The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Leave a comment

Boa Island Statue Stones, Lower Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland

Janus statue on Boa Island, Lower Lough Erne.

Irish Grid Reference: H 0851 6197. On Boa Island near Kesh in Lower Lough Erne, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, there are two curious statue stones with strange, unique carvings probably harking back to pre-history, or more likely the Roman period, and not as some historians once thought, the 5th or 6th century AD. One of the stones is a double-headed carving which suggests it is a depiction of the Roman god Janus, whereas the other smaller stone known as the ‘Lusty Man’ is perhaps a depiction of some other pagan diety from the Iron Age or Celtic period; this particular stone idol originated on the nearby island of Lusty More. The stones are located in the Caldragh Cemetery where there also used to be some ruins of a church. To reach the site from Kesh head (north) on Pettigo Road, then (west) onto Boa Island Road (A47) and over the road bridge linking Boa Island. After a few miles (at the far end of the island) a lane heads (south) to the cemetery (signposted) which is close to some farm buildings. The site itself is on the first of the three small islands all of which are called ‘Boa Island’. 

The two Boa Island statue stones by Jon Sullivan (Wikimedia Commons).

The two ancient statue stones stand together amongst more modern gravestones in Caldragh Cemetery on the island. They are blank-faced in their appearance and have strange, pear or heart-shaped faces, oval eyes, and folded arms along with other decorative carving including pattern-work and interlacing. The smaller statue ‘the Lusty Man’ has only one good eye – the other is not properly carved. This could, in fact, be a female diety. It is 2½ feet high, while the other is just under 4 feet high and both are of local sandstone. However, the damaged and broken bases they stand on seem to be unrelated to the actual statues even though they have similar carvings. The double-headed Janus-type statue is bilateral (male and female). So could this female figure perhaps be a representation of the Celtic goddess Babhbha (Badh or Badb), who has given her name to Boa Island (Inis Badhbha). The Janus stone has a shallow depression at the top and a phallic symbol. Many scholars are now of the opinion that they date from the Iron Age.

Ireland — The Rough Guide (1999) offers some excellent information on Boa Island, saying that: “One of the most evocative of the carvings of Lough Erne is the double-faced Janus figure of Boa Island, at the northern end of the Lower Lough — barely an island at all these days, as it’s connected to the mainland by bridges. The place to look out for is Caldragh cemetery, signposted off the A47, about a mile west of Lusty Beg Island. Follow the signs down a lane and the graveyard is through a gate to your left.”

The Rough Guide (1999) tells us more about: “This ancient Christian burial ground of broken moss-covered tombstones, shaded by low, encircling hazel trees, has an almost druidic settting. Here you’ll find the Janus figure, an idol of yellow stone with very bold symmetrical features. It has the phallus on one side, and a belt and crossed limbs on the other. The figure was probably an invocation of fertility and a depiction of a god-hero — the belt being a reference to the bearing of weapons. Alongside it stands the smaller “Lusty Man”, so called since it was moved here from nearby Lustymore Island. This idol has only one eye fully carved, which may be to indicate blindness — Cuchulainn had a number of encounters with war goddesses, divine hags described as blind in the left eye.”

Nicholson Guide To Ireland (1983) says about the island that: “On Boa the visitor will find two stone idols. They have triangular shaped heads, are two-faced like Janus, and gaze out of the ferns. Thought to be 7C, they represent some enigmatic pagan cult. There are seven equally mysterious statues on White Island.” The Nicholson Guide also tells us: “Caldragh cemetery….. one of the oldest in Ireland…… is the home of two strange stone figures, probably 1st C.”

Janet & Colin Bord (1984) say of the site that: “This strange figure (they show a photo page 47) sits back-to-back with another. The stone is 2½ feet high, and has a socket on top, and in this and other respects has certain similarities to the figures found on nearby White Island. This ‘pagan Celtic god’, as the figure has been described, resides in the ancient graveyard of Caldragh on a small island in Lower Lough Erne. Some Gaulish figures bear the same sort of carving, and our mysterious ‘god’ is thought to date from pre-Christian times.”

John Sharkey (1981) says that: “The perception of the Celtic mysteries too k shape on the flux of a facing-both-ways state: in twilight, in the dew, with the sacred mistletoe. The duality of I and Thou, or One and Another, resolves itself within the visible world of nature and the invisible realm of the dream. Here the Celtic Janus lives on, in a stone figure which sits back-to-back with its double in a remote Irish Christian graveyard.”

John & Caitlin Matthews (1988) tell of Badb – the triple Goddess as: “The Crow — an aspect of the Marrighan. She confronted Cuchulainn on his way to the last battle as a Washer at the Ford. She likewise appeared as a harbinger of death to King Cormac.” 

Sources and related websites:-

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

Matthews, John & Caitlin, The Aquarian Guide To — British And Irish Mythology, The Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, Northants, 1988.

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

Sharkey, John, Celtic Mysteries — The Ancient Religion, Thames And Hudson, London, 1981.

The Rough Guide, Ireland, (Fifth Edition), Rough Guides Ltd., London, 1999.

