The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

The Discovery of Roman pigs of lead in Upper Nidderdale, North Yorkshire.

Roman inscribed lead pig from Greenhow, Upper Nidderdale, North Yorkshire.

NGR: SE 115 648. Back in the 1700s three pigs of lead with Latin inscriptions were dug up at Hayshaw Bank in the Greenhow area of Upper Nidderdale, North Yorkshire, which is just 3 miles southwest of Pateley Bridge. Two of these were made by Roman lead smelters in the late 1st century A.D. On the front side of the two lead pigs is the name of the Roman Emperor DOMITIAN, while on the side of both is inscribed in Latin the shortened form of the name of the local Celtic tribe (at the time). It’s thought the Brigantes tribe were forced into slave labour by the Romans after they were conquered in A.D. 74-75 and then put to work mining lead. The third pig, found in 1860 near Pateley Bridge, was of a slightly later date and in-scribed with the name of the Roman Emperor TRAJAN from the early 2nd century A.D. The three lead pigs were dug up by more recent lead miners who were digging in the rich lead and ore-veined moorland in and around Cockhill, Greenhow Hill, and near Pateley Bridge. The Cockhill & Sunside lead mines and smelt mill situated on Greenhow Hill in Upper Nidderdale was established soon after 1776, but it was not leased until 1781. However, the first recorded lead mine known as ‘Prosperous’ was established in that area about 1606. The two late 1st-century lead pigs eventually found their way to museums, but the early 2nd-century pig was apparently lost.

The Pateley Bridge Local History Tutorial Class writing in 1967 tell us more about Lead and Iron Mining in Upper Nidderdale. They say: “Prominent amongst the natural resources of medieval Nidderdale were lead and iron ores. Thin bands of ironstone in the Millstone Grit series outcrop over a large area of the dale, from Blayshaw Bents, west of Ramsgill, to the vicinity of Knaresborough. There are two main groups of lead-bearing veins, one of which runs in the Millstone Grit, roughly down the line of Ashfold Gill, where the Bycliffe Vein of Grassington Moor is continued in the Stoney Grooves, Merryfield and Providence Vein. The other is found mainly in the limestones on the summit of Greenhow Hill. The thick beds of the Carboniferous Limestone which form the western side of the hill are overlain, around Craven Cross, by the Millstone Grit beds, but come to the surface further east in a series of inliers, in which many veins outcrop. The more prominent of these veins would be noticed by the earliest metal-using peoples of the area. It is, therefore, reasonable to suppose that the vein outcrops were worked by the local Celtic tribe, the Brigantes, and consequently were known to their Roman conquerors, for within a few years of the Roman victory over the Brigantes at Stanwick in 74 AD., the new rulers were smelting lead on Greenhow.

“Three pigs of lead smelted by the Romans have been found in the Greenhow area. Two almost identical pigs, weighing 155 and 156 Ibs. respectively, were discovered in 1735 in a hole in the ground on Hayshaw Bank. On the base of each is the inscription, in raised letters: IMP. CAES. DOMITIANO AVG. COS. VII an abbreviation of ‘“Imperatore Caesare Domitiano Augusto Consule Septimum”’, meaning Emperor Domitian’s seventh term as consul, ie. 81 A.D. The word ‘“BRIG”’, presumably short for Brigantes, is also cast on the side of each pig. Both of them are preserved, one in the British Museum, the other in Ripley Castle. A third pig, found on Nussey Knot, was subsequently lost and all that is known about it is that the inscription included the name of Trajan, who was emperor from 91 to 117 A.D.” Just to note here: I understand the Roman pig of lead that resided in Ripley Castle was later given to The Craven Museum at Skipton.

I.A.Richmond writing in 1963 discusses the discovery of a lead pig from A.D. 74 in Flintshire, northeast Wales, but then goes on to say: “The next group of lead pigs is the small group from Yorkshire, which also carry the tribal name of the area, in the form Brig, for metallum Briganticum. They are found in the area between Nidderdale and Wharfedale, which was much exploited in later medieval times for lead also. The earliest dated example is of A.D. 81, exactly ten years after the Roman acquisition of the area. Another, of Trajan (A.D. 98-117), is imperfectly recorded from Pateley Bridge. It is probable that this was not the only lead-bearing area worked in Yorkshire. There is a good local tradition of Roman exploitation of the Swaledale lead deposits, in particular the Hurst Mine; it is connected with a pig of Hadrian, unfortunately never recorded in detail.”

