Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland


London's sacred sites
Seán Mac Mathúna

The River of Wells by Chesca Potter

Diana the Stag Goddess - Pictures

The Gaia Counterpart: The Green Man

The Green Man and the Green Woman

The Mystery of the Green Man

Who is the Green Man?

The Lodge of Herne: Herne the Hunter Resource List

A Survey of the History of English Place names

Greenwood's Map - List of Place Names


At the edge: Exploring new interpretations of past and place in archaeology mythology and folklore

The Nemesis of the White Goddess

Encyclopedia of the Celts

Related Early British Web Sites

Goddess Culture in Early Celtic Literature

The Green Man in Greenwich.
Picture by Dave Somerset

The Green Village

London has many Sacred Sites. Some writers have long believed that Greenwich and the surrounding area contains many ancient sites such as the Maze at Maze Hill, a possible stone circle at The Point, and the Gorsedd or Great Seat on Blackheath Common. The area was closely connected with the May Day festival, and it's likely that Greenwich - "the green village" - derived it's name from it. The area is also closely connected with the fertility rites of the Horned God, Herne the Hunter, commonly known in this area as the Green Man. The Isle of Dogs is said to have have derived its name from Herne's dogs, who were known as the dogs of the underworld, whose ghostly barks people claimed were often heard at dawn or dusk through the mist. It is likely that this island was closely connected with worship of the stag goddess, Diana.

Opposite the Isle of Dogs in Rotherhithe is Cuckcolds Point, where from ancient times a Horn Fair marched in honour of Herne the Hunter down to Deptford and up over Blackheath Common to Charlton House, reputed to built an an ancient Celtic site. Today, the Horn Fair still happens every year in Charlton.

Writing in Prehistoric London in 1925, E O Gordon said there was traditional evidence of two stone circles and at least 4 mounds in London. Research by other writers since then, has led to speculation that London had at one point many Standing Stones and other places of worship, which presumably were destroyed or had Churches built on them from the time after the Saxon invasion of Britain in the 4th century AD, and the subsequent Saxon capture of the city in the 6th century AD. This is a summary of the most commonly accepted sites:

Stone Circles/Standing Stones

The Temple of the Stag Goddess, Diana, Central London

Built on the site of the present St. Paul's cathedral, a lunar site traditionally recognised as being ruled by the Moon Goddess and Goddess of Hunting, Diana. Consequently it has also been closely associated with the worship of the Stag and the Horned God. According to legend, as recorded by in 1136, seventy years after the Norman Conquest of England, a Welsh cleric named Geoffrey of Monmouth completed a work in Latin which he titled Historia Regum Britanniae, or History of the Kings of Britain. This a detailed narrative which begins with the Trojan diaspora which followed the fall of Troy. Geoffrey said that King Brutus (who gave his name to Britain), was guided by the goddess Diana to lead Britain's first inhabitants to the island, arriving around 1100 BC. Thus, it is worth speculating whether Brutus (Brwth) himself was connected with the Pagan site which once stood on St. Paul's Cathedral.

The site is also connected with the King Lud, who gave his name to the present day Ludgate Circus and Ludgate Hill, on on which St. Paul's Cathedral stands. Heli (Beli Mawr in the Welsh) in about the year 113 BC. Lud, the son of Heli (Beli Mawr), became King in 73 BC. Lud rebuilt the city of London that King Brutus had founded and had named New Troy, and renamed it Caerlud, the city of Lud, after his own name. The name of the city was later corrupted to Caerlundein, which the Romans took up as Londinium, hence London. At his death, Lud was buried in an entrance to the city that still bears his name, Ludgate. My intuition tells me that Ludgate Hill was a scared site for the Celts, probably because of it's connections with Brutus and Lud.

The destruction of the Pagan temple at Ludgate Hill happened in 597 AD, when this sacred site of the Celtic Britons had the first St. Paul's Cathedral on Ludgate Hill - bulit by the Saxon King Aethelbert of Kent. However, after Aethelbert and one of his subordinate Kings Saeberht of Essex both died in 616 AD, the people of London reverted back to Paganism, and leading Christian clerics such as Mellitus where forced to flee the city. It would be another fifty years before Christianity once more took hold - meaning that London was a Pagan city up until the 7th century AD.

