Forgotten local histories: The hill near Leek Wootton that was home to hunter-gatherers 9,000 years ago - and where a king's courtier was executed in 1312

Local historian George Evans-Hulme visits some places that have a fascinating history behind them

Blacklow Hill in 1972 (photo taken by Rob Steward, Kenilworth History and Archeology Society).
Blacklow Hill in 1972 (photo taken by Rob Steward, Kenilworth History and Archeology Society).

George Evans-Hulme is an academically trained historian and researcher for the Kenilworth History and Archaeology Society. Over the next few weeks he will be looking at sites or buildings with local historic significance. This week he examines the history of Blacklow Hill.

The History of Blacklow Hill

As one drives along the northbound stretch of the A46 between Warwick and Coventry, just before you reach the village of Leek Wootton, a prominent hill covered in flourishing, dark green trees will briefly fill your windscreen as you pass-by. This hill is called Blacklow Hill.

During the dig: The view from Blacklow Hill over to the new traffic roundabout (photo taken by Rob Steward, Kenilworth History and Archeology Society).

The origin of the name Blacklow can never be known for certain, but the discovery of three Anglo-Saxon graves on the hill suggests that the origin is Anglo-Saxon. Indeed, the low in Blacklow could stem from the Anglo-Saxon word hlaew which means ‘burial mound’; the word Black referring to the dark plants and heather that grew on the hillside.

The discovery of the graves was a key finding from the 1971/2 archaeological excavation of the site which took place in anticipation of the destruction of the site in the then forthcoming construction of the A46. The contents of the graves were relatively light, containing only a few bones and, in one grave, a small knife known as a seax.

The excavation also shed light on the early history of Blacklow Hill. The dig, which was conducted with the assistance of the Kenilworth History and Archaeology Society, uncovered hundreds of flints that were dated to the early Mesolithic period. The flints, amongst which were hunting tools and animal hide scrapers (which can be identified in relation to similar discoveries from other Mesolithic sites), have been used as evidence to suggest that the hill was used as a base for hunter-gatherers circa 9,000 years ago. The geographic features of the site, its relative altitude (80 metres above sea-level) and its proximity to the river Avon (with its water-game) all support the likelihood of this conclusion. This was a highly significant discovery as, until Blacklow Hill, no evidence of an early Mesolithic site had been found in Warwickshire.

The most significant event in the history of the hill, however, was the execution of Piers Gaveston in June 1312. Gaveston was the favourite courtier (and some say lover) of King Edward II. His influence over the king inspired great jealousy amongst the King’s nobles, including Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. Additionally, Gaveston’s often brash and arrogant attitude did little to endear him to the nobles. As a result, the nobles kidnapped Gaveston and then, after a summary trial at Warwick Castle, took him to Blacklow Hill where he was beheaded. This was a notable event that clearly demonstrated the tensions between crown and nobility that would define the reign of Edward II (who would later be held prisoner in Kenilworth Castle). It is surprising that it has not received more attention from local historians.

Many readers may have expected to see a discussion of the Gaveston cross (arguably the most notable thing about Blacklow Hill) in this article; they should not fear as this will feature in the next article.