The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Roman Bath-House at Ribchester, Lancashire

Roman bath-house at Ribchester, Lancashire.

Roman bath-house remains, Ribchester.

OS Grid Reference: SD 65090 35206. In the village of Ribchester, Lancashire, are the excavated foundations of Roman bath-houses, dating from around 100 AD, though there may have been an earlier Flavian structure here. The ruins are to be found in a secluded area at the back of the White Bull Inn and Water Street – at the north-western side of the River Ribble, and in an area of the village that is called Greenside. It would seem that the bath-house only survived for a few hundred years, if that, being built outside of the Roman fort of (BREMETENNACVM’s) ramparts. Excavations took place in 1978. The foundations of the bath-house are now well-looked after, with green lawns in between, and excellent information boards to boot! The White Bull Inn has four Doric or Tuscan columns supporting its front porch – two of which could have come from the bath-house, the fort or a temple? In the village from Church Street (south-side) follow the footpath (east) beside the river, and then northwest through the wooded area to the bath-house site.

John & Phillip Dixon (1993) give some good information regarding the bath-house remains. They tell that: “Another Roman feature to be viewed is the excavated Bath House, located at the rear of the White Bull. Recently erected explanation boards help one to pick out the outline of the bath house amid the crumbling piles of stones (the excavation was a costly disaster and much damage was done to floor tiles, walling etc.). 

“It consisted of a furnace room with three flues, the two southerly ones leading to the Caldarium (hot room) and the Tepidarium (warm room) respectively. The third leads to the Sudatorium (sweating room), this being round in shape. A fourth room on the south east of the building was the Frigidarium (cold room) with an apodyterium (changing room) adjacent to it. A stone-lined well stands on the south west corner of the site.”

Roman Bath House ruin

Roman Bath House foundations and Well.

The authors go on to say: “The building was erected in the 2nd century, with rebuilding work in later years. The whole structure was in use well into the late 4th century. On display inside the White Bull is a conjectured reconstruction in model form of what the bath house may have looked like in its heyday, along with a good example of a Samian ware bowl that was found hereabouts: Samian ware was first identified on the Greek island of Samos, hence its name. It is a fine hard red ware, burn-ished, with moulded designs, produced and exported throughout the Empire from the potteries of Gaul. This ‘terra sigillata’ was mass produced tableware, developed in slightly simplified versions of originally Italian prototypes. This type of pottery predominated until the Gaulish factories were forced to close during the revolts of around 250.” 

Richard Peace (1997) tells us more, saying that: “An explanatory board explains the complex system of underground heating. The baths were basically a version of the modern sauna, involving heating and cooling the skin then scraping off the exposed dirt with an instrument known as a stirgil. In the museum a small model reconstructs a cross section of the bath houses. The baths were situated some way away from the main fort so as not to constitute a fire hazard and a timetable existed to segregate female from military and male use.”

D. C. A. Shotter (1973) says of the site that: “Excavation has also revealed to the North of the fort the presence of a large vicus, which apparently grew around the road outwards to the North. This seems to have been occupied from the 1st to the 4th Centuries A.D. and in the early stages at least to have consisted largely of timber buildings. Buildings known to have been included in the vicus are a temple (known from an inscription) and a large bath-house, which was shown by excavation to belong to the 2nd Century and to overlie a Flavian predecessor.”

Jessica Lofthouse, writing in 1974, has nice things to say about Ribchester: “I like it for what it is, an honest to goodness community without any frills or attempt to exploit its undoubtedly rich past. No Ye Olde Praetorium Guest Home, or Minerva Café, or Agricola Gift Shoppe about Ribchester, but it has a good, compact Museum of Roman Antiquities, an hour in which is most rewarding.

The Information board at the bath-house.

“Tracking down the Romans is fun. Their mark is found in pillars intended for temples but now holding up the porch of the White Bull Inn, the quaint façade of the Stydd Almshouses and the church gallery. You can walk the fort earthworks west of the churchyard, gaze down on granary floor and hypocaust in the Museum gardens, and trace the foundations of a gateway through which the legionaries passed. The pleasant house at the church gates is on the site of the fort commandant’s H.Q. Within the churchyard, so green and immaculate, a gem among country graveyards, you may ponder on what lies beneath, on the forms of ritual practiced by the Romans within the fort………”

Lofthouse goes on to say: “For three centuries Bremetanacum was an active cavalry fort on Julius Agricola’s military highway linking Chester and Manchester  with the Wall. The Ribble fort was at the hub of five great roads. The camp contained within five and three-quarter acres.” 

