The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


Barrow Hill Tumulus (West Mersea), Mersea Island, Essex

Glass Burial Urn

Roman Glass Funery Urn & Lead Cist from West Mersea Burial Mound (tumulus).

OS Grid Reference: TM 02257 14341. At the southeastern side of Barrow Hill at West Mersea on Mersea Island, overlooking Pyfleet Channel, in Essex, there is a large tree-covered mound which is a round barrow (tumulus). In this burial mound a Romano-British king was probably buried   at the end of the 1st Century AD, or in the early 2nd Century, so the story goes. However, there seems ‘now’ to be some uncertainty about the age of the monument. When the barrow was ex-cavated in 1912 a glass cinery urn was found in a lead container. This contained a child’s remains. Locally the barrow is called ‘The Mount’. The burial mound is 1½ miles north-east of St Peter & St Paul’s Church, West Mersea, and 9 miles south of Colchester. The island, which is 5 miles long, is reached by a causeway (southeast of Peldon) called ‘The Strood’ which crosses over the creek; then follow the East Mersea road for a ¼ of a mile, keeping to the left, until you reach Barrow Hill. The tumulus is to be found beneath the tall trees close by Barrow Hill farm.

The Historic England website says that: “The monument includes the known extent and buried remains of a Roman barrow situated on relatively high ground at the north-west edge of the central plateau of Mersea Island overlooking the Pyfleet Channel. The flat-topped conical mound mound is some 35m in diameter and 7m high. The top has a diameter of some 5m. There is no enclosing ditch. Excavations carried out by the Morant Club in 1912 found that the mound contained a burial dating from the late first to early second century AD. The burial chamber, sited slightly off-center, was dug into the original ground surface so that its floor was some 38cm beneath this level. The chamber measured some 45cm wide by 54cm high. A foundation of boulders and broken tile supported a floor of two roof tiles; seven courses of flanged roofing tiles formed the walls, with the two upper courses slightly corbelled to support the roof, which was made of a single tile some 54cm square. Within the burial chamber, the cremated remains of a child were found in a glass flask placed within a small lead casket with a wooden lid. The structure of the mound comprised a consolidated central core of impure quartz sand, above which was mixed gravel and sand. Following the 1912 excavations, a passage was constructed through the excavation trench to the burial chamber; this is extant and facilitates viewing of the inner chamber. All modern fence lines, railings, walls, made-up surfaces and the wooden Wendy house are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included,” according to Historic England. See their website, below.

Benham’s (1946) says of the West Mersea Sepulchral Deposit, that: “A glass urn (containing bones) and the cist in which it was discovered. Exhumed from a large tumulus at Mersea, the deposit is supposed to have been in honour of a British chieftain (1st Century).” These antiquities were to be found in Colchester Castle Museum, but they are now in the Mersea Museum. Benham’s then adds, saying: “Roman Glass: Included in this collection is the magnificent glass urn, containing burnt human bones, found in a large barrow or tumulus at West Mersea.”   

Richmond (1963) tells of: “……….Another very large tomb was the circular mausoleum at West Mersea (Essex), a stone-revetted structure with earth fill, sixty-five feet in diameter, braced by radiating walls and marginal buttresses.”

Benham’s (1946) tells of other Roman remains on Mersea Island, saying that: “When some alterations were being made in West Mersea Hall, which stands near the church, about the year 1730, a fine Roman tessellated pavement was discovered. In the chancel of the church was found a pavement of red tesserae an inch-and-a-half square, forming rays of stars. From the diversity and continuity of these tesserae, extending nearly 100 feet from east to west, by about fifty from north to south, it has been conjectured that this grand mosaic pavement was not merely the groundwork of a general’s tent, but rather that the whole belonged to the villa of some Roman officer, who might have been invited by the delightfulness of the situation to make this his summer abode. In 1920 a Roman pavement was found in fixing a telegraph pole forty feet south of Yew Tree House, and a further portion of the same pavement was uncovered in 1931 in the garden of the house.

“West Mersea Church (St. Peter and St. Paul)…….The stone upon which the church font (which has a 13th century bowl) rests has been supposed to be the cupola of a Roman column. In December, 1896, not far from the church, the foundations of a circular building were unearthed. The ground plan of this building was that of a 65-ft. diameter wheel, with six spokes, and a central hexagon “axis” five feet across. The structure is Roman and is obviously the base of a large tomb, though it has been thought by some to have been a Roman lighthouse.”

The Historic England List Entry No. is 1019019.

Sources / References and related websites:-

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

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England — 1 Roman Britain, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963.

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1019019

https://www.merseamuseum.org.uk/mmbarrow.php

https://www.eadt.co.uk/news/mersea-mystery-of-the-island-bones-is-finally-solved-1-2246793

https://colchesterheritage.co.uk/monument/mcc6928

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

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Lower Colgarth Hill Burial Mound, Near Bell Busk, North Yorkshire

Lower Colgarth Hill, near Bell Busk (burial mound)

Lower Colgarth Hill, near Bell Busk (burial mound)

    OS grid reference:- SD 90489 57365.  At the foot of Lower Colgarth Hill beside Carseylands road about halfway between Bell Busk and Airton, north Yorkshire, there is a large and prominent Bronze Age burial mound (tumulus), which is close to a footpath and a ruined barn called Allamire Laithe. The burial mound is also called a bowl barrow or round barrow in archaeological terms, although this one is more like a long barrow, due to its size. You will also notice, although quite faint at ground level, that there are ancient cultivation terraces in this field and those close by. From here you get a good view over the River Aire. From Carseylands Hill road, at the south-side of the ruined barn, go 48m up the footpath to where there is a small boulder in the opening of the wall, then via off to the south for 35m – and you will soon see the grassy mound in the field just ahead of you.

