The Horfield Common (Bristol) Solsticial Alignment.

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A Cautionary Note re Grey Hill

This is a story that kinda grew.  It is absurd, but at the same time it has (to me) an important message; it is a sequel to my page on the Grey Hill megalithic site.

It began one morning, late in December, a few days before Christmas several years ago - perhaps 2010 - when I put out the dustbin in front of the house.  It was about 8.30am, and a clear crisp morning.  I glanced along the street, and noticed that the sun was rising gloriously at the far end of the street.  'Ah - how interesting', I thought, 'Dyrham Close is aligned to the winter solstice'. 

At the end of the street, Dyrham Close looks across an expanse of urban open space - Horfield Common - which slopes gently downward to the southeast. There is an expansive view across the rooftops of Bristol, which undulates gently with several ridges and minor hills, and, in the far distance, the line of the southern extremity of the Cotswold escarpment, north of Bath. This clear and distant horizon makes an ideal reference for observing the solsticial sunrise: this idea lodged in my mind.

Some years later, I started to take an interest in the possible astronomical alignments of two megalithic sites across the Bristol Channel in South Wales, one of which (Grey Hill) seemed to offer the possibility of being precisely aligned to the winter solstice sunrise, with a similarity to the alignments described by Alexander Thom in his Megalithic Sites in Britain (OUP, 1971).  In order to evaluate the Grey Hill site I needed to equip myself with some surveying equipment, first a simple sighting compass, then a small theodolite for greater precision.  Horfield Common is on my doorstep, so where better to try the new equipment than there ?  This is where the fun began.  I noticed that from the upper part of the Common a factory chimney could be seen protruding from above the rooftops, and if one positioned oneself appropriately, its top just breaks above the distant south-eastern horizon. 

The chimney belongs to the now-defunct Paxman's Laundry in Elm Road, BS7 8RJ.  Could this be used as a foresight for the winter solstice sunrise, I wondered ?  And if so, where should the rearsight be ?  I imagined erecting a megalith on the Common so that if one stood by it the sun would be seen to rise over the chimney on the morning of the winter solstice.  This parallels the ideas presented by Thom, and which I was exploring at Grey Hill.  My alignment pointers would lack historical authenticity, but the principle is the same.

General view of Horfield Common
View across Horfield Common from Kellaway Avenue.  The 'tumulus' (small hillock) is in the foreground.  The chimney of Paxman's Laundry can be seen.  Kelston Round Hill is on the horizon to the left of the white tower block. For a view of the site of the Battle of Lansdown from Horfield Common, click here.
So here was an opportunity to re-enact the construction of a Bronze Age astronomically aligned stone-row.  In April 2015 I set about surveying the Common with my newly acquired Theo 120.  The survey was mainly a training exercise in the use of the theodolite, and in the calculations required for the evaluation of the Grey Hill site.  I needed to perfect the sun-sighting technique, using the Theo, for determining true azimuth in the field (as described in Thom's book, and also here), and also the calculation of sunrise azimuth by date, the effect of atmospheric refraction, horizon altitude, etc.  

Eventually, in April 2015 I was able to predict the azimuth of the winter solstice sunrise over the distant horizon (in December) as viewed from any point on the Common.  I was now ready to decide the location of my rearsight, which must be on a line having the calculated azimuth and passing through the chimney; it must be on an upper part of the common chosen so that the top of the chimney just reaches the horizon when viewed from that point. The rising sun would then appear on top of the chimney.

To my astonishment, I discovered a small 'tumulus' near the top of the common which was almost exactly in the right place.  I predicted that when the chimney  was viewed from a point 1m to the right of the summit of the tumulus the alignment would be just right.  I should say at this point that I have no reason to believe that the tumulus is a genuine burial mound or round barrow; my guess is that it is debris left behind when the nearby tennis course were leveled.  But who can say ?  It does not look much different from the genuine Bronze Age round barrow in nearby Badock's Wood; only an excavation can determine this - a constant cry from archaeologists. Nevertheless I was delighted that such an appropriate spot could be found for the rearsite.  I felt that I had very neatly created my alignment.  The next thing to do was to check it by observation; if it was correct it would validate some of my Grey Hill calculations, and would also be an interesting fact about he Common.

