City of the Ravens and Hocktide

If Los Angeles means ‘City of the Angels’ then ‘Ravensburgh’ could mean, ‘City of the Ravens’.

Situated on the Beds/Herts UK, borderlands some 5 miles North East of Luton above the north Hertfordshire village of Hexton on the Chiltern hill Escarpment lays east Britains largest Hillfort.

Hexton stands north east of Luton in well-wooded and hilly country adjacent to the Bedfordshire border. The church is mediaeval with heavy 19th century restoration. Far older is the Iron Age camp of Ravensburgh Castle that straddles the hilltop. Built about 400BC and refortified in IBC, it has two entrances, covers 22 acres, and is surrounded by a ditch.

Following the article, ‘Return to Clophill Church’ and with a thirsty appetite for more intrigue into the mystical landscapes and ‘Occult’ village pubs, the ‘Barton Warlocks’ set out on an expedition to find this ‘mythical’ City of the Ravens.

After meeting outside the Church in Hexton ,the ‘Warlocks’ gathered their divining staffs and offerings and got ready to embark on the journey into forbidden territory. Looking at the Medieval Church (of St. Faith) they noticed that one whole side of the Church Tower had collapsed recently although the Church was still in use!

Could this church be heading the same ruinous  way as Clophill Church , approximately 5 miles to the north?

One Barton Warlock told us about the ‘Witch of Hexton’..’Old Meg’..who got burnt at the stake and now a spring is named after her nearby.
One things for sure, even though there is a busy road going through the village, you could easily imagine that you have been ‘transported’ back in time. With the church and some of its cottages, small village school and incredibly high walls that surround the Manor House (who are they trying to keep out..or in!)
Hexton has a very unusual ‘vibe’ about it.very charming on a nice sunny day. However there are some very odd things about there too!

There were 2 ‘sentinel’ Ravens guarding the gates of the vicarage looking menacing, further up the road they passed the old Police station which has now been turned into a very desirable dwelling.

The ancient ‘Icknield way’, one of the UK’s’s oldest route-ways, runs along the top of the hills surrounding Hexton , along with ancient Barrows, dykes and other evidence of Iron Age civilisation.

Nearby is a hill called ‘Wayting hill’ of which local folklore tells of a ‘sleeping warrior’ –  whom one-day will re-awaken and claim his kingdom.
At the crossroads in the middle of the village the ‘Warlocks’ noticed that the village signpost doubled as a water pump!
Could this pump be fed from the nearby ‘Faery Hole’ spring?

Deep inside the Ravensburg Castle area there is a wooded-valley with a spring in its lower reaches. The valley is known as ‘Faery Hole’ and the spring is known as ‘Burwell spring’ .
This spring was the castles water source and feeds a stream which runs further down the valley towards Hexton. From there it was pumped up by the now de-funct Water pump.

The delightful village pub – aptly named ‘The Raven’ would have to wait, the mission was Ravensburg.
So the ‘Warlocks’ made their accent up the hills towards the lonely castle, which is an Iron Age Hillfort really!
The whole area of the castle is privately owned and the general public is ‘prohibited’ from enjoying its enlightenment.
The plan was to follow the old green lane known as the ‘Hexton Highway’ which is a really old track and now a public footpath, linking Hexton to Luton. Before it crosses the ancient Icknield Way, it runs through the grounds of Ravensburgh Castle. So the warlocks headed off
At a suitable point they made a turn off the path into the wooded-hills and valleys complex . The further they got into the forest the quieter and darker it got!

(WARNING – Ed’s note – this ‘illegal’ trespassing  is not recommended , you can always contact the Hexton Manor office for permission of access!) – this report was written ten years ago now – our Hippy’s were lucky enough to score some top delight shortly beforehand and claim “incompetence, or irrelevance” whatever!…..

Eventually after climbing up steep hills through at times deep undergrowth, they reached the ramparts of the Castle!
After 2 and a half thousand years all that was left to see was a grassed embankment on the north-west corner, which is on the highest part of the hill. This corner led to a large plateau which descended at ‘Barton hills’ on the other side. On this corner was said to have been the main entrance.

The ramparts of the castle follow a roughly rounded rectangular shape, north to south and apart from the North west corner the ground falls steeply down to the valley floor.

It would have been a formidable obstacle to have tried to overcome if you were to try and take the castle by force in the Iron Age. Now its difficult enough to try and get through the undergrowth!

