The Journal of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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The Sandbach Crosses, Cheshire

The Ancient Crosses, Sandbach (1886)

The Ancient Crosses, Sandbach (1886)

Os grid reference: SJ 7587 6082. In the cobbled market-place opposite the High Street at Sandbach, Cheshire, and at the back of St Mary’s church – are two tall Anglo-Saxon crosses known as The Sandbach Crosses, said to date from the 8th or 9th century, or maybe even earlier. They are in fact Mercian crosses because this area came under the jurisdiction of that kingdom during the 7th century AD, which was ruled by the pagan King Penda, and his son Paeda, who became a Christian; the crosses being ‘supposedly’ set up to commemorate the conversion to Christianity of Paeda following his business trip to the kingdom of Northumbria where he married a Christian princess called Alchfleda or Ealfleda, daughter of King Oswy. Four northern missionary priests: Adda, Betti, Cedd and Diuma accompanied the newly-married couple back to Mercia, and there the four ‘holy men’ set about spreading ‘the word of God’ in the kingdom of Mercia itself, perhaps even establishing a monastery at Sandbach, according to the Venerable Bede. They appear to have been succesful, especially when Paeda succeeded his father as king of Mercia in 655; Paeda died four years later in 659. The crosses ‘were’ said to have been set-up a few years earlier in 653 AD.

Both crosses were heavily restored after being virtually destroyed by Puritans in 1614 and then suffering the fate of being used as building material in various structures, in a well, and even as paving-stones in the town’s streets. The carved, sculptured stones that formed the two crosses were eventually very hurridly taken away to various places in Cheshire (by some eminent local notaries) – before being brought back and re-erected in the market-place at Sandbach in September 1816.

In the work of the antiquarian Miss E. Egerton ‘The Saxon Crosses – Sandbach, Cheshire – An Illustrated Description And History’, regarding the destruction of the crosses she says that: “Sir John Crewe took several pieces to Utkinton , and set them up as ornaments in his grounds. When he died they were taken to Tarporley, to the Rectory by Mr. Allen, where Mr. Cole, a distinguished Antiquarian, saw them, made drawings of them, and now they are to be seen in British Museum along with his other M.S.S. Later these stones were found to be deposited at Oulton Park, owned by Sir John Egerton. For a number of years the Crosses remained in a state of mutilation, but as Sandbach grew the inhabitants decided to have the Crosses restored and re-erected.”

But the two sculptured crosses, despite being battered about, are still “outstandingly” well-carved with scenes from the bible and notable moments from royal Mercia in the mid-7th century AD. It is thought highly likely that a third small cross once stood beside the two in the market-place, indeed the pieces of carved stone on the ground beneath St Mary’s church-tower, nearby, may have come from that ‘lost’ cross?

The taller of the two high crosses is almost 16 feet (4.8) metres high, while the smaller one is almost 11 feet (3.3) metres high, although they would originally have been taller if they had not lost their cross-heads. The carvings are in varying sized sections (panels) down each face and, although these carvings do not always quite match-up, generally they are pretty good considering what they had been through!

Sandbach Crosses (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Sandbach Crosses (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The taller cross is made-up of eight pieces of stone, some more recent, standing upon a large base and a stepped plinth, decorated with biblical scenes in sections (panels). At the top there is a broken, round-shaped  cross-head, now only a quarter of it remains. The east face is apparently the most interesting, maybe because it deals with Christ’s crucifixion, his baptism, and also “his” transfiguration in early Christian motifs. In the centre Christ on the cross with the two Mary’s at his side, and the emblems of the four evangelists formed by the limbs of his cross, while below that Jesus in the manger, with an angel above and an ox at each side. At the top, just below the head, two mutilated figures and, below that the intruments of the passion – a hamer and pair of pincers. Toward the bottom ‘The Annunciation of the Virgin Mary’ and above her the holy ghost in the form of a dove. Below that a circle with the Virgin Mary, St Elizabeth and St John.

The west face shows Christ’s passion: near the top four figures may be the evangelists, while further down Christ is bound with a cord, with a man in front dragging him (by the cord) towards Pilate. At the centre Simon of Cyrene carries the cross, and in front of him a figure carrying a club, or a lance, and just below the middle the Angel Gabriel visits Zacharias (seated) in the temple; the bottom panel shows two dragons. The north face has ‘The Descent of the Holy Ghost’ with a long-tailing dragon; the other panels going downwards have ten Apostles in two columns, each in his own compartment but on a different level, although ‘seemingly’ able to communicate with his neighbour! And the south face is adorned with interlacing, filigree work, and vine-scrolls, and a number of animals trapped inside the scrolls – representing John the Baptist in the Wilderness.

The smaller cross is largerly a 19th century reconstruction, its broken Maltese-style head may have come from a third small cross. It is made up of many panels in which there are numerous creatures and human figures. The north face depicts Paeda’s journey to the north. At the top two dragons with their tongues interlinked, below that two rows of compartments or rooms with a figure inside (walking), some carrying dagers in their hands. While the south face shows more figures, these ones quite well-carved and clear, in arched compartments and holding staves, while at the bottom two angels are looking upwards.

The Royal House Of Mercia.

The Royal House Of Mercia.

The east face consists of five diamond-shaped compartments. At the top a bull (meaning strength) with its head inclined backwards, while below that a human figure inside the diamond-shape with his hands ‘going’ into his sides, maybe representing King Penda, and above and below the king’s noblemen. In the centre of the cross Alchflaeda, princess of Northumbria, with her two attendants. At the bottom King Paeda of Mercia in a diamond-shape with two noblemen. The west face is damaged at the top, but the lower section is very good. Here we have the conversion to Christianity of Paeda with a dove coming to rest on his shoulder, while below him in arches are his many followers, and at the bottom two angels looking up.

Sources:

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

Burgess, Rodger., Cheshire – Secrets from the Past, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 2000.

Egerton, E, Miss., The Saxon Crosses – Sandbach, Cheshire – An Illustrated Description And History (2nd Edition), Chester, 1934. (Reprinted by: The Rotary Club of Sandbach, December 1986).

