Waulud’s Bank is a nationally important ancient prehistoric and historic monument at the source of the River Lea, adjacent to the Marsh Farm Estate in Luton. It is believed to be a Neolithic Henge dating from 3,000 BC. Over the past 135 years material has been found on the site covering 10,000 years of human occupation of the area. The first finds were flint tools discovered on the ground by famous Luton and Dunstable antiquarian Worthington George Smith in 1878. Later excavations, by James Dyer and others, revealed Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Saxon and Medieval artefacts, suggesting a real depth of occupation over the millennia.
The earthworks lie on the western edge of the Marsh Farm Estate in Leagrave, Luton. The River Lea forms the western side, its source located within the vicinity of the surrounding marsh. Archaeological excavations in 1953, 1971 and 1982 date the site to around 3000 BC, in the Neolithic period, although there was evidence of earlier mesolithic hunter/fisher activity in the immediate area. The ‘D’ shape of the earthwork is almost identical to that of Marden in Wiltshire, both sites have a river forming one side, and each produced neolithic grooved-ware pottery.
Waulud’s Bank Outer Bank
Waulud’s Bank lies on a glacial ridge near which runs the prehistoric Icknield Way. Initially it was probably a domestic enclosure used for cattle herding. It has been suggested that it later became a henge monument, although the position of its surrounding ditch outside its timber-faced bank would be unusual. Evidence suggests that the site was briefly re-used in the Iron Age, during the Roman occupation and in medieval times.
The enclosure consists of a bank and external ditch of around 7 hectares with a turf-reveted chalk and gravel bank faced by a wooden stockade. No entrances have been identified. Most external features have been destroyed by a 19th-century gravel quarry on the south, the Marsh Farm Estate and the irresponsible dumping of tons of chalk and top-soil along the eastern side during building construction in the 1970s. Geophysical surveys in July 1985 and January 2009 failed to reveal any very positive indications of internal features.
The bank still stands 2.6 m high in places and on the north side the excavated ditch was 9.2 m wide and 2.1 m deep. Finds included neolithic pottery, animal bones and flint arrow heads (some are on display at Stockwood Heritage Centre, Luton Museum).
The source of the River Lea is known as the ‘Five-Springs’ and lies in the north-west corner of Wauluds Bank. According to legend, the Celtic god Lug (or Lud or Lyg) presided over the springs.
Lugh the Celtic God of Light
Lugh is the Celtic god of light, and the name ‘Lea’ is derived from this name. The town now known as Luton is named after this river which meaning the river of the god Lugus. Ton is an Anglo-Saxon name for a town or large settlement. So Luton means “the town on the river of Lugus”.
The English Heritage record claims that Waulud may be a corruption of the name Wayland (the smith) who was a Norse god, also known as Wolund, Weyland or Weland (see also Wayland’s Smithy).
The record also mentions that “some early writers” believed Waulud’s Bank to be a place called Lygeanburgh (the similarly sounding Limbury meaning a fortified place on the river Lea is nearby). This was one of four settlements mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle captured by Cuthwulf, (Prince of Wessex) in 571. Lygeanburgh and Limbury were almost certainly the same place, but so far there has been no excavated evidence to link them directly with Waulud’s Bank.
There are rumours that a substantial Roman villa once existed in Bramingham Road which borders Waulud’s Bank. As mentioned above the site is close to the point where the prehistoric Icknield Way fords the river Lea, and about 5 miles in distance from Watling Street in Dunstable.
There are three related types of Neolithic earthwork that are all sometimes loosely called henges. The essential characteristic of all three types is that they feature a ring bank and ditch, but with the ditch inside the bank rather than outside. Due to the poor defensive utility of an enclosure with an external bank and an internal ditch, henges are not considered to have served a defensive purpose. The three types are as follows:
Henge greater than 20 meters. The word henge refers to a particular type of earthwork of the Neolithic period, typically consisting of a roughly circular or oval-shaped bank with an internal ditch surrounding a central flat area of more than 20 m in diameter. There is typically little if any evidence of occupation in a henge, although they may contain ritual structures such as stone circles, timber circles and coves. Henge monument is sometimes used as a synonym for henge. Henges sometimes, but by no means always, featured stone or timber circles, and circle henge is sometimes used to describe these structures. The three largest stone circles in Britain (Avebury, the Great Circle at Stanton Drew stone circles and the Ring of Brodgar) are each in a henge. Examples of henges without significant internal monuments are the three henges of Thornborough Henges. Although having given its name to the word henge, Stonehenge is an atypical henge in that the ditch is outside the main earthwork bank.