Lower Colgarth Hill, near Bell Busk (a large grassy burial mound).

Lower Colgarth Hill, near Bell Busk (and the large, grassy burial mound).

Lower Colgarth Hill near Bell Busk (the long-shaped burial mound)

Lower Colgarth Hill (and the long-shaped burial mound)

    The burial mound (tumulus) here at the foot of Lower Colgarth Hill is rather oddly-shaped, especially at its SW side, where it may have been dug into at some point in the past, although originally it was almost certainly bowl-shaped or bowl barrow-shaped; at a distance it has the look of a long barrow because of this. It measures roughly 11m (36 ft) long and 5.6m (18 ft) wide and is about 5 feet high. This was probably the place where a chieftain or a high-ranking individual of a local tribe was buried – either in the late Neolithic or the Bronze Age. Maybe more than one individual was buried in the mound and, or, quite possibly other members of the chieftain’s family.

Lower Colgarth Hill (and the grassy mound).

Lower Colgarth Hill (and the grassy mound).

    However, nothing more seems to be known about the burial mound on Lower Colgarth Hill – which seems to have been overlooked by antiquarians of the past few centuries, although Harry Speight does mention some other ancient sites in Craven; and I don’t know whether the tumulus ‘here’ has ever been excavated.  The cultivation terraces in the same field, and in other fields close by, are obviously very ancient. They are of a similar age, perhaps, to the ancient field systems in the Grassington area, which are considered to be Iron Age. Some cultivation terraces, however, are of a more recent age, probably Medieval?

Sources and related websites:-

http://www.kirkbymalham.info/KMI/malhamdale/speight.html

http://www.skiptoncastle.co.uk/history-of-craven.asp?page=17

http://www.docbrown.info/docspics/dales/dspage52.htm

                                                              © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities.


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Little Painley Burial Mound, Gisburn, Lancashire

Little Painley tumulus, near Gisburn, Lancs.

Little Painley tumulus, near Gisburn, Lancs.

    OS grid reference: SD 8284 5012. In the middle of a farmer’s field at Little Painley near Gisburn, Lancashire, there is a clump of tall trees which surround an ancient burial mound/bowl barrow. The very distinctive low mound is still quite prominent even after thousands of years. However it is now surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and also the site is more difficult to reach from the road due to a gate and recently erected fences, although as these fields are for the growing of crops and vegitables in the Summer months, I suppose that is to be expected. The burial mound (tumulus) is located on the left-hand side of the A682 (Long Preston) road 1¼ miles to the north of Gisburn church and just past ‘The Temple’, which is an 18th century tree-clad mound. Little Painley prehistoric burial mound is situated on private land and on a low hill surrounded by fields that have crops growing in them in the Summer months. So, if you do wish to take a closer look it is advisable to ‘keep’ to the fence-side of the field.

Little Painley Burial Mound, near Gisburn, close-up.

Little Painley Burial Mound, near Gisburn, close-up.

    The barrow stands on a low hill at the eastern side of the River Ribble and is said to have a diameter of 20m (68 ft) and is maybe 2-3 feet high. It was built of earth and stones in the Bronze Age – sometime between 2,500-1,600 BC. There is a surrounding ditch 2.5m (6 ft) across and 0.5m (1 ft 6 inches) deep. At the SW side there are traces of an outer bank some 2.5m (6 ft) in width and about 0.3m ( nearly 1 ft) high, although these features are often hard to see properly due to the trees, and in the Summer months – the long grass. The trees here were planted in the 1960s. When this barrow was excavated in the early 1900s one or more collared funery urns of the ‘Pennine type’ were found indicating that there was probably a settlement near by. The author John Dixon in his work ‘Journeys Through Brigantia’ (Volume One), suggests the settlement was centred on Bolton-by-Bowland, where a number of Bronze Age axe heads have been found. It is perhaps likely, then, that a chieftain and his close family were buried here at the Little Painley barrow.

    And John Dixon goes on to say: “These isolated finds provide a tantalizing insight into Bronze Age society. However, the evidence we have tends to pose as many questions as they resolve. A ditched bowl barrow is evidence of a society with a level of social organization capable of converting surplus economic value into funeral monuments. This society suppor-ted a primitive ceramic and metallurgy technology and must have conducted trade with people outside of Craven, and it was probably a hierarchical warrior society.”

    Sir E.B. Tylor in his work of ‘Anthropology’ (Vol II) says something very similar. He says that: “Prehistoric burial-places in our own country are still wonders to us for the labour they must have cost their barbaric builders. Most conspicuous are the great burial-mounds of earth or cairns of stones. Some of the largest of these appear to date from the stone-age. But their use lasted on through the bronze-age into the iron-age.”

    About ½ a mile to the north beside the River Ribble, just south of Paythorne bridge, stands Castle Haugh, a late 11th century earthwork consisting of a large ditched mound with a ‘motte’ at the centre. This stronghold was probably the residence of Roger the Poitevin, a Norman baron who held the lands around here. He is mentioned in ‘The Domesday Book’ (1086) under the entry for Bernulfeswick (Barnoldswick) in Craven.

Sources:

Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia (Volume One), Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=11487

Tylor, Edward B. (Sir),  Anthropology (Vol II), Watts & Co., London, 1946.


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Bradley Long Cairn, Farnhill, North Yorkshire

Bradley Long Cairn, near Farnhill, north Yorkshire

Bradley Long Cairn, near Farnhill, north Yorkshire.

