The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

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St Nicholas’ Round Church, Orphir, Orkney Isles.

St Nicholas’ Round Church at Orphir, Orkney Isles. (Photo by T. Kent).

   OS Grid Reference: HY 33494 04429. On Gyre Road at Orphir Bay and a few hundred metres or so north of the shoreline of Scapa Flow, Orkney, are the remains of an early 12th century round church (kirk) of St Nicholas. It was probably originally dedicated to Saint Magnus. Beside the old church are a burial ground and the scant ruins of the Earls Bu, a Viking hall or palace, and also a farmstead and mill. The famous round church was built by Earl Hakon, who had a few years earlier (1111) murdered Earl Magnus (St Magnus). There is the Orkneyinga Saga Centre on the site; while in the burial ground there is an early medieval graveslab, and from the Dark Ages a Pictish symbol stone. The site is best reached from the A964 at the south-side of the island near Houton, then on Gyre Road for a short distance; the Orkneyinga Saga Centre entrance is on the right-hand side of the road.

   The author J. Gunn (1941) says of the round church: “At the churchyard near the shore we may stop to visit as pilgrims the pathetic little ruin at the east door of the church (now demolished). This is the semicircular apse and a fragment of the wall of a circular church, the remainder of which was unfortunately used as material for building the present church. This fragment is older than the cathedral of St. Magnus. It was built by Earl Hakon, the murderer of St. Magnus after his penitential pilgrimage to Jerusalem. 

   Mr Gunn goes on to say that after murdering Earl Magnus he: “……endeavoured to expiate his crime, as the manner then was, by going on a pilgrimage first to Rome and thereafter to Jerusalem. A small but deeply interesting fragment of masonry, still to be seen in Orphir churchyard, is regarded as a memorial of that penitential journey. At the east end of the present church (now demolished) is a vaulted semicircular apse of what was once the Round Church of Orphir, one of the very few churches in Britain built on the model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It seems certain that this was erected by Hakon on his return to Orkney, and it is therefore the oldest piece of ecclesiastical building in Orkney, except, perhaps, some of the ruins of little Celtic chapels. After his pilgrimage we read that Hakon proved a good ruler, made better laws, and became so popular that “”the Orkneymen desired no other ruler than Hakon and his issue.”” 

   The site entry for Orphir: St. Nicholas’ Church in ‘Ancient Monuments – Scotland’ adds that: “Only the chancel and a small part of the nave remain of this, the single example of a round church known to have been built in the Middle Ages in Scotland. The structure dates from the twelfth century, and appears to have been modeled on Scandinavian prototypes, derived ultimately from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.” Also we have Charles Tait writing in 1999. He adds some more information saying: “The Round Kirk is thought to be the church built by Earl Haakon Paulson, to the plan  of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on his return  from Jerusalem about 1120, in atonement for the murder of Earl Magnus. Previously known as the Girth House from the Norse grid for sanctuary, or peace, the church was largely demolished in the 18th century (about 1757) to build a new church, itself now gone.”

   Standing close by the round church are the foundation walls of some buildings, many now covered over by grass turf, of the Earl’s Bu or the drinking hall (palace or mansion), which was probably built by Earl Hakon Paulson between 1120-23. The place was mentioned in the famous Orkneyinga Saga. There are also some remains of a farmstead and watermill from the 10th century. The site was excavated three times in the 19th century, and continues today. At the entrance to the site is the Orkneyinga Saga Centre which is run by The Orkney Islands Council. This has displays celebrating the famous Viking Saga, and telling the story of the Norse Earls of Orkney through interpretation boards and audiovisual displays etc. In the burial ground there are stones from the early Medieval and Dark Age periods; one in particular being a 7th century Pictish symbol stone with crescent and V-rod, and an interesting carved graveslab from the 11th century. An inscribed runic stone was found here, but is now on display in the Orkney Museum, Tankerness House, Kirkwall. The Canmore ID number is: 1962. 

Sources and related websites:-

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

H. M. S. O.,  Ancient Monuments – Scotland, (Volume VI),  H. M. Stationary Office, Edinburgh, 1959.

Tait, Charles, The Orkney Guide Book, (Edition 2.1), Charles Tait Photographic, Kelton, St Ola, Orkney, 1999.

                                                                                  © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.

