The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Lexden Burial Mound (Tumulus), Near Colchester, Essex

Old Map of Colchester and Lexden Areas with Tumulus & Celtic town.

NGR: TL 97537 24712. In the back gardens of a row of houses on Fitzwalter Road at Lexden, 1 mile southwest of Colchester town centre, in Essex, is an ancient barrow (tumulus) with trees growing out of it. The area where the mound is located was originally called Lexden Park. It was con-sidered by historians and antiquarians to date from the late Iron Age period of pre-history and, probably constructed just before, or at, the Roman occupation of 43 AD. Traditionally, it has also been thought that the mound was where the British prince, Cunobelinus, was buried, although whether there is any truth in that remains to be seen. Colchester was originally called Camulo-dunum after Cunobelinus, King of the Catuvellauni. To the north of the tumulus is the site of a Celtic cemetery and, further to the northeast at Sheepen Farm the site of the Celtic town, which would have been inhabited in the time of Cunobelinus. When the tumulus was excavated in 1924 many artefacts were dis-covered, some of which were bronze. The 4-5 foot high barrow with its outer ditch is at the far south-western end of Fitzwalter Road (Handford Place), just before St Clare Road.

Benham’s (1946) tells of the site, saying: “The Lexden Tumulus is a burial mound situated in what was formerly Lexden Park, and was excavated in 1924. It has long been a local landmark, in fact Dr. William Stukeley (1687-1765) had noted it in 1758 as ‘“Prasutagus’s grave,”’ a fanciful and unfounded ascription. Morant, though not mentioning the mound in his History of Colchester, left a plan of it with manuscript notes. The Rev. Henry Jenkins (c.1860) called it a ‘”Beacon,”‘ regarding it perhaps as a mount or mound in the vicinity so described in Speed’s Map of Essex (1610). Roman remains were found in the mound in 1860 (an amphora and pottery). Though surrounded (at some distance) by a circular ditch the mound itself was ovoid in shape.”      

Lexden Burial Mound (Tumulus) bronze artefacts.

Benham’s goes on to say that: “The excavation in 1924 indicated that the mound was the burial place of some noted personage, probably before the Roman Conquest in A.D. 43. The objects discovered included : (1) fragments of burnt human bones; (2) fragmentary pottery, described as ‘“pre-Flavian,”’ or, at latest, of the first half of the first century; (3) masses of iron, of which several portions are apparently parts of a litter; (4) iron chain-mail (many fragments); (5) a bronze table about 13 in. long by 9¾ in. broad and about 3¼ in. high, standing on four small ball-footed legs, and adorned with pendent scroll-work (it is thought that this table may have been the base of a standard lamp); (6) bronze pedestal about 3½ in. square and 2 in. high; (7) small bronze foot, sandalled (part of a figure of which the remainder was not found); (8) bronze figure of Cupid, holding a bird, found near the pedestal; (9) neck and head of a bronze griffin originally the attachment (or handle) for a bowl; (10) a small bronze bull, lying down; (11) a small bronze boar (tusked); (12) other bronze objects and fragments, bosses (with traces of red enamel), large numbers of bronze studs of various sizes, some of which are supposed to have decorated harness, a bronze palstave (an implement or weapon devised  to fit in to a wooden handle, dating from the late Bronze Age, already at least 900 years old at the time of burial), etc.; (13) remains of leather clothing, with a buckle; (14) fragments of horn; (15) remains of fine gold tissue; (16) many trefoil-shaped silver ornaments, remains of silver buckles and silver studs; (17) silver medallion with head of  Augustus (Gaius Octavius, 65 B.C.—A.D. 14) said to be identical with that on denarii issued 17 B.C., cut out from an actual coin and soldered on a silver disc, enclosed in moulded silver frame. It is inferred that this must have been the burial of a personage of importance, and it has even been supposed that it may have been the funeral mound of Cunobelinus, the British King. The absence of all coins of Cunobelinus is significant.”       

Benham’s adds more, saying that: “Colchester has claims to be the oldest recorded town in Great Britain. It occupies the site of the British Camulodunum, the ‘“fort of Camulos,”’ the Celtic war god, and the “‘royal seat”’ or capital of the British King Kunobellinos, according to the historian Dio Cassius. The coins of Cunobelinus, with their legends CAMV for Camulodunum and CVNO for Cunobelinus, found in hundreds in Colchester, are substantial evidence in conformation of this statement.

“Cunobelinus is the Cymbeline of Shakespeare, though beyond the name the poet borrowed nothing of his story—either legendary or historical. Cunobelinus resigned from about 5 B.C. till his death about A.D. 43. He is described on his coins as son of Tasciovanus, whose coinage is also plentiful, and who was perhaps descended from Cassivellaunus (Caswallon), who resisted Julius Cæsar’s invasion of Britain in the year 54 B.C. Cassivellaunus made terms with the Romans and continued to reign after there departure. He is reputed to have seized Camulodunum about 50 B.C., taking it from Man-dubratius, who was restored to his sovereignty by Julius Cæsar. These latter details, however, cannot be accepted as authentic.

