The Journal of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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London’s River 1- From The Cotswolds To Teddington – by J. R. L. Anderson

Map of the River Thames (Cotswolds to Teddington).

Map of the River Thames (Cotswolds to Teddington).

Here quoted “in full” is the brilliant and very comprehensive article from ‘The Illustrated LONDON NEWS’ magazine of July 1971, written by J.R.L.Anderson. In the forward to the article we are told that: “The Upper Thames no longer carries commercial traffic, though it remains a fine inland waterway for pleasure cruising. In the first of a two-part article the author, who lives in the Thames, describes the non-tidal stretch of the river and recalls some of its history and two of its enigmas – the continuing controversy over its source and the origin of its name.”

    “The Thames is London’s river, but it would be more exact to say that London owes its existence to a geological freak, a little ridge of hard Corallian limestone near Oxford left by the Jurassic seas that covered most of southern England about 140 million years ago. This little ridge, noticeable enough in the days when people walked from Oxford to Cumnor, is taken by the motor car in its stride. You may, perhaps, have to change gear if you are held up by a lorry, but otherwise there is nothing to tell you that you are climbing a hill that changed the course of the Thames, and with it the course of English history.”

    “The Thames rises in the Cotswolds and flows easterly towards the North Sea. But for the Cumnor ridge it would have gone on flowing eastwards, trending a little north to skirt the Chilterns, and forming its estuary somewhere between Aldeburgh and Clacton. But for the Cumnor ridge, Ipswich or Colchester would have been the capital of England.”

    “The ridge checks the easterly flow of the Thames. To get round the ridge the river makes a great bend to the north and then turns south again, gathering the Cherwell at Oxford. Instead of flowing on east, it runs more nearly south – a little east of south – towards Reading. Just before its gets to Reading the Thames meets another barrier, the ridge of chalk forming the Berkshire Downs and the Chilterns. The river deals with this decisively, cutting a path for itself through what is called the Goring Gap. From here it returns to a generally easterly course to London and the sea.”

    “London came into being as a settlement at about the sea-tide coming into the river up the estuary, a good place for crossing the river. There were shallows where, at low tide and when the Thames itself was low, the river might be fordable, though the crossing on foot or on horseback would always have been risky. But it would have been easy enough by boat, a good place for a ferrypoint before the river widens into its estuary. A good place, too, for beaching larger craft bringing cargoes from the Continent, a snug haven after those vicious, short, steep seas of the passage  from Norway, Denmark or the Low Countries. So London came into being as the pulsing heart of England, with the Thames its artery.” 

    “For a river with so much history so long studied, the Thames still presents a surprising number of enigmas. No one has yet satisfactorily determined what its name means, or where it comes from. The Romans found it called (phonetically) “Tems”, and  latinised this into “Tamesis”. The “h” in the modern spelling is a ludicrous intrusion. It occurs in no very early charters, although it is occasionally to be found in late medieval documents as “Thamisa”. The silly “h” became fashionable in the seventeenth century when it was considered the thing to go in for “antiquities” – it is a fake. It has remained with us ever since.”

    “But what does “Tems” (or “Thames”) mean? It has no obvious root in the Celtic or Gallic tongues spoken in England before the Romans came. Dr Eilert Ekwall, author of the great Oxford Dictionary  of English Place-Names, suggests that it may derive ultimately from the Sanskrit “Tamasa”, meaning “dark”, perhaps through the Old Irish “Temen”, also meaning “dark”.  Some early people speaking in Indo-European language certainly came to Britain and they may have called the Thames “dark water” in their tongue. It is a singularly inappropriate name for the Thames as it has been these past 2,000 years, for it is a silver stream rather than a dark, brooding one. But when our remote ancestors came the Thames valley was thickly wooded, and the river under the trees may have seemed strikingly dark. No one knows. “Thames” may be a link with our first Indo-European forebears, or it may mean something completely different in some completely unknown tongue.”

    “I should like here to denounce another affectation in the name “Isis” occasionally presented as an alternative name  for the Thames above Oxford, and regrettably sanctioned as such by the Ordnance Survey. The “Isis” is a non-existent river, and the name was unheard of before the fourteenth century. Some unknown scribe seems to have conceived the idea that “Tamesis” was a compound of the names “Thame”, a tributary which joins the Thames just below Oxford, and an imaginary “Isis”. This is absurd. No one living by the Upper Thames has ever called the river anything but “Tems”, of which “Tamesis” is simply the latin form.  “Isis” has gratified some uncritical literary fancies, but it is as bogus as the “h” in “Thames”. That “h”, I fear, is too long established in orthodox spelling to be shifted now, but the map-makers ought surely to abandon “Isis”.” 

   

Seven Springs on the River Churcn (photo by David Stowell - for Geograph)

Seven Springs on the River Churn (photo by David Stowell – for Geograph)

    “Another enigma of the Thames is that its source – in well-surveyed, civilized England! – remains in dispute. The Ordnance Survey accepts the source as a spring (commonly dry in summer) at Trewsbury Mead, about 3½ miles SW of Cirencester and just to the N of the old Roman road (Fosse Way) between Cirencester and Tetbury. This is accepted, too, by the Thames Conservators, the official body responsible for the river, and the site has been adorned by them with a statue of a river god (Old Father Thames?) that once lived in the old Crystal Palace. But there is a rival source, about 11 miles farther north at Seven Springs, near Coberley, on the outskirts of Cheltenham. Here there is a better spring, in a dell with water in it, and a Latin inscription on a stone, recording:

            Hic Tuus,  O Tamesine Pater,  Septemgeminus Fons,  (Here, O Father Thames, is thy sevenfold source).