For information on the Roman fort and museum at Ribchester see the following link:  https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2012/08/02/roman-ribchester-photos/

Sources / references and related websites:-

Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia — Volume Nine — The Ribble Valley, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1993.

Lofthouse, Jessica, Lancashire Countrygoer, Robert Hale And Company, London, 1974.

Peace, Richard, Lancashire Curiosities, The Dovecote Press Ltd., Stanbridge, Wimborne, Dorset, 1997.

Shotter, D. C. A., Romans in Lancashire, The Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, Lancashire, 1973. 

https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=43639

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/lancashire/hi/people_and_places/religion_and_ethics/newsid_8973000/8973921.stm

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1005110

https://www.visitlancashire.com/things-to-do/ribchester-roman-bath-house-p782220

Ribchester’s Roman Bath House

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.  

 


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The Written Stone, Grimsargh Near Longridge, Lancashire

The Written Stone at Grimsargh, near Longridge, Lancashire.

OS Grid Reference: SD 62622 37892. At the northern end of Written Stone Lane at Grimsargh, near Longridge, Lancashire, is a very curious and mysterious stone slab, with an even stranger inscribed message carved onto it and the name Ralph Radcliffe (1655), although this very large lump of gritstone might be much older. This inscribed stone, known locally as ‘The Written Stone’, stands at the side of the lane close by the entrance to Written Stone Farm, originally called Cottam House. It became known as ‘the cursed stone’ after very strange and ghostly happenings took place when the farmer decided to try and move it, but he had to return the stone to its original position when ‘all hell let loose’, according to the legend. To reach this site from the east side of Longridge: head onto the B6243 for a couple of miles in the direction of Hurst Green. Passing the two Spade Mill reservoirs on your left continue for a short distance, then take the next (left) turning up Written Stone Lane; the stone is in the bank beside the entrance to Written Stone farm, on the left-hand side.

The Written Stone is a huge long lump of sandstone measuring 9 feet in length, 2 feet wide and 18 inches in depth, and is said to weigh several tonnes. There is a long inscription along the side of the stone in large letters dating back to the mid-17th Century. The message reads: RAVFFE: RADCLIFFE: LAID: THIS STONE TO LYE: FOR: EVER: A.D. 1655. It is, according to the legend, said that a terrible murder was committed here. The victim of this murder began to plague the conspirators – the Radcliffe family – who lived at Cottam House. Several members of Ralph Radcliffe’s family began to die in strange circumstances as if they were cursed in some way. In the hope of atoning for this terrible murder Mr Radcliffe had a large stone carved and an inscription written onto it; the hope being, perhaps, that the restless spirit would be calmed. But travelers going along the lane, which local people called Boggart Lane, began to report strange happenings – loud screeching sounds, bumps and bangs, ghostly appari-tions, people being pinched and their clothing being messed about with. All this was simply put down to a poltegiest trying to cause trouble.

The Written Stone is a long slab of gritstone with an inscription carved on its side.

Many years later when the Radcliffe family had moved away from Cottam House its new tenant decided to try and move the large stone so that he could put it into use as a “buttery stone” in his dairy. However moving the stone proved very difficult. It took six horses and many local people to actually move it. But during the removal a number of persons were injured and much noise seemed to eminate from the stone itself. When the said stone was finally moved to its new resting place the problems continued – anything placed upon it just fell off or was thrown off by unseen hands. During that first night “all hell let loose”, with loud bangs and clatterings, and other horrid noises. The next morning the farmer decided he’d had enough and the six horses and local folk were asked to move the stone back to its original site but, oddly enough this time only one horse was required – the stone almost moving of its own accord – seemingly the demonic spirit was eager to get back from whence it came and, from that day onwards the stone has not been moved or touched, according to the Legend. So peace and quiet returned to the country lane. Today, people walking past the stone seem unaware of its terrible history, but I wonder whether anyone dares to touch the stone or get too close to it. Let it be ‘a warning’ to anybody who might even consider trying to move, or take the stone away, from its “place of eternal rest” and, if you do, be ready for the consequences, or not.

