The Journal of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


Newgrange Passage-Tomb, Co. Meath, Southern Ireland

Newgrange (photo by Shira - for Wikipedia).

Newgrange (photo by Shira – for Wikipedia).

    OS grid reference O 0073 7272. The ancient megalithic tomb complex of Newgrange in Co. Meath stands in the middle of a field, just north of the River Boyne (Bend of the Boyne), 3 miles south-east of Slane, and is said to date from the Neolithic period over 5,000 years ago. The tomb is surrounded by a large stone circle of a similar age, though many of the stones are missing. It can be reached on country lanes from the N51 Balfeddock road, east of the village of Slane, and via Knowth, where there is another megalithic tomb – along with a third ancient site at Dowth – they are all linked together and known as ‘the Boyne Cemetery Complexe’ (Brú na Bóinne). But the passage-tomb here at Newgrange is of great interest due to the many prehistoric rock carvings/petroglyphs – both inside and outside of the monument. Although the megalithic tomb has been partially restored to its original shape, it is still a big tourist attraction with up to 200,000 visitors coming from all over the world each year. The town of Drogheda is 5 miles to the east. Newgrange is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Entrance To Newgrange in 1905 (QuartierLatin1968 - for Wikipedia)

The Entrance To Newgrange in 1905 (QuartierLatin1968 – for Wikipedia)

    The Newgrange passage-tomb is said to date from the Neolithic – around 3,300 to 3,200 BC, or according to some historians 2,500 BC, while the stone circle surrounding it ‘probably’ dates from about the same time, though some archaeologists have suggested 2,000 BC. The grassy, drum-shaped mound covering the chambered tomb is a staggering 250 feet (80) metres in diameter and 49 feet (15) metres high – originally it would have stood much higher than this, maybe up to 150 feet. Around the edge of the mound there are 97 large, revetted kerbstones, many displaying symbolic carved geometric designs: spirals, diamonds, lozengers, cup-and-ring and sun motifs, on all their faces. Author Rodney Castleden in his article ‘The Ring of Stone’ for ‘Exploring The Supernatural’ magazine says: “Can we claim this continuous wall of giant stones as a stone circle? Do we ignore it because it is the containing wall of a burial mound?

The Newgrange Decorated Entrance Stone.

Newgrange Decorated Entrance Stone.

    At the entrance to the tomb there is a highly decorative carved stone. This huge entrance stone is 10½ foot long and 4½ foot high and has beautiful spirals carvings; this is regarded “as one of the finest achievements of European Neolithic art”, according to Cathal Coyle in his article on ‘Famous Landmarks’ for the ‘Ireland’s Own’ magazine. Above the entrance a huge, flat slab-stone ‘seems’ to holds up the above facial walling. The authors Janet & Colin  Bord in their acclaimed work ‘Mysterious Britain’, say of Newgrange passage-tomb:

   “The mound consisted of a cairn of pebbles, with white quartz stones on the outer surface. The designs on the stones are probably symbolic, not just decorative, and the spirals may represent the maze of life.

   “The kings of Tara were buried here, according to the legend. Newgrange, which is one of the many burial mounds in the pagan cemetery of Brug-Na-Boinne, also has associations with the Tuatha de Danann, ancient rulers of Ireland, of whom Dagda, Lug the Irish sea-god, and others were buried in this important and remarkable area.”

Plan of Newgrange.

Plan of Newgrange.

    The passage-way leading into the tomb chamber is 60 foot (18.2 metres) long and is surrounded on all sides by large slab-stones, some of which are decorated with geometric symbols: triangles, chevrons and lozenges. This leads on into a cross-shaped chamber with massive stone basins that would have held offerings, or burials; above the chamber is a corbelled roof. No mortar was used, and the chamber is still waterproof – even after 5,000 years! But in fact there are three small chambers inside the mound. Author Cathal Coyle says that in order to construct this roof: “the builders overlapped layers of large rocks until the roof could be sealed with a capstone, six metres above the floor.” The corbelled roof contains the famous ‘triple spiral stone’ carved onto one of its stone slabs; the authors Janet & Colin Bord in (Ancient Mysteries of Britain) call these spiral-carved stones – ‘labyrinthine in concept’.

   “At dawn on the Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and for a number of days before and after, a shaft of sunlight enters the chamber through an opening in the roof box and penetrates the passage, shining onto the floor of the inner chamber. The beam illuminates the inner chamber for just 17 minutes. To the Neolithic culture of the Boyne Valley, the winter solstice marked the start of the New Year – a sign of nature’s rebirth and promising renewed life to animals and humans” – (Coyle, 2015).

   Outside the tomb and surrounding it there is a circle of 12 stones, there would have originally been 35, and two of these lost stones would have stood at the south-side, opposite the tomb entrance, at either side of the so-called ‘surviving Great Circle stones’, and the others at the NW, N, NE and SE sides although there is great uncertainty about the exact number of missing stones. This circle of stones was probably built about 3,300 BC though some archaeologists suggest it dates from 2,000 BC. But is it a “true” stone circle? Author Rodney Castleden says of the circle:-

   “O’Kelley, who excavated the mound thought that some of the stones, missing from the circle, had been re-used in the ring of kerbstones, although he could not prove it. Maybe there was a change of plan and the Great Circle was never completed; there is a lot of uncertainty about the missing stones.

   “As far as we can tell this huge ring of stones at Newgrange, a hundred metres in diameter, is the earliest one of all. Most of them have not been radiocarbon dated, but from the evidence available the Newgrange Great Circle seems to be the ancestor of the British stone circles.

   “The custom of building stone circles spread rapidly as the country-wide trade in stone axes got under way. Axes made of distinctive and rare rocks can be traced back very precisely to the Neolithic factories where they were made. We can tell, for instance, that some axes used at Stone-henge were imported from Cornwall and that some came from Snowdonia and that others came from Great Langdale in the Lake District.”