After a brief rest the party continued around the castle on the top of the ramparts towards the south east corner where the second entrance led to the spring.

Here they would descend the steep sides of the hill deep into the valley below towards ‘Faery hole’ and the ‘Burgh well’ spring.
Eventually after a few slides and tumbles and breaking through some extremely thick undergrowth, the warlocks entered the deep flat-bottomed valley floor which turned out to be a grassed meadow.
Following the valley floor round a bend gave one a sense of what the castle must have looked like in its hey-day. There would be no trees! (the current forest, is a plantation that was started in the 1920’s!) The whole area would have been grassed hills and a maze of dry river-valleys that encircled a central hill that was once crowned by the massive castle’s palisade‘s. Now they are just worn away earthen banks straddled by trees and shrubs.
The actual slopes of the castle hill itself were ‘lynches’ which if you can imagine, are like steps carved out into the side of the hill, for growing crops. This place must have been teeming with activity and must have acted like a major seat of power in its dominating position on the ‘Icknield Way’
In fact there is some evidence to suggest that Ravensburgh may have been the site of the oppidum where Caesar defeated the British warlord Cassivellaunus in 54BC. Having done this Caesar was satisfied that he held the British nation under his manners and returned to Rome.
Ravensburgh. Roman-Britain

The party now made its way toward the burr well spring at the foot of ‘Faery hole’ along the flat-bottomed valley floor. They reached a copse of trees and then  descended into a deep wooded pit at the bottom of which there was a pool of water.
They had reached the spring, the water source for the Ravensburgh community. Right away there was a realisation this was no ordinary spring, the water that was bubbling up from the chalk below had a very special quality. This has to be a lost pagan ‘sacred spring’, the warlocks decided
After bathing and ‘taking of the waters’ the warlocks then blessed the ‘Holy spring’ with offerings of flowers, said their goodbye’s and departed.
It was a struggle climbing back up the sides of the pit but when they got back out to the meadow, the silence was broken by a cacophony of Crows flying above! Quite fitting the ‘pseudo-raven’s’,  were heading back towards the castle ramparts!

The party then ascended another valley and found a nice site to eat their curry!

Hexton Church
As mentioned earlier, the Church of st.Faiths in Hexton’s Tower had collapsed!

After trawling for a possible reason for this we came across an interesting article on which told of a story about the ‘Holy well’ of st.Faiths.



“There is a small parcel of ground adjoining the churchyard called “St. Faith’s Wick Court,” about a pole in measurement, anciently divided from Malewick by a ditch in the same place where now a large moat is made. The greatest part of this Wick lying upon a bed of springs, and undrained, was very boggy towards the churchyard; but the west side being higher, the ground was well planted with oaks, willows, and bushes, near adjoining unto [80] which, writeth a narrow-minded Pharisee, the crafty priests had made a well about a yard deep, and very clear at the bottom, and curbed about, which they called St. Faith’s Well. Now over this well they built a house, and in the house they placed the image and statue of St. Faith, and a causy they had mad (which I found when I digged and levelled the ground) for the people to pass who resorted thither from far and Hear to visit our Lady, and to perform their devotions reverently, kissing a fine-coloured stone placed in her toe. This Lady was trimly apparelled, and I find in an old book of churchwarden’s accounts, in the reign of Henry VIII., that they had delivered unto the St. Faith a cote and a velvet tippet. The Lady had no land to maintain her, that I know of, more than 1 acre lying in Mill Field, called at this day St. Faith’s ½ acre, which, as being given to superstitious uses, came to the King’s hands at the dissolution, and is now parcel of the demesnes. The house being pulled down, and the idol cast away, the well was filled up, yet an apparent mention of the place remained till my time, and St. Faith’s Well continued as a waste and unprofitable and neglected piece of land till such time as the footpath was turned through the midst of it to the outside on the south by the highway, and their clearing and levelling the ground, having been drained, and sunk the spring, I converted the same, in the year of our Lord 1624, into a little orchard. The Lady Faith was a Virgin and Martyr of Agenne, in France, A.D. 1290. –MS. account of Hexton, by Francis Taverner. Her feast-day in the Calendar of Saints is October 6.”

