The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Winterton Roman Villa, Old Cliff Farm, North Lincolnshire

OS grid reference SE 9138 1809. At the west side of Winterton, a small town 5 miles north of Scunthorpe, in north Lincolnshire, are the oblong-shaped earthworks of what would have been the quite opulent 2nd century Winterton Roman Villa, one of two in this area. The site is located behind Old Cliff Farm just to the west of Roxby road and Top Road (A1077). Normanby Hall Country Park is 1 mile to the south-east, while the Humber estuary is just 2 miles to the north. The Romans called the Humber river Abus Fuvius. In the town of Winterton itself, to the east of North Street, is the site of another Roman villa, or a 4th century Romano-British farmstead, and few miles to the east of the town is the course of the Roman road running north from Lindum (Lincoln) to Eboracum (York) via a ferry across the river to the (civitus) Roman capital of Brough (Petvaria) on the opposite bank of the estuary. The area around Winterton was home to a Roman tile-cum-pottery manufacturing site and also an early mineral extraction site that processed iron-ore.

The villa appears to have been built in three seperate stages at different times from the early to middle 2nd century AD up until the mid 4th century AD (the Romano-British period), each newer (ancillary) building being linked via a corridor (aisle) with the most recent part of the villa at it’s western-side measuring roughly 110 by 40 feet with interior dry-stone walls and double rows of roof support posts at 8 feet apart. There was a limestone floor with two large mosaics and a water channel or gulley running beneath that with a hypercaust (underfloor heating system), and some interesting wall paintings. During excavations pottery sherds from the 2nd century AD were found under the mosaic floor. Two stone round houses also stood in the grounds of the villa.

The eastern side of the villa had been, in more recent times, demolished to make way for road widening and, during this road widening in 1968 some 4th century Bronze-workings were found. Workmen also came across a stone coffin with lead lining at the bottom. This contained the skeleton of a  woman in her early 20s who may have lived at the villa in Roman times, although a more recent date, perhaps of the Anglo-Saxon or Viking ages, has been given to her?

When archaeological excavations took place between 1958-1967 ‘broadperiod’ pottery sherds from the 2nd century were excavated; also fragments of  mosaics, a statue, parts of the hypercaust heating system and a number of other antiquities from the villa site as well as finds from the surrounding area, all of which are now on display in the North Lincolnshire Museum, formerly the Scunthorpe Museum, on Oswald Road in the town.

Just to the east of North Street (the B1207) road in Winterton are the scant earthworks of what is probably another Roman villa, or a Romano-British farmstead-cum-settlement, according to some, from the 4th century AD? This site was discovered in 1953.

Sources:-

Stead, I.M., Excavations at Winterton Roman Villa and other Roman Sites in North Lincolnshire, H.M.S.O (Dept of The Environment Archaeological Reports no 9), 1976.

Ordnance Survey, Historical map and guide – Roman Britain, (Fifth Edition), Southampton, 2001. 

Click on the link http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsBritain/EnglandLindsey.htm

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Sweyne’s Howes, Rhossili, Gower Peninsula, Wales

OS grid reference SS 4209 8982. About one and half miles north-east of Rhossili village at the far western-side of the Gower Peninsula – and at the bottom of the eastern scarp of Rhossili Downs – are two ‘former’ portal burial chambers (dolmens), standing around 100 metres (330 feet) apart, and called Sweyne’s Howes or ‘Sweyne’s How’, ‘Swain Houses’ and also ‘Sweye’s Houses’. The place-name Howes or How means or refers to burial mounds or tumuli.

Sweyne was the name of a Scandinavian warlord who lived and died in this area in the 11th century, but the megalithic monuments pre-date him by three thousand years or more. However the chambers (north and south) are now in a poor condition, the northern chamber being the best preserved of the two. Both burial chambers can be reached on footpaths heading north from Rhossili, close to the often windswept Gower coastline. The village of Llangennith lies 3 miles to the north-east, while the city of Swansea is 17 miles to the east on the A4418.

The northern burial chamber or dolmen stands upon an oval-shaped mound which is a cairn measuring roughly 60 feet by 42 feet though it is now in a ruinous condition – as is the chamber. However it’s condition is resonable. Two upright slabs support a capstone that has slipped down on it’s side and, in the middle, there is a fallen upright stone and a smaller recumbant stone. It’s portal has gone. There are slight traces of a kerb and also a few outer stones still (in situ) stand close by. The south burial chamber of Sweyne’s Howes at Os grid reference SS4205 8976 has been largerly robbed away. It’s alomost circular burial mound with a very damaged and jumbled arrangement of stones that make up the cairn measures 70 feet by 50 feet. Nothing much remains of the burial chamber, sadly. The large capstone now lies flat though two of the uprights ‘still’ stand on their own beside it. Both monuments date back at least 5,000 years to the Neolithic period of prehistory 2,000-3,000 years BC.