Photo 2nd down (right) by Jon Sullivan.

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.

Scotlandwell (Holy Well), Perth And Kinross, Central Scotland

Scotlandwell (Holy Well) in Central Scotland.

OS Grid Reference: NO 1847 0161. At the western side of Scotlandwell village in the Portmoak District of Perth & Kinross, Central Scotland, there is an ancient holy well and also a 19th century wash-house. The village is 4 miles west of Glenrothes and 4 miles east of Kinross (across Loch Leven). In the late 1st century AD the Romans came by the well and named it ‘Fons Scotiae’ and in the late 13th century the local friars were using the water in their hospice and, in the early 14th century the well was visited by Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, who took the waters here in the hope of a cure. Later the well was visited by Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87). The well became a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages and continued as such for several centuries thereafter. To reach the site (signposted) head west from Kinross on the A911 (Leslie Road) and go through Scotlandwell village. Where the A911 ends cross over Main Street and walk along the short lane (Little Arnot); the well is on the left at the far end.

Scotlandwell by Euan Nelson  (Geograph).

The ancient curative spring known as Scotlandwell or ‘Fons Scotiae’ (Well of Scotland) at the foot of Bishop Hill (Portmoak Moss) bubbles up from deep underground through the sandy earth and into the stone-built well with its Victorian (Gothick) well-house structure, most of which is a clever reconstruction of 1858, although some of the lumps of stonework at the front of the well predate this and are probably from the earlier Medieval structure. Its healing waters were ‘said’ to be a cure for leprosy and other diseases. The green-painted wood and stone structure at the back with its canopy roof also dates from the mid 19th century. This whole site is now in a fairly well-preserved state thanks to a local community project. A plaque with the date 1858 is carved onto the stone well-head along with the architect’s name and also the benefactors’ names in capital letters. The nearby Wash House, built in 1860, which local people called ‘The Steamie’ and where laundry was washed, was presumably connected to the well’s underground water source, but sadly it has not been in use since the 1960’s. 

In 1250 the Trinitarian Friars (Red Friars) moved into the area and established a hospital or hospice. They used the curative waters from the holy well for patients in their new hospital of St Mary. Nothing much remains of that building on Friar Place today, however, as it was demolished after 1587. The Trinitarian order of friars was founded near Paris in the late 12th century by St John of Matha (d 1213).

Frank Bottomley (1981) tells us more about the Trinitarians: “An order, f. 1198, at Gerfroid in diocese of Meaux, also known as Maturins and Red Friars. They were not Mendicants but an austere order of priests based on the Augustinian rule. Their revenues were divided equally between their own support, charity to poor, especially travelers, and the redemption of prisoners in the hands of the infidel. The houses were usually small, consisting, of a superior (called minister or prior), three priest-brethren and three lay brothers. Sometimes the number was enlarged and the disappearing lay brothers seem to have been replaced by novices in 1267. They were relatively strong in Scotland with eight houses (visible remains at Dunbar and Peebles).” 

Bill Anderton (1991) tells us that: “It is said to be at this holy well that Robert Bruce was cured of leprosy, and records show that Charles II travelled from his Dunfermline Palace to take the waters, while Mary Queen of Scots too visited the well. An inscription above the water fount gives the date 1858, but this refers to the reconstruction. The well, like all Scottish holy places, is very ancient. The waters from the fount can be drunk from a special metal cup which hangs nearby.” Mr Anderton says this site has a ‘power point’. 

Janet & Colin Bord (1986) mention the well at Scotlandwell, saying that: “This elaborate well is in the centre of the village, and its water is said to have cured Robert the Bruce of leprosy.”

They also tell us that: “An example of present-day usage is quoted by Ruth and Frank Morris in their Scottish Healing Wells. In 1978 at the well in the centre of the village of Scotlandwell (Kinross) they met a women, her husband and brother who had travelled 40 miles from Edinburgh to fetch well water. One of the men had cancer and claimed that the water did him good: “If it was good enough for Robert the Bruce, it’s good enough for me,” he declared, referring to the belief that water from the well cured Robert the Bruce of his leprosy.”

The Bord’s add that: “Robert Bruce, King of Scotland (1306-29) suffered from leprosy, and at least three wells were reputedly used by him in his search for a cure. He is said to have been responsible for a well at Prestwick (Ayr) which flowed where he stuck his spear in the sand while resting from his struggles with the English. He stayed for several days, and his leprosy was reputedly cured. He is said to have built a leper hospital for those who could not afford treatment. He also visited the St Lazarus Well at Muswell Hill (London) being granted a free pass by the King of England to do so.”

Sources and related websites:

Anderton, Bill, Ancient Britain, W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd., Slough, Berkshire, 1991. 

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

Bottomley, Frank, The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward, London, 1981. 

The AA, Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, 1963.

Photo (2nd down) by Euan Nelson:

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.

