Maybe it was a reaction to the horrors of the 1st World War but in the 1920’s there was a revival of interest in mysticism, paganism, ancient beliefs and the romantic tales of King Arthur and Uther Pendragon. We may have won the Great War but it was a brutal, messy business. In the myths and fairy tales of the dark past maybe we hoped to find a more civilised, more chivalrous heritage.
In 1925 Alfred Watkins published “The Old Straight Track: Its Mounds, Beacons, Moats, Sites and Mark Stones”. It described the presence in Britain of ley lines, a mysterious grid of ancient energy paths aligning sites of religious or cultural significance like Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral or the Tower of London and Windsor Castle. These leys were often marked by ancient trackways, tumuli, hills or standing stones. One such ley line runs from Charing Cross, through Richmond and Bushey Park to Horstell near Woking. Another runs from St. Paul’s Cathedral and across King Henry 8th Mound, a former round barrow, near Pembroke Lodge.
In 1929 Katherine E Maltwood, a woman much interested in the occult and ancient mysteries, published “A Guide to Glastonbury’s Temple of the Stars”, which described in some detail a vast zodiac marked out on the ground in a 10 mile circle around Glastonbury. Helped by maps and aerial photographs Mrs Maltwood identified 12 astrological figures – Virgo, Capricorn, Taurus etc marked out on the ground by landscape features like trackways, streams and marker stones. Glastonbury was set right in the middle of Aquarius. There is also a 13th symbol, a five-mile-long figure of a dog standing outside the zodiac. It is known as the Great Dog of Langport and is referred to in the old Somerset Wassail song:
The Girt Dog of Langport has burnt his long tail And this is the night we go singing wassail
Mrs. Maltwood believed that the zodiac was laid out in about 2700 BC by the Sumerians as a temple of the stars.
Although the Glastonbury Zodiac idea caught the imagination of the mystics of the 1920’s, part time and professional, it was quickly dismissed by landscape historians and archaeologists and soon forgotten… were it not for Mary Caine, a writer from Kingston, who revived an updated version of the idea in a 1969 edition of the “hippy” magazine Gandalf’s Garden. In 1970 she took the idea further. In her book “The Kingston Zodiac” Mary described a similar zodiac, stretched across Surrey and Middlesex, from Ealing in the north, Chessington and Epsom in the south, Chertsey in the West, to Wimbledon Common in the East. Sitting in the centre of this vast astrological mandala was Kingston underneath the sign of Libra. Like the Glastonbury Zodiac the various astrological symbols are marked by paths, roads, rivers and streams and like the Glastonbury Zodiac there is a 13th sign – a guard dog. Located outside the circle of the main Zodiac the hound faces westwards from Shepperton to Chobham common.
My immediate reaction of hearing about the Kingston Zodiac was to wonder if it included St Margarets. The answer is “Yes” and “No.” Although our neighbourhood doesn’t form part of any of the actual astrological symbols making up the Kingston Zodiac it is surrounded by them on all sides. Immediately to our north, inverted and reaching from Old Isleworth to Ealing and Acton is Capricorn. Across the river to our east – and taking up most of Richmond Park – is Sagittarius, also inverted. Mary Caine suggests that the mounted figure is identified with Ahura – the sun god, but in this context is depicted as Robin Hood, whose name is associated with Richmond Park.
South of us is Taurus. Its back is marked by Church Street in Twickenham, running out eastwards along the Staines Road to Hanworth and beyond. The belly of the beast is depicted by the curve of the Thames from Hampton Court to Walton on Thames. Finally to the west of St Margarets is Aries, its southern flank following the line of the Crane as it sweeps north eastwards across the Chertsey, Hanworth and Staines Roads. The ram’s head covers Hounslow and its front leg runs from Kneller Hall, over the Rugby Stadium and southwards towards Twickenham. Astrologically speaking St Margarets is surrounded – and protected perhaps? – by a ram, a bull, a goat and Robin Hood.
According to Mary Caine the astrological significance of the various signs has determined what actually happens on the land beneath them. For example Hounslow sits under Aries which is ruled by Mars the God of War. That is why in the past armies have assembled here – as recently as the 2nd World War – and footpads and highwayman too. The Kneller Hall Military School of Music sits under the Ram’s foot as does Mogden. Mary Caine reminds us “mog” is an old dialect word for “long haired sheep”… and when the first merino sheep were brought to Britain they were raised on Hounslow Heath.
Kingston sits under Libra, the sign of Justice, and that is why Surrey’s Law Courts are sited there. The Kingston Libra is depicted as a Dove, one of the two birds released from the Ark by Noah. The other was a raven and that is still around as Ravens Ait, just up river from Kingston Bridge. Sagittarius, depicted in the Kingston Zodiac as Robin Hood is easier to pin down. The elbow of the mounted fellow wearing a hood, what else? is marked by Robin Hood Gate and his wrist by Robin Hood Lane. His heart is marked by heart shaped Isabella Plantation and the hoof of his horse by Kew Foot Road. Strangely his bottom, firmly astride the horse that is Richmond Park, is just outside Spanker’s Wood. What did those merry men get up to in Sherwood Forest?
It is easy enough to mock the Glastonbury and Kingston Zodiacs. Many, far more qualified than this writer, have done so in the past. Whether the zodiacs are real and significant as suggested by Kathleen Maltwood and Mary Caine or just a load of… excuse me… Taurus, they do make us think about what the world might have been like long before the pressures and distortions of the 21st century. Although a sceptic I reserve the right to imagine that ley lines and geographical zodiacs and even fairies might have existed and maybe still do.
In these troubled times we all need a gentler, more magical world to go to, if only in our imaginations. Maybe Mary Caine was right when she said, “The Kingston Zodiac – its magical pattern imposed upon the land at the time of our planet’s formation – will always be revealed to those who know how to see.” Perhaps it is time that we started looking.
Credits: The drawings of the Kingston Zodiac and Sagittarius are from Mary Caine’s book “The Kingston Zodiac” (revised in 1978)
— from Martyn Day