    “The matter was even discussed in Parliament (in 1937), when the supporters of Seven Springs tried to get a ruling giving official recognition to their source. Mr Chamberlain’s Government was unmoved, sticking to Trewsbury Mead, and arguing that the river which rises at Seven Springs is not the Thames, but the Churn. The Churn, howver, is a tributary of the Thames, which it joins at Cricklade. Its source is farther from the sea than Trewsbury Mead: should it be regarded as the main river down to Cricklade, and the stream from Trewsbury Mead as a tributary? This is like the arguments that go on about the Mississippi and the Missouri; it will never be settled.”

    “The Thames has always been navigable, though not always easily, from the sea to Lechlade, and at times, when barge-traffic was important, as far as Cricklade. Until the coming of railways the Thames was the main route for merchandise from London to Windsor, Maidenhead, Reading, Wallingford, Abingdon, Oxford, Lechlade and Cricklade, and for the products, mostly agricultural, of Oxfordshire and Berkshire sent to market in London. Cheeses from the Vale of the White Horse, shipped by river, helped to feed London before the Conquest. Until the Angevin kings stopped the trade (because they wanted revenue from the vineyards in France) there was a considerable river trade in wine from Abingdon and Reading. It was not the climate but politics that put an end to grape-growing in the Thames valley – an end, that is, commercially, for grapes can still be grown well by the Thames and I have drunk an excellent light wine from grapes grown near Pangbourne. Cotswald stone for building the first St Paul’s Cathedral was brought by the Thames to London, and Sir Christopher Wren  turned again to Burford for stone and to the Thames for transport when he built the present St Paul’s. By Wren’s day, however, Portland stone  by sea was cheaper than Burford stone brought to London by river, so he used Burford stone only for parts of his cathedral, where he wanted its special qualities.”

    “Had railways been invented a few decades later a splendid system of canals, based on the Thames, would have linked London to Bristol and the Midlands : there might even have been a ship canal from the Bristol Avon to the Thames. The canals exist but the railways killed them before they could be developed for modern traffic. It is no use crying over spilt canal-water, but one can still be angry that so much of it remains spilt. Many people hold that these canals could – and should – be restored and modernized, to the great relief of overcrowded roads.”

“If commercial traffic has gone from the Upper Thames it remains one of the finest inland waterways in Europe for pleasure cruising. The Conservancy maintains a dredged channel for 124 miles of non-tidal river from Teddington to Lechlade, and the channel is being extended to take small cruisers well above Lechlade. All locks on the Thames are manned, and most of them now are power-operated. There are fleets of cruising craft for hire or charter, and good facilities for privately-owned boats. From the Thames, too, you can get on to the Oxford Canal, a beautiful eighteenth-century waterway, and thence to the canal network of the Midlands – wonderful territory for inland cruising. Many of the old canals are still navigable by small boats, though you may have to work the locks yourself. But this is good exercise for a crew of strong sons and daughters, while the skipper goes off to replenish  stores. If you time your arrival rightly at the right places, stores replenishment can be indeed a congenial task.”

The River Thames at Wallingford Bridge (photo credit: Roger Templeman - for Geograph).

The Thames at Wallingford Bridge (photo credit: Roger Templeman – for Geograph).

    “But you need a lifetime properly to explore the Thames itself, and its magic hinterland. It is good to travel by boat, but you need not, for all the Thames-side towns and villages can be reached by car, though you will want a good map, and will have to make considerable detours as the river winds. The centuries unfold with particular vividness as you make your way along the river, if you go with a map to a library beforehand and work out the meanings of the place-names on your route. The Thames is a boundary as well as a highway. It brought prehistoric man to the good upland country where he could flourish, and protected his little settlements. Later it brought  the early Saxons  to the heart of their kingdom of Wessex – Hinksey, now part of modern Oxford and once an island in the river marshes, means “Hengist’s Island”, commemorating a very early Saxon name. The Thames bounded the ancient kingdom of Wessex, and when it was beset by enemies the river line held. King Alfred and his sons took particular care to guard the crossings at Cricklade, Oxford and Wallingford, and the invading Danes were checked by the Thames. Later it was the dividing line in the south of England between the area where the old Saxon laws prevailed and the Danelaw, where Viking traditions were recognized.”

    “William the Conqueror secured his hold on England by holding the Thames. His great castles at London, Windsor, Wallingford and Oxford not only controlled the river but dominated the routes leading to and from places where it could be crossed. The wars between Stephen and Matilda were fundamentally struggles to control these castles, and it was Stephen’s final failure to take Wallingford Castle, which held out for Matilda, that ended the war in the treaty securing the succession  of the throne of England to Matilda’s son, afterwards Henry II. It was through Henry II that the blood of the old Saxon Royal House was restored to the English throne, a link that has never since been wholly severed, save in the interregnum of the Cromwellian Commonwealth (1649-60). Thus it can be held with truth that it was the defense of the Thames at Wallingford in the twelfth century that not only gave England one of her greatest monarchs in Henry II but ensured that a descendant of Egbert, king of Wessex in the ninth century and the first ruler to style himself “King of the English”, occupies the throne of England still, in our present sovereign Queen Elizabeth II.”

The River Thames above Teddington (photo credit: Philip Halling - for Geograph).

River Thames above Teddington (photo credit: Philip Halling – for Geograph).