    OS grid reference: SE 0092 4756. At the north-eastern side of Bradley Low Moor, near Farnhill, in north Yorkshire, is the Bradley Long Cairn, which is also known as ‘Bradley Long Barrow’ and sometimes ‘Black Hill Long Cairn’. Now, sadly, it is a large pile of stones and an uncovered oblong-shaped cist grave that has suffered from much disturbance over the years, and maybe robbery in some shape or form. Some 40m to the south-west is a much destroyed ring cairn, and yet a third cairn lies 50m to the north-west but this is hardly visible beneath the thick heather. The site can easily be reached from the hamlet of Farnhill, and then along Crag Lane which skirts the western-side of the moor. Just opposite the house go through the gate and follow the footpath up onto the moor in an easterly direction for 290m, then via off to the right in the direction of the wall for 360m. You will soon see the long barrow and ring cairn as piles of grey stones in the heather. The village of Kildwick is about a mile to the south.

Bradley Long Cairn.

Bradley Long Cairn, near Farnhill, North Yorks.

    The Bradley long cairn measures roughly 76m (249 ft) in length by 30m (98 ft) in width at its widest part and on its eastern flank it is up to 2.4m (8 feet) high, although it is difficult to make out due to the long heather which grows in abundance on the higher parts of the moor. Sadly the cairn has suffered greatly from disturbance over the years and maybe from robbery, especially at the E side; today its oblong-shaped cist grave is 1.5m deep and is open to the elements and its large flat covering stone broken up and partially missing, but its side stones are largerly still intact. In 1930 this Neolithic barrow was excavated by archaeologists and its funery contents (one single human burial) taken away to safety. The thinking is that during the Bronze Age a round cairn was built onto it at the S side. There is no sign of the earthern mound that would have formed the covering to this megalithic structure, only the piles of stones survives; some of the outer stones in the large pile are nicely shaped, while many others are very smooth – very typical of this grey gritstone.

    Author John Dixon in his work ‘Journeys Through Brigantia’, volume one, tells us that: “The excavation revealed a stone cist, 6½ feet long and 3 feet wide, some 60 feet from the eastern end of the barrow. The cist was formed by four stone slabs set on end with a fifth forming a ‘capstone’. A sixth slab lay  on the floor and this covered a deposit of unburnt but smashed human bones. Cremated were also found in the cist. The mound contained a number of standing stones, but none of these were formed a second cist. The barrow may represents a degenerate example of a megalithic chambered tomb.”

    John Dixon goes on to tell us about the probable construction of Bradley Long Cairn. He says that: “The building of such a large monument would have consumed an appreciable share of the community’s time, energy and effort. Its construc-tion and use would to some extent have performed a community function, although it was probably directed by and for a small elite.

“The building of the tomb would take twenty or so able-bodied persons over thirty days. Such an investment of labour would have to be made over a period of time, and at times when there was little farming activity. It is reasonable to sup-pose that they used the labour potential availability of neighbouring groups to join in the construction work. Given a suitable incentive — a great feast with amusement and exchanges providing a forum for social intercourse, co-operative effort can work to build impressive monuments.

    “The Bradley cairn reflects the importance of the social occasion and the passionate concern for the group status in Neolithic society. The long cairn would become the principal feature of the territory, which may itself have been known by the name of the monument. Its construction would be one of the steps such a group would have to take in order to estab-lish its identity with the regional clan.”

Black Hill Ring Cairn.

Black Hill Ring Cairn.

Black Hill Ring Cairn.

Black Hill Ring Cairn.

    Some 40m to the south-west of the long cairn at (OS grid ref: SE 0087 4753) is a much destroyed round cairn. It is often referred to as the ‘Black Hill Cairn’. This round cairn from the Neolithic age is sadly now just a large pile of stones – with four slight depressions at intervals in the inner part of the monument – where they are no stones. These are perhaps the result of stone robbery, and not burials. This cairn measures approx. 30m x 24m.

    And yet a third cairn which is also known as the ‘Black Hill Ring Cairn’ is only just visible 50m to the north-west at (OS grid ref: SE 0081 4756) but is now ‘virtually’ lost in the thick heather. This is a ring cairn or maybe a cairn circle, and it has a diameter of 20m. There is just a scattering of stones on its heather-clad mound.

Sources:

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

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1010440

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=11624

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=11625


Bleara Lowe, Earby, Lancashire

Bleara Lowe heather-clad burial mound near Earby, Lancashire

Bleara Lowe burial mound near Earby, Lancashire.

    OS grid reference: SD 9258 4543. On the bleak and windswept Bleara Moor 1 mile east of Earby and above Broom House Farm, Lancashire, stands the prominent little mound known as Bleara Lowe, which is in fact a Bronze Age burial mound (tumulus). It is usually covered in thick heather and not easy to spot at first sight. And 200 metres to the west there is a second burial mound which is next to a wall and some old quarry workings. The site is located along West Road which runs north from Colne to Carleton-in-Craven, just after Broom House Farm and opposite the entrance to Salt Pye Farm. However there are “no” designated footpaths going in the direction of the two burial mounds – as they stand on ‘private land’. You can ‘probably’ visit Bleara Lowe by heading east out of Earby and coming up onto the moor from there.

    The round-shaped, almost conical mound or bowl barrow is between 4-5 feet high and approximately 20 yards across, according to pastscape. It appears to have an outer bank but the heather makes for difficulty in seeing this. There is a hollow 3m x 1.5m and 0.4m deep in the middle (pastscape), although this is possibly the result of ‘an invalid’ excavation by someone other than archaeologists; no proper excavations have been carried out here and so next-to-nothing is known about its history, other than it is probably of a Bronze-Age date. However, authors John & Philip Dixon ‘Journeys Through Brigantia’, Vol 1, say that: “Upon excavation the mound produced several sherds of Bronze-Age pottery. These can now be seen in the Craven Museum, Skipton.” 

