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