    Author Cathal Coyle gives us more on the legends and myths of Newgrange. He say’s that: “According to the ancient mythology, the Tuatha Dé Danann (the People of the Goddess Danu, who according to tradition ruled Ireland before the coming of the Celts) were said to have built New-grange as a burial place for their chief, Dagda Mór, and his three sons. One of the sons, named Aonghus of the Brugh. It is believed that he was owner of the Brugh land, and that a smaller mound between Newgrange and the Boyne was owned by the Dagda.

   ” The highly renowned author, Geoffrey Ashe, in his great work ‘Mythology Of The British Isles’, says of the Tuatha De Danann that:-

   “The king of the Tuatha De Danann was Nuadu. He is the Irish equivalent of Nudd, Gwyn’s father, and, like him, is an embodiment of the Celtic god whom the Britons called Nodons. When the Tuatha De Danann fought their forerunners the Fir Bolg, Nuadu lost a hand in battle, It was replaced by a silver one, so that he became Nuadu Airgetlam, Nuadu of the Silver Hand. Later he had to contend with the sinister Fomorians as they inflicted various disasters. Their chief was Balor, who had an evil eye. To defeat them Nuadu temporarily resigned power to Lug, a hero of rare versatility and resource. Lug overwhelmed the Formorians with magic. Balor, however, had slain Nuadu in the battle. It was after this that the Milesians occupied Ireland, and the Tuatha De Danann faded into the Otherworld and the realm of faerie.”

Newgrange (Richard Gallagher 2003 - Wikipedia).

Newgrange (copyright Richard Gallagher 2003 – Wikipedia).

   Cathal Coyle goes on to say that: “Newgrange was ‘re-discovered’ in 1699 by the removal of material for road building. The landowner, Charles Campbell, needed some stones and asked his workers to carry some stones away from the cairn. When those stones were moved, the entrance to the tomb was uncovered. An extensive archaeological excavation took place at Newgrange from 1962 until 1975, and the roof was was re-discovered in 1963.” And, says the author: “An interesting phenomenon associated with Newgrange is the discovery of Roman coins over the past four centuries. Many have been found at the site, the first recorded find of a coin was in 1699. These Roman coins were still being found in the 1960s when Newgrange was being excavated — some of them in mint condition. Whether they were buried here by native Irish worshippers or pilgrims from the Roman world, remains a mystery” – (Coyle, 2015).


Ashe, Geoffrey., Mythology Of The British Isles, Methuen, London SW3, 1993.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Mysterious Britain, Paladin Books, London W1X, 1984.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books, London, 1994.

Castleden, Rodney., Ring of Stones – Part 1 Key To An Ancient World, Exploring The Supernatural, March 1987.

Coyle, Cathal., Famous Landmarks, Ireland’s Own, Wexford, Ireland, (November, 2015, No 5,523 & various dates).                                                                                                                               Photo Credit: Shira∼commonswiki (Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution).                                                                                                            Photo credit: copyright Richard Gallagher 2003.




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Wookey Hole Caves, Mendip Hills, Somerset

Wookey Hole Cave River Axe (photo credit: Pierre Terre (Wikipedia)

Wookey Hole Cave River Axe (photo credit: Pierre Terre (Wikipedia)

    OS grid reference: ST 5320 4796. The Somerset village of Wookey Hole, 1 mile west of Lower Milton, at the southern side of the Mendip Hills has become famous for its deep caves which have, over the past two-hundred years, yielded up many archaeological finds from prehistoric times, but  the caves here at Wookey have been a tourist attraction from as far back as the 15th century. It is here that the River Axe emerges from beneath the caves and then flows southwards towards Haybridge. An interesting Wookey Hole Caves Museum is located at the site.

    Twenty-five underground chambers have been discovered by archaeologists and cave explorers, the most famous having names such as: ‘the kitchen’, ‘the Parlour’, ‘the Oast Office’ and the Great Cave itself, which has the eerie, calcified figure of a woman called ‘Witch of Wookey’, and in the entrance an image of a man called ‘the Porter’ – (Dunning, 1980). Adjoining the caves is a rock shelter called ‘Hyena Den’ and it is here that most of the finds from prehistoric times have been excavated, many artefacts in fact dating back ‘many’ thousands of years to the Palaeolithic Age. And above ‘Hyena Den’ there is yet another famous cave known as ‘the Badger Hole’, whose inhabitants were indeed “badgers”! 

    The caves of Wookey Hole are located just to the north of the village beyond a number of mills and workings from the industrial age, along a footpath up to the southern escarpment of the Mendip Hills and the ravine where the caves are to be found. The town of Shepton Mallet lies some 3 miles to the south-east and the city of Wells is just under 3 miles in the same direction.

    The first phase of archaeological excavations was carried out in 1859-74 by William Boyd Dawkins and, later continued by Herbert E. Balch between 1904-14; the work continued between the years 1938-54, then again 1946-9, and then 1954-57 and, more recently in 1972.

Wookey Hole Cave Entrance (illustration).

Wookey Hole Cave Entrance (illustration).