    “At Teddington the Thames meets the tide from its estuary and begins to mingle with the sea. Above Teddington the Thames is an inland waterway: below, it starts to have an ocean feel about it. One of the lost hopes of the first post-war Labour government was a plan to establish a Thames-side Walk, all the way from London to the source. That went the way of many dreams of a brave new world. It would be nice to revive it, but such a riverside walk would be expensive to construct, for what was once the towpath has often vanished in the encroachments of houses and gardens, particularly near London. On the upper river there is still a good deal of towpath, but there are awkward gaps that would require long detours or expensive bridging to restore a walk along the river’s length. One day, perhaps……..”

   “Meanwhile, there is enough access to the Thames to give infinite pleasure in return for very little trouble. Below Henley the towns become more and more suburban, but the river remains beautiful, with magic reaches by Kingston and Hampton Court. The best sailing reach on the whole river is the stretch from Marlow to Bourne End. From Reading to Oxford towns and built-up areas are fewer. Abingdon is the most considerable town and still retains patches of medieval beauty in spite of some horrible commercial development. Wallingford is a gracious little place – its size does not match its  history. Above Oxford there is next to nothing but water-meadows and peace. A week on a boat proceeding gently from Oxford to Lechlade is to be transported in time as well as space, to a world remote from motor roads, where the landscape has changed little since Parliament men and the Royalist troops fought over bridges in the Civil War, when Charles I made his capital at Oxford.”

    “The centuries sit lightly on the Upper Thames. Yet it is always London’s river, feeling the force of social and technological change pulsing out of London in many subtle ways, some hurtful, some making for its betterment. I shall discuss these in the August issue of the ILN, and describe what I call the ocean-Thames, whose ships go out to the farthest seas of the world by that nursery of seamen the Thames Estuary,” so says the author of this magazine article J. R. L. Anderson back in 1971.

Sources:

Anderson, J. R. L., ‘London’s River 1 – From The Costwolds To Teddington,’ The Illustrated LONDON NEWS, Vol 259, No 6876, Holborn Hall, 100 Grays Inn Road, London WC1. July 1971.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2929575   © Copyright David Stowell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2813784   © Copyright Roger Templeman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2592231   © Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

                                                                                                     


Great Sphinx, Giza, Egypt

Great Sphinx at Giza, Lower Egypt.

Great Sphinx at Giza, Lower Egypt.

Latitude 29.975350. Longitude 31.137500. Ancient site at Giza in Lower Egypt, 12 miles south-west of Cairo. The ‘Great Sphinx’, also known as ‘the Sphinx of Hamaldis’, whilst during the time of the ‘New Kingdom’ it was called ‘Horus of the Horizon’ and, in modern Egyptian Arabic ‘the Terrifying One’ – (Wikipedia). It stands just 200 metres from the Pyramid of Khafra, and is known to the local inhabitants as ‘the guardian of the Giza necropolis’. The nose of the sphinx was apparently chopped off back in the 7th century AD and, not as many historians had once thought, by the cannons of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in 1798, but I suppose that made for a good story!

Giza Image 9627 (photo by Thebrookelynway for Wikipedia)

Giza Image 9627 (photo by Thebrookelyn-way   for Wikipedia)

The great sphinx dates from the 4th dynasty of the pharaohs (2,575-2,467 BC) and is thought to represent Khafra, who ruled between 2,558-2,532 BC). However, some historians now think the statue might date from the New Kingdom (1,570-1,070 BC), according to author Cathal Coyle in his “very concise” article ‘Famous Landmarks’ in the magazine ‘Ireland’s Own’.  This gigantic crouching limestone monument, located on the western bank of the river Nile, is 66 feet high, 63 feet wide and 220 feet in length; and has the body of a lion and the head of a human, possibly Khafra, but there is no certainty about that.

   Author Cathal Coyle in his magazine article says that: “When Khafre came to power during the 4th Dynasty, he constructed the Great Sphinx by  using limestone core blocks weighing hundreds of tons in his temples. His craftsmen also created more than 200 statues; 22 of these were at least three times life size.”

   Coyle goes on to say: “Representative of two Egyptian gods – the pharaoh god and the lion god, the sphinx combines the body of a crouching lion with the head of a human. In ancient times, it is thought that the face and body were painted dark red and the head cloth was yellow with blue stripes.” There are said “still” to be traces of this red paint on the head of the sphinx, especially ‘it is said’ near one of the ears.

   “Although there has been great speculation about the nose of the Great Sphinx, it is not actually known what happened to it. The drawings made by European travelers of the 16th and 17 centuries to Giza show the sphinx’s face complete with a nose.”

   “By the time of Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in the early 19th century, the nose was missing. One possible suggestion is that the face of the sphinx was the victim of target practice by the French army! Some scholars also believe that the sphinx originally had a beard. Pieces of the beard discovered by excavation are in the British Museum in London.”

   “Much controversy has surrounded the Great Sphinx, including whether or not it was actually carved as late as the 4th Dynasty. An accumulating body of evidence, both archaeological and geological, indicates that the Sphinx is far older than this – and was only restored by Khafre duting his reign.”

   Cathal Coyle goes on to add that: “Some  archaeologists have also suggested that it was a memorial to a Pharaoh, but other scholars believe the Sphinx functioned as an astronomical observation device that marked the position of the rising sun on the day of the spring equinox. Later Egyptian rulers worshipped it as an aspect of the sun god, calling it Hors-Em-Akhet or ‘Horus of the Horizon.”

   “What saved the Great Sphinx from complete destruction is the fact that it had been submerged beneath the desert sand for most of its existence.”