“It is very probable that the Roman camp at Bainbridge may have served as a centre for the lead trade in the surrounding dales from which men were sent into Swaledale to mine for lead. Tradition relates that Hurst Mines in Swaledale was one of the Roman penal settlements where convicts were sent to work, and that buildings in Jerusalem and St Peter’s in Rome were roofed with lead obtained from the Hurst Mines. Residents of Hurst can still show us an iron ring, leaded into the rock, to which prisoners were chained for misdemeanour”, according to Edward R. Fawcett’s manuscript. Mr Fawcett died in 1939 but his work was edited & published by Brian Lee in 1985.

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Fawcett, Edward R., Lead Mining In Swaledale (Mss. Edt. by Brian Lee), Faust Publications Co. Ltd., Thorneyholme Hall, Roughlee, Burnley, 1985.

Pateley Bridge Local History Tutorial Class, A History of Nidderdale, (Edt. by Bernard Jennings, M.A. University of Leeds), The Advertiser Press Limited, Huddersfield, 1967.

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

Click on here:,miles%20from%20the%20lead%20mines%20on%20Greenhow%20Hill.

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


Silbury Hill, Beckhampton, Wiltshire

Silbury Hill.

The Journal Of Antiquities

SU1000 6850. Silbury Hill is a man-made chalk and clay mound beside the A4 road, 1 mile southeast of Beckhampton. It dates from the Neolithic period of prehistory some 4,700 years ago. This famous conical-shaped hill is 130 feet high or 40 metres and, with its wide outer circular ditch, which is most noticeable at the eastern side and quite often filled with water in wet spells of weather, it covers a total area of about 5 acres (2 hectares). The base of the hill covers 167 metres, while the flat-topped surface is about 100 feet in diameter.

The first phase of building here began in 2,500 BC followed by, perhaps, another three phases of work; thousands of local workers were employed in the construction of the mound which was built in the form of a pyramid in steps or tiers – the steps being cut sarsen stones from nearby quarries. Then these…

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Cup-Marked Stone on Delves Lane, near Nelson, Lancashire.

Cup marked stone on Delves Lane, near Nelson, Lancashire.

Cup-marked Stone on Delves Lane, Nelson.

NGR: SD 8909 3701. At the edge of a field beside Delves Lane, near Nelson, in Lancashire, there is a flat, shaped stone on the ground that looks to have “possible” ancient carvings on it. This smooth, strangely-shaped, and worn, rather innocuous-looking stone, is to be found at the edge of a farmer’s field and just inside a metal-gated entrance, and not more than a metre away from the country lane that is over-shadowed by the ancient Walton Spire monolith, over to the north. The stone has one well-defined cup marking and three more tiny, weathered cup markings on it, and also fifth and sixth cup marks together at the far side of the stone. It measures 16 inches long by 12 inches at its widest. All in all though this is a very nice stone; but it is a few miles ‘as the crow flies’ from the moorland where most of these petroglyphs would usually be found.

Cup-marked stone on Delves Lane, nr Nelson, in Black & White.

Not far from here, about 230 metres to the south, is the site of a Bronze Age stone circle at ‘Ring Stones Hill’, and, a bit further along the lane and in the corner of a farmer’s field is the site of a Bronze Age burial mound which has, sadly, been ploughed out. And there are also ancient barrows on nearby Knave Hill. But where the cup-marked stone originated from is anyone’s guess; maybe it came from Boulsworth Hill a few miles away, where a few other carved stones have been found, or, did it come from Catlow, ½ a mile to the south; it was here at Catlow that a Bronze Age burial with collared urns was discovered by quarry workers in the 19th century. But whether this carved stone came from any of these sites is not known for certain. Maybe farmers from the past would know that question – if only we could ask them. There is a wall stile a bit further back along Delves Lane if the gate won’t open! Remember, though, that this is farming land.

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.

The Marsden Cross, Marsden Heights, Near Nelson, Lancashire.

The (possible) Marsden Cross base at Marsden Heights, near Nelson, in Lancashire.