The limestone caves at Wookey Hole were occupied roughly between 250 BC and 450 AD, before that there would perhaps have been habitation by wild animals along with ‘some’ human company, but more likely the animal bones that have been found were simply thrown into the caverns, or placed inside as a form of ‘offering’, or brought inside by other wild animals. Hyena Den was very likely the home of local hermits, and others, up until more recent times – at least the Middle Ages. Archaeologists in the 19th and 20th centuries have excavated the “bones of lion, mammoth, bear, woolly rhinoceros, wild horse, dear, fox and hare, nearly all chewed by hyenas who occasionally had to share their home with Palaeolithic men, who left behind them some flint tools and broken marrow bones” (Dunning, 1980). From more recent times 250 BC-450 AD “pottery, weaving equipment, coins, part of a horse’s bridle, and evidence of   the use of coal and of storage of grain show how the caves were home to generations; but evidence of human sacrifice suggests not only an origin  for the Witch Legend but also points to the abrupt end of the Great Cave as a dwelling in the 4th century”, according to Robert Dunning, ‘Somerset & Avon’. But, says Dunning:-

“even all this evidence is small compared to the bones found in an adjoining rock shelter, called Hynena Den; bones of animals dating back to the Palaeolithic age, perhaps 5,0000 B.C.”

   The author Jacquetta Hawkes in her work ‘A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments In England And Wales’, gives us a somewhat different but very informative view of Wookey Hole Caves. She says:-

“We are concerned with three caves in the ravine, all of them occupied by troglodytes though at very different periods. The first is the Hyaena Den, a small cave in the right-hand side of the ravine approached across a rustic bridge. The Hyena Den was first discovered in the middle of the nineteenth century and digging was begun there, almost in the year of the publication of the Origin of Species, under the direction of Sir William Boyd Dawkins, who was himself so much concerned in the struggle which led to recognition of the hitherto undreamt-of antiquity of man. It proved to contain vast masses of animal bones which had been lying there between twenty and a hundred thousand years. There in the heart of Somerset, Victorian gentlemen unearthed the remains of cave lion, cave and grizzly bears, mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison, Irish elk, and many other species including great numbers of hyaenas. These last unpleasant beasts had been responsible for dragging in many of the other species, either as prey or carrion: but not all of them, for the ashes of camp fires, burnt bones and implements of flint and chert told of the use of the cave by Old Stone Age hunters. Whether the human families had actually to expel the hyaenas before they could claim the shelter of the cave who shall say, but the place must have been foul and fetid enough with the rank smell of the dogs and their  putrifying mid-dens. On the other hand, any cave was welcome in glacial winters and at Wookey the water supply was excellent. Certainly hunting parties returned to  the place from time to time over a great span of years, though all within the last phase of the Old Stone Age when the glaciers having ground their way southward for the last time, alternately melted back during a slightly warmer spell or advanced again with the intensifying cold—the minor oscillations which preceded the end of the Ice Age.

“Wookey Hole itself is a high, narrow entrance just above the spot at which the Axe glides out from under the precipice at the head of the ravine. It is far more spacious than the other caves, with three open chambers hung with stalactites through which the Axe flows and widens to a lake. It is now flood-lit and makes a pretty spectacle for those who like such places. More caves stretch deep into the rock below the water, and divers have already discovered seven of them—dangerous exploration which has had its fatalities.

“Here in Wookey there was no Stone Age occupation, but the chambers made a home for Celtic Britons of the Late Iron Age, poor cousins of the villagers of Glastonbury and Meare. It remained the home of their descendants long after the Roman conquest. There is a tradition that in the Middle Ages Wookey Hole was the lair of a troublesome witch, and her body, turned to stone by an exorcizing monk, now stands in the cave as a large stalagmite. It seems not altogether impossible that this represents the vague memory of a tragedy which in fact overtook its British occupants. Excavators found that the outer part of the cave had been used as a stable for goats—it contained their dung, and charred stump of a tethering-post, a pot probably used for milking and the bones of two goats.”

    The author Robbert Dunning ‘Somerset & Avon’ goes on to tell us more about the recent industrial past of Wookey Hole and the surrounding area. He says:-

The industrial buildings at Wookey Hole may be something of a surprise; and their contents even more so. At least since the early 17th century the emergent Axe has been harnessed to make paper, and the present buildings were put up by Hodgkinson family from the mid 19th century. High-quality hand-made paper was made here until 1972, and the whole property was sold in 1973 to Madame Tussaud’s. Since that time there have been notable changes: part of the mill houses Lady Bangor’s famous collection of fairground objects, themselves made between 1870 and 1939, including organs, gallopers from roundabouts, cars from scenic railways, and many other pieces of now almost vanished culture, resplendent in the colours and detail that could hardly be studied when the fairground was at work at night, and often at high speed.

“Another part of the mill has become the working store-room and studio for Madame Tussaud’s exhibition. Heads, bodies and limbs of those whose fame has faded, and costumes and crowns, ready to take their place again in Baker Street, are there arranged neatly on shelves, together with the plaster negative moulds of those of current fame.

“Paper is again made on the premises by hand, bringing industry back to this remarkable site which offers such a range of the evidence of man’s activity in so small a compass ………..the flint tools in the Hyena Den are at least a comfort to ordinary mortals.”

    William Worcester, the highly acclaimed 15th century antiquarian, visited the Somerset caves and as usual had something to say about the place:-

“…….a certain narrow entry where to begin with is the image of a man called the Porter. One must ask leave from the Porter to enter the hall of Wookey, and the people carry with them ….. sheaves of reed sedge to light the hall. It is as big as Westminster Hall and stalactites hang from the vault which is wondrously arched over with stone……. the passage through which one enters the hall is about half a furlong in length ……. between the passage and the hall is a broad lake crossed by 500 stone steps …….. and if a man goes off the steps he falls into the water.”

Sources and websites used:-

Dunning, Robert., Somerset & Avon, John Bartholomew & Sons Limited, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1980.

Hawkes, Jacquetta., A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments in England And Wales, (Published for Cardinal by Sphere Books Ltd., London, 1975.

Worcester, William., (ed. Harvey, J. H.) Itineraries (1969).