Judging from this we must presume the Tower collapsed because it was near to the original well, which is now a moat ( only 10 metres to the west) Obviously the whole area is riddled with underground waterways and although the Church had been built in the 12th century and had survived intact for 8 hundred years, the unstable ground had eventually given way causing the Tower to collapse.

Now, with the ‘holy’ springs of ‘Burwell’, ‘Meg’ and Barton nearby and bearing in mind the odd waterpump at the crossroads of the village,this leads us to think of the ancient origins of the area and its associations with Holy Wells, Springs and underground waterways.

The fact that the Icknield way runs along the Chiltern escarpment and is never far away from the series of springs that errupt out of the foot of the hills fits in with the ancient Celtic Water-cult theories.
Check out this article for further information
Its interesting to note that some 5 miles south west at a place now called ‘Five-Springs’ at Wauluds Bank{a Henge- Monument}, the Celtic god ‘Lug’ or ‘Lud’ or ‘Lyg’, presided over the springs that are the source of the River Lea.
‘Lud’ is the Celtic God of light, and indeed the name ‘Lea’ or ‘Lee’ is a corruption of this
name…the town now known as Luton is named after this river which in itself is named after the god of light! ‘Ton’ is an Anglo Saxon name for a town or large settlement. So therefore Luton means ” the town of Lud’ -the Celtic God of Light’!
Does this sound like the Luton you know?
Wayting Hill
(Scanned from a book called ‘Gothick Hertfordshire’ by Jennifer WestwoodShire
Publications isbn 0 7478 0041 3 )~Fascinating reading this book, Gothic tales from one of the deepest Shires – Hertfordshire, UK. complete with many echoes of the Pagan past.~ The sleeping warrior legend is synonymous of course with the King Arthur legends of the once and future king who one day will rise again and claim
the throne. These legends can be found at various places in the British Isles and had an effect of the minds of the medieval kings of this land!
Henry V111 would  never had happened, had his older brother ‘Arthur’ not had the misfortune of dying. ‘Arthur’ was to be king in his fathers (Henry V11) eyes. Henry V11 believed that he was decended from the original King Arthur. So after bashing up the last of the ‘Norman’ king bloodline at the battle of Bosworth in the ‘war of the roses’ Henry married Elizabeth of York and had a son.
Such was Henry’s beleif that one day Arthur would arrise and retake the throne, he would make sure of it by naming his son, heir to the English throne Arthur. That would make sure the legend would come true!
Sadly that was not to be, ‘Arthur’ died barely a teenager leaving the throne to his next brother who would become Henry V111.
The Danish connection
As mentioned above is that the locals believed that the Ravensburgh Hillfort was a Danish (Viking) castle.
This may have some basis of truth for in William Austins seminal ‘The History of Luton and its Hamlets’, it is mentioned that in the time of ‘Danelaw’ AD800/900 when this whole area was a frontier, there was a terrific battle between the ‘brave and worthy men of Luton’ and the vikings who perhaps were based at  Ravensburgh castle. The Battle took place somewhere behind Warden Hills (now north Luton) and was won by the Saxon Lutonians.
So was Ravensburgh a Viking fort?
Maybe, because of its great strategic position stradling one of the 4 great roads of England according to Edward the Confesser, the Icknield Way.
Also the ‘Danelaw Frontier’ followed the river Lea from the Thames to its source at Leagrave, then north to Bedford. Ravensburgh would have suited the vikings as a strategic forward fortified location, just a few miles from the frontier. Furthermore, the Iron age Fort would have been in a much less deteriorated condition and easily adaptable to their needs of a camp.
Their is no doubt that Ravensburgh is of Iron Age origin, (see James Dyers ‘Hillforts of England and Wales’). But it is now becoming increasingly accepted that ‘Ravensburgh’ might have been the location of the ‘Opidium’ where Julius Caeser defeated the British warlord Cassivellaunus in 54BC!
So if the Danes (vikings) used Ravensburgh they did so because it was already a set up in a well established strategically important location.
Having walked the whole northern Chiltern area particularly the Barton hill range, it is patently obvious that although now arguably a backwater, that this area must have been a lot more important in the past. The hilltops in the whole area are absolutely molded and shaped by past peoples fortifications and sacred burial sites.
All that is left off the past great civilisations that carved out these hills, is the impressions in the ground and the distant echoes of Folklore, there is little written. But as you walk over the rounded and sometimes forested chalk hills, its not difficult to gain a feeling of ‘connectedness’ with the past.Book castle…’The Ravens’
Although for Kids,, this book is a must read if you want more on Ravensburgh castle. Written by James Dyer who is one of the areas leading archaeologists although fiction and aimed at kids, provides the reader with some profound insights into the life and times of Ravensburgh and Caesers attack!