English Heritage: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/sandbach-crosses/history-and-research/

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandbach_Crosses

 

 

 


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The Calderstones, Allerton, Merseyside

The Calderstones (Photo Credit: Sue Adair (Geograph)

The Calderstones  (Photo Credit: Sue Adair (Geograph)

Os grid reference: SJ 4052 8757. Inside the palm house of the Calderstones Park Botanical Gardens at Allerton, Merseyside (originally in the county of Lancashire), stand 6 prehistoric megaliths known as The Calderstones, or the Caldwaye Stones, which are said to have come from a burial mound in the Allerton area back in the 1840s, although there is a record of them as far back as 1568 when they were being used as boundary markers and, at that time there were only three of them on view; the other three stones were excavated in the mid-19th century. These stones are thought to have ‘once circled’ the low mound which apparently had a burial chamber, or possibly a passage-grave at its centre. They are of interest, also, because they have carvings (rock-art) on them. The six standing stones, as they have always been referred to, were eventually brought to the Palm House in Calderstones Park, having stood near the entrance on Calderstones road (A562) and, opposite the aptly-named Druids Cross road. Liverpool city centre is 1 mile to the east.

The Calderstones, Allerton (1824)

The Calderstones, Allerton (1824)

The six stones range in height between 3-8 feet and probably date from the Bronze-Age. They are made of a hard sandstone. Of great interest are the carvings on them, there are a number of cup-and-ring marks on each one as well as spirals, and some other carvings that are more uncertain. When the mound at Allerton was excavated clay urns containing cremated bones and other artefacts were found, according to Mr W.A.Herdman in his work ‘A Contribution To The History of The Calder Stones near Liverpool’ (1896), adding credence to the probability that this was a burial chamber or passage-grave, but it could well have been a cairn circle due to the very fact that ‘these’ six megaliths had been discovered here; the stones would have almost certainly surrounded the chamber within the low burial mound (tumulus).

In 1845 the six Calder Stones were re-erected at the entrance to the park, and in 1864 they were examined by Sir James Simpson who declared them to be ‘part of a stone circle'; it was Sir James who identified the cup-marks and spirals and also wrote about them in 1865-7. In 1964 the stones were re-housed inside the Palm House (also called the Harthill Greenhouses), and here they stand as a fitting tribute to the antiquarians who discovered them back in the Victorian age.

Sources:

Photo credit:  Sue Adair (Geograph) © Copyright Sue Adair and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Geograph: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/401915

Fields, Kenneth., Lancashire Magic & Mystery, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1998.

Herdman, W.A., “A Contibution To The History of The Calderstones, near Liverpool”, Proceedings & Transactions of the Liverpool Biological Society, volume 11, 1896.

Simpson, James., “On the cup-cuttings and ring-cuttings on the Calderstones, near Liverpool”, Proceedings & Transactions of the Liverpool Biological Society, Volume 17, 1865.

Please see Paul Bennett’s very interesting, enthusiastic and in-depth site-page on The Northern Antiquarian: http://megalithix.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/calderstones/


Long Stone Of Punchestown, Naas, Co. Kildare, Southern Ireland

Long Stone Of Punchestown.

Long Stone Of Punchestown.

Irish grid reference: N 9171 1656. This very impressive Bronze-Age standing stone known as Long Stone Of Punchestown, or Punchestown Standing Stone, one of the finest examples of its kind, according to ‘Nicholson’s Guide To Ireland,’ stands surrounded by a wooden fence in a field just outside the perifery of Punchestown racecourse, just to the east of Craddockstown road, and south of the town of Naas, in County Kildare. However the monument is not that easy to reach. It is almost certainly the tallest standing stone in Ireland and is similar to some of the standing stones that are to be found in Brittany. In 1931 it fell over but it was re-erected 3 years later and, at the same time a burial cist was found at its base. There are several other standing stones in this area but none of them are as tall as this particular one. The town of Naas is 1 mile to the north, Blessington is 3 miles to the south-east on the R410 road, Kildare is 7 miles to the west on the M7, while the city of Dublin is 5 miles north-east on the N81 and N82 roads.

Today the granite standing stone of Punchestown is only 5.7 metres high (19.6 feet) having originally being a massive 7.1 metres high (23 feet); its circumference at its square-shaped base is 11 feet, but this gradually gets less as the stone tapers away to its shaped-needle point at the top. However beneath the ground the stone is said to be dug in by several feet. In 1931 the stone fell over but was re-erected in 1934 by less than 3 feet because it was considered to be unsafe due to the extra height. Whilst it was being re-erected a cist-type grave was discovered at the base, although no human bones or grave-goods were found. It is said to weigh over 9 tonnes. There are another seven tall standing stones in County Kildare, two of which can each be found respectively:- just along the road at Craddockstown West, and at Furness, near Naas, stands The Forenaghts Great Stone, although neither of these can really rival The Longstone of Punchestown

According to legend, the stone was hurled by the mythical Irish giant Finn MacCumhaill at his wife, who just so happened to be in Punchestown at the time, from the Hill of Allen to the north-east, or from the Hill of Tara, in County Meath, but as was always the case, he missed her! Another legend tells us that a local big-wig Viscount Allen wanted the stone for his mansion garden some 14 miles away, so he had a number oxen made ready and yoked-up for the effort, but they could only pull it out so far, making it lean at a precarious angle; he eventually gave up and left the stone where it had stood for thousands of years. Apparently the Welsh cleric and historian, Gerald of Wales, made mention of the standing stone when he toured southern Ireland in the 12th century.

Sources:

Nicholson – Guide To Ireland, Robert Nicholson Publications Limited, London W1, 1983.

Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide To Ireland, (First Edition), The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London W1X, 1992.

http://www.megalithicireland.com/Punchestown%20Longstone.htm

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=135

 

 

 

 


Drombeg Stone Circle, Glandore, Co. Cork, Southern Ireland

Drombeg Stone Circle, Glandore, Co. Cork (Photo credit: Aaro Koskinen, WIkipedia).

Drombeg Stone Circle, Glandore, Co. Cork (Photo credit: Aaro Koskinen, WIkipedia).

Irish grid reference: W 2468 1185. Drombeg Stone Circle (An Drom Beag) is a very attractive ancient monument set in an equally lovely landscape, close to the south coast of County Cork. Originally known as ‘The Druid’s Altar’, the circle is located on a hillside, just west of Cregg Lane, near the minor road (R597) almost two miles east of Glandore in the townland of Drumbeg, south of Reanascreena. Although a few of the circle’s stones have now disappeared it is still a reasonably well-preserved monument, which is said to date from the Bronze-Age (2,000-3,000 BC). 40 metres to the west there are a couple of hut circles, a causeway, and a prehistoric settlement with a cooking area (fulach Fiadh) that ‘may’ have continued to be in use at least up until the 5th century AD? The winter soltice can be viewed from the Drombeg circle, indeed there is a very good alignment here. Reanascreena is 6 miles due north, Rosscarberry is 4 miles east, and Skibbereen is 10 miles to the west.