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The Mineral Well, Near Brinkies Brae, Stromness, Orkney

Road Plan of Stromness (from a drawing by J. R. Baikie, Burgh Surveyor)

   OS Grid Referance: HY 2477 0931. Beside the country lane about ½ a mile to the northwest of Strom-ness, Orkney, and in the valley a short distance to the southwest of Brinkies Brae Hill, can be found the now almost forgotten Mineral Well, which was actually a chalybeate well that had long been used by the good people of Stromness who had a need for its medicinal properties for their ailments; indeed so much so in past times that it was seen as the local “spa”. The well was locally called Haley Hole Well; it was regarded as sacred but probably never a holy well as such. The well is best reached from the south-side of the town of Stromness and, by travelling southwest then northwest along Guardhouse Park, Back Road, Croval Road and Brownstown Road for ½ a mile. Where the lane becomes narrower, and just after the turning called Grieveship Way, the little stone wellhouse can be seen on the right-hand side of the lane where there are open fields and excellent views northeast towards Brinkies Brae Hill and the Ordnance Survey trig column.

   Author J. Gunn in his excellent work ‘Orkney – The Magnetic North’ (1941) says of the well: “if not actually historic, was much used by former generations. It is known as the Mineral Well, and is to be found near the farm-steading in the valley to the south-west of Brinkie’s Brae. The water is strongly minl, and is credited with useful medicinal properties. If the approaches were improved and the qualities of the well made known more widely, this “spa” might be a distinct asset to the town as a health resort.”

   The ‘Stromness Community Garden’ website gives us some interesting information regarding the Mineral Well. It says: “As the ‘Haley Hole’ (hence the present road name ‘Hellihole Road’ leading from the town) it was visited by pilgrims from all over Orkney, who regarded it as a miracle well. The water was famed as a cure for scurvy and similar disorders. The name is undoubtedly from heilagr – Old Norse for holy – so it’s probably been considered sacred for some time.

   The website goes on to say: “Then, in the middle of the 19th century, it was advertised as “‘The Mineral Well’ and had a well house built over it to protect it from birds and animals. The stone built house had a wooden door and a ladle so visitors could drink their fill. By now the water was regarded as a more general tonic which visitors and townsfolk drank frequently.

   “Analysis of the water on Christmas Day 1862 by Dr Murray Thomson, who wrote a book ‘The Mineral Wells of Scotland’, showed it to contain a high percentage of sulphate of lime, chloride of magnesium and sulphate of iron, and a moderate percentage of chloride of sodium. The well was still considered to have health-giving properties in the early 2oth century.” Stromness Community Garden website is worth a visit and there are some photos of the well. See the following website/link:

Sources and related websites:-

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

                                                                               © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.


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Castle Haugh, Paythorne Bridge, Newsholme, Lancashire

11th century Castle Haugh, Lancashire, (from the north).

   OS Grid Reference: SD 82997 50775. High above a bend in the river Ribble, ¼ of a mile south of Paythorne Bridge, Newsholme, Lancashire, is a large tree covered mound with a deep ditch running part-way around it, which is known as Castle Haugh or Cromwell’s Basin. The site is 1 mile north of Gisburn and close to the A682 Hellifield road. It is about ¼ of a mile further along from Little Painley burial mound. Castle Haugh is actually a late 11th century Norman motte that is quite well preserved, although the ditch on the river-bank side has slid downwards. Often described as a medieval ringwork or earthwork. It was quite obviously a hastily constructed fortification built by a Norman baron; maybe William de Percy? There might have been a wooden structure on top of the mound in the early years, but that this was soon destroyed by Scottish raiders. The bailey, if it ever existed, has long since disappeared. It is best reached by way of a footpath heading south through the woods from Paythorne Bridge. Follow this path for about a ¼ of a mile until you see the mound of trees in the field just up ahead of you. As the mound is on private land it is best to ask the farmer for permission to view it more closely.

Castle Haugh Motte.

Castle Haugh Motte.

   Authors John & Phillip Dixon (1990) say of the site that: “Castle Haugh is sited on the edge of a high scar one hundred feet above the River Ribble south of Paythorne Bridge. It comprises a large mound and surrounding ditch. The central motte is small, twenty-five feet high, and it is evidently defensive, as it still retains the hearthen breast work round the top, silted down so as to convert the inner area into a shallow cup. The dry ditch round it, seven feet deep, is nearly perfect, except for a portion that has slipped down the scar. The situation is a commanding one, high above the Ribble, where Ribblesdale meets Craven and Blackburnshire.