Janet & Colin Bord (1980) tell about a doctor riding his horse along Written Stone Lane: “Late one night he was riding past the Written Stone…….when his horse became hysterical, and took off at a gallop, only stopping two miles further on. The doctor must have been feeling especially bold, for, despite this adventure, he decided to return to the Written Stone and face whatever had  frightened the horse. He rode up to the stone and issued a challenge, whereupon, in the words of Kathleen Eyre, describing the encounter in her Lancashire Legends, a shapeless mass materialized, seized him, plucked him from the saddle and almost squeezed the breath from his body. As soon as he was able, the doctor left the spot at a gallop.”

In recent times it has been suggested by a few people that the ‘Written Stone’ was brought down from the fell where it had perhaps been a standing stone, or that maybe it had once formed part of a stone circle, and as such it might have been a pagan altar-stone. Another theory is that it could possibly lay on the site of an earlier standing stone, according to Janet & Colin Bord (1980). I have heard it said that it might actually be an outlier. But from which stone circle did it come? as there are no such ancient monuments like that anywhere near here, so it must have travelled some distance. Written Stone Lane, also known as Boggart Lane, forms part of, or intersects with, a Roman road that links the forts of Ribchester and Lancaster.

The British Listed Buildings (BLB) Source ID number is:- 1147440. See Link below.

Sources/references and related websites:-

Bord, Janet & Colin, The Secret Country — More Mysterious Britain, Granada Publishing Limited, St Alban’s, Herts, 1980.

Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia, Volume Nine, The Ribble Valley, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1993.

Fields, Kenneth, Lancashire Magic & Mystery, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1998.

Howarth, Ken, Ghosts, Traditions & Legends of Old Lancashire, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1993.

http://northernantiquarian.forumotion.net/t307-the-written-stone-near-longridge

https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101147440-the-written-stone-longridge#.XIBQ-VJCdjo

http://www.martintop.org.uk/blog/rauffe-radcliffe-written-stone-longridge

Written Stone Lane

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 

 

 

 

 


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St Martin’s Cross, Island of Iona, Argyll and Bute, Western Scotland

St Martin’s High Cross.*

OS Grid Reference: NM 28632 24504. At the western side of the Abbey Church on the Island of Iona, Argyll and Bute, Western Scotland, stands the richly sculptured ‘St Martin’s High Cross’, which is similar to some of the Irish high crosses. It is thought to date from the beginning of the 9th or the late 8th century AD, although some think it to be much earlier? This tall granite cross is probably the best preserved Celtic religious monument in the British Isles, displaying scenes from the Bible. It was set up on the island in dedication to the French saint, Martin of Tours, who was much venerated in the so-called Dark Ages, especially in Scotland, Wales and the far west of England, when St Columba (521-597) sailed over from Ireland to set up his celebrated monastery here on this Scottish island in 563 AD. The college quickly became a renowned centre of early monasticism and learning and, also a ‘Cradle of Celtic Christianity’. The Island can be reached by ferry firstly from Oban to Mull, and then a smaller ferry from Fiannphort, taking you across the narrow Sound of Iona, to the little village of Baile Mòr on the eastern side of the island.

Old Postcard: St Martin & St John’s High Crosses, Iona, Scotland.

St Martin’s High Cross on Iona stands over 14 feet high and, on its stepped base, well over 16 feet, and is made of red granite. It is very similar in sculptural design to some of the Irish high crosses, with its typical ring-head. One of its faces has scenes from the Bible, while the opposite face has Celtic-style decoration and bosses; but it is a beautifully and richly carved monument, which is thought to date from around 800 AD although some think it may actually date from the 6th Century – at which time it would have been set-up and dedicated to St Martin of Tours (320-401). So, we might ask: did St Columba have a hand in the setting up of the cross? There is a replica of the 8th or 10th Century St John’s Cross, the original is in the abbey museum (along with St Matthew’s Cross) and has a serpent with boss and spirals. St John the Evangelist was the apostle of Christ. There is also MacLean’s Cross though this is more recent, still, and dates from the 15th Century; it is named after a chief of the clan MacLean.

The Rough Guide (2000) tells us that: “Beside the road stands the most impressive of Iona’s Celtic high crosses, the eighth-century St Martin’s Cross, smothered with figural scenes – the Virgin and Child at the centre, Daniel in the lion’s den, Abraham sacrificing Isaac and David with musicians in the shaft below. The reverse side features Pictish serpent-and-boss decoration.”

