The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


Te Deum Stone, Withens Gate, West Yorkshire

Te Deum Stone at Withens Gate.

OS Grid Reference: SD 9720 2300. This medieval marker or boundary stone stands close to a wall at Withens Gate, Langfield Moor, between Cragg Vale and Mankinholes on the Calderdale Way footpath above Todmorden. It has been referred to as a coffin stone, stoop stone, boundary marker and marker stone. The name Withens Cross has also be ascribed to it by some historians.

The stubby little stone is now only a few feet high – originally it was much taller but vandalism over the years has damaged it. But in 1956 it was restored to what we see today by The Hebden Bridge Local History Society. On it’s front side there is a thin incised Latin cross and below that two letters in Latin TD which are translated as being Te Deum Laudamus or ‘We praise Thee, O Lord’, whilst on the opposite face the letters BG TB, which were perhaps carved in more recent times, indicating that the stone has been in use as a boundary marker.

Originally the stone was in use as a “coffin rest”. Coffins were carried along the old packhorse route across the Pennines between Cragg Vale, Mankinholes and Lumbutts, then placed on top of the stone and prayers said for the deceased before the journey was continued to its final resting place. There are a number of similar stones in this area and eleswhere, some with quite intricate carved crosses and lettering – most of them probably dating from the 15th or 16th century.


St Trillo’s Chapel, Rhos-On-Sea, Caernarvonshire (Gwynedd)

SH8413 8113. The tiny medieval chapel-cum-baptistry of St Trillo stands just off Marine Drive, close to the promenade, at Rhos-On-Sea, some 2 miles north-west of Colwyn Bay. Also called Capel St Trillo, the tiny building stands in a quiet area beside the seashore in what has been a hallowed spot for many hundreds of years. Within the chapel is a holy well (Ffynnon Drillo) which has been a place where pilgrims have come in the hope of a miraculous cure. An earlier Celtic chapel or a hermit’s cell stood here previous to the present structure, a cell where the 6th century saint, Trillo, had once lived.

St Trillo’s Chapel, Caernarvonshire

St Trillo’s chapel is a tiny, plain stone-built roofed building measuring 11 feet by 8 feet inside with walls that are 2 foot thick and low vaulting inside. The building is so tiny that only a small number of people are allowed in at any one time, the door is also quite narrow and there is only one tiny stained-glass window which shows St Elian another local Celtic saint. But it is open every day for prayer. The holy well is located beneath the altar but it is often covered by a metal grid – though this can be removed for access to the water inside a square-shaped basin. Even today the water from the well is used for baptisms. The monks of Aberconwy abbey looked after the chapel and holy well from roughly 1283 until the dissolution in 1538 at which time the monks had relocated to Maenan in the Conwy Valley, near Llanwrst.

What we know about St Trillo is that in the 6th century AD he came to Wales from Brittany and worked as a missionary along the north Wales coast as far as Anglesey where there is another church dedicated to him at Llandrygarn. He was the son of King Ithael Hael and his brothers were called Tegai and Twrog – both saints in their own right. St Trillo lived at his humble little cell at Rhos-On-Sea between the years 570-590 AD. He was buried on the holy island of Bardsey.


St Anne’s Well, Kilmesantan, Co.Dublin

Irish grid reference: O1020 2161. The holy well is located to the east of the Upper Bohernabreen Lake (reservoir) along a path which winds through fields that are often muddy and rough some 250 yards to the north of Kilmesantan, in the Glenasmole Valley, 4 miles south of Tallaght. Originally dedicated to a Celtic bishop called St Santan or Sentan, but later re-dedicated to St Anne. Today the well is still a place of pilgrimage to many local people; it has a rough-walled granite surround and an arched roof with a large ash tree leaning over it, making it hard to find at the best of times. There also is a figurine of St Anne standing inside what looks like a caged structure, probably so that she doesn’t get nicked!

The well was always visited on St Anne’s feast-day 26th July for its curative properties; the water was known to be clear and cold coming from deep in the ground. It was regarded as a cure for soreness of the eyes and stomach aches etc – bottles of the water being taken away by pilgrims to be handed out amongst their families no doubt. The water from the well is said to run into the Upper Bohernabreen reservoir a short distance to the west.

250 yards to the south at Glassamucky is the old graveyard of Kilmesantan (O1015 2142) with a ruined church inside the square-shaped low walls. Originally the 13th century church which stands on the site of an earlier Celtic church, was dedicated to a St Santan, Sanctan or Sentan, a 5th century Celtic bishop and son of the king of Britain (Coel of Strathclyde?), according to the Book of Leinster, but who was also a missionary at Kirksantan, Isle of Man, and in north Wales at Llansannan, near Llangernyw, where he has a church dedication, and also at Llantrisant, Anglesey.

