The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


St Illtyd’s Church, Llantwit Major, South Glamorgan, Wales.

English: St Illtud, Llantwit Major, Glamorgan,...

St Illtud’s, Llantwit Major, South Glamorgan (Photo credit: John Salmon Wikipedia)

OS grid reference SS 6990 9580. The Norman parish church of St Illtyd (Illtud) is located on Church Lane at the western-side of the town of Llantwit Major or, in Welsh, Llanilltud Fawr, in the Vale of Glamorgan. This large three-sectioned Norman church, one of the oldest in Wales, houses three very interesting Celtic stones with Latin inscriptions in memory of saints and kings that were associated with a monastic college founded here by St Illtyd at the beginning of the 6th century AD. There are also two medieval grave-slabs, one belonging to an ecclesiastic, some medieval wall paintings and two other ancient stones. At the far west-side of the church the Ragland Chantry Chapel stands in a ruined state. The town of Llantwit Major is 9 miles south-east of Bridgend and 15 miles south-west of the Welsh capital, Cardiff. Close-by the church are the earthworks of the Roman villa of Caermead, dating from the 1st century AD.

English: St Illtud, Llantwit Major, Glamorgan,...

Celtic crosses (Photo credit: John Salmon -Wikipedia)

Housed within the Galilee Chapel of the 13th-15th century church, the old western part that dates from c1100, are three very interesting antiquities: a Celtic cross and two memorial stones with carved decoration and Latin inscriptions. These date from between the 9th-10th centuries and originally stood outside in the churchyard. Cross no 1 ‘The Illtud Cross’ or Samson’s Cross stands at just over 6 feet high and dates from the 10th-century. Although only the base of the gritstone cross remains the decoration is very good, and there is interlacing and key-patternwork with inscriptions in the middle and at the top. The top inscription (front) reads: SAMSON POSUIT HANC CRUCEM PRO ANIMA EIUS or ‘Samson placed his cross for his soul’ and on the reverse side: ILTUTI SAMSON REGIS SAMUEL EBISAR or ‘for the soul of Illtud, Samson the King, Samuel and Ebisar’. Samuel was probably the carver of the cross.

Cross no 2 is ‘Houelt’s Cross’, a 6 foot high disc-headed or wheel-head cross from the 9th-century AD. This has fretwork and patternwork on its lower front section and Celtic-style knotwork, interlacing and key-patterning on the wheel-head, but on the base there is a Latin inscription recalling Houelt (Hywel) the son of Res – probably Rhys ap Arthfael, King of Glamorgan, who died in 850 AD. The inscription reads: ‘In the name of God the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost’. ‘This cross Houelt prepared for the soul of Res his father’. And no 3 ‘Samson’s Pillar Cross’ is 9 foot high and of the 10th-century. On both sides of this there is a long-winded inscription which reads: IN NOMINE DI SUMMI INCIPIT CRUX SALVATORIS QUAE PREPARAVIT SAMSON ABATI PRO ANIMA SUA ET PRO ANIMA IUTHAHELO REX ET ARTMALI ET TECANI and when translated ‘In the name of the most high (God) begins the cross of the (Saviour) which Samson the Abbot prepared for his soul, and for the soul of Iuthahelo (Judwal) the King and of Arthmael and of Tecan’. There is also a 7 foot-high carved cylindrical, pyramidal-shaped stone that may have originally been part of a pagan altar, and two smaller stones that are now worn and damaged but may once have been crosses bases.

St Illtyd or Illtud (450-530) may have been a native of Brittany, though some historians think he hailed from Breconshire. However, by about 460 he was living in south Wales and eventually, after a few years, entered in to the service of King Arthur as a knight and was, according to the legend, one of the keepers of the Holy Grail. At some stage he became a Christian and retired from the world to live as a hermit beside the River Hodnant in south Glamorgan. Here he met St Garmon, his uncle, and together they re-established a monastic school (Bangor Illtud Fawr) where an earlier monastery known as Cor Tewdws (College of Thedosius) had fallen in to decay. The date of the foundation of this monastery is uncertain but it’s beginnings were c480 AD and, certainly by 500 AD the monastic school was flourishing as a renowned centre of learning with many saints being trained there, including St David. A monastery continued to exist uptil the early 12th-century but then fell on hard times, but it was later reformed as a Benedictine house of Tewkesbury and lasted until after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1547.