“The Celtic settlement was discovered to be a large area of wattle-and-daub huts, dotted over the hill now occupied by Sheepen Farm, from the river marshes on the north up to the plateau towards the south, very much in the manner of native ‘“kraals”’ in Africa. Great quantities of pottery were found, as well as moulds for the striking of Cunobeline’s coins. The pottery included native (British) ware and Roman ware imported from the Rhineland, N. and S. Gaul, and Italy. Brooches and bronze objects and coins were also discovered. The coins were mainly of Cunobelinus, but one of his predecessor, Tasciovanus, was unhearthed. Over 50 Roman coins were found, ranging up to Claudius (A.D. 41—54). The evidence showed that the Celtic site had been occupied by the Roman soldiers for many months, or even a few years, before the Roman Colony had been established to the S.E., thus changing the position of the town to that which it now occupies on the hill adjoining.

“The Celtic cemeteries were on the south side of the main settlement, many burials having been found in the Lexden Park area. Several lines of massive earthworks, including Gryme’s Dyke, protected Camulodunum on the west, running from the river Colne in the north to the Roman river in the south, thus cutting off the peninsula formed by those two rivers.”

Hawks (1975) regarding Colchester, says: “The town stands, as it were, at the junction of British history with prehistory. Cunobelin or Cymbeline, who united south-east Britain into a single powerful kingdom during the early years of our era, established his capital here in about 10 A.D. He chose a slope above the Colne just to the south-west of the present town at a place where now there is little for the visitor to see beyond a huge notice by which the Corporation have obligingly announced that this is the site of Camulodunum, capital of King Cymbeline. The outer dykes defending the settlement —comparable to those we have seen at Chichester and St. Albans……are still visible within the area of Lexden Park. These long lines of bank and ditch are typical of Belgic military ideas in contrast with the enclosed hill-fort of their immediate predecessors. The faint remains of the scattered city of Camulodunum are now under fields, houses and roads on the outskirts of Colchester. Excavation showed that Cunobelin, and after him, no doubt, his ill-fated sons ruled there until the time of the Roman conquest.” 

Darvill (1988) telling of the inhabitants of Camulodunum, says: “The Lexden Tumulus………contained the burial of one of their leaders, possibly King Addedomaros. Accompanying the cremation were many ritually broken objects including fine tableware, wine amphorae and jewellery. Following the Roman Conquest, Camulodunum became an important colonia for retired Roman army veterans.”

Priestley (1976) tells us Colchester is: “One of the earliest Roman towns to be founded in Britain. Colchester has a great deal to show the visitor. In days before the Roman conquest, Cunobelinus (Cymbeline) King of the Catuvellauni ruled the whole of SE England from his capital here. It was situated on flat land to the W and NW of the modern town and defended by an elaborate system of earthworks and dykes between 2 and 3 miles (3.2 and 8 km) distant from the town. Traces of these may still be seen and followed with the aid of an Ordnance Survey map.”

There is a second tumulus, though this one is not so well known, 665m to the northwest of the Lexden burial mound, on a grassy area in the middle of a modern housing estate (Marlowe Way) at NG: TL 96877 24882. This tumulus, known as ‘The Mount’, probably dates from around the same time as the one at Fitzwalter Road, Lexden.

Sources / References & Related Websites: 

Benham’s, Benham’s Colchester — a history and guide, Benham And Company Limited, Colchester, 1946.

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

Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments In England And Wales, Cardinal (Sphere Books Ltd), London, 1975.

Priestley, Harold, The Observer’s Book of Ancient & Roman Britain, Frederick Warne & Co Ltd., London, England, 1976.

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

https://colchesterheritage.co.uk/monument/mcc1356

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1019967

https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=MEX34083&resourceID=1001

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/lexden-tumulus/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.


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Ditchley Roman Villa, Near Charlbury, Oxfordshire

A typical Roman villa in England, although Ditchley was smaller.*

NGR: SP 39932 20104. In a field about ½ a mile southeast of Ditchley Park, near Charlbury, Oxfordshire, are the visible earthworks of a Roman villa. This grassy, rectangular-shaped earthwork is to be found just to the east of a wooded area (Harry’s Plantation) in the location known as Watts Wells Field – northeast of Lodge Farm. Although it has always been called “Roman villa” more than likely it was a Roman farmstead, which had a boundary ditch (dyke) enclosing it and an entrance at the south side; but because it was still inhabited into the 5th century AD, ‘Romano-British’ farmstead seems more appropriate. The rectangular earthwork is said to be 330 x 300m. Nearby are remains of a Roman bath-house, ancient field system and Grim’s Dyke, and 1½ miles south is the Roman road (Akeman Street). 1½ miles northeast of Charlbury at the B4437 (Woodstock Road) take the lane north to Lodge Farm, then follow the footpath northeast and then east to the next field – the villa (site) is in this field, just a little to the south of the footpath.

The Wikipedia website has the following: “It was a collonaded house with outbuildings, threshing floors, and a granary with capacity for the produce of about 1,000 acres (400 ha) of arable land. It was surrounded by a rectangular ditch 360 yards (330 m) by 330 yards (300 m). The site is less than 2 miles (3.2 km) north of the course of Akeman Street Roman road and is one of a number of Roman villas and Romano-British farmsteads that have been identified in the area, apparently associated with the territory bounded by Grim’s Ditch. The villa site was identified by aerial archaeology in 1934 and excavated in 1935. It was found to have been first settled in about AD 70 with a set of timber-framed buildings, which were replaced in stone in the 2nd Century. In about AD 200 a fire severely damaged the stone buildings and the site was abandoned. The site was reoccupied early in the 4th century, and occupation on a more modest scale than before continued until the end of that century.” (See the link, below).

Ground plan of Ditchley Roman Villa, Oxfordshire (after Oxoniensia vol.i,p.28).