    Bleara Lowe is aligned with other local burial mounds, cairns and earthworks, and is said to be situated on an ancient trackway linking Boulsworth Hill, where there are similar burial mounds at Ell Clough. And 1½ miles to the north-east, on Elslack Moor, is Pinhaw Beacon at 388 feet.

Tumulus above Broom House Farm, Bleara Moor, Lancashire.

Tumulus above Broom House Farm, Bleara Moor, Lancashire.

    Some 230 metres to the west of the Bleara Lowe mound at (OS grid ref: SD 9243 4538) is a second tumulus, burial mound, cairn or bowl barrow. This is situated close to the wall above Broom House Farm and next to what looks like an old quarry-working, now grassed over and partly covered in the dreaded heather. This does, however, have a substantial and well-defined oval-shaped outer bank and a possible inner ditch. It measures roughly 8m x 7m and is 4 feet high. But, once again, no archaeological excavations have been carried out on this second tumulus. It seems to be aligned with Pendle Hill to the west, and is located in a ‘splendid setting’ on the ridge of Bleara Moor, with good panoramic views over to the west and east.

    Some 250m to the west of the 2nd tumulus at (OS grid ref: SD 919 457) on the western slopes of Bleara Moor, east of Coolham Lane, there is a cairn-field where there are a number of small burial mounds or round cairns scattered around but, once again, covered by heather. This probable “new discovery” was found by Paul Bennett and is discussed by him on The Northern Antiquarian website (see below).

Sources:

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

http://www.pastscape.org/hob.aspx?hob_id=46285#aR

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/bleara-moor-cairnfield/


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Ell Clough Cairn Circle, Boulsworth Hill, Lancashire

Ell Clough Ring Cairn on the lower slope of Boulsworth Hill.

Ell Clough Ring Cairn on the lower slope of Boulsworth Hill.

    OS grid reference: SD 9019 3412. The Ell Clough (Hell Clough) cairn circle, ring cairn and burial mound, is located on the side of Boulsworth Hill, in Lancashire – with commanding panoramic views over Thursden Valley and, in the distance Pendle Hill. It is named after the nearby stream which runs down slope through Ell Clough. At the junction of three lanes in Thursden Valley walk up the signposted footpath right to the very top of the hill and then via right along the trackway to reach the tumulus, which is located just where the track curves around the ancient site. A little further along the track there is a second tumulus, although this one is now hardly recognizable at ground level. The village of Trawden is 3 miles to the west.

    This tumulus is in a reasonably good condition although the small inner mound has suffered from being disturbed by excavations and other things, and the outer circle of stones has long since gone to nearby walls, but the circular earthworks of this ring cairn are still very well-defined despite the ravages of time and the weather conditions upon the bleak, windswept hillside of Boulsworth – some 350 metres above Thursden Valley.

Ell Clough Ring Cairn on Boulsworth Hill.

Ell Clough Ring Cairn on Boulsworth Hill.

    In 1886 Archaeological excavations took place here and these yielded a mid to late Bronze-Age funery urn. It would seem that originally there were seven standing stones in the outer circular bank, but these have long since gone. There are four stones on the banking but these are not the original ones. Sadly the stones were robbed away to build field walls. The monument measures approximately 19m diagonally by 17m across. The outer bank is still quite substantial as is the inner ditch which would originally have been quite deep; while at the SE side there is what could be an entrance or maybe damage. The small ‘denuded mound’ near the centre originally contained the burials as a funery urn was excavated from here back in 1886. This measured 12 inches x 10 inches and had a 4″ base and was carved with various patterns. An adult and a child’s remains were found in the urn and also a few other artefacts including a Bronze pin.

    It is of interest here to note that the monument seems to be aligned with Broadbank Earth Circle, Walton Spire and Pendle Hill, or is this just a coincidence?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    In the very well respected local antiquarian work ‘The History Of Marsden And Nelson’ by Mr Walter H. Bennett, we are told that: “The existence of Bronze Age burials on Bleara Moor on the old Colne to Skipton road, at Catlow, at Shelfield (possibly) and at Ell Clough above Thursden Valley may point to a pre-historic track connecting the Whalley-Barnoldswick-Leeds route with that between Whalley-Mereclough-Heptonstall.”

    Some 100 metres to the north and close by the trackway (Os grid ref: SD 9027 3412) there is another tumulus that is similar in size, however this is now hardly recognizable “as such” at ground level. There is just a trace of a circular earthwork and possible ditch. And there is a third tumulus some 240m to the north-west at (Os grid ref: SD 9051 3421). This is located on the bank beside a stream but once again it is very faint and hardly recognizable at ground-level.

Sources:

Bennett, W., The History Of Marsden And Nelson, Nelson Corporation, Nelson, Lancashire, 1946 & 1957. Diagram of Ell Clough by Mr Jack Wilcock.

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/1692/hellclough.html#fieldnotes


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Newgrange Passage-Tomb, Co. Meath, Southern Ireland

Newgrange (photo by Shira - for Wikipedia).

Newgrange (photo by Shira – for Wikipedia).