As for St Illtyd he is thought to have died at Dol in Brittany about 530 AD. However, Welsh historians have always claimed that he died at his monastery in south Glamorgan, or maybe he died at Bedd-Gwyl-Illtyd near Libanus, Brecon, in southern Powys? We may never really know.


Allen, J. Romilly., Celtic Crosses Of Wales, Llanerch Publishing, Felinfach, Dyfed, 1989 (text originally published in Archaeologia Cambrensis 1899).,_Llantwit_Major

Spencer, Ray., A Guide to the Saints Of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch Enterprises, Felinfach, Lampeter, 1991.

Barber, Chris & Pykitt, David., Journey To Avalon, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1993.

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

The Dropping Well, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

OS grid reference SE 3475 5698. The famous petrifying well that turns anything to stone, eventually, is located within the Historic Theme Park known as ‘Mother Shipton’s Cave’, a visitor attraction just off the Harrogate road (A59) and on Long Walk, which runs alongside the gorge of the river Nidd, just half a mile south of the towncentre. At the side of the well is the equally famous Mother Shipton’s Cave, where the Yorkshire prophetess, fortune-teller and mystic lived for much of her life during the 16th century. The spa town of Harrogate is a few miles to the west.

The Dropping Well at Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.

The Dropping Well, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.

The dropping well was undoubtedly known to our prehistoric ancestors, to the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons and also our medieval forefathers.   It was first recorded in 1538 and from that time onwards it has been visited for its rich mineral content and healing properties. But the place is geologically quite unusual in that the water that flows over the smooth limestone cliff and into a large rocky pool below is highly calcified, coming up from a deep pool or lake in the limestone above, so much so, that it leaves calcified deposits on anything that is placed beneath – indeed many curious objects have been left here over the centuries by thankful pilgrims; some quite notable visitors have left toys, hats, boots, stuffed birds and kitchen items belonging to them, but just about anything and everything is suspended below the overhanging cliff to collect the constant, fast-flowing drops of lime-rich water which eventually turns these items into stone – the very same thing that causes stalactites and stalagmites in deep underground cave systems. The well was visited in 1534 by English antiquarian John Leland (1506-52) who gave a very resonable description of it for the time and was apparently very taken with the well.

Garry Hogg (1968) says of this petrifying well that: “Water flows over a limestone mass to fall into a natural pool below. A century and more ago a number of oddments such as hats, caps, shoes, gloves, were hung on a line beneath the dripping water. The lime in it has petrified—literally ‘turned to stone’—these objects. Visitors today leave oddments such as children’s toys, sock, scarves and so forth, to be naturally treated by the iron, lime, magnesia and sulphur; returning after some months, they see the early stages of a process that will be complete in perhaps a year or less.”

Close by the well, in the side of the hill, is Mother Shipton’s cave. Ursula Southill or Southell was born near the cave in 1486 or 1488? and died there in 1561. She lived in the cave as a sort of recluse and came to be known in later years as Mother Shipton the Yorkshire prophetess, fortune-teller, mystic and, to some a witch! This was probably because she always wore a pointed hat and had ugly, facial features, such as a crooked nose and a protruding chin. But Mother Shipton was not a witch in that sense.

Many local people, including the nobility and an abbot, came to seek her advice on medical problems and other issues that they were unable to resolve themselves. And Mother Shipton became famous for her prophecies with regard to many future events including: the plague, the civil war, the great fire of London, wheeled transportation, iron roadways (railways) and  stone constructions carrying water such as viaducts. All these prophecies were to be published in pamphlet form for the first time in 1641 and reprinted in 1645 by William Lilly the prominent astrologist, and even Samuel Pepys mentions her in his diary wrote during the great fire of London in 1666, and in 1667 yet another pamphlet mentioned the Yorkshire prophetess, although these works were quite often embellished. Two of Mother Shipton’s prophetic verses fortell of the end of the world at some point in the future! And she foretold of royal marriages and deaths ie Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn, and of Mary, Queen of Scots, tragic execution.