   “Between 1816 and 1858, a series of adventurers, including Giovanni Caviglia and Gaston Maspero, attempted to clear the sand from around the body of the Sphinx but were each forced to abandon the project due to the enormous amount of sand. Finally, between 1925 and 1936, the French engineer Emil Baraize was successful in clearing the sand to reveal the base of the Sphinx.”

   “Repairs to the Sphinx have been made over the centuries by the Pharaohs Tuthmosis IV and Ramesses II, and also during the Roman era. In the 1980’s, during a six-year period, more than 2000 limestone blocks were added to the body of the Sphinx and various chemicals were injected in the hopes of preventing the deterioration. This treatment was not successful and sadly contributed to further deterioration. The Great Sphinx at Giza continues to deteriorate because of the humidity and the ever-increasing smog from nearby Cairo.”

   Author Cathal Coyle concludes his article by saying that: “The focus appears to be on preservation rather than further explorations; but towards the end of 2010 during routine excavation work in the area of the monument, Egyptian archaeologists discovered large sections of mudbrick walls which were part of a larger wall which stretched for 132 metres around the Great Sphinx.”

Sources:

Coyle, Cathal., Famous Landmarks, Ireland’s Own, (various dates), Wexford, Ireland.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Sphinx_of_Giza

 

 


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The Old Frontier (Hadrian’s Wall), Scottish Borders, United Kingdom

A section of Hadrian's Wall (photo by Moldovian1 for Wikipedia)

A section of Hadrian’s Wall (photo by Moldovian1 for Wikipedia)

In the Autumn 2008 edition of the magazine ‘Beautiful Britain’ there is an excellent article by the author Jock McKinnon called ‘The Old Frontier’. In this article the author tours Hadrian’s Wall, the ancient Roman frontier that stretches from the Tyne in the east to the Solway Firth in the west, a distance of 80 Roman miles (73 normal British miles!), and he uncovers the history behind the Roman wall and its stones. Here I have “quoted” in full the article which appears in the magazine. Hadrian’s Wall (Latin: Vallum Aelium), also called the Roman Wall, Picts’ Wall, or Vallum Hadriani, was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, according to Wikipedia.

   “Standing on the stretch of Hadrian’s Wall west of the remains of Housteads Roman fort, it is still possible to imagine a Roman sentry shivering in the cold. Squinting into the distant landscape, he must have wondered what on earth he was doing in such a ‘gods-forsaken’ place, so far from the centre of his ‘civilized’ world. It is an image that has been handed down to British schoolchildren for generations. But who really were the people who built and guarded the Wall? And why was it built? The answers, if they exist at all, lie buried in ancient records as well as in the stones and soil around the Wall.”

   “The story begins with just one line of Hadrian’s biography, which describes the Emperor as ‘the first to build a wall, 80 [Roman] miles long, to separate the Romans from the barbarians’. In 117 AD, Hadrian succeeded the Emperor Trajan, whose conquests had stretched the Roman empire to its furthest reaches, from Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in the south-east to Scotland in the north-west. It was clear to Hadrian, however, that the empire had just reached its limits. With military resources and communications stretched to their maximum, Hadrian decided to consolidate Roman hegemony by withdrawing wherever necessary to manageable borders. He knew it was more important to be able to control what the empire had conquered rather than attempt to stretch its frontiers further. And so he began a tour of the empire, including Britain, to see the problems for himself.”

McKinnon goes on to say: “Although much of Britain had been subjugated, and revolts by local tribes – such as Boudicca’s – had been brutally put down, it was clear that there was still trouble ‘up north’ caused by ‘insurgents’, to use a modern term, from the northern tribes. Although we do not know the nature of such warfare – no detailed accounts of the fighting exist – we do know that the building of the Wall began immediately after, or even during, Hadrian’s visit to the province, from 122 AD onwards.”

Section of Hadrian's Wall (photo by Velela - for Wikipedia)

Section of Hadrian’s Wall (photo by Velela – for Wikipedia)

    “Stretching 73 miles from Wallsend on the Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west, the Wall and its forts were built from locally quarried stone and made good use of natural features such as Whin Sill, a lengthy rocky outcrop forming a north-facing cliff. A long line of forts also stretched west, down the coast of Cumbria. Wall inscriptions show that construction was mostly undertaken by troops from three legions, one of which – the Six Victrix – had come to Britain with Hadrian himself. The construction project may well have served the additional purposes of keeping the troops occupied and boosting competition and morale, as well as indicating to the locals that the Romans were deadly serious about imposing their will on the region.”

   “Conceived as a wall up to 15 ft high and 10ft thick, with a forward ditch to make attack more difficult, the design was changed before completion, with later sections adopting a much thinner width, in places only 7ft thick. It is not known why there was this change of plan; perhaps it was to make more efficient use of the materials, or simply to speed up construction. Either way, it suggests that the need for the barrier was pressing. Indeed, it is believed that territory to the south of the Wall was just as troublesome at the time.”

  “The Wall was therefore more than a defensive barrier to keep out northern raiders. In certain spots along the route of the Wall, such as at Heddon alongside the B6318, you can still make out large earthworks. Known as the ‘vallum’, these works consisted of a flat-bottomed ditch south of the Wall, about 20ft wide and deep, flanked on either side by mounds 20ft wide and 10ft high. The vallum often diverts around the forts, showing that it was built around the same time. Crossings were built opposite the forts, through the ramparts and across the ditch, with a gate. This indicates that the system of earthworks was used to control the flow of traffic through the Wall.  So it seems that another purpose of the Wall was quite literally to divide and rule, and to control the cross-country movement of people and goods.”

