On the eastern edge of Hilton village in Cambridgeshire is a green space upon which is cut a turf maze measuring 53 feet diameter. Of the eight labyrinths of old existing in England, the one in Hilton has some unique features.
Unlike the other turf mizmazes which have unknown origins and purposes, the one in Hilton is not mysterious. In the center of the Chartres-design labyrinth stands a square obelisk of stone, topped by a ball ornamented with a sundial. It was erected in 1729 upon which is this inscription in Latin (translated)—
“William Sparrow, Gentleman, born in the year 1641, aged 88 when he died, fashioned these rings in the year 1660.”
Sparrow’s Monument pillar was added after the death of William Sparrow in 1729, and has a Grade II designation on The National Heritage List. William Sparrow lived at Park Farm which looked out onto the site of the maze, which he cut to commemorate the year of the Restoration of King Charles II. Sparrow was a staunch Royalist and the building was decorated with royal emblems of roses and fleurs-de-lys. A panel painting of the Royal Arms was found in the derelict house in 1945 and moved to Hilton Church where it can now be seen over the chancel arch.
It has been suggested that Sparrow re-cut an earlier maze which had fallen into disuse during Cromwell’s suppression. This is speculation, although the much later dating of this turf maze compared to all the others which are Medieval or earlier creations does lend some credence to this possibility. Also of interest is that most mazes of this type had religious connotations and were used for penitential purposes. The Restoration, however, saw the end of a period of religious austerity, casting doubt on a strict Royalist marking the return of the King with a penitential maze. Could Sparrow have wanted to recall an earlier, more carefree period of English history? Could the maze have been intended for recreational games?
The Hilton maze is unique in the clarity of precise dates thanks to the pillar obelisk, yet mysteries do remain, some of which I noted in the previous paragraph. Another question mark relates to whether the maze was originally cut turf. The inscription on the obelisk simply notes “fashioned these rings” without specifying of what or how. Local tradition and the standard for outside Chartres-design mazes being typically cut into the turf give weight to it always being a turf labyrinth. However, muddying the waters a bit, a record from 1774 states the Hilton maze was not composed of turf bank but was laid out using paths of pebbles, a claim corroborated in 1854. Was this a result of disrepair of the turf maze? Possible, as all surface mazes will be destroyed in time if not maintained, hence only eight remaining in England. Further proving this possibility, by the late 1800s the pebbled Hilton maze naturally became covered with turf —to the point of blending into a grazing area for cattle— but was restored by newly cut turf paths in 1899.