Sweyne or Swain, was according to legend, a Scandinavian warlord of the early 11th century AD. He was probably the founder of Swansea (Sweyn’s-ey) but he came to live on the western side of the Gower Peninsula and died there. Whether he was buried in one if the mounds that make up Sweyne’s Howes we do not know. It seems most unlikely because these two monuments pre-date him by several thousand years. But there was apparently a king of that name who died in south Wales about c 1014 AD, so there could be some truth in the story. There are other numerous prehistoric monuments in the vicinty of Rhossili Downs, dating from the Bronze-Age to the Iron-Age, that are worth exploring, including cairns, round barrows and a ring-fort.

Sources:-

The Gower Society,  A Guide To Gower, Gower Society Publications, 1989.

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

The National Trust, The Gower Peninsula (An illustrated souvenir), 1991.

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

Click on the link for a photo of Sweyne’s Howes north http://www.aenigmatis.com/prehistoric-sites/wales/sweynes-howes-north.jpg

 


The Gosforth Cross, Cumbria

The Gosforth Cross, Cumbria

The Gosforth Cross, Cumbria

OS grid reference: NY 0720 0360. At the north side of Gosforth village on Wasdale Road, Cumbria, stands the ancient parish church of St Mary and, in  the churchyard the equally ancient and famous Gosforth Cross. The monument is a very tall, slender Anglo-Norse (Scandi-navian) high-cross made from red sandstone, dating from the 10th century. It is richly decorated with some very exquisite carvings of Norse gods, Christian symbolism and mythical beasts. The ancient church houses two hog-back tombstones and another carved stone. Whitehaven on the Cumbrian coast is 12 miles to the north-west and the A595 is three-quarters of a mile to the west of Gosforth village. Seascale the attractive holiday town is 2 miles to the south on the B5344.

The Gosforth Cross stands at 4.4 metres (14 feet 5 inches) high and is very well-preserved for its age, which is probably 950-1000 AD, the late Anglo-Saxon age. It’s slender shaft tapers away towards the ornate, four-holed cross-head that is also in a relatively good state of preservation. Three-quarters of the cross-shaft N, W, E and S faces are richly ornamented with scenes (in panels) bordered by roll-moulding showing Norse gods like Thor, Odin, Loki, Mimir and Heimdallr, all of whom figure strongly in the famous Norse poems of Edda, but there are also Christian figures too like Christ crucified and symbolism from the early Christian period.

English: Gosforth Cross outside St. Mary's chu...

Gosforth Cross(Photo credit: English Lakes – Wikipedia)

Thor is depicted fishing for the Midgard serpent Jormungandr, Heimdallr is holding his customary horn, Loki appears chained and bound with his protective wife, Sigya below him, and Vioarr is attempting to open the fearsome jaws of Fenrir. Christ appears crucified and also in majesty, a sign of his victory over the pagan gods. There are many strange mythical beasts’ heads that are joined together with interlacing, including a dragon (Surt) and numerous serpents, and also animals such as wolves and deer.

A number of human figures also appear, one is holding a spear, while another has his arms and legs chained with a knot-work cord around his neck in the form of a snake; also a female figure holding a bowl. Horsemen are also quite prevelent with spears. The lower rounded section of the shaft has much plainer chevron-style pattern-work representing the tree of Yggdrasil, while below that the bottom of the shaft is largerly devoid of carving. The significance and symbolism of the carvings were first identified by Mr Charles Parker, the antiquarian, in 1886, who later wrote about his findings in a book.

Inside the church of St Mary, a Norman foundation on a Saxon site, there are two carved hog-back tombs (shaped like houses) from the Viking Age, one of which shows Thor once again fishing for the Midgard Serpent, as well as battle scenes and other carvings. Another Anglo-Norse stone in the north aisle called the Fishing Stone, may be part of a cross-shaft or part of a Anglo-Norse frieze? This depicts a deer trampling on the fearsome serpent Jormungandr and dates from the 10th century AD.

Sources:-

Parker, Charles., Ancient Cross of Gosforth in Cumberland, Elliot Stock, 1896.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books (Harper Collins), 1991.

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

Maxwell, Fraser., Companion Into Lakeland, Methuen, London, 1939.