St Columba’s Chapel at Skeabost, Isle Of Skye, Highland Region, Inner Hebrides

Ruined Chapel on St Columba’s Island, Skye, by Gordon Hatton (Geograph)

OS Grid Reference: NG 4177 4852. On the little island of Skeabost in the Snizort river, near Ken-saleyre, Isle of Skye, Highland Region, are the ruins of St Columba’s Chapel, an 11th century building, and there is a cemetery with  interesting 16th century gravestones. Near the ruined chapel is St Columba’s Rock from which the saint is said to have preached. The first chapel here at Eilean Chaluim Chille (St Columba’s Isle) on the Snizort river was founded in the 6th century by St Columba (521-97) whilst visiting Pictish settlements, and probably after founding his famous monastery at Iona (563 AD).  He also founded a chapel at Kilmuir a few miles to the north.  The larger ruined chapel at the eastern side of the island was known as ‘Skeabost Cathedral’. However, St Columba’s Chapel was partly destroyed in the early 16th century after which it fell into ruin – although the graveyard has been restored. The A850 from Portree to Uig runs just southwest of the island, which is  6 miles northwest of Portree. You can take the car ferry from Fort William or Mallaig to Armadale to reach Skye, or by car on the Skye Road Bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin. A footbridge over the river Snizort gives the visitor or pilgrim access to this “holy” island.

There are two medieval chapels on the island, the 11th century chapel at the western side lies in ruins, whereas the other chapel ruin over to the east has a large rectangular enclosure surrounding it; this was probably the old parish church or Cathedral and of a 14th-15th century date? There is a third building at the southeast which was an enclosure.  The ruined chapel of St Columba, with its roughly built walls is now roofless, but its end gables still stand up to 11 feet high, and the building’s inner space measures 16 feet in length and 9 feet in width. The walls in between are 6-7 feet high. Only one window remains; and 13th century carved stonework can be seen higher up in the walls. There might have been a monastery here at some point, but more likely a bishop’s residence; the little island apparently being the seat of ‘the bishops of the Isles’. The larger chapel and its associated buildings in their heyday would have been the size of a small cathedral – hence the name Skeabost Cathedral. We know the first chapel here was established by St Columba (Columcille) after 563 AD, but the chapel that we see today was built either in the late 11th or the early 12th century. Columba was thought to be visiting Pictish settlements on Skye around this time and no doubt on a mission to Christianise them; the saint apparently preached from a large rock near his chapel.

Aerial view of St Columba’s Island by John Allan (Geograph)

Jonathan MacDonald tells us more about the place saying that: “On an island in the Snizort river is an ancient cemetery and site of Saint Columba’s Chapel, which is believed to have been built by Saint Columba during his visit to Skye and to have been the first Christian church on the island followed by the chapel at Eilean a’ Loch in Kilmuir. The biographer Adamson records how Saint Columba saw a vision before arriving in Skye of being greeted by an old man who would ask for baptism and on receiving it would die. The story goes on to tell how the Saint and his monks were met on landing near Skeabost by a group of men carrying an old and feeble man called Artbrannan who had heard of Columba’s message of Christianity and who was determined to be alive until he could meet the saint. Saint Columba duly took water and with the assistance of his monks baptized Artbrannan who, as soon as the sacred water touched his forehead, fell dead at the saint’s feet. His body was soon carried on a bier to the little island on the river and buried there by Columba and his men. It is said that this was the first Christian burial in Skye. Today, through the efforts of local people and organisations the old churchyard where countless local people including many chiefs of the Nicolson clan lie buried has been brought into a presentable appearance thus making it possible for people to visit this sacred and historical spot.”

Norman Newton (1992) tells us about St Columba’s monasticism on offshore islands. He says that: “Many traces of early Christian monasteries survive on our offshore islands, which were established by Columba and his contemporaries, for he was only one of many men who were spreading the Christian message. Undoubtedly, he was the most charismatic of the early English saints and, from the point of view of posterity, the most fortunate, because it was one of his successors at Iona, the abbot Adomnan, whose Life of St Columba, written in the 680s, is distinguished from all the other lives of early saints by its racy style and fascinating detail of the people and places of Columba’s time. Adomnan was supremely skilled in public relations, for he purveyed a heady mixture of fact and the supernatural which is compelling reading even in these skeptical times.”

There are some interesting graves in the ‘now tidy’ churchyard on St Columba’s Isle, but those in St Columba’s Chapel which was put in to use as a Mortuary Chapel, are of the clan chiefs MacNicol (MhicNeacail) or Nicolson, 28 of whom apparently lie here in what has been called ‘The Nicolson’s Aisle’. Most of the graveslabs, some of them having carved effigies, are probably of the 16th century. There are said to be gravestones here that date from earlier times maybe the 11th century? And there are are other clan graves out in the cemetery and in the second ruined chapel although these are probably not of the clan Mac Nicol.

Sources and related websites:

MacDonald, Jonathan, Discovering Skye – A Handbook of the Island’s History and Legend, J. MacDonald, Upper Duntulm, Kilmuir, Skye.

Newton, Norman, The Shell Guide To The Islands Of Britain, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1992.

The AA, Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, 1963.

Photo (top) by Gordon Hatton:

Photo (middle) by John Allan:

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2018.