   The authors go on to say that: “Some historians have suggested that Castle Haugh earthwork is what remains of an early castle of the Norman Baron, Roger the Poitevin, mentioned in the Domesday entry for Barnoldswick: “”In Bernulfeswic (including Ellenthorpe), Gamel (the English predecessor of Berenger de Todeni) had 12 carucates for geld. Berenger de Todeni held it, but now it is in the castellate of Roger the Poitevin.” This may be a reference to Castle Haugh, or to Clitheroe Castle, or to some other now lost castle in the West Craven District. 

   “Others suggest that the reference to a ‘castellate’ is not to an actual structure but a term used to indicate that a manor was in the honor of a lord. Many other words were used vaguely in the 10th and 11th centuries, before the establishment of an accepted terminology. The word ‘castelli’ is proven to have been used to refer to the whole of the lord’s estates, before the word ‘honor’ became the norm. This could well be the case with the Barnoldswick Domesday reference. However, the debate goes on.”

Castle Haugh. The deep  grassy ditch.

Castle Haugh. The ditch and motte.

   W. R. Mitchell (2004) says that: “When Norman rule began the valleys of Ribble and Hodder were already well settled, with evidence for the nuclei of many villages. William de Percy, who had arrived on the scene in 1067, was awarded a hundred Yorkshire manors, including Gisburn and Bolton-by-Bowland. Yorkshire territory was subsequently known as Great Bowland. Chipping — the Chipenden of Domesday Book — was not counted with Bowland until early in the 12th century, becoming part of the Lancashire share, otherwise called Little Bowland. The Bleasdale area, although not mentioned in the Domesday survey, was held by Tostig and included in the Forest of Lancaster. As such it was royal property.

   Jane Sterling (1974) says: “In the wholesale share-out of lands after the victory, William the Conqueror gave lands to Roger of Poitou, the third son of Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel and Shrewsbury, a cousin of the Conqueror and who had fought with distinction at Hastings. Roger’s estates included the lands between the Ribble and the Mersey, Lonsdale and Furness. Amounderness (the Fylde) was added to these possessions in 1072. To this gift of land to Roger de Poitou we can trace the rather odd geographical distribution of the later county of Lancashire to include the southern part of the Lake District which would have more geographical affinity with Cumberland and Westmorland — an anomaly rectified by the new county boundaries. But military considerations took precedence over others and Roger de Poitou who became involved in a military campaign against the Scots was presumably given the land in the Cartmel and Furness areas so that he could defend the main route of the Scottish invasion — across the sands of the Leven and Kent estuaries.

   Sterling goes on to say that: “The Domesday Survey is a unique document. It was compiled mainly for the purpose of aquainting William I with the extent and tax potential of his new realm. Though by no means a comprehensive survey of the country it is an invaluable record of England in the early years of Norman domination. Lancashire at this time had still not emerged as an administrative county and the entries which cover the present day Lancashire are included partly in the survey of Cheshire and partly in “”the King’s lands in Eurvicshire (Yorkshire)””.

Castle Haugh. On the summit of the motte.

Castle Haugh. On the summit of the motte.

   I am informed by Nick Livsey that the large mound of Castle Haugh was built on top of a Bronze Age burial mound. This occurred because a site was quickly needed for a defensive castle (motte) to be situated close to the river Ribble. Nick says that: “Its a bronze age burial mound that was re-used as a motte and bailey castle (timber construction) around 1080; but its a shame that the river Ribble has eaten 1/3 of it away, and that a motte and bailey was constructed upon it and, as far as I know, it hasn’t been archeologically excavated, well not by professional archeaologists anyway.” Nick also adds that “the new Norman lord used the easiest available mound that offered good views down and up the Ribble and also the road system; the fact that there are so many burial mounds near here is because of the River Ribble was a watery liminal place between the living and the dead. You often find burial mounds on parish boundaries or next to lakes or rivers.”

Sources and related websites:-

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

Mitchell, W. R., Bowland And Pendle Hill, Phillimore & Co. Ltd., Chichester, West Sussex, England, 2004.