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Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire, by Edward White

Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire (photo by wilson44691 - Wikipedia)

Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire (photo by: wilson44691 – Wikipedia)

    OS grid reference: NZ 9030 1122. On the headland of the east-cliff (up the famous 199 steps) and above the seaside town of Whitby, north Yorkshire, stand the formidable ruins of Whitby Abbey, which was initially founded as a priory sometime after 1078 by Reinfrith, then in c 1105 it became a Benedictine abbey. It was finally dissolved on 14th December, 1539. On the same site back in 657-58 AD an Anglo-Saxon monastery was founded by Oswy, the King of Northumbria. This ‘then’ became a double monastery for both men and women and was headed by St Hilda (614-680 AD), a Saxon princess who had travelled ‘here’ from Hartlepool at the request of the king; Hilda being the daughter of a prince by the name of Hereic, who was apparently poisoned in 616 AD.

    In 663 AD the famous ‘Synod (Council) of Whitby’ took place at the monastery itself and, was significant in that it brought together both the  Celtic and Roman churches! In 867 AD the Saxon monastery of Whitby was destroyed by Viking raiders. The majestic ruins of Whitby Abbey that we see today date, for the most part, from the mid 13th century. St Hilda (Hild) died on the 17th November (her feast-day) in 680 AD – her passing being mentioned by the Venerable Bede and ‘The Anglo Saxon Chronicle’. In the Dark Ages Whitby was called ‘Streonshall’ and continued to be called that until at least the Viking Invasion in the 9th century, but probably the old name continued to be used long after that.

    The following ‘Whitby Abbey’, which I will quote” in full is taken from ‘Stories & Tales Of Old Yorkshire’, 1993, an excellent compilation of work by Edward White – that was first edited by him whilst residing in London (1883) – and then published in the antiquarian work ‘Old Yorkshire’, in 5 volumes. White says:- 

“This famous Abbey was founded by Lady Hilda, whose death took place twelve-hundred years ago, and an enquiry into the special circum-stances which induced her to build the Abbey opens up an interesting chapter in ancient local and general history. This will be seen when we consider what England was when Hilda’s Abbey and College first arose, a lighthouse above the ocean — waters in the seventh century — when it first shone like a Pharos over the old kingdom of Deira, which was one of the chief provinces of the kingdom of darkness.”

“England was, from North to South, along its whole eastern side, and far up in the Midland Counties, a thoroughly heathen country, and had been heathen for 200 years preceding, ever since the departure of the Romans. What makes this fact so striking and terrible is that during the 400 years of the Roman Dominion, nearly the whole country had been evangelized. St Ninian, after whom one of Whitby’s churches is named, was a Scottish nobleman educated in Rome, who became one of the chief evangelists of the ancient races during the Roman times. The British tribes, and their neighbours, the Irish people, had thus early received the Gospel. When the Saxons came and saw, and conquered Britain, they restored heathenism over the whole area of their conquests. It was almost as if any army of Hindoos should now land in England, vanquish the inhabitants, drive the remnant towards the West, and establish Indian idolatry on the ruins of our Christianity. We are the descendants of those Saxon heathens, and we still call our week-days after the names of their impure gods and goddesses, Sun-day, Moon-day, Tuisca’s day, Woden’s, Thor’s day, Freyga’s day—a fearful memorial of the overflow of the ancient British Christianity.”

St Hilda's Statue at Whitby (photo credit Wilson44691 for Wikipedia)

St Hilda’s Statue (photo Wilson 44691 for Wikipedia)

“The conquered Britons retired westward, fighting all the way, into Cornwall, into Devonshire, into Wales, into Cumberland, and Westmoreland, and Lancashire; and they took their Christianity and civilization with them, leaving behind a vast and awful night of  barbarous Saxon paganism—of paganism with its ignorance, ferocity, blood-thirstiness, drunkenness, and lust. Eastern and Midland England for 200 years, from the time of Hengist to the time of Hilda, was full of ferocious tribes, battling all along the west with the remnant of the British aborigines, and battling just as fiercely with each other. When St Hilda was a young woman all central England, or Mercia, was held by a savage Pagan Sovereign named Penda, 80 years of age, a sort of Saxon Cetewayo, master of a powerful army, who for fifty years had made a war upon his neighbours. And it was in consequence of the destruction of this terrible old Pagan warrior by King Oswy at Winwidfield, near Leeds, in 655, that Hilda was enabled in 658 to found her abbey. Penda had previously slain King Oswald in the west, and hanged his mangled body aloft at Oswald’s tree, now Oswestry.” 

“A monastery of the ancient ages is often thought of as necessarily an abode of idleness, and even of licentiousness. Such no doubt many of the religious houses at last became, and even this great Benedictine house at Whitby among the number in its latter days. Its present ruin is, according to Dr. Young, the visible punishment of the sins of its lates inmates. But in the earlier centuries a great monastery was often a stronghold of the good cause against the powers of darkness—and this mighty foundation of Hilda’s was among the noblest in England. Its purpose can hardly be understood, unless we remember that in the first half of the seventh century, there was in all Europe no more awful Aceldama and “abomination of desolation” than this northern part of England. The Saxon Heathen and Pictish Highlanders, had repeatedly laid the land waste in their wars, and made its rivers flow with blood. The country was scarred with the black marks  of conflagrations of farms and homesteads. Deira invaded Mercia, and old Mercian Penda invaded Deira again and again. Bernicia invaded Lancashire and North Wales, and North Wales invaded Bernicia and Deira, or Northumberland and Yorkshire. All the history of these parts that remains is the history of cruelty, wrong, and bloodshed. No power but one could save and civilize Saxon heathenism, and turn this hell of the angles into a paradise. That power was Christianity.”

