OS Grid Reference: SD 89636 36991. On the lower slope of Knave Hill between Walton Spire and Float Bridge Farm, 2 miles east of Nelson, Lancashire, there are two burial mounds, one of which is quite a large, well defined long barrow, while the other one close-by is a smaller mound but is also probably a long barrow. They are thought to have originally been built in the early Bronze Age, but then in the 10th century AD to have been re-used for the burial of Viking warriors who had died in the slaughter of the Battle of Brunanburh (937 AD) which may have been fought in the vicinity of Knave Hill, or a few miles away in the Burnley area near the river Brun. There are 2 or 3 other small mounds in the vicinity, one of which is just visible at the northwest side of Knave Hill. The hill itself is sometimes spelt “Nave Hill.” To reach the site from Nelson town centre head up Netherfield road and then to the top of Barkerhouse road. Then turn left, then right, and follow Delves Lane (with Walton Spire on your left side). At the junction of four lanes go straight ahead and down the hill. On the left is a farm track (footpath) to Knave Hill farm. The mounds lie a short distance to the east of the modern barns.
In a most excellent article for ‘Pendle & Burnley’ Magazine by the local historian by Mr H. Hindle (1987) we learn that “Knave Hill farm, only two fields below the ancient monolith (Walton Spire) probably derives its name from the Nave Hill burial, a long barrow measuring approximately 2oo feet long by 120 feet wide, and 14 feet high, close to which are two smaller round barrows. Collins New English Dictionary explains ‘Nave’ as the middle or body of a Church, so called because of its resemblance in shape to an inverted ship. Another indication to the antiquity of mans presence in the area is the nearby Ringstone Hill and the countless number of cairns and burial mounds.”
The other mound lies just a little to the east of the larger, long barrow, but is much smaller in overall size. This mound measures roughly 126 feet long, 90 feet wide, and is about 7 feet in height. It could be that this smaller mound is also a long barrow, with its origins in the early Bronze Age but re-used in the 10th century AD. However, these two mounds or barrows are not recorded on any OS maps as far as I can tell, but we do have three or so sources of information with regard to their history – those sources being H. Hindle, Thomas T. Wilkinson (19th century antiquarian of Burnley Grammar School) and John A. Clayton, who mentions these burial mounds in his works of 2006 and 2014. There is another burial mound (possibly even two mounds) at the northwest side of Knave Hill, close to Shelfield lane which skirts the hill upon which is Walton Spire (see link below), a Victorian cross that sits on top of an ancient battle-stone that may have its origins in the 10th century AD, or maybe even earlier. Knave, in place-name form, was probably originally Cnebba or Cnabha (Hill of Cnebba). There is also Jeppe Knaves Grave, a Bronze Age cairn, near Sabden in Lancashire (see link below). And there is a Knave Hill near Todmorden, west Yorkshire.
The Battle of Brunanburh in 937 AD was fought by a collection of rag-tag armies of Celts, Saxons, Norsemen and some others. King Athelstan and the Saxons ‘were’ victorious in the said battle. But where was the Battle of Brunanburh fought? Mr Hindle offers a local place-name: he suggests Emmot in the Forest of Trawden being a strong possibility. But Thomas T. Wilkinson writing in the mid-19th century offers several other possibilities: Saxifield and Daneshouse near the River Brun in Burnley, or between Warcock Hill, near the Long Causeway at Stipernden, and another Warcock Hill at the north side of Thursden Valley. Mereclough near Burnley is another contender for the battle site as there is an area there called “Battlefield”. Bonfire Hill between Briercliffe and Swinden is another strong possibility. Or could it have taken place on the moors above Bacup, Lancashire, or even at Bromborough on the Wirral? We will probably never know.
Sources and other related websites:-
Hindle, H., Colne & Surrounding Areas (article in Pendle & Burnley) Magazine No. 4 (Christmas Issue), Valley Press, Ramsbottom, Bury, Lancs., 1987.
Clayton, John A., Valley of The Drawn Sword, Barrowford Press, 2006.
Clayton, John A., Burnley And Pendle Archaeology – Part One – Ice Age to Early Bronze Age, Barrowford Press, 2914.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.