Sterling, Jane, Dark Age and Norman Lancashire, Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, North Yorkshire, 1974.

Thanks also to Nick Livsey for his input.

                                                                                          © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.

Winckley Lowes I, Near Hurst Green, Lancashire

Winckley Lowes I Tumulus near the boathouse building.

   OS Grid Reference: SD 70649 37461. Grass-covered Bronze Age burial mound (tumulus) in the corner of a farmer’s field, near the old boathouse (now a private house), 1 mile southeast of Hurst Green, Lancashire, which goes under the name Winckley Lowes I. The River Ribble is close by this site with a footpath running alongside it. There is a larger mound with trees growing on top of it a short distance away that is called Winckley Lowes II or Loe Hill.  At the time of my visit in late August the mound was surrounded by maze crops and so the site was difficult to get to and difficult to photo! There was a large hollow in the centre of the mound and what looked like a hole at the side of this, which was probably due to robbing-away in the past. At least two foot-paths heading south-eastwards, then south, from the B6243 road between Hurst Green and Great Mitton, near the bridges, are the best bet to reach the site; then follow the Ribble Way running beside the river to the former boathouse (now a private house); the two mounds lie in the farmer’s fields, just at the back.

   It’s not a good idea, however, to visit the mounds when the maze crops are growing tall. When the crops have been cut back in the Autumn it is possibly to see both mounds from the footpath beside the river Ribble, or from the two metal gates at either side of the boathouse, and if you do go further into the fields to get a closer view it is probably best to walk along the edges of the ploughed fields. 

Winckley Lowes I.

   The mound or barrow known as Winckley Lowes I stands in the corner of a  farmer’s field – some 220m north of the Hacking boathouse. It is 2.5m (8 ft 2′) high and roughly 34m (111 ft) by 45m (147 ft) and is built of earth and stones. It is described as being a bowl barrow or round barrow. At the centre there is a large hollow or depression with a small hole visible at one side. At the time of my visit in August the mound was covered in very thick grass and weeds. The barrow stands on what is the floodplain of the river Ribble.

   Authors John & Phillip Dixon say of Winckley Lowes I: “The one by the nearby barn was excavated by Rev. J. R. Luck of Stonyhurst College in 1894. The tumulus revealed a cinerary urn of c. 1250 B.C. which contained the cremated remains of a body. Also found were a young man’s skull and a flint knife; a boy’s skull and a child’s skull.

    “The burial is one of an important person — probably some local chieftain — buried near the ancient natural ford at Jumbles Rocks which must have been known and used by early man even in Neolithic times.”    

Winckley Lowes I.

   The site entry for Winckley Lowes (in the parish of Aighton, Bailey and Chaigley) in ‘Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin’ (1984) says:- “Two mounds. (a) Excavated by Fr. Luck in 1894. Found cremation  without urn, 3 inhumations, flint knife and pottery. These finds were all at Stonyhurst College in 1961 and 1967. The pottery was medieval or post-medieval, and, taken with the hollow in the top of the mound, suggests robbing. The flint is now at L. R. O.”

   Winckley Lowes II also known as ‘Loe Hill’ will be looked at in more detail in a separate site page.

Sources and related websites:-

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

Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin, Vol. 10 No. 2/3, May & July 1984.

                                                                                 © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.


The Blarney Stone, Blarney Castle, Co. Cork, Southern Ireland

Blarney Castle, Co. Cork, Ireland, in 1791.

   Irish Grid Reference: W 60784 75334. A large lump of limestone that is set into the battlement of Blarney Castle, near Mangerton, Co. Cork, Southern Ireland, has been revered by Irish folk for hundreds of years due to its magical powers that give one ‘the gift of the gab’, or ‘the Blarney’, if you are able to kiss the said Blarney Stone (Cloch na Blarnan), which is not an easy thing to do as the famed antiquity is actually located a few feet or so below the top of the tower. As to where the stone came from know one seems to know with any great certainty, but it may have been brought here from the Holy Land, Egypt, or from Scotland. The stone was placed in its current position in the mid 15th century. Blarney Castle, a 12th century stronghold, is to be found about ½ a mile south of Mangerton to the east of the R617 road. Cork is 5 miles to the southeast. Access to the castle is usually from the Dromderrig side of Mangerton. From the ‘The Square’ follow the long, straight-road going southwards through the castle grounds. 

