The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

The Anvil Stone, Near Nelson, Lancashire

The Anvil Stone with Walton’s Spire in the background.

OS Grid Reference: SD 89391 37498. At the northwestern edge of Shelfield Hill, close to Walton’s Spire, near Nelson, Lancashire, is a large and oddly-shaped stone, which is variously known as ‘The Anvil Stone’, ‘The Altar Stone’, ‘The Druids’ Stone’ and ‘Thor’s Stone’ (Thursden Valley is not far away from here). The stone resembles an anvil or an altar at certain angles, but it also takes on the form of an animal head. It was obviously a sacred stone in the distant past and may have been venerated by our ancient ancestors. It seems to have been moved at some point. I believe this large stone (the so-called Anvil Stone) stands on an alignment with other nearby ancient sites. To reach the stone from Nelson town centre head up Barkerhouse Road (all the way), then turn (left) at the top and go along Southfield Lane as far as Gib Clough farm. Here, turn (right) up Back Lane for ½ a mile to where the land flattens out. Over to the right in the muddy field is the Anvil Stone – with Walton’s Spire in the back-ground at the top of the Shelfield plateau.

The Anvil Stone viewed from a different angle.

The Anvil Stone viewed from a different angle.

This quite large, smooth-shaped lump of sandstone, which has locally been called ‘The Anvil Stone’ because it is shaped like a blacksmith’s anvil, is between 4-5 feet high and double that or more in its girth. It is said to weigh well over a ton. The farmer did, I understand, once try to move it but it proved to be too heavy for his tractor’s lifting equipment, and so he left it where now it stands, but at some point in the past it had been moved a short distance. The stone appears to have been fashioned into the shape that we see today – be that an anvil, an altar or an animal head or, maybe the shape of a seat, according to John A. Clayton (2014). The Norse god Thor could, just as well, have given his name to this stone. His name is to be found in Thursden (Thor’s Valley) a couple of miles to the northwest, where many a thunderstorm forms in the summertime; Thor using his trusty hammer upon the anvil, hopefully not on the Anvil Stone! 

The Anvil Stone viewed from yet another angle.

John A. Clayton (2006) says: “To add another feature to the equation, there is a group of stones some two-hundred metres to the south of the Spire, the largest of which I have named the Anvil Stone for the sake of descriptive simplicity, this is the only one of the group left in its original position, no doubt because its sheer weight would prevent it from being removed. The other stones have been cleared from the field and lie in a large depression in the earth (possibly an abandoned coal pit), these may have been part of a larger arrangement, such as a circle. The Anvil Stone is of particular interest, not only because it has been heavily worked to attain its shape, it also weighs about one and a half tons and is on an exact alignment with other ancient features of Black Hameldon, the tumulus at Ell Clough, Ringstone Hill and the Spire monolith.” 

John A. Clayton (2014) also tells that “The photograph……….. shows why the stone was described as being shaped like a blacksmith’s anvil – from this viewpoint the similarity is clear. However, I now realize that I appear to have ‘missed a trick’ with this stone. Firstly, I think that I was viewing it from the rear and secondly the stone is actually not in situ. As always, local knowledge is an invaluable asset in historical and archaeological research and so it proved in this case.

“The Shelfield Hill farmer informs me that the stone was originally buried in the field about 250 metres to the north-west of where it is now located. Around twenty years ago the field was being re-seeded and the shallow plough persistently hit stones beneath the surface. These were dug up and moved up the hill to be piled on the edge of the soakaway – the largest stone was placed separately to this group and this is the reason why the ‘anvil’ stone is situated where we now see it.”

John goes on to say that: “It further struck me that not only was I possibly viewing the stone from the back, I was also looking from the wrong angle. When the stone is viewed from a ninety-degree angle it strongly resembles a seat or chair. This might sound somewhat far-fetched but, in defence of my sanity, the stone has been heavily worked on all of its faces – the ‘front’ face in particular having been sculpted into the profile………”

John adds: “From what can be seen of the neighbouring boulders there is no evidence of them having been worked; they appear to be typical of the stones utilized in field boundaries and hut foundations. The size and shape of the massive block clearly lent itself to being shaped into its present form; whether it was intended to function as a seat is, of course, pure speculation and, as we shall see later, there could be other possible contexts here.” 

Walton’s Spire or Walton’s Monument, a well-known landmark to the northeast of Anvil Stone, is a Victorian four-armed cross set upon a 10th century menhir or monolith, which became known as ‘the Battle Stone’. This was eventually carved, as we see it today, by workmen employed by Richard Roe Walton of Marsden Hall, Nelson, in 1835. See the link, below.

Sources and related websites:-

Clayton, John A., Valley of the Drawn Sword — The Early History of Burnley, Pendle and West Craven, Barrowford Press, 2006.

Clayton, John A., Burnley And Pendle Archaeology — Part One — Ice Age to Early Bronze Age, Barrowford Press, Spring 2014.

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2018.

Hoarstones Stone Circle, Fence, Near Burnley, Lancashire

Boundary Stone-cum-gatepost, Harpers Lane, Fence, Lancashire.

OS Grid Reference: SD 8263 3764. For a long time now it had been thought that an ancient stone circle stood in the grounds of Hoarstones House at Fence, near Burnley, Lancashire. But it seems there never was ‘such a monument’ there and so it must be regarded as ‘a myth’. Indeed I am told that the whole thing ‘is a myth’. However, there are a number of boundary stones around the edges of that estate – some of which have been made into gateposts! These boundary stones might therefore be the ‘Hoarstones’ that gave the place its name? Originally the name was spelt: Whoarstones or Woarstones, I am reliably informed. Hoarstones has long been associated with the Pendle Witches with Pendle Hill being a reminder of those times a couple of miles to the northwest. The present-day Hoarstones House dates from about 1895 when it was rebuilt out of an earlier 16th century building. More recently an iron cross was discovered in the walls! The boundary stones-cum-gateposts are located beside Harpers Lane and Noggarth road at Fence near Burnley. Hoarstones estate is, of course, on “private land”. 

