Hove Barrow

From The Brighton Toy and Model Index

Hove Barrow (it appears not to have an obvious official name) was a circular Bronze-Age barrow and landmark in Hove until around 1856, when, the land on either side having been built on, developers decided to use the land for a pleasure gardens, and flattened it.

The barrow was the source of the Hove Amber Cup, an artefact of national and international importance.

1857 description:


by Barclay Phillips, Esq. Westward of Brighton, and extending from the sea-beach to the Downs, is a plain many miles in length, rising with a very gradual slope to the hill tops, and varying in width from one to three miles. It may be said to commence about the centre of Brighton, between which town and the village of Hove have existed till within the last few years, some remarkably level fields devoted to pasturage and the cultivation of grass for hay. Nearly in the centre of one of these fields, that which was the second out of Brighton parish, once stood a small hillock, about fifteen or twenty feet high, on the north of the pathway leading from Brighton to Hove Church, and situated about 100 yards N.N.E. of the new church of St. John the Baptist; and, till very lately, famous every Good Friday as the resort of hundreds of young persons of both sexes to join in the rustic game of "kiss in the ring".

Rising from a dead flat, and being unconnected with any other hills, this hillock always presented the appearance of an artificial mound, and therefore, when, some years ago, a road was cut through it to the Hove station of the Brighton and Portsmouth Railway, I was anxious to learn whether any antiquities had been met with; but not any were then found. Now, however, all doubt on the subject has been set at rest, and the hillock proved to be a barrow or monumental mound erected over the remains probably of an Ancient British chieftain.

In consequence of extensive building operations now going forward in the lower part of the field, labourers have recently been employed removing the earth of this hill for the formation of an ornamental garden in Palmeira Square; and in January last, on reaching the centre of the mound, about two yards east of the road leading to Hove station, and about nine feet below the surface, they struck upon a rude coffin, between six and seven feet long. It was lying nearly east and west, and the boards had the appearance of having been fashioned with a hatchet, as was shown by their impression upon the surrounding clay; for, on exposure to the atmosphere, they immediately crumbled away, though one of the knots has been fortunately preserved. It proves to be of oak, though one of the labourers, in describing the coffin to me, as we stood on the spot, said it was of elm.

In the earth with which the coffin was filled were numerous small fragments of carious bone, apparently charred, some of which were picked out; and about the centre, as if, said one of the men, they had rested on the breast of the body interred, were found the following curious relics:—

  1. An Amber Cup, hemispherical in shape, rather deep in proportion to its width, with a "lip" or "nick", and ornamented merely with a band of fine lines running round the outside, about half an inch from the top. There is one handle, large enough for the insertion of a finger, ornamented with a fillet on each side of the surface, which is flat, similar to that on the cup itself. From the fact of the rim not being perfectly round, and the band before mentioned not passing over the space within the handle, and its being marked off with a line at each end, seemingly cut across, we may conjecture it to have been made and carved by hand. There are two small chips in the rim. That on the left of the handle is fresh, and was caused by the man who found the cup accidentally striking it, as he told me, with his spade, when he first came upon it; that on the right is not so large, but is ancient, as is shown by its appearance. The cup is perfectly smooth inside and out, excepting where the earth in which it was buried still adheres to the surface; but since its exhumation the amber has cracked slightly in every part. On the cup being lifted by the handle, this broke into two pieces, having received a blow from the workman's spade, but fortunately the fragments fit very exactly, and I have therefore easily repaired it. ...
  2. A "Celt", or head of a battle-axe, made of some sort of ironstone. It is 5 inches long, 1.9 wide in the broadest part, and 0.8 of inch thick. It is in perfect preservation, with a hole neatly drilled through the centre; half an inch wide in its narrowest part, but 0.8 inch wide on one side, evidently in order that the handle might be securely fastened in by a wedge at the upper end. The extremity of the axe is semi-circular, sharp (though slightly chipped), and 1.9 inch wide; the other extremity is not quite so wide, 1.8 inch, and flat in the centre, apparently serving as a hammer.
  3. What I have called a small whetstone, 2.7 inches long; 0.6 inch wide in the centre, and 0.35 inch thick at the centre, tapering off slightly at each extremity. There is a small hole neatly drilled through one end, and the surface appears partially encrusted with some oxide or paint of a red colour.
  4. A bronze dagger, very much oxidised, and so brittle that it broke into halves as it was being taken out of the ground. Two of the rivets, and fragments or traces of the bone handle, still remain attached to the lower end of the blade. Dimensions: length, 5.5 inches; width at lower end, 2.4 inches; thickness at ditto, 0.3 inch.