Richmond (1963) tells us that: “At Ditchley (Oxfordshire), the timber posts which formed the first version of the earliest house plainly indicate the simplest kind of structural beginning, comparable with the now rare but once common timber arcades of Norman domestic architecture, of which carpentry made a delightful thing. The first stone-built Ditchley house differed little from Lockleys or Park Street, and it is probable that only a loft-like first floor was provided, if at all. But about the turn of the first century A.D. there were added a new stone-built veranda and projecting end rooms which gave to the establishment both privacy and a new elegance. There was now room for re-creation and entertainment in what had been previously a workaday farm, wherein the whole house had lived together. Socially speaking, the new plan divided the household and accentuated the position of master and mistress. In Britain this type of house became widespread, and it brought the new province into touch with the mainstream of contemporary West-European domestic archi-tecture. For in Gaul or the Rhineland the design was generally common, and went with a sizeable farm. And so it was in Britain, for on the basis of its granary accommodation the Ditchley villa has been related to an estate of five hundred acres. This supplies, then, a kind of yardstick, however rough, by which the size and standing of different kinds of villas can be gauged. Even allowing for the fact that, on the ancient system of crop-rotation, one-third of the arable lay fallow each year, it becomes clear; that by this standard the numerous  bigger villas must have been related to very substantial estates indeed. Not enough is known about the social organization of such larger estates to say whether they were run by slaves or by crofter-labourers. But where a resident staff of labourers appears, their accommodation nearly always takes the form of a barn-dwelling, frequently ranged on one side of a farmyard or court. This structure, convenient for so many purposes, is planned with nave and aisles divided by timber columns. As in Friesian farm-houses today, the nave served for stores, tools, and livestock, while the aisles or the whole of one end of the building were partitioned to house the workers. In the form of a subsidiary building essential to the working of a farm this type of house was so general, even in the largest establishments, that its prototype has been sought in the pre-Roman days. But no proof of such antecedents has yet appeared, and it may well be that this type is borrowed from the Italian villa rustica. There are some villas also in which this type of house is the only domestic accommodation present, as for examples Clanville (Hampshire) or Denton (Lincolnshire). These represent either small tenant farms or bailiff-run establishments, where the distinction between tenant or supervisor and workers was less sharply defined. Some, as at Castlefield (Hampshire), are so primitive in their arrangements that any distinction seems out of the question.”

Hawkes (1975) with Roman villas in general, says: “These range in size and dignity from large “country houses” to quite modest farm-houses. They were most numerous and prosperous in the Home Counties, but frequent enough right across southern England, with noticeable concentrations in Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and the Cotswolds. The most elaborate villas were built round a courtyard; others had a main block with wings, very many consisted only of a single block with rooms opening on to an arcaded corridor. Their remains often include foundations of brick or stone walls, mosaic floors, small column bases, hypocaust columns from the central-heating system, and, of course, the usual Roman litter of bricks, tiles and potsherds. The buildings seem often to have been enclosed with an outer boundary ditch or wall, and the estates attached to them must sometimes have been extensive.” 

The Wikipedia websites also tells us that: “Some time before the villa was discovered, a hoard of 1,176 bronze Roman coins was found between Box Wood and Out Wood, about 600 yards (550 m) to 700 yards (640 m) northeast of the villa site. The coins range in date from about AD 270 onwards and seem to have been buried in a ceramic pot about AD 395, towards the end of the Roman occupation. The hoard was transferred to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 1935.

Grim’s Ditch, which passes through the present park and estate, is an ancient boundary believed to have been constructed during the Roman occupation of Britain in about the 1st century AD. The toponym ‘Ditchley’ is derived from a compound of two English words, meaning the woodland clearing (“-ley”) on Grim’s Ditch.” (See the Wikipedia Link, below).

Sources / References & Related websites:

Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments In England And Wales, Cardinal (Sphere Books Ltd), London, 1975.

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

*Liversidge, Joan, Then And There Series—Roman Britain, Longman, Green And Co. Ltd., London & Harlow, 1969.

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England—Roman Britain, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963. 

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1009420

https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=334570

https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol1/pp306-324

https://www2.rgzm.de/transformation/unitedKingdom/villas/VillaeLandscapes.htm

More information here Ashmolean Museum

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.

 


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The Multangular Roman Tower And Defensive Walls at York, North Yorkshire

The Multangular Roman Tower, Eboracum (York)

NGR: SE 60012 52072. At the east side of York city centre, just off Museum Street (A1036), and in the Yorkshire Museum’s gardens (at the north side) overlooking the River Ouse is the famous ‘Multangular Tower’, a defensive structure (with 10 sides or angles) belonging to the western corner of the Roman fort of Eburacum or Eboracum, which was built around the year 300 AD during the reign of Constantius I (Chlorus). The lower section of the tower with its nice, neat stonework is the Roman part whereas the top section with the larger stonework and arrow slits is 13th century. It is certainly the finest, and the best preserved, of all the Roman defensive structures in the city; and also there is a well-preserved 76 foot section of Roman wall (early 3rd century and still 17 feet in height, but without its parapet) running northeastwards from the Multangular Tower through the museum gardens toward Bootham Bar; along this section of wall there is the stump of an interval tower. Access to the York-shire Museum Gardens (close by Lendal Bridge) is from either Museum Street or Marygate. Also look out for the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey and St Leonard’s Hospital.

