The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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St Robert’s Cave-Chapel And Holy Well, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

St Robert’s Cave by Storye book (Wikimedia Commons).

OS Grid Reference: SE 36083 56059. In a secluded wooded area near Grimbald Bridge between Abbey Road and the River Nidd at Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, is St Robert’s Cave & Holy Cross Chapel. Nearby, another chapel, but a 15th century wayside chapel and shrine, hewn out of the rock, which is today dedicated to Our Lady of The Crag. This particular chapel is not how-ever associated with St Robert. About 470m to the north is St Robert’s holy well, a healing spring resorted to by the faithful in times past. Robert Flower (1160-1218) was a hermit who spent many years here – more especially his latter years – but also at a number of other monastic sites across Yorkshire. He was said to have performed some miracles and devoted much of his time to the poor, though he was never canonised by the Church.  You can reach St Robert’s Cave from the newer bridge on Wetherby Road (B 6164). Go down the steps onto Abbey Road and a bit further south beside the river is the cave. The medieval Chapel of ‘Our Lady of the Crag’ is ½ a mile to the west at the other end of Abbey Road. St Robert’s Well was located on Monkswell Park Road about a ¼ of a mile north of town.

David Hugh Farmer (1982) says that St Robert was: “The son of an important townsman of York and became a cleric early in life. As a subdeacon he was a novice at the Cistercian abbey of Newminster, but stayed only a few months. He then chose to live as a herm at Knaresborough in a cave where another hermit, also in residence, was a knight in hiding from Richard I, on whose death (1199) he returned to his wife. Robert continued there for some years, until a wealthy widow offered him a cell and chapel at Rudfarlington, near by. A year later this hermitage was destroyed by bandits, so Robert lived at Spofforth under the church wall for a few months, then at Hedley near Tadcaster, where he found the monks to easy-going, before returning to Rudfarlington. Here he had four servants and kept livestock, but was soon in trouble with William de Stuteville, constable of Knaresborough Castle, for harbouring thieves and outlaws. The charge may have been true, for Robert was well known for charity to the destitute. The hermitage was destroyed by William; Robert returned to his cave at Knaresborough, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Farmer goes on to say of St Robert: “His benefactors included King John who gave him forty acres of land in 1216, which he eventually accepted for the poor  and so refused to pay tithes on it. William de Stuteville also gave him land and cows. Robert had a companion called Yves, who  remained with him for the rest of his life.

Farmer also adds that: “Robert’s death, like much of his life, was controversial. Cistercian monks from Fountains tried unsuccessfully to aggregate him to their Order on his death-bed and, after his death on 24th September, to bury his body in their church. But he refused the first and foiled the second by arranging for his burial at the chapel beside his cave. Later the Trinitarian house at Knaresborough acquired the hermitage: papal records for 1252 offered  an indulgence for ‘Building the monastery of St. Robert at Gnaresbur, where the saint’s body is buried’. This document followed his translation, but preceded any official process of canonization, for which a book of Lives and prayers was prepared. Official canonization never took place, but implicit approval was given to the cult. The chapel became a place of pilgri-mage, where oil flowed from the tomb. Matthew Paris regarded Edmund of Canterbury, Elizabeth of Hungary and Robert of Knaresborough as outstanding saints of the early 13th century.”

Sign at St Robert’s  Cave by Caruso 308 (Wikipedia)

St Robert’s Cave on Abbey Road, with its connecting chambers and the grotto-like inner chapel, were carved out of the solid Limestone cliff beside the river Nidd. It’s thought the saint himself enlarged the chapel and hermitage which has a stone altar, stone seat, two alcoves, medieval carved cross and more recent graffiti; building this structure must have taken a considerable amount of both energy and time. The chapel was dedicated in honour of the Holy Cross and maybe also St Giles? Pilgrims visited the hermit-saint knowing him to be a miracle worker, and even some eminent local people were known to seek his good council. However, the cave and chapel were frequently flooded by the river Nidd and for long periods remained uninhabited and cut off – this more so in recent times. After the death of St Robert in 1218 his body lay in a tomb that was located in the cave-chapel. There is a church dedicated to him at Knaresborough and another at Pannall, north Yorkshire. Morley church, Derby-shire, has some very nice stained-glass windows depicting the Life of St Robert of Knaresborough. His feast-day is 24th September.