Hocktide:: more on Ravensburgh

The five or so square miles of the Hexton and the Hexton Hills range includes place names such as Wayting Hill, Bonfire Knolls, Ravensburgh Castle (Hillfort), Fairy Hole, Burr Well, Butts Hill, Deacon Hil, Knocking Knoll Barrow, St. Faith’s Well, The Meg, Lion hill, Noone Hill, and Hexton.
The very names of these places give clues to this areas ancient legacy! They are positively dripping in history and mystery.
In earlier articles we discussed the possible historical connections with Julius Caeser and the Romans, Cassivelaunus, the ancient British King, the Celtic Water Cults, St. Faith’s Well and the holy pilgrimage’s, the Viking connection, the Ickneild way etc

I might also take this opportunity to mention that another fact has recently come to point. Although established in Saxon times Hexton the village as seen today, was designed as a ‘Model’ village in the 1920/30’s along the same lines as the nearby larger Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth Garden Cities were.

‘The Hocking’

But we were really fascinated to learn more about the celebrated Hocktide Festivals that took place there. We had gained a colourful insight in James Dyers Kids book ‘The Ravens ‘, where after drinking of the ‘Hock ale’ , the young men and women marched up the hill and played tug of war with a large pole, usually ending in a romp of laughter and merriment. This was known as the ‘The Hocking’.
Although the account states the origin of this festival in Hexton could be attributed to the Danes it is known that the Hocktide festival (a week or so after Easter) probably go back to at least Celtic times.

Please note:
The following account’s source was found on the internet but
unfortunately we have lost the link, the link will be forwarded when
it is found.


A Mr Frances Tavener, of the neighbouring village of Hexton, lying almost at the foot of the Danish fort ‘Ravensboro’ , says of the Hocktide festivities about the year 1649 :

“I am certain that in this place the Danish yoke lay heavy upon the people, and in the memory of persons living in the year 1600 the Hocktide feast was yearly solemnised by the best inhabitants, both men and women, in the fields and streets of Hexton with curious pastimes and jollities.”

Before every Hock-day the people elected two officers called the ‘hockers‘ , a man and a woman, whose office it was to provide the hock-ale and to provide and order the feast for that year. These hockers had each a large birchen broom, and on Hock-Monday many of the most substantial of the boys and girls were not  admitted to participation in either the sports or the feast, instead they went  together to the top of Wayting Hill, the highest hill in the parish.

On the top of Wayting Hill was a barrow or ancient grave, and upon the top of the barrow was fixed a strong ash-pole. The pole was attacked by the women and defended by the men. The women would be allowed to seize the pole, and then the struggle commenced, the women striving to bring the pole down the hill while the men strove to retain it, but, by reason of the steepness of the hill, the women would always succeed in hauling the pole to the foot of the hill.

Sometimes the men most ungallantly would let the pole go so suddenly that the women fell over and over, to the great amusement of every one.

When the women had succeeded in bringing the pole to the level ground  the hockers laid lustily about them with their brooms, and the women would thrust the men into ditches and into the brook. Thus they strove and laboured incessantly for two or three hours, not ceasing until they had brought the pole into the town and set it up at the Cross by the Town House door.

The people then sat down to a great feast in the Town House, and after they had feasted the hockers gathered money of every one, part of which was appropriated for the poor and the rest for the repair of the church.
The accounts of the Churchwardens showed that the sum given to the Churchwardens was about twenty shillings sometimes more, sometimes less.

In the afternoon the people adjourned to the play-close, where, among other sports, the women played baseball against the men, and if they took any man prisoner , they would use him unhappily enough. The writer, Mr Tavener, remarks,

“I think these nicer times of ours would not only despise these sports but account them immodest, but those plain and well-meaning people did solace themselves in this manner, and that without offence or scandal”

The generally accepted theory of the origin of the Hocktide festivities is that it is routed in the times of the conquest of England by the Danes. Although it may have been a nod to the St. Brice’s Day Massacre, which was the massacre of Danes in the Kingdom of England on 13 November 1002, ordered by the Anglo Saxon King Æthelred the Unready.