The Wikipedia website gives the following: “A low plinth or skirt extends out from the lowest course. It stands almost 30 feet (9.1 m) tall, has an external diameter of 48.5 feet (14.8 m) at the base and 46 feet (14 m) above the skirt. Length of each side varies from 7.5 feet (2.3 m) to 11 feet (3.4 m) on the inner face. The tower projects beyond the curtain wall to a distance of 36.75 feet (11.20 m). The foundations are concrete, atop which the tower extends having a rubble and mortar core between faced courses of small magnesian blocks. At 15 feet (4.6 m) a scarcement reduces the thickness of the wall from 5 feet (1.5 m) to 3.25 feet (0.99 m), which continues for a further 4 feet (1.2 m) before being capped by 11 feet (3.4 m) of 13th century masonry in which arrowslits can be seen”, according to Wikipedia. (See the Link, below).

Herman Ramm (1979) says that in: “About AD 300: The defenses were again rebuilt except for the section from the south-east to the north-east gates which includes the east corner. The new wall was similar to the old except that the facing was bonded to the core by a tile band and had a tile cornice. This can still be seen at the west angle where there is also the stump of a great projecting tower, the Multangular Tower, matched by another (not now visible) at the south angle. Along the south-west side, facing the Ouse, were six only slightly less imposing interval towers and a great gritstone gatehouse.

“The reasons for these changes are not always certain……but “is often said to be the result of another similar disaster, but the new architectural frontspiece added to the river front of the fortress suggests that it had attained a new dignity, probably that of becoming the seat of the new Dux Britanniarum, commander of the land forces of all Britain.

Herman Ramm goes on to say that: “Inside the fortress timber buildings have been found, for example near St. William’s College and off Blake Street, which must relate to the timber defences. The headquarters building was first built in stone in the early 2nd century (Trajan-Hadrian), but its next reconstruction in the early fourth century was Constantinian rather than Constantian. It was not demolished until the ninth century.”

Tom Garlick (1988) tells us that: “In the early 4th century the fortress was again strengthened by Constantius Chlorus following the troubles of 296. The river façade was now equipped with two fine polygonal angle towers, six close set interval towers and a new impressive towered gateway. These alterations made York one of the strongest defended and imposing fortresses of the Roman Empire. The south-west corner tower — the ten sided Multangular tower faced in small ashlar blocks — still survives in the Museum Gardens. Once fronted by ditches, its upper storey held powerful catapult artillery.

“Constantius I died at York and his son Constantine was proclaimed Emperor there. In the administrative reorganization of the 4th century, York became the headquarters of the Duke of Britain, a new military cavalry commander. In the third and fourth centuries Whitby jet was manufactured into rings, pins, necklaces and portrait medallions in the town and mar-keted in the Rhineland. By the late Empire there were Christian churches in the colonia and a bishop of York attended the church council in Arles in France in 314. The legionary garrison was evacuated in the late 4th century but town life seems to have continued into sub-Roman times and the Dark Ages.”

The Multangular Roman Tower at York (photo).

Mr Garlick adds more, saying that: “Today the fortress area, canabae and colonia lie buried beneath the modern city. The main lines of the camp’s streets are still preserved in Stonegate and Petergate, and the Minster stands over the Roman headquarters. Visitors can still inspect sections of the Roman defences. The Multangular tower is the finest survival, together with 35 feet of adjacent wall surviving to a height of 13 feet. Inside, the position of barracks is known, as is a bath house under the Mail Coach Inn in St. Sampson’s Square and the legionary head-quarters crosshall under the Minster. Modern buildings cover the canabae and the site of the presumed amphitheatre. No traces survive above ground of the colonia but its street plans and some of its buildings are known from excavation and chance finds. The cemeteries were extensive and lined the town’s approach roads. Visitors should establish the line of the Roman fortress and town walls as compared with the later medi-eval city walls and visit exposed Roman defences. The Yorkshire Museum contains an extensive collection of inscriptions and finds from the city which throw interesting light on the history of Eboracum and its inhabitants during the four centuries of Roman rule. In 1971 the city celebrated the 1,900 anniversary of its founding by Cerialis.” 

Richmond (1963) tells us: “At Eburacum (York) literature similarly records a shrine of Bellona, the Goddess of War, and there is a noble head of Constantine* as Caesar or newly-proclaimed Emperor.” *The head of Constantine can be seen in    The Yorkshire Museum.

Richmond goes on to tells us about jet, saying that: “Solinus describes British jet with interest, as a substance heated with water but quenched with oil and magnetic when rubbed. These paradoxical qualities endowed jet with almost magical esteem, and it became a favourite material for ornamental jewellery, much of which was manufactured at Eburacum (York). Hair-pins, spindles, finger-rings, and bracelets were made in great variety, some bracelets and many necklaces being ingeniously articulated in minute component pieces. Elaborately carved pendents and medallions, including family groups executed to order, and teddy-bears, represent either profitable lines of production.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:

Garlick, Tom, A Dalesman White Rose Guide — Roman Yorkshire, The Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, 1978.

Ramm, Herman, Roman York From A.D. 71, Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society, York, 1979.

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England — Roman Britain, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963.

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/York_city_walls#Multangular_Tower

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

Check out this website: https://yorkcivictrust.co.uk/heritage/civic-trust-plaques/roman-fortress/

http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/roman-empire-governed-from-york/the-multangular-tower

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/multangular-tower-and-wall-museum-gardens-7913

http://secretyork.com/multangular-tower/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 


Wavertree (site of destroyed tumulus) in Liverpool, Merseyside

Collared cremation urns from destroyed tumulus at Wavertree. (After Ecroyd Smith) 1868.