Tinkinswood Burial Chamber, St Nicholas, South Glamorgan, Wales

Tinkinswood Burial Chamber, Wales. Photo: FruitMonkey, Wikipedia Commons.

OS Grid Reference: ST 0922 7331. In a clearing at the edge of a partly wooded field, just south of the village of St Nicholas, in South Glamorgan, Wales, there is a megalithic monument known as Tinkinswood Burial Chamber or Tinkinswood Chambered Cairn. This ancient monument which dates from the Neolithic Age has a long and quite enormous capstone weighing 40 tons or more, and also an unusually low entrance (portal). It is known by several other names including: Tinkinswood Long Barrow, Tinkinswood Cromlech and, also Castell Careg, Llech-y-Filliast, Maes-y-Filiast and Gwal-y-Filiast, to name but a few. It is sometimes also called a dolmen. The stones that lie scattered around close to the monument are, according to legend, some local women who had danced around the burial chamber on the Sabbath day and were turned to stone! You can reach the monument on a footpath running south towards Duffryn House for about ¾ of a mile from Duffryn Lane in St Nicholas (Sain Nicolas).

Christopher Houlder (1978) tells us that: “John Ward’s excavations here in 1914 were outstanding for their time, and the careful restoration does justice to the importance of the monument. The enormous capstone, estimated to weigh 40 tons, was locally quarried along with its supporting slabs, to form a simple end chamber in a dry-walled cairn of the typical Severn–Cotswold wedge-shaped form. The back of the funnel-shaped forecourt was walled to the chamber roof, leaving only a low entrance gap at one corner. At least 50 individuals were represented by the mass of bones recovered, along with several fragments of plain pottery and Beaker ware. A slab-lined pit in the body of the mound was not part of the original layout, but internal lines of upright stones are either ritual in purpose, or a practical demarcation of family shares in the building of a communal tomb.

“Settlements of the Neolithic period are usually found only by chance, as happened when a Bronze Age cairn was com-pletely excavated at Sant-y-nyll in 1958. An oval ring of post holes 4.6 m by 3.7 m across represented a hut succeeding two smaller ones, amid domestic refuse which indicated a sheep-farming economy. Pottery was of late Neolithic type distinct from that of the long-cairns, and probably represented a phase of peasant life transitional to the Bronze Age proper.”

Barber & Williams (1989) write that: “It is marked as Cromlech on the one inch Ordnance Survey maps of 1833 and as Long Barrow on maps of 1947 and 1956. This dolmen is sometimes confused by writers with the dolmen at Duffryn in the adjoining parish of St. Lythans. The capstone itself is 22 feet by 3 feet and weighs over 40 tons.” The authors go on to say that R. E. M. Wheeler (1925) mentions that the old belief that anyone who slept within the dolmen on a spirit nightwould suffer one of the following calamities — he would either die, go raving mad or become a poet. Marie Trevelyan (1905) relates several stories about the dolmen.” Chris Barber (1982) has a photograph and mentions various legends including one which says that around the cromlech are stones said to be women who had danced on a Sunday and were turned into stone.”

Tinkinswood Burial Chamber at St Nicholas, South Glamorgan.

Jacquetta Hawkes (1975) tells us more of the site and its surrounds. She says: “About five miles out of Cardiff on the south side of the Cowbridge road there is a remarkable concentration of long barrows and other megalithic tombs. The doubtful Coed y Cwm barrow lies closest to the road, but of far greater interest is the well-known chambered long barrow in Tinkinswood just to the south of it. This St Nicholas is obviously of the Cotswold family—that is at once shown by the long wedge-shaped mound with its containing drystone walls and horned forecourt. The chamber, reached through the forecourt, is a large but plain box-like chamber covered by one colossal rectangular capstone measuring as much as twenty-two by fifteen feet. The entrance is at the side, and not in the centre, of the front wall and therefore lacks the usual architectural formality of jamb-stones; the whole of the front wall is screened by drystone walling of considerable thickness, but with a slab-lined opening leading to the entrance.

“About a mile to the south-west is the St. Lythans long barrow; the mound (or rather cairn, for as in the Cotswolds these Welsh examples are of piled stones) has almost disappeared leaving the megalithic chamber with its cover-stone standing naked; there is no question, however, that it was originally very similar to that of St. Nicholas.”

Timothy Darvill (1988) gives some in-depth info on this site, saying: “This partly restored Neolithic long barrow lies about 1 mile north of the St Lythans barrow. It is approached from the east across fields by way of a footpath (signposted). The mound, roughly rectangular in plan and now a little overgrown in places, is about 40m long and 17.8m wide. It is composed of limestone rubble, and is neatly revetted on all sides by a drystone wall. At the eastern end is a shallow funnel-shaped forecourt flanked by two slightly flattened horns. The wall of the forecourt is rather unusual in that the stones are set at an angle in what is known as herringbone style.

“The chamber, which is roomy and can still be entered, opens almost directly out of the rear of the forecourt. The walls are of large orthostats with dry-stone walling filling the gaps between the main uprights. The massive capstone measures 7.1m long, 4.5m wide, and is up to 0.9m thick. Its weight is estimated at 40 tons. Excavations in 1914 uncovered the remains of at least 50 individuals in a jumbled state in the main chamber, 21 were adult females, and 16 were adult males. Some pottery was also found in the chamber.

