The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Whitelow Cairn near Shuttleworth, Greater Manchester

Whitelow Hill and Cairn, Shuttleworth, from a nearby hill.

Whitelow Hill and Cairn, Shuttleworth, from a nearby hill.

Whitelow Cairn (looking up to the Western side).

Whitelow Cairn (looking up at the Western side).

    OS grid reference: SD 8049 1627. On Whitelow Hill up above the village of Shuttleworth, near Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester, there is a prehistoric cairn, cairn circle, or ring cairn, on what was a sacred hill to the ancient people – the “low” part of the the site’s name being evident in this case. The burial mound is quite a ‘large and prominent feature’ and in the centre there is a cist grave, which is now almost destroyed. Whitelow cairn can be reached from the A56 (Manchester Road) in Shuttleworth, opposite the Bury Old Road turning. Walk up the “very rocky” Whitelow road to the east for 180m, branching off to the right around the edge of Whitelow Hill for another 220m. There is a gate on the right. It is best to proceed by this gate up to the hill and the cairn, which is at the north side.

Whitelow Cairn (north-west side).

Whitelow Cairn (outer bank north-west side).

Whitelow Cairn (outer bank south-east side).

Whitelow Cairn (outer bank south-east side).

    The large oval-shaped cairn here at Whitelow measures 26m x 24m and has a diameter of 27m. It has a well-defined outer ‘stone’ bank or kerb, especially N and E sides, that is slightly raised. There are some large stones embedded at intervals at the S side, some beneath the grass, whereas the kerb at the E, N and W sides has smaller stones, in little piles, at intervals on top of the slightly raised bank; the kerb at the N side is quite a prominent feature and can be seen from the hill to the north-west. At the centre of the ring cairn is an inner cairn or cist burial, now almost destroyed but still with its pile of stones. The hole or hollow can clearly be seen underneath the stones. Some of these stones clearly look to be shaped and would have originally made up the burial chamber, the large stone looks as if it originally covered the grave? but nothing much remains of that now as many of the stones have gone to be used in nearby walls. Adjacent to the cist, just a few feet away, is a larger stone on its own.

Whitelow Cairn (cist grave at the centre).

Whitelow Cairn (cist grave at the centre).

Whitelow Cairn (cist grave from the north).

Whitelow Cairn (cist grave from the north).

    Excavations were carried out at Whitelow Hill between 1960-62 by Bury Archaeological Group. Twelve or thirteen cremations were discovered – five or six of these cremations being in collared urns. Also found were flint and chert flakes, two clay studs, and two halves of a bronze awl, all dating from the early Bronze-Age (the first half of the second millennium BC). Apparently there used to be at least three more cairns in this area, all situated close to the lane (the old Bury road) which runs to the east of the main site, though these have, sadly, been lost to quarrying and farming. That being the case with Bank Lane Cairn, just north of Whitelow Hill. However, there are what ‘might be’ two cairns (tumuli), although now very faint, in the field over to the southeast at SD 8058 1612 close by the kennels on Bury Old Road. However these two “possible” circular features are not recognizable at ground-level. The finds from Whitelow Cairn are housed in Bury Museum.

Sources and related websites:-,_Greater_Manchester

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Simon’s Cross, Simonstone, Near Padiham, Lancashire

Simon's Cross near Simonstone, Lancashire.

Simon’s Cross near Simonstone, Lancashire.

    OS grid reference: SD 7760 3609. Upon White Hill and just beside Shady Walks at the north-side of Simonstone, near Padiham, Lanca-shire, is a large boulder with a deep socket hole. This is, in fact, the cross-base of a Medieval wayside cross which was known locally as ‘Simon’s Cross’, ‘Simon’s Stone’ or sometimes ‘Wart Well’. Very little is known about its history and who it was named for, or who actually erected the cross. There are inscriptions carved into the sides of the cross-base. The stone can be reached from the A671 (Whalley Road) in Simonstone, then via School Lane and Trapp Lane for ¾ of a mile, passing Higher Trapp Hotel on the left. Just before the top of the lane where the woodland begins go through the wooden kissing gate – the cross-base is beside the wall. Just opposite the cross-base is the beginning of a long and overgrown woodland trench, and the track running alongside this is known locally as Shady Walks!

Simon's Cross at Simonstone, Lancashire.

Simon’s Cross (from above).

    This large, natural and round-shaped boulder, known as ‘Simon’s Cross’ is roughly 4½ ft wide and just over 2 ft high and is thought to weigh 2-3 tonnes. Its socket hole is 1 ft wide and 10′ deep. But it is not always full of rain-water. When it does contain water it is locally called ‘Wart Well’ as it is said to be a cure for warts, or it used to be? When I visited there was no water in the socket hole. On the side of the boulder the words ‘SIMON’S CROSS’ are carved along with a faint cross symbol and some Latin-type letters: maybe J A M and J W and a date that looks like 1860. The cross-shaft that would have fitted into this boulder having long since disappeared, but where did it go to?