NGR: SJ 391 893. In July 1867 while digging at the place then called Victoria Park in Wavertree, Liverpool, Merseyside, workmen in the process of building two new houses came across at least eight ancient burial urns in a tumulus or cemetery; however, they destroyed at least six of these without due care and attention, and only two were dug up and still in a reasonable state of preservation, and so they were given over to the guardianship of Liverpool museum for further safe-keeping. These collared funery urns, and a few other fragments, were later examined and found to date from the Bronze Age. However, the workmen who discovered the urns had at the same time “destroyed” the grave (tumulus) in which the urns had lay. The site where this destruction took place is today semi-detached housing on North Drive, Wavertree, a suburb of Liverpool, but, there are no signs whatsoever of a tumulus or mound, if there ever had been one, which contained the funery urns. North Drive is 2 miles east of Liverpool City Centre, at the north side of High Street (B5178), and just to the east of Wavertree Playground (known locally as the Mystery).

Wavertree Bronze-Age Collared Urns (After J. A. Picton) 1868.

The site entry (No 56) in the ‘Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin’ (1984) gives the following information as: “Parish: Liverpool. Site Name: Wavertree. N.G.R. SJ 391 893. Primary Reference: Smith 1868 Picton 1868. Eight urns found in building operations 1867. Six destroyed. No. 1. 13″ high; 11″ greatest width; 9″ diam at mouth. Inverted on sandstone. Contents sand wood bone ashes, charcoal, clean calcined bone & two worked flints. Nearby a light-coloured  flint arrowhead, two scrapers and a core. No. 2. 6¾” high; 6″ broad; 5½” diam at mouth. Upright, mouth covered by a flag. Cont. ashes, sand, bone frags. These two went to Liverpool Museum.  Illustrations from Picton 1868, Plate I. These are at different scales the right urn being No. 1 above. Better illustrations accompany Smith 1868 where this urn is called No. 6 and the left urn is called No. 7. The first six found (and destroyed by workmen) were numbered 1-5 and 5A.”   

Further to that the following is given: “Picton, J. A. (1868) Prehistoric Remains in Lancashire. Arch. Camb. 314 (1868) 206-208.  Smith, H. E. (1868) An Ancient British Cemetery at Wavertree. HSLC 20 (1868) 131-146.” 

Sources / References & Related Websites:

Barrowclough, David A., Prehistoric Lancashire, The History Press Ltd., Cheltenham, 2008.

Edwards, Margaret & Ben, Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin, Vol. 10 No. 2/3 May & July, 1984. Preston, Lancashire.

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

http://wavsoc.awardspace.info/dhw/page46.html

https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/visit/galleries/history/burial-urn.aspx

https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/collections/

Further local history: https://historic-liverpool.co.uk/wavertree/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 


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Church Well (St Mary’s Well), Thornton-in-Craven, Lancashire

Church Well / St Mary’s Well, at Thornton-in-Craven, Lancashire.

NGR: SD 90135 48324.  At the southwest side of St Mary’s parish church (on Church Road) at Thornton-in-Craven, Lancashire, is ‘Church Well’ or ‘St Mary’s Well’. The octagonal wellhouse enclosing the spring was built by Henry Richardson, rector of St Mary’s in 1764, but the spring itself dates to far earlier times maybe the pre-Christian period (the site being not far from a Roman road). Later, the well was almost certainly being venerated by the 7th Century AD but with the tenuous link and dedication to St Oswald, the King and martyr, who was beheaded (654 AD). There is an interesting Latin inscription running around the top of the wellhouse. St Mary the Virgin parish church, which is situated above the well, was built in the early 16th Century but it stands on the site of an earlier 12th Century church and, possibly a Saxon building before that? St Mary’s Church and holy well are on the Lancashire side of the north Yorkshire border on Church Road (Skipton Road) opposite the lane to Thornton Hall, some 2 miles east of Barnoldswick and 6½ miles south-west of Skipton. An iron gate gives access to the churchyard and the wellhouse, which is over to the left.

Church Well / St Mary’s Well (close-up view).

Derek D. Clabburn  (2007) says: “We have no means of discovering why Richardson should have chosen to build an octagonal random stone cover over the well in Thornton churchyard. As far as can be deduced, the waters from the well possess no medicinal properties such as found at Harrogate or Bath or the nearby sulphur wells at Broughton and possibly near Crickle Hall at East Marton. Richardson’s Account Book reveals that he suffered from gout as early as 1748 and there are frequent references to remodeling or repair of a ‘gouty shoe’ and for administrations from a Dr. Kitchen, but it seems unlikely that the covering of the well was prompted by medical considerations, nor was it likely to be a source of water for any dwelling in the vicinity of the church. The well being situated in a hollow some 12 to 15 feet below the level of the main burial ground on the south side, the likelihood of water contamination is possible, although this would have been virtually unrecognized by scientific minds in the mid eighteenth century. If it was to provide ease of access for watering his livestock on his adjoining glebe lands, then the act of covering the well makes sense.

