It is illegal to download any image from 'Hove in the Past' for your own website or for publication without the permission of the copyright owner.

12 January 2016

Ancient Hove & Portslade

Judy Middleton 1984 (revised 2017)

copyright © J.Middleton
The Goldstone (Hove Park) c1906


For people in late Victorian Hove there was never any doubt about the Druid connection with the Goldstone. Of course there was no evidence to support the theory but it was so colourful and had been repeated so often, that it had come to be accepted as fact. More lurid still was the notion that the Druids may have offered human sacrifice there.

Stories about the Goldstone had already begun to circulate in the early 19th century when the enigmatic Druids had taken a firm hold on the public imagination. The antiquarian Dr William Stukeley had pronounced Stonehenge to be a Druidic temple; the Vicomte de Chateaubriand had produced a fascinating but fictitious account of a blonde Druid priestess presiding over a human sacrifice amongst the standing stones at Carnac in Brittany, France; while in 1832 Bellini wrote Norma whose heroine was also a Druid priestess.

It is not difficult therefore, to see that any standing stone was likely to attract the designation of being Druidic. But some authorities think Druid religious practices were bound up with sacred groves and oak trees rather than stones.

Not a great deal is known about the Druids because they had no use for the written word and their traditions were passed on orally. It took an apprentice Druid in the region of twenty years to acquire all this quantity of knowledge.

What we do know about the Druids comes from the opposition, as it were, namely Julius Caesar, Pliny the Elder and Tacitus. One thing is certain – the Druids were held in high esteem by their fellow Celts.

It is true Druids did perform human sacrifices and sometimes this was done by burning the victim in a wickerwork man-shaped cage or by ritual archery or crucifixion.

It was the imagined aura of blood around the Goldstone that caused it to become a sightseeing attraction in the 1830s. Many fashionable visitors to Brighton enjoyed gently shaking up their livers by a pleasant ride out to the rural delights of Hove to scrutinize the Goldstone and speculate about its use.

William Marsh Rigden, the farmer upon whose land the Goldstone stood, was not so happy about the Goldstone’s popularity. In those days the Goldstone was situated south of Old Shoreham Road and east of Hove Drove, later renamed Sackville Road. In fact Farmer Rigden was furious about the careless way visitors trampled down his crops in their anxiety to have a good look at the Goldstone. By March 1834 he decided to call a halt to this vandalism by getting rid of the Goldstone. Two labourers called Churcher and Terry were told to dig a pit 6 feet down into the clay. When this was done the Goldstone was dragged by means of chains to its burial place. The site was at the north end of an old barn near Goldstone Farm.

Drawn from the original by copyright © J.Middleton
The Goldstone according to Horsfield in 1835
Rigden’s action does not seem to have provoked any strong protest at the time. It was not until some 35 years later that dissenting voices were heard. Thus the historian MA Lower wrote in 1870 – ‘a utilitarian farmer … dug a hole and buried this relic of unknown ages … some archaeologists wish he had been buried under it’. By 1896 Hove councillors were asking questions; ‘Is the Urban Council aware that a very ancient relic of past British worship (Druidic) known as the Gold Stone has been ruthlessly buried out of sight by the enterprising and ignorant land speculator and builder?’ (Note how Rigden has acquired additional status over the years).

William Hollamby was stirred by the loss of the Goldstone. Hollamby was a remarkable man with a long history of service to Hove and in 1898 he entered his twenty-second consecutive year as a member of the Town Council. He had a hand in many local organisations and was on countless committees. He was also a keen advocate for the rights of working-class men and fought to provide allotments for them at a time when the idea was unpopular. Hollamby was convinced the Goldstone was a Druidic relic and must be found and set up in Hove once more.

First of all he had to seek the permission of Alderman JJ Clark (who founded the well-known bakery in 1887) because he now owned Rigden’s farm. The popular story goes that only one aged inhabitant, namely Mr Cornford, verger at St Andrew’s Old Church, could remember the exact spot where the Goldstone was buried. But contemporary newspaper accounts make it clear Rigden’s two employees, Churcher and Terry, were still alive and had a vivid memory of burying the Goldstone.

The Goldstone was finally unearthed on 29th September 1900. The re-discovery was felt to give a boost to civic pride – a sort of ‘one up on Brighton’ feeling. At the mayoral banquet in November 1900 following Alderman J Colman’s re-election as Mayor, the vicar of Hove claimed the unearthing of the Goldstone proved Hove was the most ancient town in Sussex. He was also proud that a humble figure of the church had been instrumental in pinpointing the exact location of the hidden stone.

