Background to the henge complex

Site location

The complex of monuments at Knowlton lies in the parish of Woodlands which is in turn within East Dorset District Council (centred on SU02450994). It is situated c.2 miles south of Cranborne and c.6 miles north of Wimborne, around the junction of the B3078 and Lumber Lane which meet beside the bank of the Southern Circle. The most prominent site in the complex is the Church Henge which still survives as a substantial earthwork, and at which there is limited parking.

Complex period/type

Knowlton Rings consists of 4 earthworks: the North Circle, Church Circle, Southern Circle, and the 'Old Churchyard'. In addition to these sites, to the east of the Church Circle is the Great Barrow, the largest round barrow in Dorset, and almost certainly directly related to the henges. Within a one mile radius of these earthworks there are also a large number of barrows and ring-ditches with particular foci to the SSW and NE of the henges see site plan.

The Central and Southern Circle are generally seen on morphological grounds as being classic henges, while the North Circle was regarded by Harding and Lee (1987) as a 'possible henge'. The status of the 'Old Churchyard' is also uncertain although documentary research suggests that it pre-dates the medieval period.

Within the Church Circle is the ruin of Knowlton church which contains architectural features dating from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries.

A plan of the complex is included in the RCHM volume for East Dorset (RCHM 1975) which shows the four circles, the Great Barrow and the clusters of barrows and ring- ditches to the SSW and NE. Since this survey was completed further study in the area (Grinsell 1982, Papworth 1988) has revealed a number of new ring-ditches. In addition, the dry summer of 1995 has added considerably to our knowledge of sites within the Knowlton area, with two further enclosures being located by aerial photography, as well as confirmation that the outer ditch of the Great Barrow is discontinuous (Green pers. comm.).

Previous work

The only published excavation within the area of the Knowlton complex prior to Bournemouth’s work was an examination of a pipe trench which cut a chord through the outer ditch of the Great Barrow revealing a skeleton dated by the excavators to the Anglo-Saxon period (Field 1962). More recently, in 1986 a programme of fieldwalking was carried out by the Allen Valley Fieldwalking Group. This focused on eight fields to the east of the B3078. Although it has not been possible to examine the material personally, interim publication noted a lithic scatter c.800m to the south of the Southern Circle (Hall 1988, 154-5).

This page has been compiled and is maintained by Steve Burrow
All data and graphics are copyright to the School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University, 1996, unless otherwise stated.
Last updated 18 January 1996.