Large stone in the wall on Harpers Lane at Fence, Lancashire.

I was told by the owner of the house that the whole idea of there being a stone circle in the grounds was nothing short of ‘a myth’. So we can then rule out there ever being a pre-historic stone circle in the grounds of Hoarstones House, but there are, however, a number of former boundary stones that have been adapted as gateposts at the eastern edge of the estate. These stand beside Harpers Lane, with one large stone embedded into a wall, while another possible boundary stone-cum-gatepost is located at the side of Noggarth Road. It’s possible these stones and some of the stonework of the house came from the small quarry at the northwestern side      of the Hoarstones estate? The witches of Pendle did not, therefore, dance around or within the stone circle, but they “might” have visited, or been at, a more probable stone circle a mile or so    to the northwest. This was located in the fields below Faughs (Spen Brook) but it is “now” ‘a destroyed monument’ with very little to see now. There are a couple of ancient sites in Southern England that also have the same name ‘Hoar-stones’.

Boundary stone on Harpers Lane, Fence, Lancashire.

Boundary stone-cum-gatepost on Noggarth Road, Fence, Burnley.

The meaning of the word ‘Hoarstones’ and the place-name at Fence, Lancashire, which was first mentioned in 1547, would seem to be: ‘Stones or (a stone) designating the bounds of an estate, or a local landmark’. And could also be: ‘a stone used anciently to mark boundaries’ or, ‘a stone erected anciently as a memorial’ (as of an event). Whoarstones or Woarstones being Old Norse for ‘Idola-trous Stones’ or maybe even ‘Witches Stones’. This would seem very apt for Whoarstones at Fence being, as it might have been, associated with the Pendle witches, which now seems very tenous. The iron cross found in the walls of the late 19th century historic Hoarstones House may have been used as a defense against witchcraft, and would therefore have come from the original 16th century building, which back in 1633 was occupied by the Robinson family, according to John Dixon (1990). Hoarstones is mentioned in ‘Mist Over Pendle’ by Robert Neill (1951) but not apparently in ‘The Lancashire Witches’ by William Harrison Ainsworth (1884).

Walter Bennett (1957) tells that “Trouble was renewed in 1633 when Edmund Robinson of Wheatley Lane or Fence, a lad aged about twelve, came home late one night and told his father that he had been kidnapped by a witch and taken to a barn at Hoarstones, where he had seen about forty witches pulling on ropes to obtain milk, butter and “smoakeing  flesh,” but making such foul faces that he was glad to escape, only to encounter the Devil as he ran home. This tale was reported to two Justices, who sent the witches, said to have been at Hoarstones, to Lancaster for trial at the Assizes. Meanwhile, the boy and his father went to churches in the district, even as far as Kildwick, and singled out witches in the congregation. As a result it was reported in London in May 1634 that “A huge pact of witches had been discovered in Lancashire whereof it is said 19 are condemned and there are at least 60 already discovered and yet daily more are revealed; they had a hand in raising storms which endangered His Majesty (Charles I) at sea in Scotland.” 

Bennett goes on to say: “As a result of the royal enquiry, all the accused were acquitted. The boy, Edmund Robinson, confessed that his tales were all false and had been told in the first place in order that his father would overlook his action in going to play instead of fetching the cows to the barn as he had been ordered.”

Arthur Douglas (1978) adds to the above, saying: “Then there is the matter of the feasting witches. Over the years the feast at Hoarstones has become confused with the so-called great assembly and feast of witches at Malkin Tower. The one is not the other, but the two are so alike as to consign the whole of Edmund Robinson’s evidence irretrievably into the copy-category.”

John A Clayton (2007) tells that: “Baines confounds Malking-Tower with Hoar-stones, a place rendered famous by the second case of pretended witchcraft in 1633. John also tells of a walled-tree, an ancient holly, existing in the Fence area of Hoarstones. He says there is a similar walled-tree near Malkin Tower (Blacko), a place that was long associated with the Pendle witches, who had gathered there in 1612, at the home of Old Mother Demdike, or so we are told.  

Thomas Sharpe (2012) has a map showing the Hoarstones stone circle and the one at nearby Faughs in relation to other (sacred) Pendle landmarks. 

Just recently a lost standing stone or boundary stone has been re-discovered at Spurn Clough (OS grid reference: SD 8249 3685), just across the Padiham by-pass, and only a few hundred metres from Hoarstones Lodge. This old standing stone used to stand in the field but had been cast down into the stream. The owner of Hoarstones House recently told me that that particular field used to belong to them! See the Link, below. 

Sources and related websites:

Bennett, Walter, The History Of Marsden And Nelson, Nelson Corporation, Nelson, Lancashire, 1957. 

Clayton, John A, The Lancashire Witch Conspiracy — A History of Pendle Forest and the Pendle Witch Trials, Barrowford Press, 2007. 

Dixon, John & Mann, Bob, Historic Walks Around The Pendle Way, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

Douglas, Arthur, The Fate of the Lancashire Witches, Countryside Publications Limited, Brinscall, Chorley, Lancashire, 1978.

Sharpe, Thomas, The Pendle Zodiac, Spirit of Pendle Publishing, 2012.

See also ‘Merriam-Webster’ website and ‘Your Dictionary’ website.,_Lancashire,_Lancashire

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2018.