This ceremonial stone circle was erected around 2,500BC. At present there are seventy-odd stones of heavily weathered local oolitic limestone (see Geology) set in a rather irregular ring about 31m across. They were poetically described by William Stukeley as being “corroded like worm eaten wood, by the harsh Jaws of Time”; they were said to make “a very noble, rustic, sight, and strike an odd terror upon the spectators, and admiration at the design of ‘em”. More recently, Aubrey Burl called them “seventy-seven stones, stumps and lumps of leprous limestone”.
The number of stones has changed over the years. Legends refer to stones having been taken away (to make bridges and the like), and it is likely that this created most of the gaps now visible. The stones are famously uncountable, but originally may have numbered about 105 standing shoulder to shoulder. At the time the Stones were first protected as an ancient monument (1883) the owner was reported to have “replaced all the fallen stones in their original foundation.” In fact the restoration was far from exact: most of the stones that are known to have been standing in their present positions since the 17th century show that it was originally built as an accurate circle.
The form of the stones
Two stones immediately outside the ring (one fallen) mark the portalled entrance to the circle opposite the tallest stone. The Stones stand in a very low bank with a wide gap on the same side as the entrance, possibly resulting from the interior being levelled.
This form of design with close-set stones, a portalled entrance and levelled interior is very characteristic of stone circles in the Lake District – such as Long Meg and her Daughters near Penrith, and, even more similar, Castlerigg near Keswick, and Swinside north of Ulverston. There are also a few in eastern Ireland. It is therefore likely that the people who built the King's Men came from one of those areas. When they felt the need to build a stone circle for ceremonial gatherings, they designed it to be in the architectural form that was most familiar to them.
Modern day uses
Events are regularly held for the summer and winter solstices and other seasonal festivals. The site has been used to exhibit modern sculptures, including Anish Kapoor’s Turning the World Inside Out, and for drama productions, notably Mark Rylance’s production of The Tempest (1992). The Stones are also regularly used for private wedding and naming ceremonies and other celebrations.
The site is a Dark Sky Discovery Site and is regularly used as a field observatory by the Chipping Norton Amateur Astronomy Group. The Stones have been used as a location for a wide variety of TV drama and documentary films, from Dr Who to Stargazing Live. In recent years the monuments have come to be valued by local primary schools as an outdoor learning resource.
- Kings Men audio (mp3 2.4MB)