Apparently when the building of the present St. Paul's cathedral began in 1675, architect Sir Christopher Wren, discovered remains of the Stag Goddess temple in the foundations of the previous Catherdral destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Brihtsige's Stone, Brixton

Brihtsige's Stone, gave it's name to Brixton, which is derived from Brixistane meaning "at the Stone of Brihtsige" (The London Encyclopedia, p 91). Further detail is provided in Brief History of Brixton by Alan Piper of the Brixton Society who gives the earliest known reference to "Brixistane" as 1067, by when the name attached to the north-eastern district or Hundred of the County of Surrey - covering more or less the present London Boroughs of Wandsworth, Lambeth and Southwark. The name derives from "Brixi's stone", a pillar or stone erected by Childe Brihtsige to mark the meeting place of the Hundred court at the top of Brixton Hill, between its junctions with what are now New Park Road and Morrish Road. The top of such a hill was a typical for meeting places of the Celts - known as a Gorsedd - and the Stone of Brihtsige was almost definately - in my opinion - a continuation of this.

The Stone of the Maidens, Greenwich

Maidenstone Hill, Greenwich, the Stone of the Maiden. Gordon in Prehistoric London also noted a number of locations with the name Maiden Lane, which she said may have had a ceremonial role in Celtic times. She argued that "Maiden" is a corruption of the Sanskrit and Arabic term Maidan meaning "an open place of public meeting" (The Aquarian Guide to London, p 116). The Stone of the Maidens is also the origin of Maidstone in Kent, and the place name of Maidenhead.

The Maze at Maze Hill

The site of the the Maze at Maze Hill

Greenwich has many geomantric and shamanistic sites, the original Maze Hill, for example, was a almost certainly an initiation centre, probably dating from pre-Christian times. Such sites once existed all over the island of Britain. According to Jack Gale writing in Other Meridians, Another Greenwich, Morden College in Blackheath is believed to have built a on maze "not unlike that on the slopes of Glastonbury Tor". (1) One author E O Gordon described after visiting the area, how the Maze is still visible in what looks like a natural basin in which Morden College nestles. She concluded that the physical features and the basins contours indicated the site of the Maze:

"Not far from the entrance of Morden College, successive ridges and depressions, faintly discernible, represent the remains of a labyrinth pathway. An old survey of the Manor of Greenwich shows that the familiar thoroughfare of Maze Hill, led direct to the maze".(1)

Another possible site of a Maze was near The Point, on the edge of Blackheath Common in a area once known as Troy Town. According to Gale, this also may have been the site of ancient maze. (Other Meridians, Another Greenwich, Jack Gale, Adelphi, London, England, 1994, p 22).


The Bryn Gwyn, the White Hill, Tower of London

Now the site of the White Tower in the Tower of London. This ancient and sacred site is said to have been the burial site of Bran's Head. As Bran was the crow god in Celtic mythology, the Raven's in the Tower are all that remains of the worship of the sacred head of Bran. It was thought that as long as Bran's Head was buried in the White Hill facing France, Britain would always be safe from invasion. However, in the 6th century AD, the Celtic chieften Arthur Pendragon disinterred it claiming only he would guarantee the safety this island. He removed Bran's Head, and as had been predicted by Merlin, Celtic rule started to collapse under Saxon invasion and was finally wiped out in Cornwall and Wales by the 16th century. (The White Goddess, Robert Graves).

The Llandin, Parliament Hill

From a Welsh name signifying a "High-place of worship". The ley line between here and the White Hill in the Tower of London, is the Midsummer's day azimuth - the line in which the Sun rise on Midsummer's day.

The Penton, Islington

On the present site of a water reservoir at the top of Pentonville, Kings Cross. This site is connected with both Merlin and the worship of the sacred head.

The Tothill, Westminster

On the ancient Isle of Thorns or Thorney Island. This island was created where the River Tyburn split (roughly on the site of the present Buckingham Place) to form an island, on which stands today the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. This site is traditionally regarded as a Solar site, where in later times before the Saxon conquest of Kent and London in the 6th century AD, had been a place where the Druids made laws and had a Tree College. It is no coincidence that this site was of great significance to our Celtic forebears, and that today it is the seat of the British government. The Thorney Island was also a traditional, safe crossing point for horses over the River Thames (hence "Horseferry" Road on the old island today). Penny Drayton writing in her article Toot Hills says:

Arguably the most auspicious toot hill is the one at Westminster, London. Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament are the most-recent of a succession of palaces and churches which date back to the post-Roman period. Indeed, the first church here, dating to the seventh century, may have taken advantage of the copious remains of Roman buildings. The locality was known for many centuries as Thorney Island, being an area of relatively solid ground amid the marshes bordering the Thames. Additionally, there was an artifical mound, known as Tot Hill.