Fast-forward to December 2015.  This is (was) one of the wettest and warmest winters on record, and the possibility of observing the solsticial sunrise, or indeed of having any sight of the sun at all, seemed impossibly remote.  The days preceding the solstice were uniformly and unremittingly dark, grey, and wet, as indeed had been the entire months of November and December before.  As the solstice approached I had very little hope of any possibility of a sighting.  But miraculously the day before the solstice the pre-dawn sky seemed astonishingly clear, so out I set with the trusty Theo, its tripod and a camera - ever hopeful.  Conditions were not ideal; there was a narrow band of cloud close to the horizon which raised its altitude and made precise measurement relative to the true horizon impossible, but I secured a photo which made the whole thing worth-while.  The alignment definitely existed, and as near as I could determine under the existing conditions, the summit of the tumulus was the right spot; it was pretty convincing.

Winter Solstice Sunrise over Laundrey Chimney - Horfield Common

The next morning - 22nd December, the day of the solstice, dawned grey and wet.  But the 23rd gave ideal conditions - not a cloud in the sky !  This time I photographed the sun through the telescope of the Theo, and secured the following 2 shots the first with the theodolite positioned on the summit of the tumulus, the second with the instrument about 1m to the right, on my calculated position:

Winter Solstice Telephoto Sunrise over Laundrey Chimney - Horfield Common

Sunrise on 23rd December 2015.  The lower edge of the sun is on the horizon, and is about 1/4 degree to the left of the centre of the chimney, the top of which is indicated by the row of pigeons.  The lightning conductor is towards the left edge of the chimney.  Note the solar ring in the graticule; this is 1/2 degree in diameter.  Note also the oval outline of the sun's disc; this is caused by atmospheric refraction.  The alignment is not perfect beause the theo is not exactly on the calculated spot, but at the actual summit of the mound.  In the next picture I have moved the theodolite.

Telephoto Sunrise over Laundrey Chimney - Horfield Common

Sunrise on 23rd December 2015, second shot.  I have moved the Theo 1m to the right, and, as you can see, I had no time to re-level the instrument; things were happening very quickly.  The sun has moved on a diagonal line rising to the right, and has already gone past the top of the chimney.  Project it back downward and to the left, and  the sun would sit nicely on top of it.  This is the magic spot for the alignment, accurate to a small fraction of a degree.

This was all very gratifying, and I was as pleased as punch with my results.  

The sky was overcast for several days after this, but I was out again in early January, and by chance placed the Theo to the left of its original position and was astonished to see this (right) !

Seen from this slightly different view-point a second chimney has emerged from behind the first !   This is amazing - the solsticial alignment involved not just one factory chimney, but two!

 Later, when there was a bit of sunshine I took some more pictures, with the camera now located further up the common so that all three alignment points (two chimneys and the summit of the tumulus) could be in the same frame.  This was difficult to achieve with the equipment I was using, but the results are nevertheless very satisfying. (See below)

Laundry Chimney Horfield Common with Troopers Hill Chimney

Discovery of the second chimney.

First (right) a general view to show my technique.  I placed a tripod with a marker flag on the summit of the tumulus, and moved the camera position back so as to include all three targets - the flag, the laundry chimney, and the second chimney (which is just visible in this shot as a blip at the top of the first one) in the same field of view.  This shot is not perfectly aligned - I got it better later by moving the camera to the left... Horfield Common Alignment

 Second, a telephoto shot showing the 2 chimneys and the flag with its rod - more precisely positioned this time.  I ran into depth of focus difficulty here (the flag is badly out of focus because it is much closer than anything else); this is work in progress.

But the astonishing precision of the alignment is already apparent.
   The alignment to the second chimney passes through the summit of the tumulus, while that to the solsticial sunrise is 1m to the right. This is a tiny error.  I have not seen any ley-line alignments which come anywhere near this precision.
Telephoto Horfield Common Alignment

Now a shot which includes the Easton chocolate factory and one tower of the former Castle Green Congregational (URC) Church located at the junction of Greenbank Road and Kingsley Road, Easton (bottom, left of centre).  The back part of the church is also visible to the right of the chimney. This photo (right) was taken from the same position as the one immediately above.