The Drombeg circle covers an area of around 9 metres (30 feet) and, there are 13 stones made of a hard sandstone standing in what is an almost perfect circle; originally there were 17 stones. Two of the stones very sadly went missing and so small boulders were placed into their socket holes. The heights of the stones varies ‘roughly’ between 1 foot 6 inches high to just over 7 feet. The two axial (portal stones) at the west-side are a little over 7 foot high, while the recumbant axis stone (the altar) at the southwest side is 6 feet 3 inches long and has two oval-shaped cup-marks, one having a concentric ring surrounding it. This particular stone has a levelled top which is slightly bevelled, making the surface angled down towards the interior of the circle, and is held in place with wedging stones, according to the 2000 edition of the booklet ‘The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry’ by Jack Roberts. From this stone the rays of the setting sun fall at the winter soltice (Eyres & Kerrigan ‘ Ireland – Landmarks, Landscapes & Hidden Treasures’ 2008). Originally there was a burial pit in the centre of the circle, but this is now covered-over with chippings and gravel, just as it was originally. The axial orientation or azimuth of this circle is recorded as being: 228 degrees and near to 225.50 (Roberts ‘The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry’).

An Archaeological excavation by Prof. E.M. Fahy in the late 1950s examined the construction methods of the circle in some detail, but a more interesting find was a burial pit at the centre of the circle. The author Jack Roberts in his work ‘The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry’ says: “A burial pit was found near the centre of the circle which contained a broken pot and some cremated bone. Other burial pits in and around the circle were found to contain strange mixtures of broken stone and pottery all as carefully deposited as the human burial in the circle. These curious burials were found at other circles excavated in the area and it appears to be a characteristic of the rites attached to the circles. The interior of the circle was originally paved with small flat pebbles and appears to have been kept clear of growth for some considerable period after construction and Fahy remarked upon the careful tidiness of the site, a factor which accentuated the sanctity of the site.” There may have been a single standing stone at the centre of the circle, but by the turn of the century this had disappeared.

The author Jack Roberts ‘The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry’  referring to the winter solitice alignment at Drombeg says: “It is possible that a deeply etched mark on the north-side Entrance Stone is the marker for such observations and the stamped earth at the Entrance also contributes to the possibility that this is a position that the observer would have stood to make the annual observations.

40 metres to the west stands an ancient settlement that could date from the Iron-Age, if not earlier, but the most interesting aspect to this site is the classic “cooking place” known as a (filuch fiadh). There are two hut circles that are interconnected, and a stone trough with what would originally have been a well, all being linked together by a stone causeway. Water collected from the well and, also food stuffs including meat, would have been boiled and cooked with heated stones in the trough. The causeway would have enabled the ancient people to come to this site over rough, boggy ground. This cooking area and settlement as we said earlier may have been in use during the Iron-Age and, perhaps up until the more recent Celtic period (the Dark Ages).

Sources:

Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drombeg_stone_circle

Roberts, Jack., The Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry,  Bandia Publishing, Drumfin, Co. Sligo, Ireland, 2000.

Eyres, Kevin & Kerrigan, Michael., Ireland – Landmarks, Landscapes & Hidden Treasures, Flame Tree Publishing, Fulham, London, United Kingdom, 2008.

Reader’s Digest, Illustrated Guide To Ireland, (First Edition), The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1992.


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St Tudclud’s Church, Penmachno, Conwy (Bwrdeistref Sirol), North Wales

The Carausius Stone, Penmachno, Gwynedd

The Carausius Stone, Penmachno, Gwynedd

Os grid reference: SH 7899 5059. In the village of Penmachno, Conwy, stands St Tudclud’s Church, a rather unassuming Victorian building which houses a collection of Romano-British memorial stones. But these stones are now known to be of great historical importance with regard to Wales at the end of Roman occupation (the early 5th century AD). One of these stones recalls Carausius, a young Irishman who migrated to Wales and proclaimed himself emperor of the Celtic west, the other stone is in memory of the cousin of a magistrate, perhaps the first-known person with the title of a court official. The church is located on Llewelyn street, and is dedicated to the little-known Celtic saint, Tudclud, also known as Tyddud. A Roman camp stood close to where the church is – now alas little more than a few grassy earthworks in a field. The village lies 3 miles to the south-west of the A5 road, 4 miles south of the Conwy Valley and Bettws-y-Coed, 8 miles east of Pentrefoelas, and 12 miles north-east of Ffestiniog.

In the church of St Tudclud there are five very interesting inscribed memorial stones which date from the late 5th to early 6th century. In particular two of these stones, one recalling Carausius, and the other in memory of Cantiorix are of very specific historic importance. The Carausius Stone is a flat-shaped grave-cover inscribed in Latin to the memory of CARAUSIUS HICIACIT INHOCCON GERIESLA PIDUM or ‘Here lies Carausius in this heap of stones.’ Also inscribed on this stone are the Greek letters “X” and “P” the first two letters of the word Christ (Christos), which here form a four-rayed cross known as a Chi-Rho monagram. Legend tells us that Carausius, also known as Crair or Caron, was the hero of the Britons during the 3rd century AD. He proclaimed ‘himself’ King and Emperor of the Celtic west, and stood up to the might of the Roman army who, in turn, regarded him as ‘something of an annoyance.’ A church was dedicated to him at Tregaron, Gwynedd, because he was regarded as a saint in this part of the Celtic fringe.

The Cantiorix Stone, Penmachno, Gwynedd

The Cantiorix Stone, Penmachno, Gwynedd

Another interesting stone has a Latin inscription (on both faces) recalling Cantiorix the cousin of Maglos. It reads: CANTIORI HIC IACIT VENEDOTTI CIVES FUIT CONSOBRENAS MAGLI MAGISTRATI or ‘Cantiorix lies here, a citizen of Gwynedd, and cousin of Maglos the magistrate,’ The Magistrate Stone was found at Beddau Gwyr Ardudwy near Ffestiniog. It is thought to be the only known example of a person being linked to that of a court official and almost certainly dates from the 5th century. A third stone has the inscription ORIA HIC IACIT which simply means: ‘Oria lies here,’ while a fourth stone reads: FILI AVITORI INTEMPORE IUSTINI CONSULIS or ‘The son of Avitorus in the time of Justinus the Consul,’ which perhaps relates to a consul of Constantinople in the year 540? A large, square-shaped stone has two letters “L” and “R” carved onto it. A couple of these stones were found in the fabric of the church when it was being rebuilt in 1856, but they may originally have come from the nearby Roman camp. The font is thought to be 12th century.