Simon's Cross (side view).

Simon’s Cross (side view).

Simon's Cross (close-up of the 'Wart Well').

Simon’s Cross (close-up of the ‘Wart Well’).

    Simon’s Cross originally marked the parish boundary of Simonstone and Read, and was perhaps set up in the late 13th or early 14th century by Simon de Read, or could it have been Simon de Altham in the 14th century? It could also, perhaps, be named after a member of the Whitaker family of Simonstone? But we may never know. Simonstone takes its name from any of these characters. And maybe the monks of Whalley Abbey had some connection with the cross as it may have stood on land owned by that religious house, but the main landowners between here and Clitheroe were the de Lacys. Maybe this was a wayside cross to which pilgrims on-route to the abbey could congregate at – and say prayers for a safe journey – the cross acting as a sort of waymarker. The stone for the building of Whalley Abbey is ‘said’ to have come from quarries at Read and Simonstone.

    “The deep, overgrown trench alongside the path in Shady Walks was a drift mine for the extraction of fire clay”, according to the 1992 book ‘Walks In Lancashire Witch Country’ by Jack Keighley. This industrial quarry working runs beside the woodland track for about ½ a mile.

Sources and related web-sites:-

Clayton, John A., The Lancashire Witch Conspiracy, Barrowford Press, 2007.

Keighley, Jack, Walks In Lancashire Witch Country, Cicerone, 1992.

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Grace Dieu Priory, Near Belton, Leicestershire

Grace Dieu Priory ruins, Leicestershire.

Grace Dieu Priory ruins, near Belton, Leicestershire.

    OS grid reference: SK 4353 1835. The sad, crumbling ruins of Grace Dieu priory, a 13th century religious house, lie just to the east of the A512 Ashby Road and Grace Dieu brook – about halfway between the villages of Belton and Thringstone, Leicestershire. Since about the middle of the 16th century the priory buildings have been left to fall into decay and crumble away, with only the walls and gable-ends standing tall at what was, back in the Middle Ages, a large priory of Augustine (Augustinian) canonesses, with an attached hospice for the poor and infirm. The ruins are 500m north-west of Abbey Ford farm and just south of where Ashby Road meets with Gracedieu Lane, south of Belton.

    The priory of Grace Dieu (Grace of God) was founded in 1239 by Roesia (Rose) de Verdon, who was a noblewoman and landowner from Belton, and dedicated to St Mary, God and the Holy Trinity. Agnes de Gresley was the first prioress. It was in essence an “independent” religious house of Augustinian canonesses (also known as the White Nuns of St Augustine), and apparently a ‘strict’ order of sisters. This was probably the only house of the order in England. The walls and gable-ends of the nave (church), chapter-house and south range are still standing, although now roofless and skeletal and with much stonework missing, windows now  gaping holes, and walls only half their original height; the nave (E side) is perhaps the best preserved part and is entered through a stone archway. After the Dissolution and subsequent “late” closure of the house in 1538-9 much of the stonework was used in order to build the attached private residence. There are only scant foundations of the kitchens, infirmary (guest house) and late 14th century hospice for the poor and infirm, which only ever housed 12 local people at any one time. The nearby earthworks are probably the priory’s fishponds.

    After 1539 the priory ruins were sold and then a private mansion house was built beside the ruins, much of the stonework coming from the priory walls. In the mid-17th century it was sold again to a wealthy lawyer of Garendon Abbey. It was he who added to the priory’s destruction. By 1730 the religious buildings were in a very ruinous state, with only two large sections remaining, but with their roofs still intact. In the 1830s the ruins were again sold off. Today the ruins are said to be the haunt of a ghostly figure who has been referred to as ‘the white lady’. This is perhaps the ghost of Agnes de Litherland, the last prioress? The tomb of the foundress Roesia de Verdon was originally in the priory church, but this was taken for safety to St John’s Church at Belton. She apparently inaugurated an annual fair in the village, which is still held in late May or early June, mainly for the sale of horses (Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain).

Sources and other related web-sites:-

Bottomley, Frank, The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward Ltd., Kingswood, Tadworth, Surrey, 1981.

Reader’s Digest, Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain, Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1977.

The AA, The Illustrated Road Book of England & Wales, The Automobile Association, London, 1961.

Wright, Geoffrey N., Discovering Abbeys and Priories, (Third Edition), Shire Publications Ltd., Princess Risborough, Bucks, 1994.

Hitching Stone, Near Cowling, West Yorkshire

Hitching Stone on Keighley Moor.

Hitching Stone on Keighley Moor.