“About half-way down the mound on the north-side is a polygonal cist. At the time of the excavation this was thought to be a later addition to the barrow, but an alternative theory is that it is the remains of a small early Neolithic tomb that preceded the construction of the long barrow. CADW—WELSH HISTORIC MONUMENTS.”

The CADW site page tells that: “Parts of the site were reconstructed following its excavation in 1914. A supporting pillar was inserted in the chamber and the external walls were re-clad using a distinctive herringbone pattern.” See Link, below.

Sources and related websites:-

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

Darvill, Timothy, AA (Glovebox Guide), Ancient Britain, Publishing Division of The Automobile Association, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1988. 

Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments In England And Wales, Cardinal, London, 1975.

Houlder, Christopher, Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber And Faber Limited, London, 1978.

Photo (top) by FruitMonkey:

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.

1 Comment

Churchyard Cross, St Nicholas’ Church, Grosmont, Monmouthshire, Wales

St Nicholas’ church cross.

OS Grid Reference: SO 40475 24302. In St Nicholas’ churchyard (north-side near the door) at Grosmont in Monmouthshire, Wales, there was a medieval preaching cross which had crudely carved depictions of Christ crucified and Mary the Virgin with baby Jesus. It was locally called Jack o’ Kent’s Cross. There was, and still is, some uncertainty about the age of the cross, but the carved section atop the shaft was thought to date from between the 11th to 13th century, whereas the shaft and eight-sided base are more recent, maybe 14 or 15th century? Due to ‘the recent safety concerns’ the carved fragment of the cross-head has had to be placed in the church, leaving the shaft and base out in the churchyard. Apparently the shaft was originally much taller. There may have been an earlier cross-head on top of the cross shaft. The 13th century parish church of St Nicholas at Grosmont looks rather like a small cathedral with its tall 14th century octagonal spire, which is a landmark for many miles around. It is to be found at the southwest side of the village, be-side the B4347 road, a couple of miles south of Kentchurch and about 6 miles to the northeast of Llanfihangel Crucorney.

Carved cross head at St Nicholas’ church, Grosmont.

Today, however, the churchyard cross looks rather forlorn with its chopped down shaft, but it still stands here on its octagonal base – alas though without the carved cross-head. But ‘this’ carved section is safe and secure in the south transept of St Nicholas’ church after it was stolen some years back. We don’t know with any certainty the age of the carved cross-head or where it came from: the thinking being that it is was perhaps carved between the 11th and 13th centuries, whereas the shaft and base are from the 14th or 15th century? with some damage caused to the shaft in the 16th. Could the carved section have come from a castle, an abbey, or some other church; that we don’t know, or do we* The carved section, now in the church, shows Christ crucified on one side and Mary and baby Jesus on the other with what could be the outline of a bovine animal lower down; the carving of Mary and Jesus seems to be ‘a crude affair’ compared to that on the opposite face suggesting, perhaps, that it was carved at a different date? It was probably a preaching or wayside cross. Locally, it is sometimes called ‘Jack o’ Kent’s Cross – after the giant and magician who lived at Kentchurch Court. He was not, however, buried beneath the cross. In fact, Jack’s body was buried only just outside Grosmont church!

*Chris Barber (1992) alludes to the following bit of interesting information regarding a carved stone found at Llanfihangel Crucorney, 6 miles southwest of Grosmont. He tells that: “When the church was being rebuilt in 1834, with money raised by public subscription, an ancient stone was revealed. On one side is a representation of the Virgin Mary with baby in her arms and on the reverse side is Christ on the cross between two thieves.” 

Cross Ash School children (1985) tell us in their delightful booklet about the local giant, saying that: “Under the wall of the South Transept, according to legend, lies the body of the giant, Jack of Kent, buried half inside the church and half outside the church, where his tombstone can still be seen.” The school children also mention that: “the font probably dates back to 1150. It is one hundred years older than the church itself. This could mean that at one time there was another church on the site. There is a pattern of a rope on the font, which was common in 1150.”

Donald Gregory (1991) says of St Nicholas’ church that: “This non-Celtic dedication probably indicates that this was the first church to be built on that site. Certainly most of what is still visible in the church and churchyard dates from the same time as the stone castle. Gregory adds that: “Near the entrance gate in the northern consecrated part of the churchyard is an early medieval preaching cross, part of whose shaft remains, firmly secured and — unusually — into an octagonal base; it may be noted, though no known inference may be derived from the observation, that the stout tower of the church is likewise octagonal. The shaft was lopped in the sixteenth century, but curiously enough the carved capstone, which was later placed upon it, is definitely of medieval origin, although where it came from no-one knows.” 

