A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
The Preston tumulus at Gosmore
There is some justification for posting this article on the Preston History website because although the featured tumulus shown above is at nearby Gosmore, it has two possible connections with Preston. Firstly, it was allegedly known as ‘Hinde’s Mound’ – a reference to the eccentric Captain Robert Hinde (of Hunsdon House, aka Castle Farm) building the mound from which to signal. That there is a present-day house at Gosmore near the tumulus named Hindesmount (which was once owned by one of Hinde’s sons) suggests that this version of events was believed by some local inhabitants. Secondly, there was a note about the tumulus written by Reginald Hine in the piece on this website about the history of Preston as follows – “a tradition related by a Mrs Hinde of Preston ‘that in early times there was a battle there (ie Dinsley Castle), that one party took their station where Hunsdon Hall (aka Castle Farm) is now and the other on Kings Hill, that one party was pursued to Gosmore where a king was killed and buried under a tumulus there.’ Flimsy confirmation of this story was to be found in the London Guildhall library where EA Downman had lodged some plans, dated 1902, of these earthworks.” I then discovered a heading in a book, ‘A Tumulus at Preston’. It was the subject of a visit which was recorded in East Herts Archeological Transactions (1912). The salient facts extracted from this account are that it was situated in Mr English Harrison’s grounds; it was known locally as ‘Hindes Mound’; it measured six yards high, five yards across and ninety-five yards around its base and it was marked on Ordnance Survey maps. Based on this information, I mistakenly thought that the mound was likely situated on Castle Farm land which was occupied by Hinde and later owned by the Harrison family and searched old maps in an attempt to find its location. I also emailed Jane Clark at Castle Farm to see if anyone was aware of such a large mound and she kindly canvassed Preston villagers for suggestions. I realised a little later that it should have been possible to locate where ‘English Harrison’s grounds’ were and after discovering that he was a Hitchin magistrate in the early twentieth century, I found a note about him on this very web site in the article about Offley Holes: “Kate Harrison’s (nee Curling) (1819 - 1888) grandson, Major Hubert English Harrison and his wife Nellie were living at Gosmore End when they died (in the 1950s)”. It was then a simple matter to find Gosmore End, nowadays Gosmore Hall Care Home, and the site of the mound/tumulus. It is on the west side of Gosmore High Street just after the turning for the Care Home, which is the first left after the Bull Inn crossroads by (see 19th century map below). However, the significance of this mound does not appear to be common knowledge
Bearing in mind that one legend is that after a battle at Preston, a king was pursued and killed here, the comments in the East Herts Archeological Transactions are intriguing. Their correspondent reports, “As far as I can find out, it has never been opened – neither will it be, while owned by Mr Harrison (my note: he died in 1958)....I have since been told by a workman...that some pieces of stuff like broken swords had been found (when the coach road to Gosmore End was laid)”.....Personally, I do not for one moment think it has anything to do with the battle fought by the Danes at St Pauls Walden and spoken of by Norden, but believe it belongs to the overlap of the Bronze and Iron Ages”. The writer went on to explain that he linked the tumulus with two others about four miles north of Gosmore. One of these was in a field and had been levelled by the farmer. “While levelling, a number of bones and bronze celts with parts of decayed iron, were found.....From this same field I have had several bronze socketed celts, an armlet, a very late ribbed spear head and some perished iron....I am led to think that while the neighbouring hills were occupied by (Bronze and Iron Age) tribes, some heavy clan fights took place and the slain were thrown into heaps and covered by their comrades.” St Ippolyts (sic) Parish Hall Local History may refer to this when it states ‘Early civilisation in the area is indicated by traces of Bronze Age burial mounds...’ The Ancient Monuments website pinpoints the two tumuli north of Hitchin mentioned above and provides the following information: “The monument includes the visible and buried remains of two bowl barrows located some 100m to the south of the railway line between Hitchin and Letchworth, on a broad west-facing slope overlooking the valley of the River Oughton. The western barrow, often referred to as the `Ickleford Tumulus', survives as a substantial earthwork, domed in profile and measuring some 52m in diameter and 3.5m in height. Surrounding this mound is a 3m wide ditch from which material was quarried for its construction.” Limited excavations took place at the mound in January 1816, revealing a cremation burial interred in a wooden casket, two bronze spear heads and a copper blade. The mound was opened again in March of that year when a fragment of a coarse-ware urn was recovered and later in the same year a human skeleton was unearthed on or near the mound. To the east of the mound, and separated by a distance of some 25m, lies a second barrow. The mound which formerly covered this burial has been reduced by centuries of ploughing and is no longer visible on the ground, although the quarry ditch remains clearly identifiable as a crop-mark which has been recorded from the air. Round barrow cemeteries date to the Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC). They comprise closely-spaced groups of up to 30 round barrows - rubble or earthen mounds covering single or multiple burials. The westerly barrow to the south of Fearnhill School, Letchworth is particularly well preserved. Although the minor excavations undertaken in 1816 will have removed some artefacts, the majority of the mound has not been disturbed and will retain further evidence including funerary remains and other indications of prehistoric ritual practices. Despite the damage caused by ploughing, the adjacent barrow will also retain valuable archaeological information, preserved in features buried beneath the area of the former mound. In the case of both barrows, silts contained in the surrounding ditches will retain artefacts related to the period of ritual use, and valuable environmental evidence reflecting the appearance of the landscape in which the barrow were constructed. The existence of two barrows in such close proximity to one another is particularly significant, providing insights into the chronology of their construction and evidence of related funerary activity, as suggested by the discovery of the human skeleton in 1816.” It is significant that there is no mention of a possible connection to the Gosmore tumulus and Ancient Monuments does not include this tumulus in its catalogue.
(1) It was created by Captain Hinde of Castle Farm, Preston as a signalling platform. (2) It was a prospect mound in a landscaped garden (3) It was the final resting place of a king after a battle at Preston. (4) It was a Bronze/Iron Age burial mound. (5) It was a Roman burial mound
In December 2019, Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews (Hitchin Museum Curator and Heritage Access Officer) was good enough to offer some further thoughts about the Gosmore tumulus: “I’m familiar with the mound at Gosmore. It’s a confusing thing but I’m pretty certain that it’s not a late Neolithic or Bronze Age burial mound. It’s possibly a Roman or a Pagan Saxon burial mound (like the Bartlow Hills in Cambridgeshire for Roman or the mounds at Sutton Hoo for Pagan Saxon), but I also find that unlikely. I suspect that it’s most likely to be a prospect mount on the edge of a landscaped garden. There’s a description of it on Pastscape, here: https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=362269. The one thing that does make me wonder about an earlier origin is the discovery (at an unknown location in Gosmore) of a hanging bowl of about AD 600 during gravel digging for road repairs (http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=362247), which suggests that there may have been a high status cemetery of the right date in this part of Hitchin.”
So there we have it. In summary, the possible origins of the Gosmore tumulus are:
There is, of course, one obvious way to maybe solve the mystery, should anyone ever be so inclined to cut red tape and wield a shovel……