Church Well (an inside view of the well-house)

“But why lavish an enigmatic Latin commemorative inscription around the frieze of the building? Its manifest purpose eludes us nearly 250 years after it was erected. Another curiosity of the building is its capping formed from a large millstone. Its grooving is clearly seen as the ceiling within the cover. The axle shaft hole at its centre is capped by a turned sphere, which is kept in place by its own weight and forms a plug to the roof cover. The construction at the base of the octagonal cover forms a square some 3 feet deep with steps descending into the well proper. The depth of water within the well is controlled by a wooden plug in the well floor, which when removed drains away the stored water. When in place, the water depth rises to a point where it flows out in a channel beneath the doorstep and fills a drinking stoup. Hereafter the water drains away to supply the Rectory Farm on a regular daily basis.

Mr Clabburn goes on to adds that: “The Latin inscription reads: Fontem hunc salutiferum et perantiquum Tecto munivet Anno Aerae Christianae MDCCLXIV. Quod Publicae Sanitate bene vortat H. RICHARDSON RECTOR. (One translation reads: That it might prove of benefit for the health/salvation of the community, H. Richardson, Rector, built a covering for the health/salvation-giving and most ancient font/spring, in the year 1764 of the Christian era.” 

John & Phillip Dixon (1990) say of St Mary’s Church: “The embattled Perpendicular tower dominates the edifice, the south face of which bears an inscription and arms that I cannot make out along with a date, 1510. The inside of the church holds no hidden delights, but of interest is the churchyard draw well.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:

Clabburn, Derek D., Henry Richardson 1710-1778 — Life and Legacy of a Thornton Rector, Earby & District Local History Society, 22 Salterforth Road, Earby, Barnoldswick, BB18 6ND, 2007.

Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia Volume One: Walks in Craven, Airedale and Wharfedale, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

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

https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101167634-church-of-st-mary-thornton-in-craven#.Xf0VVlJCdjo

https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=28058

http://www.thorntonincraven.co.uk/st-marys-church-thornton-in-craven/

https://www.achurchnearyou.com/church/6930/page/6047/view/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.


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Maeshowe, Orkney Island, Scotland

Maeshowe chambered cairn, in Orkney Island.

NGR: HY 31830 12762. At the southeastern edge of Loch Harray (north side of the A965 Strom-ness to Kirkwall road) on Orkney Island, Scotland, stands ‘Maeshowe’ or ‘Maes Howe’, a well-preserved Neolithic chambered cairn and passage-grave from 2800 BC, which is the largest megalithic tomb in Orkney and the finest of its kind in the British Isles; the masonry in this tomb being far better than any of the prehistoric burial monuments in the rest of Europe! This large and imposing grassy mound is around 24 feet high, over 100 feet in diameter, and is surrounded by a ditch that is more than 40 foot wide. At the southeast side of the mound there is a slab-built entrance with a long passage-way leading inside the monument to the inner chamber that is over 12 feet in height. Inside the chamber there are 30 runic inscriptions and other carvings. Mawshowe is located about 1 mile east of ‘Stones of Stenness’ and 4 miles west of Finstown. A footpath leads of the A965 road (opposite Tormiston Mill) in a northwesterly, then northeasterly direction, for 300m to the monument.

Maeshowe Chambered Cairn, Orkney Island. (Photo: T. Kent).

J. Gunn (1941) on his visit to Maeshowe tells us: “We enter the mound by a low and what seems a very long passage, at first barely2½ feet high, but for the second half over 4 feet, and are glad to reach the central chamber, where we can stand upright once more. The floor of this chamber is 15 feet square. The walls are vertical for the first 6 feet of their height, and then begin to curve inwards, not by an arch structure but by each course of the masonry over-lapping the previous one, and so producing the effect of a vault, until at the height of about 13 feet only a small opening is left to be covered by a single slab. The angles of the building are strengthened by heavy buttresses of stone. In the wall opposite the entrance, and on either side, are recesses some 3 feet above the ground, built as if for burial chambers.

“The mound was broken into, perhaps in search of treasure, by the followers of Earl Rognvald II., who wintered in Orkney in 1151 before setting forth on his famous pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In 1861 it was reopened and carefully examined, the passage was opened out, the interior cleared of rubbish, and the roof restored.” 

Gunn goes on to say: “The mound which covers and protects the building is still some 35 feet in height, and 300 feet in cir-cumference. It stands on a level platform of nearly three times this diameter, surrounded by a trench about 40 feet wide, and from 4 to 8 feet deep. The entrance passage to the chamber is fully 50 feet long. Regarding the builders of the chamber, its purpose, and its date, nothing is known.” And Gunn goes on to say “There is thus no doubt that their original purpose was sepulchral, and this is true also of Maeshowe itself, as is shown by the fragments of human skulls which were found in it when it was examined in 1861.” 

Burial recess & blocking stone

Childe & Simpson (1959) tell us that: Maes Howe covers the finest “megalithic tomb” in the British Isles, the masonry of which is surpassed nowhere in Western Europe. The tumulus rises from a flan plain at the south-east end of the loch of Harray, and belongs to a great complex of monuments to which we shall return. The imposing mound is 115 feet in diameter and still 24 feet high. It is encircled, 50 feet to 70 feet from its base, by a great penannular ditch, 45 feet wide. From the south-east edge of the barrow a passage now over 36 feet long leads to a chamber 15 feet square and now 12 feet 6 inches high. (The original corbelled roof is preserved to that height only, the gap being covered by modern vaulting). In the middle of each side wall save the southern rectangular “window” some 3 feet above the floor gives access to a small rectangular cell, 3 feet 6 inches high, and roofed by a single lintel slab. These cells, the actual depositories of the deceased, could be plugged with stone blocks, still lying near them on the chamber floor.