A sixth gravestone is of the 13th century and commemorates prince Iorwerth ab Owain Gwynedd (Iorwerth Drwyndwn), who died in 1174 and was the eldest son of Owain, King of Gwynedd. And another slightly more recent slab-stone, maybe from the 8th century, has only an inscribed cross upon it. The patron saint of this church is Tudclud, or Tyddud, a 6th century monk who was said to have been the son of Seithenyn, King of Cantref-y-Gwaelod (the Lowland Hundred), the drowned kingdom off the Cardigan coast. Not much is known about him other than he founded a monastery here at Penmachno and was the brother of St Arwystyl, who was a monk at Bangor Fawr, and St Collen of Llangollen. There is a legend that says King Seithenyn was so drunk one night that he forgot to close the sea-gates and, by the morning his kingdom had been completely ‘lost to the sea,’ according to Nigel Pennick in his very interesting book ‘Lost Cities And Sunken Lands’ 1997.

Sources:

Barber, Chris., More Mysterious Wales, Paladin Books, London, 1987.

Gregory, Donald., Country Churchyards In Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Wales, 1991.

Gregory, Donald., Wales – Land Of Mystery And Magic, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Wales, 1999.

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

Pennick, Nigel., Lost Cities And Sunken Lands, (Revised & Updated 2nd Edition), Capall Bann Publishing, Chieveley, Berks, 1997.

The Quest for Arthur’s Britain, edited by Geoffrey Ash, Paladin Books, St Albans, Herts, 1976.

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=16831


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St Winifred’s Well, Woolston, Shropshire

St Winifred's Well at Woolston (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

St Winifred’s Well at Woolston (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: SJ 3225 2435. In the centre of the little village of Woolston, Shropshire, a few miles east of the Welsh border, is St Winifred’s Well, which rather curiously flows out from beneath a wooden building. This cottage was apparently once in use as the local court-house! The well has been a place of pilgrimage since the 12th century when the saint’s relics were rested here on their way to Shrewsbury Abbey, although it has never been as famous as the other St Winifred’s well at Holywell, Flintshire, but like that one this well was also built with the endowments of Lady Margaret Beaufort in the early 1500s. It was said to have had miraculous healing qualities. The place-name Woolston is derived from Walla-ton and Wella-ton with the ‘s’ added later, which both include the well in early reference, and probably meaning ‘well/spring beside a farmstead.’ The Welsh border is 4 miles to the west, Oswestry 4 miles north, and Shrewsbury 9 miles south on the A5 road.

The holy well of St Winifred at Woolston seems to have been a place of pilgrimage and healing since the year 1138 when the saint’s relics were being brought by monks from Gwytherin in north Wales to Shrewsbury abbey where they were placed with those of her uncle, St Beuno. But Woolston seems to have become known due to the number of pilgrims being healed there after the saint’s relics were rested on their journey to Shrewsbury, though the spring was almost certainly there long before that; and so could it have had another dedication before the arrival of St Winifred! The half-timbered building which the well flows from beneath is said to date from the 16th-17th century and may have replaced an earlier chapel, according to Janet & Colin Bord in their book ‘Sacred Waters’ 1985. The authors go on to say: “Through the gate a path soon reaches the well cottage, and the well itself and the pool into which it flows are behind the cottage. The various stone troughs through which the water flows could be dammed up to form bathing pools.

‘Source – The Holy Wells Journal’ Autumn 1994 has some interesting information on this well in its section called ‘The Other St Winifred’s Wells’. It says this is: “a rare example of a well covered by a secular building, in this case a half-timbered cottage originally used as a court-house. The present sixteenth or seventeenth-century building may have succeeded a chapel…. the well itself and the pool into which it flows are seen behind the cottage.” The Journal goes on to say: “that the house replaced a medieval well-chapel is in fact far from certain; and even the patronage of St Winifred is atested only from the early 19th century.” And it says: “Woolston Well, dedicated, according to Hulbert’s History of Salop (1838) to St Winifred. Some have sought to explain this dedication (now locally forgotten) by supposing that the relics of St Winifred may have rested here on their way from Gwytherin in North Wales to Shrewsbury Abbey, in the twelfth century; but it is easily accounted for by the fact that certain small stones spotted with indelible red marks singularly resembling bloodstains are occasionally found in the water, which have obviously led to the former localizing here of the legend of the well which sprang up on the site of St.Winifred’s decapitation.” However, it is now known that these red spots on stones is a type of algae – the very same algae can be seen at Winifred’s other well at Holywell, Flintshire.

The water of the well at Woolston is known to have had the power to heal broken bones and cure bruises and wounds, among other things, much like at Holywell. Of course, most of us know the “Legend” about St Winifred being beheaded by a local chieftain called Caradog at Treffynnon, having refused his advances to her. But she was healed by her uncle, St Beuno, afterwhich she became abbess of a convent at Gwytherin in north Wales. When she died in 650 AD her body was placed inside a church at that place; and in the Middle Ages her feast-day was held on 3rd November.

Sources:

Bord, Janet & Colin., Sacred Waters, Paladin Books, London, 1986.

Hulbert, Charles., The History And Description Of The County of Salop, 1837-8.

Hulse, Tristan-Gray & Fry, Roy., Source – The Holy Wells Journal., Vol 1, Cefn, St Asaph, Autumn 1994.

Spencer, Ray., A Guide to the Saints Of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch Enterprises, Felinfach, Lampeter, 1990.

Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woolston,_north_Shropshire


Brandsbutt Stone, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Brandsbutt Stone near Inverurie.

Brandsbutt Stone near Inverurie.

Os grid reference: NJ 7599 2240. At the north-side of Inverurie town and at the corner of Brankie Road and Garden Terrace stands the Brandsbutt Stone, a Pictish symbol stone that has been lovingly restored. This large rock has a number of ancient symbols and an Ogham inscription on it. Strangely enough it now stands next to a modern housing development, but two large pieces of it were retrieved from a ditch near Brandsbutt farm, while another piece was found in a wall close by. The stone is sign-posted from the A96. Chapel of Garioch, where stands the famous Maiden Stone another Pictish stone, is 4 miles to the north-west on the A96, while the city of Aberdeen is 13 miles south-east in the opposite direction, also on the A96 road. There are several more Pictish stones in Aberdeenshire.

