Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

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Sunkenkirk Stone Circle, 230m south east of Swinside

A Scheduled Monument in Millom Without, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.2825 / 54°16'56"N

Longitude: -3.2738 / 3°16'25"W

OS Eastings: 317167.857609

OS Northings: 488173.440749

OS Grid: SD171881

Mapcode National: GBR 5LLX.1M

Mapcode Global: WH71P.PM8C

Entry Name: Sunkenkirk Stone Circle, 230m south east of Swinside

Scheduled Date: 3 July 1933

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1007226

English Heritage Legacy ID: CU 100

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: Millom Without

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Thwaites St Anne

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


The monument includes the standing and earthwork remains of a stone circle of Neolithic/Bronze Age date, situated on level ground on a wide east facing slope overlooking Black Beck. The stone circle, known as both Sunkenkirk Stone Circle and Swinside Stone Circle, measures approximately 28.7m in diameter with at least 55 stones closely set in a near perfect circle. The stones vary in height from 1.5m to nearly 3m with approximately half of the stones standing with the rest recumbent. Two portal stones slightly outlying from the circle on the south east side mark the location of an entrance into the circle and there are further gaps between the stones on the east and south west sides.

PastScape Monument No:-37229
Lake District National Park HER:- 3977

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Stone circles are prehistoric monuments comprising one or more circles of upright or recumbent stones. The circle of stones may be surrounded by earthwork features such as enclosing banks and ditches. Single upright stones may be found within the circle or outside it and avenues of stones radiating out from the circle occur at some sites. Burial cairns may also be found close to and on occasion within the circle. Stone circles are found throughout England although they are concentrated in western areas, with particular clusters in upland areas such as Bodmin and Dartmoor in the south-west and the Lake District and the rest of Cumbria in the north-west. This distribution may be more a reflection of present survival rather than an original pattern. Where excavated they have been found to date from the Late Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age (c.2400-1000 BC). It is clear that they were designed and laid out carefully, frequently exhibiting very regularly spaced stones, the heights of which also appear to have been of some importance. We do not fully understand the uses for which these monuments were originally constructed but it is clear that they had considerable ritual importance for the societies that used them. In many instances excavation has indicated that they provided a focus for burials and the rituals that accompanied interment of the dead. Some circles appear to have had a calendrical function, helping mark the passage of time and seasons, this being indicated by the careful alignment of stones to mark important solar or lunar events such as sunrise or sunset at midsummer or midwinter. At other sites the spacing of individual circles throughout the landscape has led to a suggestion that each one provided some form of tribal gathering point for a specific social group. Large irregular stone circles comprise a ring of at least 20 stone uprights. The diameters of surviving examples range between 20 and 40 metres, although it is known that larger examples, now destroyed, formerly existed. The stone uprights of this type of circle tend to be more closely spaced than in other types of circle and the height and positioning of uprights also appears not to have been as important. They are widely distributed throughout England although in the south they are confined largely to the west. Of the 250 or so stone circles identified in England only 45 examples of large irregular circles are known. As a rare monument type which provides an important insight into prehistoric ritual activity all surviving examples are worthy of preservation.
Sunkenkirk Stone Circle, 230m south east of Swinside is a well-preserved and excellent example of a rare monument type. The value of the monument is not only held in its above ground structural form, but also in its below ground archaeological deposits contained within features such as stone sockets and infilled pits. The monument lies within a dramatic landscape setting, typical of many stone circles, and it provides important insight into the character of Neolithic/Bronze Age cosmology and ritual practice.

Source: Historic England

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