OS Grid Reference: SD 94338 25428. About 1 mile north of Todmorden, west Yorkshire, at the eastern edge of Todmorden Golf Course there is a Bronze Age cairn circle, ring cairn or round barrow. This is usually referred to as Blackheath Circle, but locally it is called Frying Pan Circle, because of its circular shape. It also sometimes goes under the name ‘Blackheath Ringbank Cemetery’. This circular feature is now incorporated into a raised, grassy golf barrow, but at ground-level it is hardly noticeable today apart from a slight raised bank at either side of the mound. The grass is often a brownish colour where the cairn’s outer raised ring shows up after being mowed. The site is situated at over 900 feet above sea-level. When excavated several cremation urns were found along with other artefacts. Blackheath Circle is best reached from Kebs Lane, Eastwood Road and then Hey Head Lane, which goes past the golf course. About halfway down the lane on the right-hand side there is a wall-stile and footpath along the edge of the golf course – the grassy golf barrow and Bronze Age circle, or what’s left of it, being 190m along this path.
The following information is taken from ‘Life In Bronze Age Times – A Resource Book For Teachers’. It says of the site: “Blackheath is a Prehistoric cemetery situated at 940 feet (287) O.D., on a south facing slope. On excavation it was found to comprise a circular bank of earth 3 feet (1m) high in which large stones were regularly arranged. The circle was 100 feet (30m) in diameter. There was no obvious entrance. A circular area with a floor of beaten clay was enclosed by the bank.
“There were cairns both inside the circle and in the earth bank. These revealed pits and cists containing cremation burials. Nineteen were found in all. Some of the cremations were found in urns. The urns were all upright and buried just below the surface. A characteristic feature of the urned cremations was the use of a small inverted vessel placed upside down in the urn and serving as a lid.
“The central urn is 11 inches (20 cm) high. The collar shows impressions made by twisted cord. As well as bones, the urn con-tained a small decorated pygmy vessel . In this vessel there was a bronze dagger, a bone pin and a bronze pin.
Another urn also contained a pygmy vessel together with beads of faience, amber, jet and shale, two bone pins, flint flakes and a leaf shaped arrowhead. Two of the urns were covered by other vessels, one of which may have been a food vessel. With the exception of the two urns in the bank, all the finds were in the eastern half of the circle. In the rest of the circle there were areas where the floor showed evidence of being baked by a great heat. These were covered with a layer of charcoal 1-2 inches thick. It was suggested that these may have been the areas where the bodies were cremated. Two deep pits were also found, possibly the holes where clay was dug out of the ground for making the pots. Areas of coarse sandstone were discovered. This could have been used for grinding down and mixing with the clay. There was at least one (possibly four) kilns. These were cist-like structures surrounded by baked floors where the pottery was fired.”
Author Paul Bennett in his work ‘The Old Stones of Elmet”, says that: “The archaic West Yorkshire game of Knurr and Spell used to be played inside this circle. This is a game played with a wooden ball (the knurr) which is released by a spring from a small brass cup at the end of a tongue of steel (the spell). When the player touches the spring the ball flies in the air and is struck with a bat. Quite why they chose this place is unknown.”
Mr Bennett goes on to say with regard to Blackheath Circle that: “It was accurately described for the first time by Robert Law (1898) in the Halifax Naturalist; but a most eloquent detail of the site was given several years later by J. Lawson Russell (1906) who, even then, told that it had been “”cut into again and again by deep plough ruts, marked out by tufts and hummocks of varying height.”
“The first detailed excavation was done on July 7, 1898, when the site was examined in quadrants and turf cut accordingly. “”The diameter of the circle was 100ft (30.5m), ie. measuring ridge to ridge, from north to south, Russell told us. ………There were a number of large stones set around the edge of the circle, some of which were still in situ in 1898. This led subsequent archaeologists to think the site was originally a stone circle. It may have been, but I’m sure the excavators of the period would have made such allusions. Certainly they thought it had some ritual import. How can we disagree!?”, says Mr Bennett.
Sources and other related websites:-
Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann Publishing, Milverton, Somerset, 2001.
Thomlinson, Sarah & O’ Donnell, John, Life In Bronze Age Times – A Resource Book For Teachers, Curriculum Development Centre, Burnley.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.