Castle Green Church Easton
Telephoto Horfield Common Alignment with Church etc

I have identified the second chimney as the eighteenth century copper smelter on Trooper's Hill, near Hanham.  This is a photo stolen from the internet. Troopers Hill Chimney

Interpretation.  This multiple alignment, which includes a tumulus, two factory chimneys, a chocolate factory and a former Congregational (URC) church, all aligned accurately with the winter solstice sunrise is an astonishing phenomenon far too unlikely to have occurred by accident.  It demands an explanation in terms of the culture which produced these artifacts and which integrates the sites into a coherent hypothesis.  The precision of the alignment exceeds by far that of either Thom's proposed Bronze Age observatories, and of Alfred Watkins' supposed ley lines, an example of which is shown right.  This is fig. 113 from Watkins' Old Straight Track (published 1925).  Note that Watkins did not include factory chimneys among his proposed ley line markers, but here, significantly, he has recorded one as if by accident.  It is more precisely aligned to his ley than the spire of the mediaeval church.   The large tower in the background is that of Hereford cathedral.

My proposal is that the culture which erected these chimneys and other industrial sites such as the chocolate factory was one which found a spiritual connection between industrial production and solar worship; it chose to locate its sites of productivity in positions which symbolically expressed this connection and drew down the power of the deity represented by the awesome spectacle of the rising sun.   Factories sited on such lines of cosmic power would be expected to be particularly productive.  The winter solstice would be significant since it marks the beginning of the period of growth and expansion of solar potency, and this could be transferred to the industrial enterprise which would correspondingly grow in wealth, the golden glow of the sun conferring a shower of golden blessing on the business.

The connection between this manifestly pagan form of thought with a sect of Christianity represented by the URC church is, perhaps obscure, but, following Watkins' lead we may discern one.  Watkins' old straight tracks were supposed to have an antiquity far out-dating Christianity, yet he included churches on his ley-lines, and justifies the inclusion with a historical argument.  He noted (p117 of Old Straight Track) that St Bede, writing in the early eight century (The History of the English Church and People, 731)  recorded how, when St Augustine began to evangelise the southern Saxon tribes, he enquired of Pope St Gregory the Great as to how he should deal with existing sites of pagan worship. Gregory, replying in a letter of 601, advised Augustine that he should not destroy the sites, but should convert them to Christian worship by building churches on the sites.  Watkins argued that in many cases these sites had previously been places of earlier Celtic worship, and that Augustine's churches had subsequently been rebuilt by the Normans, enlarged during the later middle ages and enlarged again during the Victorian period.  Religious sites of prehistoric antiquity thus remained in use to the present day.  The sites marked by such churches were therefore of unmeasurable age and could stand among megalithic monuments, barrows, etc as a coherent group.
Ley Line from Alfred Watkins

A ley-line example taken from Watkins' Old Straight Track. (Fig. 113).

Following this argument it is easy to see how, in the early twentieth century, sites for nonconformist churches could have been selected with the aim of re-sanctifying the urban landscape which had become physically polluted by industry, and spiritually defiled by pagan usage as mentioned above. We may expect that excavation of the Easton site will reveal a Victorian (or earlier) mill of some description underlying the present church, and perhaps also the foundations of a chimney. This idea of re-sanctification is explicitly expressed in William Blake's well-known and eternally popular hymn Jerusalem, (taken from the poem Milton).  The poem opens with a reference to the Glastonbury Legend, according to which the child Jesus visited England; the second and final stanzas read as follows:

And did the Countenance Divine 
Shine forth upon our clouded hills? 
And was Jerusalem builded here 
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

I will not cease from mental fight, 
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, 
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Blake was influenced by Swedenborgianism, a radical protestant sect.

This interpretation might seen fanciful to some, so I venture to put forward as an alternative and possibly more credible theory the possibility that this 'strangely aligned' group of objects could have been caused by the gravitational influence of Planet Nine. This is a more scientific approach which does not rely on human agency, and treats the alignment as a purely natural phenomenon.  It has the scientific merit of relying on an established physical effect, and has the backing in principle of astronomers at the California Institute of Technology.
God as geomancer

Blake:  The Ancient of Days.  God as geometer.