Rollright StonesEnglish Heritage, Rollright Stones, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire OX7 5QB Category Outdoor Activities, For the Family
The Rollright Stones is a complex of three Neolithic and Bronze Age megalithic monuments near the village of Long Compton on the borders of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire in the English Midlands. Constructed from local oolitic limestone, the three monuments now known as the King's Men, the King Stone and the Whispering Knights, are distinct in their design and purpose, and were built at different periods in late prehistory. The stretch of time during which the three monuments were erected bears witness to a continuous tradition of ritual behaviour on sacred ground, from the 4th to the 2nd millennium BCE.
The first to be constructed was the Whispering Knights, a dolmen that dates to the Early or Middle Neolithic period and which was likely to have been used as a place of burial. This was followed by the King's Men, a stone circle which was constructed in the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age; unusually, it has parallels to other circles located further north, in the Lake District, implying a trade-based or ritual connection. The third monument, the King Stone, is a single monolith, and although it is not known when it was constructed, the dominant theory amongst archaeologists is that it was a Bronze Age grave marker.
The name "Rollright" is thought to derive from the Old English Hrolla-landriht, meaning "the land of Hrolla". By the Early Modern period, folkloric stories had grown up around the Stones, telling of how they had once been a king and his knights who had been turned to stone by a witch; such stories continued to be taught amongst local people well into the 19th century. Meanwhile, antiquarians such as William Camden, John Aubrey and William Stukeley had begun to take an interest in the monuments, leading to fuller archaeological investigations in the 20th century, culminating in excavations run by George Lambrick in the 1980s.
In the 20th century, the stones became an important site for adherents of various forms of Contemporary Paganism, as well as for other esotericists who hold magico-religious ceremonies there. They also began to appear more widely in popular culture, featuring in television, literature, music and art.