   Mary Penelope Hillyard (1958) in her excellent work ‘Blarney Castle and Rock Close’, goes into great detail regarding The Blarney Stone. She says: ‘The Blarney Stone itself is a block of limestone four feet one inch long, by one foot one inch wide and nine inches deep. There is a piece chipped out of the front, caused it is said by a cannon ball from one of Cromwell’s cannons. It is built into the battlement about two feet from the top…..The stone is said to give the gift of oratory in exchange for a kiss. According to one legend, it was once known as Jacob’s pillow and was brought to Ireland from the Holy Land during one of the crusades. The Blarney Stone is difficult to photograph to advantage.” 

   Hillyard goes on to say that: “A tale of a later date relates how one of the MacCarthys (the custodians of the castle) provided Robert Bruce with five thousand kerns to fight Edward II in Scotland. At the Battle of Bannockburn, in gratitude, Robert Bruce presented his Irish helper with a piece of the stone, that the owners had broken off the original, when the armies of Edward II, threatened the precious relic. The MacCarthy placed this stone of fame upon the battlement of his castle.

   “Yet another legend says that Cormac MacCarthy, walking beside the Martin river, rescued a woman from drowning. He thought that she was a peasant but she proved to be a witch. As a reward for saving her life, she told her rescuer of a magic stone in the castle which would give the gift of eloquence in return for a kiss.

   “Apart from all these legends, it is known that the MacCarthy who reigned in Munster during Queen Elizabeth’s time, was able to talk “”the noose of his head,”” and that the word “”blarney,”” meaning in conversation “”fair words in soft speech,”” dates back to that time. In his dealings with the Queen, while professing to be her loyal Baron of Blarney, MacCarthy never fulfilled any promise or condition he had made. Procrastination followed dalliance, delay and subterfuge followed device and evasion, until eventually in disgust the Queen cried out: “”Blarney, Blarney, what he says he does not mean. It is the usual blarney.””

   Hillyard also says of the Blarney Stone that: Once on the battlements the visitor must empty his pockets of valuables to prevent them cascading downwards through the branches of the yew trees, lie flat on his back, grasp two upright iron bars, have ankles held by a strong man, and inch his body through the opening, above which rests the Blarney Stone. The stone is set in the wall about two feet below the battlement. 

   “There is a fine view from the top of the Castle, over the wooded hills of Muskerry. To the south can be seen the turrets of the modern Blarney castle, and beyond that the lake. Beneath the castle to the east lies the lovely dell known as the Rock Close and under one of the walls of the keep is a cave.” 

Sketch by John Leitch (1859). Two Victorian ladies having kissed the Blarney Stone.

   Reader’s Digest (1992) says of the Blarney Stone: “It is scrubbed with disinfectant four times a day to prevent any risk of transmitting disease”….and says: “Father Prout , the 19th century humorist and poet, wrote of it….. a stone that whoever kisses…. O he never misses…. To grow eloquent.” It goes on to say that: “The public ritual of kissing the Blarney Stone seems to date from the 18th century development of the Blarney Castle estate by the Jefferyes family. Some say the stone is  part of the Stone of Scone, the ancient crowning seat of Scotland’s kings, now in Westminster Abbey.” Also, Kevin Eyres & Michael Kerrigan (2008) add more information saying that: “Blarney Castle, built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster, is one of Ireland’s oldest and most historic fortresses . The castle was the third to be built on the site by the McCarthys, whose stronghold it remained until Cromwell finally took it in the seventeenth century. Impressive as the castle is, it is the presence of the Blarney Stone, now rather prosaically referred to as the Stone of Eloquence, that makes Blarney Castle so internationally famous.”

   There are several theories as to where the Blarney Stone came from: it might have come from Israel where it was used as a pillow by the Hebrew Prophet Jacob (Yacob), or it came from Egypt and was the stone, or a part of it, that Moses struck “twice” in order to get water for his fellow travellers, while there is a legend that associates the stone with St Columba and it was maybe part of the Stone of Scone at which the kings of Scotland were crowned. More than likely the lump of stone is millions of years old and came from the local area.