“The masonry of the passage and chamber is of outstanding excellence. Most of the stones used have been dressed. The walls and roof of the inner part of the passage are formed of monoliths, on an average 18 feet 6 inches long, 4 feet 4 inches wide and 7 inches thick. The joints are so finely adjusted that it is impossible to insert a knife-blade between them. Projecting piers in the chamber’s four corners, ingeniously designed to support the corbels, are each faced on one side with upright monoliths that attain a height of 9 feet 8 inches. 

“Maes Howe was presumably designed as the burial place of a potent chief and recalls in several details some famous tombs on the Boyne. It was opened by Farrer in 1861, who found he had been anticipated  by Vikings in the 12th century. These had left nothing of the original burials nor their furniture, but a record of their violation in the form of Runic inscriptions and engravings of a lion, a walrus, and a serpent-knot. The inscriptions mention the removal of treasures and record various visits by Christian Vikings and crusaders about A.D. 1150.”   

Bill Anderton (1991) says of the Maes Howe Tomb: “Near Stromness, on the island of Orkney can be found the remains of a magnificent chambered tomb. The tomb lies beneath a 7-metre-high mound of clay and stones, the entrance being through an 11-metre-long passage lined with huge slabs of stone. The chamber of the tomb measures 4½ metres square. The wall opposite the entrance and the two side walls each have a recess leading into the body of the earthern mound. Burials may have been placed within these recesses. The tomb was sealed in about 1500 BC, and remained thus until AD 1150 when it was broken into by some Norse pirates who were spending the winter on the island. Nothing was left in the tomb except for some runic inscriptions testifying to their presence. These inscriptions were carved by Vikings over 800 years ago, but the beautifully constructed cairn is dated to about 2750 BC. It is orientated so that the mid-winter sun shines down the 11-metre-long entrance passage to light up the inner beehive chamber. Among the carvings on one of the uprights is the famous Maes Howe Dragon.”    

Further to that Charles Tait (1999) says: “Maeshowe has the distinction of having one of the largest groups of runic in-scriptions known in the world. Inscribed artefacts are common all over Scandinavia and the Norse colonies, with the earliest dating from about AD 200. The younger futhark was developed about AD 700 and was the form of runes used by the Vikings. Many inscriptions are on artefacts and tell who carved the runes while runic memorial stones are also common, often using existing boulders. These epitaphs often commemorate the exploits of the dead.

“The Vikings left much runic graffiti, but none have so far been as rich and interesting as in Orkahaugr – the Norse name for Maeshowe. These runes were carved in the 12th century and are a development of the characters used by the earlier Vikings. Runes developed as a simple way of carving letters into wood, bone or stone using a blade or similar implement. They represent most of the Latin alphabet as required by Old Norse. There are many variations in the runic alphabet, but most of the characters have Latin equivalents. Runes were used throughout the Germanic lands, but probably developed in Scandinavia.

“At Maeshowe there are about 30 inscriptions, many of which are of the style “Thorfinn wrote these runes”. Some gave their father’s name, or a nickname, some are by women and one intriguing inscription says “these runes were carved by the man most skilled in runes on the Western Ocean with the axe that killed Gaukr Trandkill’s son in the south of Iceland”. This rune carver may have been Thorhallr Asgrimassom, Captain of Earl Rognvald Kali’s ship when they returned in 1153 from the Crusades. Clearly the Vikings were interested in Maeshowe and left inscriptions on at least one other occasion, when stories about treasure were being told, as in “Haakon singlehanded bore treasures from this howe”. Women were also discussed, as in “Ingigerd is the most beautiful of women” and “Ingibiorg the fair widow”, or “Many a women has come stooping in here no matter how pompous a person she was”’.

Charles Tate adds that: “Some of the runes are cryptic tree runes which are easily deciphered by a numeric code based on the futhark – the runic alphabet. Little could the Viking graffiti writers of 1153 have realised how interesting their runes would be today! In the magnificent setting of the 5,000 year-old tomb, the Viking visitors seem not so distant.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:

Anderton, Bill, Guide To Ancient Britain, W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd., Slough, Berkshire, 1991.

Childe, Gordon & Simpson, Douglas, Ancient Monuments—Scotland—Illustrated Guide, H. M. Stationery Office, Edinburgh, 1959.

Gunn, J., Orkney—The Magnetic North, Thomas Nelson And Sons, Ltd., London, 1941.

Tait, Charles, the Orkney Guide Book (Edition 2.1), Charles Tait photographic, Kelton, St. Ola, Orkney, 1999.

The AA, Illustrated Guide Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, London, 1963.

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

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/maeshowe-chambered-cairn/

https://canmore.org.uk/site/2094/maes-howe

https://stonesofwonder.com/maeshowe.htm

http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/maeshowe/index.html

https://sites.google.com/a/umich.edu/from-tablet-to-tablet/final-projects/runic-graffiti-at-maeshowe-orkney-katie-rokakis-13

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.