Drawn from the original by copyright © J.Middleton
"Rockfeller". The face in the Goldstone as 
seen by Clem Lambert in July 1913
In 1906 the Goldstone was set up in its present position in the newly formed Hove Park and surrounded by a hooped iron fence. There must have been many children who walked past the Goldstone on their daily constitutional in the park with nanny or mother. Souvenir postcards with inaccurate captions were produced, some clearly printed in black and white, others with smudgy, dark colours. But the outline of the stone was clear to see. In the summer of 1984 this was not so because only the tip of the Goldstone could be observed above a sea of pink hydrangeas. Today the Goldstone has reverted to a more natural state and can be seen unhindered, although shadowed by a nearby tree.

In July 1913 Clem Lambert noticed something about the Goldstone that nobody else had recognised. He was a prolific local artist who was born in Brighton in 1850 and many of his works are kept at Hove Museum. What Lambert discovered was that if you stood by Old Shoreham Road looking north on a bright, sunny morning, you could clearly see a face. He executed a sketch to prove his point, calling the face ‘Rockfeller’
copyright ©
Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove
Herbert S. Toms as a young man c.1900

In 1915 Herbert S Toms saw the sketch and thought it was either a joke or a wild exaggeration. But when he went to view the Goldstone under the specified conditions, he had to acknowledge Lambert was right. Toms kept up his interest in the Goldstone and produced two articles about it for the Sussex County Magazine in 1931 and 1932. Toms was an archaeologist who had trained under the redoubtable Lieutenant-General Pitt-Rivers. Toms later became curator of Brighton Museum. 

As to the composition and origin of the Goldstone, there are a number of theories; the most common being that it is a mass of breccia (rock made up of angular fragments). In the 1960s there was some interesting correspondence on the subject in the Brighton & Hove Herald. One man thought the Goldstone unusual in having portions of volcanic rock embedded in it that glistens in sunlight. He thought it was a glacial deposit. A second reader disagreed saying there had been no major glacial action south of the Thames and the Goldstone was probably a conglomerate of flints, sand and ironstone. Another writer pointed out such masses of conglomerate and hard sandstone (like the Goldstone) and known as sarsens or greywethers were at one time quite common on the Downs. 

The Goldstone is nothing if not controversial. You would think a thing like height and weight would be easy to agree upon. Not so, as can be seen from the following comparisons.
1)      1835 – Horsfield’s Sussex  - 6 or 7 feet high
2)      1870 – Lower’s Sussex – nearly 7 feet high
3)      1897 – Porter’s Hove – weighs about 11 tons
4)      1900 – Daniels’ Hove – about 14 feet x 10 feet x 5 feet at thickest part; weighs 20 tons
5)      1932 – Sussex County Magazine Volume 6.  9 feet high 13 feet 6 inches long
6)      1937 – Mee’s Sussex – 14 feet long; weighs 20 tons


The Goldstone was not the only standing stone at Goldstone Bottom. In May 1818 the Revd J Douglas wrote a letter to Gideon Mantell containing the first mention of other stones. ‘This stone (the Goldstone) is in a line south of Goldstone Bottom, at the end of which, close to the rise of the hill, is a dilapidated cirque, composed of large stones of the same kind’.

Drawn from the original by copyright © J.Middleton
Detail from J.Edward's revised map of 1819. The position of the Goldstone has been ringed. 

It sounds quite a prominent feature. It seems strange that J Edwards in his exact and detailed Companion published in 1801 makes no mention of it although he had plenty to say about the Goldstone. Sicklemore, whose book was published in 1824, stated the stones were evidently ‘removed from their original position’ but gives no reason for this assumption.

There is further confusion about the number of stones. Porter in his History of Hove (1897) stated there were seven. But there are two drawing of the stones that do not agree with this or each other. One is by HG Hine and shows sixteen stones (twelve of them forming a rough segment of a circle) and the other is by RH Nibbs and only shows six.

A similar fate overtook the circle as befell the Goldstone although apparently not at the same time. Perhaps Farmer Rigden was less troubled about the stone circle. It is not certain when the stones were removed but it was probably some time in the 1840s. It is claimed some of the smaller stones were broken up and placed at the base of the Victoria Fountain, which was erected in the Old Steine in 1846. Other stones were used to fill in the old pond in Goldstone Bottom. It is possible some were buried like the Goldstone. In 1955 when workers were excavating a sewer trench in Benett Drive (north-east of Hove Park) they unearthed four large stones. These blocks were around 5 feet x 2 feet x 1 foot 6 inches. Explosive charges were used to blow them up but the stones were of such hard material it took a compressor two hours to drill a hole twelve inches deep. 

