1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Avebury

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AVEBURY, a village in the Devizes parliamentary division of Wiltshire, England, on the river Kennet, 8 m. by road from Marlborough. The fine church of St James contains an early font with Norman carving, a rich Norman doorway, a painted reredos, and a beautiful old roodstone in good preservation. Avebury House is Elizabethan, with a curious stone dovecot. The village has encroached upon the remains of a huge stone circle (not quite circular), surrounded by a ditch and rampart of earth, and once approached by two avenues of monoliths. Within the larger circle were two smaller ones, placed not in the axis of the great one but on its north-eastern side, each of which consisted of a double concentric ring of stones; the centre being in one case a menhir or pillar, in the other a dolmen or tablestone resting on two uprights. Few traces remain, as the monoliths have been largely broken up for building purposes. The circle is the largest specimen of primitive stone monuments in Britain, measuring on the average 1200 ft. in diameter. The stones are all the native Sarsens which occur everywhere in the district, and show no evidence of having been hewn. Those still remaining vary in size from 5 to 20 ft. in height above ground, and from 3 to 12 ft. in breadth. As in the case of Stonehenge, the purpose for which the Avebury monument was erected has been the source of much difference of opinion among antiquaries, Dr Stukely (Stonehenge a Temple restored to the British Druids, 1740) regarding it as a Druidical temple, while Fergusson (Rude Stone Monuments, 1872) believed that it, as well as Silbury Hill, marks the site of the graves of those who fell in the last Arthurian battle at Badon Hill (A.D. 520). The majority of antiquaries, however, see no reason for dissociating its chronological horizon from that of the numerous other analogous monuments found in Great Britain, many of which have been shown to be burial places of the Bronze Age. Excavations were carried out here in 1908, but without throwing any important new light on the monument.

There are many barrows on the neighbouring downs, besides traces of a double oval of monoliths on Hackpen hill, and the huge mound of Silbury Hill. Waden Hill, to the south, has been, like Badbury, identified with Badon Hill, which was the traditional scene of the twelfth and last great battle of King Arthur in 520. The Roman road from Winchester to Bath skirts the south side of Silbury Hill.

At the time of the Domesday Survey, the church of Avebury (Avreberie, Abury), with two hides attached, was held in chief by Rainbold, a priest, and was bestowed by Henry III. on the abbot and monks of Cirencester, who continued to hold it until the reign of Henry VIII. The manor of Avebury was granted in the reign of Henry I. to the Benedictine monks of St George of Boucherville in Normandy, and a cell from that abbey was subsequently established here. In consequence of the war with France in the reign of Edward III., this manor was annexed by the crown, and was conferred on the newly founded college of New College, Oxford, together with all the possessions, spiritual and temporal, of the priory.