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Stones of Stenness, Orkney Island, Scotland

Stones of Stenness, in Orkney Island, Scotland

NGR: HY 30683 12513. At the far south-western edge of Loch Harray – beside the B9095 (Brodgar road), on the Island of Orkney, Scotland, is the famous henge monument known as ‘Stones of Stenness’ or ‘Ring of Stenness’, which is considered to date from around 3,000 BC – the Neolithic age of prehistory. There used to be twelve tall standing stones forming the circle, but now there are only four (one of these having been damaged and is now only half the size) – the other stones apparently vanished into thin air or, more likely, they were toppled and broken up to be used for building material, though there are outliers close by: one in particular stands beside the road, while close to the centre of the henge there are two smaller stones and one large recumbent, which may have been a cist grave, or a hearth? The four stones are surrounded by a (slight) low bank or fosse and, a rock-cut ditch now filled-in. The thinking was that this monument was either a temple to the sun, a ritualistic place sacred to the Druids, or an astronomical site? Stenness is 5 miles northeast of Stromness, 5 miles west of Finstown and 1 mile southeast of the ‘Ring of Brodgar’, which is another Stone Circle, just to the north of Stenness.

Charles Tate (1999) tells us a lot about the site, saying: “The Standing Stones of Stenness……were originally a circle of 12 stones with a diameter of 30m and now comprises of 4 uprights, the tallest of which is over 5m high. The circle was surrounded by a rock-cut ditch 2m deep, 7m wide and 44m in diameter which has become filled-in over the years. Excavation has revealed a square setting of stones and bedding holes for further uprights, either stone or wooden.

“Remains of domestic animals , including cattle, sheep and dog bones as well as a human finger and sherds of Grooved Ware pottery were found in the ditch. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the circle was constructed about 3000 BC, which is older than many henge monuments further south in Britain.

Tate goes on to add, that: “Nearby, at the Bridge of Brodgar, stands the Watchstone, (HY 305128 – 5.6m). At the Winter solstice the sun sets into a notch in the Hoy Hills as seen from this stone, clearly marking the shortest day. A recent observation suggests that there is an interesting alignment from the Watch Stone at Old New Year – still celebrated in Shetland with Up Helly Aa. At this date at the end of January, the sun disappears behind the Hoy Hills just before sunset and then reappears from the other side, before finally setting into a notch in the skyline.

“This impressive menhir and the Barnhouse Stone (HY312122 – 3.2m), in a field near the main road, as well as the Stone of Odin, which was destroyed in 1814, must have had some connection with the stone circles and Maeshowe. Since so many stones are missing, interpretation of the remaining stones remains problematical. This of course serves to add to the mystery of the purpose of the monuments. Other standing stones at Stoneyhill (HY320158), Howe and Deepdale (HY272118) may also form part of this Neolithic complex.

“The stone destroyed in 1814 was used as lintels by the farmer at Barnhouse, who was incidentally an incomer. Apparently the part with the hole was used as the pivot for a horse mill but was destroyed after World War II. Luckily the selfish farmer was stopped from demolishing the rest of the Standing Stones, but only after he had toppled two more of the menhirs, one of which he broke up. The threat of Court action finally stopped this 19th century vandal, and the fallen stone was re-erected in 1906. Luckily the vast majority of landowners over the millennia have had great respect for our antiquities.

“The Odin Stone had a hole in it through which lovers clasped hands and swore their everlasting love. The Oath of Odin was then said and the contract was binding thereafter. The stone was also credited with healing powers, in association with the well at Bigswell (HY345105) and especially at Beltane and midsummer. Recently the probable sockets of both this stone and another were found between the Standing Stones and the Watch Stone.”

Timothy Darvill (1988) says: “Little now remains of the bank and ditch of this site which was originally 61m in diameter, but a single entrance lies to the north. Four massive stones remain of the ring of 13 slabs that once stood inside the monument. Cists and pits containing burials have been found in the henge, and radiocarbon dates suggest that it was constructed about 2900BC.”

Childe & Simpson (1959) tells us: “The Ring of Stenness is now a flat-topped mound or platform, encircled by a fosse with a bank outside it and traversed by a causeway on the northwest. On the platform four monoliths stand on the circumference of a circle, some 52 feet in diameter.

Stones of Stenness, Orkney Island. An early photo by T. Kent.

J. Gunn (1941) tells us that: “As regards the Standing Stones, a common theory has been that they had some connection with the religion of the Druids, and may have been places of sacrifice. Another theory is that they had some astronomical significance. Neither of those beliefs is now accepted by serious students of archaeology. On the other hand it is certain that such stones are in almost every case associated with graves and burial mounds, and in this connection they seem to have had a religious or ritualistic origin. It is probable that the religion of these circle-builders was some form of sun worship which had spread into Europe from the East. In Scandinavia there are many Bronze Age pictorial rock carvings which point to such a worship, and it has been thought that the practice of cremation, which became so general in Western Europe during that period, was due to new ideas regarding the persistence of the soul after death. In more southerly parts of Britain there is no doubt that fresh immigrations took place during this Bronze Age, but whether Orkney was affected by these to any extent we cannot tell. It may well be that the Stone Circles and Standing Stones were the work of the same racial stock, who had retained the megalithic tradition, and had found fresh forms of expression for it under the compel-ling influence of a new world of thought.” 

Sources / References & Related Websites:

Childe, Gordon & Simpson, Douglas, Ancient Monuments—Scotland—Illustrated Guide, H. M. Stationery Office, Edinburgh, 1959.

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

Gunn, J., Orkney—The Magnetic North, Thomas Nelson And Sons, Ltd., London, 1941.

Tate, Charles, The Orkney Guide Book (Edition 2.1), Charles Tait photographic, St. Ola, Orkney, 1999.

The AA, Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, London, 1963.

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

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/stones-of-stenness-circle-and-henge/

https://canmore.org.uk/site/2105/stones-of-stenness

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2014/08/neolithic-orkney/

https://www.orkney.com/listings/standing-stones-of-stenness

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.