    OS grid reference: SD 9866 4170.  At the western side of Keighley Moor, between Cowling and Keighley, stands a huge gritstone boulder called ‘Hitching Stone’. The stone stands on the Lancashire—Yorkshire border and also parish boundaries. Hitching Stone is in fact an erratic boulder which was deposited here many thousands of years ago by a retreating glacier at the end of the last Ice Age. There are some in-teresting myths and legends associated with this huge boulder, not all of them being plausible. The stone can be reached from Buckstone Lane to the east of Cowling. There is a small carpark for Wainman’s Pinnacle. Take either of the two footpaths opposite this carpark and head south onto the moor for around 880m; the footpaths cross some quite boggy land and a couple of streams, but keep close to the wall all the way to Hitching Stone. You can’t really miss it as the huge boulder stands out on the landscape for several miles!

Hitching Stone (closer up) north and west faces.

Hitching Stone (closer up) the north and west faces.

    Hitching Stone is a huge, almost square-shaped block of gritstone that is probably as large as a small house, well it is 21 feet high, and is almost 30 feet long and 25 feet wide, and is said to weigh well over 1,000 tonnes. It probably originally came from Earl Crag up above Cowling, which is just over a mile to the north. At the last Ice Age 12,000-14,000 years ago the great boulder was scooped up by a retreating glacier, and as it moved southwards the ‘object’ was deposited in its current location – rather like it was ‘hitching a lift’, and that might be where the name “Hitching” comes from, or a giant carried the stone from Rombald’s Moor – though that giant could have been the retreating glacier! Another legend says a witch from Ilkley pushed or threw the stone across the moor to its current position! It is reputed to be Yorkshire’s largest boulder.

Hitching Stone (west face showing fissure and hole).

Hitching Stone (west face showing fissure and rectangular hole).

    About half-way up the west face of the stone is a large rectangular-shaped dark hole (recess)which seems to go quite along way into the stone, similar perhaps to a tiny cave, but it would seem that a large stone of a ‘different type’ was originally embedded into it; this eventually eroded away leaving the large, natural hole. This has sometimes been called ‘The Druid’s Chair’- harking back to more ancient, magical times, perhaps. Just above that is a long fissure (tube) that runs through the whole of the N and W faces. This fissure was originally filled by a fossilized tree which eroded away leaving the massive crack across the stone, almost cutting the top half in two. On the top of the stone there is a hollowed-out basin that is 3 foot deep and usually filled with rainwater; indeed this natural pool of water is never said to dry-up even in hot, dry conditions.

Hitching Stone (the south-east side).

Hitching Stone (the south-east side).

     Paul Bennett in his highly acclaimed work ‘The Old Stones of Elmet’, says of Hitching Stone: “It is a likely contender as a British omphalos, or ‘culture of the universe’ stone. Our other omphalos contender, the Ashlar Chair ten miles to the east, is just visible on the distant horizon. Its geomantic virtues represent the forces of life, death, rebirth and Illumination.” Bennett goes on to say that: “As a centre-point to the many regions it is little surprise the Hitching Stone was used as the meeting place of ancient councils and local parliaments. This tradition only stopped in the eighteenth century. Prior to this, folklore tells us it was used as a council moot by the pre-christian priests (druids). In similar tradi-tion this giant boulder was also the site of markets and Lammas fairs held in early August—the last of which was held in 1870. Such gatherings originated in pre-Christian times and it is likely that the gatherings here were part of a tradition which went back several thousand years.”

Hitching Stone (north face).

Hitching Stone (north face).

    In the book “The Pendle Zodiac’ by Thomas Sharpe, we are told more about the solstice alignment and sighting point with regard to ‘Hitching Stone’. The authors says: “The Hitching Stone is a glacial erratic, which seems to have been guided through this recursive field to its present position at the centre of the innermost polygon (vortex effect). This may have happened because even up until the end of the last glaciation, the Earth would have been relatively ethereal and less physically dense than it is today. It partly explains why the calibration curves of radiometric dating, using the half-lives of radioactive isotopes, are generally inconsistent. Then of course, the subtle fields may likewise guide migratory birds  shown to have a magnetic sense. For instance, over the West Sussex migratory wetlands of Pulborough Brooks is centred a replica polygon. The Hitching Stone, then, as well as marking an old county boundary, has become an entelechy in itself, and nesting within its attractor field it really exists between two worlds.”

    Sharpe goes on to say that: “Local tradition claims that the Winter Solstice sunrise is from behind the Hitching Stone, when viewed from the cup-marked and aptly named ‘Winter Hill Stone’. In the same fashion…..the Vernal Equinox sunrise (from) behind the Hitching Stone is in alignment with Pendle Hill.” The Winter Hill Stone is roughly 500 yards to the north-west of Hitching Stone.

Sources and related web-sites:-

Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann Publishing, Milverton, Somerset, 2001.

Sharpe, Thomas, The Pendle Zodiac, Spirit Of Pendle Publishing, 2012.