OS Grid Reference: SD 885 368. The hamlet of Catlow lies 1 mile to the east of Nelson town-centre in Pendle, Lancashire. It is a place of historical importance locally but, further back into pre-history, it became archaeologically more important for its Middle Bronze-Age burial sites, which were very sadly destroyed in the mid 19th century. However, if you would care to look more closely from an aerial perspective down onto the hamlet of Catlow, you might just about make out a few “possible” circular features, which could be ploughed-out barrows (tumuli), or could they be just filled-in quarry holes? Back in 1854 quarry-workers at Catlow dug-up two or three pottery urns containing cremations, but on closer examination the urns (or food vessels) fell to pieces, and with time “were lost”. Thankfully these artefacts were recorded. To reach Catlow: from Nelson centre, go past the bus station on railway street, then turn left onto Netherfield Road and then all the way up Barkerhouse Road, passing the Golf Course on the left. At the very top turn right onto Southfield Lane, with the Shooters Inn on the left. Continue down the slope on this lane until you reach a junction of four lanes – this is the hamlet of Catlow and, a bit further down the sunken lane, is Catlow Bottoms!
The meaning of the place-name Catlow with its two combined words “Cat” and “Low” is probably ‘battle site beside a place of burial’. “Catt” or “Catu” being the Celtic/British word for battle, which in the Welsh form is “Cadd”, while Low or Lowe is a Saxon or Early English name for a burial mound or tumulus. However, some recent historians think “Cat” might refer to feral cats, and so Catlow could have also meant there were cats living by or near a burial mound! Bennett (1957), says with regard to the local place-name of Catlow: (Cattehow 1311) seems to be ‘”wild cat hill”‘ though a later spelling Cattelow suggests ‘”cattle hill”‘.
W. Bennett (1957), says of the Bronze Age period that: “After a period of approximately 400 years, a fresh arrival of settlers initiated another period about 2,000 B.C., known as the Bronze Age, since the newcomers had a knowledge of that metal. It must be remembered, however, that the new metal was very scarce for many centuries and that flint continued to be used for arrow heads, dart points and scrapers right through the whole of the Bronze Age , which lasted until about 500 B.C.
“The people of the early Bronze Age are known as Beaker Folk, so-called from the beaker-shaped pottery vessel which they buried with their dead. They occupied Yorkshire but apparently did not penetrate very far over the boundary into Lancashire, so that the only flint daggers associated with this period that have ever been found in this county were discovered near Hurstwood. These flint daggers may be seen in the Towneley Museum together with tanged and barbed arrow heads, hammer heads, and other flint implements found in the distrct. Two bronze weapons, which have been found locally, date from the Early Bronze Age period; one, found near Blacko Tower, is a plain, flat axe head some 6¼” long, while the other, found near the Old Laund, is a flat spear head of beaten bronze, 4″ in length. The beaker Folk usually buried their dead with one or two beaker vessels in an oblong cist of stones over which a circular mound of earth was raised; such a burial has been found at Lawhouse near Mereclough.”
Bennett (1957), goes on to say that: “The Middle Bronze Age saw a remarkable development in the technique of making bronze articles. Previously, the efficiency of a flat bronze axe head was much impaired because the cleft wooden handle to which the head was tied tended to break when a blow was struck; similarly, a flat spear head tended to break the wooden shaft. In the Middle Bronze period, the axe head was fashioned with flanges on the lateral edges and with a stop ridge on each of its faces so that the cleft wooden handle could be bound more securely to grip the head. In the case of the spear head, the smith made the head with a fairly long tang which was driven into the wooden shaft and secured by a bronze nail through a hole in the tang and a collar that fitted the shaft. Several axe heads with flanges and stop ridge have been found in this area but the most interesting is a spear head with holed tang, 9” long, that was found at Catlow in 1854; unfortunately, the bronze collar was not discovered.
“The custom of cremating the dead was introduced during the Middle Bronze period and quite a number of such burials have been excavated in this area. The excavations have shown that after the body had been burnt the calcined bone fragments were wrapped in a cloth and placed in an earthenware vessel, called an urn, which was then buried, often in an inverted position, just below the surface of the ground. An area round the burial was then marked off by a circle of boulder stones and into this enclosure were thrown flint implements of all kinds, such as knives, scrapers, grain rubbing stones, arrow heads and broken querns. Such burial circles are almost invariably situated at the top of a hill. A burial of this kind was accidentally destroyed by workmen in 1854 at Catlow and the only important details we know about it are that it contained three urns of which one was a Middle Bronze type and the two others, both broken by a workman’s pick, were food vessels. An earth circle, fifty yards in diameter, which is situated at Broad Bank, overlooking Thursden Valley was excavated in 1951 but the only find was a stone axe head of the Middle Bronze period; a report on the excavation described the earthwork as possibly ‘”a religious enclosure.”‘
Bennett goes on to discuss the Late Bronze Age, saying that: “During the Late Bronze Age, the technique of bronze making was further developed so that both axe heads and spear heads were made with sockets into which the handle or shaft could be fitted. Only on example, a socketed spear head 2½ inches in length, has been found locally. It is said to have been found “‘near Pendle.”‘
“Judging from the many burials and the various types of implements, both bronze and flint, which have been discovered, it would appear that the Marsden and Burnley areas were relatively important in the Bronze Age. It is uncertain what could have attracted people to this area at that period since life in a hut on our moors could not have been very alluring to men and women who knew the arts of farming, weaving and pottery making, even though the climate was drier and more temperate than it had been in the Neolithic Age. That they did live in this district is evident from the finds of jet beads and jet rings (used as ornaments), spindle whorls, loom weights, saddle querns, grain rubbing stones, and implements of all descriptions that would be used in a settled community. The only probable reason for their long existence here seems to be that through this district passed one or two tracks which served as trade routes between the Lancashire coast and the Yorkshire coast. It is believed that the route from the west through northern England proceeded by the Ribble and Calder to Whalley and thence Old Read where a number of Early Bronze Age axes have been found, to Barrowford and Barnolds-wick, where a bronze sword has been found, and so continuing by the Aire Gap to Leeds and thence by river to the coast. Most probably, the flat axe head discovered near Blacko Tower, is connected with this route. An alternative route from Old Read lay through Higham, Gannow, Towneley, Mereclough and thence by the Long Causeway to the Yorkshire Calder. Near this track several burial mounds and many flint implements of Bronze Age origin have been found. The existence of Bronze Age burials on Bleara Moor on the Colne to Skipton road, at Catlow, at Shelfield (possibly) and at Ell Clough above Thursden Valley may point to a pre-historic track connecting the Whalley-Barnoldswick-Leeds route with that between Whalley-Mereclough-Heptonstall.”