“The kings had begun to hear of what Christianity had done for other states  and nations in Europe, and they were growing weary of their own wars and miseries. The monasteries which arose in that age, in the midst of the forests and open countries, were, then, strongholds of Christianity and civilization. A great monastery well placed aloft, like Cassino or Streonshall, and wisely and holily governed, was a Bethesda or Pool of Mercy with many porches. It was (1) a Temple for the worship of the living and eternal God, amidst the grotesque and degrading horrors of paganism, where the light of truth shone on high over the pagan pande-monium. (2) It was a place of education for both sexes. The Princess Hilda, grand-niece of King Edwin of Northumbria, founded here (after the modern American fashion) a college and school for both sexes, for both monks and nuns. Many of these were persons, like Hilda, well on in life and weary of the world; some of these were young, some even almost boys and girls. Her first charge was the little Princess Elfreda, well-born on her mother’s side; for there had been a succession of Christian Queens. First, Bertha, a French Princess, married Ethelbert, the King of Kent, and brought Christianity with her. Their daughter was Ethelburga, who married King Edwin in the great well-built Roman city of York, the capital of his kingdom of Deira. There daughter was Eanfleda, who married King Oswy, still a heathen; and their child was Elfreda, who was educated as a Christian at Whitby. In three cases Christianity came with the wife to a pagan husband. Who could say how great a blessing, or how great a curse, every young woman carries with her in her marriage, according as she is a loving wife and worshipper of God, or a heathen-ish worldling. Thus a monastery was a College and a School, and often had a learned Library. We still possess the catalogue of good books in manuscript, which this Abbey treasured up in the 12th century, beginning with the Bible. Part of the work of the place always was to copy good books, the priceless legacies of elder times, as it is now a good work to give or to lend them. A monastery inspired by such persons as Hilda and her fellow-workers was next a great mission centre, whence educated men went forth on foot to evangelise the neighbouring villages and towns; and many were the cells and village churches which were set up by the godly monks from Whitby College.”

“The noble St Chad, or Ceadda, of Lindisfarne, was often here; and so holy and laborious a worker and walker was he, that the people in after-times fancied that a healing virtue remained in the springs and pools where he baptized the heathen Saxons whom he converted; so that the name of “St. Chad’swell,” or Shadwell, is found over half of England, and has reached as far as London. For long Ceadda’s central abode was at Lastringham, beyond Pickering; and afterwards, in his last days when full of years and honours, he was made the Bishop of Litchfield, the first  of a series of eighty, ending with Bishop Maclagan.” 

3.  A monastery was also a great school of medicine, and place of healing. There were stored up all manner of receipts, wise and unwise, for the medical use of plants and treatment of wounds. And thence went forth elder Sisters of Mercy, to nurse the poor people of Whitby 1200 years ago”

“4.  A great monastery was a fountain of civilization in all the useful arts, such as agriculture and gardening. The best intelligence of the time was frequently brought to bear on the culture of a great abbey’s  possessions. It was also a school of the fine artsof music, singing, painting, and preeminently of architecture. It was likewise a school of  poetry, for here Caedmon sang his inspired song of the creation, and commended to the semi-barbarous Saxons divine ideas in strains that echoed far and wide over Saxon England, and gave prophetic hints of Miltons of the future yet to come.”

“And (5) lastly, a great monastery was a visible monument of all the Past Divine History of the world, as well as a written prophecy of a better kingdom to come.”

“All this was in the design of the Princess Hilda, when she planted her great Abbey upon these heights; and since she was, beyond all reasonable doubt, a devoted Christian, her object was in a great measure realized. For the great church and college of Whitby became to Yorkshire, and far beyond it, a fountain of salvation. Her religion was clothed in the idiom, the ceremonial, the con-ceptions of her own day; and much of that external investure was no doubt the growth of ages of gradual departure from the apostolic model. But what a grand and noble woman was this, who kindled so great a light on that sublime eminence, the memory of whose noble works was powerful enough 400 years after her death, to create another race of men to  rebuild the fallen in new splendor on the very site of her earlier enterprise.”

Whitby Abbey Ruins (Illustration) viewed from different angle.

Whitby Abbey Ruins (Illustration) viewed from different angle.

Now arose the early monasteries of Canterbury, of Glastonbury, of Streonshall—to this last king Oswy assisting  by the gift to Hilda of twelve manors, prompted thereto by the remorseful desires of a heart that repented itself of its previous blood-stained and violent career. Now hence-forth the figure of the Princess Hilda rises on her sacred hill, towering aloft above the desolated villages of Saxon Deira, a true messenger of peace to the troubled people. Her monastery continued for 200 years to be the central light amongst this darkness; and the gleam that shone through the rounded windows of her humble early church was truly a light of life to the Saxons. Then, as you know,  followed in the 9th century the complete destruction of the first modest and mostly wooden fabric by the Danish pirates, and an utter desolation of Streonshall for 200 years, indeed until after the Norman conquest. Then the Norman Percys, moved by the horrors of William the Conqueror’s desolation of Yorkshire—as Hilda had been moved 400 years before by the similar horrors of the Saxon war Desolations—began the re-building of the Abbey and Monastery, of which, and its subsequent additions, we can see the noble ruins to day.”

Whitby Abbey Ruins (old illustration).

Whitby Abbey Ruins (old illustration).

“Now again 400 years followed of growing magnificence, of cease-less worship, of holy song, devout study, of strenuous labour by twenty-five generations of the black-robed Benedictine monks among the surrounding towns and villages; and alas, of increasing superstition, increasing depravation of manners, increasing sloth and forgetfulness of God, until the crisis was reached of the Tudor reigns; when the voice of England, thundering indignantly like a northern tempest against the apostate church, supported Henry VIII in the dissolution and plunder of the Abbeys, then possessed of at least one-third of the cultivated land of the kingdom, and ruin fell upon Streonshall, with its precincts full of the dust of saints and kings, in the just judgment of God.”