    OS grid reference O 0073 7272. The ancient megalithic tomb complex of Newgrange in Co. Meath stands in the middle of a field, just north of the River Boyne (Bend of the Boyne), 3 miles south-east of Slane, and is said to date from the Neolithic period over 5,000 years ago. The tomb is surrounded by a large stone circle of a similar age, though many of the stones are missing. It can be reached on country lanes from the N51 Balfeddock road, east of the village of Slane, and via Knowth, where there is another megalithic tomb – along with a third ancient site at Dowth – they are all linked together and known as ‘the Boyne Cemetery Complexe’ (Brú na Bóinne). But the passage-tomb here at Newgrange is of great interest due to the many prehistoric rock carvings/petroglyphs – both inside and outside of the monument. Although the megalithic tomb has been partially restored to its original shape, it is still a big tourist attraction with up to 200,000 visitors coming from all over the world each year. The town of Drogheda is 5 miles to the east. Newgrange is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Entrance To Newgrange in 1905 (QuartierLatin1968 - for Wikipedia)

The Entrance To Newgrange in 1905 (QuartierLatin1968 – for Wikipedia)

    The Newgrange passage-tomb is said to date from the Neolithic – around 3,300 to 3,200 BC, or according to some historians 2,500 BC, while the stone circle surrounding it ‘probably’ dates from about the same time, though some archaeologists have suggested 2,000 BC. The grassy, drum-shaped mound covering the chambered tomb is a staggering 250 feet (80) metres in diameter and 49 feet (15) metres high – originally it would have stood much higher than this, maybe up to 150 feet. Around the edge of the mound there are 97 large, revetted kerbstones, many displaying symbolic carved geometric designs: spirals, diamonds, lozengers, cup-and-ring and sun motifs, on all their faces. Author Rodney Castleden in his article ‘The Ring of Stone’ for ‘Exploring The Supernatural’ magazine says: “Can we claim this continuous wall of giant stones as a stone circle? Do we ignore it because it is the containing wall of a burial mound?

The Newgrange Decorated Entrance Stone.

Newgrange Decorated Entrance Stone.

    At the entrance to the tomb there is a highly decorative carved stone. This huge entrance stone is 10½ foot long and 4½ foot high and has beautiful spirals carvings; this is regarded “as one of the finest achievements of European Neolithic art”, according to Cathal Coyle in his article on ‘Famous Landmarks’ for the ‘Ireland’s Own’ magazine. Above the entrance a huge, flat slab-stone ‘seems’ to holds up the above facial walling. The authors Janet & Colin  Bord in their acclaimed work ‘Mysterious Britain’, say of Newgrange passage-tomb:

   “The mound consisted of a cairn of pebbles, with white quartz stones on the outer surface. The designs on the stones are probably symbolic, not just decorative, and the spirals may represent the maze of life.

   “The kings of Tara were buried here, according to the legend. Newgrange, which is one of the many burial mounds in the pagan cemetery of Brug-Na-Boinne, also has associations with the Tuatha de Danann, ancient rulers of Ireland, of whom Dagda, Lug the Irish sea-god, and others were buried in this important and remarkable area.”

Plan of Newgrange.

Plan of Newgrange.

    The passage-way leading into the tomb chamber is 60 foot (18.2 metres) long and is surrounded on all sides by large slab-stones, some of which are decorated with geometric symbols: triangles, chevrons and lozenges. This leads on into a cross-shaped chamber with massive stone basins that would have held offerings, or burials; above the chamber is a corbelled roof. No mortar was used, and the chamber is still waterproof – even after 5,000 years! But in fact there are three small chambers inside the mound. Author Cathal Coyle says that in order to construct this roof: “the builders overlapped layers of large rocks until the roof could be sealed with a capstone, six metres above the floor.” The corbelled roof contains the famous ‘triple spiral stone’ carved onto one of its stone slabs; the authors Janet & Colin Bord in (Ancient Mysteries of Britain) call these spiral-carved stones – ‘labyrinthine in concept’.

   “At dawn on the Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and for a number of days before and after, a shaft of sunlight enters the chamber through an opening in the roof box and penetrates the passage, shining onto the floor of the inner chamber. The beam illuminates the inner chamber for just 17 minutes. To the Neolithic culture of the Boyne Valley, the winter solstice marked the start of the New Year – a sign of nature’s rebirth and promising renewed life to animals and humans” – (Coyle, 2015).

   Outside the tomb and surrounding it there is a circle of 12 stones, there would have originally been 35, and two of these lost stones would have stood at the south-side, opposite the tomb entrance, at either side of the so-called ‘surviving Great Circle stones’, and the others at the NW, N, NE and SE sides although there is great uncertainty about the exact number of missing stones. This circle of stones was probably built about 3,300 BC though some archaeologists suggest it dates from 2,000 BC. But is it a “true” stone circle? Author Rodney Castleden says of the circle:-

   “O’Kelley, who excavated the mound thought that some of the stones, missing from the circle, had been re-used in the ring of kerbstones, although he could not prove it. Maybe there was a change of plan and the Great Circle was never completed; there is a lot of uncertainty about the missing stones.

   “As far as we can tell this huge ring of stones at Newgrange, a hundred metres in diameter, is the earliest one of all. Most of them have not been radiocarbon dated, but from the evidence available the Newgrange Great Circle seems to be the ancestor of the British stone circles.

   “The custom of building stone circles spread rapidly as the country-wide trade in stone axes got under way. Axes made of distinctive and rare rocks can be traced back very precisely to the Neolithic factories where they were made. We can tell, for instance, that some axes used at Stone-henge were imported from Cornwall and that some came from Snowdonia and that others came from Great Langdale in the Lake District.”

    Author Cathal Coyle gives us more on the legends and myths of Newgrange. He say’s that: “According to the ancient mythology, the Tuatha Dé Danann (the People of the Goddess Danu, who according to tradition ruled Ireland before the coming of the Celts) were said to have built New-grange as a burial place for their chief, Dagda Mór, and his three sons. One of the sons, named Aonghus of the Brugh. It is believed that he was owner of the Brugh land, and that a smaller mound between Newgrange and the Boyne was owned by the Dagda.