The Canmore website tells us much more about St Martin’s Cross, saying: “This cross, whose name was recorded by Lhuyd in 1699, stands in a granite base…..21m W of the Abbey Church. It is carved from a single block of epidiorite, probably from the Argyll mainland, and is 4.3m in visible height by 1.19m in span. The diameter of the pierced ring is 1.09m and that of the armpits 0.24m. In the ends of the arms are vertical slots, open at the top, which may have housed ornamental panels rather than extensions for the arms. The angles bear roll-mouldings which on the W face extended below the lowest panel to flank an inscription, now indecipherable. The shaft of the E face bears three roundels of snake-and-boss ornament, a coarser variant of that in the same position on St John’s Cross. In the top of the shaft are seven interlaced bosses, each producing two snakes, and the largest of these is also one of the group of five high-relief bosses in the cross-head. That at the centre is set in a ring of nine small bosses linked by spirals, and in the side- arms each boss produces three snakes, while that in the top arm lies between two pairs of rampant leonine beasts. The E face of the ring bears knitted interlace.

Canmore also adds: “On the W face the lowest panels bears six bosses with intertwined serpents, followed by four rows of figure-scenes on an undivided field. (i) Two pairs of figures too simplified for indentication. (ii) A harper, seated with outstretched legs as on St Oran’s Cross and facing a kneeling man with a (?triple) pipe; a rectangle between them may represent a drum or a book symbolizing David’s authorship of the psalms. (iii) Abraham’s sacrifice, with a central figure holding a sword across one shoulder and grasping the hair of Isaac, whose arms are extended above a rectangular altar; the small winged figure of the angel stands at the left. (iv) The seated figure of Daniel between two rearing lions, with a lump which may be the head of another lion to the right. This theme may continue in the side-arms, where two passant leonine beasts flank a central roundel with the seated Virgin and Child between four small angels, the upper ones forming a canopy. The top arm bears three pairs of back-to-back leonine beasts with intertwined tails.” I Fisher 2001. See the Canmore website, below. The Canmore ID number is:- 21653. 

Derek Bryce (1989) says of St Martin’s Cross: “In Scotland, on the Isle of Iona, there is a cross known as St. Martin’s. Its front is decorated in a similar way to the Irish high crosses, with biblical scenes on the shaft, and the very centre of the cross has a representation of the Virgin and Child. The ornamentation on the back is, however, purely decorative. This cross stands on a square, stepped base.”

Joyce Miller (2000) adds some interesting info on Iona Abbey and St Columba: “Situated on the beautiful and peaceful island of Iona, this is where St Columba came to found a monastic community. He converted the Picts of mainland Scotland, ruled by Brude, to Christianity. Columba was born in Donegal in 521 and died in 597, and the Columba’s shrine, within the Abbey buildings, dates from the 9th century.

“The abbey was abandoned after raids by the Vikings but was re-established by Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm Can-more, in the 11th century. Margaret is one of the few native saints still recognized by the present Roman Catholic church. The island was a major place of pilgrimage in medieval times, and there was a pilgrim’s route, marked by standing stones, across Mull.”

Miller goes on to say that: Two crosses – St Martin’s Cross and St John’s Cross – the latter a replica: the original is recon-structed and displayed in the Infirmary Museum – stand just outside the church. An extensive collection of sculptured stones and crosses, one of the largest collections of early Christian carved stones in Europe are held in the museum. The Black Stones of Iona were kept by St Martin’s Cross, and would reputedly turn black (or turn the oath-taker black) if somebody was lying when taking an oath. The last of the stones was apparently here until the end of 19th century, but has since gone.”

Sources and related websites:-

Bryce, Derek, Symbolism Of The Celtic Cross, Llanerch Enterprises, Felinfach, Lampeter, Dyfed, Wales, 1989.

Miller, Joyce, Myth and Magic — Scotland’s Ancient Beliefs & Sacred Places, Goblinshead, Musselburgh, Scotland.

The Rough Guide, Scotland, Rob Humphreys, Donald Reid & Paul Tarrant, Rough Guides Ltd., London, 2000.

*Wonders Of The World, (fwd: by Sir Philip Gibbs K. B. E.), Odhams Press Ltd., London, 1930.

https://canmore.org.uk/site/21653/iona-st-martins-cross

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/archives-and-research/publications/publication/?publicationid=e9970fde-2118-4aad-9fec-a58a00a5d049

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

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

https://orthodoxwiki.org/Iona

http://www.colmcille.org/iona/7-01

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/earlyphotos/s/006sta10370cc35u00011000.html

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.