   Mary Penelope Hillyard (1958) says of the Rock Close at the eastern front of the castle: “Here are a remarkable collection of massive boulders and rocks. Some of the rocks are arranged in circles. Others take on quaint shapes. A long, narrow rough stone staircase connects with a lower level in which a giant balanced stone, possibly a Druid tolmen stands.

   “The orderly arrangement of the various objects would indicate human planning rather than a haphazard setting by nature. Many of the Rock Close possessions have been by tradition and in folklore associated with witchcraft and magic. Among these are a wishing stairs, the Druidic circle, two caves (one known as the witch’s kitchen) and the fairy dancing green. Where the fancy ends and fact begins is difficult to ascertain. In the second half  of the 18th century James Jefferyes, then owner of Blarney Castle, found time to interest himself in the Rock Close, and its possible that he conceived the idea of setting out an ornamental garden here, on the lines of the Garzoni design often to be seen in the landscape gardens of Italy. There is evidence to show that Jefferyes made reconstructions. A large flat stone covering the wishing steps, with an inscription on it giving his name and the date 1759. Did Jefferyes, in fact, erect the wishing steps and arrange the other objects in the close—or did he merely renovate a far older construction?”

Sources and related websites:- 

Eyres, Kevin & Kerrigan, Michael, Ireland – Landmarks, Landscapes & Hidden Treasures, Flame Tree Publishing, Fulham, London, United Kingdom, 2008.

Hillyard, Mary Penelope, Blarney Castle and Rock Close, Woodlands Press, St Ann’s Hill, Blarney, Co. Cork, 1958. (The two images above are taken from this work).

Reader’s Digest, Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide To Ireland, The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1992.

                                                                                  © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.


Dyffryn Ardudwy Burial Chamber, Gwynedd, North Wales

Dyffryn Burial Chamber outskirts. Pjposullivan (Creative Commons)

   OS Grid Reference: SH 5887 2284. Neolithic monument consisting of two independent burial chambers stands in a field, 200 feet above sea-level, at the east side of Dyffryn Ardudwy village, Gwynedd, on the western slopes of Moelfre Hill which rises to 1932 feet. Dyffryn Ardudwy is 5 miles north of Barmouth. The ancient monument from about 4000 BC is also known as a ‘chambered cairn’, ‘portal dolmen’ and ‘cromlech’; it goes by several other names including Arthur’s Quoit, Carreg Arthur and Coaten Arthur. These megalithic burial chambers or dolmens can be reached by way of a lane running east off the A496 (coast road to Harlech) just before, or after Bro Arthur, depending on which way you are walking, and then by a short footpath into the fields (passing close by the village school) for maybe 100 metres east of the village. It is marked by a large cairn of stones spread widely about and two burial chambers that are set-apart, each of them having upright slab-stones and huge sloping capstones.

Dyffryn Ardudwy Burial Chamber, Gwynedd in North Wales. Plan.

   Some very good information is given in the following description by T. G. E. Powell, MA, FSA (Reader in Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Liverpool), and here quoted in full. He says: “It will be understood that the cairn  had been used over a long period as a quarry for stones to build the neighbouring walls and perhaps older structures no longer visible. Only the basal layers of cairn stones therefore survived, but sufficient to show that it had been roughly trapezoidal in plan, measuring  about 100ft in length, and in width some 35ft at the eastern end and 54ft at the western end. The cairn had a rough edge of small boulders. It’s bulk was made up of loose stones of kinds that could have been collected nearby. The megalithic slabs of which the chambers were built come from grits and slates of the Cambrian series and could have been obtained on the hillside. Excavation disclosed that there had been two periods of construction at the site. First, the smaller, western, chamber had been put up and surrounded by a small oval cairn. Later, but at perhaps no great lapse of time, the larger, eastern, chamber had been erected; then the trapezoidal cairn had been built to envelope everything. Whether this final cairn covered the capstones of both burial chambers cannot be proven, but it is likely that the cairn reached at least as high as their edges.

   “The construction of the western chamber shows it to be of a type often called for convenience a ‘Portal Dolmen’. At the higher, eastern end there is a pair of massive forward projecting stones with a high blocking stone between. These form a portal although one that is blind or non-functional. Access to the chamber was doubtless over the low slab forming the southern side. The floor of the chamber consists of a single large flat rock probably found here in its natural position by the original builders. The markedly sloped position of the capstone resting on the two portal stones and on the end stone of the chamber should be noted as characteristic of the Portal Dolmen type.