 

Brandsbutt Stone at Inverurie, Scotland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brandsbutt Stone at Inverurie, Scotland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Brandsbutt stone is a class 1 Pictish symbol stone that is 3 foot 6 inches high and over 4 foot wide. It has some interesting carvings on it: a crescent, V-rod, Z-rod and a twisting serpent. There is also an Ogham inscription, a series of notches, recalling IRATADDOARENS which could be simplified as ‘Iratad Doarens….’ with a few notches possibly missing at the end which could be IUS or SIUS? Ogham was the ancient Irish alphabet script widely used in the Celtic west during the 5th-6th centuries, but also used in Scotland at a slightly later date due to the close ties between the two countries. The rock is made of whinestone, much quarried in Scotland, especially in the south.

Thanks to a local man the Brandsbutt Stone has been lovingly restored to what it originally looked like. Two lumps of the stone were rescued in 1899 from a field-dyke dividing two fields and another piece from a wall, a little to the east of Brandsbutt farm, which has now been demolished to make way for the new housing estate (Elizabeth Sutherland ‘The Pictish Guide’). Thankfully, the stone was recognised as being of great historic importance and part of the Pictish kingdom of Scotland which “flourished” during the 8th-9th centuries, but which actually began ‘its life’ as early as the 4th century AD, according to Anthony Jackson in his delightful little book ‘The Pictish Trail’ 1989.

Sources:

Photo Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandsbutt_Stone

Jackson, Anthony., The Pictish Trail, The Orkney Press Ltd., St Ola, Kirkwall, Orkney, 1989.

Sutherland, Elizabeth., The Pictish Guide, Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1997.


Caedmon’s Cross, Whitby, North Yorkshire

Caedmon's Cross at Whitby.

Caedmon’s Cross at Whitby (Front)

Os grid reference: NZ 9009 1126. From Church street it’s a fair-old climb to the top of the precarious flight of 199 steps up to the west side of St Mary’s churchyard, overlooking the river Esk where it meets the north sea; but at the very top we are compensated by the tall monument called Caedmon’s Cross, a late Victorian-style Celtic cross that commemorates the famous 7th century Anglo-Saxon poet, Caedmon. He lived for most of his life at St Hilda’s monastic community of Streonaeshalch (Whitby), the predecessor to the present-day abbey, as a laybrother and herdsman. But Caedmon was to become an outstanding religious poet, and we have St Hilda to thank for that! The cross is richly decorated on all four sides and, although it’s not an ‘ancient’ cross as such – it’s still a remarkably stunning monument. It’s well worth visiting.

Caedmon’s Cross is almost 20 feet high and stands upon a solid stone-base. It was made from a hard type of sandstone quarried close by Hadrian’s Wall; and was set-up in 1898 to commemorate the 7th century poet of Whitby Abbey, founded by the Northumbrian saint, Hilda. The monument is very reminicent of the Bewcastle, Ruthwell and Gosforth Crosses with its panels depicting various Saxon saints, kings and Biblical figures, and there is an inscription recalling Caedmon. On the front side (east face) in 4 panels: Christ in the act of blessing – his feet resting upon a dragon and a swine, King David playing a harp, the abbess Hilda  with her feet on tiny fossilised creatures (ammonites) with a gull by her side, and behind her her five best scholars. Also Caedmon in his stable being inspired to sing his hymn about ‘The Creation’ – below which an inscription: “To the glory of God, and in memory of Caedmon, Father of English sacred song. Fell asleep hard by AD 680.”

Caedmon's Cross, Whitby (East Face)

Caedmon’s Cross, Whitby (Front Face)

On the west face in panels: double vine stems symbolising Christ, loops with 4 scholars of Whitby at the time of Caedmon: Aetla, Bosa, John and Oftgar, below which are carved the first 9 lines of Caedmon’s hymn of Creation. The two sides of the cross show an English rose, birds, animals and an apple tree (Eden). Also, a harp at the foot of The Tree of Life (harmony with Christ). The cross-head is carved on one side with the Agnus Dei and the four Evangelists with their symbols, while the other side has knotwork, bosses, and a dove representing the Holy Ghost.

We know from what Venerable Bede tells us in his ‘Ecclesiastical History Of The English People’ that Caedmon was ignorant, at first, of words and song and, knew nothing much about ‘life and creation’, being teased and mocked by the other monks, but that his life literally changed overnight when he had a wonderful dream in which he was visited by an angel. He was told to compose a hymn about the Creation with our Lord at its ‘very core’. The following morning he rushed to inform abbess Hilda about this dream. Hilda was filled with joy at what she heard and encouraged him to write down what the heavenly angel had revealed. And so the great hymn to ‘God the Creator’ was composed; he even sang it in a angelic voice in front of his fellow monks.

Abbess Hilda invited scholars from the monastery to evaluate Caedmon’s work, and she asked him to take the tonsure of a monk – which he did. But he also set out to write about the Christian Church and compose other religious hymns and poems with the Bible at the heart of each one. Sadly the Creation hymn is Caedmon’s only surviving work and is said to be ‘the oldest recorded Old English poem.’ He is said to have died in the monastery hospice in AD 680 surrounded by his friends after having a premonition of his own death; St Hilda also passed away that year, aged 66. However some accounts claim that Caedmon died in AD 684? The 11th February is St Caedmon’s feast-day. Close by there is a rather battered medieval wayside cross on a circular stepped base.

Sources:

Bede, The Venerable., A History Of The English Church And People, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1982.

Roberts, Andy., Ghosts & Legends of Yorkshire, Jarrold Publishing, Norwich, 1992.

Smith, William., Stories & Tales Of Old Yorkshire., (Ed by Dawn Robinson-Walsh), Printwise Publications, Bury, Lancashire, 1993. (Orig. ed by William Smith in 1883).

http://www.jstor.org/stable/25581386q=2

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%C3%A6dmon

 

 

 


The Crossgates Stone, Seamer, North Yorkshire

The Crossgates Stone near Seamer railway station.

The Crossgates Stone near Seamer railway station.

Os grid Reference: TA 1268 8163. In a grassy area at the top of Station road, Crossgates, Seamer, some 3 miles south-west of Scarborough, stands a solitary glacial erratic boulder that is known to have been deposited by a glacier many thousands of years ago. Local legend says the boulder originated from the Lake District, or did it? The large stone has been a landmark here for many years, but originally it stood a little further down the road, and there may have been other glacial boulders in this area. The village of Seamer is about 1 mile up the road, while Scarborough is 3 miles to the north-east on the B1261 and A165 roads.

The Crossgates Stone at Seamer near Scarborough.

The Crossgates Stone at Seamer near Scarborough.

