The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Golgotha Lodge, Williamson Park, Lancaster, Lancashire

OS Grid Reference: Approx. SD 4866 6121. At the northwestern side of Lancaster’s Williamson Park at the place strangely known as Golgotha, in the County of Lancashire, there used to be ‘in olden times’ one or more Bronze Age burial mounds or barrows (tumuli). However, there is nothing to see there today as the barrow(s) were destroyed and the park was, sadly, later built over them in 1881. The barrow(s) were located close to Golgotha Lodge, near the western entrance to the park, which has ‘also’ long since disappeared. The biblical name of Golgotha is usually taken to mean ‘a place of skulls’ or ‘hill of skulls’, which is very apt for a place of death and burial – as we had hearabouts. There also used to be a few drumlins or hummocks (small round-shaped hills) around here which may, or may not, have sometimes been mistaken for burial mounds, although obviously not in the case of this particular (destroyed) barrow, or barrows, located near or in the vicinity of Golgotha Lodge.

The barrow(s) (tumuli) were excavated back in 1865 at which time six or more funery urns were found along with some other, smaller finds (grave goods). Mr. J. Harker (1865, 1872 & 1877) has left us with some good information on the site which was near Golgotha Lodge, Lancaster; the destroyed barrow(s) also sometimes going under the name of ‘Lancaster Moor’. The site had lay close to what is today Wyresdale Road (on a ridge of land ) at the edge of the now Williamson Park; and to the northeast of what were Bowerham Barracks (now St Martin’s College and part of the University of Cumbria). In the vicinity of the barracks there was, apparently, another prehistoric mound or barrow but, once again this suffered destruction, and not much is known about it and its location is now difficult to pin down.

The site entry (No. 6) in the ‘Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin’ (1984) for the parish of Lancaster. Site Name: Lancaster Moor. N.G.R. SD 489 611. Primary Reference: Harker 1865 (=Harker 1877b). Disposition of Finds: Siting “A group of urn was found on Lancaster Moor c.1865. Harker describes the site as being ‘a little to the south of the most elevated part of the people’s recreation group’. This cannot be Highfield Recreation Ground, as the Ordnance Survey record card suggests, since this was not in existence even as late as 1893 (First edition O.S. 25” map). Harker also suggests, in dealing with the Bowerham Barracks find of 1877 (Site 8), that there were only 300 yards between the two discoveries. This suggests the general area of Golgotha Lodge for the 1865 site. He also says ‘At the eastern extremity of the barrows the land inclines steeply towards the Asylum ground’. This must be a down slope, but this and the following sentence are the only places where he uses the word ‘barrows’. The sentence quoted, in conjunction with the siting evidence already quoted, suggests that find covered a considerable area.

Stratigraphy “Eight feet below the then current ground level. The top six feet broken stone recently brought from the quarry. Below this, six inches of ‘dark vegetable soil’. ‘Between this soil and the sandstone rock, ordinary drift deposit and marl’.

The six B/A urns found near Golgotha Lodge

Golgotha Lodge Barrow(s). Artefacts (Grave-Goods).

Nature of finds “Urns placed ‘in pairs, at intervals of a yard, in a long extended line extending east and west’. (Exactly what does this mean?) Harker describes and illustrates six urns and an accessory vessel. In one of the urns was an unburnt bone from the head of a fish and a tanged bronze spearhead (Not in Davey and Foster 1975). Another contained a bone pin and two perforated cheek pieces of antler. The riveted dagger blade illustrated by Harker (not in Davey and Foster 1975) came from an urn which was not preserved, which was one of a number nearer the Asylum, where, Harker suggested, the ‘free drainage’ resulted in the urns and their contents being ‘so much decayed…as scarcely to be recognisable’. This point about ‘the urns in this part of the barrows’, expressions such as “Some of them….; others….’ and the fact that ‘fragments of several other urns have been brought to me’ show that the total was many more than the six plus an A.V. [accessory vessel] described.

Ritual “It is frequently implied in the report that all pots contained cremated bone. Harker notes an absence of teeth. He describes a cist containing one pot, the remainder of the space with only a flag to cover the mouth. His description of the disposition of Nos. 1 and 2 is hard to follow. They were ‘placed side by side, a thick flag, nearly two feet square between them and another heavy flag resting on the uprights (?) so as to cover the mouth of both vessels’ All pots were apparently upright since the 1872 urn (site 7) was not, and the fact that the 1865 urns were is there mentioned. Illustration from Harker *1977b — Plate A.” [*Should probably read 1877b).

Sources & related websites:-

Edwards, Margaret & Ben, (Editors), Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 2/3, May & July 1984.…/Lancaster%20District%20Housing%20Sites%20-%20I…

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2018.