   ” The highly renowned author, Geoffrey Ashe, in his great work ‘Mythology Of The British Isles’, says of the Tuatha De Danann that:-

   “The king of the Tuatha De Danann was Nuadu. He is the Irish equivalent of Nudd, Gwyn’s father, and, like him, is an embodiment of the Celtic god whom the Britons called Nodons. When the Tuatha De Danann fought their forerunners the Fir Bolg, Nuadu lost a hand in battle, It was replaced by a silver one, so that he became Nuadu Airgetlam, Nuadu of the Silver Hand. Later he had to contend with the sinister Fomorians as they inflicted various disasters. Their chief was Balor, who had an evil eye. To defeat them Nuadu temporarily resigned power to Lug, a hero of rare versatility and resource. Lug overwhelmed the Formorians with magic. Balor, however, had slain Nuadu in the battle. It was after this that the Milesians occupied Ireland, and the Tuatha De Danann faded into the Otherworld and the realm of faerie.”

Newgrange (Richard Gallagher 2003 - Wikipedia).

Newgrange (copyright Richard Gallagher 2003 – Wikipedia).

   Cathal Coyle goes on to say that: “Newgrange was ‘re-discovered’ in 1699 by the removal of material for road building. The landowner, Charles Campbell, needed some stones and asked his workers to carry some stones away from the cairn. When those stones were moved, the entrance to the tomb was uncovered. An extensive archaeological excavation took place at Newgrange from 1962 until 1975, and the roof was was re-discovered in 1963.” And, says the author: “An interesting phenomenon associated with Newgrange is the discovery of Roman coins over the past four centuries. Many have been found at the site, the first recorded find of a coin was in 1699. These Roman coins were still being found in the 1960s when Newgrange was being excavated — some of them in mint condition. Whether they were buried here by native Irish worshippers or pilgrims from the Roman world, remains a mystery” – (Coyle, 2015).

Sources:-

Ashe, Geoffrey., Mythology Of The British Isles, Methuen, London SW3, 1993.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Mysterious Britain, Paladin Books, London W1X, 1984.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books, London, 1994.

Castleden, Rodney., Ring of Stones – Part 1 Key To An Ancient World, Exploring The Supernatural, March 1987.

Coyle, Cathal., Famous Landmarks, Ireland’s Own, Wexford, Ireland, (November, 2015, No 5,523 & various dates).

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?lat=53.69167&lon=6.47472

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newgrange#/media/File:Newgrange.JPG                                                                                                                               Photo Credit: Shira∼commonswiki (Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newgrange#/media/File:Newgrange_ireland_750px.jpg                                                                                                            Photo credit: copyright Richard Gallagher 2003.

 

 

 


Haken’s Mound, Preesall, Lancashire

Preesall War Memorial on the B5270 Lancaster Road.

Preesall War Memorial on the B5270 Lancaster Road.

   OS grid reference SD 3601 4822. This is one of those strange curiosities that do seem to crop up every so often. Haken’s Mound, also known as ‘Haakon’s Mound’ and ‘The Mount’ is, in fact, the Preesall war memorial near St Oswald’s church on the B5270 Lancaster road. The large, grassy mound always has well-tendered flowers at its entrance and up to the monument, and on top of the large mound there is a substantial memorial cross which commemorates the fallen of the two World Wars. According to ‘the’ local legend and, to some extent “myth” Haken or Haakon, an early 10th century Viking chieftain, who settled half a mile or so up the road at Hakensall in Knott-End-On-Sea, was buried inside the mound that is today known as ‘The Mount”. Whether there is any real truth in this I do not know – we will probably never know. The war memorial is located halfway between St Oswald’s church and the B5377 Stalmine turning, while the very pretty sea-side village of Knott End is half a mile in the opposite direction along Lancaster road.

   The story goes that: At some point in the early 10th century AD Haken, an invading Viking chieftain, sailed up the Wyre estuary (maybe in a longboat) and, just inland between Fleetwood and Knott End, founded a settlement at a place now called Hackensall – today the medieval Hackensall Hall on Whinny Lane (OS grid ref: SD 2874 5394) stands more or less on that site. The original hall (a defensive moated building) was built in 1190 – the building there today is of 1656; it was built by the Fleetwood family. In the 19th century the hall was greatly renovated by Sir James Bourne. According to “the” Legend, it is said from his settlement Haken laid siege to the area, pillaging and murdering, but I feel that here we have much embellishment added to the actual legend itself – and one “must” be very wary of this fact. Conversely, it may be that Haken was simply a seafaring Norseman who had come to the area and wanted to lead a quiet, unassuming life there.

The Mount at Preesall, Lancashire.

The Mount at Preesall, Lancashire.

    As to whether Haken or Haakon was still a pagan I don’t know, but I suppose it’s possible that he was a Christian, or had recently become one? After his death this Viking chieftain was buried nearby and a large mound built over his grave. Today this burial mound near St Oswald’s church, Preesall, is locally called ‘The Mount’ or ‘Haakon’s Mound’ and it still looks very impressive, made more so ‘perhaps’ by the war memorial cross standing on top. Alas, today, there are no visible signs (earthworks) of Haken’s settlement at Hackensall, only Hackensall road and Hackensall Hall are reminders. But we will never know archaeologically whether the Viking chieftain lies buried within the mound, due to the fact that it is protected as a war memorial.

    There are a few historians that have tried to link King Cnut, himself a Norseman, with Knott End with regards to the meaning of the place, but it seems that that is ‘not’ the case as most tend to agree “now” that it takes its name from a “knot”- a hillock that is located above the estuary. This knot or hillock probably refers to the golfcourse above the shoreline at Knott End, just to the north-west of Hackensall Hall. A ghostly horse (boggart) is ‘said’ to haunt the hall.