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The Roman Lighthouse, Dover, Kent

Roman Lighthouse, Dover, Kent

Roman Lighthouse, Dover, Kent (photo credit: Garry Hogg)

OS grid reference TR 3260 4181. At the south-eastern side of Dover, Kent, along Mortimer Road on the promontory called Eastern Heights and in the grounds of Dover Castle, a 12th century Norman strong-hold, stands a ‘reasonably’ well-preserved Roman Lighthouse or Pharos, dating from around 46-50 AD (during the reign of the Emperor Claudius 41-54 AD) and, just after the invasion of Britain in 43 AD; the Roman army possibly first coming ashore here or further along the Kent coast at Walmer. There was a second Roman lighthouse at Breden-stone on the Western Heights but nothing much of that remains. The parish church of St Mary-in-Castro, a late Saxon foundation from 1000 AD, stands right beside the Pharos but is not attached.

The Romans built a large fort here in c130 AD in order to guard the harbour and sea-route for the fleet sailing from Gaul and through the English Channel. It seems likely they rebuilt the fort in the mid 3rd century. They called the place Portus Dubris or Dubrae, which eventually became the Port of Dover. A Roman road runs north-west from Dover to the Roman town (civitus) at Duruvernum Cantiacorum (Canterbury). There is also evidence to say that the mound and earthworks (hillfort) on which the castle, church and lighthouse stand dates back to the Bronze-Age or, more likely the Iron-Age? The M20 motorway is 12 miles to the west of the town.

Roman Lighthouse, Dover

Roman Lighthouse, Dover

Today the pharos is only a four-storey building at 19 metres or around 60 feet high with the top floor section being a medieval restoration, but originally it was six levels high at 24 metres or 80 feet and, maybe even eight levels high, according to some Roman historians? In the 13-14th century the lighthouse was in use as a church bell-tower and it was at this time the medieval stonework was added to strengthen the top 6 metre section, making it look more like a fortified ‘church tower’ with battlements. A flight of stone steps runs up the inside of the structure but is now cut-off at the belfry.

After nearly two thousand years the original Roman stonework on the seaward-side is looking quite weather-worn and crumbly and the entrance and window openings rather worse for wear, with gaping holes, though the top medieval section is still in a resonable state of repair. A beacon of fire would have burned every night on the top of the lighthouse enabling Roman sailing vessels crossing the channel between Gaul and Brittania to navigate their way into the harbour without coming to harm on the rocky headland. The lighthouse would have been manned all through the night by a regular ‘watch’ of sailors from the Classis Britannica naval fleet galley crews who may have camped beside the harbour and, with the help of slaves they apparently built the pharos as a replica to the design of Emperor Caligula’s (37-41 AD) lighthouse at Boulogne-sur-Mer near Calais on the northern coast of France, which was built in 40 AD; the Classis Britannica themselves coming from that area of Gaul. The fort at Dubris (Dover) was garrisoned by the Milites Tungrecani legion.

Sources:-

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

Ordnance Survey, Historical map and guide – Roman Britain, (Fifth Edition), Southampton, 2001.

http://www.dover-kent.co.uk/defence/pharos_st_mary.htm

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Aiggin Stone, Blackstone Edge, Lancashire/West Yorkshire

Aiggin Stone on Blackstone Edge, near Littleborough.

OS Grid Ref SD 9732 1713. The Aiggin Stone on Blackstone Edge is best reached via the A58 and is 2 miles to the north-east of Littleborough. This well-defined and quite well-preserved stretch of Roman road going up over Blackstone Edge can be reached on foot, of course, from the A58 and after about half a mile the Aiggin Stone can be seen at the side of the Roman road. Some historians now believe this is a medieval road or trackway that was constructed over the foundations of the Roman road in the 13th century, eventually becoming a packhorse road. The Roman road, if that’s what it really is, with it’s worn flat stones and gulley or channel running down the middle connects MAMUCIUM (Manchester) with VERBEIA (Ilkley) and then EBORACUM (York).

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The inscribed Aiggin Stone stands in a flat rectangular area amidst a jumble of large recumbant stones and a cairn, and marks the boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire. It is, in fact, a gritstone pillar standing at nearly 4 feet high, and carved on it there is an incised cross as well as the letters I and T. A plaque says the Aiggin Stone is a Medieval waymarker that is 600 years old. Originally it was 7 foot high but over hundreds of years it has been pushed over, or fallen over, and the lower section broken off. The stone tapers towards the top where the Latin-style cross is carved. A pointed cairn stands beside the waymarker stone, no doubt being added to over hundreds of years by walkers traversing the high-level ancient route between Littleborough and Ripponden, high up on the windswept Pennines moors.
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Aiggin Stone

Aiggin Stone

These marker stones or waymarkers were used for religious purposes; travellers would stop at the stone and say a prayer for a safe journey over the bleak, windswept moors. Some of these stones were even used by people carrying coffins; the coffin rested here and prayers for the dead would be recited, perhaps a stone or two placed on top of the cairn as well. Just below the carved cross are two letters I and T which obviously have some religious significance, possibly meaning IN TEDIUM or ‘In the Lord we trust’ or ‘In praise of the Lord’. Near the bottom of the stone some more letters: an I or a T and perhaps ED (In Tedium).