Clerk’s Well, Farringdon Lane, Clerkenwell, London E.C.1

Clerk’s Well blue plaque photo by Spudgun67. (Wikimedia Commons)

OS Grid Reference: TQ 31452 82134. On Farringdon Lane in Clerkenwell, London EC1, there is an interesting old well. It may have originally been a “holy well” but was probably more a “sacred well” where, in the distant past miracle plays were performed by the parish clerks (clerics), and further back into history it was perhaps associated with St Mary’s nunnery, a 12th century house of Benedictine nuns and, later of Franciscan nuns, which stood beside the well; the sisters making good use of the water. Adjoining the nunnery was St John’s Priory, the headquarters of the medieval Knights Hospitallers. Clerkenwell, a north London suburb that is now part of Islington, gets its name from ‘this’ ancient water source. The well has sometimes been called ‘Clark’s Well’ though usually ‘Clerks’. It was re-discovered back in 1924 after having been lost for some time. A pump at the corner of Ray Street used to be connected to the Clerk’s Well, a chalybeate spring first recorded way back in 1174. Its stone-built circular well chamber is located down some steps in the basement of no. 16 Well Court, a modern office block in Farringdon Lane – between Ray Street and Vine Street – east of the A201 at the north side of the city.

Arthur Mee (1949), says that: “The Clerk’s Well, from which Clerkenwell takes its name, goes back to Norman times, when London’s parish clerks attracted crowds to the well every year to see their miracle plays. In mid-Victorian days the well was filled with rubbish, but was reopened a few years after the war during excavations in Farringdon Road. We can now go down to a basement and look into the clear water. The wall of the chamber is partly of stone and Tudor brick, and it seems that one side must have formed part of the boundary wall of a nunnery called St Mary’s Priory. Here is part of the pump which stood in the street when the 18th century ended.” 

Robert Charles Hope (1893 & 2012), said of Clark’s or Clerk’s Well that: “Stow, speaking of the wells near London, says that on the north side thereof is a well called Clark’s Well; and in assigning the reason for this appellation, he furnishes us with a curious fact relating to the parish clerks of London. His words are these: “‘Clark’s Well took its name from the parish clerks in London, who of old times were accustomed there yearly to assemble and to play some large history of Holy Scripture.”‘—Brand, Pop. Ant., ii 370, 371.

There are several other wells and springs in and around London, some having been built over by modern buildings and roads, while others have been lost to time. These include: Bride’s Well (Fleet Street), Black Mary Well (Church End), Black Well (Blackwall), Camber Well (Camberwell), Caesar’s Well (Wimbledon), Fagg’s Well, Moss Well (Muswell Hill), Rad Well, Sadler’s Well (Islington)), Shepherd Well (Hampstead), Skinner’s Well (Finsbury), St Clement’s Well (Strand), St Chad’s Well (Shadwell), St Eloy’s Well (Tottenham), St Govor’s Well (Kensington), St John’s Well (Shoreditch) and St Pancras’ Well, and no doubt others that are now no longer in existence, or difficult to find and locate, with only the name to remind us.

Please note:- The well is in the basement of a private office building. Anyone wishing to look at the well close-up should contact The Islington Local History Centre. There is a blue plaque saying: “Clerks’ Well” and an information board – inside the window of no. 16 Farringdon Lane.

Sources & related websites: 

Bottomley, Frank, The Abbey Explorers Guide, Kaye & Ward Ltd., Kingswood, Tadworth, Surrey, 1981.

Hope, Robert Charles, The Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, (Classic Reprint Series), Forgotten Books, 2012. [Originally published 1893]. 

Mee, Arthur, The King’s EnglandLondonHeart of the Empire and Wonder of the World, Hodder & Stoughton Limited, London, 1949.

Clerk’s Well

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2018.

Cleopatra’s Needle, Victoria Embankment, London W.C.2

The Obelisk.

OS Grid Reference: TQ 30545 80518. Located at the edge of the Victoria Embankment, overlooking the River Thames, in London WC2, stands the famous landmark known as ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’, which is actually an Egyptian obelisk (column) that dates back nearly 3,500 years. At either side of this 21 metre-high column, two Bronze sphinxes guard the column, but ‘they’ are Victorian replicas. This curious carved obelisk made of Aswan granite was originally set-up at Heliopolis in Egypt by the Pharoah Thuthmose III (1450 B.C.) but, after much wrangling over the cost of having it transported to Britain, it was erected at its present location beside the Thames in 1878, though this was only after an arduous and eventful sea journey from Alexandria. There were originally two of these giant columns but its twin went to America to be erected in New York City. Apparently the obelisk has nothing to do with Queen Cleopatra! There are many panels with hieroglyphs on the obelisk, some dating back to Thuthmose III of the 18th Dynasty (1479-25 BC), but others to Rameses II (1250 B.C.). The monument’s location is just south of Waterloo Bridge and just east of Charing Cross underground Station. It can’t really be missed! 

