known as the `northern circle'. It is oval in plan, with a maximum diameter of 94m and defined by banks which have been reduced by ploughing to about 20m wide and about 0.5m high. There is a large single entrance to the south east. To the south of this lies a smaller enclosure known as `The Old Churchyard'. This enclosure is of uncertain origin; it does not certainly represent a churchyard and might be more closely associated with the nearby henges. The enclosure is about 60m in diameter and defined by banks 20m wide and 0.5m high and there is a possible entrance to the south. The southern enclosure, which represents the largest henge within the group, has a maximum diameter of about 250m. It is roughly circular in plan and is defined by a bank and internal ditch. To the east, where under plough, the bank is 20m wide and about 0.3m high. The ditch is known from partial excavations by Bournemouth University in 1995 to be 15m wide and up to 5.5m deep. The enclosure is now crossed by the Wimborne to Cranborne road and the western area is now largely occupied by New Barn Farm. An area of the bank and ditch survives as an earthwork within the north western area. To the north east of the Central Circle lies the `Great Barrow', which represents the largest mound within the monument. The mound is 40m in diameter and about 3m high, and is surrounded by a ditch which has become infilled, but which is known from aerial photographs to survive as a buried feature. A second ditch, known from aerial photography and partial excavation gives the `Great Barrow' a total diameter of 121m. This outer ditch may represent an enclosure, as there is an entrance on the eastern side. This is the largest in a group of broadly contemporary round barrows located close to the henges at Knowlton. There are 15 other examples clustered around the enclosures, with four outliers situated to the south west. The barrows have been reduced by ploughing, some surviving as low earthworks and others as ring ditches, the ring ditch representing the buried ditch as it appears in aerial photographs. The barrows were recorded by the RCHME in 1975. Further round barrows and ring ditches to the north and south form the subject of separate schedulings. The area between the Great Barrow and the Central Henge was partially excavated in 1958 during the laying of a water main. A group of 16 inhumation burials within chalk-cut graves, some aligned east-west, indicates the presence of a cemetery which may be of early medieval date. The central henge and the church are in the care of the Secretary of State. All gates and fence posts which relate to the modern field boundaries and farmyard, the structures of the grain silo, the timber-built livestock shed (situated in the central western area), the structure of the open-sided hay barn (situated in the north western area), and the interpretation notice at the entrance to the church are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

Legacy System number: 35209

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
An Inventory of the Historical monuments of Dorset: Volume V, (1975), 115
Description, RCHME, National Monuments Record,
Description, RCHME, National Monuments Record,
Mention, RCHME, National Monuments Record,
Mention, RCHME, NMR,

End of official listing