Sources & References:-

Hogg, Garry, Odd Aspects of England, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1968.

Robinson-Walsh, Dawn (Edited), Stories & Tales Of Old Yorkshire, Printwise Publications, Tottington, Bury, 1993.

Woodhouse, Robert., North Yorkshire – Strange but True, Sutton Publishing Ltd., Stroud, Gloucestershir

Mother Shipton’s Cave – Wikipedia

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, Up-dated 2021.

Portfield Hillfort, Whalley, Lancashire

Portfield Hillfort, Whalley, Lancashire.

Portfield Hillfort, Whalley, Lancashire.

OS grid reference SD 7460 3553. About three-quarters of a mile east of Whalley in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire, beside Portfield Lane stands the prehistoric site known as Portfield hillfort or Planes Wood Settlement, a promontory-type fort. Just half a mile to the west is the busy A680 Accrington Road and Spring Woods, with carparks and a number of woodland paths for the visitor to explore at leisure – all far removed from the Iron-Age hillfort-cum-settlement that lies  just beyond. The hillfort with it’s man-made defensive ramparts can be found just behind Portfield farm and the splendid 14th century tithe barn, a timber construction that was associated with Whalley Abbey. Close by is Leck beck and down in the valley at Whalley the river Calder winds it’s way southwards beneath Whalley Nab towards Great Harwood. In 1966 a hoard of Bronze-Age artefacts was dug up in the middle of the hillfort.

Portfield Hillfort (south-east rampart).

Portfield Hillfort (south-east rampart).

The fort covers an area of about three-and-a-half acres (roughly 152,460 square feet) and, although it is accepted that it dates from the Iron-Age, there was almost certainly a much earlier settlement or enclosure on this site that was inhabited in the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze-Age periods of prehistory, which would be 4,000 years BC or more. There were two main phases of construction in the case of the Iron-Age fort’s defensive ramparts, as is now known from the archaeological excavations that took place in the late 1950s.

The first phase sometime between 1,000-750 BC? was a stone rampart (with no ditch) about 13 feet across with stone kerbs on their sides at the back of the inside defense, while the second phase involved the levelling of the first rampart to construct bigger but ‘unusually’ low defensive bivallate ramparts, which were stone-revetted and upto 20 feet in width surrounding the enclosure area of the fort – being especially well-defined at the north-west side but, less so at the south-eastern and east sides. Beyond this there was a 20 foot wide berm and a ditch measuring 15-18 feet across. The excavations of 1958 and 1959 revealed a cobbled pavement at the main entrance to the fort, and over this another layer of stones. It was here that a fragment of Romano-British Roman pottery was discovered dating from the 5th century AD. A couple of the back gardens of the houses on Portfield lane have rather intruded onto what’s left of the eastern rampart, although this does not ‘in any way’ spoil the situation of the prehistoric site.

Portfield Hillfort (Eastern Rampart).

Portfield Hillfort (eastern rampart).

In 1966 while workmen were laying new pipes near the centre of the fort a hoard of Bronze-Age artefacts was uncovered – among the items found were two axes, a tanged knife and blade, a tanged stud, a gauge, part of a hilt, but much more of interest was the discovery of a gold penannular bracelet (possibly of Irish craftsmanship) and a gold tress-ring dating from the mid to late Bronze-Age. Then, in excavations during 1970-71, post holes were found as well as body sherds, flints and pottery sherds from a biconical vessel. There have also recently been a few finds dating back to the Mesolithic and the Neolithic ages, including flints and pottery. Many replicas of these artefacts can be viewed in The Blackburn museum and also The Ribchester Roman museum.

Joan Allen (1977) tells us that: “In September 1966, two Manchester Corporation workmen, digging a ditch in a meadow at Portfield Farm, Whalley, Lancs., located a gold armlet, gold hair-ornament (called a tress ring), a carpenter’s gauge and a number of bronze axe-heads and other tools. Museum experts believed that Bronze Age craftsmen had hoarded them underground between 700 and 800 B.C.”