   In the delightful little book ‘The Lancashire Coastal Way And The Wyre Way’, by Ian & Krysia Brodie, we are enlightened about the possible meaning of Knott End: “The large sandbank off Knott End is called Bernard’s Wharf – reputedly after St Bernard. Many small birds, including knot and dunlin, feed here in the nutrient-rich mud. One story says Knott End derives from these birds, another that the Norse marked the channel of the Wyre with a chain of knots or cairns, the final one being the Knott End!” There is a church named for St Bernard on Hackensall Road.

   In 1926 a hoard of Roman coins was dug-up in the vicinity of Hackensall Hall, 500 to be precise, which later came to be known as the Hackensall Hoard. The coins were found beneath a stone and had been placed inside a leather bag. “Whilst the bag was originally found to contain around 500 coins, only 339 now have their whereabouts known” (Ian & Krysia Brodie, 1993). Some of the coin hoard was eventually given to The Revoe Museum in Blackpool, while more coins went to museums and galleries across the north-west of England.

   In the work ‘Romans in Lancashire’ by D. C. A. Shotter, we are told of the possibility that the mouth of the Wyre estuary, a safe and sheltered anchorage between Fleetwood and Knott End, was in use as a port in Roman times and that the great Ptolemy, who lived in the 2nd century AD, referred to it as such: “More important, however, for the present purpose is the reference in Ptolemy to the site which he names as PORTUS SETANTIORUM……this could have been the Roman name for Lancaster; alternatively, many have felt that the site has at some time been overwhelmed by the sea, and lies off the coast at the mouth of the Wyre.”

Sources:

Brodie, Ian & Krysia., The Lancashire Coastal Way And The Wyre Way, Lancashire County Books, Preston, 1993.

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=39399&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=1306799&district=None&parish=None&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=465&move=n&nor=6188&recfc=4000

http://www.preesalltowncouncil.org/about-preesall.pl

Shotter, D. C. A., Romans in Lancashire, Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, Yorkshire, 1973.


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Heston Brake Long Barrow, Portskewett, Monmouthshire, Wales

Heston Brake Puddingstones (Photo credt: Grashoofd - Wikipedia)

Heston Brake Puddingstones (Photo credt: Grashoofd – Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: ST 5052 8867. Located in a field and on the brow of a hill overlooking the Severn Estuary, south Monmouthshire, stands the more than 4,000 year old prehistoric barrow or cairn called Heston Brake Long Barrow, sometimes also referred to as a “chambered tomb”or “dolmen”. The barrow still has nine of its stones positioned (maybe in situ) on top, but has obviously suffered over time from damage caused by vandals digging into it, although in the late 19th century it was excavated by archaeologists. It is located in a field at Black Rock – about half a mile to the north-east of Portskewett, and just 100 metres to the west of Leechpool Lane. This ‘now’ partly destroyed barrow stands (on private land) about 150 metres south of a footpath heading in a westerly direction from Lower Leechpool Farm on Leechpool Lane. The village of Mathern is some 2 miles to the north-east.

Plan of chambered tumulus at Heston Brake by Mary Ellen Bagnall Oakeley (1888)

Plan of chambered tumulus at Heston Brake by Mary Ellen Bagnall Oakeley (1888)

The remains of the barrow’s two inner chambers (internally connected E and W sides) apparently measured 26 feet long by 5 feet across, according to Fred Hando (in the much acclaimed work ‘Hando’s Gwent’); however the middle section of the monument was destroyed in more recent times. However the 9 standing and recumbent pudding-stones on the 1 metre high mound still look very impressive. It would seem that there were originally 13 upright stones here but 4 of these have now gone – probably being robbed-away to the local area for walls. At the east side (the probable entrance to the chamber) an impressive-shaped stone is 5 foot in height and shaped like a knife or axe-head, while beside it a 2 foot high square-shaped stone (called the chopping block) by local author Fred Hando in the work ‘Hando’s Gwent’, where there is a drawing of  ‘Heston Brake Tumulus by moonlight’ on page 159.  So could this ancient monument have been used for sacrificial/ceremonial purposes back in the Neolithic Age?

All the other stones here are somewhere between 1-2 feet in height; but obviously the low mound on which they now stand would originally have been much higher and would have covered the standing stones by several feet. The mound contained two interconnecting chambers for burials – which revealed various antiquities when it was excavated back in 1888, although at this time it became known that, very unfortunately, earlier vandalism and, or robberies had taken place here, according to Chris Barber and John Godfrey Williams in their excellent book ‘The Ancient Stones of Wales’ (1989). The authors also say that: “It is marked as Long Barrow on the Ordnance Survey maps of  1953 and 1981”.

In the work ‘Wales: An Archaeological Guide’ (1978) by Christopher Holder we are told that: “The present condition of the stone structure and the mound of this chambered long barrow is misleading. Excavations in 1888 showed it to consist of a gallery 8 m long by 1.5 m wide, in the E. end of a barrow 18 m long by 9 m wide”. And it would seem, according to Christopher Holder, that in spite of its position by the Severn, virtually in sight of the Cotswolds, “it seems to belong with Gaerllwyd….. to a tradition of more western origin, distinct from that of the Black Mountains and….. Parc Cwm”.

At the excavations of 1888 a number of human bones were dug up from the earliest period and, some pottery sherds from slightly more recent times. The late author Fred Hando in the work ‘Hando’s Gwent’ adds that: “if you would like to feel cold shivers down your spine, choose a moonlit midnight next summer and visit this long barrow alone”. Okay, thanks Fred, will do that next time!