It was William Hollamby too who discovered the site of the obliterated pond and had the stones dug up and placed around the Goldstone. In 1900 it was thought he would restore the circle but this was obviously impossible. Hollamby died on 18th October 1918 in his 90th year and was buried in Hove Cemetery. No doubt he would be pleased to know his obituary headed ‘A Hove Patriarch’ mentioned the recovery of the Goldstone first of all – the long list of public bodies and charities with which he was associated came later.


Most people are familiar with the legend of Devil’s Dyke. It is a long tale set way back in time when the devil was becoming very irate at the piety of the people living in the Weald and the number of churches there. He determined to cut a pathway through the Downs to let in the sea and drown the buildings and the people. There are different versions as to the outwitting of the devil, either by St Cuthman and Sister Ursula, or by an old woman who lit a candle in her window and knocked the cockerel off his perch so that he crowed. The devil could only work under cover of darkness and the light of the candle plus the cock crowing convinced him dawn had arrived and he threw down his spade in disgust. But the part relevant to Hove comes before his defeat. When he was frantically digging, a mass of breccia rolled down onto the devil’s foot. This so enraged him that he sent the fragment of goldstone whizzing over the hills to Hove. The wonderfully named Cisbury Oldfire, a Poynings schoolmaster, was the author of this version, which was published in 1876. Many years afterwards Alec Whitcher, later director of Brighton and Hove Albion who played football at the Goldstone Ground, wrote ‘surely no other club in the Kingdom has had so notorious a figure to ‘kick-off’ for them’.

In English legend large stones were often regarded as missiles of the devil. Three huge stones at Boroughbridge in Yorkshire are known as the devil’s arrows. The story goes that the devil destroyed Aldborough by standing on Howe Hill and hurling huge stones at the town. The significance of the word ‘howe’ will be discussed later.


Now that the idea of the Goldstone as a sacrificial altar of the Druids has been dispelled, the question remains as to what it and the other stones were doing there. It seems unlikely they were there by accident; although it must be said that another collection of greywethers at Stanmer caused some excitement until research showed they had been dumped there in recent times to remove them from the path of the plough.

If that had been the case at Goldstone Bottom, it seems improbable farm labourers would have gone to the trouble of arranging them in a segment of a circle over an area of 100 yards. It would have been easier to dump them close together in some out of the way spot, or alternatively place them around the adjacent pond. It is more logical to assume some more ancient hand placed them there for a purpose.

J Edward (1801) inclined to the opinion that the Goldstone was placed there as a boundary mark. This is not so prosaic as you might think because boundaries were considered to be special places where supernatural forces might be active.  This is why stiles and gateways often crop up in folklore.

The Goldstone could have marked a pathway. The Revd J Douglas noted in 1818 there were blocks of similar composition on either side of the ‘British trackway’ leading to Devil’s Dyke. There was another similar stone but smaller than the Goldstone, and around a mile away from it on the right of the road leading to Shoreham.

AH Allcroft, writing in 1927, thought some stone circles were places of assembly, like the moot. The chief man of the community presided over such assemblies and it is interesting to note the word Allcroft gave to this office – the Danish ‘Gode’. Obviously this could be a derivation for the word Goldstone and that Hove had strong Danish links will be demonstrated later.

The Goldstone could also have been an outlier – that is a single upright stone used as a foresight to the stone circle; in other words a stone corresponding to the Heel Stone at Stonehenge, which was erected before the other large sarsens.

It is only in recent years that the full complexity of stone circles like Stonehenge has become clear. Our forefathers believed the stones were put up to form a crude temple. Now the evidence reveals the placing of the stones was mathematically planned in order to make exact astronomical calculations. If such knowledge of the heavens were important to the people living in the vicinity of Stonehenge, surely such awareness would be of value to people living in Sussex too. One only has to consult an Ordnance Survey map to discover that the Downs are peppered with ancient sites. If the Goldstone Bottom circle were genuine, it would put a much earlier date on the site than the most optimistic Hove councillor could have hoped. The monument builders were active from around 3300BC to 1500BC.

The validity can never be substantiated because the all-important orientation of the stones has been lost. From the two rare sketches we do have, the Hove circle appears to be a rather primitive affair when compared with the stateliness of Stonehenge.

The greywethers at Stonehenge were transported from miles away while the bluestones came from ever further away. There must have been something special about the site to make it worth so much trouble.

copyright © J.Middleton
Goldstone (Druids Stone) Hove Park c1925
What was significant about Goldstone Bottom? True the greywethers did not come from a great distance but the monument builders were certainly not haphazard in their choice of site. They had a greater sensitivity to the shape and feel of the landscape and the natural world than later generations. They detected paths of influence running through the earth; perhaps in a way similar to the acupuncturist who is aware of meridians pulsing through the body.

