Institute of Archaeology



Archaeologia Hookland: the archaeology of a lost County in England | Tue Dec 17 14:00:00 | Room 826

Have you ever been to Hookland? This lost county, located somewhere in England, has a fine collection of megaliths, standing stones and barrows, but their cataloguing has never been satisfactorily completed, and deeper physical investigations have generally ended badly. In other words, Hookland provides a rare opportunity and starting point to explore notions of archaeology in relation to places of the imagination.The county even has its own museum, The Hookland Museum of Curiosities, which contains (reputedly) only objects found in the County under all manner of circumstances; no comprehensive inventory exists. Yet archaeological interest in this County has increased in recent years, prompted by curious entries in the The Phoenix Guide to England, and the discovery of a complete run of the journal Archaeologia Hookland found in the Ashmolean by author and folklorist C.L. Nolan.

For those intimate with Hookland, we offer the opportunity to explore and celebrate its archaeology, both in terms of its ancient and more recent past (from the Toad Stone to the pylon’s hum), but also the dark history of surveys, excavations, curses and wyrd discoveries that litter the pages of Archaeologia Hookland. For others, we encourage proposals for papers, talks and creative contributions on the themes of folk horror archaeology, the archaeology of lost and fictional places, and all things landscape punk.

Session timetable
14:00 | Session organisers


14:05 | David Southwell, Hookland

The barrow is never empty – ghost soil excavations in Hookland

An introduction to Hookland as the lost county of England and an exploration of the importance of archaeology to it and within it.

14:20 | Christopher Josiffe, Independent researcher

Hookland antiquary, Edgar Snell

The noted Hookland antiquary, Edgar Snell (1821-1863), is renowned both for his thorough excavation work at various prehistoric and Dark Age sites in the county, some of which were written up in Curiosita Hooklandia(the journal of the Hookland Antiquarian Society and Field Club), and for his unfortunate mental state towards the end of his career, which saw him confined at his family home in the care of a private nurse. Illustrations apparently depicting crude pictogram-like symbols, were found in Snell’s journals after his death. He regularly spent Midsummer & Midwinter nights out on King Arthur’s Court, Coreham's Neolithic henge earthwork; it was later said that these nocturnal visits had turned his head “queerer than a one-legged hare.”

The journals contain numerous sketches made by Snell of random markings on church doors and dolmens, scratches on pews and sundials and the like, all of which he regarded as evidence for what he termed 'The Hook Letters', a supposedly ancient script pre-dating the Ogham or Runic alphabets; sadly, modern scholars now regard pareidolia & nervous exhaustion as causal factors for his forlorn and delusional state.

14:35 | James Mansfield, University of Reading

A fantasy of the lay-by

What might we learn from inventive approaches to lesser-known areas of material culture? Artist James Mansfield has created a variety of possible worlds in which small details and mundane locations are celebrated as being as important as major archaeological attractions. Taking inspiration from a Scottish lay-by, he has written two texts which excavate the possibilities of the site and also begin to expose the concepts behind his own speculative practice. He will discuss his approach and how it might in fact be considered as a form of latter-day Romanticism.

14:50 | Lee Ravitz, Independent researcher

Lure of the past, Lordly Hole, Intertextuality and Imposture

Lordly Hole in Barrowcross has played host to many unusual occurrences in the past millennium, and was the subject of Derrick Shales’ ‘Lure of the Past’ pilot episode for Hookland Associated TeleVision (1971) that resulted in a hospitalization and electronic wiping of many tapes. It is featured in Vol. 9 of Archaelogia Hookland for a specific reason, however: in reference to the 1739 excavation of the remains of the barrow by Drs. Creevey and Willings, at the behest of Lord Montside, and the resulting controversy – initially concerning the alleged discovery of the remains termed the ‘Barrowcross Dawn Man’, and latterly, the apparent murder of Creevey by Willings.

In this paper, I aim to examine the way in which this concatenation of narratives has led to a doubly deceptive account; alongside the historical legacy of dispute over the precise meaning of the original 18th century findings, Shales is known to have interpolated several purely conjectural elements into his reconstruction of the tale. Where does fiction end, and objective fact begin?

15:05 | BREAK
15:35 | Katy Whitaker, Historic England

The Toadstones of England

The Toadstones of England
15:45 | Sophie Cathcart, University of Glasgow; Kenny Brophy, University of Glasgow

Spooky stone circles and sinister standing stones: megalith exploitation movies 1957-1990

A recurring trope of folk horror films (and TV shows) of the 1950s to the 1980s was the inclusion of megaliths, usually in the form of stone circles and standing stones. These monuments were a bizarre mash-up of the real and imaginary, from the actual Stonehenge in Night of the Demon (1957) and Halloween 3(1985) to the fake trilithon monuments of Hammer’s The Viking Queen (1967). Presumably included to add a spooky, primal, rural, ancient dimension to the ongoing folk horror (and urban wyrd) proceedings, these megaliths rarely accorded to anything found in archaeological textbooks. In this paper, we will present results of the screen-archaeological analysis of over a dozen films and shows that feature such monuments, considering their materiality, form and location, and the rites carried out within them. Our dataset runs from Night of the Demon to Troll 2 (1990). We will argue that a series of wyrd and spooky stereotypes were at play here (of course!) and suggest some reasons for the recurring folk horror exploitation of standing stones and stone circles.

