The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

The Prehistory of Pilling Moss and its Environs – in the County of Lancashire.

Pilling Moss Bronze Age Axe Head (Illustration).

NGR: SD 463 447. The village of Nateby, Over Wyre, is 2 miles west of the A6 road near Gar-stang, while Pilling Moss is a couple of miles further west from there. Archaeologists consider the low-lying, level area around the Moss as very interesting – after recent excavations found late Mesolithic to early Neolithic settlements and trackways in that area. In the late 1970s a prehistoric settlement was found at Bonds Farm, just east of Stackpool; also a scattering of artefacts was excavated here (animal bones etc) and, at Friars Hill, another settlement, just to the north by (LUAC) – radiocarbon dating gave a date of about 2,345 BC and for Bonds Farm a date of 1,445-1,397 BC. At Manor Farm, Nateby, a few polished axes were excavated and were of a similar date. The area around Bone Hill House near Nateby was perhaps another ancient British settlement? but this place was more recently, in the 18th century, reputedly infamous as a “baby farm”. It was here that a number of babies’ skeletons were dug up from beneath trees in what looked like suspicious circumstances.

At Friars Hill (possibly associated with Cockersand Abbey) further to the north, was another prehistoric settlement; it was discovered that this site had been connected to Pilling Moss by trackways called by Archaeologists ‘Kate’s Pad’; these timber walkways, made from oak trees, were probably built to cope with the constant flooding of the moss and thus better access. These timber structures apparently went several feet down into the moss. In the Roman period it is thought the wooden walkways were strengthened and added to – at this period they were referred to as ‘the Danes Pad’. About a 1½ miles of these ancient timbered structures have been excavated across Pilling Moss.

And at Nateby recent excavations in and around the village have shown that a trackway going through the centre of the village dates from prehistoric times, and, a hill in the village showed signs of settlement. The trackway almost certainly connected with the one mentioned above running from Pilling Moss to Nateby – and then on to the River Wyre at Hambleton.

In 1824 a human head was dug up from Pilling Moss; the skull was of a young girl from the Bronze-Age period that still retained its auburn hair as well as a necklace of jet containing a single amber bead, according to B. J. N. Edwards in (Lancashire Archaeological notes Prehistoric and Roman, Trans. Hist. Soc. Lancashire Cheshire, 121, 99-106, 1969). Archaeologists now consider the skull to have been a ritual bog burial. Also, a dug-out canoe was excavated from Pilling Moss, close to Pressall. This, though, may have dated from the so-called Dark Ages, rather than from prehistoric times.

In the vicinity of Eagland Hill, near Scronkey, on Pilling Moss, Lancashire (NGR: SD 433454), a Bronze Age palstave was discovered during drainage work being carried out there in the early 1980s. Two other Bronze axe blades were found during excavations in the same area in the late 1970s. Pilling Moss was apparently, so we learn, not drained until the 1830s.

B. J. N. Edwards writing in 1982 says: “Readers will recall that the original stimulus for the excavations at Pilling in 1978 and 1979 was the finding of a Bronze Age haft-flanged axe blade. Subsequently, another was found in the same area. These two blades took their places in a line of five similar discoveries running NW-SE through the excavation site. These were then the only Bronze Age axe blades recorded from the Moss apart from a single flat axe. It is a palstave and was found during drainage work in the winter of 1980-81 near Eagland Hill.

“With an overall length of 6.06 inches (16.6cm) and a width across the blade of 3.02 inches (8 cm) it is noticeably larger and heavier than either of the 1977 and 1978 finds referred to above. Its closest parallel in Davey & Foster (Bronze Age Metalwork from Lancashire and Cheshire), Liverpool, 1975) is No 32 from Cartmell, for which the text says “incipient stop-ridge”, though the drawing seems to show a well-developed one.

“The implement has been returned to its finders, to whom the writer is grateful for permission to draw the implement and to search the field in which it was found. The latter activity was unsuccessful as was to be expected since the field concerned still has a considerable depth of peat”, says the writer B. J. N. Edwards.

Somewhere near Pilling Moss, or more likely off the coast at Fleetwood and Knott End, lay the legendary Roman port known as Portus Sentantiorum, but its actual whereabouts remain unknown, and whether the legendary port even existed at all is something that is still open to conjecture, and will be for a long time to come. The legendary or mythical port is mentioned in antiquarian books discussing the lost lands and villages located somewhere off the Lancashire Coast. In the 2nd century AD the Roman cartographer, Ptolemy, set about charting the wild coast of Lancashire; he apparently named what was assumed to be the Ribble Estuary as Belisama, but at that time the river was further to the south, close to what is now Southport, says Kenneth Fields. It has even been thought by some historians that Portus Sentantiorum was located out in the Dee Estuary between Chester and northeastern Wales.

Clifford Oakes (1953) says: “The formation of mosslands is almost certainly due to the impermeable nature of underlying clays at Chat Moss, Pilling Moss, Cockerham Moss and the original Tarleton Moss. The latter has now been largely reclaimed, and heavy root crops, mostly potatoes, are raised where heather, bilberry and sphagnum once flourished.”

Sources & References & Associated Websites:-

Davey & Foster, Bronze Age Metalwork from Lancashire and Cheshire, Liverpool, 1975.

Edwards, B. J. N., Lancashire Archaeological Notes Prehistoric and Roman, Trans. Hist. Soc. Lancashire and Cheshire, 121, 99-106, 1969.

Edwards, B. J. N., Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin, Vol. 8 No. 2,  (Page 30), May 1982.

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

Oakes, Clifford, The Birds Of Lancashire, pg 12 (Agriculture), Oliver And Boyd, London, 1953.

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2023.