Such lines of influence in the earth have been popularly called ley lines, although the idea is still hotly disputed. This could be one reason for the placing the circle there. Another could be the presence of underground water or a blind spring – a factor sometimes associated with stone circles. That such water was present is evident from the proximity of the Goldstone Pumping Station. Of course the water table was at a different level in Neolithic times and probably around 10 feet higher; therefore its presence would be more easily detectable to a person sensitive to such influence on the surface. The old pond was probably a later addition – possibly a dewpond – if it had been a natural spring it would not have been stopped up by a few boulders.

A ley line would help to explain what some have considered the odd position of St Andrew’s Old Church. It was not built on an eminence and it stood on its own to the north-east of the village whose houses were situated on either side of Hove Street. But the site makes more sense if it were situated on a ley line heading north through the Goldstone and stone circle. Note that the Revd J Douglas when writing about the Goldstone in 1833 uses the words ‘it is in a line to the south of Goldstone Bottom’. In fact St Andrew’s Old Church might stand on a cross ley line because St Leonard’s, Aldrington, St Andrew’s, the Bronze Age Barrow at Hove and St Wulfran’s, Ovingdean are aligned to each other. Old churches often mark the route of ley lines. .

The first positively identified henge monument in the south-east was discovered at Mile Oak in August 1990. This came about because before the A27 Brighton by-pass was built, a Field Archaeology Group with Miles Russell as Project Director scoured the proposed route to ensure no valuable clues to the distant past went unrecorded. This work along the whole route was said to have cost English Heritage some £200,000.
copyright © D.Sharp
Site of Portslade Henge in the valley, looking east, now bisected with the embankment of the A27 

The discovery of a henge was big news in the world of archaeology because previously henges had only been found in a strip running from the south-west to Norfolk, and also in Scotland and North Wales. The Portslade henge was excavated entirely by hand and the henge was believed to date back to around 2,000BC. It was a ditched enclosure some 35m in diameter and it is thought there was once an external bank. Its north-west entrance was aligned to the opposing hill on which there was probably once a large Neolithic structure.

Both the hill and the henge were close to a recently identified Neolithic causewayed enclosure. The henge was situated in a dry valley running south from Cockroost Hill, east of Mile Oak Pumping Station and south-east of Mile Oak Farm. (Is it a coincidence that a pumping station is to be found in close proximity to an ancient monument both at Mile Oak and Goldstone Bottom?)  Today the Mile Oak site is covered by the by-pass but if you venture through the tunnel under the by-pass near the allotments, you will find on the other side a clump of trees and an old barn – the henge was nearby.

copyright © D.Sharp
Site of Portslade Henge in the valley, looking west, now bisected with the embankment of the A27 

Just inside the north-west entrance of the henge a human skeleton was discovered, crouched in a foetal position near a faced sandstone block. It seems likely the burial had a ritual significance.
copyright © D.Sharp
Mile Oak Sarsen Stone 
This stone was a part of  the henge, it probably
 acted as a focusing device just outside the 
circle, it may have helped pinpoint movements
 of the sun or moon throughout the year.

In the Evening Argus (18th October 1990) it was stated ‘experts will now examine it for clues as to whether its owner was a human sacrifice’. The article was accompanied by a photograph of Miles Russell holding up the skull, which boasted a full set of teeth. The small sandstone block was deposited at Foredown Tower. It is flattened on one side and it may have been used as a sighting device.

There was an interesting article in the Daily Mail (10th June 2000). It stated that four complete skeletons were unearthed at Stonehenge but two had since been lost. One was thought to be a victim of the London blitz but recently came to light again. The skeleton came from the foot of the circle of great stones and it was excavated in 1923 with clear indications the victim had been beheaded.

In 1978 the other skeleton was rediscovered and he must have been a fine specimen in his prime. He was still wearing his bowstring wrist-guard indicating his status as an archer. The young man had been shot in the back and the flint arrowhead had gone through his heart and embedded itself in the back of the breastbone: there were other flint arrowheads inside his ribcage.

The Roman writer Strabo recorded that Druids shot arrows into the backs of their victims and they were able to predict the future by close observation of the victim’s death throes. At Stonehenge another burial pit revealed the remains of a small child whose head had been split by a stone axe. At Sarn-y-bryn-caled, the timber circle also yielded a burial with four flint arrowheads, two of them with tips broken off due to impact.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums,
Brighton & Hove
Flint arrow-head found in north Portslade
There was another important discovery at Mile Oak, Portslade too during this preliminary search before the building of the by-pass. It was a Bronze Age metal working site with the evidence being finds of charcoal, ash, fire-cracked flints, fired clay lead droplets, scrap copper alloy, grinding stones and whetstones. It is estimated that metal-working took place here from around 1,000 to 800BC.