There used to be a holy well named for St Robert 470m to the north of the saint’s cave (at SE 3629 5650), but today that holy spot is the Monkswell Business Park, Manse Lane. However, the last vestiges of the said well/spring can still be seen although today it is a ‘wishing well’ into which locals throw coins! Robert Charles Hope (1893) said of this well that: “A short distance above Grimbald’s Bridge, in a field called Halykeld Sykes, on the north side of the river Nidd, is “”St Robert’s Well.”” There is also a chapel of St. Robert of Knaresborough, which was confirmed by charter to the Brethren of the Order of the Holy Trinity at Knaresborough by Richard, Earl of Cornwall.” Another holy well, said to be named after St Robert, can still be seen just to the southeast of Levisham, north Yorkshire.

Our Lady of The Crag, Knaresborough. (Drawing)

About ½ a mile to the west, at the other end of Abbey Road, is the medieval chapel of  ‘Our-Lady-of-the Crag’, which has sometimes mistakenly been called St Robert’s Chapel, but this folly-like structure was built 200 years after the saint. The chapel, with its tiny inner shrine, was carved out of the sandstone rock-face in c1408 by a local mason by the name of John, whose son was almost killed in a rock fall. John prayed to Our Lady for a miracle. His son survived, and to thank Our Lady for the miracle he built the Chapel in thanks. The inside of the chapel is very tiny but there is an altar and a lovely modern statue of Mary. It has a carved vaulted ceiling with bosses and gargoyles. Church services do still occasionally take place at the chapel and groups of pilgrims come on visits (see the St Mary of Knaresborough website, below, for more informa-tion). By the chapel’s entrance and ‘standing guard’ is an 18th century carved statue of a very life-like knight in armour holding his sword. The chapel is Grade I Listed.

Our Lady Of The Crag Chapel.

Headley & Meulenkamp (1999) add with regard to this chapel and saying that: “………it is a wayside shrine with beautiful Gothic decoration, immediately above it is Fort Montague, an 18th century folly.” They say of Knaresborough that: “it resembles parts of Derbyshire, not least because of the large number of hermits caves.” Fisher & Pennington (1953) say that: “It was originally a wayside chapel, founded at the beginning of the fifteenth century. It won its unenviable place in the annals of notoriety when Eugene Aram hid in it the body of his victim. Aram was convicted of murder and executed in 1759 many years after his crime, which was given a romantic interest quite undeser-ved by a novel of Bulwer Lytton. The figure is of a knight drawing his sword.”  

Sources and related websites:-

Farmer, David Hugh, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, 1982.

Fisher, Graham & Pennington, John, Historic Britain, Odhams Books, Feltham, Middlesex, 1953.

Headley, Gwyn & Meulenkamp, Wim, Follies Grottoes And Garden Buildings, Aurum Press Ltd., London, 1999.

Hope, Robert Charles, The Legendary Lore Of The Holy Wells Of England, Forgotten Books, 2012 (originally published 1893)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Roberts_Cave_008

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

http://www.stmarysknaresborough.org/shrine.html

https://www.visitharrogate.co.uk/things-to-do/st-roberts-cave-p1203201

http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/site/1970/

http://www.halikeld.f9.co.uk/holywells/north/robert1.htm

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=26391

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


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Saxon Cross in St Peter’s Minster Church, Leeds, West Yorkshire

The Anglo- Saxon Cross in St Peter’s.

OS Grid Reference: SE 30657 33295. In St Peter’s parish church on Kirkgate in Leeds, west Yorkshire, there is a very tall and slender 10th century Anglo-Saxon wheel-headed cross, which stands on the Altar Flat. This very large city centre church is nowadays called Leeds Minster or ‘The Minster and Parish Church of Saint Peter-at-Leeds’. The cross-shaft fragments were discovered in the late 1830s when the tower was being demolished, but much of the present cross is a Victorian reconstruction of the original one, or as near to that as possible. There are several carved (sculptured) panels on the tall cross-shaft whereas other sections have nothing at all; and though it looks to be somewhat “cobbled-together’, it is a fairly credible-looking piece of construction. The church “here” was first mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) which stated that Leeds had a church, a priest and a mill; at this time the ruling overlord of Leeds was Ilbert de Lacy and the underlord, Ralph Paganel (Paynel). There may have been an earlier religious building on this site as far back as the early 7th century AD.

Joseph Sprittles writing in the parish guide book says of the Anglian Cross in St Peter’s that it is: “composed of sculptured stones found in the tower fabric of the old church when it was taken down. These were claimed by the architect who on retiring to Rottingdean caused the stones to be erected in his garden. After the death of Chantrell in 1876 the Vicar of Leeds, Dr John Gott, on learning the house was to be sold sought the purchaser and made him an offer for the Cross and, after much bargaining bought the ancient stones for £25 and  had them conveyed to Leeds where, four years later the cross was re-erected on the Altar Flat. The date of the Cross is thought to be c.925 A.D.” 