From Heliopolis, Egypt, the obelisks were moved to Alexandria and set up in the Caesareum – a temple built by Cleopatra in honour of Mark Antony or Julius Caesar – by the Romans in 12 BC, during the reign of Augustus, but were toppled some time later. This had the fortuitous effect of burying their faces and so preserving most of the hieroglyphs from the effects of weathering, according to Wikipedia. 

Arthur Mee (1949), says of Cleopatra’s Needle that: “This great column is 35 centuries old. It stands 70 feet high and is 8 feet wide at the bottom and 5 at the top, then ending in a pyramid 7 feet high. It weighs 166 tons, being ten times as heavy as the biggest stone at Stonehenge.

“It was first set up about 1450 BC by Thothmes the Third, who introduced war chariots and horses into Egypt’s army, took Nineveh from the tribes of Syria, and laid waste to Mesopotamia. It was floated down the Nile to the sacred city of Heliopolis, the On of the Bible, where Moses was found in the bulrushes. It was taken down by Augustus and sent to Alexandria where it was set up outside Cleopatra’s palace after her death, standing there for 15 centuries. In 1867 the Khedive, wishing it out of the way, offered it to England, and in 1875 Sir Erasmus Wilson gave £10,000 to bring it home. After half a century it was on its way, cased in an iron cylinder 100 feet long and towed by a steam tug.

Arthur Mee goes on to say: “Alas for the plans of mice and men, it was wrecked in the Bay of Biscay, and on one side of it as it stands today are the names of six seamen who perished in a bold attempt to succor the crew of the obelisk ship Cleopatra during a storm. In the end it came home and all was well, and under its foundation as it stands by the Thames are buried a Bible and the coins and the papers of the day. The bronze sphinxes are by Vulliamy. The damaged patches at the base are the marks of a German bomb. The hundreds of hieroglyphics on its four sides make up two separate inscriptions, for Cleo-patra’s Needle is a witness to the habit of Rameses the Great of putting his name on other people’s monuments. Thothmes set up his inscriptions in the centre of the four sides, and in 200 years, when Rameses came that way, he set up eight columns of inscriptions of his own on each side of the existing ones. The inscription of Thothmes declares that he  has set up two obelisks (the other one stands in New York), capped with gold, as monuments to his divine father Horus the Rising Sun, and on the next two sides he continues to claim his divine origin with due homage to the gods. On the fourth side he makes offerings for a sound life of thirty years. The eight columns added by Rameses express similar homage to the gods, and glorify the rule of Rameses over his country, referring to his chastisement of foreign nations. It is here that we find for the first time known the phrase King of Kings. 

(Photo by: Donald M’Leish).

Mary Fox-Davies (1910 ) tells of the monument in her own friendly style, saying: “You will see this curious column on the Embankment, and wonder perhaps how it came here, and what its history is. It is said to have been one of a pair hewn in Egypt, and erected at Heliopolis near three thousand years ago. Many hundred years later the twin needles were removed to Alexandria, and here they stood until about three hundred years ago. Cleopatra’s Needle was presented to England early in the nineteenth century, but, as you can imagine, much difficulty arose over the question of bringing it the long journey by sea, and it was not removed for many years. Eventually, in 1876, it was enclosed in a huge iron cylinder, which, fitted with sails and rudder, and with a crew of twenty-six men, was taken in tow by a steamer. But in a storm in the Bay of Biscay this queer craft overturned, and was cut adrift from the steamer and abandoned. However, it was found by another vessel, and shortly afterwards brought safely to England and erected on the Embankment.

“An interesting fact about Cleopatra’s Needle is that inside the pedestal on which it stands are several great jars which contain a collection of coins, clothes, newspapers, and many other things typical of England in the nineteenth century. These were placed here when the monument was erected, in imitation of the old Egyptian custom.”

Mary Fox-Davies tells more, saying: “You will notice near the base of the monument some holes and scars in the stone. These were caused during the Great War by a German bomb which exploded near to it, and, had it fallen just a little nearer, would have destroyed for ever this wonderful relic.” 

At either side of Cleopatra’s Needle are two beautifully made cast-bronze sphinxes that were erected here in 1878 to guard and protect the obelisk, though they don’t look directly at it. They were designed by the English architect George John Vulliamy (1817-86). He also designed the iron benches and other Egyptian-style statuary, close by. The two ‘slightly smiling’ sphinxes are replicas of the Great Sphinx which stands beside Khufu’s Pyramid at Giza in Egypt; and they each have hieroglyphs saying: “The good god, Thuthmosis III, given Life”. 

Fox-Davies, Mary, London — Shown To The Children, T. C. & E. C. Jack, Ltd., London & Edinburgh, 1910.

Mee, Arthur, The King’s England — London — Heart of the Empire and Wonder of the World, Hodder & Stoughton Limited, London, 1949.,_London

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.