NGR: SD 8651 3612. Some time long ago a Medieval wayside cross known as ‘The Marsden Cross’ or at least the base of that former cross, used to stand at the side of Kings Causeway, Marsden Heights, near Nelson, Lancashire, roughly where the entrance to Nelson Golf Course Club House is today; the golf course was established in 1902. However, the cross base was moved or re-sited a little way along the road possibly in the 19th century? The large, hefty socket stone (cross-base) now resides in a private cottage garden – the former Scarlett Arms public house – a few hundred metres along the road, which is known as Kings Causeway or ‘The King’s Highway’. General James Yorke Scarlett (1799-1871) led the Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava, Crimea in 1854, and is buried in St John’s churchyard, Holme-in-Cliviger. Kings Causeaway was apparently named after King George (not sure which King George) who had travelled along it, a local lady told me. The stone base that supported the cross shaft was placed in the garden of The Scarlett Arms back in the 19th century – having been moved here from its original position further back along the road. It is marked on an old map of 1893 simply as “stone”. But, what actually became of the cross-shaft and its cross-head, if those ever existed, is not known, though it was probably destroyed, broken up, and then Lost-to-Time. Maybe the remains of the cross and shaft are built into a wall or a building somewhere in the vicinity.

Top of the (possible) Marsden Cross base at Marsden Heights.

The large, hefty lump of stone in the garden of Scarlett Cottage – the former Scarlett Arms public house – on Kings Causeway stands between two and three feet tall, and at the top of the stone a basin-shaped socket hole has been carved with a groove (water channel) to allow water to run out of the basin at one side; however, the basin (the possible socket hole) is not particularly deep. The lady who lives at the cottage uses the top of the stone as a receptacle for lost golf balls that come over from the golf course, or, she has collected some of them from the vicinity. So, was a cross shaft ever fixed into the top of this lump of stone? At the other side of the stone a groove runs part way up; the lady at the cottage thought this had been caused when the stone was moved a few metres from its original position at the lower end of her garden, some years back. Another theory is that the basin in the top of the stone was used as a receptacle for vinegar hundreds of years ago during times of plague; coins would be placed in the vinegar so as to sterilise them before they were handed out to those infected by the dreadful disease and, also maybe the poor of the parish: Haggate and Harle Syke. There are two more wayside cross bases, similar to this one, called The Nogworth and Beth Crosses, near Briercliffe, which date from the 13th century, and were set up by the monks of Whalley Abbey (marking the extent of their lands); this may also be the case with the Marsden Cross.

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Many thanks to the lady at Scarlett Cottage for allowing me to photograph the cross base, and to the lady who informed me with regard to the history of Kings Causeway.

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Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.

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Maiden Castle Hill-Fort, Near Dorchester, Dorset.

Aerial view of Maiden Castle Hill-Fort, Near Dorchester, in Dorset.

NGR: SY 6688 8845. The spectacular and impressive Iron Age hill-fort of Maiden Castle, with its deep defensive banks, ditches and ramparts, is to be found one and a half miles to the southwest of Dorchester, in Dorset, on Maiden Castle Road. Said to be the largest hill-fort complex in Europe, and, the largest of its kind in Britain. It covers an area of around 47 acres or 190202,252 metres, roughly halfway between the town of Dorchester and the village of Winterbourne Monkton. The hill-fort was most probably built in the middle of the 1st century B.C. and was still being settled well into the Roman period. In the 4th century A.D. a Celtic temple was apparently built at the eastern side of the fort, and inside the hill-fort there is a late Neolithic long barrow, and a Neolithic causewayed enclosure, which dates back to around 3,500 B.C. It would seem that there were other forts here built in stages at different periods back in prehistory, but, the main fort (which we see here today) was built over them and very little can now be seen of those earlier hill-forts and associated settlements. In 1865 the Wiltshire-born Antiquarian Edward Cunnington (1825-1916) carried out the first Archaeological excavations at Maiden Castle and, in more recent times, archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890-1976) excavated at the site in 1936. The hill-fort is in the care of English Heritage.

Maiden Castle Hill-Fort, Dorchester in Dorset.

