Seven Barrow, or Overton, Hill is a nodal point in the geography of ancient Britain, now right beside the A4 road 5 miles west of Marlborough. The A4 intersects The Ridgeway, the supposed ‘oldest road in England’ crossing the land from East Anglia to Salisbury Plain but here certainly post-Roman. The barrows, or burial mounds of c 2000 BC, form one of the best known prehistoric cemeteries in Wessex; they here cluster around the site of an enigmatic and earlier timber structure called ‘The Sanctuary’, now marked by concrete posts after excavation some 80 years ago. This stood at the south end of the great Avenue of standing stones climbing on to this Hill from Avebury, 2 miles to the north west. Overton Hill was indeed a sacred place 4500 years ago, and it is as well to remember that it remains so.
The painting, one of the more realistic in my collection, fairly accurately shows four of the barrows in the foreground with, between and beyond them to the east, the landscape of the Upper Kennet valley. My visits in preparation for this painting were actually on warm, sunny days, as my photographs at the time record; and the idea of the deeply shadowed mounds comes from those occasions. The snow is artist’s licence to make a more dramatic painting; it incidentally also makes the point that artistic works should never be used as factual, historical evidence on their own.
East Overton church can just be seen between the two right-hand mounds: it is more familiarly known as West Overton church, for it does indeed lie within a village known since the late-19th century as West Overton. But the present village is made up of two medieval Overtons, East and West. West, which now makes up most of the village, lost its church over a thousand years ago, while East Overton, which has largely disappeared, kept its church – though only just. It was in a most decrepid state in the mid-19th century but was largely rebuilt with a tall, elegant tower added which became a landscape feature visible along the valley as well as from Seven Barrow Hill. Even so, I have had to enlarge it considerably to make it visible in this painting: hence the playful title, for you don’t go to Seven Barrow Hill to look at East – or West – Overton church.