The restored cross shows Anglian and Scandinavian workmanship. It seems to be a platform for the Norse Legend of Weland the Smith, who features extensively on the monument. Weland or Weyland is depicted in a panel at the bottom of the cross in his flying machine with his tools of the trade. There are 10 carved sandstone panels but also some empty ones. Also, there is the usual interlacing, scrolls and end-knots, and a number of human figures both male and female as well as birds of prey. We see a cloaked figure holding a sword, a figure with a halo, a female figure held aloft by another figure, a female figure holding a horn, two hands grabbing hair; also Weland abducting the daughter of King Nidlad and Weland with a bird of prey. The wheel-head is considered not to be as old as the rest of the shaft and apparently comes from a different cross altogether. More information on this cross can be found on the Howard Williams (Archeodeath) website (see the link below).

Saxon Cross.

Author Frank Bottomley (1993) says regarding St Peter’s that it is a: “Medieval parish church replaced in 1841 with a significant building marking Anglian revival. Preserves spectacular A/S cross, fourteenth-century effigy, two fifteenth-century brasses and a large number of later monuments. Fifteenth-century font with seventeenth-century cover. ‘Brought in’ medieval glass (east window) and much of nineteenth-century.” Jones & Tricker (1992) add that Leeds is a: “A vast and overpowering town, but a great oasis for churches. The parish church of St Peter is unique because of its cathedral-type musical tradition – and what a place it is, rebuilt in 1841 for its famous vicar , W.F. Hook, to the designs of R.D. Chantrell. The exterior is massive, with a stately (144 ft ) tower. The interior is mighty and dignified, built to accom-modate 2,000 and full of seating and comm0dious galleries, but with the clear early Tractarian feel that it is not just a preaching house.”

Sources and related websites:-

Bottomley, Frank, Yorkshire Churches, Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 1993.

Jones, Lawrence E. & Tricker, Roy, County Guide To English Churches, Countryside Books, Newbury, Berkshire, 1992.

Sprittles, Joseph, Leeds Parish Church – History and Guide, Tower Publications, St. Marks, Cheltenham, Glos.,

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

https://howardwilliamsblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/leeds-cross/

http://www.leodis.net/searchResults.aspx?LOCID=9999&DECADE=0&YEAR=&KEYWORDS=%20Saxon%20Cross&KEYWORDS2=&KEYWORDS3=&ANDOR2=&ANDOR3=&RECSPAGE=5&VIEW=1&CURRPAGE=1

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

https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2015/08/12/weyland-the-smith-an-article-by-david-mcgrory/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.


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Chysauster Ancient Settlement, Near Gulval, Cornwall

Chysauster Ancient Settlement, Cornwall. B/W aerial photo.

OS Grid Reference: SW 4723 3497. A few miles to the northwest of Gulval, Cornwall, lie the quite remarkably intact and restored ruins of Chysauster Iron Age settlement/village at Newmill. It is 3 miles north of Penzance. There are several oval-shaped houses with courtyards, a street and also terraced garden plots, and at the south-side a ruined underground passageway known as a fogou or souterrain. This very significant archaeological site is thought to date back, perhaps, to the 1st century BC (the Late Iron Age) and was probably still inhabited until at least the 3rd century AD (the Romano-British period). Some of the granite walls of these round houses are ‘still’ quite high and very solid despite their great age. To reach this ancient site travel northwards from Gulval village onto the B3311, and then take Chysauster Road northwest for a mile or so – looking out for Chysauster cottage on the right-hand side and the Iron Age village. There is a car park beside the lane (northwest-side of the cottage) and, a ¼ mile further up hill where the roads bends to the left, is the English Heritage site shop. There is an entry charge. 

Author Jacquetta Hawkes (1975) gives us some interesting information on Chysauster. She says that: “on the west slopes of the hill [Castle-an-Dinas] is the Late Iron Age and Roman village of Chysauster, meticulously excavated and now carefully maintained. It is laid out in an orderly way with nine houses opening on a slightly curved lane in opposing pairs. The houses are of an unusual kind, known in Wales and further north but believed to be of Mediterranean origin. The principal of this domestic architecture is so utterly unlike our own that it is not easy to describe. The external outline is a rough oval, but the oval wall is immensely thick and contains within itself all the rooms, their doorways opening on to a central courtyard. In nearly all the houses the ‘best room’, oval or round in shape, is exactly opposite the narrow, roofed passage that leads into the courtyard from the lane. This larger room appears to have been thatched or turfed, but a few of the smaller cells were corbelled. Most of the floors were paved, and the larger rooms were usually furnished with hollow granite basins, presumably used as mortars; fragments of rotary querns or handmills were also found. There were serviceable drains, usually laid below the paving stones.

