The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


Spinster’s Rock, Near Drewsteignton, Devon

Spinster’s Rock Burial Chamber, near Drewsteignton, Devon.

NGR:- SX 70093 90782. At the northern edge of Dartmoor National Park about ½ a mile west of Drewsteignton, in Devon, is Spinster’s Rock, a Megalithic burial chamber from the mid Neolithic age of Prehistory. The monument stands in a field beside a country lane close to Shilstone farm. It has been described variously as a Portal Dolmen, a Cromlech and Burial Chamber. Three large stones (uprights) tentatively support the massive capstone, and a few other stones or outliers lie on the ground in the close vicinity of the burial chamber. In 1862 the monument collapsed but within the year it had been re-erected again. One or two local legends have been ascribed to the site with regard to the name ‘Spinster’s Rock’ though these seem to have their founding in more recent times, rather than back in prehistory, and are very far-fetched, but each legend is associ-ated with three local spinster ladies who apparently built the monument! To reach the site head W out of Drewsteignton for 1 mile, then turn S onto lane towards Chagford. Look-out for the track to Shilstone farm and a wooden signpost. The monument is in the field 130m to the W of the farm.

llustration of Spinster’s Rock, in Devon.

Spinster’s Rock, also known as ‘Shilstone Cromlech’, dates from between 3,500 to 2,500 BC and stands 11 feet high. The three Granite uprights supporting the huge slab or capstone are between 6-7 feet high, while the capstone itself is roughly 16 feet X 10 feet, and is said to weigh upto 16 tonnes. It almost looks as if the capstone is floating in mid-air. Originally there would have been a mound of soil and stones covering the burial chamber but this is long gone. This is apparently the only Neolithic burial chamber in the County of Devon, though there are many Bronze and Iron Age sites on Dartmoor – Grey Wethers and Grimspound being two. In 1862 the monument collapsed due to subsidence but was re-erected within 10 months, although it wasn’t put back in its original form, and some of the supporting stones have had to be fixed in position with iron straps, and a notch had to be made in one of the uprights so that the capstone rested more easily onto it. When it was excavated in the 19th century no burials were found.

Roland Smith (1983) tells us that: “Most famous of Dartmoor’s cromlechs is Spinster’s Rock tomb, its massive four stones standing over 6 ft (1.8 m) tall in pleasant farmland at Shilstone, near Drewsteignton. The cromlech gets its name from a local legend that it was erected by three spinster’s of that parish one morning before breakfast — a labour of truly Amazonian proportions. The cromlech is probably the denuded remains of a Neolithic  (New Stone Age) burial mound, with a great capstone perched delicately on three uprights, but it is known that the monument was re-erected after collapse in 1862, so its original form is uncertain.”

The legends that are associated with this burial chamber are far-fetched and not plausable. Apparently three (or maybe four) spinster ladies (they may have been wool spinners) of the parish were on their way to market early one morning. They decided to build the dolmen before eating their breakfast. It seems they accomplished this great fete because of a trist, each wanting to out do the other, so they could marry the same man. The ladies were turned to stone and Spinster’s Rock took on their form, according to another legend.

The HE (Historic England) list entry number is: 1003177. See below.

Sources & References & Related Websites:-

Clamp, Arthur L., A Pictorial Guide to Eastern Dartmoor, Westway Publications, Plympton, Plymouth, Devon. 1969/70.

Smith, Roland, Britain’s National Parks — A Visitor’s Guide, Dolphin Publications, Salford, Manchester, 1983.

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

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1003177

https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=149

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinsters%27_Rock

http://www.stone-circles.org.uk/stone/spinstersrock.htm

http://www.saintsandstones.net/stones-spinstersrock-journey.htm

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


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Plas Newydd Burial Chamber, Llanfair P.G., Anglesey

Cromlech at Plas Newydd, Anglesey (Drawing)

Cromlech at Plas Newydd, in Anglesey (Old Drawing)

    OS grid reference: SH 5198 6972. Plas Newydd prehistoric burial chamber, cromlech or dolmen, stands just 300 metres north-east of the shoreline of the Menai Straits – at the south-side of the island of Angle-sey and, just opposite Plas Newydd House and Country Park – in whose “private” grounds it is situated. The site is 1½ miles south-west of Llanfair P.G. village and Menai Bridge, which links the Welsh main-land to the island. After the Menai Bridge and link-road take the A5 road, then the  A4080 (Ffordd Brynsiencyn) road to the south-west for 1 mile. Take the first lane that runs off this road (south) to the NT Plas Newydd House. The ancient monument is just 150m to the south-east of the carpark and on private land in front of the big house! And ½ a mile to the south, at the edge of the country park, is a second ancient monument, Bryn-yr-Hen Bobl, which is a chambered cairn.