This large, solitary granite boulder is between 4 and 5 feet in height and double that in girth and is set well into the grassy ground at the top of Station road (at the junction of the B1261 Scarborough road and Station road), but it had originally stood in the yard of Seamer railway station at the bottom of the road where it had resided for some considerable time. In 1947 permission was granted for the boulder to be moved up the road from the old railway station. The information plaque alludes to the fact that the stone was carried here by a glacier moving south-eastwards from Shap in Cumbria at the end of the Ice-Age thousands of years ago, but could it in fact have been carried south from Scotland or maybe Northumbria instead? On the way south it apparently got dislodged in a natural gap in the higher land at either side – the B1261 and A165 roads to Scarborough now run through this naturally-formed gap. So it’s ‘highly probable’ that there were other boulders in this area, though where they are remains something of a mystery.

The Crossgates Stone close-up.

The Crossgates Stone close-up.

The iron information plaque at the front of the stone does not say a great deal about the stone’s history, but in brief it says that:- “A boulder of Shap granite moved to Seamer by a glacier in the Ice Age. It was moved to this site on 3rd December 1947 from Seamer station grounds with the co-operation of The British Railways Board and Dowsett Ltd.”

                                                               

 


Jennet’s Well, Calversyke, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Jennet's Well near Keighley.

Jennet’s Well near Keighley.

Os grid reference SE 0464 4185. Jennet’s Well stands beside a house at the west end of Shann Lane, almost opposite Calversyke reservoir, on Black Hill to the west of Keighley, West Yorkshire. It has variously been called St Jennet’s Well, Jannet’s Well and Jenny’s Well, but as to whom it was originally named for is now lost in the mists of time. Jennet was thought to have been a tutelary Saxon saint who was venerated at Keighley, perhaps at a church that no longer exists, but there is no record of a saint of this name here and so Jennet must be regarded as an obscure or unknown saint. Could it be the word “Jennet” meant something entirely different? Legend says the well at Black Hill stands at a Christianized place, maybe where people in Saxon times could congregate, worship and receive a miraculous cure by the waters of this little holy well, which had become a Christianized spring because a holy person had dwelt there; the spring then having the power to cure illnesses. The town of Keighley is about 1 mile away to the south-east and Braithwaite village roughly half a mile in the same direction.

Close-up of Jennet's Well.

Close-up of Jennet’s Well.

The spring of water flows out from a stone structure and into a square-shaped stone basin that looks to have some faint carvings on it which resemble those from the late Anglo Saxon period; it then runs along a stone gulley, afterwhich it apparently runs under the lane and then on into the Calversyke reservoir, close by. It obviously pre-dates the house by many hundreds of years, but may originally have been used as a source of water by the occupants and others close-by – indeed there are a few records saying the well used to supply the town of Keighley when it was brought to peoples’ homes in stone troughs from the never-failing spring at the west side of the town, according to Stephen Whatley’s ‘England’s Gazetteer’ of 1750. Local folklore says the well was the haunt of the fairy folk in times gone-by. If you are going to look at the well or take photos there [please respect the privacy of the occupants of the house]. There are two other holy wells in this area: True Well and Goff Well.

Sources:

Dewhirst, Ian., A History of Keighley, Keighley Corporation, 1974.

Many thanks to the The Northern Antiquarian:  http://megalithix.wordpress.com/2008/12/29/jennets-well-keighley/

The Megalithic Portal:  http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=26416

Whatley, Stephen., England’s Gazetteer,  J & P Knapton, London, 1750.


The Oxenhope Cross, Oxenhope, West Yorkshire

The Oxenhope Cross, West Yorkshire.

The Oxenhope Cross, West Yorkshire.

Os grid reference: SE0311 3521. Built into a wall near the top of Cross Lane close to the C of E primary school at Oxenhope, West Yorkshire, is an old stone waymaker known locally as The Oxenhope Cross, because it is built in the form of a cross. However, next- to-nothing is known about its history, apart from the odd “snippet” of information saying that it was placed here so that people ‘of a Christian persuasion’ might congregate by it before any church was built for them to pray in. But did this old cross originate here, or did it come from somewhere close-by? And how old is the cross? The answer to these questions is, we just don’t know. Haworth is 4 miles to the north via Stanbury, beyond which is the town of Keighley, and Denholme is 6 miles east on the B6141.

Oxenhope Cross Drawing.

Oxenhope Cross Drawing.

The gritstone cross is very easy to miss as it blends in well with the rest of the wall. It is formed from small, medium and large square-shaped stones, and although it is quite crude it is very effective as a cross. It would seem that the stones forming this cross were chosen carefully and then shaped in the form of a Christian cross, though without any carvings. It is about three foot high. The cross-shaft looks as if it has been broken at some point in the past, before it was set into the wall.

The Oxenhope Cross from a different angle.

The Oxenhope Cross from a different angle.

Here people would congregate and pray before any church in Oxenhope had been built [ie 1836]. This waymarker acted as a sort of signpost for people who had walked as far as Haworth to worship in a church. At the north-west side of the village is the area called Cross Fields, could this be where the cross originally stood, before it was built into the wall on Cross Lane – we may never know. The first record of the cross comes from the early 1830s, but there is nothing known about its age, or history, though it could be a 17th or 18th century waymarker, of which they are several on the moors around here, some having carved inscriptions and crosses, but then again that’s just conjecture.

Source:

http://www.thesunflowertrust.org.uk/OxenhopeVillage/history/snippet.htm


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Bainbridge Roman Fort, North Yorkshire

Bainbridge Roman Fort (Photo Credit Gordon Hatton)

Bainbridge Roman Fort (Photo Credit Gordon Hatton)

Os grid reference: SD9383 9013. The very well-defined almost square-shaped earthworks of Bainbridge Roman Fort, lie just a little to the east of the village on the opposite side of the river Bain at a place called Brough – hence the name Brough-by-Bainbridge. The Romans called this fort Virosidvm – ‘the settlement of true men’, or was it perhaps Bracchivm? Thought to have been built in the Late Flavian period – the late 1st or early 2nd century AD and abandoned by the late 4th century, it has a single ditch surrounding the north, east and south sides, leaving this northern military outpost in a resonably well-preserved state of preservation. An earth and stone platform has survived at the south-east side, has have a few Latin inscribed stones and a substantial amount of metalworking debris which now reside in a couple of museums. The north Yorkshire town of Hawes lies 3 miles to the west on the A684 and Aysgarth in the opposite direction is 6 miles, in what is a very beautiful part of The Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The fort of Brough-by-Bainbridge lies on a low, round-shaped hill and measures roughly 99 metres by 80 metres (324 by 262 feet), an area of 1.06 hectares (over 2 acres), so quite a small Roman fort. Hardly anything survives of the inner structure ie annexe, military and living-quarters, or for that matter any associated stonework, though a 3 metre high earth and stone platform is still clearly visible outside the rampart’s SE side. The ramparts are in a good condition on three sides N, E, and S – at the west side 5 irregular spaced ditches survive, while at the north there are maybe 3 irregular ditches? And there were four gateways in the centre of each rampart. Almost certainly an ‘undefended’ civilian settlement (vicus) was established outside the fort in the 3rd century and, there may have been a regular market associated with this settlement, something that we still have in our towns today, according to Arthur Raistrick in ‘The Pennine Dales’, 1972. However there are no signs of the civilian settlement, at least not on the ground!

