Company gifts two Neolithic henge monuments to Historic England and English Heritage
TARMAC have gifted two henge monuments, part of a Neolithic complex in North Yorkshire described as ‘the Stonehenge of the North’, to Historic England and English Heritage.
The land was previously part of Nosterfield sand and gravel quarry, where Tarmac’s presence has been ongoing since 1995 and has been key to developing their understanding of the landscape and its history and promoting practical improvements.
The old Nosterfield Quarry is now managed by the Lower Ure Conservation Trust (LUCT), which also runs the ‘Well Wetlands’ extension in the existing quarry. The quarry sits in the middle of a landscape with a unique story to tell about the past: its geology and water, its archaeology, its habitats and species and the people who lived there.
For Tarmac, extending the conservation value of this site, enhancing local residents' quality of life, and promoting Nosterfield as a future important destination for green tourism are key to the business, and the company says it will continue to be a key player working with others in this.
Thornborough Henges will join Stonehenge, Iron Bridge, Dover Castle, Kenwood and numerous Roman sites on Hadrian’s Wall within the National Heritage Collection. From 3 February 2023, English Heritage will be welcoming the public to the henges and sharing the site’s stories with visitors.
The Thornborough Henges complex, near Ripon, is an extremely important site, consisting of three giant, circular earthworks (henges) each more than 200m in diameter. Dating from 3500 to 2500BC, the henges are of outstanding national significance. The earthworks are thought to have been part of a ‘ritual landscape’, comparable with Salisbury Plain in south-west England, and are probably the most important single ancient site between Stonehenge and the Orkney Islands in Scotland.
Now, the central and southern henges have been gifted by Tarmac, into the legal ownership of Historic England, the Government’s heritage advisor, as part of the National Heritage Collection and will be managed by English Heritage. Lightwater Holdings, a local construction materials provider, house builder and leisure group, have also gifted parts of the wider monument to Historic England.
The henges are now under the care of English Heritage and are free to visit. As part of its interpretation programme, the charity will share with visitors Thornborough Henges’ stories and explain its significance.
Although the henges have remained remarkably well preserved over thousands of years, the central and southern henges were added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register in 2009 due to historic erosion caused by livestock and rabbits.
Tarmac and Historic England have been working with in partnership for a number of years to secure the future of Thornborough Henges, so that they can be enjoyed now and protected for future generations. The donation of the henges to the nation is the best option to secure the monuments’ long-term future and will lead to them being removed from the Heritage at Risk register.
Stuart Wykes, director of land and natural resources at Tarmac, said: ‘Tarmac have had a long-standing commitment to secure the long-term future of the monuments and we’re delighted to gift this incredibly important historical site to Historic England. With its help, the heritage of the central and southern henges at Thornborough will be protected and preserved for years to come.’
Duncan Wilson, Historic England’s chief executive, said: ‘Thornborough Henges and their surrounding landscape form part of the most important concentration of Neolithic monuments in the north of England. They are a link to our ancient ancestors, through thousands of years, inspiring a sense of wonder and mystery. We are thrilled to have acquired this highly significant site for the nation, ensuring that these magnificent monuments are safe and will be preserved for generations to come.’
Kate Mavor, English Heritage’s chief executive, said: ‘Thornborough Henges is one of the most important ancient sites in Britain and yet almost completely unknown – we are looking forward to sharing its significance, its stories and its secrets with the public.’
Rishi Sunak MP, whose Richmond (Yorks) parliamentary constituency includes the henges site, said: ‘The Thornborough Henges site has enormous potential to help tell the story of ancient Britain and I very much welcome this announcement about its future – its safeguarding and preservation for the nation.
‘Comparatively few people are aware of its significance – both locally and nationally. I hope many more will come to appreciate this little-known gem of our history and while doing so provide a welcome boost to the local visitor economy.’
About Thornborough Henges
Thornborough Henges sit in an ancient, ritual prehistoric landscape, marked by different monuments, running from Ferrybridge to Catterick – a kind of fore-runner to the A1.
They are massive man-made Neolithic and early Bronze Age earthworks, built on Thornborough Moor, near to the river Ure, and are unparalleled in their size, alignment and degree of preservation.
Just like Stonehenge and the standing stones at Avebury, a huge amount of people power was channelled into their construction – testament to their significance to the society that created them.
The Thornborough Henges complex consists of three giant, circular earthworks, roughly aligned north to south.
The central and southern henges have been actively farmed and so are not as well preserved as the northern henge, though the central henge is still large and impressive with high banks. Tarmac are currently working with English Heritage and Historic England to repair the banks over the next 18 months.
Today, all three henges are clearly visible as massive circular banks, up to 4m high, with encircling ditches of various depths – but thousands of years ago, they would have stood on a low promontory overlooking wetlands.
Evidence suggests they may have been covered in gypsum and would have glowed white for miles around.
Archaeological effects and prehistoric finds in this area suggest the henges were probably built as ceremonial or ritual centres; the communal act of building may have had an important social role. They may also have served as trading centres and meeting places.
Excavations around the henges have also revealed a possible timber post avenue, an oval burial monument and several round barrows. For more information, visit: www.englishheritage.org.uk/visit/places/thornborough-henges