AA Treasures of Britain (1968) tells us that: “This is perhaps the best-known hill-fort in England. Extensively excavated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the long and varied history of the site is well established. Concealed below the rampart of the first Iron Age defences were those of a Neolithic causewayed camp of about 10 acres. Towards the end of the Neolithic period, an enormous long barrow with quarry ditches was built on the hill-top and its line kinks where it crosses the defences of the earlier camp. The first Iron Age hill-fort, of 15 acres, occupied the eastern part of the hill. This comparatively insignificant fort was enlarged and remodelled again and again until, in the days of the last generation before the Roman conquest, the defences received their final refurbishing. The fort was one of the settlements reduced by Vespasian’s 2nd Legion and, outside the east gate, the hastily buried skeletons of the inhabitants killed in the fight were found. Doubtless the chief oppidum (settlement) of the local tribe, the Durotriges, it was then superseded by Dorchester (Durnovaria), the Roman cantonal town, in the valley below. In the second half of the 4th century, a Romano-Celtic temple and priest’s house, the foundations of which can still be seen, were built in the eastern part of the fort. It was near the gates of this hill-fort that great reserves of slingstones were found, proving that, in later Iron Age times, the sling was an important weapon.”

On the earthworks of Maiden Castle Hill-Fort.

Odhams — Romantic Britain (1945) says of Iron-Age hill-forts: “By far the greatest and most imposing of all these earthworks are those of Maiden Castle, near Dorchester. Recent excavations have established that here, 4,000 years ago, was a town covering about fifteen acres and enclosed within triple entrenchments. This Neolithic settlement was apparently raided about 1,900 B.C. Then for fifteen centuries the site was abandoned. Towards the end of the fifth century B.C. it was again occupied and developed into a town with upwards of 4,000 inhabitants. The innermost rampart was given a stone parapet and entrance was gained through a passage between massive stone walls. Inside the great gateway there was a sentry-box on each side. Nearby was a pit containing thousands of sling stones stored ready for defence. Only in Roman times was the place finally abandoned for a site now occupied by modern Dorchester.  Here, perhaps more than anywhere else in Britain, is evidence of the long drawn out centuries and of the labour and life of our prehistoric forefathers.”

Harold Priestley writing in 1976 has the following to say about this hill-fort: “One of the best-known and most remarkable sites in the whole of the British Isles, the eastern part of the hill on which Maiden Castle stands was first enclosed by neolithic peoples as a causewayed camp. Overlying this were found the remains of a very long barrow, 1800 ft (548 m), at the eastern end of which were discovered the remains of a man whose body had been hacked in pieces after death.

“After about 1800 BC the site became uninhabited. The first Iron Age ramparts were erected round about 300 BC and enclosed 13 acres (6 ha) on the E side of the hill. More than a century later the ramparts were extended to cover the whole 45 acres (18.2 ha), and within the fort a large population had its permanent home.

“Early in the 1st century BC new immigrants rebuilt the ramparts, adding an outer bank and ditch, remodelling the entrances and creating the complicated ways between the strong points round the gates. Between 43 and 47 AD during the Roman advance to the W, the fort was stormed by the Romans, the E gate destroyed and later the population was re-housed in the Roman town of Durnovaria (Dorchester). In the 4th century, at the E end, a Celtic-type temple was erected and a small house adjoined it. From the air the fortifications may be seen in all their complexity.”

Bill Anderton (1991) says of Maiden Castle: “This is a huge prehistoric earthwork near Dorchester covering an area of 120 acres, with an average width of 460 metres and length of 900 metres. It is impractical to think that this ‘hillfort’ was originally conceived as a defensive position – it has been estimated that 250,000 men would have been required to defend it. Many of these hillforts have two entrances, one north of east and the other south of west, suggesting some form of ceremonial related to the sun. The labyrinthine east and west entrances may have been built as a way for processional entry by people of the Neolithic era. After AD 367, the Romans built a temple within the enclosure, whose remains are still clearly visible.”

Maiden Castle Hill-Fort.

Odhams — Historic Britain (1956) adds that: “Maiden Castle in Dorset is the largest and the most elaborate of prehistoric earthworks in Britain. It is defended by triple earthen ramparts and ditches, still much in evidence. The fortified east entrance is shown in this picture (left), which also gives an idea of the nature of the defences. These originally had vertical sides, each bank and ditch forming a real obstacle to an attacking enemy. Maiden Castle was a tribal centre and was at the height of its power in the centuries immediately preceding the Christian era. It continued to be occupied during part at least of the Roman domination of Britain.”  

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

AA Treasures of Britain, And Treasures Of Ireland, Drive Publications Limited, London,

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

Odhams — Historic Britain, Odhams Books, Feltham, Middlesex, 1956.