Smith, William., Stories & Tales Of Old Yorkshire, (orig. edt. by William Smith, 1882-3. Selected & Edt. by Dawn Robinson-Walsh, 1993), Printwise Publications, Tottington, Bury, Lancs., 1993. [Stories & Tales of Old Yorkshire selected from the work ‘Old Yorkshire’ 5 vols, 1882-3.]


The Ebbing And Flowing Well, Giggleswick, North Yorkshire

Ebbing and Flowing Well, Giggleswick (photo credit: Humphrey Bolton for Geograph)

Ebbing and Flowing Well, Giggleswick (photo credit: Humphrey Bolton for Geograph)

   OS grid reference SD 8039 6538. The Ebbing and Flowing Well is, perhaps rather annoyingly, located at the side of the busy B6480 (old Clapham road) out of the village of Giggleswick, about two-thirds of the way up the steep and ‘often very busy’ Buck Haw Brow, opposite Settle Golf-course. It’s about 1 mile north-west of Giggleswick and one-and-three-quarter miles from the town of Settle. The rocky and tree-covered Giggleswick Scar, formed from the South Craven Fault, towers above the curious holy well, which has long been famous for its abilities to “ebb and flow” though this does not occur as much as it used to do – due probably to the mining that now takes place over and on top of the scar, or some other atrocity. I should point out here that ‘it is quite dangerous to stand and view the well’ as there is a constant flow of vehicles rushing past the site and, it is therefore very difficult, if not dangerous to attempt to take photographs – so please “be warned” and do please stay very safe.

   The well has been famous over the centuries for its strange and curious ability to ‘ebb and flow’, indeed so much so that in the past local people have tried to dig down below the well in order to find out ‘why it does this’, though probably without actually establishing what causes such a thing to take place, if it really does, and now on rare occasions. We take the word “ebb” to mean flow back, fall, drain and subside, and the word “flow” to mean issue forth, pour forth, pour outward, refill and well-up. So is that what the well does? When the well does flow it flows under the road to emerge in a wet, muddy mess, on the opposite side of the road and, sometimes flows over the road itself, but mostly it simply wells-up to fill its square-shaped stone chamber, and then without much warning drains-away and ‘goes back’ into the limestone scar – probably from one of the deep caves that is undoubtedly linked-up with the well somewhere along the way. Author Brian Spencer in his book ‘The Visitor’s Guide To The Yorkshire Dales, says of this strange phenomana:

“On the rare occasions that the well functions, it rapidly drains, and then after a pause refills itself. This is due to a unique double chambered cave somewhere behind the well which causes a sudden syphoning effect inside the hole and temporarily cuts off the flow of water.”

   In the much acclaimed tome ‘Folklore Myths and Legends of Britains’, by Reader’s Digest, we are given a more Folklore-ish angle to this:

“Near to Giggleswick Scar is an oddity of nature, the Ebbing and Flowing Well. An explanation for its behavior is that a nymph who was being chased by a satyr prayed to the gods for help. They turned her into a spring of water, which still ebbs and flows with her panting breaths. 

The 17th-century highwayman, John Nevison, is said to have evaded capture by letting his horse drink at the well. The water gave the horse strength and Nevison escaped by leaping from the top of a cliff, still known as Nevison’s Leap.”

   In the past a few historians have tried to associate the Ebbing and Flowing Well with a local north-country saint – in this case St Alkelda – who is still venerated at the church in Giggleswick and, also at the church in Middleham, north Yorkshire, where she is said, according to the legend, to have been murdered by two Danish women in c 800 AD, or maybe in the 10th century so say some. Alkelda was an Anglo-Saxon princess and also a ‘devout’ Christian. One day she was approached by two pagan women who murdered her with a ‘thick scarf’ which they pulled tightly around her neck; this terrible crime probably took place where the church of Sts Mary & Alkelda now stands, or ‘maybe’ beside the well that is also named for her; and the church houses some fragments of a 15th century stained-glass window which depicts the saint’s martyrdom.

   The church of St Alkelda at Giggleswick apparently still uses water from the Ebbing and Flowing Well in its baptism services and, “a 19th century stained-glass window depicts the spirit of the well in the form of an angel hovering above the waters. This is a Christianised version of the pagan water-spirits, called undines”, according to author Bill Anderton in his work ‘Guide To Ancient Britain’. But did St Alkelda even exist because her name could simply be a corruption of the Old English words ‘Hal Keld’ (Halig Keld) – meaning “holy well”. The renowned author Jessica Lofthouse explains this in her book ‘Lancashire Countrygoer’, she says:

“Ghikel was probably a Norseman whose “wick” or farm was here. Also the ebbing and flowing well, not so far away, was a “gugglian” or bubbling spring: the wick by the gurgling well could be a derivation. But who caresor whether or no there was a Saxon Princess martyred at the hand of pagan Danes to give St. Alkelda’s its name. Or was the well where the Celts worshipped a spirit of water, later sanctified as a holy well, and as the “helig keld” did it give the first church its unusual name?”

   Authors Janet & Colin Bord in their renowned work ‘Sacred Waters’, have little if anything to say about the well only that: “Sadly the well no longer ebbs and flows.”


Anderton, Bill., Guide To Ancient Britain, Foulsham, Slough Berkshire, 1991.

Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Paladin Books, London W1X, 1986.   © Copyright Humphrey Bolton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Lofthouse, Jessica., Lancashire Countrygoer, (second edition), Robert Hale, London SW2, 1974.

Reader’s Digest, Folklore Myths And Legends Of Britain, (Second Edition), The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1977.

Spencer, Brian., The Visitor’s Guide To The Yorkshire Dales, Hunter Publishing Inc., Edison, NJ, USA, 1986.


