The future of a giant neolithic site described as "the Stonehenge of the North" has been secured after being gifted to the nation.

Thornborough Henges are three enormous henges dating from 3500 to 2500 BCE - a massively important ceremonial site for the people of Neolithic Britain. The site, north of Ripon, covers roughly a mile of land, and its earth walls were once covered in gypsym - glowing white and visible for miles around.

The earthworks are thought to have been part of a 'ritual landscape', similar to Salisbury Plain in south-west England. They are probably the most important single ancient site between Stonehenge and the Orkney Islands in Scotland.

Read more: English Heritage celebrates three sites protected in North East and North Yorkshire

Legal ownership of the middle and southern henges has been gifted to Historic England, the government's heritage advisor, by previous landowner Tarmac. 

The Northern Echo: The original outer walls of the henges were covered in white gypsym and were visible for miles.The original outer walls of the henges were covered in white gypsym and were visible for miles. (Image: Historic England)

Tarmac owns and operates the nearby Nosterfield gravel quarry, and their plans to expand quarrying operations in the area of Thornborough Henge have seen campaigners arguing against expansion for nearly two decades.

A judicial review in 2007 of planning permission that had been granted to expand the quarry found the process to have been "fatally flawed".

Despite their historic significance and relatively well preserved status, the central and southern henges were added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register in 2009 due to historic erosion caused by livestock and rabbits.

Now that ownership has passed to Historic England the monument's long-term future has been secured, leading to it being removed from the Heritage at Risk register.

The henges are now under the care of English Heritage and are free to visit.

On the announcement of the news, local MP Rishi Sunak said: “The Thornborough Henges site has enormous potential to help tell the story of ancient Britain and I very much welcome this announcement about its future – its safeguarding and preservation for the nation. 

The Northern Echo: The three henges cover roughly a mile.The three henges cover roughly a mile. (Image: HISTORIC ENGLAND)

“Comparatively few people are aware of its significance – both locally and nationally. I hope many more will come to appreciate this little-known gem of our history and while doing so provide a welcome boost to the local visitor economy.” 

Duncan Wilson, Historic England’s Chief Executive, added: “Thornborough Henges and their surrounding landscape form part of the most important concentration of Neolithic monuments in the North of England.

"They are a link to our ancient ancestors, through thousands of years, inspiring a sense of wonder and mystery. We are thrilled to have acquired this highly significant site for the nation, ensuring that these magnificent monuments are safe and will be preserved for generations to come.”

Kate Mavor, English Heritage’s Chief Executive, said: “Thornborough Henges is one of the most important ancient sites in Britain and yet almost completely unknown – we are looking forward to sharing its significance, its stories and its secrets with the public.”


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Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: "The Thornborough Henges complex gives us a fascinating insight into our ancestors and their lives thousands of years ago.

"It is wonderful news that this site will be protected as part of the National Heritage Collection and preserved so that generations to come can continue to be enthralled by, and help to unravel, the mystery of our shared past."