The Natural History of Wiltshire eBook

John Aubrey
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 257 pages of information about The Natural History of Wiltshire.

I shall conclude with the stones called the Grey Wethers; which lye scattered all over the downes about Marleborough, and incumber the ground for at least seven miles diameter; and in many places they are, as it were, sown so thick, that travellers in the twylight at a distance take them to be flocks of sheep (wethers) from whence they have their name.  So that this tract of ground looks as if it had been the scene where the giants had fought with huge stones against the Gods, as is described by Hesiod in his {Gk:  theogonia}.

They are also (far from the rode) commonly called Sarsdens, or Sarsdon stones.  About two or three miles from Andover is a village called Sersden, i. e.  Csars dene, perhaps don:  Cæsar’s dene, Cæsar’s plains; now Salisbury plaine. (So Salisbury, Cæsaris Burgus.) But I have mett with this kind of stones sometimes as far as from Christian Malford in Wilts to Abington; and on the downes about Royston, &c. as far as Huntington, are here and there those Sarsden-stones.  They peep above the ground a yard and more high, bigger and lesser.  Those that lie in the weather are so hard that no toole can touch them.  They take a good polish.  As for their colour, some are a kind of dirty red, towards porphyry; some perfect white; some dusky white; some blew, like deep blew marle; some of a kind of olive greenish colour; but generally they are whitish.  Many of them are mighty great ones, and particularly those in Overton Wood.  Of these kind of stones are framed the two stupendous antiquities of Aubury and Stone-heng.  I have heard the minister of Aubury say those huge stones may be broken in what part of them you please without any great trouble.  The manner is thus:  they make a fire on that line of the stone where they would have it to crack; and, after the stone is well heated, draw over a line with cold water, and immediately give a smart knock with a smyth’s sledge, and it will breake like the collets at the glasse-house. [This system of destruction is still adopted on the downs in the neighbourhood of Avebury.  Many of the upright stones of the great Celtic Temple in that parish have been thus destroyed in my time.- J. B.]

Sir Christopher Wren sayes they doe pitch (incline) all one way, like arrowes shot.  Quaere de hoc, and if so to what part of the heavens they point?  Sir Christopher thinks they were cast up by a vulcano.


[Aubrey, and other writers of his time, designated by this term the fossil remains of antediluvian animals and vegetables.  This Chapter is very brief in the manuscript; and the following are the only passages adapted for this publication.

The numerous excavations which have been made in the county since Aubrey’s time have led to the discovery of a great abundance of organic remains; especially in the northern part of the county, from Swindon to Chippenham and Box.  Large collections have been made by Mr. John Provis and Mr. Lowe, of Chippenham, which it is hoped will be preserved in some public museum, for the advantage of future geologists.-J.  B.]

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The Natural History of Wiltshire from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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