Robin Hood’s Stone, Allerton, Liverpool, Merseyside

Robin Hood's Stone, Liverpool (photo by Rept0n1x for Wikimedia Commons)

Robin Hood’s Stone, Liverpool (photo by Rept0n1x for Wikimedia Commons)

   OS grid reference: SJ 3998 8638. A prehistoric standing stone, now heavily worn by thousands of years erosion, stands behind railings on Brooker Avenue at the junction of Archerfield Road in Allerton, Liverpool, Merseyside, near to West Allerton Railway Station. The heavily grooved monolith is thought to be one of the famous Calder Stones, which now reside in the Palm House in Calderstones Park, a quarter of a mile or so to the north-east, but ‘a few’ historians have considered the stone to date from the early part of the 16th century, and in particular the reign of King Henry VIII, when arrows were sharpened upon it. Archerfield Road is a giveaway here, I think. But just where Robin Hood the famed outlaw of Sherwood Forest features in the long history of this monument am at something of a loss like everyone else before me, but mythical and legendary heroes from our history ‘very often’ have their names attributed to stones that are: in no way “whatsoever” connected’, though it does give the ancient monument ‘in question’ a more interesting name.

   The red sandstone monolith is 2.4 metres high (7 foot 9 inches) and 0.9 metres (2 foot 11 inches) in width. It was apparently dug-up in 1928 in a field in the Forty Pits area – where it then stood for some considerable time until a new housing estate was built, and, then it was moved (once gain) to its present position on Brooker Avenue, just opposite Archerfield Road, at the beginning of the 1970s. There are ‘said’ to be several prehistoric cup-marks at the base of the stone, but sadly these are now beneath the soil. The author Derek M. Whale in his book ‘Lost Villages Of Liverpool – Part One’, says of Robin Hood’s Stone:-

    “Josias Booker’s field, called Stone Hey, in which the stone originally stood, is said to have accommodated butts for arches – probably about the time of Henry VIII. The King ordered most of his male subjects under 60 to practice archery and butts – mounds of sods to which targets were attached – were built in fields in almost every township. Most of the grooves were found on the side of the stone facing the sun – suggesting that most of the shooting took place from that side of the field, with archers firing with the light at their backs.”

   In 1970 a similar stone was ploughed up in a farmer’s field at Haskayne, north of the city, and this also had grooves made by thousands of years of weathering. And so it is presumed this, and the so-called Robin Hood’s Stone, were probably part of the Calder Stones which date back 4,000 years to the Bronze-Age. The Calder Stones had once formed part of a megalithic burial tomb in the Allerton area of Liverpool, but they were eventually brought to Calderstones Park and re-housed in the Palm House. But I can see ‘why’ some have considered the so-called Robin Hood’s Stone to be a relic of the early 16th century – as the deep scoring marks made by arrow-sharpening are still very visible on the stone. 

Sources:,_Liverpool_(1).JPG  – This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Whale, Derek M., Lost Villages Of Liverpool – Part One, (second edition), T. Stephenson & Sons Ltd., Prescott, Merseyside, 1985. 

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St Chad’s Well, Tinedale Farm, Spen Brook, Lancashire

St Chad's Well, Near Tinedale Farm, Spen Brook, Lancashire.

St Chad’s Well, Near Tinedale Farm, Spen Brook, Lancashire.

   St Chad’s Well is located in a boggy field with reed beds, just east of Tinedale Farm, 1 mile south of Newchurch-in-Pendle. From above Hoarstones, Fence, go north along the country lane, then at the very top walk along the straight farmtrack with a sign for Rigg of England and Tinedale Farm. After a while take the second wall-style leading into the field. At the centre of this, often boggy field where the power cables intersect, look for a large area of reeds, here hidden away is the largerly forgotten holy well. It is covered by two flat stones, together measuring 3 feet across, while the well-basin is roughly 1 foot in depth, and is lined at one side by brickwork (which looks recent). There is a layer of mud at the bottom, but the water is quite clear ‘upon cupping’ one’s hands in the water, though probably ‘not drinkable’ today!

St Chad's Well near Tinedale Farm, Spen Brook.

St Chad’s Well

   According to local legend St Chad, a 7th century Anglo Saxon saint, who became Archbishop of York, came to this area during his travels in the north of England. However it is more likely one of his many disciples came here and dedicated the well to his master. It is though, as we already know, a pre-Christian well/spring. I am not aware of any cures happening at this well, though I’m not saying they didn’t happen here long ago. I am told that the water was used by local farms in the area of Tinedale, according to a gentleman who is a member of ‘The Pendle Forest Historical Society’. The well is “now” only marked on old maps of the area. Regarding St Chad, who died in 672 AD, one or two historians have ‘suggested’ albeit tenuously, that the village of Chatburn, near Dowham, is named after the well-known northern saint, though there does not appear to be any credible link with the saint to the actual place.  However, the name is usually taken to mean Ceatta’s Stream in the ‘Old English’ form – meaning Ceatta/Ceada (a personal name) and burn (a stream); the two other forms of Chad’s name are, of course, Ceadda and Ceatta! 

   The local author/historian John A. Clayton informs us in his excellent book ‘Burnley And Pendle Archaeology – Part 1 – Ice Age to Early Bronze Age’, that: “in 1978 a small stone bust, possibly of the Romano-British goddess Sulis/Minerva, was discovered near to the well.” And he says: ‘This, along with Roman pottery recently found by [himself] in nearby Sabden Fold, strongly suggests that the ridge-top site [above the holy well,] sitting as it does on a major ancient trade route, was of importance in the Roman Iron Age.” The ridge-top site which Clayton alludes to is called ‘Standing Stone Height’.