Chris Barber (1984) tells us more about the church. He says: “Go into the church and you will immediately feel an atmosphere of antiquity, peace and mustiness. The floor of the now disused nave is well illustrated with engraved stones and there are many interesting tablets to read on the walls. In a corner of the nave can be seen a wooden chest known as the ‘”Grosmont Hutch”‘ and a half finished effigy of a knight, which is reputed to be that of Jack o’ Kent who once resided in this corner of Gwent. Numerous stories are told about his deeds and adventures. Some claimed that he was Owain Glyndwr in disguise.; others accused him of being a wizard in league with the devil. A legend tells that Jack made a pact with Satan that he should have his soul when he died, whether he was buried inside the church or outside. However, Jack cunningly fooled the devil by arranging for his burial to take place under the very walls of the church at Grosmont, so that he was neither inside nor outside. An old tombstone in the churchyard close to the east wall is said to cover his remains and it is claimed that he died at the age of 120 years. A proverb once used in this neighbourhood would describe someone “‘as clever as the devil or Jack of Kent”‘.

Sources and related websites:-

Barber, Chris, The Seven Hills Of Abergavenny, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1992.

Barber, Chris, Exploring Gwent — A Walker’s Guide To Gwent Land Of History And Legend, Regional Publications (Bristol) Limited, Clifton, Bristol, 1984.

Cross Ash School, Churches And Castles — Within the Grosmont Skenfrith and White Castle Trilateral, 1985.

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

The Church In Wales, Great Churches in the Diocese of Monmouth — a Visitors Guide (Transl. by Sian Edwards), June 2005.

St Nicholas Church,_Grosmont

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.

Peg O’Nell’s Well, Waddow Hall, Near Waddington, Lancashire

Peg o’Nell’s Well, Waddow Hall by Alexander P Kapp (Geograph)

OS Grid Reference: SD 7368 4266. In the grounds of Waddow Hall (south-side) beside the River Ribble at Brungerley Bridge, near Waddington, Lancashire, is a sacred well that is locally called Peg O’Nell’s Well or Peg’s Well, but should perhaps be re-named ‘St Margaret’s Well’. It is probably a pre-Christian spring. Standing next to the well is a headless statue of Peg, who was a servant girl at Waddow Hall a couple of hundred years ago. But, it would seem the statue is actually that of St Margaret of Scotland, or maybe St Margaret of Antioch, an early 4th century martyr, and which may have come from a local abbey or Catholic church? The name Peg or Peggy being the diminutive form of Margaret and Nell being a short form of Helen. In folklore, however, Peg is a water spirit or sprite (similar to Jenny Greenteeth, perhaps) who inhabited the River Ribble at Brungerley Bridge; the well being the sacred place where the sprite dwelt and was able to move underground by a tunnel that connected the well to the river. The 17th century Waddow Hall is now a hotel and activity centre for girlguides in the northwest. Walk along the driveway (footpath) to the hall from Brungerley Bridge on the B6478, and then best to ask for permission and directions to the well.

In an article published in Pendle & Burnley Magazine (1987) called ‘The Legend of ‘Poor Peg’, tells that: “Whenever an un-common amount of accidents happen around one particular spot, whisperings of an ‘evil spirit’ or ‘malevolent presence’ will abound. Centuries ago there occurred such a series of unexplained incidents along the stretch of the Ribble near Brungerley Bridge, Clitheroe. 

“Before the bridge was built (during the early part of the nineteenth century) all travelers were compelled to cross the Ribble at this point using the old “Hipping Stones’. “The local inhabitants, in attempting to explain the numerous misadventures and drownings, blamed them all on an evil water-sprite, who demanded sacrifice. It soon became the custom to placate the sprite by drowning small animals in the river, with the hope of avoiding the necessity of a human victim. Time passed by, and the frequency of the accidents decreased. The legend became almost forgotten, until the untimely death of a young servant girl.

“Peg O’Nell was in service at Waddow Hall, over a hundred years ago. Her mistress was not an easy woman to work for, according to local account. Some reports indicate that she was regarded as being a witch. Whatever the truth, the Hall at that time was not a happy household. Maybe the servants, when huddled together on cold winter nights, regaled each other with tales of witches and sprites, eventually going to bed both tired and frightened. It was possibly on such a night, with the wind rattling the window panes, and the rain pounding on the ground outside the house, that Peg and her mistress engaged themselves in a heated argument. Obviously Peg was not a girl who took kindly to abuse, but in answering back the lady of the house, Peg only increased the woman’s wrath. More out of spite than necessity, Peg was sent to fetch some water from the river (or the well). In the chilling night air, with the wind lashing her face and body, Peg stumbled toward the Hipping Stones. Her feet constantly slipped on the sodden earth bruising her arms and legs. Her anger soon turned to misery. With the final words of her mistress ringing in her ears “‘may you break your neck and die”‘, she stooped to fill the pails. Peg was never seen alive again. Next  day her drowned body was found by the river, her neck was broken. The water sprite had claimed another victim! From now on there would be two restless spirits to trouble the inhabitants around Brungerley Bridge. 

