SAVE THE HENGES APPEAL

BY THE FRIENDS OF THORNBOROUGH HENGES

Did you know that Yorkshire hosts the largest group of prehistoric earthworks in Britain  ~ and that their setting is rapidly being destroyed by open-cast mining?

Stretching from the standing stones at Boroughbridge in the south to the cursus already destroyed at Scorton in the north are the remains of dozens of monuments constituting a landscape that was sacred to our prehistoric ancestors. Considered together, these monuments are an archaeological record equal in importance to the World Heritage Sites of Stonehenge, Avebury and Orkney ~ yet they remain virtually unknown to the wider public. Could this be because they have the misfortune to be located on sand and gravel deposits that can be excavated cheaply by huge land dredgers?

The centrepiece of this impressive array is formed by three massive henges, each 240 metres in diameter, uniquely laid out in a straight line near the village of Thornborough and mirroring the celestial alignment of Orion’s Belt. They attest to an exceptional level of planning and a mobilisation of labour on a par with the construction of the pyramids. Much more data, including photographs and maps, can be accessed at the websites of the Friends https://friendsofthornborough.org.uk and that of the University of Newcastle http://thornborough.ncl.ac.uk

Open-cast mining has already been allowed to destroy the landscape immediately to the west and north-west of these spectacular monuments, taking with it any buried archaeology including half a cursus and extensions of several pit alignments. In addition, by lowering the water table, it is endangering the preservation of any as yet undiscovered buried relics in the un-mined areas. Now Tarmac has submitted an application to mine Ladybridge Farm, the site of a Neolithic settlement, and has announced plans to quarry all the unscheduled land surrounding the three henges, leaving the monuments perched on “islands” in a huge water-filled pit!  Can you imagine the outcry if Stonehenge was subjected to such an indignity?

Although the henges themselves are scheduled, that does not afford complete protection because the Secretary of State could allow them to be destroyed if he felt that the mining company’s arguments were reasonable. Total archaeological excavation, properly recorded and with all significant finds housed in a museum, would be sufficient compensation for many professional archaeologists!

Yet archaeological techniques are improving all the time and it is vital to conserve all the evidence contained in the surviving landscape setting in the expectation that it will prove susceptible to interpretation at some time in the future. If this sacred landscape continues to be destroyed at the rate of 50 hectares a year, future generations will blame us.

English Heritage has funded trial excavations by Newcastle University which have uncovered further buried evidence, but archaeological arguments alone will not preserve the setting of these sacred monuments. The Friends of Thornborough Henges has been set up by a group of concerned local people dedicated to marshalling the power of public opinion to that purpose. If you care about your heritage, you should join us now ~ membership is free.

The only way to guarantee the preservation of the henges and their surviving landscape setting is to buy the land and associated mineral rights. The capital costs involved make that a long-term objective, but a great deal can and must be done in the interim.

We are prompting the media to publicise the imminent danger to these national treasures and want to employ experts to fight any new mining applications. At the local level, development of a heritage field trail, an exhibition centre, descriptive literature and an audio-visual presentation will start educating visitors in the significance of the discoveries to date.

A new after-use strategy, re-utilising gravel pits as nature reserves and leisure lakes, is being devised by an alliance of the county council, mining companies, English Nature and the Environment Agency in order to make further open-cast mining more acceptable to the majority of the electorate who do not live near these vast pits. The Friends want to counter it by producing a practical land-use strategy enabling the sacred area to be sensitively managed as a national treasure under the stewardship of trustees and for the benefit of local people and visitors.

These actions to secure the safety of the ancient landscape all require hard cash for which there are no obvious sources in this despoiled rural area. To make it possible for anyone, however poor, to join our group, we have decided to keep membership free and to rely upon donations for the necessary funds. If you are interested email us at or call our press officer Mike Sanders, The Friends of Thornborough Henges ()

Just as important, though, is voluntary help. In fact, we desperately need people with time to do project work on a wide variety of disparate subjects such as fundraising, relevant legislation, local history, cultural parallels, publicity, hydrology, ecology, aggregates mining, letter-writing to vested interests, etc, etc. So, if you want to use your spare time to help save the setting of the Thornborough Henges, please contact Mike Sanders on or at

Take action now to save England’s Neolithic cultural heritage!