Lying on the edge of the Downs, The Five Knolls is the only such site known in Bedfordshire. The bumps visible against the skyline are barrows or burial mounds, constructed in chalk over individual burials. Later burials (usually cremations) were dug into the outside of the original mounds. First noted by William Stukely in the 18th century, the burial mounds were excavated in the 1850s and 1920s, revealing that they originated in the late Neolithic and Bronze Ages and were re-used for burial in the Roman period and beyond. Two barrows were situated close to this main group, on what is now the golf course. The main image is looking over part of the Five Knolls Barrow Cemetery. Some medieval rabbit warrens can also be seen. The view is to the north.
Worthington George Smith was a Dunstable antiquary and eccentric who undertook archaeological surveys and excavations. He contributed much to the history of Dunstable; he was the discoverer and translator of the charter granted to the town by King Henry I and the author of an extensive book on its history 'Dunstable, its history and surroundings' (1904). His work was recognised when he became the first freeman of the Borough of Dunstable. He said...
Barrow # 8: 17th Fairway
“The tumulus has now been levelled for agricultural purposes. Before its destruction it was about 3m high and 14m in diameter. At the centre was a large grave about 3.6m long and 1.8m wide. Surrounding it were ‘six or seven other graves, each about three feet from the surface’. Two of these graves were quite empty; one contained a human jaw bone, another, the fragments of a human skeleton, a third contained the remains of a human cremation, together with the fragments of an urn, and some burnt earth. In the final grave, on the eastern side the chief skeleton represents a woman, one of the bronze age, 4ft tall and between 18 to 25 years old with a 5-year-old child clasped to the mother. About 200 fossil ‘sea urchins’ were found surrounding the skeleton”. Worthington Smith suggested that the child had been buried alive with the dead mother.
Barrow # 9: 11th Fairway
This barrow was flattened in 1887. It too was originally 3m high and 14m in diameter. All of the graves had been ‘rifled’ except for one on the northern side. It contained in its circumference the skeleton of a crouching boy between 14 to 16 years of age. James Dyer was tempted to speculate that it was a mass burial of family or retainers, all of whom died at about the same time. Whether this was the result of misadventure, plaque, religious whim or tribal dictate, we can only guess.
Neolithic Flint Mine. Adjacent 10th & 15th greens
Neolithic flint mines represent some of the longest surviving earthworks to be seen in the modern English landscape. The Upper Chalk, with its bands of flint, at the top of Dunstable Downs would seem to be an ideal place for flint mines and there are many references to the existence of a mine between the 10th & 15th greens in local literature. Mathews 1963
But a detailed study by English Heritage found only ten sites in the whole of Britain produced evidence for Neolithic extraction. Horne postulated that it might be possible to determine where in the Upper Chalk these species occur which may have suggested that the echinoids found with the crouch burial on the 17th hole could only be recovered in a mining operation. Regrettably Dr Andrew Smith of the Natural History Museum identifies them as Echinicorys scutate and Micraster coranguinum, both common fossils of the Upper Chalk and easily collected from surface outcrops and consequently of no help with regard to possible flint mines. Horne, B 1996. Will the real Neolithic please stand up? Journal of the Manshead Archaeological Society
Luton Museum inspected them a few years ago and felt that they were flint gravel pits, perhaps from the 19th century. Tony Woodhouse from The Manshead Archaeological Society thinks it is more likely that they are the remains of chalk excavation. Chalk was an important natural resource and was used in many ways. It was mixed with clay when making bricks, it was burned and converted into lime when used in mortar, cement, for whitewash and household cleaning. Lime was also spread on fields; spreading lime changes the pH of the soil increasing productivity and crop yields.
For more information on Neolithic Flint Mines in England please find attached English Heritage's 108 page!!! guide.
For a more comprehensive understanding on the barrows please find attached an article by James Dyer MA, FSA who was a founder member of the Bedfordshire Archaeological Council.
The British Road. 6th Fairway
The ancient British Road is the name given by historians to the trackway which was the precursor to the Roman road still known as the Watling Street. Famously, it crossed over another ancient highway, the Icknield Way, here at Dunstable. But the original crossroads was not in the centre of what is now Dunstable. It was further to the west, near the foot of what is now Whipsnade Road, and connected with the track which we call the Green Lane. (Just by The Old Windsock PH)
The Romans, when they built their substantial north-south highway, normally followed the route of the old British Road, but their engineers diverted from this at what became Dunstable. The Dunstable historian Worthington Smith gave a description of the old route in his book published in 1904. He would walk many miles around the local countryside in the days before quarrying and housing altered the landscape, so he was describing what he saw. He said that the old route, heading north from Markyate, ran partly on the site of a long hill, past the north side of Kensworth Church and Downs Farm, to the Green Lane. The Roman engineers decided to keep to the bottom of the valley, making a new road from Markyate to Hockliffe, leaving the British Road more than three-quarters of a mile to the west