(Stocking means a field of deforested trees). The magic of this much depleted ancient forest still manages to attract the spiritual as it has done through the ages. And in the 19th century we gave it further importance by directing the Meridian line from Greenwich through the centre of Easneye Woods, making it the centre of the world, cartographically speaking.

EYE-WITNESS TO OPENING OF EASNEYE BARROW

In 1899 Mr. Thomas Fowell Buxton and his son, John Henry, began digging into an ancient mound in their woods at Easneye. Quite correctly they invited the Vice-President of the Hertfordshire Society of Antiquaries, Sir John Evans K.C.B., to superintend the digging operations. The following is the report of Sir John who was present throughout the excavation. (Transactions of the Society of Antiquaries, 2nd series, November 1899 to June 1901.vol. xviii, pp.137/8).  

     A  barrow in Easneye Wood, near Ware, belonging to Mr. T. F. Buxton, was opened by him  and his son, John Henry Buxton, on 19th July, 1899 and I was requested to undertake the superintendence of the exploration. The barrow was about 60 ft. in diameter, in the woods, and about 10ft. above the level of the neighbouring ground. I was at first in the hope that it might prove to be of Roman date, analogous to the Youngbury barrow about three miles north of here, opened in 1889, but ... these hopes were doomed to be disappointed.

     A trench about three feet wide was cut in the barrow from the south to the centre and carried down to about two feet below the normal ground level. The barrow was composed of a sandy loam with pebbles, such as is found in the immediate neighbourhood and is probably of glacial age. As the centre was approached traces of burning became evident, inasmuch as numerous small fragments of charcoal were found eventually beneath a slab of partially charred wood; a considerable deposit of burnt bones about 18 ins. below the surface of the ground was discovered. Not a solitary piece of pottery; not a fragment of bronze; not a single worked flint was found, such as might possibly have assisted in determining the date at which the burnt bones were deposited. The only extraneous object found was the jawbone of a young pig.

     All, therefore, that can be said of the barrow, is that, like many others in which nothing more than a deposit of calcined bones is found, is that it is probably of pre-Roman date. The most characteristic of the burnt bones have been submitted to J. G. Garson M.D., the well-known anatomist who reported as follows

     “I found that the whole body had been burnt, as there are portions of almost every part of the skeleton which are recognisable...”

      Dr. Garson had little else to say about the body except that he could not determine the sex or the age of the bones. This was obviously a very disappointing report and a very disappointing dig for all concerned. Today, however, the sex of the body and carbon-dating of the burnt bones could have determined the age of the burial. Sir John Evans terminated his report by explaining that the bones were placed in an earthenware jar with an inscription on a copper plate explain who had opened the barrow and when. This jar was placed in the centre of the mound and all loose soil returned on top. Trees now grow over this ancient barrow to allow the dead to rest in peace.

     Without a date for any remains from the barrow, the pre-Roman dating takes our village history back to the Age of the Celts and this reminds us of the torque found near Easneye woods in the 18th century. A torque is a heavy gold necklace, crafted ornately into various forms, worn only by individuals of high status in the community. They were sometimes presented to warriors for bravery or were often a display of wealth and standing.  Cassius Dio, historian and Roman Senator of Greek nationality recorded that Boudicca was said to have worn a golden torque. Most of the torques found in the British Isles date from the period 1st to third centuries BC, although they are known centuries earlier.   Torques (or torcs) means twisted bars, but they are not all twisted. The one found at Easneye was sold for its scrap value by the farmer who found it and unfortunately no description of it exists.

     There are still footpaths which run through the Easneye estate and it is well-known to walkers who can reach Wareside, Widford and Much Hadham from Easneye. It is private property, but the owner permits the public access, provided dogs are kept on a lead. The wooded parts of Easneye are rather patchy, for example, Alwines Frith is shown on the Tithe Map as a wooded area of just over ten acres, but today it has no trees and many other remnants of woods have also disappeared since that date. In spite of this fact, Easneye is still rather a special place. The ancients thought so too and let us hope that it will remain so.           R.D.


EASNEYE: ALWAYS A SPECIAL PLACE

by Ron Dale


Easneye was chosen as a holy place by the ancient tribes who built a barrow there in which to bury their dead. It is believed to contain a large number of cremated human remains. Later the pagan Saxons built a Frith some distance away, probably once housing a large wooden hall and the Frith was the place where pagan Saxons worshipped their own gods, which were usually connected with Nature, such as large rocks, springs and wells, trees etc. with their sacred groves nearby (Lady Grove, Stanstead Grove, Frith Grove). These three groves are all to be found on the higher slopes of Easneye and are marked on the 1840 Tithe Map simply as groves, with the exception of Lady Grove which is named in full and located near the river Ash close to Watersplace. In the heathen religion and cult of the frith, women were classed as frith-weavers, i.e. peace-makers, and were expected to ensure that vengeance for wrongs committed against frith members was enforced.  They also had their own Guilds and were allowed to own property, unusual in those times. The importance of women in Saxon society is reflected in the name, Lady Grove. The Saxons buried the dead as we do in cemeteries and also sometimes cremated remains in urns.  We have not yet found our Saxon dead, but we certainly know they were here in Stanstead and their remains are still here, somewhere under our feet.  The frith was the centre of their spiritual world over a thousand years ago and paganism did not dissolve overnight. The Germanic or Teutonic tribes of northern Europe were slow to lose their paganism. Iceland, for example, did not convert to Christianity until the 11th century.  Even when Christianity arrived in Britain, old traditions died hard and very slowly.  The word frith is a pagan word, yet it survived in name places like Alwines Frith into the 13th century and even until today.  (For a full explanation of the meaning of frith see Groenbach, Vilhelm, The Religion of the Teutons, Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1931 or see Alwines Frith on this web-site for a briefer version).

     The importance of Easneye waned gradually. The Saxons, once Christianised, built their church well away from their pagan site. In our instance, they built a church at Stanstead Bury about a mile away, again on a high point. Easneye became a park in which to hunt for deer but a few cottages are known to have existed there in previous centuries. Sir Simon de Stanstede lived there in the 12th century (see story on Alwines Frith), which was owned by the Norman lord of the manor, Roger de Wanchy, and in pre-Conquest times, by the Saxon lord Alwine Gottone whose  name survived in the frith.      

     Today Easneye Mansion houses the All Nations Christian College, a training school for Christian missionaries, once again a centre of spirituality for those who believe in worshipping an invisible god. The Buxton family built this mansion as their family home and as the manor house in the 1860’s as Mr. T. F. Buxton was lord of the manor with strong religious leanings. Eventually the mansion was passed on generously to the missionary cause. In one sense Easneye has always been a special place, a spiritual place, a wooded hillside, hidden away from passers-by as it has been for millennia. On its highest point is a windswept plateau occupied by fields with ancient names such as Wheelers Ley, Dung Field, Stocking Herne,