Odhams — Romantic Britain, The National Heritage Of Beauty History And Legend, Odhams Press Limited, London, 1945.

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

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Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.

Roman Altar at St John’s Church, Lund, Salwick, Near Kirkham, Lancashire

Roman Altar-Stone at Lund Church, Salwick, West Lancs.

NGR:- SD 4632 3138. In the parish church of St. John the Evangelist (Lund) in Salwick, which is located roughly between Preston and Kirkham, in West Lancashire, there is a Roman altar stone that is in use as the font! This altar stone has carvings on three sides: three Roman deities on the front, and, possibly ladies (Vestal virgins?) dancing on its two sides; the three deities may be one and the same mother goddess. The church here was ‘more often’ referred to as the Lund Chapel. It can be found on Church Lane – just off the A583 (Blackpool to Preston road) – north of Clifton village. Salwick, Clifton and Kirkham are Fylde villages. The course of the Roman road from the Wyre Estuary at Poulton to Ribchester runs through Lund (Salwick) and, because of that, there have been a few interesting Roman artefacts found in the area around Lund church. However, nothing much can be seen of the Roman road today. There was a Roman fort at Carr Hill on the north bank of the River Ribble at Kirkham, which is a few miles to the west of Lund, but, again there is nothing much to see there today. Back in the mid-14th century an oratory was in existence at Lund, and in the early 1500s this became a chapel, but, by the early 1800s it was in an abandoned state and had to be demolished. A new church was built soon after and later added to: the nave in 1824 and the tower in 1873.

In an article for ‘Lancashire Magazine’ in July/August 1993, Alan Warwick tells us about the ‘Pagan Past Of A Fylde Church’. He says: “The tranquil, rural setting of Lund Parish Church belies its diverse multi-cultural history, and its links with a pagan past. The area of Lund, hidden off the main Blackpool-Preston road at Salwick, has witnessed Druids, Danes, and Romans come and go, and Christians finally establishing the Parish Church of St. John. Many areas of the Fylde Coast of pre-Roman times were widespread with wooded marshland, whose inhabitants were of Celtic origin. They were the tribespeople of the Setantii, who allegedly dyed their bodies with woad and practised a Druid-type religion.

“Although Christianity was introduced into Britain in Roman times, the earliest records portraying Lund as a place of Christian worship date from the 14th century when, in 1349, an oratory was recorded as having occupied a site near to the present day church. The original chapel was mentioned in documents associated with the partition of the estates of the locally famous Clifton family back in 1516. By this time the chapel had been developed further with the addition of a chantry. By the 1820s, whilst Lund was still encompassed in the parish of nearby Kirkham, the original chapel had fallen into a state of disrepair. Proposals for a new stone-built church were supported by the financial backing of the Birley family of Clifton Hall, who had made their fortune as flax and cotton manufacturers. The old chapel was subsequently demolished in 1824 and the new church built. The church was further developed with the addition of a chancel in 1852, followed in 1873 by a tower.

Warwick goes on to say that: “During the demolition of the old chapel and construction of the new church an old Roman tombstone is alleged to have been discovered. This is hardly surprising considering that a Roman road passed through Lund on its way from the River Wyre to Ribchester. In the Domesday Survey the road was actually referred to as ‘Dane’s Pad’ — well the Danes did use the road to plunder the towns and villages of the Fylde! Many Roman relics, including military items and coins in particular, have been found buried along the route of the road. Perhaps the most significant Roman relic discovered was that of an altar stone near to the church in the 17th century. Mysterious markings — believed to be effigies of Roman pagan gods — decorate the side of the stone. The three-feet high, pale-coloured stone has been used as a font since its discovery and is still in use to this day at the rear of the church.

Shotter writing in 1973 does not tell us much more, he says: “A Roman altar, probably from Kirkham, now does duty as the font of Lund Church. An altar believed to have been found near the line of the Ribchester to Kirkham road at Lund. It is now used as the Font of St. John’s Church, Lund.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

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

Warwick, Alan, ‘Pagan Past Of A Fylde Church’ in Lancashire Magazine, Volume 16, Number 4, The Ridings Publishing Company, Driffield, Yorkshire, July/August 1993.

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.



Fingal’s Cave, Staffa, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

Fingal’s Cave on Isle of Staffa, Inner Hebrides.

