The huge mound that stands in the middle of Marlborough College is called by racier guidebooks Merlin’s Mount and is said to be his burial mound
.More reliable sources thought the sixty-two foot (nineteen metre) high mound was constructed by those domineering incomers from Normandy so they could build Marlborough’s castle on top of it and so lord it over the townsfolk down below.
Now new scientific research has confirmed that the mound was built way before any recorded sighting of that elusive fellow Merlin. Carbon dating of pieces of charcoal found deep within the mound prove it was built three thousand and more years before the Normans rode into town.
Dated now to about 2400BC, Marlborough’s mound becomes the ‘little sister’ of the world famous Silbury Hill – which dominates the skyline just westwards along the A4.
Peter Carey of the Bath architects Donald Insall Associates who are overseeing the mound’s extensive conservation, points out that this discovery makes Marlborough’s mound the second largest man-made, prehistoric construction in Britain. And as Silbury is the largest such mound in all of Europe, Marlborough’s mound may turn out to be the second largest in Europe.
Carey, who was at Marlborough College in the 1960’s, admits to being “carried away” by the news about the dating of the mound. He thinks it is the most significant archaeological discovery in Britain so far this century.
How could the experts have been so wrong? A.R. Stedman in his scholarly book Marlborough and the Upper Kennet Country (published in 1960 in Marlborough) comes down, with some rather strange logic, on the side of the Norman theory:
“This sixty-foot mound is certainly artificial, but whether it was raised, as tradition asserts, in prehistoric times as a barrow…or whether, more probably, it was raised in Norman times so that the castle could dominate the town…is unknown. That the Mound was built for the castle is confirmed by the fact that the Norman rarely put his castle on a spot with religious associations”
So scholars can’t be right all the time – especially when the science of carbon dating comes along to confound their theories.
Jim Leary, who led the recent English Heritage archaeological investigations on Silbury Hill, and took part in the investigations into the mound, says “This is an astonishing discovery. The Marlborough Mound has been one of the biggest mysteries in the Wessex landscape.”
“For centuries people have wondered whether it is Silbury’s little sister; and now we have the answer.”
The mound has had three distinct ‘lives’: it was the base structure for a very important royal castle built by the Normans, used at times by Norman and Plantagenet kings and the scene for some historic events such as the general oath of allegiance to King John in 1209.
The castle then passed from the Kings of England to their queens and eventually fell into disuse, before coming into the hands of the Seymour family of Wolf Hall fame.
Another ‘life’ started in the eighteenth century, when a house on the site was home to the Marquis of Hertford and his family, and Lady Hertford created what Peter Carey describes as “a wonderful and extravagant garden” - with the mound as its centre piece.
Lady Hertford gave the mound an extraordinary spiral ramp right round the outside, shielded from the common gaze by a hawthorn hedge. And she adorned it with several notable features including a shell grotto, a belvedere or viewing point and a water feature at the summit.
That the Hertford’s home was later the Castle Inn and a meeting place for Tory politicians need not detain us. It has since become part of the College buildings.
Now we know the mound had a third, much earlier ‘life’ – a prehistoric ‘life’. And the reason it was built around 2400 BC will almost certainly remain as lost in time, as mysterious and as subject to speculation, as Silbury Hill itself.
In an expensive and delicate operation, probes were drilled into the middle of the mound and surrounding ditch areas, and the carbon dating of the samples was carried out with the help of English Heritage. Six cores were drilled and four samples taken from different levels within the mound itself provided shards of charcoal that could be carbon dated.
This work – and plenty of careful conservation still to come – was made possible by initial gifts and a £1,200,000 legacy from former college student, Eric Elstob. On his initiative, the Marlborough Mound Trust was set up in 2000 and the first investigative work begun.
For more about Eric Elstob and the work to conserve and renovate the mound, see our companion story: “Marlborough Mound’s past is suddenly longer – will its future be longer too?”