Statue of St Margaret at Waddow Hall, Lancashire

“Waddow Hall became the scene of some unexplainable phenomenon. Footsteps would be heard in the empty rooms, clanging pails would wake the servants at night, and most disturbing of all the figure of a frail young girl could occasionally be seen walking the corridors, only to disappear when confronted with member of the household. The drownings around the Hipping Stones became more frequent, and the legend took hold, that Peg was taking her revenge by claiming a life every seven years. So familiar with the tale were the local population that a statue which stood in the garden of Waddow Hall was christened ‘Peg’. The Hall changed hands frequently (perhaps it really was poor Peg driving them out), until a Mr. & Mrs. Starkie took up residence. Peg must have taken a particular dislike to this couple for Mr. Starkie suffered a catalogue of catastrophies which, of course, he blamed on Peg. One day after falling from his horse while out hunting, he was brought home all the while giving vent to his foul temper. His wife on seeing his mood, and knowing she would again bear the brunt of his vitriolic tongue, she rushed out, and picking up an axe she attacked the statue, severing the head with one blow. From then on the accidents grew less frequent, and Peg’s powers were apparently curtailed.” 

Carole L. Nelson (1998) in her article for ‘Source—The Holy Wells Journal’, tells of her visit to the well: “It was comforting to learn, before I embarked on my visit to the well with my family, that the curse was in due course, broken. The guide tells of how a young male traveler was warned against crossing the Hipping Stones, or stepping stones, at Brungerley Bridge by an innkeeper who considered the river to be so swollen as to be unsafe. The innkeeper tried his best to dissuade him from crossing by adding that it was Peg’s Night but the traveler merely laughed and replied that if he died he would make sure that Peg O’Nell did not trouble the community again. He set off on his horse and was never seen again. His disappearance marked an end to Peg’s reign of terror at the well.

“The second account of the well name is associated with the headless statuette adjacent to the spring. It has been suggested that the figure possibly represents St. Margaret of Scotland (1046-93). Margaret, according to her biographer, Turgot, is said to have brought a strongly piteous and civilizing influence to Scottish court following her marriage to Malcolm 111. It is supposed to have been moved following the Dissolution and it is possible that the plain name of Peg was employed in a derisory, anti-Catholic gesture. “

Alternately, the name and the servant girl story may have been a means of protecting the true identity of the statuette. Because some individual or group of individuals had obviously taken pains to secure its rescue it is possible they were Catholics. With a fictitious, non-religious cover story the statue, and those who protected it would have been less likely to suffer retribution at Protestant hands.

“The figure is now set in concrete to protect it against theft. Its base is a roughly cut rectangle and no feet are visible. One hand holds a stem of a flower or perhaps a scepter whilst the other holds a book. The back of the figure has no detailed sculpture, suggesting that in its original location it would have stood against a wall or inside a niche.

“The well itself appeared to have dried up at the time of my visit and I am uncertain whether this is its permanent con-dition. The cavity which would have held the spring is rectangular – roughly 4 x 3 ft and sinks to a depth of about 3ft. The area of the well is enclosed by a wooden fence.”  

John Dixon (1993) tells that: “Kept in the farmhouse at Brungerley is the figure of a woman carved in oak. Sadly the figure was slightly damaged by a barn fire some years ago, but thankfully rescued by the farmer. Upon examination the figure shows to have been once highly painted. The style of costume and headgear depict a woman from the medieval period — St Helen, wife of Constantine?” St Helen, as we already know, is the patron saint of the nearby parish church at Waddington. The village of Waddington and also the hamlet of Waddow take their names from Wadda, an Anglo Saxon chieftain who, according to legend, resided here way back in the mists of time.

Terence W. Whitaker (1980) adds more about the statue beside the well. He says that: “The headless statue still stands near the Hall, I believe, but who she really is and who brought her here can only be speculation on my part. It is possibly a statue of St Margaret, most probably it was brought from Sawley Abbey during the Reformation, and possibly damaged during the violent days of the introduction of Protestantism, in the reign of Edward VI. Whoever it is and wherever the statue came from, for a great number of years the figure was associated with any evil happenings that took place in the vicinity.

“The Hall itself is reputed to be haunted. In one room the atmosphere is said to be very cold all the year round; dogs refuse to enter, and several times a spectral mist has appeared. Some people think that the decapitated head of the statue was hidden in this room, while others say that this was the room where the unfortunate Peg slept and where she was brought on the day she died.” 

Sources and related websites:-

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

Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia, Volume Nine: The Ribble Valley, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1993.

Nelson, Carole L., Peg O’Nell’s Well, Source — The Holy Wells Journal, No.6, Swn y Mor, Mount Pleasant, Swansea, Summer 1998.

Pendle & Burnley Magazine, The Legend of ‘Poor Peg’, Valley Press, Ramsbottom, Bury, Lancs, 1987.

Whitaker, Terence W., Lancashire’s Ghosts and Legends, Robert Hale Limited, Clerkenwell Green, London, 1980.

Photo (top) by Alexander P Kapp:

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2018.

Roman Inscribed Stone in St John the Baptist’s Church, Tunstall, Lancashire

Roman Inscribed Stone by karl & Ali (Geograph).