Chysauster Ancient Settlement, Cornwall. (Illustration).

Behind each house was a private garden, skilfully terraced and secured by an outer retaining wall of large blocks. A much-worn road led down from the village to the tin-deposits in the valley below as well as to the nearest stream. Where so much is preserved one longs to see it peopled; to know how many of them worked in the mines and how regularly; how much time they gave to their gardens: how far they were their own masters and how they marked their produce, getting the ore to the merchants who, as we are now fairly confident, shipped it from St. Michael’s Mount as the first step on the long route across France to their Mediter-ranean customers. At least it is not difficult on going into one of the Chysauster houses to see it in an Iron Age summer, the sun glaring in the courtyard where the dogs lie on the paving, the rooms dark as caves, a woman sweating as she pounds away with the heavy grindstone, small children kept safely in sight by the closed door of the passageway. All a little smelly and untidy, but not too uncomfortable and wonderfully companionable, with the eight neighbouring families, every detail known of their affairs—of expected births, betrothals, deaths; scandals, failures and achievements.”

Lord Harlech writing for H.M.S.O (1970) says of the site that: “Chysauster seems to have originated in the first century A.D., and it continued in occupation under the Roman Empire up to the third century A.D. The houses consist of oval enclosures of thick dry-built masonry, forming an open court from which various rooms open: the shape is common to other Cornish villages of this type. Chysauster and Carn Euny, like other such villages, contain a curious underground chamber known locally as a “fogou” and possibly  used for food-storage. Parallels to these are found in Scotland and Ireland.” 

Timothy Darvill (1988) says that Chysauster: “is an Iron Age settlement comprising a series of eight houses arranged in pairs along a street. Each house has an entrance facing east or north-east — away from the prevailing wind — thick outer walls, a courtyard immediately inside the entrance, and from three to six rooms opening from the courtyard. It is thought that animals were kept in the courtyard. The village also contains a fogou which is a long, narrow underground chamber possibly used for storing food and as a hide-out in times of unrest.” Janet & Colin Bord (1984) with regard to Chysauster say the site was occupied from the second century BC. They also say of the fogou or souterrain that “…..there is speculation regarding their purpose. Food storage or places of refuge are the most widely accepted answers; but we should not dismiss the possibility of there being some religious or spiritual reason for their construction.”

Sources and related websites:-

Bord, Janet & Colin, Mysterious Britain, Paladin Books, London, 1984.

Cunliffe, Barry, Roman Britain, The British Broadcasting Corporation, London, 1966.

Darvill, Timothy, Ancient Britain, (AA Glovebox Guide), Publishing Division of The Automobile Association, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1988. 

Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments In England And Wales, Cardinal, London, 1975. 

Lord Harlech, Southern England, (H.M.S.O. Illustrated Regional Guide to Ancient Monuments No.2), London, 1970.

Michell, John, Prehistoric Sites in Cornwall, Wessex Books, Newton Toney, Salisbury, Wiltshire, 2003.

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/chysauster-ancient-village/

http://www.historic-cornwall.org.uk/a2m/rom_british/courtyard_house/chysauster/chysauster.htm

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

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


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Gop Hill Cairn, Trelawnyd, Flintshire (Sir y Fflint), Wales

Gop Hill Cairn (from the Howard Williams website: Archeodeath).

OS Grid Reference: SJ 08675 80152. A huge oval-shaped prehistoric cairn (tumulus) surrounded by forestry on the south-side of Gop Hill (Y Gop), a ¼ of a mile to the north of Trelawnyd village, about halfway between Holywell and Rhuddlan, Flintshire, northeast Wales. Also known as Garn Gop Cairn or in Welsh – Gop’r Leni. It is thought to date from either the Neolithic or Bronze Age. Gop Cairn is almost certainly the largest cairn in Wales and the second largest man-made mound in the British Isles after Silbury Hill. However, no human burials were found when it was excavated in the late 19th century though there were many animal bones. Two caves below the hill (southwest-side) yielded finds that suggest communal burial grounds. To reach this site from High Street, Trelawnyd: head northwest on the track past the houses which becomes a footpath; follow this but then soon veer off northwards to climb up to Gop Hill, which is 820 feet high, and is now directly in front of you and sandwiched between the forested areas.