Cromlech at Plas Newydd in Anglesey (engraving 1799 Wikipedia)

Cromlech at Plas Newydd, Anglesey by Caroline Metz, 1799, Wikipedia)

    There are actually two burial chambers next to each other here, the larger one having a gigantic oblong-shaped capstone weighing many tonnes and measuring 3.5m x 3m, which is supported by five large and sturdy uprights, whereas the smaller chamber’s capstone is 2m x 1.7m and is supported by three smaller, round-shaped boulders. It would seem that the smaller monument acted as an antechamber (passage-way) to the larger monument. These burial chambers are said to date from the Neolithic age. Nearby there are some boulders embedded in the ground – they are probably outliers – and maybe an indication that the burial site once covered a larger area than it does now. There is no sign today of the large earthen mound that would have originally covered these monuments, or did each burial chamber have its own separate covering mound?

    Author Christopher Houlder in his work ‘Wales: An Archaeological Guide’, says of the site: “In parkland overlooking the Menai Strait is a megalithic tomb consisting of a main chamber 3 m by 2.4 m and a smaller antechamber, each with its own capstone, but there is no mound or other feature to give cultural definition.”

    And likewise, author Jacquetta Hawkes, in her book ‘A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments In England And Wales’, says of the site: “The Plas Newydd dolmen stands at the end of the drive between the mansion and a cricket field where it commands a view across the Straits. In such a place it at once suggests an eighteenth-century folly, an ornament to the house put up by some romantically minded peer. In truth, however, it is a genuine prehistoric monument of a rather unusual kind; thereare two adjacent chambers, one larger than the other, with very massive uprights and capstones, separated by a single upright. It is possible, though not to my mind likely, that the smaller chamber was originally a passage or antechamber giving access to the larger.”

    Plas Newydd burial chamber were first marked as a cromlech on the OS map of 1841 and as Burial Chamber on the 1947 map, and later ones. There was apparently an early reference and illustration in ‘Druidical Antiquities’ published by S. Hooper in April 1784, which shows two capstones with the larger one resting on five uprights, according to Chris Barber in his work ‘The Ancient Stones of Wales’.

Bryn-yr-Hen Bobl burial Chamber (phot credit: robinLeicester - Wikipedia)

Bryn-yr-Hen-Bobl (photo credit: Robin Leicester – Wikipedia)

    About ½ a mile to the south (OS grid ref: SH 5189 6900) and at the edge of the country park, there is another ancient monument. Again it is on private land. This is Bryn-yr-Hen Bobl, a kidney-shaped grassy mound with a couple of trees on it – and a chambered cairn and funnel-shaped forecourt facing E. There is a revetted terrace some 12m wide extending 100m to the S. This megalithic burial tomb was excavated back in 1929 at which time some ‘earlier’ Neolithic artefacts were found including stone axes, plain ‘western’ and Peterborough types of pottery. “The tomb contained the remains of at least twenty individuals”. (Houlder, 1978)

Sources:

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, London, 1975.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bryn-yr-Hen-Bobl_Burial_Chamber,_Plas_Newydd,_Anglesey.jpg    This photo is displayed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plas_Newydd_(Anglesey)

http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/93829/details/PLAS+NEWYDD+BURIAL+CHAMBER/

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


Llech-y-Dribedd, Moylgrove, Pembrokeshire, Wales

Llech-y-tribedd, looking east (photo credit: Bob Helms for Geograph)

Llech-y-tribedd, looking east (photo credit: Bob Helms for Geograph)

    OS Grid Reference: SN 10063 43195. The Neolithic burial chamber Llech-y-Dribbed, or Llech-y-Trypedd, stands on private land 25 metres to the west of a farm track at the south-west side of Penlan Farm, and ¾ of a mile from the village of Moylgrove, in Pembrokeshire. It has been variously described as a cromlech, a quoit and a dolmen. And from some distance away this ancient megalithic monument looks quite eerie – and it has the appearance of an alien space-craft that has just landed, but close-up it becomes a tripod or triangular-shaped lump of stone on three smaller up-right stones, hence its occasional name ‘The Tripod Stone’. Local legend says that the large capstone was hurled from the top of Carn Ingli, near Nevern, by a local giant called Samson, although we don’t know whether this was St Samson, who is associated with other megalithic tombs in this part of Wales.

    The name Llech-y-Dribedd means ‘Stone of the Three Graves’ (Sykes, Homer, 1998) so as this was originally a long barrow we might assume that there were three burials here, but all that now remains of the chamber(s) are several large stones partly buried in the ground beneath the monument. It stands on three ‘sturdy’ up-right stones at a height of 8 feet while its huge, “triangular-shaped capstone measures 9 feet 8 inches long by 9 feet broad,” according to the authors Chris Barber & John Godfrey Williams ‘The Ancient Stones of Wales’. The earthen mound that once covered the tomb has long since eroded away, although one of the recum-bent stones beneath the capstone was said to be ‘still standing’ in the early 18th century; and I would hope that it will “still” be here in many years to come ‘as a testament to the ancient people who built it.’

Sources:

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

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1426936      © Copyright Bob Helms and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=4353

Sykes, Homer., Celtic Britain, Pheonix Illustrated Orion Publishing Group, London WC2. 1998.