A look at the history of Druids Temple, with Dr Emma Wells

in Masham

When ambulating among the forests of the Yorkshire Dales, one does not expect to be greeted with a mini-Stonehenge. But situated within a small clearing in a pine forest on the Swinton Estate near Ilton, about 4 miles west of Masham, visitors will find a scaled-down version of the famous monument.

To this day the site harbours an elusive history—in fact, little is known about the construction of the folly known as The Druids Temple, but it is believed to have been erected in the early 1800s by William Danby. Danby, an eccentric country squire, former Sheriff of Yorkshire and the owner of nearby Swinton Estate, had been inspired by the monuments of the Druids, who leading scholars of the time incorrectly assumed were also responsible for Stonehenge.

What he created, therefore, was a main temple approximately 100 feet long and 50 feet wide, with some of the stones standing over 10 feet. At the centre of the arrangement, a stone circle takes the form of a vesica piscia (intersecting circles establishing an eye-shaped outline) and features a large stone table, a sheltered cave/tomb and an altar stone along with numerous other stone formations dotted around the woodland including a row of serrated solitary standing stones lining an avenue like soldiers towards the temple. This is also a monolith carved with the signs of the zodiac and further clusters of stones scattered throughout the adjacent woodland.

Owing to these mysterious origins, myths and legends have abounded about the temple’s history for centuries. One rumour was that Danby constructed the folly to relieve some of the unemployment of the local population, so workers were paid 1 shilling a day. Moreover, some suggested he also offered a salary for a hermit to live at the Temple for several years. It is said the hermit couldn’t manage the tenure, went mad, and left. Most of these stories can of course be attributed to the antiquarianism of the time, an era when Druidism was associated with the emerging concept of Romanticism.

Try the Druid’s Temple walk here.

Books by Dr Emma Wells

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