Author Richard V. Simcock (1986) gives some interesting information regarding Gop Cairn. He says: “This conspicuous monument on the summit of a hill to the north-west of Trelawnyd (formerly Newmarket) but just within the boundary of the parish of Gwaenysgor, and also with walking distance. It is the largest cairn in Wales, and measures about 335 yards in circumference at the base. It is constructed of limestone pebbles, and probably dates from the bronze age. The cairn has been the site of many explorations by eminent archaeologists, and whilst considerable historic relics and information has been acquired, there is still lack of evidence as to the purpose for which it was originally constructed. Excavations have resulted in the discovery of the bones of several Pleistocene animals, including those of bison, reindeer, Irish elk, hyaenas, woolly rhinoceroses and artic lemming, which probably date from BC 400 TO 3000. A cave on the south side of the hill has revealed evidence of communal Neolithic burial ground.”

Simcock goes on to say that: “Boudicca, the Queen of the Iceni, is often associated in legend with this area, and one writer connects the neighbourhood of the Gop with the battle fought between Sustonious Paulinus and Boudicca in AD 61. Generations of writers have also speculated where the great battle was fought, and where such immense slaughter and carnage was committed; also the site of Boudicca’s grave. The Queen’s restless ghost is often summoned up to reinforce the claims of many sites in England too. These stories may or may not be true, but it is not known where or when. Yet as one strolls high on this tumulus crest, it is not difficult picture this warrior Queen hurtling into battle, as so ably portrayed in the massive Victorian statue on the Thames embankment.”

From Howard Williams website: Archeodeath)

Author Christopher Houlder (1978) says of The Gop Cairn: “This is surely the most imposing mound in Wales, though its apparent size is partly due to its position. The overall height of 12 m and the maximum diameter of 100 m no doubt conceal a natural core formed by the hilltop. A vertical shaft in 1886 and two galleries failed to reveal any central features, disclosing only a few animal bones. The Gop Cairn’s size invites comparison with the Boyne chambered tombs, but it may be in reality the most important of the many Bronze Age burial mounds of the region, indicating wealth or status such as might accrue from participation in the metal trade with Ireland along the north coast.” 

Houlder adds that: “A startling example of such wealth came to light in 1815 in a small quarry at Bryn Sion (SJ 135 719), though it took the keen eye of a gipsy to recognize its value. Used for a while as a gate fastening, it proved in the end to be a gold torc, a twisted rectangular bar of metal bent into a hoop.”

Chris Barber writing in 1987 says of the Gop Hill cairn and nearby cave that: “Professor Boyd Dawkins carried out excavations here in 1886. He sank a central shaft right down to the bedrock, but his efforts were not rewarded with any significant finds. However, further down the hill below this cairn, he excavated a cave and discovered a small sealed chamber cut into the limestone. Inside were fourteen skeletons in crouched positions, with their arms and legs drawn together and folded. Of particular interest is the fact that the shape of their skulls showed two different periods of man, thought to be Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Fragments of crude pottery and flint tools were also found here.”

Also, Barber (1987) adds more information regarding Gop Carn. He says: “Here is the largest carn [cairn] in Wales. It is 300 feet by 200 feet and 36 feet high. The hill on which it stands is known as Bryn-y-Saethau – The Hill of the Arrows. Many flint arrowheads have been found on its slopes and the massive carn is claimed to be the grave of Boudicca (otherwise known as Boadicea, the warrior Queen of the Iceni tribe in the first century AD). It is also said to be the grave of a Roman general. In 1938 a local man was walking from Dyserth to Trelogan when he saw a field full of Roman soldiers, and on Gop Hill he saw the ghost of the Roman general on a white horse with a sword in his hand. A cloud passed over the moon and the apparition vanished.”

Sources and related websites:- 

The two photos (above) are from Prof. Howard M. R. Williams website ‘Archeodeath’ and are displayed here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://howardwilliamsblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/the-largest-ancient-mound-in-wales-the-gop-cairn/

Barber, Chris, Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London, 1987.

Barber, Chris, More Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London, 1987. 

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

Simcock, Richard V., North Clwyd At Random, Countryside Publications Limited, Brinscall, Chorley, Lancashire, 1986. 

http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/306725/details/gop-cairn-y-gop-gop-hill-cairn

https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/417521

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

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.