16:00 | Martyn Barber, Historic England

“People of our own blood” – the archaeology of folk horror/the folk horror of archaeology

The past is ever-present in folk horror, although the nature of that presence varies considerably from one tale to the next, its meaning often vague, its origins elusive. This vagueness can be essential to establishing a growing sense of unease, but is also probably a sound tactical idea – after all, little dates faster than a detailed and authoritative-sounding archaeological interpretation. However, this vagueness cannot completely shake off all trace of the very modern foundations of the ostensibly pre-Christian knowledge, traditions and belief systems often presented as surviving into and acting on the present. In this paper, I’d like to explore some problems with the use of archaeology in folk horror by comparing and contrasting the prehistory and politics of two imaginary landscapes – Midsomer County and pre-Roman ‘Wessex’.

16:15 | David Petts, Durham University

“Will you search through the loamy earth for me?”: Towards a Psychogeography of Danebury (Essex)

Climb through the briar and bramble with me to the small town of Danebury, which may or may not stand in rolling countryside in north-west Essex. This paper explores the historic and social environment of this small patch of England, looking at what lies above, and below, the surface. Like any landscape it has a complex archaeological record: a standing stone, a Roman burial, Anglo-Saxon metalwork (including a spectacular 9th century aestel of typical Wessex workmanship), a picturesque round towered church and a WWII crash site – there are even stories of a missing early medieval ship burial somewhere in the area. It’s not just the ancient embedded past that is of interest- it’s also a landscape of transient encounters between people, things and animals. Mundane places, parish halls, gazebos, pub tables, trees and fields all assume an importance in mediating the present and the past. But most important are the people who explore and love this landscape: metal detector(ists), archaeologists, friends, enemies, partners, family, the living and the dead.

Seymour, T. 2017. Common Buttons of NW Essex Privately Published

16:30 | Ian Parker Heath, Enrichment Through Archaeology

Wicker's New World - sacrificing yourself for fun!

In 2018 Alton Towers theme park opened a new ride, The Wicker Man. This paper considers what factors informed the development of the ride, the imagery associated with it and how it might be experienced by the un/knowing victims.

16:40 | Dr. Katy Soar, University of Winchester

“The place of the treasure-house of them that dwell below”: barrows in folklore and folk horror

Archaeological monuments and landscapes have long loomed large in the popular imagination, creating as they do impressions of deep temporality, of lingering hint of things deeper and more ancient than ourselves,which often translates into a sense of unease, or eeriness, if not outright fear.

These impressions often manifest through storytelling: traditional folk stories that develop around monuments such as Neolithic stone circles, henges and long barrows talk of petrification, giants and devils. Alternatively, many horror writers of the 19th and early 20thcentury locate their tales of terrors directly in the archaeological.

What binds these stories together – those of folklore and those of folk horror – is an understanding of the past not as a static entity but as something real, lurking below the surface and waiting to be unleashed. Archaeological monuments act as survivals, physical manifestations of a remote, otherworldly past that is still connected with the present.

This paper will consider these narratives of fear which surround archaeological sites by focusing specifically on barrow monuments, and examining both traditional folkloric motifs and the folk horror elements of writers such as Grant Allen and Arthur Machen, as well as the tales surrounding the barrows of Hookland. This allows us to consider how these narratives reflect contemporary understandings of antiquarianism and archaeology as well as reflecting on anxieties regarding our place in the world.

16:55 | Rebecca Davies, University of Plymouth

Marshwood Vale Forest – a land apart. Oral history of a Hookland royal forest

Based on her many experiences of a Hookland childhood, Fortean scholar Rebecca Davies BSc will explore this poorly documented Royal forest, its archaeology, flora, and fauna.
Marshwood Vale Forest is situated in the wide valley of the Marshbone River, bordered by the chalk escarpment of Lark Hill and Whitebarrow, and the mixed sandstone/limestone ridge of the Coreham measures in the south.

A liminal place, it has always been a society apart, its inhabitants said by some imaginative Victorian Scholars to be descended from the prehistoric tribes who constructed Whitebarrow, these folk were famed Poachers, evidenced by the Inn names of Hit or Miss, and Bird in Hand.

There is also a strong Romany element present, and today Marshwood Vale Forest is the home of the utopian community of Blackways, though there are archaeological remains from the prehistoric Devils Churchyard, to a Roman Villa and King Johns hunting lodge.

This paper will be illuminated by a psychogeographic map, drawn from memory by the author (The OS maps of the area were destroyed in a warehouse fire in 1978, and subsequently hard to obtain).

17:05 | Session organisers


17:30 | END