The fort was occupied by legions between the early 2nd and the late 4th centuries; we know this from three Latin inscribed building and military-type stones found here that rebuilding took place after it was burnt to the ground in the early 3rd century AD – the rebuilding being carried out by the VI cohort of Nervi or Cohors Sextae Nerviorum. An earlier 2nd century timber fort was replaced by one made of stone, something that happened at many Roman forts in Brittannia. Archaeological excavations took place between 1925-26, 1928-29, 1950-53 and 1956-69 when 3 stones with Latin inscriptions were discovered along with a stone bearing a crudely carved mermaid and, also substantial amounts of metalworking material and ingot moulds. It is said there are Roman stones built into a number of cottages and farm buildings in and around Bainbridge.

Roman Road at Bainbridge (Photo Credit Tom Holland)

Roman Road at Bainbridge (Photo Credit Tom Holland)

A resonably well-preserved Roman road which is known to walkers as ‘Cam High Road’ runs south-west from Bainbridge over Dodd Fell and on towards Bentham, Ribblehead and Chapel-le-dale, probably connecting up with the Roman road running south from Calacvm (Barrow-in-Lonsdale) to Ribchester (Bremetennacvm). The nearest fort to Bainbridge (Brough-by-Bainbridge) is Wensley 12 miles to the east, though no Roman road connects to it.

 

Sources:

Photo Geograph:  © Copyright Gordon Hatton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/930341

Photo Geograph:  © Copyright Tom Howard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3289178

Raistrick, Arthur., The Pennine Dales, Arrow Books Ltd., London W1, 1972.

Scott, Harry J., Yorkshire, Robert Hale Limited, London EC1, 1977.

Bedoyere, Guy de la., The Finds Of Roman Britain, B.T. Batsford Ltd., London W1H, 1989.

http://services.english-heritage.org.uk/ResearchReportsPdfs/016_2009WEB.pdf

http://roman-britain.org/epigraphy/rib_north_england.htm#broughbb

http://thedales.org.uk/the-roman-fort-at-bainbridge/


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The Blacko Cross, Blacko, Lancashire

The Blacko Cross, Lancashire.

The Blacko Cross, Lancashire.

Os grid reference: SD8552 4194. This largerly forgotten cross or milestone known as The Blacko Cross, is now built into a drystone wall 110 metres to the east of the A682 (Gisburn road), Blacko, Lancashire, at the south-west side of Blacko Hill, a round-shaped hill upon which stands Stansfield Tower, a 30 foot high folly built in 1890 by a local grocer of the same name who ‘had hoped’ to be able to see the Ribble Valley several miles to the west from his folly tower. Blacko Hill is quite ancient, indeed a Bronze-Age axe from 1,500 BC was dug-up near the tower in 1952, and there is an ancient dyke “Black Dyke” running down the side of the hill with drystone walls built over it. There are also a number of ditches, pits and quarrying holes around the hill which is an indication of the history of the hill over the past few hundred years or so. The place-name Blacko simply means ‘Black Hill’. The village of Barrowford is about 1 mile down the road, and the towns of Nelson and Colne a few miles beyond that. Just a little to the north-west is the area called Admergill.

Drawing by Bert Hindle.

Drawing by Bert Hindle.

Sadly, this so-called cross is now just a crude shaft or stump, and its Maltese-style cross has worn away completely. It originally had stood at the side of the old turnpike road, now the A682, between Blacko Bar road and Wheathead lane close to a well, at which time it was in use as a milestone for what was the Kings Highway, with the place-name “Blacko” carved just beneath the cross. The road links both Gisburn and Clitheroe just has it has done for several hundred years. It is, however, still possible to see where the stone pillar was crudely carved at the top, although even this ‘elegibility’ is slowly being worn away by time and the forces of nature. The shaft seems to have been broken near the bottom and at the side, and then rather poorly restored, which has perhaps added to the demise of this ancient monument. Today, it is around 4 feet 6 inches high, 1 foot in depth, 8 inches wide in the middle and 5 inches wide at the top where it tapers away. There is great uncertainty about its age, but it is ‘probably’ late medieval, or more recent maybe 17th century.

The Blacko Cross, Lancashire.

The Blacko Cross, Lancashire.

In the 2006 epic book ‘The Valley of the Drawn Sword’ by local author and archaeologist John A Clayton the history and topography of Blacko Hill is discussed at length; and the local authors John Dixon & Bob Mann briefly mention this cross in their excellent book ‘Historic Walks Around The Pendle Way, 1990, but next to nothing is known about its “true” history and so we can only make guesses and assumptions as to its age. A very good drawing of Blacko Cross was done by Mr Bert Hindle the local historian some years ago.

Footnote: In the recent book ‘Blacko History And Archaeology’ by John A Clayton the author says the stone set into the wall near Blacko Tower, is in fact, a waymark stone that is contemporary with The Blacko Cross and, therefore not the original, but he says the stone predates the wall that it is set into. So where is the original ‘Blacko Cross?’

Sources:

Clayton, John A., The Valley of the Drawn Sword, Barrowford Press, 2006.

Clayton, John A., Blacko History And Archaeology – The Illustrated Pocket History Series, Number Four, Barrowford Press, 2011.

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

The Northern Antiquarian:  http://northernantiquarian.forumotion.net/t291-the-blacko-cross-milestone#1368


The Dwarfie Stone, Hoy, Orkney Islands

Dwarfie Stone, Hoy (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Dwarfie Stone, Hoy (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: HY 2433 0042. In a rugged and rather windswept glacial valley just north of Dwarfie Hammars Plateau on the island of Hoy, Orkney, is an isolated block of stone called The Dwarfie Stone, or Dwarfie Stane, thought to date back to 3,000 BC and, which is in fact a burial chamber (passage grave) hewn out of a massive sandstone block that has two chambers and an adjacent blocking stone. There are other boulders lower down the slope which may have formed an alignment to the Dwarfie Stone. The island is 19kms (12 miles) in length and 10 kms (6 miles) wide, the highest point being Wards Hill (479 metres) at the north-side. Quoyness settlement is 2 miles east of Dwarfie Stone, and Rackwick settlement 4 miles to the west, while the nearest islands are: Graemsay, north-west side, Farra, Flotta and Cava to the east. Orkney Island is the next biggest island a few miles further to the east.