The author asks: “So what do we know about the soldiers who manned the Wall? From inscriptions on the Wall and at nearby forts, it is clear that, although the legions – which consisted of men with Roman citizenship – helped with the construction of the Wall, and fought in the area, often manning forts to the north and south of the Wall, they did not form its main garrison. This was the job of auxiliaries – infantry and cavalry units of non-citizens recruited from all around the Roman empire. Amongst the remains of the fort at Chesters is a stone reused as a step on which in inscribed the name of the First Cohort of Dalmations, infantrymen originally from the region which is now Croatia. Other inscriptions record the presence of troop units from France and Germany.”

   “Chesters is a good place to begin to take in the skill of the military engineers. Because of the layout of the site, the fort is difficult to imagine, but the bath-house, with walls still reaching up to 10ft high, and the monumental foundations of the bridge that carried the Wall and traffic across the Tyne, are impressive. Also worth a visit is the small museum, which contains many of the most important inscriptions found along the Wall.”

   “Chesters was one of a series of large forts that were constructed every six to eight miles along the Wall, sometimes after its construction, to house troops. These were in addition to the much smaller milecastles, which were built  into the south side of the Wall once every Roman mile, and turrets. The purpose of the turrets and milecastles was to provide look-outs and to aid communication from fort to fort.”

   “Housesteads was another large fort and its remains are imposing even today. It occupies a commanding position, on a south-facing slope, with its north side abutting the Wall and overlooking Whin Sill. Here it is possible to see the remains of gates, granaries, a headquarters building and the commanding officer’s house.”

Hadrian's Wall from Housesteads Fort (photo by Jamesflomonosoff - for Wikipedia)

Hadrian’s Wall from Housesteads Fort (photo by Jamesflomonosoff – for Wikipedia)

   “There are still also visible remains of cultivation terraces outside the walls of Housesteads, and excavations have revealed the streets, workshops and shops that clustered around the forts of Chesters and Vindolanda. Local tradesmen would have supplied the armed forces and the expanding local civilian economy that would have gravitated towards the troops and military to serve their various needs.”

   “Amongst the most remarkable finds from Hadrian’s Wall are the famous tablets of Vindolanda. Painstaking archeology has pieced together fragments of military records and personal letters which were inscribed on the wooden tablets at the fort and then discarded, left to decay in wet, clay soil. Fortunately for us, they were miraculously preserved by the anaerobic conditions, and the retrieved texts now provide tantalizing glimpses of the everyday.”

The author, Jock McKinnon, in his article makes mention of the other Roman frontier, the Antonine Wall, about 100 miles to the north. He says of this: “Another frontier, this time of earth banks, ditches and wooden palisades, was built about 100 miles further north 20 years later, during the reign of the Emperor Antoninus. The purpose of this second barrier may have been to create a controllable ‘neutral zone’ to Hadrian’s Wall further south, indicating that there was still a threat from unrest, but it would have doubled the military forces needed to patrol both frontiers and the region and it was abandoned by about 170 AD.”

   “Hadrian’s Wall itself was finally abandoned much later, not until the late fourth century, although finds at Birdoswald fort show that it continued to be used by a community, probably as a defensive enclosure, into the fifth or six centuries, long after the Romans and Hadrian had become a distant memory. Subsequently, much of the stonework was dismantled and reused for building work, and it’s only the remote stretches of the Wall and forts that can be seen today.”

   “It is sobering today to stand on the Wall, where that imagined soldier once stood, knowing that although it was obviously important at the time to emperors, their troops and local people – whether they supported it, hated it, or earned money as a result of it – it really matters little now whether the Wall was successful or not. All the time, money and manpower spent to quell a distant province proved fruitless. Except, that is,  for what the Wall can still tell us about our distant past.”

Sources:

McKinnon, Jock., The Old Frontier, Beautiful Britain, Vol 3 Number 3 Autumn 2008, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, 2008.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian’s_Wall

http://www.hadrians-wall.org

 

 

 

 


Kilmalkedar Monastic Site, Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry, Southern Ireland

Kilmalkedar Church, Co Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kilmalkedar Church, Co Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Irish grid reference: Q 4030 0620. Just off the R559 Cois Farraige (or the Carrig) road to the east of Murreagh on the Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry, stands the 7th century Kilmalkedar Monastic Site, also known as Cill Malcheadair. Here we find a small 12th century roofless Romanesque church, a rare Dark Age sundial, an Ogham and Latin inscribed stone and some cross-inscribed slabs, one of which is called ‘the Alphabet Stone’ and, there are some pre-Christian holed ‘balaun’ stones, holy wells and early medieval grave-markers – in what is a ‘very’ beautiful and holy setting in the far south-west of County Kerry, some 5 miles north-west of Dingle on the R559 road.

The first church and a monastery, were established here at Kilmalkedar in c 600 AD by St Maolcethair (Maolcedar), the son of an Irish king (of Ulster). A building called ‘St Brendan’s House’, actually an oratory, can also be found here and, close by the pilgrims’ road (Cosan na Naomh) leads on to Mount Brandon from where St Brendan departed for foreign lands in the mid 6th century. About 1 mile to the south-west of Kilmalkedar is the famous boat-shaped building known as ‘the Gallarus Oratory’, which dates maybe from the 8th century. The Celtic monastery of Kilmalkedar is known from history to have been a renowned school of learning during the early medieval period.

The ancient roofless Romanesque chapel dates from the mid-12th century, though there was obviously an earlier religious building on this site, maybe dating back to the Dark Ages when both St Brendan and, later St Maolcethair were in residence here. There are a number of very beautiful architectural features in the church. It consists of a chancel and nave – the chancel measures roughly 6 metres by 5 metres – while the nave is roughly 8 metres by 9 metres. The church is said to resemble the more famous Cormac’s Chapel at Cashel, County Tipperary.