And what about the Merlin connection? If Merlin was ever more than a brilliant invention of ancient story-tellers, he belongs in the so-called ‘dark ages’ rather than prehistoric times. Perhaps the slight similarity between the words Marlborough and Merlin was too much of a temptation for tourist guides of yore.
It is important to emphasise that as part of the College grounds, the Marlborough Mound is on private property and not open to the public. In fact at present there’s not a lot to see anyway – just a mound of trees.
Against the background of financial maelstrom affecting the parent Southern Cross Healthcare group, life at Marlborough’s Merlin Court is very much carry on as normal – with one significant fact emerging this week.
The purpose-built, 62-bedroom home is not for sale.
This was the reassurance that Mandi Short, Merlin Court’s manager, gave to a group of relatives of Merlin’s residents attending a regular meeting last night (Tuesday).
She told them the home is not one of the 750 homes in the Southern Cross group, which serve some 31,000 vulnerable elderly people, possibly being put up for sale by its owners because of a funding crisis.
Only if the much criticised endangered group were to fail would the home be sold, she pointed out, and then as a complete unit to a new owner.
And for the staff, residents and relatives the only apparent change would be the paperwork. Life at the home would continue as usual.
This came as welcome news to the group of supportive yet concerned relatives, for whom Merlin Court is regarded as a well-run caring home and a vitally important part of their lives and those of their loved ones.
Merlin Court is one of three Southern Cross homes in Wiltshire, the others being Ravenscroft, in Trowbridge, and Kings Court, in Swindon, but is not part of the care home operation of Wiltshire Council, which runs its own group of 32 care homes through the Order of St John.
But other local authorities do provide the funding for some of Merlin Court’s residents, an indication that it remains an approved care home, especially now that the government has guaranteed that it will step in to prevent residents being put under threat.
On its website, Merlin Court declares: “Welcome to Merlin Court, our purpose built home where we provide a high standard of care 24 hours a day. Our residents have varying needs from specialist nursing support to general assistance with everyday living.
“We offer residential and nursing care as well as specialist care for those with dementia.”
“We are very proud of our homely and welcoming atmosphere. We would be delighted to show you around so that you can experience it for yourself.”
Marlborough MP Claire Perry has won her battle to keep a lollipop lady patrol outside St Peter’s School, originally a temporary post funded by Wiltshire Council.
The contract for Mrs Catherine Palmer to continue her safety role on the zebra crossing outside the primary school ran out at Easter, and there were fears that it wouldn’t been extended as a result of council spending cuts.
It was Mrs Perry who helped St Peter’s persuade the council that they need a lollipop lady last October because of the extra heavy traffic created on the London Road by the Pewsey Road bridge replacement project.
Parents backed the school’s bid to maintain Mrs Palmer’s service – gas main works are now adding to the traffic problem – and in particular after an incident three months ago when Mrs Palmer was shaken by a car that hit her lollipop out of her hand and sent her flying.
Now Mrs Perry is claiming victory after receiving a letter from Dick Tonge, Wiltshire’s cabinet member for transport, with the welcome news that the county will continue to fund the lollipop patrol.
“The post was originally a temporary measure to help traffic congestion in Marlborough,” Mrs Perry told Marlborough News Online. “But it was clear that the pupils at the school needed this extra support going forward – it is a very busy road.”
“I have been working closely with St Peter’s to argue the case for funding the post and, despite several set-backs, we have now got the result we wanted.”
“A very sensible decision.”
Defiant Marlborough Town Council is to launch its own tourist information centre following the closure by Wiltshire Council of the public library based facility – with the Mayor’s parlour as its potential site.
Councillors voiced their angry concern at the loss of the TIC at Monday night’s meeting of its Finance and General Purposes Committee, when the county was accused of “dumping” the town it cared nothing for.
