There has been some growing concern over the past couple of decades that something mysterious is happening at the Swinton Druids Temple in the forest near the town of Ilton, North Yorkshire. Several ‘animal offerings’ have been found on the Altar Stone raising questions again about dark rituals and witchcraft.
In 1820, the folly that has now come to be known as the “Druid’s Temple” was commissioned by the then-sheriff of Yorkshire and owner of Swinton estate, William Danby. He claimed that he created the stone temple in order to produce work for the local population of the nearby town of Ilton, many of whom were paid one shilling (approximately five pence nowadays) a day to do the work.
The idea that wealthy landowners would pay local unemployed men to build these follies purely out of the goodness of their hearts needs to be challenged. For example, Sir Francis Dashwood of West Wycombe also used unemployed locals to dig out a network of caves and tunnels supposedly as an act of charity. He later used this underground lair as the headquarters of his notorious Hellfire club.
Other wealthy landowners that used their private estates to live out their more eccentric views included Charles Howard, third Earl of Carlisle, Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham and parson Thomas Eyre who recreated the Druid Caves at Rowter rocks.
From his own writings, Ideas & Reasonings 1876, we can see that Danby was torn between the call of good and evil. He warns that: “How watchful ought we to be over the humour of the moment.” “There are things in the sacred writings that are beyond our comprehension.” He also accuses the church of being more concerned about creating fear and awe rather than dealing with the inherent weakness of man and ‘our’ attraction to evil. He also said: “one must feed the mind, or it will prey on itself.”
It seems odd that a man so philosophical and conscious of classical literature and moral values should choose to build a temple to pagan gods.
Danby also offered a regular salary to a person who would live at the temple as a hermit for seven years; however, the longest a person has stayed at the temple was reportedly just over five years.
A SECOND STONEHENGE
Much of the Druid’s Temple’s architecture and aesthetics were influenced by the then popular Stonehenge. The same size stones were used and were placed in order to create a room that measures around 30 metres by 15 metres, with some of the stones being over 3 metres tall.
The temple also features a central sacrificial stone altar, which had been placed according to the positions of similar stones at other similar historical temples scattered around the country.
The temple also features pillars of flat stacked stones, much like similar ones seen at the classic Stonehenge. The layout of the stones is said to be extremely accurate for the Neolithic period. Again, this is bizarre as Danby writes that any religion that combines violence with ritual is abhorrent.
SACRIFICAL OFFERINGS OR STUDENT SILLINESS?
According to the Megalithic Portal, Baroness Masham of Ilton allegedly claimed that her secretary was walking past the stones and found a pig’s head on the Altar stone. According to the Baroness, on another occasion she found a small group of Leeds University students who had spent the night at the druid’s temple. They were cold and frightened. The claimed to have seen shadows amongst the stones and together with the night country noises, such as owls hooting, they had fled.
One of our researchers visited the site in 2012 and took the photos in this article including the one of the Altar stone. He also spoke to several local visitors who claimed the site had an urban legend reputation for dark magic and pagan offerings but disputed that anything sinister actually went on in the area. They attributed the strange happenings to local pranksters. Even so rumours persist to this day. The site was recently featured in the BBC programme – The Mysterious Moors of Yorkshire.