Only the south-east wall still stands, the rest of the building consists of foundation stones in a rectangular pattern among the gravestones. In more recent times the church was re-dedicated to St Anne. We know that the nave measured 16 by 36 feet, the chancel was 12 feet long and the walls a staggering 3 foot thick. Beside the gate there is a stone font, now broken at the back, that is over 2 foot high and 3 foot square, with a depth of nearly 1 foot. This was probably the font from the church and could be quite old. A crude Celtic stone cross was found in the graveyard some while back; it now resides in the National Museum of Ireland at Dublin.


Devil’s Arrows, Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire

One of the Bronze-Age arrows.

One of the Bronze-Age arrows.

OS grid reference: SE 3910 6650. The three large standing stones, part of a stone row, are located between Bar lane and Roecliffe lane to the south-west of Boroughbridge, close to the A168 and A1(M) roads. Two of the stones stand in a farmer’s field, while the third stands in the garden of a private house 110 metres to the south. They date from the early Bronze-Age over 4,000 years ago and are now heavily worn at their tops, due probably to rain running down causing grooving or fluting in the millstone grit surfaces. It is thought the stones were quarried at Knaresborough 7 miles to the south-west.

These three monoliths, also called ‘the three sisters’, are orientated north to south and stand on an almost true alignment which is 374 metres long, something that was perfected by the ancient people who lived here – the three uprights stand as a testament to the great ingenuity of their time. Another one or perhaps two stones are now lost – having quite probably been robbed away, broken up and used locally; indeed one of the stones was thought to have been used to build the 16th century bridge over the river Tutt at Aldborough.

Devil’s Arrows, North Yorkshire (picture credit Sydney Tranter).

The three surviving standing stones measure between 5.4 metres and 6.8 metres high (16-22) feet high, each weighing-in at around 20-30 tonnes and buried into the ground by upto 1.5 metres. At around 5.4 metres (16 feet high) and 6.7 metres in circumference is the northern-most of the stones, while the second, central most stone 61 metres further south is 6.7 metres high and 5.4 metres in circumference, and the third stone located on the opposite side of the lane beside a private house is 6.8 metres (22 feet) in height.

There are a number of crazy legends associated with the Devil’s Arrows, the most famous one being that the devil was shooting or throwing stone arrows from nearby Howe Hill at the Roman town of Aldborough, a few miles away but, much to his annoyance, he missed the target. Reputedly the devil shouted the warning “Borobrigg keep out o’way for Aldboro town I will bring down”. Another legend says the devil hung himself from the tallest stone. One legend had it that human sacrifices were placed on top of the pointed stones and left to die there, their blood flowing down the grooves. It is probable the stones were used as a kind of astronomical alignment or for sun-worshipping by Bronze-Age people. Many people visiting the stones today claim to be able to feel energy flowing out of the stones, this can be affected by hugging the stones, similar to hugging trees perhaps!


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Castleshaw Roman Fort, Standedge, Greater Manchester

SD9987 0963. High on the windswept Pennine moors to the north of the A62 where Bleak Hey Nook lane intersects with Dirty lane is the area called Castle Hill, Standedge, on the borders of greater Manchester and west Yorkshire. And, located between the two reservoirs (upper and lower), are the rectangular-shaped earthworks of the Roman fort of Castleshaw, known to the Romans as RIGODUNUM – ‘the royal fort’ or ‘the king’s fort’ – the name Castleshaw is of Celtic origins. But long before the Romans settled here at Castleshaw the site was known to have been a Brigantean settlement, later becoming just a little bit of the Roman province of Brittannia.

Castleshaw

Castleshaw (Photo credit: The Armatura Press)

The Romans built the fort here during the Flavian period c79 AD in order to protect their newly constructed road between Chester (Deva) and York (Eboracum) from the Brigantes tribe who had held the area. Upto 50 roman auxiliary soldiers of the Spanish Cohors III Bracaraugustanorum regiment from Lusitania in northern Portugal were stationed here, the rest of the cohort were quartered at MAMUCIUM (Manchester), 10 miles away to the south-west. One wonders what these hardy Spanish soldiers thought to the often bleak weather conditions here on the Pennine moors.