“We do seem to have been stuffed again by Wiltshire and I’m extremely upset about it,” protested Councillor Richard Pitts (pictured), who has chaired an emergency working party seeking a solution to the tourism centre’s disappearance.
“We have been dumped again by Wiltshire. They have not only destroyed our tourism but also our parking by introducing high charges that no tourists will pay.”
The meeting decided adopt a proposal made by Marlborough activist Val Compton and the two former Wiltshire tourist information centre employees for the town to have its own new centre, to be launched on July 1 with a £5,000 loan from the town council.
And to set it up initially in the Mayor’s parlour, used mainly as a robing room, in the town hall, while seeking permanent funding from other sources to maintain it, including Wiltshire’s own Marlborough Area Board.
“We are in desperate times,” declared Councillor Pitts. “And we need to take desperate measures to get something going by July 1. This is a stop gap solution so that we can catch the end of the tourism season and get people back into touch with Marlborough again.”
Former mayor Councillor Andrew Ross, chosen as the new chairman of the F&GP Committee, declared: “Clearly we have to pick up this commitment ourselves. We can’t accept what has happened now that Wiltshire have axed it.”
“We have to stand up and show leadership. And there is no other place for the TIC to go but here in this town hall.”
And Councillor Guy Loosmore, another member of the working party, agreed.
“What is happening may not be ideal, even temporary,” he said. “But if we don’t do anything then the council is failing the community. We will lose out otherwise.”
“We have been clobbered by Wiltshire. They have no interest in this town.”
It was Councillor Nick Fogg, himself a Wiltshire councillor, who proposed that the town council, if it passes the tourism plan at its next meeting, seeks funding from the Marlborough Area Board, and he was supported by Councillor Peggy Dow, also a Wiltshire councillor.
He congratulated all the members of the working party on their efforts, and said: “What you have done is fantastic.”
The proposal, outlined by Val Compton, is for Christina Ramsden and Robert Chrodi, the two tourist centre staff made redundant by Wiltshire, to run the new facilities as part-time managers, together with the support of band of enthusiastic volunteers, on a three-month basis. They will be self-employed on short-term contracts.
St Peter’s Church was the original site suggested for the facility but this has now been ruled out as “a non-runner” and the Mayor’s parlour and/or the entrance of the town hall earmarked as the site.
This would give time for the town council to seek financial backing for a permanent centre from the Marlborough Area Development Trust, Community First and the Area Board to fund the project on a permanent basis.
Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, whose executive has already backed the proposal, is another target for funding, the town’s own retailers benefiting from increased tourism activity, together with some funding too from the town council once its initial loan is repaid.
“All this would give us a suitable degree of independence,” said Councillor Pitts. “It would be a double-edged sword and provide a regular revenue stream coming in.”
The town council will now be presented with a business plan for the new information and tourism centre, which itself is expected to bring annual revenue of £10,000 from the sale of souvenirs and guides to the area.
Modest fees will also come from hotels, bed and breakfast properties, restaurants and pubs listed on a new Marlborough tourism website. High fees charged by VisitWiltshire, which receives £500,000 funding from Wiltshire Council, have resulted in only one hotel in Marlborough being listed and only one out of the town's pubs and restaurant shown to be available in the area.
Wiltshire Council’s decision to close down Marlborough’s public library based Tourist Information Centre has been described as “woefully short sighted” and a disservice to the town’s council tax papers.
According to questions raised with Wiltshire by Marlborough News Online, the town is the only one in the whole county to lose its tourism centre, though fears remain that Avebury is due to follow.
And this is despite a cut of only £58,276 in Wiltshire’s current tourism budget of £750,000, of which £500,000 goes in a direct grant to VisitWiltshire Ltd., whose comprehensive website lists only one available hotel in Marlborough.
And the website, for instance, provides no specific dates for the forthcoming Marlborough International Jazz Festival, due in July, while offering detailed information about major events in towns such as Salisbury, where the Visit Wiltshire tourism partnership is based.