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There are other stones on the moors around Blackstone Edge: The Letter Stones to the south of here, the Hanging Rocks and Rocking Stone near the M62 motorway to mention but a few.
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The Whalley Crosses, Lancashire

OS grid reference SD 7323 3616. In the churchyard of St Mary & All Saints parish church, off King Street, Whalley, in the Ribble Valley are three late Anglo-Saxon sandstone crosses, one in particular is richly carved, but the other two are now showing signs of erosion and, even damage. They all date from the 10th-11th centuries and are often referred to as being Anglian, though two of the crosses display what is probably Norse influence. The three crosses are often thought to be associated with St Paulinus who came to Whalley in the 7th century AD and used them as preaching crosses, but this is thought unlikely. He may, however, have established the first wooden church here on this very site, though the present-day church is largerly a medieval structure, dating from the beginning of the 13th century.

It is well-worth having a look inside the church because there is, amongst it’s many treasures, a Roman altar with a carving of the god Mars, a grave-stone ‘supposedly’ belonging to John Paslew the last abbot of Whalley abbey who was executed at Lancaster in 1537 for taking part in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and also the tombstone of Peter de Cestria, the only rector of Whalley (1235-96). There is an inscribed Roman stone set into the inner archway over the north doorway that has an inscription: FLAVIUS VOT OMPOSU and is probably from the late 3rd century AD. The yellow gritstone font is 15th century. Outside the church adjacent to the south porch there are two hollowed-out stone coffins from the 13th century and near those a large stone block that may be the base of a Roman pillar. The churchyard sundial on a stepped base bears an inscription: LAT 53 40 AD 1757 and another date 1737 – the dial was purchased in 1738.

The three crosses are as follows:-

Whalley Cross No I

Whalley Cross No I

Cross No I (The Western Cross) is decribed as a panelled cross and is just under 3 metres high (9 foot 6 inches). This cross dates from the late 10th to early 11th century and is the earliest of the three. It may have replaced an earlier wooden, painted cross. It displays a strong Anglo-Norse influence in it’s carvings, although now rather worn. There are six panels on the east face – the third middle panel shows a saint in prayer with up-raised hands, or it may be Christ, standing between serpents; another panel has a pelican and another shows the symbol of eternity ‘The Dog of Berser’ the Christianised Scandinavian emblem representing the creator. In the top panel there is a dove representing the Holy Spirit. And there is also the usual interlacing and pattern-work. The head of the cross, now badly damaged, seems not to be the original though it looks about right for this particular cross; it may, however, have been the cross-head for Whalley cross no III? The base of this cross is now set beneath the ground perhaps to stop the lean!

Whalley Cross No II

Whalley Cross No II

Cross No II (Near the porch) is by far the best preserved of the three at 2.2 metres high (7 foot 2 inches) and dating from the late 10th to early 11th century. This sandstone cross stands on a large base-stone that is more recent in date. Part of the shaft is apparently missing at the top and the cross-head is badly mutilated although it’s central, carved boss is still quite prominent. The shaft is richly decorated with what is said to be ‘The Tree of Life’ or ‘The Tree of Calvary’ with vine branches going off in both directions and ending in S-shaped scrolls, and there is more scroll-working and zig-zag patterning on both faces and the edges. It’s base-stone also has zig-zag decoration on it’s upper surface. This is undoubtedly a very nice cross to look at and good to photograph when the sunlight is in the right place!

Whalley Cross No III

Whalley Cross No III

Cross No III (the Eastern Cross) is 2.1 metres high (6 foot 10 inches) and stands in a large oblong base-stone that has two other square-shaped socket holes. Were there originally three crosses similar to a calvary here? The cross is now heavily eroded but traces of Anglo-Saxon carving can still be seen (with a keen eye) on the front (west) face, whereas the opposite face is worn away and showing some damage. The cross-head is not the original – this one being a 14th century Gothic head. Fragments of the original cross-head can be seen in the interior walls of St Mary’s church. The shaft has two figures with haloes stood together half-way up with scroll-work and interlacing above and below all in a pelleted edged-border that show signs of Norse origins. The Gothic head is very ornate and has the letters I.H.S in the centre and a crucifix on the opposite side.

Sources:-

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

Snape, H.C. Rev., The Parish Church Of Saint Mary All Saints Whalley Lancashire England, Church Guidebook (6th Edition), 1978.

Fell, Jimmy,  Window on Whalley, Countryside Publications Limited, Brinscall, Chorley, Lancashire, 1979.