Hengiform monument between 5 meters and 20 meters in diameter. Like an ordinary henge except the central flat area is between 5 and 20 m in diameter, they comprise a modest earthwork with a fairly wide outer bank. Mini henge or Dorchester henge are sometimes used as synonyms for hengiform monument. An example is the Neolithic site at Wormy Hillock Henge.
Henge enclosure greater than 300 m. A Neolithic ring earthwork with the ditch inside the bank, with the central flat area having abundant evidence of occupation and usually being more than 300 m in diameter. Some true henges are as large as this e.g., Avebury, but lack evidence of domestic occupation. Super henge is sometimes used as a synonym for a henge enclosure. Examples of henge enclosures are Durrington Walls and Mount Pleasant Henge.
The word henge is a backformation from Stonehenge, the famous monument in Wiltshire. Stonehenge is not a true henge as its ditch runs outside its bank, although there is a small extant external bank as well. The term was first coined in 1932 by Thomas Kendrick, who later became the Keeper of British Antiquities at the British Museum.
Henges may be classified as follows: Class I henges have a single entrance created from a gap in the bank; Class II henges have two entrances, diametrically opposite each other; Class III henges have four entrances, facing each other in pairs. Sub groups exist for these when two or three internal ditches are present rather than one.
Henges are usually associated with the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, and especially with the pottery of this period: Grooved Ware, Impressed Wares (formerly known as Peterborough Ware) and Beakers. Sites such as Stonehenge also provide evidence of activity from the later Bronze Age Wessex culture.
Henges often contain evidence of a variety of internal features, including timber or stone circles, pits or burials, which may pre- or post-date the henge enclosure. A henge should not be confused with a stone circle within it, as henges and stone circles can exist together or separately. At Arbor Low in Derbyshire, all the stones except one are laid flat and do not seem to have been erected, as no stone holes have been found. Elsewhere, often only the stone holes remain to indicate a former circle.
Some of the finest and best-known henges are at: Avebury, about 20 miles (32 km) North of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire; The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney; Thornborough Henges complex in Yorkshire; Knowlton Circles henge complex in Dorset; Maumbury Rings in Dorset (later reused as a Roman amphitheatre and then a Civil War fort). Mayburgh Henge in Cumbria.
Henges sometimes formed part of a ritual landscape or complex with other Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments inside and outside the henge. Earlier monuments associated with a later henge might include Neolithic monuments such as a cursus (e.g., at Thornborough Henges the central henge overlies the cursus) or a long barrow such as the West Kennet Long Barrow at Avebury, Wiltshire, or even, as in the case of Stonehenge, Mesolithic post holes. Later monuments added after the henge was built might include Bronze Age cairns as at Arbor Low.
Examples of such ritual landscapes are: Stonehenge, Avebury and other associated sites in Wiltshire. Neolithic Orkney and associated island and mainland sites in Scotland; Balfarg in Fife, Scotland; Dunragit archaeological excavation site in Wigtownshire; Thornborough Henges, Knowlton Circles, Stanton Drew stone circles and Arbor Low.
Burials have been recorded at a number of excavated henges, both pre-dating the henge and as a result of secondary reuse. At Avebury, at least two very disturbed inhumations were found in the central area. At King Arthur’s Round Table, Cumbria, a cremation trench lay within the monument. At Woodhenge, a central burial of a child was interpreted by its excavators as a dedicatory offering. Phosphate surveys at Maxey henge suggested that burials may also have been present within this monument. Cairnpapple and North Mains both had burials before the henge, as well as after.