South West Tourism estimates the value of tourism in the county. Wiltshire has told Marlborough News Online that the latest 2009 data reveals an annual figure of £583.4 million compared with £523.1 million in the previous year.
“When you consider those figures, Wiltshire’s funding of tourism and tourist information centres and its continued cost cutting is woefully short-sighted,” protested Marlborough town councillor Richard Pitts.
“I fear there is no clear link between VisitWiltshire and Marlborough. We simply don’t know how much of the council tax payers’ funding in our area will really come back to us in terms of increased visitor numbers.
“We will now investigate how that money is being spent, and, if we can, direct what we want to happen to boost tourism locally.”
“However,” he added, “there is a feeling among many of my fellow councillors and colleagues that we, as a community dependent on tourism, will now have to take charge of our own destiny.
“We simply cannot rely on Wiltshire Council and VisitWiltshire to bring the tourists into the Marlborough area. And if we do this in partnership with bodies like the Chamber of Commerce and the Marlborough Area Development Trust, we will at least be able to shape an information and tourism service that really attracts visits and, importantly, attracts them to stay for longer periods.”
The town council’s Finance and General Purposes Committee, which Councillor Pitts chairs, will discuss the current dire situation on Monday night.
It basically stems from the former Kennet District Council’s decision to close down the system-built tourist information facility that used to exist in the Marlborough Waitrose car park.
“I fought long, hard and ultimately unsuccessful to prevent this,” revealed Wiltshire councillor Nick Fogg , also a Marlborough town councillor and founder of Marlborough’s Jazz Festival.
“The highly unsatisfactory compromise was to put the tourist information centre in the library. This didn’t work because the centre opened only during library hours so, for example, it was closed on Bank Holidays when tourists come to town.”
The town council was offered the opportunity of taking over the facilities on the basis that Wiltshire would continue to pay staff salaries for the next six months.
“Then it would have been up to the town council to cover the costs, which was clearly not tenable, both on grounds of costs and in view of the further reduction of library hours,” Councillor Fogg pointed out.
Activist Val Compton, who has been preparing plans for a combined new Marlborough information centre and tourism service, has also hit out at Wiltshire’s actions.
“The attitude of the council toward tourism in Marlborough is cynical at best and sinister at worst,” she told Marlborough News Online.
“Attract the tourists to Marlborough through a website, then when they arrive with high expectations of spending some time and enjoying the Marlborough area, they look for the local TIC.”
“Local people, who are used to it being in the library where the signs still point, may well direct the tourists there. On arrival, if they need some service, they will be told by library staff to go to Avebury or Devizes. That is what staff have been told to say.”
She adds: “But it gets worse -- if they wish to purchase any books or leaflet including the Accommodation Book from Visit Wiltshire – they will be able to do that but the library service are resistant to allowing any new set up stock and sell those books.”
“So Wiltshire still want the revenue. In fact -- we might as well have a big sign telling tourists not to bother coming in to Marlborough because although we would welcome their hard cash - and indeed are dependent on it -- there is NO service for them here.”
“It is not just shooting ourselves in one foot but two.”
Marlborough’s mayor, Councillor Alexander Kirk Wilson, gave a personal boost yesterday (Tuesday) to the Wiltshire Air Ambulance charity, which is in danger of losing its county police force funding.
And that will mean it is confronted with the task of raising its income from £700,000 to £1.5 million.
The mayor, who has been fascinated by airplanes since his youth and included hang gliding in his hobbies, has made the life-saving service one of his charities to support during his year in office.
That is why he made an official visit to the unit, based behind the Wiltshire county police headquarters, in Devizes, and soon witnessed its helicopter air ambulance flying off on a “shout” to the scene of a traffic accident.
Now celebrating its 21st anniversary, the Wiltshire Air Ambulance has operated throughout its life jointly with Wiltshire Police, though this arrangement may now terminate in 2015 because of national policing strategies.