In the excellent article ‘Marking The Passage Of Time’ by Patrick O’Sullivan for the Ireland’s Own magazine we are informed that the church was: “built in the Romanesque style of the twelfth century, typical features being the round headed doorway and the high pitched gables”. But there are a number of other features too including the barrel-vaulting and a lower section of the corbelled stone roof, and some carved window surrounds have survived. The chancel dates from 1200; and the west doorway has a ‘tympanum’ with carved stone head. O’Sullivan in his article goes on to say: “The original roof of the church has long since given way but the East Window, known locally as Cno na Snaithaide, the eye of the needle, still remains. It has long been the tradition for pilgrims to pass through the window nine times, especially at Eastertime, when it was believed that doing so would grant them the promise of eternal life”.

Standing in the chancel is the famous ‘Alphabet Stone’, dating probably from the 6th century AD, which is 4 feet high, but is broken at the top. On its west face the Latin alphabet and an earlier inscription DNI which is probably ‘domini’. The north face has a thin, damaged cross while the south face has an equally thin Latin cross with scrolled ends. And outside in the graveyard a 6 foot high slender Ogham stone with a little round hole at the top. The Latin inscription on this is: ANM MAILE INBIR MACI BROCANN which is translated as: ‘In the name of Mael Unbir, son of Brocan’, and on the opposite side (along the edge) is the Ogham notch inscription reading the same. This stone is thought to date from the 5th or 6th century AD.

Kilmalkedar Sundial Co Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kilmalkedar Sundial Co Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also in the churchyard is a 4 foot high rectangular shaped stone with sundial markings beautifully carved onto it. O’Sullivan says of this: “The beautiful sundial is marked with segments which correspond to the divisions of the monastic day”. He goes on to say: “The northwest face meanwhile is decorated with a cross of arcs, the later now thought to be a symbol of pilgrimage, as it appears on many stones associated with early pilgrimage routes”. And further he says: “While the lines on the Kilmalkedar sundial end in half moons, or semi circles, other examples have lines that end in three pronged forks. There are two decorative fret motifs at the top of the shaft of the Kilmalkedar sundial, everything about it evocative of an age when the pilgrims made their way to the holy mountain. It is the easiest thing in the world to picture some of them stopping by the sundial, telling the time of day from the way in which its face was shadowed by the sun”, he says.

There are a number of interesting early Medieval grave-markers set among the more modern gravestones, these may indicate where monks from the monastery were buried between the 8th-12th century. Also, there are two holy wells – one for St Maolcedir, founder of the monastery here, and the other belongs to St Brendan whose ruined, roofless oratory (St Brendan’s House) stands 50 metres to the north. St Brendan’s holy well is located at the south-east side of his two-roomed oratory.

Also in the churchyard, a hefty and tall slab-cross with a thin (unfinished) cross carved onto it, and a number of early medieval grave-markers in the form of crosses, including a small T-shaped tau cross. These probably mark the graves of the monks who lived at the monastery between the 8th-12th centuries AD.

Some 50 metres to the north, near St Brendans House, there are two pre-Christian balaun stones with several depressions or bowl-like holes in them – though what these were originally used for is uncertain, maybe milk, or some other substance was placed in the holes as a kind of fertility aid, or for healing purposes? During the early Christian period these holes may have been used by missionaries for holy water and, subsequently baptism of the local people. Close by is the pilgrims road (Saint’s Road) which leads from Kilmalkedar to Brandon Mountain from where legend says St Brendan the Navigator sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on his long journey to other lands back in the mid-6th century AD, according to Katharine Scherman in her delightful book ‘The Flowering of Ireland’.

Sources:

Bord, Janet & Colin., Mysterious Britain, Paladin Books, London, 1974.

http://www.irelandtravelkit.com/irish-romanesque-church-kilmalkedar-county-Kerry/

http://irishantiquities.bravehost.com/kerry/kilmalkedar/kilmalkedar.html

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kilmalkedar

O’Sullivan, Patrick., ‘Marking The Passage Of Time’, Ireland’s Own, (Various Dates), Wexford, Ireland.

Scherman, Katharine., The Flowering of Ireland, Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 1981.


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Heston Brake Long Barrow, Portskewett, Monmouthshire, Wales

Heston Brake Puddingstones (Photo credt: Grashoofd - Wikipedia)

Heston Brake Puddingstones (Photo credt: Grashoofd – Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: ST 5052 8867. Located in a field and on the brow of a hill overlooking the Severn Estuary, south Monmouthshire, stands the more than 4,000 year old prehistoric barrow or cairn called Heston Brake Long Barrow, sometimes also referred to as a “chambered tomb”or “dolmen”. The barrow still has nine of its stones positioned (maybe in situ) on top, but has obviously suffered over time from damage caused by vandals digging into it, although in the late 19th century it was excavated by archaeologists. It is located in a field at Black Rock – about half a mile to the north-east of Portskewett, and just 100 metres to the west of Leechpool Lane. This ‘now’ partly destroyed barrow stands (on private land) about 150 metres south of a footpath heading in a westerly direction from Lower Leechpool Farm on Leechpool Lane. The village of Mathern is some 2 miles to the north-east.