OS Grid Reference: SD 61411 73931. In the 15th century parish church of St John the Baptist at Tunstall, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancashire, there is a fragment of an inscribed Roman stone, which was perhaps part of an altar but, according to the church guide, is actually a votive stone with a dedication in Latin to two Roman dieties – very roughly carved onto it; the stone was found in the 1800s at the Roman fort of Burrow (CALACVM), a couple of miles to the north. The stone was brought into the church from the churchyard in the early 20th century and was set (upside down) into a window jamb of the north aisle during restoration work. Also of interest within the church is the altar stone which is considered to be Anglian and to date from the 8th century? St John the Baptist’s church can be found along Church Lane about ¼ of a mile to the northeast of the village. The village of Tunstall itself is roughly 3½ miles to the south of Kirby Lonsdale on the A683 and 4 miles southwest of Cowan Bridge.

The Roman votive ‘altar’ stone with its Latin inscription reads: ‘DEOS ASCLEPIO ET HYGIAEAE P S SVA CVM SVIS IVL SATVRNINVS’ and when translated is something like: “To the dieties (gods) Asclepius and Hygiaea, Julius Saturninus placed This Here for himself and his family.” The word ‘SANCTO – Sacred’ can sometimes be placed at the beginning of an inscription like this as another variation.

Drawing of Roman Stone, John Cotton.

Sara Mason (1994) in her work concerning the church and parish of Tunstall tells us that “A stone in the present church is dedicated to Aesculepius, the pagan Roman god of medicine and Hygeia, goddess of healing. This was salvaged from the ruins of the Roman fort at Burrow in the eighteenth century by the Reverend Richard Rauthmell. And a fragment of another triangular Roman stone was built into a farmhouse wall in Burrow; a remaining piece was said to be in the    keeping of the vicar of Tunstall.”

Mason also adds regarding the: “Fragment of Roman votive stone: this, with a dedication to Aesculepius and Hygeia (god of medicine and goddess of healing) by one Julius Saturninus, was incorporated into the left jamb of the most eastern window of the north aisle during the 1907 restoration of the Church.”

Sara Mason (1994) adds that: “The stone of which the altar in the present church is made is considered to be Anglian (eighth century) and bears evidence of early Christian worship at Tunstall, possibly from when St Wilfred came westwards from Ripon. It was put into its present place in the 1950s. A medieval burial slab was reused and preserved, as a quoin in the old school house in the Church Lane.

The Roman road from Ribchester to Overburrow Fort runs near Tunstall Church and it is possible that an early church was built there because it was close to the road. However, churches, being on consecrated land, rarely change site. The field named Crosber — up the Church Lane, between the Cant beck and the Roman road — may refer as much to the crossing of the Roman Road by the road from Burton in Lonsdale towards the Lune, as to the possibility of a preaching cross there.”  

Lawrence E. Jones & Roy Tricker (1992) tell us a bit about the church, saying that: “Visiting a country church like this, in its delightful rural setting, stops people imagining that Lancashire is just industry and suburbia. This lovely church of St   John the Baptist was much rebuilt in 1415, but incorporates earlier work, and we enter beneath a fine two-storeyed porch, to admire 15th and 16th century glass from Flanders in the east window and much else in this atmospheric place. The medieval altar stone, cast out at the Reformation, has now been restored to its rightful use.” 

Nikolaus Pevsner (1979) describes St John Baptist Church in ‘His’ way, saying that: “The only church in North Lancashire which one can praise for never having given in to sweeping suggestions to restore windows and other features. How right Ruskin and Morris were ! It creates a human appeal which cannot otherwise be roused. The church was rebuilt by Sir Thomas Tunstal about 1415, but the W and E responds of the N arcade have early C13 capitals, and the W lancets of the aisles are probably also C13. On the N side is a two-light Dec window. The two-storeyed porch is the finest piece of the C15 work. The Perp tracery of the S aisle and the Perp arcades are coarse. — FONT. C18 stone baluster with an elliptical marble baluster. — ROMAN ALTAR to Asclepius and Hygieia (NE window sill). — STAINED GLASS. The E window has Nether-landish late C15 and C16 glass from two different sources. It was brought from Flanders by Richard T. North before 1833. — PLATE. Chalice and Paten by Richard Bayley, 1708; Paten by Henry Jay, 1709-10; Chalice inscribed 1713; Paten and Flagon by Thomas Mason, 1718-19. — MONUMENTS. Defaced early C16 stone effigy (S chapel), probably Sir Thomas Tunstal. — Many Tablets, eg. Lt. Miles North, 1837, with the relief of a shipwreck.”

Also of interest: there are several Medieval carved stones leaning against the outside wall of the church, one of which could be a cross-head, but its age is uncertain though it is possibly Anglo-Saxon?

Sources and related websites:-

Jones, Lawrence E. & Tricker, Roy, County Guide To English Churches, Countryside Books, Newbury, Berkshire, 1992. 

Mason, Sara, The Church And Parish Of Tunstall, (Drawings by John Cotton), December 1994.

Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England — North Lancashire, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1979.

Photo (top) by karl & Ali:,_Tunstall

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.