“This would be a pity for the county as there is a symbiotic relationship for the crews,” the mayor told Marlborough News Online. “They generally fly together – pilot, medic and policeman – and all are knowledgeable about and experienced in helping with each other’s work.”
“But more than that, the incidents to which they are called usually call for medical and policing skills. Obviously this is true of road traffic accidents, but also of many other incidents.”
He added: “But the probability is that the police will drop out of the funding picture. If so, the Air Ambulance – which receives no public money and is entirely supported by charitable donations – will need to raise its income from about £700,000 to £1.5 million over a four-year run-down of the police contribution.”
A police spokesman said: “Wiltshire Police Authority are currently contractually tied with the Great Western Ambulance Service, until 2014, for the provision of a police helicopter/air ambulance. The current arrangements in Wiltshire will remain as they are at present.”
A giant cheque for £500 was presented by Wiltshire Police’s rural crime team to Marlborough racehorse welfare charity Greatwood at its open day on Sunday.
The team has security stamped hundreds of leather horse saddles across the county as part of its crime prevention work. This service acts as a deterrent against theft and, if theft does occur, it increases the chance of property being returned to the owner.
Although the tack marking service is free, many people made donations in the past year, and the rural crime team decided to present these funds -- £500 in total -- to Greatwood at its open day event.
The team took time out to promote its work to members of the public who were present. The team aims to provide the rural community with a single point of contact. It offers specialist policing advice and deals with rural community issues, such as hare coursing, poaching and theft of plant and machinery.
It also coordinates Horsewatch and Farmwatch schemes which both provide members with regular updates about rural policing matters.
John Bordiss, the team’s police community support officer (PCSO) told Marlborough News Online: “We had a great time at the Greatwood open day. It provided us with an excellent opportunity to talk to people about the work we do, services we offer and provide people with valuable crime prevention advice.
“We were able to present £500 to the charity thanks to generous donations from those who have received our tack marking service, including Horsewatch members and others. I would like to thank everyone for their support and I’m pleased we were able to present Greatwood with this money.”
Greatwood provides fulfilling futures for former racehorses and children with special educational needs through providing rehabilitation and education programmes in a secure and caring environment.
A major exhibition and consultation exercise will be carried out by Marlborough Town Council in September, to give residents the opportunity to air their views on controversial improvement plans for the town hall building.
Councillor Guy Loosmore (pictured), chair of the council’s Property Committee, gave the assurance last night (Monday) when he referred to incorrect reports and complained that the council was being “mocked” as it might be losing £40,000 a year on the project.
Some residents have threatened to call a town referendum on the proposals, financed through the Public Works Loan Board and said to cost £1 million in total, because they fear the cost will result in a council tax increase, currently frozen by the government.
“We are not a profit and loss organisation,” said Councillor Loosmore. “We are not here to make a profit like a company. We are creating a project for the benefit of the community. All views will be taken into consideration.”
He pointed out that the Assembly Hall had already been revamped, and had been initially open up to residents for the royal wedding celebrations. Now it was available for income-raising conferences and weddings.
Repairs to the town hall’s steps were also due to be completed shortly and there were proposals for repainting the town hall frontage.
“We don’t wish to hide anything,” he added. “It is a very complex project. We want to show that it is logical and feasible.”
“We will be criticised if we do not do it properly and ensure that everyone knows what is going on. We need to present the whole picture and show that we want to get it right.”
Councillor Peggy Dow warned that residents were likely to seek a referendum if the scheme, which includes opening up the dungeon area below the building, did not provide alternatives and was not carried out in phases.
But Councillor Richard Pitts was positive in his reaction, declaring: “What’s happening is exciting news. It’s great.”
There was a surprise in store for Saturday morning shoppers in Waitrose – a flashmob demonstration by a dozen members of the Marlborough Community Choir aimed at promoting their forthcoming concert on Friday.