H. Hindle, writing a local magazine article called ‘Pre-History – Colne & Surrounding Areas’ in the 1980s, says that: “A Bronze Age dagger or spearhead was found in 1845 about 2½ ft from the surface in a field about halfway between Burnley and Colne in the Catlow district. The dagger had a narrowed tange with a rivet hole and was just over 9′ in length; the tange was 3′ long and at its greatest width the dagger measured 1½’.The spear’s collar was not found. It seems this spear was, in fact, found underneath the forecourt of Catlow Row as those cottages were built in that very same year. Tanged daggers are extremely rare, being known chiefly from the Arreton Down deposit, Isle of Wight.”, says Mr Hindle.
Hindle goes on to say, that: “The most interesting discovery, a burial site, was made at Catlow stone quarry in March 1854 by Captain Sagar’s workmen. Two or three earthenware urns were met with a little below the surface when clearing earth for the flagstone rock. The urns, probably Pennine collared type, were perfect and measured 14 inches in depth and 9 inches in diameter at the mouth, with considerable swelling at the centres. They are formed from very course earthenware unglazed and very slightly baked. The urns contained calcined bones, pieces of charcoal, and soft dark earth. Most of the bones, supposedly human, are mixed with others belonging to a horse and some lesser animals. Only one of the urns survived due to rough handling by the quarry workers at Catlow who damaged them with their picks; one of the urns was Middle Bronze Age in date, the other two were considered to be food vessels. A rude piece of flint was found amongst the bones, but from its decayed state, it is not easy to determine whether it had been an arrowhead. Two ivory bodkins were found at the same time; they were exceedingly friable, either from age or having been subjected to the action of a fire before being deposited in the urns.
I understand that in 1954 a Bronze Age urn was dug-up from beneath the stone forecourt at the front of Catlow Row. This urn was considered to be very similar to those ones found at Catlow quarry, close by. The urn remains ‘buried where it was found’ (in situ).
The site entry (No. 19) for the parish of Nelson (Catlow Quarry) in the‘Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin’ (1984), says:- N.G.R. SD 885 368. Primary Reference: Wilkinson 1857; 428 P1. II. Waddington & Wilkinson 1887; 92. Disposition of Finds: Lost. 1854. apparently found by workmen. Two or three urns, cremations, flint, allegedly animal bones, two bone pins perforated at top.
John Dixon & Bob Mann (1990), says that: “In around 1854, workmen hewing stone from the Catlow Quarries came across the remains of three burial urns containing cremations. Two ivory bodkins were also found with the urns. Unfortunately these finds are now lost, but are mentioned and recorded in old texts. A Middle to Late Bronze Age date is ascribed to these finds.”
John A. Clayton (2014) tells us that there was possibly a hill-fort or settlement of some kind (with a mound in the middle) at Catlow Bottoms, though this would no doubt date to the Iron Age?
Although the burial mound (tumulus) at or about SD 885 368 (north-side of Crawshaw Lane, just to the east of the World War II pillbox) was destroyed, there are some other “possible” faint circular features, which might or might not be of interest here. In the fields at either side of Catlow Row. North-side (above the trackway) two very faint circular features at NGR SD 88218 36635 and SD 88185 36542, while at the south-side of the cottages – three small circular features close by a house at NGR 88238 36434. At the northeastern end of Crawshaw Lane, just before you reach Delves Lane, two more “possible” faint circular features: NGR SD 88682 37091 and SD 88894 36867, while on the other side of the lane at the top of the field beside Delves Lane, near the wall stile there’s a faint mound at: NGR SD 89260 36930 and another close to that at: SD 89457 36834; these might be something or nothing, but worth considering. There might be others that I haven’t spotted! And we mustn’t forget there used to be a stone circle hearabouts on Ring Stones Hill (see link, below).
Bennett, Walter, The History of Marsden And Nelson, Nelson Corporation, 1957.
Clayton, John A., Burnley And Pendle Archaeology (Part One) Ice Age to Early Bronze Age, Barrowford Press, 2014.
Dixon, John & Mann, Bob, Historic Walks Around The Pendle Way, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.
Hindle, Herbert, Pre-History – Colne & Surrounding Areas (Magazine Article in Pendle & Burnley Magazine, Ramsbottom, Bury, Lancs, 1980s,
© Ray Spencer, The Jourmal Of Antiquities, 2018.