   “The eastern chamber was much more ambitious in construction, especially in the width to be spanned and in the weight of the capstone that was raised into position. It was found necessary in 1961-62 to provide additional support for this great roofing stone and a buttress was built on either side of the chamber for this purpose. This chamber stands some 28ft east of the other and is itself some 12ft long, splaying in width from 5 to 7ft. A low cross-slab with broken upper edge should be noted near the eastern end within the chamber. This may have stood to a greater height, thus acting as a partial closing stone. The gap between its free end and the southern side of the chamber was found to have been filled with blocks. A gap towards the rear in the walling of the north side of the chamber may have been intentional as it was spanned only by small flat slabs and no socket for a missing upright came to light. Eastwards of the cross-slab, the projecting walls of the chamber provided a kind of covered portico; then there was an open area bounded by small uprights of various heights, more or less continuing the shape of the portico. Finally, all this area the cross-slab outwards was sealed up with a massive blocking of sloped slabs and cairnstones. 

   “The original contents of the western chamber (Portal Dolmen) are unknown and had doubtless long been destroyed, but a pit under the cairn, just in front of the portal, produced a quantity of potsherds of a recognizable Neolithic ware. The original deposits in the eastern chamber had not been so much thrown out as thoroughly disturbed and mixed up with modern rubbish. Potsherds of several kinds were however found, as well as two polished stone pendants and some traces of cremation burials.”

Dept of Environ-ment & H.M.S.O leaflet

   T. G. E. Powell in his conclusion of the site at Dyffryn Ardudwy says that: “This chambered cairn is a com-posite burial monument first having consisted of a small megalithic chamber of Portal Dolmen type surrounded by a small oval cairn. The  Portal Dolmen type is widely distributed in the coastlands of Wales, in Cornwall, and in Ireland. The Neolithic pottery found in the pit associated with this chamber at Dyffryn Ardudwy is related  to similar  wares known from Pembrokeshire and Cornwall. It was not possible to obtain any material during the excavation suitable for radio-carbon measurement so that only a suggestion based on other evidence can be given about date. On present information it seems likely that this Portal Dolmen was erected the middle of the third mill. BC. Subsequently, a larger megalithic tomb was built and the cairn proper to this chamber was extended so as to envelope the older monument to the west. The somewhat irregular shape of this cairn may be explained by this factor in conjunction with the slope of the ground. Pottery recovered from the eastern chamber belonged to various types and suggested a period of use beginning a little later than that of the Portal Dolmen, continuing perhaps to the opening of the second mill. BC. The general structural characteristics of the eastern  chamber, and its trapezoidal cairn, suggest a mixing of building practices owing something to the Portal Dolmen tradition, but more to influences coming by pastoral routes through the mountains from the Cotswolds and south-eastern Wales.”

   Chris Barber & John Godfrey Williams (1989) say of this site that: “On early Ordnance Survey maps they are marked as Cromlech and as Burial Chamber on later ones.” Bill Anderton (1991) says that: “As part of an outbreak of light phenomena, columns of light were seen issuing from the ground here in 1905. The site stands on the Morchras geological fault.” Christopher Houlder (1978) describes it as a “long cairn” and also adds that: “The cairn lies in an area of some of the finest Iron Age cultivation terraces in the country, visible on the hillside above.” And Jacquetta Hawkes (1975) informs us that: “The Dyffryn long barrow is approached through the iron gates of the village school and will be found alongside the playground not many yards from the highway. Hawkes goes on to say: “The barrow was excavated in the 1960’s revealing a long and complex history.”

Sources and related websites:-

Anderton, Bill, Guide To Ancient Britain, Foulsham, Slough, Berkshire, 1991. 

Barber, Chris & Williams, John Godfrey, The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1989.

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

Houlder, Christopher, Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber & Faber, London, 1978.

Powell, T. G. E., Dyffryn Cairn – the megalithic chambered cairn at Dyffryn Ardudwy, Merionethshire, Dept of the Environment Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings on behalf of the Welsh Office – for H. M. S. O, 1973.      The photo (above) from the Wikipedia website is displayed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License.

                                                                                     © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


Pinder Hill, Waddington, Near Clitheroe, Lancashire

Pinder Hill, Waddington, Lancs, site of a Bronze Age burial.

