Nestled in the woodland close to Swinton Bivouac on the Swinton Park Estate lies a huge stone circle which looks like the sort of monument built in the bronze age, impressive enough to rival Stonehenge.
The first time I stumbled on what I since found out was called The Druid’s Temple I was blown away by the magnitude, scale and workmanship that would have gone into building such a feature. I also wondered why something as impressive as this was not such a major tourist attraction?
On further investigation, it turned out that The Druid’s Temple was not quite as old as it looked.
It was built apparently in the 1820’s as a folly by William Danby (1752-1832)
who at the time was the owner of the Swinton Estate including the nearby Swinton Park. He had previously held the role of Sheriff of Yorkshire and was by all accounts “an eccentric country squire”.
The Danby family at the time also built Swinton Park which is a short drive away and now a 31 bedroom luxury castle hotel. The earliest part of the hotel dates from 1695, with significant subsequent Georgian and Victorian Gothic alterations, including a turret and castellations.
The Danby family held the ancestral seat of the Earls of Swinton and at a time of recession after the Napoleonic War, to find something for his estate workers to do, William Danby commissioned his men to build the Druid’s Temple to alleviate local unemployment. He paid them a shilling a day for their labour.
It is one of Yorkshire’s most interesting follies and its origin probably comes about from the interest in Druidism as part of the Romantic movement of the time.
The site consists of a temple and large stone circle which is 100ft long. There is also a low stone sacrificial altar. The first chamber contains four symbols of the elements – air, earth, fire and water. Behind the 3 stones forming a screen is the solar chamber and beyond that a cave at the rear which formed the “tomb of transformation”.
There are also a number of standing stones which have been erected in the surrounding woodland including a large column overlooking the circle with the signs of the zodiac carved on it.
To add to the mystery of the place, William Danby hired a hermit on a seven year contract to live at the Temple. His contract was for 7 years and stated he must be ‘speaking to no one and allowing his beard and hair to grow’. Apparently the hermit only lasted 4 years in the role!
No matter that it isn’t quite as old as you would expect from its design – it is a fascinating location. If you want to explore it yourself, the map location is OS: SE174786. Parking is £3 at the Swinton Bivouac where there is a café and the temple is a 10 minute walk through the woods along a signed path.