During previous years other finds have turned up at Mile Oak from this period. A palstave (a Bronze Age axe) was found at Scabe’s Castle and from Whitelot Bottom there came a looped palstave, a looped and socketed celt (an axe-like instrument) a piece of large, socketed spearhead, two rings, and pins of the ‘swan neck’ variety.

For more information on the history of Portslade & Mile Oak see Portslade in the Past website 


The Hove Barrow is very important indeed, or rather was, since it was obliterated in 1857-1858 when the land was required for housing. There are many barrows on the South Downs and a few in the Weald too but the Hove Barrow was the only one on the coastal plain except for the possibility of three, which may have stood on Selsey peninsular long ago.

The Hove Barrow was also the largest, being between 15 to 20 feet high and having a circumference of 200 feet. Many of the barrows on the Sussex Downs are quite small and of a later date – some being Saxon or Romano-British. There are other factors too that set the Hove Barrow aside from all others in Sussex; these will be discussed later. The Hove Barrow was situated 100 yards north north-east of St John’s Church and 3 yards east of the cart track – the site is now covered by the back garden of 13 Palmeira Avenue.

While the Goldstone and stone circle have been mentioned in various books, the Hove Barrow seems to have been ignored until the 1850s. There is an oblique reference to it in a beautiful work by George Hilditch painted in around 1850. It can be seen in Hove Museum. The view looks west with the tower of St Andrew’s Old Church as a point of reference. There seems to be some high ground at the front and perhaps the artist was standing on a tumulus to obtain a better view.

Drawn from the original by copyright © J.Middleton
Hove Barrow and Tumulus, 16th February 1821, based on the drawing by the Revd J. Skinner, looking east in the background is Mr Scrase's house near Wick Hill.

The first printed reference to the Hove Barrow, so far as can be ascertained, occurred in 1857 when the Sussex Archaeological Collections volume 10 published an account of its destruction. If it had not been for the Revd J Skinner’s passion for drawing, we would have no idea of how the barrow looked in situ. His drawings, which were executed in on 16th February 1821, seem to have remained hidden in the archive of the British Museum. It was not until 1941 that one was published in the Sussex Archaeological Collections and then only in a supplementary article to a comprehensive list of Sussex barrows that appeared in volume 75 of the Sussex Archaeological Collections. It is from the drawings that we can discover not only what the barrow looked like in relation to its surroundings but also an idea of its circumference because the reverend gentleman carefully wrote under his drawing ‘180 paces in circuit’. Curwen concludes from his knowledge of Skinner’s method of calculation that Skinner meant 200 feet – probably an over estimation in his opinion. Curwen also wrote ‘Unfortunately, in the middle of the last century, there were no benevolent societies bent on preserving these interesting relics of the past when they stood in the way of Progress’.

Drawn from the original by copyright © J.Middleton
Hove Barrow and Tumulus, 16th February 1821, based on the drawing by the Revd J. Skinner, looking west in the background is the ruins of Aldrington Church (St Leonards Hove).

One interesting point that seems to have been overlooked in tumulus literature is the object to the east of the barrow. Could it have been a long barrow? There was no record of finding an inhumation inside when that too was flattened.

Barclay Phillips, who wrote the article in 1857, had known the Barrow since childhood because it was situated close behind his house. He described it as ‘nearly circular perhaps slightly elongated’. He was not on the spot when the coffin was discovered but when he heard about it the following day, he immediately went to interview the men who had made the find.

The workmen said the coffin was resting on the natural soil of stiff, yellow clay; the mound being composed of earth and debris thrown up around it. The coffin was aligned west to east and it was made of oak and crumbled away on exposure to air. But the workmen noticed the impression of the wood still imprinted on the surrounding clay, which suggested the wood had been worked with a hatchet of some sort. What a pity no more details about the coffin are known. This type of coffin is known as monoxylous, which means it was hewn out of a single tree-trunk, and it is either square ended or boat shaped; the Hove coffin could have been either. It is the only monoxylous coffin of this date to be discovered in Sussex.

The coffin did not contain a skeleton but there were numerous ‘small fragments of carious bone apparently charred’, which suggests a cremation. In that case why was a coffin between 6 to 7 feet in length used when an urn would suffice? Perhaps it was because of status and the value of the grave goods.