The auxillary fort or ‘fortified encampment’ at Castleshaw measured 380 x 330 feet including the outer vicus, but less than that (360 feet by 300 feet) inside the defences or ramparts – the whole site covering between 2-3 acres (1-2 hectares) in total. Constructed from turf, clay and timber, it has an outer ditch measuring 5 feet wide at the rampart with an outer, smaller ditch. There were two main entrance gates at the western and eastern sides, probably double gates made from local timber and a smaller entrances at the north side; at each of the four corners of the fort there may have been watchtowers? – although only one post hole has been excavated.

A plan of Castleshaw Roman fort drawn by antiq...

A plan of Castleshaw Roman fort drawn by antiquarian Francis Bruton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 90 AD the fort was abandoned for a temporary period, but in 105 AD it was re-occupied and turned in to a fortlet. It was finally abandoned in 120 AD. The buildings inside the fort included a granary at the northern side, a barrack block at the east side, principia and praetorium in the central area and, also various storerooms or workshops at the south-west corner, while outside the fort, at the south side, the “vicus” was the civilian settlement where the families of the soldiers would have lived. There are traces of earthworks at this side and also at the north side but no proper archaeological excavations have taken place either outside the fort or, indeed, inside. I understand that Roman soldiers were not allowed to be married!


Silbury Hill, Beckhampton, Wiltshire

SU1000 6850. Silbury Hill is a man-made chalk and clay mound beside the A4 road 1 mile south-east of Beckhampton. It dates from the Neolithic period of prehistory some 4,700 years ago. This famous conical-shaped hill is 130 feet high or 40 metres and, with its wide outer circular ditch, which is most noticeable at the eastern side and quite often filled with water in wet spells of weather, it covers a total area of about 5 acres (2 hectares). The base of the hill covers 167 metres, while the flat-topped surface is about 100 feet in diameter.

The first phase of building here began in 2,500 BC followed by, perhaps, another three phases of work; thousands of local workers were employed in the construction of the mound which was built in the form of a pyramid in steps or tiers – the steps being cut sarsen stones from nearby quarries. Then these steps were filled in with more chalk and clay and then levelled off and fashioned in to what we see today, an almost circular smooth-sided mound.

Silbury Hill by William Stukeley.

Archaeological excavations have taken place at Silbury in 1776, 1849, 1968-70 but nothing of any great interest has ever been found, certainly no sign of any burials. Historians and archaeologists have mused over what the hill was used for for a long time but no one has been able to come up with anything special. It could have been used for astronomical purposes or perhaps as an ancient sundial or something else. The Romans are also likely to have used the hill as a look-out post when they were marching along their road, now the A4.

According to legend, Silbury Hill was the burial place of King Sil. He was apparently buried inside the mound wearing his gold armour and seated on top of a golden horse or, the devil had a hand in the building of the mound by tossing a shovel full of earth away while building the Wansdyke; or he was aiming at the town of Marlborough and a bit of earth dropped from his shovel in the process. There are a number of other legends but none hold much credance.

English: Avebury - Silbury Hill Looking a bit ...

Silbury Hill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The area around the hill is quite literally covered with round barrows, earthworks, and ancient sites. Half a mile to the south-east is the West Kennett Long Barrow and the famous Avebury stone circle is only a couple of miles to the north. Together they form a sort of ancient complex, many standing on ley-lines and alignments that intersect and pass through each other, as if that’s what they were meant to do and no doubt to the ancient peoples that’s what they did. The stone Age people were well aware of  alignments, they knew a thing or two about them.


Werneth Low and Hangingbank, Greater Manchester

SJ9709 9315. Werneth Low is a hill 279 metres high located just west of Uplands farm near Hyde in Tameside, Greater Manchester. It was the site of an Iron-Age settlement or enclosure on the south-west facing side of the hill, dating from the 1st century BC. A flint knife and a stone mace were excavated here. The Brigantes tribe who held the territory just before the Roman army arrived would have come here to the hill to celebrate both the winter and summer soltices. And what a wonderful sight that must have been!

Werneth Low near Hyde, Greater Manchester, on ...

Werneth Low near Hyde, Greater Manchester (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SJ9647 9352. Some 2 miles to the north-east of Werneth Low is another ancient settlement or farmstead called ‘Hangingbank’ just south of the A660. It is a low hill covering 3 acres that was inhabited from the middle to late Bronze-Age through to the Iron-Age. A number of Bronze-Age artefacts were found at the site. The earthworks at Hangingbank consist of a double-ditched enclosure with numerous crop-marks indicating where ancient field boundaries were. There may have been a Roman camp here in the 1st-2nd century AD as a shard of pottery was dug up from one of the ditches and a post hole was excavated. The course of the Roman road from Melandra Castle to Astbury supposedly crossed the site. Today a modern-day war memorial stands in the centre of the earthworks of the prehistoric settlement.