Allen, Joan, Glittering Prospects—All You Need To Know About ‘Treasure Hunting’, Elm Tree Books Ltd., London, 1977.

Dixon, John & Dixon, Phillip., Journeys Through Brigantia (Vol 9) The Ribble Valley, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1993.

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Ingleborough Hillfort, North Yorkshire

Ingleborough ascent

Ingleborough (Photo credit: Immanuel Giel – Wikipedia)

OS grid reference SD 740 745. The massive bulk of the Yorkshire peak Ingleborough mountain called ‘The Mountain of Fire’ is 2,372 feet high (a few maps call it a hill!). It is some 4 miles to the north-east of the town of Ingleton, and is best reached from the B6255 Ingleton to Hawes Road and then via the various footpaths running east up to the summit on which there is an Iron-Age hillfort and, also the remains of what may be a Roman encamp-ment? Down on the lower slopes of the mountain are the famous White Scar Caves and to the east lies the equally famous pot-hole of Gaping Ghyll.

Ingleborough’s flat summit is topped by a hillfort that dates back to the Iron-Age when the Brigantes tribe first settled there. The fort or settlement covers 15 acres (61,000 metres) and its defensive walls, now much robbed away, can still be seen around the edges of the windswept summit. These millstone grit ramparts cover 3,000 feet in circumference, some of which are made up of the natural rock edge which would have been quite helpful at the time as a defense. There are openings at the north, east and South-western sides of the ramparts. The inner part of the fort has 19 or perhaps 20 hut circles placed at intervals; the hut circles measure between 5 metres and 8 metres in circumference, though some historians call them ring structures without hearths and roofs, which were built by the Brigantes, a tribe that covered most of northern England from the west to east coast; they later supported the Roman invasion of the northern Pennines even though they were, at that time themselves under attack from the Roman legions who were spreading out and moving north, west and east. It seems likely that the Iron-Age hillfort was in general use all year round – the climate at that time being much more temperate than it is now, otherwise it would have been virtually impossible to live on the summit during the winter months.
Simon Fell, North Yorkshire, with Ingleborough...

Ingleborough (Photo credit: Mick Melvin -Wikipedia)

The Brigantean queen, Cartimandua, handed the Romans Caractacus, a British chieftain, who had led a guerrila-style revolt against the invading army in AD 51; Cartimandua then married Venutius, a Brigantean chieftain, but the marriage did not last long because in AD 52 they divorced and the queen married Vellocatus (who was then king from AD 52-69); he was Venutius’ own armour-bearer – causing him much displeasure. Civil war then broke out in the northern Pennines and to quell this disorder the Roman governor Quintus Petillius Cerealis (AD 71-74) ordered the IX legion to the area to put down the revolt. The Brigantes were crushed, while Venutius travelled north-east to Richmond where he was eventually defeated by elite Roman troops – it is not known what happened to him after that – more than likely he was killed at Stanwick near Richmond. The date of his death is not known.

On the northern and eastern edge of Ingleborough summit are the remains of some walling which some historians considered to have been a Roman military encampment – though there is still much uncertainty about this. The nearest Roman fort is at Bainbridge to the north which was connected by a Roman road from Ingleton to Lancaster via Cam Fell. Ingleton church is built on top of a mound that could have been used to protect the river crossing, but it is not thought to have been inhabited by the Romans and no evidence of any occupation by them exists in the town itself. Later the Anglo Saxons further to the west moved inland and settled in Ingleton and the surrounding settlements.
Bentley, John., – A Unique Yorkshire Village – The History of Ingleton, Ingleton Publications,2008.
Raistrick, Arthur., – The Pennine Dales, Arrow Books, 1972.
Johnson, David., – Ingleborough: Landscape and History, Carnegie Publishing Ltd., Lancaster, 2008
With thanks also to ‘The Northern Antiquarian’ (General Archaeology Section).
© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2013.