The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


1 Comment

Grimspound Ancient Settlement, Near Manaton, Devon

Grimspound Ancient Settlement, Near Manaton, Devon

Grimspound Ancient Settlement in Devon. One of the hut circles.

NGR: SX 7006 8089.  At the northern side of the Dartmoor National Park half-way between Hameldown Tor and Hookney Tor and 3 miles to the west of Manaton, Devon, is the Grimspound Ancient settlement, an almost circular four-acre site dating from the mid to late Bronze Age period of pre-history. The whole site is enclosed by an almost complete 500 foot diameter ancient boundary wall and within this there are 24 hut circles or roundhouses, some of which are in an excellent state of  preservation, although a few have had to be rebuilt. The hut circles were built with loose stones, indeed some very large, shaped stones were used, and they had narrow entrances; most of the huts were used as dwellings with hearths but a few were used for storage or maybe as animals shelters, and they would have been roofed-over. Nearby there is an ancient field system. To reach the site head W on the country lane from Manaton; then W again for 1 mile to Heatree and Heather-combe Forest. Now walk W for 2 miles on the footpath over the hilly, windswept moorland to Grimspound Ancient Settlement. 

Timothy Darvill (1988) tells us that: “This site is probably the best-known middle Bronze Age enclosed settlement on Dartmoor. It lies in a shallow valley sheltered from the wind by hills to the north and south in an area of wild open moorland. When the site was occupied  between about 1600BC and 1200BC, the climate was warmer than today, and this part of Dartmoor was probably open grassland occasionally punctuated by small fields. The Grimspound enclosure covers an area of about 1.6ha, and is bounded by a stout wall of granite boulders. The ancient entrance lies on the south side; the other gaps are modern. Inside are the foundations of over 20 buildings, all round in plan with walls up to 1m thick. Sixteen of them were probably dwellings and another eight possible storage buildings, barns or byres. The stone foundations visible today originally supported a wooden superstructure and a thatched roof. 

Roland Smith (1990) says: “In his first report back to Sherlock Holmes from Baskerville Hall, in Conan Doyle’s novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, the famous detective’s loyal lieutenant, Dr Watson, painted an accurate picture of Dartmoor’s brooding sense of prehistory: 

On all sides of you as you walk in the houses of these forgotten folk, with their graves and the large monoliths which are supposed to have marked their temples. As you look at their grey stone huts against the scarred hillsides you leave your own age behind you, and if you were to see a skin-clad, hairy man crawl out from the low door, you would feel that his presence there was more natural than your own.

Grimspound Ancient Settlement. One of the B/A hut circles.

Grimspound Ancient Settlement. Entrance to one of the huts.

Watson’s keenly observant eye led him to the conclusion that the occupants of Dart-moor’s many pre-historic hut circles must have been an ‘unwarlike and harried race’, forced out on to this inhospitable moor where no one else would settle. Of course, in Watson’s day,  pollen analysis of Dartmoor’s peat had not yet revealed that the climate of Bronze Age Britain was several degrees warmer and much drier than it is today. But as you pick your way through the foundations of a settlement like Grims-pound , near Manaton, it is not difficult  to share the good doctor’s uncanny feeling  about the close proximity of the past and those pioneering first farmers.  Grims-pound, on the wild and windswept combe between Hameldown and Hookney tors, is the most complete and accessible of Dartmoor’s Bronze Age village settlements. The wall surrounding the four-acre site is almost complete and still 6 ft (1.8 m) high in places, and the remains of two dozen hut sites can be clearly seen. It is the nearest thing England has to Orkney’s Skara Brae settlement, and a place where the past seems very close.”

Janet & Colin Bord (1991) say that: “Dartmoor today does not look the most inviting of locations for a cattle farm, but in the late Bronze Age conditions may have been better. Grimspound survives as evidence for such settlements, and a ruined wall encloses a large area in which can be seen the remains of about twenty-four huts and some cattle-pens. The name ‘Grimspound’ was given to this place when it was already ruinous and its occupants forgotten — ‘Grim’ means  the Devil, or Woden, or some evil spirit.” 

Crispin Gill (1976) tells us more, saying: “Of all the Bronze Age villages on the Moor none has a more striking wall around it, heavily built and 6ft high in places. A stream runs in and out, there are clearcut gateways and 24 huts inside, all free-standing, and some small courts against enclosure walls. It covers nearly 4 acres. The general belief is that the wall was to keep animals in, protected from natural predators, rather than to keep out human enemies.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Bord, Janet & Colin, Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books, 1991.