It is difficult to find any connection between the struggle of the sexes for the possession of a definite object and any triumph over the Danes or over the Saxons. What did the pole symbolise?  and what of it’s erection upon the highest point in the district?

It would seem to typify power or sovereignty, and its uprooting, deposition. But  why should its downfall be caused by the weaker sex? The whole performance is perplexing, but that it had reference to some historic or prehistoric occurrence  one cannot well doubt.”

Further reading on ‘Hocktide’

Hertfordshire by Herbert Winckworth Tompkins

Found on Project Gutenberg
There are 18,000 free books in the Project Gutenberg Online
Book Catalog. Including
Hertfordshire, by Herbert Winckworth Tompkins!
(What a fine name!)
In the book which can be downloaded here is an interesting
perspective of Hexton and Ravensburgh Castle!

“Hexton (about 6 miles N.W. from Hitchin Station, G.N.R.) lies on
a tongue of the county surrounded W., N. and E. by Bedfordshire.
The Church of St. Faith, W. from the village, was rebuilt, with the
exception of the embattled tower, in 1824, as a Perp. edifice. The
St. Nicholas Chapel, N. side of chancel, takes the place of the chapel
bearing the same name in the former church. There is a memorial to
Peter Taverner (d. 1601), who was, I suppose, father to that Francis
Taverner, Esq., who compiled a record of the antiquities of Hexton
and [Pg 122]set it in the chapel. Little space can be spared for excerpts
in this volume, but the details which Taverner brought together are so

interesting that I transcribe a part of them from a copy in my

“Near unto the Roman military Way called Icknild or Ikenild-Street, which passeth by this Parish upon a very high Hill is to be seen a warlike Fort of great Strength, and ancient Works, which seemeth to have been a Summer standing Camp of the Romans: And near i t on the Top of another Hill called Wayting-Hill, a Hillock was raised up, such as the Romans were wont to rear for Souldiers slain, wherein many Bones have been found. The Saxons call’d this Fort Ravensburgh, from a City in Germany, whereof the Duke of Saxony beareth the Title of Lord at this Day. And this Town, which the Britains perhaps call’d  Hesk of Reed, which doth abound much in this Place; the Sazons call’d Heckstanes-Tune, that is the Town of Reed and Stones, if not rather Hockstanes-Tune, that is, the Town of Mire and Stones, for old Englishmen, call deep Mire, Hocks: Or may be from Grates set in Rivers or Waters before Floodgates, which are call’d Hecks; neither is it unlikely but that the Danes made some Use of this Fort, for a Parcel of Ground near thereunto is called Dane-Furlong to this Day.
Some of these Conjectures may be true, but this is certain, that Offa, a Saxon King, of the Mertians about 795, founded the Monastery of St. Albans, in [Pg 123]Memory of St. Alban, and that Sexi an honourable and devout Dane (as it is in the Chartulary of the Abby) about Anno  Dom.
1030, gave to the said Monastery the Town of Heckstane-Tune and the Abbot of St. Albans held this Mannor in the time of King William the Conqueror.

This Vill at that time did lie in the Half-hundred of Hiz, and from that time during the Space of 510 Years, the Abbots of St. Albans were Lords of the Mannors now call’d Hexton. They were also Patrons of this Church (dedicated to St. Faith, which Saint had her Statue erected over a Fountain near this Church Yard, call’d St. Faith’s Well) for John de Hertford, the 23d Abbot, did appropriate this Church of Hexstoneston to the said Monastery. The Cellarers of which Monastery kept the Court Leet and the Court Baron, and received the Rents of the Demeasnes and Customary Tenants of this Mannor; and the Sacrists had the disposing of the Profits of the Rectory.

The said Fort, which the common People call Ravensborough Castle, is cast up in the Form of an Oval, and containeth sixteen Acres, one Rood, and fifteen Poles of Ground, and is naturally strengthened with mighty deep and very steep Combs, which the inhabitants call Lyn.

The Town of Hexton is seated at the Foot of the Mountains, whence issue many Springs of Water; the Mountains are a continued Rock of Stone.”

Further comments and thoughts on Ravensburough on the UK Decay Com Forum thread here

Thanks to, Werewolf UK Decay Communities 2004 – 2011

Thanks to the ‘Barton Warlocks’

Martin Giles R.I.P

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