The late and renowned author Roy Palmer in his epic tome ‘The Folklore of (Old) Monmouthshire’ speculates as to Heston Brake, among a couple of other sites nearby, being the place where the British (Celtic) chieftain Caractacus or Caradoc lived for a time with the ancient Silures tribe in the early part of the 1st century AD, but eventually he went to Rome and died there after being pardoned by the emperor Claudius – sometime after 51 AD.

Sources:

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

Hando, Fred., Hando’s Gwent, (Ed. by Chris Barber), Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1987.

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portskewett

Palmer, Roy., The Folklore of (Old) Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Almeley, Herefordshire, 1998.

Plan of Heston Brake chambered tumulus, Monmouthshire, by Mary Ellen Bagnall Oakeley, 1888, can be found in Volume 2 ‘Proceedings of The Clifton Antiquarian Club’.

 


Dolmen du Couperon, Rozel, Jersey, Channel Isles

Dolmen du Couperon (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Dolmen du Couperon (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude: 49.234347. Longitude: 2.035263. On the headland at the north side of Jersey, in St Martin’s parish, stands the ancient monument Dolmen du Couperon, a late Neolithic gallery-grave that was partially restored in the early part of last century. Also known as Le Couperon and Le Couperon Dolmen. The monument stands 50 metres across the field to the west of Rue de Scez and the 17th century brick-building known as the guardhouse. Just to the north of the monument is the beautiful Jersey coastline of Rozel Bay, and a few miles further west the little village of Rozel. Dolmen du Couperon stands at the side of a field overlooking the seashore of the north Jersey coastline, a haven for holiday-makers; the nearest town being St Helier several miles to the south-west. Although the monument has been partly restored a couple of times it is still in a reasonably good state of preservation.

The gallery of this ancient tomb is roughly 8 metres long, while the whole monument across is 4 metres wide. It is formed from two parallel rows of upright stones and, above them large slabs laid rather ‘haphazardly’ across make up the roof. And 18 smaller upright stones or peristaliths surround the grave (at each side) and indicate the width of the original low, covering mound, which was made of stones, although the kerb may originally have continued in a straight line, instead of curving round like it does today. When it was being partially restored back in 1868 and 1919 some of the outer kerb-stones seem not to have been put back into their former positions, in particular the stone at the east side is not in situ – the thinking being that it should perhaps have been halfway along the gallery, acting as a sort of ‘dividing stone’? And the portal stone has been positioned so as to block the gallery’s entrance at the east-side, but again this ‘may’ not be in its original position. The tomb is thought to date from the late Neolithic period (3,250-2,850 BC).

No significant artefacts were excavated from the gallery-grave, apart that is from fragments of flint and pottery. Could the tomb have earlier been robbed by treasure-seekers?; and of the few finds here no knowledge exists as to where these were taken to! But all in all this is a very nice ancient monument.

Sources:

Dillon, Paddy., Channel Island Walks, Cicerone Press Ltd., Milnthorpe, Cumbria, 1999.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_dolmens#

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Couperon_dolmen_and_guardhouse

http://www.prehistoricjersey.net/Le_Couperon.shtml

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=10561


Mosley Height, Mereclough, Lancashire

OS grid reference: SD 8809 3014. Also called Holme Stone Circle. On the moors, just to the east of Mereclough, and close to the Long Causeway is the 290 foot hill known as Mosley Height. At the northern edge of the hill, close to Causeway-side Farm, stood a Bronze-Age burial mound, ring cairn or cairn circle. Some historians and archaeologists have gone as far as saying this was a stone circle, but many of the 18 stones that were found here have now gone, though some were still here in the 1970s. A disused open-cast coal pit/quarry occupied most of the Mosley Height site, with just a few traces of the cairn at the edge of the former workings, but the quarry itself is now grassed over. The ancient site was thoroughly excavated in 1950 and, more recently in 2009-10, at which time the site yielded many grave-goods and interesting artefacts from 3,000 B.C. And, at the south-western side of Mosley Height, beside the Long Causeway, there’s a Bronze-Age standing stone which is, perhaps, rather misleadingly called ‘Stump Cross’. Could this stone have come from Mosley Height Cairn Circle?

Mosley Height Bronze-Age Urn, Mereclough. (Photo: Burnley Central Library).

The site at Mosley Height, near Mereclough, is nearly 1,000 ft above sea-level. There was a circular embankment 42 feet in diameter with 4 burial cists. It was excavated in 1950 by a local archaeologist, Mr W Bennett, at which time a number of grave-goods and other artefacts were found. The reason for the archaeological dig was because the coal board were about to build an open-cast mine at the site. Among the artefacts discovered were many bone fragments, flints, a stone with markings or patterns, arrow-heads, stone hammer heads and deposits of galena (lead), but probably best of all, 2 collared and inverted cremation urns of the Pennine type and 1 fragmentary collared urn. Some coins were also found here though these were more recent in date. Four circular pits were excavated where the burials had lain, one of which was unurned. These artefacts, dating to 3,000 BC, were taken to Towneley Hall Museum at Burnley, and put on display there. It seems likely that a Bronze-Age settlement had once stood here, or close by. The nearby Long Causeway was probably being used by ancient tribes as a trackway between their settlements. In 2009-2010 another exca-vation was carried out by UClan but very little of any antiquity was found apart from a barbed and tanged arrowhead.

Sources:-

Barrowclough, D., Prehistoric Lancashire, History Press, Stroud, 2008.

Bennett, W., Report on Excavations near Burnley. Transactions of The Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, 62: 202-208, 1951.

Hall, Brian., Burnley (A Short History), Burnley and District Historical Society, 1977.

Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 2/3 (May & June, 1984).

Marsden, Barry M, Discovering Regional Archaeology – North Western England, Shire Publications, Tring, Herts, 1971.

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2012 (up-dated 2019).