Plan of chambered tumulus at Heston Brake by Mary Ellen Bagnall Oakeley (1888)

Plan of chambered tumulus at Heston Brake by Mary Ellen Bagnall Oakeley (1888)

The remains of the barrow’s two inner chambers (internally connected E and W sides) apparently measured 26 feet long by 5 feet across, according to Fred Hando (in the much acclaimed work ‘Hando’s Gwent’); however the middle section of the monument was destroyed in more recent times. However the 9 standing and recumbent pudding-stones on the 1 metre high mound still look very impressive. It would seem that there were originally 13 upright stones here but 4 of these have now gone – probably being robbed-away to the local area for walls. At the east side (the probable entrance to the chamber) an impressive-shaped stone is 5 foot in height and shaped like a knife or axe-head, while beside it a 2 foot high square-shaped stone (called the chopping block) by local author Fred Hando in the work ‘Hando’s Gwent’, where there is a drawing of  ‘Heston Brake Tumulus by moonlight’ on page 159.  So could this ancient monument have been used for sacrificial/ceremonial purposes back in the Neolithic Age?

All the other stones here are somewhere between 1-2 feet in height; but obviously the low mound on which they now stand would originally have been much higher and would have covered the standing stones by several feet. The mound contained two interconnecting chambers for burials – which revealed various antiquities when it was excavated back in 1888, although at this time it became known that, very unfortunately, earlier vandalism and, or robberies had taken place here, according to Chris Barber and John Godfrey Williams in their excellent book ‘The Ancient Stones of Wales’ (1989). The authors also say that: “It is marked as Long Barrow on the Ordnance Survey maps of  1953 and 1981″.

In the work ‘Wales: An Archaeological Guide’ (1978) by Christopher Holder we are told that: “The present condition of the stone structure and the mound of this chambered long barrow is misleading. Excavations in 1888 showed it to consist of a gallery 8 m long by 1.5 m wide, in the E. end of a barrow 18 m long by 9 m wide”. And it would seem, according to Christopher Holder, that in spite of its position by the Severn, virtually in sight of the Cotswolds, “it seems to belong with Gaerllwyd….. to a tradition of more western origin, distinct from that of the Black Mountains and….. Parc Cwm”.

At the excavations of 1888 a number of human bones were dug up from the earliest period and, some pottery sherds from slightly more recent times. The late author Fred Hando in the work ‘Hando’s Gwent’ adds that: “if you would like to feel cold shivers down your spine, choose a moonlit midnight next summer and visit this long barrow alone”. Okay, thanks Fred, will do that next time!

The late and renowned author Roy Palmer in his epic tome ‘The Folklore of (Old) Monmouthshire’ speculates as to Heston Brake, among a couple of other sites nearby, being the place where the British (Celtic) chieftain Caractacus or Caradoc lived for a time with the ancient Silures tribe in the early part of the 1st century AD, but eventually he went to Rome and died there after being pardoned by the emperor Claudius – sometime after 51 AD.

Sources:

Barber, Chris & Williams, John Godfrey., The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1989.

Hando, Fred., Hando’s Gwent, (Ed. by Chris Barber), Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1987.

Holder, Christopher., Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber & Faber, London, 1978.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portskewett

Palmer, Roy., The Folklore of (Old) Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Almeley, Herefordshire, 1998.

Plan of Heston Brake chambered tumulus, Monmouthshire, by Mary Ellen Bagnall Oakeley, 1888, can be found in Volume 2 ‘Proceedings of The Clifton Antiquarian Club’.

 


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Mary Hoyle Well, Hyndburn Moor, Lancashire

May Road Well, Hyndburn (Photo Credit: Peter Worrell - Geograph)

May Road Well, Hyndburn (Photo Credit: Peter Worrell – Geograph)

Os grid reference: approx. SD 792 283. On Hyndburn Moor between Huncoat and Dunnockshaw, Lancashire, is the now rather forgotten Mary Hoyle Well, a natural spring and former healing well named for St Mary the Virgin. It is also called ‘May Road Well’ on the Ordnance Survey map and ‘May Hole Well’ and, perhaps more locally ‘Mere Royde Well’. Today there is not much to see, apart from a thick stone-slab which has an inscription carved onto it that by all accounts is probably a recent addition. In the past pilgrimages and fairs took place here, usually on the first Sunday of May, but were also associated with the feast-days of the Blessed Virgin Mary in February, March, May, July and September, which the local Roman Catholic community held in great reverence. The well is located at the south-western side of Hameldon Hill, some 400 metres east of the King’s Highway, an ancient moorland road that links Huncoat with Haslingden; it stands beside a junction of moorland tracks, one of which leads to the east in the direction of Dunnockshaw, Clowbridge, Goodshaw and Loveclough. Mitchell’s Reservoir is just a little to the north-west of the well.

Back in the 17th and 18th centuries the well was visited by pilgrims on the ‘feast-days’ associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary – at which time fairs were “also” held here at the beginning of May but, by the 19th century the fairs had stopped and veneration of the well was in decline. There were numerous reports of healings casused by the well water, which was quite deep down in the ground beneath the slab and was never known to dry up, even in times of drought. At some point in the 1970s the large stone-slab, recorded as being over 90 inches long, 50 inches wide, and 7 inches thick, was badly damaged and cracked in two; today this slab is only half its original size. The faint carved inscription on the stone says ‘Mary Hoyle Well’ and a cross has been carved onto it by some devotee – but these inscriptions are from fairly recent times – again probably the 1970s.