But it wasn’t Judy Garland’s Trolley Song that they burst out into singing. Instead they gave a rousing refrain of Baby Just Loves Me while standing around the delicatessen counter.
And handed out leaflets, of course, for the concert at St Peter’s Church at 7.30pm on Friday, which features the famed British folk singer Frankie Armstrong.
“I phoned the manager Andy Davies to ask for permission first,” said choir leader Vanessa Lafaye. “He’s a good supporter of the community and didn’t mind at all. And the customers loved it.”
Vanessa, a writer and photographer originally from Florida, launched the choir six months ago, on the basis that anyone can join in at any time, some weeks as many as 50 people attending impromptu sessions.
Twenty regulars will be taking part in Friday’s concert featuring Frankie Armstrong, whose motto is, “If you can talk, you can sing.” Tickets cost £5 at the door, profits in aid of Home-Start Kennet. (see 'What's On')
“It is a real honour to have Frankie Armstrong with us,” added Vanessa. “She will also be running a voice workshop the following day.”
Click on pics to enlarge
David Hemery with Edwina and torchAbout six hundred people were at Barbury Racecourse on Monday evening (June 4) to see the former Olympic hurdle star David Hemery light Marlborough’s Jubilee Beacon. David Hemery brought with him the Olympic torch he had carried through Royal Wootton Bassett and signed many autographs.
The rain held off and, as the beacon began to burn, the clouds parted to give a wonderful view of the full moon.
The event was organised by the Marlborough Brandt Group with the help of the Barbury Estate and of Chris Musgrave and his team who built a huge bonfire which blazed into the night sky – helped by some very large bales of old linseed straw.
After the hog roast, pay bar and fish and chips and a charity auction of Coronation and Jubilee memorabilia, many people took the steep, torch-lit route up to the beacon – some very young and less young were taken up by tractor and trailer.
Several families took advantage of the wonderful site with its views across the downs, to camp overnight – while the beacon blazed away above them.
David Hemery lights the BeaconThe only disappointment was that the young rowers from Marlborough, New Zealand who had rowed in the previous day’s Thames Pageant, never made it down to Marlborough, Wiltshire. They were held up in London to attend an unscheduled presentation and to fix some problems in getting their boat shipped back to New Zealand.
Mayor Edwina Fogg was very disappointed as not only were they to have been honoured guests at the beacon celebration, but were also to be presented at the Town Hall on Tuesday (June 5.)
One young person at the Beacon was especially saddened that the lads from Marlborough, New Zealand didn’t make it - her cousin was one of the rowers and she was looking forward to meeting him for the first time.
“It was a most wonderful occasion and the culmination of months of planning and organisation by a large number of people,” Brandt Group founder Nick Maurice told Marlborough News Online.
“At least 30 people were involved in one way or another and almost exclusively in a voluntary capacity.
“The beacon was built over three days by the staff of the Barbury Estate who were quite magnificent in everything they did to make sure the lighting of the beacon went smoothly.
“It was such a privilege to have an Olympic Gold Medallist in David Hemery to light the beacon in the London Olympic year in front of 600 residents of Marlborough -- and to have Edwina Fogg our Mayor to encourage us all to raise our glasses to Her Majesty The Queen.”
And he added: “Then two special moments occurred when the blaze was at its height, huge sparks were rising into the heavens and the clouds cleared and the full moon appeared.
“My mobile rang and it was friends in Marlborough's link community of Gunjur in The Gambia announcing that they had just lit their beacon and were wishing Her Majesty long life and happiness!”
Below are more photos of the Marlborough Beacon event - including a shot showing the full moon and a 'morning after' shot of the pile of still burning ashes:
Reuben & Lucas Arkwright and Courtney Goodwin with David Hemery's Olympic torch Mayor Edwina Fogg with loudhailer addressing the crowdDavid Hemery with lit Beacon
The morning after..... BEACON-MOON.800pxCrowd wind their way up to the beacon