The workmen described the coffin as resting on the natural soil, which is stiff yellow clay, while the mound itself bears every appearance of having been formed of surface earth and rubbish thrown up together. I minutely examined the remaining sections of the hill, and myself picked out several specimens of charred wood, and was informed that such fragments were very abundant.

The manner of sepulture, and all the relics, excepting the dagger, show this mound to have been the burial-place of a British chieftain before the time of the Roman invasion. The mound, which was close behind my house, and which I have known from childhood, was nearly circular, perhaps slightly elongated; and therefore, from its being of the simplest and most ancient form, I am inclined to think we may reckon it to have been at least 2000 years old, perhaps more! It has now disappeared! The last clod of that earth which so long covered the bones of a British chieftain has been carted away; and coffin, bones, and earth, have been thrown pellmell to form the mould of the rosary of Palmeira Square.

I was not present when the discovery was made, but heard of it next day, and immediately commenced inquiries on the spot among the men still working there. From their own mouths, and from Mr. Lainson, clerk of the works to Baron Goldsmid, on whose estate the tumulus stood, I received the information now published. Mr. Lainson states that he was within fifty yards of the place at the time of the "find"; that the men immediately sent for him, and that not ten minutes had elapsed from the coffin being disclosed before he was on the spot. The relics had just been taken out of the earth as he came up, and he insisted upon their being given up to him as the property of the Baron. The articles all remained under Mr. Lainson's care for a few days, when he delivered them up to me, by whom they have been deposited in the Museum of the Royal Brighton Literary and Scientific Institution, where they may now be seen.

At my suggestion, application was made to Baron Goldsmid, by the Committee of the Literary and Scientific Institution, to present them to the Town Museum, which he very handsomely did, merely stipulating that these antiquities should, until the formation of the Town Museum, be placed in the Society's reading-room, with particulars when and where they were found, and by whom presented. This has been done, and the committee, in accordance with the Baron's wish, named three persons as trustees to have charge of them — Mr. J. Cordy Burrows, Mr. J. Andrews, and myself. ...

— , Barclay Phillips, , DISCOVERY OF A TUMULUS AT HOVE, NEAR BRIGHTON, CONTAINING AN AMBER CUP, &c., , Sussex Archaelogical Collections, relating to the History and Antiquities of the County, Sussex Archeological Society, Vol IX, pages 119-124, , 1857

The Curse of Palmeira Square

The clearance of the Barrow was to bay way for botanist and landscape gardener Henry Phillips' new oriental gardens and pleasure dome. Almost everything to do with the scheme went wrong. The dome was put in the hands of Henry English, who made a bizarre set of decisions resulting in the dome spectacularly collapsing the night before its official unveiling. English disappeared, apparently fleeing the country. Phillips went blind through shock, and was unable to finish the project.

The Anthaeum Dome's collapse, if it had happened the next day, might have dropped around a hundred tons of cast ironwork from a height of sixty feet onto the cream of Brighton society, wiping out a significant portion of the region's aristocracy and business leaders.

Continuing rituals

The traditional "Kissing Ring" ceremony that used to happen on/around the barrow continued in more polite form around Hove's [[Floral Clock], at the north of Palmeira Square site.

External links