Clamp, Arthur L., A Pictorial Guide to Eastern Dartmoor, Westway Publications, Plympton, Plymouth, Devon, 1969 or 70.

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

Gill, Crispin, David & Charles Leisure & Travel Series — Dartmoor, David & Charles (Publishers) Limited, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1976.

Smith, Roland, Britain’s National Parks — A Visitor’s Guide,  Dolphin Publications, Salford, Manchester, 1990.

https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/grimspound/history/

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/grimspound-prehistoric-settlement-nr-manaton-9402

https://ancientmonuments.uk/112881-grimspound-a-partially-enclosed-prehistoric-settlement-with-field-system-and-two-post-medieval-caches-between-hookney-tor-and-hameldown-tor-north-bovey#.YFkhqlJM5jo

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

More here:  https://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/grim_pound.htm

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2021.

                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Spinster’s Rock, Near Drewsteignton, Devon

Spinster’s Rock Burial Chamber, near Drewsteignton, Devon.

NGR:- SX 70093 90782. At the northern edge of Dartmoor National Park about ½ a mile west of Drewsteignton, in Devon, is Spinster’s Rock, a Megalithic burial chamber from the mid Neolithic age of Prehistory. The monument stands in a field beside a country lane close to Shilstone farm. It has been described variously as a Portal Dolmen, a Cromlech and Burial Chamber. Three large stones (uprights) tentatively support the massive capstone, and a few other stones or outliers lie on the ground in the close vicinity of the burial chamber. In 1862 the monument collapsed but within the year it had been re-erected again. One or two local legends have been ascribed to the site with regard to the name ‘Spinster’s Rock’ though these seem to have their founding in more recent times, rather than back in prehistory, and are very far-fetched, but each legend is associ-ated with three local spinster ladies who apparently built the monument! To reach the site head W out of Drewsteignton for 1 mile, then turn S onto lane towards Chagford. Look-out for the track to Shilstone farm and a wooden signpost. The monument is in the field 130m to the W of the farm.

llustration of Spinster’s Rock, in Devon.

Spinster’s Rock, also known as ‘Shilstone Cromlech’, dates from between 3,500 to 2,500 BC and stands 11 feet high. The three Granite uprights supporting the huge slab or capstone are between 6-7 feet high, while the capstone itself is roughly 16 feet X 10 feet, and is said to weigh upto 16 tonnes. It almost looks as if the capstone is floating in mid-air. Originally there would have been a mound of soil and stones covering the burial chamber but this is long gone. This is apparently the only Neolithic burial chamber in the County of Devon, though there are many Bronze and Iron Age sites on Dartmoor – Grey Wethers and Grimspound being two. In 1862 the monument collapsed due to subsidence but was re-erected within 10 months, although it wasn’t put back in its original form, and some of the supporting stones have had to be fixed in position with iron straps, and a notch had to be made in one of the uprights so that the capstone rested more easily onto it. When it was excavated in the 19th century no burials were found.

Roland Smith (1983) tells us that: “Most famous of Dartmoor’s cromlechs is Spinster’s Rock tomb, its massive four stones standing over 6 ft (1.8 m) tall in pleasant farmland at Shilstone, near Drewsteignton. The cromlech gets its name from a local legend that it was erected by three spinster’s of that parish one morning before breakfast — a labour of truly Amazonian proportions. The cromlech is probably the denuded remains of a Neolithic  (New Stone Age) burial mound, with a great capstone perched delicately on three uprights, but it is known that the monument was re-erected after collapse in 1862, so its original form is uncertain.”

The legends that are associated with this burial chamber are far-fetched and not plausable. Apparently three (or maybe four) spinster ladies (they may have been wool spinners) of the parish were on their way to market early one morning. They decided to build the dolmen before eating their breakfast. It seems they accomplished this great fete because of a trist, each wanting to out do the other, so they could marry the same man. The ladies were turned to stone and Spinster’s Rock took on their form, according to another legend.

The HE (Historic England) list entry number is: 1003177. See below.

Sources & References & Related Websites:-

Clamp, Arthur L., A Pictorial Guide to Eastern Dartmoor, Westway Publications, Plympton, Plymouth, Devon. 1969/70.

Smith, Roland, Britain’s National Parks — A Visitor’s Guide, Dolphin Publications, Salford, Manchester, 1983.

The AA,  The Illustrated Road Book Of England & Wales, The Automobile Association, London, 1962.

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1003177

https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=149

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinsters%27_Rock

http://www.stone-circles.org.uk/stone/spinstersrock.htm

http://www.saintsandstones.net/stones-spinstersrock-journey.htm

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2021.