Tot Hill still stood in Queen Elizabth I's time, as Nordon, the topographer of Westminster, wrote 'Tootehill Street, lying in the west part of the city, takes the name of a hill near it which is called Toote Hill, in the great field near the street.' Toot Hill is indeed shown on a 1746 map by Rocques by a bend in Horseferry Road roughley where Regency Palace now stands. The name survived in Tothill Fields, the old tournament ground now part of of the playing field for Westminster School in Vincent Square, and Tothill Street, which aligns with the northern transcept of Westminster Abbey. Alfred Watkins discovered and described a pair of leys, one running down the middle of Tothill Street, although his claims that the two alignments crossed at Tot Hill does not match Rocques' map, although there is no certainty that his cartography was reliable.  

Jeff Saward has recorded that there was a maze on Tot Hill, which was recorded as restored in 1672 and traditionally a site for various games of skill and agility, and a so-called Troy Game (played every Sunday in Lent by knights on horseback) may be first recorded in the sixth century.

Sir Thomas Mallory, in the fifteenth century, has Queen Guenevere inviting the Knights of the Round Table to ride out early one morning in May into the woods and fields beside Westminster. Such specualtion about earlier activities here was kept alive throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century by persistent specualtion of Tot Hill being a Druidic site, although the origins of this fable have been lost in the proverbial mists.

Wat Tylers Mound, Blackheath

Blackheath Common, now known today as Whitefields Mount. It was here in 1381 that Wat Tyler and his rebels gathered.

Kennington Mound, Oval

Opposite Kennington Park. This ancient site - where people had the right of public assembly - is today a water fountain. In more recent times it was the site of Chartist meetings and the starting point for Poll Tax and Liverpool dockers demonstrations in more recent times.

Sacred Caves

Merlin's Caves, Chislehurst, Kent

Merlin's Caves, commonly known as Chislehurst Caves. It has 9 druid alters and the site is thought to be more than 8000 years old. According to The Women's Encylopaedia of Myths and Secrets by B G Walker (p 651), these caves were the most likely site of Merlin's secret cave (On the Trial of Merlin: A Guidebook to the Western Mystery Tradition. Deike Rich and Ean Begg, The Aquarian Press, London, England, 1991).

Merlin's Cave, The Penton, Islington, London

Merlin's Cave, underneath the Penton and near a pub by the same name.

Jack Cades Cavern

This site, underneath Blackheath Common, it contains an effigy of the Horned God.

Sacred Wells

Camberwell, London

Camberwell, South London. The old word "Cam" means "cripple" (Cripple's Well's) in Welsh indicating that the well had healing propetries, and confirms that the site was sacred to the pre-Saxon Celtic population of London. Alternatively, the Well could be named after Camber (Camber's Well), on of the three sons of the legendary first King of the Briton's - Brutus, who first established the city of London in the 12th century BC. The area has other connections with the early Britons in the name Walworth, which means "enclosure of the Britons", according to A. D. Mills in his Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names (Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 1998);

Ladywell, London

Ladywell, South London. In 1986, Robert Smith published The Well of Our Lady (The Ladywell Village Society, London, England, January 1986). In it, he shows how the sacred well was recorded as early in local records as early as 1472. Smith notes that there has been a Christian Church near the site for over a 1000 years, and that in the past, the well was dedicated to St.Mary, and was visited by pilgrims on there way to Canterbury. The dedication to St. Mary also fits in with the many other examples of Christianity taking over Pagan sites in this way. Sadly, the well is now covered by the road over the bridge by the entrance to Ladywell station.

Wells Park, London

Wells Park, South London, the site of seven wells, of which one still exists on the site of the demolished propetry of 26 Longton Avenue;

Brideswell, Central London

Brideswell, Central London, near St. Brides Church, Fleet Street, London.


Clerkenwell, London;

Chad's Well, Central London 

Chad's Well, Central London