NGR: NM 3245 3503. In the cliffs at the south side of Staffa, Inner Hebrides, Scotland, is the huge sea cave known as ‘Fingal’s Cave’, taking its name from the mythical giant, Fionn mac Cumhail or Finn McCool, but its original name was An Uamh Bhinn – the musical cave. The cave is formed from hexagonal volcanic basalt columns or pillars that are the same as those at the ‘Giant’s Causeway’ in Northern Ireland. In Irish mythology Finn McCool, who was often portrayed as a hunter-warrior, was able to walk or take long strides across his bridge or causeway (he had built it apparently) on the Antrim Coast, to his cave on the Island of Staffa in the Hebrides; it was here that Finn McCool fought a Scottish giant! Staffa, off the Argyll coast, is an uninhabited Hebridean island. The sea cave looks out across the often wild Atlantic Ocean, which is very often rough and stormy, and so it’s not easy to get close up to the cave unless the sea is calm – at which time motorboats from Oban carrying sightseers can get closer to it, and, even allow a few hardy souls to disembark and walk into the cave mouth. The entrance to the cave is 66 feet high, while inside it is said to be around 227 feet long. Fingal’s Cave is in the guardianship of The National Trust for Scotland. There are three other sea caves on the Island of Staffa.

It was the Scottish explorer Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) who discovered the cave and named it after the mythical Irish hero, Finn McCool, and not James Macpherson, while Pennant’s tour of 1774 provided the earliest description. In 1830 German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47) composed his famous piece of music: Fingal’s Cave (The Hebrides Overture).

Wonders of the World (1930) tells us that: “The Island of Staffa, lying off the coast of Argyll, is famous for Fingal’s Cave, a marvellous geological formation akin and certainly connected with the Giant’s Causeway of Ireland. Each side of the entrance is flanked by columns or pillars supporting an arch. It is these pillars, reminding us of the basaltic rock formations of the Giant’s Causeway, that have given the island its name, for Staffa is the Scandinavian equivalent for “pillar.” They are sixty-six feet high and forty-two feet apart, and are as perfectly shaped as though the hand of man and not the action of the water had chiselled them. 

“The length of the cave proper is two hundred and twenty-seven feet, and its floor is formed by the water which enters from the sea and throws up “flashing and many-coloured lights against pendent columns,” against the white calcareous stalagmites which form the roof, and against the pillared walls of this weird cave. The lapping of the sea against the base of the cliffs reverberates and re-echoes with a musical intonation, on days of calm, and it swells to a thunderous roar during a storm or tempest which is the more usual condition on this rocky island set in the turbulent waters that wash the rugged west coast of Scotland.” 

Romantic Britain (1939) says, regarding some of the ancient cromlechs in Ireland: “In Romantic tradition they are known as “Giant’s Graves,” and sometimes “Beds of  Diarmuid and Gráinne,” those legendary lovers who fled from Gráinne’s betrothed husband, Fionn MacCool, and were pursued all over Ireland by a revengeful Fionn and his army of Fenians.

Fingal’s Cave and Stormy Seas as seen from above.

Fingal’s Cave, Isle of Staffa (the inside, looking out to the sea).

“The Fianna or Irish Militia headed by Fionn reached the peak point of its glory in the third century A.D. during the reign of Cormac MacArt. Many and marvellous are the stories associated with its fame. The Giant’s Causeway at Antrim is said to have been flung across the sea to Scotland by Fionn, to hasten his hostile encounter with a fearsome Scottish rival. Cloughmore (Big Stone) at Rostrevor, was hurled, it is said, by the Scottish giant at Fionn’s head and just missed it! Fionn retaliated with the Isle of Man which he pulled out of the space now occupied by Lough Neagh. The dolman at Howth, near Dublin, is pointed out as the burial place of Aideen, wife of Fionn’s son Oisin, while Fionn’s two moated palaces were situated at the vantage points of Moyvalley, in Offaly, and the Hill of Allen, in Kildare. Scarce a spot in Ireland does not treasure some legend of the renowned Irish Giant.”

John & Caitlin Matthews, writing in 1988, tell us more about Fingal. They say that: “Fingal Fionn mac Cumhal is sometimes called this in Gaelic Scotland. The name also derived some popularity from the bogus, ‘Ossian’, written by MacPherson in the late eighteenth century; drawing on oral stories about Fianna. James MacPherson fabricated a set of romantic Celtic poems which impressed and fired Europe to a reconsideration of Celtic culture, though his work was soon discovered to be a fake.”