The Accrington author Rowland Joynson in his book ‘Join Joynson’ published in conjunction with ‘Accrington Observer & Times’ tells us quite a bit about Mary Hoyle’s Well. Mr Joynson say that: “The water cannot be seen. It is piped from somewhere down beneath the erstwhile flagstone and emerges somewhere near the dam of Mitchell’s Reservoir. It is reputed never to run dry”. “Certainly around 1957 there was a great drought and much worry about reserves at Mitchell’s, but Mary Hoyle’s kept on trickling”. “There are all sorts of speculations about the origin of the name. It is generally assumed to have been the Mere Royd Well, but many ancient wells are associated with the Virgin, and Mary Hoyle does leave you thinking”. The author also speculates that the well is the original source of the Hynd burn “as the spring rising at the greatest altitude”. At one time, long ago, the well was the ‘most important’ source of the drinking water for the higher part of Accrington, according to Joynson.  It now, apparently, flows underground into the nearby Mitchell’s Reservoir.

Mary Hoyle Well is one of the places included in the book ‘The Holy Wells and Mineral Springs of N.E. Lancashire’ by Clifford Byrne, where he mentions similar customs happening at Calf Hey Well at Cockden, Briercliffe, near Burnley, but there are many other wells and springs dotted about the area, many of them now largerly forgotten. Henry Taylor in his great antiquarian work of 1902‘The Ancient Crosses of Lancashire’ also mentions Mary Hoyle Well.

Sources:

Byrne, Clifford., The Holy Wells and Mineral Springs of N.E. Lancashire, Marsden Antiquarians, Nelson, 1982.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/767569     © Copyright Peter Worrell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Joynson, Rowland., Join Joynson, Clough & Son, Great Harwood, Lancs, England, 1975.

Taylor, Henry., The Ancient Crosses of Lancashire, Richard Gill, Manchester, 1902.


The Mysterious Disappearing Boulders, Moeraki Beach, Otago, South Island, New Zealand

Moeraki Boulders, South Island, New Zealand (Photo credit: Karsten Sperling) (Wikipedia)

Moeraki Boulders, South Island, New Zealand (Photo credit: Karsten Sperling) (Wikipedia)

Latitude: -45.348199. Longitude: 170.827305. Strewn along the Moeraki beach, Koekohe Beach and Shag Point, in the Otago region, at the far south-eastern side of South Island, New Zealand, are many strange oval and spherical-shaped boulders – resembling, perhaps, giant potatoes – indeed the very name ‘Moeraki’ means “potatoes” in the Maori language of New Zealand. There is an interesting legend, to say the least, which attests to this strange curiosity. Many of these boulders are often half submerged in the sand and bed-rock, but when the tide comes in they mysteriously disappear, obviously, (or do they) and, after the tide goes back out they are seen to be not submerged ie ‘completely whole’ or fully uncovered of sand. These large boulders probably date back 60-65 million years. They are located in the south-eastern part of the South Island, in New Zealand, some 35 km (22 miles) south of Oamaru, between Moeraki and Hampden, and 80 km (67 miles) north of Dunedin. Access to the boulders is from highway 1 (Hampden-Palmerston road), just half a mile south of Hampden town, to the Moeraki Boulders Visitor Centre and car-park.

Broken boulder at Moeraki (Photo credit: William M. Connolley for Wikipedia)

Broken boulder at Moeraki (Photo credit: William M. Connolley for Wikipedia)

These curious grey boulders are literally strewn along the beach, often in clusters, and some in smaller groups of two or so. They vary in size but generally they are somewhere between 1 foot 7 inches and 7 foot 2 inches in circumference and in height between 2-8 feet; some are damaged and broken up due to constant erosion from the pounding waves, many others are wonderfully smooth-shaped and ‘naturally patterned’ with unusual circular, diamond and oblong shapes, said to be somewhat similar to ‘the eyes in potatoes’, but with connecting lines. The boulders are made of hardened mud, silt and clay, and they are cemented together with calcite which is often quite weak at the core and hard at the outer rim, which might account for some of the boulders cracking apart! Seamus P. Cahill writing in ‘Ireland’s Own’ magazine says that these “Huge stones appear on the sand at Otago, New Zealand, and then disappear – only to be replaced mysteriously by new ones!”.

In the colourful and informative book ‘The Beauty of New Zealand’ by Errol Brathwaite  we are informed that: “Moeraki Beach is named after the potato which ancient Polynesian voyagers brought with them in their double-hulled, ocean-going canoe. The canoe, so the olden legend goes, capsized near Shag Point, at the end of the beach, and the moeraki potatoes and some gourds which she was carrying were strewn by the tide along the beach, and were later transformed into boulders. Today, these septarian stones lie half buried in sand, a geological oddity, rusty-red or yellow inside, with crystalline cores”.

But we know that in geological terms they date back 60-65 million years and apparently lay on the sea bottom for much of that time, until the sea-levels began to fall some 15 million years ago. But the fact that “they” disappear and then reappear is simply an over-active (vivid) imagination from more recent times. The boulders are now something of a tourist attraction, and visitors (and geologists!) come here from all over the world to see these strange and curious rock formations. The boulders are sometimes called Araiteuru after the legendary Polynesian voyager sailing canoe which was said to have brought them here hundreds of years ago when they were apparently, and with much imagination – large potatoes! It is recorded that the Araiteuru also carried a cargo of calabashes, barracudas and eel baskets, and so I am minded to say that it must have been a very, very large canoe to carry such a large amount of items!

Sources:

Brathwaite, Errol., The Beauty of New Zealand, Golden Press Pty Ltd., Avondale, Auckland, New Zealand, 1982.

Cahill, Seamus P., (Just Imagine), Island’s Own, Wexford, Ireland, (various dates).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moeraki_Boulders

http://www.kuriositas.com/2010/09/mysterious-moeraki-boulders.html

http://www.leeduguid.com.au/blog/new-zealand-south-island/

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