The cremation rite and its associations with heroes have come down to us through literature. For example, in Homer’s Iliad Achilles cremates his close friend Partroklus, places his bones in a gold vase and raises up a barrow. In Vergil’s Aeneid Aeneas cremated Misenus and also builds a barrow. In both books the funeral pyre was extinguished with wine before the bones were gathered.

The old English epic Beowulf is of more interest because although it was not written down until around the 8th century AD it derived from ancient traditions. After Beowulf was cremated on a funeral pyre, the people erected a broad and high tumulus that was plainly visible to passing seafarers. Then twelve chieftans rode around the barrow lamenting their loss. Could it be that some memory of the circling of the barrow survived in folk memory until the 19th century?

At any rate the Hove Barrow was well known for its Kiss-in-the-Ring, a ceremony that attracted many people to the locality and always took place upon a Good Friday. The relevant part here is that the people linked hands around the Barrow thus forming a living circle. It was probably similar to the custom of linking hands around a church, which has been noted at other places. The circle was a vital symbol to ancient people. No doubt the kissing part had its roots in some fertility rite as it occurred at an important time of the years (Spring and fertility) on a mound containing a hero’s grave facing east (rebirth).

Inside the coffin and resting in a position corresponding to the man’s chest was an amber cup. The cup is unique because only one other has been found in this country and that was in fragments and could be reconstructed properly. This cup was recovered from Clandon Barrow near Dorchester in 1882. The one thing the cups have in common is that both are made of amber. But apart from that, the style is completely different. The Hove cup is 2 ½ inches in height; the Clandon one is 4 inches; the Hove cup has a round base while the Clandon cup tapers to a conical point. In addition the Hove cup is decorated with a band of raised lines. The cup is hemispherical in shape and holds around half a pint of liquid. It is now considered one of the most important objects from the Bronze Age and a national treasure.

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove 
Hove Barrow's Amber Cup

The Hove cup was carved out of a solid piece of amber. Amber is petrified resin from conifers and was highly prized in Neolithic times because of its colour, lightness, fragrance and its curious way of building up static electricity when rubbed. It was relatively easy to work without special tools. Amber had its religious significance too. It was held to be sacred to the great mother-goddess, it would ward off evil and it would assist the dead on their last journey. Amber was associated with sun-worship too and the coffin was aligned towards the rising sun. The great value and rarity of the amber cup must mean that the man was of some importance. The Victorians had no hesitation in dubbing him an ‘Ancient British Chieftan’.

In view of the rarity of the cup, it is hair-raising to read the contemporary account of how it was dug up. The handle had already been chipped by one of the workmen accidentally hitting it with his spade. Then the cup was yanked from its resting place by the handle, which promptly fell apart. Fortunately it was easy to repair according to Barclay Phillips. But there were some fragments left over – enough for experiments to be carried out to prove the cup was amber. We are not told what the experiment entailed but another exercise consisted of boiling pieces of amber in turpentine, which made amber soft enough to work with the fingers. Curwen was of the opinion that the cup was made in Britain although it was of a type familiar in the lower Elbe or in the Cimbric peninsular.  A wooden cup, similar in design to the Hove cup, has been found at Guldhoi, Denmark, together with a bronze dagger. Amber is found in Baltic areas but it can also be thrown up on eastern British shores.

drawing by copyright © J.Middleton
Hove Barrow's polished axehead (Scandinavian type)
The Hove barrow also yielded a beautifully made axe-head of polished volcanic rock. It is 5 inches in length and has a convex cutting edge at either end and there is a hole in the centre for hafting. It is said to be almost identical to one discovered al Loose Howe, Yorkshire. In the early 1960s a similar axe-head was found at Cockhaise farm, Lindfield, which makes just two in Sussex. Other double axe-heads have been found in Bronze Age barrows in Yorkshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. These battle-axes are thought to be purely ceremonial and may have had a religious significance.

drawing by copyright © J.Middleton
Hove Barrow's miniature whetstone.
A whetstone measuring 2.7 inches in length and 6 inches wide at the centre, was the third object taken from the crumbling oak coffin. The term whetstone is sometimes put in inverted commas because nobody can be quite sure as to the true nature of the object. It shows no sign of use and may have been worn as an amulet – especially since it was painted red. Contrary to the other objects found at Hove, the whetstone is not unique to Sussex. Another was found in Round Hill barrow while a fine example was obtained from one of four long barrows on Bow Hill near Chichester. Similar whetstones are not uncommon in Wiltshire and Ireland. In contrast to the amulet whetstones, four bona fide examples were recovered from Wolstonbury. They were made of fine-grained sandstone and showed well-worn surfaces.