Joyce Miller writing in 2000 tells us more about Staffa, saying: “The romantic, uninhabited island is well known for the extraordinary basaltic column formations. The best known of these is Fingal’s Cave, named after the old hero Fin MacCool. The cave can be viewed from a boat, or from the island if weather conditions permit. Boats leave from Fionnphort on Mull or Iona.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Matthews, John & Caitlin, The Aquarians Guide To British And Irish Mythology, The Aquarian Press (Thorsons), Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, 1988.

Miller, Joyce, Myth and Magic — Scotland’s Ancient Beliefs & Sacred Places, Goblinshead, Musselburgh, Scotland, 2000.

Romantic Britain — The National Heritage of Beauty History And Legend, (Ed: Tom Stephenson), Odhams Press Limited, London, 1939.

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

Wonders Of The World, (Forward by Sir Philip Gibbs, K.B.E.), Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers) For Odhams Press Ltd., 1930.

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Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.


Carn Euny Entrance Grave at Brane in Cornwall.

The Carn Euny Entrance Grave (Chambered Tomb) at Brane in Cornwall.

NGR: SW 40128  28185. In a field to the southwest of Brane in Cornwall is what one might call a rather crudely-built burial mound, but, it is, in fact, a prehistoric chambered tomb dating from the Bronze Age; the small, round-shaped grassy mound with large stones forming the entrance and kerb stones, is locally called the ‘Carn Euny Entrance Grave’ or ‘Brane Entrance Grave’. It is sometimes called ‘Chapel Euny Barrow’. This rather odd little monument is to be found in the West Penwith Peninsula area of Cornwall, 1¾ miles southwest of Sancreed. But despite all that, it is a fascinating megalithic monument, if a bit eroded away around the front entrance leaving the stonework more exposed than it probably should be. However, it is a reasonably well-preserved monument of its type – there are others in west Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly. Nearby, about ½ a mile NNW of Brane, is the Carn Euny Iron Age village, and, an ancient underground stone-built structure known as a fogou or souterrain, which could be older than the ancient village.

However, in recent times the entrance grave at Brane has been used by farm animals as a shelter, and, in the late 20th century some restoration was needed due to that. There is now a tree growing out of the top of the mound! It would seem likely that an important person from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age was buried in the chamber, possibly a local chieftain, or the head of a local tribe along with members of his family. The monument stands on ‘Private Land’ some 300m to the southwest of Brane Farm.

James Dyer writing in 1973 & 1977 says: “The finest Cornish example of the small group of entrance graves confined to the Isles of Scilly and west Penwith, consisting of short stone-walled burial passages open at one end and covered by mounds of earth and stones. These are almost certainly the last vestiges of the great passage grave burial chambers found in western and northern Britain. At Brane the passage is 2·3 m long and 1·2 m wide, and is roofed with two large capstones. A kerb of large stone surrounds the barrow which is 2·1 m high and 6·1 m in diameter.”

Harold Priestley writing in 1976 says of Chapel Euny neolithic long barrow: “The barrow, about 20 ft (6.1 m) in diameter and edged with upright stones, has an inner chamber entered at the SE and roof of two capstones”. Just to mention here that it is ‘not’ a long barrow.

Sadly, the burial mound at Brane has largely been overlooked by many archaeologists in favour, perhaps, of the more interesting nearby late Iron Age village of Carn Euny (NGR: SW 4023 2885), with its well-preserved souterrain, the granite stone-walled underground passageway being 66 feet long and leading to an inner chamber. The ancient village or set-tlement here was occupied from around 400 BC to the late Roman period and is very similar to the ancient settlement of Chysauster. It is in the care of English Heritage.

John Michell writing in 2003 tells us that: “The Iron-age village, Carn Euny, west of Penzance, contains a ‘fogou’……..This mysterious class of monument, unique to West Cornwall, consists of an underground chamber, approached by passages. Many old villages and farmsteads had one of these. They may have been storehouses or places of refuge, but more likely they were shrines to the spirits of the underworld, invoked by the Cornish miners.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Dyer, James, Southern England: An Archaeological Guide, Faber and Faber Limited, London, 1973 & 1977.