The Dwarfie Stone is a massive block of Old Red sandstone measuring over 8 metres (28 feet) in length, 13 feet wide and 6 feet high at one end tapering to 2 feet at the other end, which is probably a glacial erratic boulder that has been used by Neolithic people living on the island 5,000 years ago. They may have used it for shelter, but in the main they ‘saw fit’ to carve out the boulder and bury their dead in the ‘sanctuary’ of its rock-hewn chambers. There are two small cells or chambers running off from the short passage-way, the south chamber still bears the toolmarks from the hands of the people who carved it out. Above the passage is a strange opening, like a chimney, that used to link up in some way to the entrance blocking stone, something that looks as if it might have inspired film-makers! The square shaped entrance is 3 foot square with the passage being over 7 feet long to where the two cells have carved-out places for burials that would have been difficult to get into by anyone with an ordinary stature – hence the name, according to J Gunn in his book ‘Orkney The Magnetic North’ 1941.

A roughly-hewn stone, shaped like a stopper at one side, lies in front of the entrance and would have almost certainly acted as a blocking stone, rather than any close-fitting door. This smaller stone measures nearly 2 metres by just over 1 metre. Further down the slopes (10-20 metres) below Dwarfie there are a number of boulders scattered around, one in particular is at HY2437 0038. These are perhaps marker stones or outliers aligned to the rock-cut burial chamber back up the steep hillside. Unfortunately, there is some 18th and 19th century graffiti on the Dwarfie Stone, some of this in Latin and Persian, much of it from the Victorian age. There are are said to be signs of a Neolithic agricultural settlement, dating to 3,500 BC in the nearby Whaness Burn just south of Quoyness settlement, according to the author/photographer Charles Tait in his book ‘the Orkney Guide Book’ 1999.

Sources:

Photo Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwarfie_Stane

Gunn, J., Orkney The Magnetic North, Thomas Nelson And Sons, Ltd., London, 1941.

Tait, Charles., the Orkney Guide Book, Edition 2.1, Charles Tait Photographic, St Ola, Orkney, 1999.

Ancient Monuments Scotland, Vol VI, H.M.S.O., Edinburgh, 1959.

 

 


Gray Hill Stone Circle, Llanfair Discoed, Monmouthshire (Sir Fynwy)

Gray Hill Standing Stone (Photo credit Paul Sheppard/Geograph)

Gray Hill Standing Stone (Photo by Steve Sheppard)

Os grid reference: ST4380 9352. On the southern ridge of Gray Hill* (Mynydd Llwyd) 260 metres (854 feet) above sea-level and overlooking Penhein, Shirenewton, Caerwent and the Bristol Channel, in southern Monmouthshire, stands Gray Hill Stone Circle, a Bronze Age monument said by some historians to be older than Stonehenge! This ancient monument is best reached from Wentwood reservoir, then by ‘climbing up’ the hill and along the eastern ridge, and then dropping down the south-side of the hill to where there are some ancient quarry workings and, just below stands the circle of stones, quite a few of which now lie recumbant. There is another single standing stone over on the north-west side of the hill and another stone to the east on Mynydd Alltir-Fach (also known as Money Turvey Hill) which is aligned with Gray Hill Stone Circle. Llanfair Discoed is 1 mile to the south of the hill, Penhein is 2 miles to the south and the Roman town of Caerwent is 2 miles south-east. Caldicot is about 3 miles to the south-east. [*Gray Hill can also be spelt as 'Grey Hill'].

Two Standing Stones on Gray Hill (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Two Standing Stones on Gray Hill (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

There are at least 13 stones ranging in height/length between 1.5 and 2.3 metres in a resonably well-defined (albeit broken) circle that is 32 feet (9.8 metres) in diameter, but there are also a few outliers; the stones are ‘said’ to have come from the quarries back up the hill. The circle is broken, miss-shapen at the west and east sides, the stones from these sides having been robbed-away in the mid 19th century. Only two of the thirteen stones are now standing, these are at the north and north-east of the circle, while a third stone has fallen over; one outer stone is still up-right, while another is recumbant. The outer up-right stone may well line-up with the Midwinter sunrise; the north-east stone and the fallen inner stone could also line-up with the Midwinter sunset. The two standing menhirs, which may be part of the cove, are rather jagged and ridged on their tops, one being quite tall, the one other small, but all the stones here are very sturdy and very substantial. It would have been quite a sight when they were all standing in the circle. A sort of ‘processional way’ to the second (outer) standing stone and barrow cemetary are evident at the east side of the circle, according to authors George Children & George Nash in their work ‘Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire’ 1996. Aubrey Burl described the monument as a cairn circle in 1977. So, with that in mind it’s plausable to say that there may have been a burial in the centre of the circle.

Fred Hando in ‘Hando’s Gwent’ 1987 seems quite passionate about the monument and informs us about his own theory regarding the circle and says: “when the ancient observers saw their stones in line with these horizon sunrises and sunsets they were able to advise their agricultural tribesmen what the seasons were. Such knowledge was power!”

Authors George Children & George Nash in their work ‘Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire’ mention that there is a ‘second possible stone circle’ to the west on Garn Wen at SO2803 2553 which is over 500 metres above sea-level and overlooks the Afon Honddu Valley and, and they go on to say there is a barrow cemetary at ST4410 9320 and a field system in the area of Gray Hill. Children & Nash say that “Gray Hill is regarded as one of the most important Bronze Age landscapes in the whole of Monmouthshire.”

An amusing end piece to this site is given by the author Chris Barber in his book ‘Mysterious Wales’  1987 in which he says: Historian W.H.Greene, in 1893, claimed to discover not one stone circle, but “acres of them” on Gray Hill. He recalled “that the hill was covered with prehistoric monuments and that the number could be counted in thousands.”

Sources:

Photo Geograph:  Copyright Steve Sheppard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Photo Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_Hill,_Monmouthshire

http://www.ggat.org.uk/cadw/fun_rit/english/stone_circles/sc2.html

Children, George & Nash, George., Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Almeley, Herefordshire, 1996.

Hando, Fred., Hando’s Gwent, ed. Chris Barber, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, 1987.

Barber, Chris., Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London W1X, 1987.

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

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

 

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