Whetstones are often found in association with daggers and a bronze dagger was the fourth object recovered from the Hove Barrow. It is much oxidised and two of the rivets and traces of a bone handle are still attached to the lower end of the blade. Its length is 5.5 inches and it is the only ogival dagger found in Sussex. It has been stated that the majority of graves containing daggers were cremations.

Baron Goldsmid owned the land on which Hove Barrow was situated. Mr Lainson, his clerk of works, happened to be a few yards away at the time of the find and he claimed them for his employer. The Literary and Scientific Institution wrote to the Baron and asked if the antiquities might be presented to the town museum and this was done. At that time Hove had no museum of its own and so the objects went to Brighton Museum.

This fact caused considerable rancour to Hove inhabitants who felt quite rightly that such a unique and valuable part of Hove’s history should be displayed at Hove. The amber cup used to be on display in Brighton Museum in a little case of its own and if you pressed a button, the cup was illuminated from inside and you could see the lovely, translucent red colour. Later on, it was lumped in with a whole lot of other items in a large case. It was unceremoniously dumped down in a corner and as there was no special lighting it looked boring and dull brown. Hove Museum had been in operation since 1926 and now and then people speculated as to the return of the amber cup but did not hold out much hope. However, in the 1990s there was a change of heart and when Hove Museum reopened after a major refurbishment early in the 21st century the amber cup was back home. In 2009 the amber cup was put into storage for some months over security fears and in 2010 it went to the British Museum as part of a History of the World exhibition. Today it rests in its own special showcase at Hove Museum and not in the crowded local history room as it used to be. You can press a button to view the faint, red glow of the amber – it must not be bright because of conservation concerns – after all, the cup is some 3,500 years old and fragile. If you want to touch the cup, there is a convincing replica nearby where you can observe the decoration and reflect that it is not far removed from the shape of a contemporary teacup.

The earth from the Hove Barrow was used to make up the ornamental gardens in Palmeira Square. It is curious to reflect that a mini-barrow (that is the Floral Clock) was erected in 1953 to commemorate the Queen’s coronation in the gardens not too far distant from the site of the Hove Barrow. A fascinating story about the re-use of earth from a tumulus was printed in a letter dated 15th January 1966 from AWR Trusler. He wrote that his mother was born in Adelaide Crescent 106 years previously and she used to hear stories about the Adelaide ramps being built. Apparently the foundation earth was taken from a hill (probably a tumulus) at the top of Holland Road and when it was removed to the seafront, it still contained human bones.

The radio-carbon dating for the grave inside the Hove Barrow was later judged to be 1239BC but Curwen thought a more likely time scale was between 1500 and 1150BC. As to the position of the barrow itself – it is still a puzzle. The idea of a quick burial for a war chief killed in battle within enemy territory can be discounted. The hewing out of the oak tree-trunk, the high value of the grave goods, the funeral ritual and the creation of a large barrow all speak of a carefully organised funeral. In such a case the coffin would not have been laid just anywhere. TGE Powell suggests it is the barrow that makes a site sacred. But it seems more likely the place was specially selected using some criteria we do not know. The idea of burial at a sacred site is a very old one and was continued in the Christian tradition. It is not all that long ago that our wealthy or famous ancestors were buried inside church or cathedral.

One can imagine the barrow carefully placed along the path of the rising sun. To the north-east was the health-giving spring later known as St Ann’s Well; further to the east was Whitehawk Camp, which may well have been used as an assembly point for rituals rather than as a military encampment; to the north-west was the stone circle, the henge at Mile Oak, and Devil’s Dyke with its earthworks and barrows nearby and its clearly defined path from Hove.


There can be no doubt the occupant of the grave in the Hove Barrow was a person of some importance. This type of barrow and its grave goods have been ascribed to the Wessex culture but it would be a mistake to think of him as indigenous. Even in Neolithic times there was inter-marriage between different groups of people wandering around Europe – for instance the Beaker folk and the Battle-axe people. There are several strands to suggest our chieftan or his people came from Scandinavia.