    The well stands close to an ancient trackway, which apparently pilgrims used in order to get to Whalley Abbey, 4 miles to the north-west. Tinedale (Tynedale) farm is “said” to be haunted, and it was associated at the beginning of the 17th century with the Pendle Witches, who met at Malkin Tower, a scant ruin to the north of the farm – between the farms of Bull Hole and Moss End, according to the late John Dixon in his work ‘Historic Walks Around The Pendle Way’. Tinedale farm dates from 1750 but the original building was of 1600. In this area, too, we are told ‘the ancient fire festival of Beltaine’ used to take place – long ago back in the mists of time.


Clayton, John A., Burnley And Pendle Archaeology – Part 1 – Ice Age to Early Bronze Age, Barrowford Press, 2014.

Dixon, John & Mann, Bob., Historic Walks Around The Pendle Way, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

Farmer, David., Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Haken’s Mound, Preesall, Lancashire

Preesall War Memorial on the B5270 Lancaster Road.

Preesall War Memorial on the B5270 Lancaster Road.

   OS grid reference SD 3601 4822. This is one of those strange curiosities that do seem to crop up every so often. Haken’s Mound, also known as ‘Haakon’s Mound’ and ‘The Mount’ is, in fact, the Preesall war memorial near St Oswald’s church on the B5270 Lancaster road. The large, grassy mound always has well-tendered flowers at its entrance and up to the monument, and on top of the large mound there is a substantial memorial cross which commemorates the fallen of the two World Wars. According to ‘the’ local legend and, to some extent “myth” Haken or Haakon, an early 10th century Viking chieftain, who settled half a mile or so up the road at Hakensall in Knott-End-On-Sea, was buried inside the mound that is today known as ‘The Mount”. Whether there is any real truth in this I do not know – we will probably never know. The war memorial is located halfway between St Oswald’s church and the B5377 Stalmine turning, while the very pretty sea-side village of Knott End is half a mile in the opposite direction along Lancaster road.

   The story goes that: At some point in the early 10th century AD Haken, an invading Viking chieftain, sailed up the Wyre estuary (maybe in a longboat) and, just inland between Fleetwood and Knott End, founded a settlement at a place now called Hackensall – today the medieval Hackensall Hall on Whinny Lane (OS grid ref: SD 2874 5394) stands more or less on that site. The original hall (a defensive moated building) was built in 1190 – the building there today is of 1656; it was built by the Fleetwood family. In the 19th century the hall was greatly renovated by Sir James Bourne. According to “the” Legend, it is said from his settlement Haken laid siege to the area, pillaging and murdering, but I feel that here we have much embellishment added to the actual legend itself – and one “must” be very wary of this fact. Conversely, it may be that Haken was simply a seafaring Norseman who had come to the area and wanted to lead a quiet, unassuming life there.

The Mount at Preesall, Lancashire.

The Mount at Preesall, Lancashire.

    As to whether Haken or Haakon was still a pagan I don’t know, but I suppose it’s possible that he was a Christian, or had recently become one? After his death this Viking chieftain was buried nearby and a large mound built over his grave. Today this burial mound near St Oswald’s church, Preesall, is locally called ‘The Mount’ or ‘Haakon’s Mound’ and it still looks very impressive, made more so ‘perhaps’ by the war memorial cross standing on top. Alas, today, there are no visible signs (earthworks) of Haken’s settlement at Hackensall, only Hackensall road and Hackensall Hall are reminders. But we will never know archaeologically whether the Viking chieftain lies buried within the mound, due to the fact that it is protected as a war memorial.

    There are a few historians that have tried to link King Cnut, himself a Norseman, with Knott End with regards to the meaning of the place, but it seems that that is ‘not’ the case as most tend to agree “now” that it takes its name from a “knot”- a hillock that is located above the estuary. This knot or hillock probably refers to the golfcourse above the shoreline at Knott End, just to the north-west of Hackensall Hall. A ghostly horse (boggart) is ‘said’ to haunt the hall.

   In the delightful little book ‘The Lancashire Coastal Way And The Wyre Way’, by Ian & Krysia Brodie, we are enlightened about the possible meaning of Knott End: “The large sandbank off Knott End is called Bernard’s Wharf – reputedly after St Bernard. Many small birds, including knot and dunlin, feed here in the nutrient-rich mud. One story says Knott End derives from these birds, another that the Norse marked the channel of the Wyre with a chain of knots or cairns, the final one being the Knott End!” There is a church named for St Bernard on Hackensall Road.

   In 1926 a hoard of Roman coins was dug-up in the vicinity of Hackensall Hall, 500 to be precise, which later came to be known as the Hackensall Hoard. The coins were found beneath a stone and had been placed inside a leather bag. “Whilst the bag was originally found to contain around 500 coins, only 339 now have their whereabouts known” (Ian & Krysia Brodie, 1993). Some of the coin hoard was eventually given to The Revoe Museum in Blackpool, while more coins went to museums and galleries across the north-west of England.

   In the work ‘Romans in Lancashire’ by D. C. A. Shotter, we are told of the possibility that the mouth of the Wyre estuary, a safe and sheltered anchorage between Fleetwood and Knott End, was in use as a port in Roman times and that the great Ptolemy, who lived in the 2nd century AD, referred to it as such: “More important, however, for the present purpose is the reference in Ptolemy to the site which he names as PORTUS SETANTIORUM……this could have been the Roman name for Lancaster; alternatively, many have felt that the site has at some time been overwhelmed by the sea, and lies off the coast at the mouth of the Wyre.”


Brodie, Ian & Krysia., The Lancashire Coastal Way And The Wyre Way, Lancashire County Books, Preston, 1993.

Shotter, D. C. A., Romans in Lancashire, Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, Yorkshire, 1973.


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