   OS Grid Reference: SD 7272 4368. Pinder Hill at Waddington in the Ribble Valley, 2 miles northwest of Clitheroe, Lancashire, was the site of a Bronze Age burial mound. Sadly the tumulus has been destroyed and there is no sign of it today. The hill is actually a series of hil-locks in the corner of a field to the west of the parish church of St Helen. These grassy hillocks look unassuming and ordinary today, but there used to be a small burial mound or barrow on the higher part of Pinder Hill and, in the late 19th century, a funery urn was excavated here. The artefacts from Pinder Hill were later deposited in Clitheroe Castle Museum. However, the site seems to be on ‘private land’ but it can be approached from the north-side along Belle View Lane via a field gate a bit further along, or from Twitter Lane! at the south-side where a metal gate beside the driveway of the house ‘might’ allow accesss?  There is parking on the opposite side of the lane in front of the playground.

Pinder Hill, Waddington, in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire.

Pinder Hill, Waddington. Looking along the ridge of the hill.

   Pinder Hill is a series of grassy hillocks at the western side of Waddington village. They were formed from glacial deposits consisting of smooth and rounded pebble-like stones worn-down many thousands of years ago by the movement of ice and water; these stones can clearly be seen where parts of the structure of the mounds have eroded and fallen away. It could be there was a settlement here in the Bronze Age? There was a small burial mound or round barrow on the summit of the hill but this was probably destroyed in the late 19th century when a gravel pit or quarry was being worked. But luckily the mound was seen to be of significant archaeological interest and its funery contents recognized as an ancient burial; the plain collared urn and pigmy vessel were later taken to the local museum for safe-keeping. What makes this site ‘so extra appealing’ is the babbling little brook that flows tranquilly at the very edge of the field, opposite the grassy hillocks of Pinder Hill.

   John & Phillip Dixon (1993) say of this site: “To the south-west of the Buck Inn stands a hillock of glacial debris known as Pinder Hill. A small mound on the summit of the rise was excavated in 1887 and yielded a Bronze Age burial urn. Inside the urn, which was inverted, was a mass of broken and partly calcinated bones, more than half filling it.

   “Within this mass was found an ‘incense cup/pygmy urn’, two worked flints and a worked bone object. The presence of an ‘incense cup’ is thought by some to mark a female burial, the openwork pattern indicating basketry being particularly the work of women. Yet given the inverted position of the large urn the smaller may have been merely a stopper and may have no other significance.

   “The flints are of the type used for the preparation of skins and preparing thongs of hide. The bone object is a toddle used to fasten a coat or other. These finds are now on display in Clitheroe Castle Museum.”

    John Dixon goes on to say that: “Bronze Age axes have been found at Up-Brook Farm, Waddington, and the horn of a ‘auroch’, extinct during the Bronze Age, in the Ribble at Low Moor.”

Pinder Hill, Waddington. Drawing of the urn and pygmy cup/vessel.

Pinder Hill Bronze Age Collared Urn.

   The site entry for Pinder Hill in ‘Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin’ (1984) says:- “Plain collared urn inverted and containing A.V. found 22 June 1887 in, digging gravel pit. Contents included two flints and ? toggle of calcined bone (?).” The primary source is given as Y. A. J. 30;248. In the work  ‘Life In Bronze Age Times’ (Thomlinson & O’Donnell) some more information is given. It says that: Pinder Hill is a burial site dated as Middle Bronze Age, 1600-1500 B.C. On excavation in 1887 it revealed two vessels and many bone fragments. The urn…..was found to contain the cremated remains of a dead man. The use of the smaller vessel or incense cup is unknown.” The site is also mentioned by Ian H. Longworth in his (1984) work ‘Collared Urns: Of The Bronze Age in Great Britain and Ireland’. In this we find that the dimensions of the large urn were 15 inches in height, the small accessory vessel was 3 inches high.

Sources and related websites:-

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

Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin, Vol. 10 No. 2/3, May & July 1984.

Longworth, Ian H.,  Collared Urns: Of the Bronze Age in Great Britain and Ireland, CUP Archive, 1984.

Thomlinson, Sarah & O’Donnell, John,  Life In Bronze Age Times, (A Resource Book for Teachers), Curriculum Development Centre, Burnley.

                                                                                 © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.