drawing by copyright © J.Middleton
Hove Barrow's Amber Cup
1)      Amber – Amber was found on Baltic coasts and suggests either strong trading links or that it was brought here personally.
2)      Thor  - The double-axe is associated with Thor, the most widely venerated of the Norse gods. He was the thunder god and the patron of farmers and fishermen. Thor’s hammer was called Mjollnir; it was his symbol of supernatural strength and was also a symbol of fertility. The fact these legends were not written down until a much later date does not detract from the possible Hove connection because the stories would have been handed down orally for generations.
3)      Whetstone – It is interesting to discover that during one of Thor’s adventures, he had a mighty battle with the giant Hrungnir and was hit by a whetstone that remained embedded in his head.
4)      Red – The amber cup is dark red and the amulet whetstone was painted red. Thor had red hair, a red beard and apparently red eyes as well.
5)      Oak – The oak tree was universally venerated. Sir JG Frazer tells us that amongst the ancient Germans, the oak was their most holy tree and it was particularly associated with the god of thunder.
6)      Etymology – Perhaps the most telling link of all is the name of Hove. The conventional explanation for the derivation of the word Hove is that it comes from the old English word ‘hufe’ meaning a hood or covering and by extension a house or shelter. But it seems more likely that ‘hufe’ is itself derived from the earlier Danish word ‘howe’ meaning a barrow, which later evolved to ‘hof’ meaning a holy place. The early use of the word always meant a grave in a circular, holy place but later became simplified to mean a place of worship. What could be more natural than the inhabitants naming their locality after that ancient and mysterious mound? After all, every village has cottages or shelters and they are not all called Hove. In Scandinavia today there is a Hove and a Hova.
7)      Archaeology – It cannot be coincidence that there is a great barrow at Maes Howe, Orkney, while a boat-like coffin was unearthed at Loose Howe, Yorkshire. There was another large barrow at Willy Howe, Yorkshire and a famous ship burial at Sutton Hoo. It is instructive to know that the local name for a barrow in Scotland, Cumberland, Westmorland and Yorkshire is how, haw or howe.


Chronological References to the Goldstone

1801 – Edwards (J) Companion from London to Brighthelmston 
1818 – May, letter from the Revd James Douglas to Gideon Mantell
1819 – Revised map by J Edwards
1824 – Sicklemore’s History of Brighton
1831 – Brighton as it is
1833 – Mantell (G) The Geology of South East England
1835 – Erredge (JA) History of Brighthelmston
1848 – Sussex Archaeological Collections volume 1
1870 – Lower (MA) History of Sussex
1896 – 20th April Brighton & Hove Guardian
1897 – Porter (H) History of Hove
1900 – Daniels (HG) Hove with its surroundings
1900 – 22nd September / 13th October / 10th November Brighton Gazette
1911 – Cooke (AS) Off the Beaten Track in Sussex
1915 – 27th March Brighton, Hove & Sussex Graphic
1918 – 26th October Brighton Gazette
1924 – Allcroft (AH) Downland Pathways
1927 – Sussex County Magazine volume 1
1929 – 6th July Brighton Herald
1931 – Sussex County Magazine volume 5
1932 – Sussex County Magazine volume 6
1935 – Lister (JW) Ancient Hove
1937 – Mee (A) Sussex
1960 – 17th September / 1st October / 15th October / 29th October / 3rd December Brighton & Hove Herald

Books of Related Interest

Allcroft (AH) The Circle and the Cross (1927)
Branston (B) The Gods of the North (1980)
Brett (H) English Legends (1950)
Burgess (C) The Age of Stonehenge (1980)
Castleden (R) The Wilmington Giant (1983)
Copley (GJ) An Archaeology of South East England (1958)
Curwen (EC) Prehistoric Sussex (1954)
Cunliffe (B) Iron Age Communities in Britain (1978)
Dames (M) The Avebury Cycle (1977)
Frazer (Sir JG) The Illustrated Golden Bough abridged by S MacCormack (1978)
Garmonsway (GN) & Simpson (J) Beowulf and its analogues (1968)
Magnusson (M) The Vikings (1980)
Michell (J) The Old Stones of Land’s End
Middleton (J) Encyclopaedia of Hove & Portslade (2001-2003)
Powell (TGE) The Celts (1958)
Simpson (J) The Folklore of Sussex (1973)
Thom (A) Megalithic Sites in Britain (1967)
Walsh (JP) The Island Sunrise (1975)
Watkins (A) The Old Straight Track (1925)
Wernick  R  The Monument Builders (1974)


Ashbee (P) The Bronze Age Round Barrow in Britain (1960)
Grinsell (LV) The Ancient Burial-Mounds of England (1936)
Sussex Archaeological Collections volumes 10 / 72 / 75 / 81 / 82
Brighton & Hove Archaeologist

Place Names

Glover (J) Place Names of Sussex (1975)
Mawer (A) & Stenton (FM) Place Names of Sussex (1930)
Roberts (RG) Place Names of Sussex (1914)

For a discussion of ‘howe’ and ‘hof’ see Allcroft, op cit.

Copyright © J.Middleton 2012
page layout by D.Sharp