Michell, John, Prehistoric Sites in Cornwall, Wessex Books, Newton Toney, Salisbury, Wiltshire, 2003.

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

More info here:

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.


St John’s Church and Witches’ Grave at Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire.

St. John the Baptist’s Church at Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire.

NGR: SJ 86929 49498. The old parish church of St John the Baptist at Burslem (locally called Boslem), Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire, is located on Cross Hill and close by the B5051 (Woodbank Street) – the main entrance being on Anna Walk. St John’s is a brick-built church dating from 1717, replacing an earlier timber building which burnt down. In the late 18th century the apsidal chancel was added. It is a Grade II listed building. The embattled Per-pendicular west tower was probably built sometime during the 14th-16th centuries, although it is often referred to as 12th-century and Norman! Inside the church there are some in-scribed memorial stones recalling famous local people, and, also arched windows, one in the Venetian style, and an interesting font, while the west door has a Tudor arch above it. Outside in the large churchyard there are tombs with inscriptions remembering local pottery manufacturers: Enoch Wood and William Adams; and there is also the table-tomb of Molly (Margaret) Leigh, the Burslem witch (a place of pilgrimage for modern-day witches), though this monument faces in a different direction to the other tombs. Close-by Molly Leigh’s tomb is a Medieval stone coffin that has been hollowed out in the shape of a body and near the church-yard entrance a carved stone; these probably came from Hulton Abbey. There is also the grave of Joseph Brindley, brother of canal engineer James Brindley.

Fred Hughes writing in 2000 says of St John’s, Burslem: “The parish church of St John has been dated from as early as the late 12th century to the early 15th century, although unrecorded historical architects favour the 14th century. Its parent church dating from the Stoke Rectory Act of 1807 is St Peter’s at Stoke. The first incumbent rector of St John’s took office in 1532, one Thos. Heath, when the parish was divided into its parochial responsibility for four hamlets of which Burslem was the principal because of its stewardship of the church building. The other hamlets were Rushton, (Cobridge) Sneyd Green and Brownhills (Sytch).  A visit to the old churchyard of St John’s, south of the town centre, immediately tells the visitor that he is standing in a place of history. All about are stone slabs with chiselled inscriptions of the name of Adam, Allen, Cartlich, Colclough, Daniel, Egerton, Lees, Lockett, Marsh, Steel, Taylor, Turner, Wedgwood and Wood — names counted among the most famous potters who ever moulded clay.”

Inside St John’s on the vestry floor an inscribed stone which reads: “Here lies the body of Thomas, brother of John Wedgwood, who died April 8th, 1776, aged 68; also Mary, the wife of the above Thomas Wedgwood, who departed the 6th of July,……..” It was Thomas and John who built the Big House on Moorland Road in Burslem (1750). Also a wall tablet in memory of Daniel Haywood and Sarah his wife. He died in 1828 aged 91 years. Mr Haywood was one of the famous Haywood family who gave their name to the Haywood Hospital on Moorland Road, Burslem. Also, a flat stone near the Pulpit with an inscription that reads: “To the memory of Rev. Richard Bentley, Minister of Burslem, who died Apr 27th, 1780 aged 35.”Also of interest the larger of the two fonts, a very fine bust of John Wesley, and a crucifix that was modelled by Enoch Wood, who was a churchwarden before he became a master potter in Fountain Place, Burslem.

St. John the Baptist Church, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent (front view).

The churchyard has many interesting tombs and memorial stones, some being named for local pottery manufacturers. A pyramid-shaped tomb in memory of the notorious publican William Frederick Horry, 1843-72, who was born at Boston in Lincolnshire. A large, stepped monument in memory of Enoch Wood, 1750-1840, the well-known pottery manufacturer of Burslem. A cross-shaped monument: In Memory of William Adams, Master Potter, 1746-1805. Also a monument with the inscription: In Memory of William Heath of Hanley (Sneyd House) Dd 1853. A small tombstone near the entrance gate recalls one James Bourne of Etruria, who died in 1806 aged 55 years, and his son Charles Bourne, who died Aug., 1814, aged 17. Also near the entrance an Egyptian urn monument in memory of the Parker family. Henry Parker of Burslem gave a stained-glass window to St John’s. Interestingly, there is a headstone with an inscription: In Memory of Joseph Brindley of Longport, In this Parish, 1779-1835. He was related to James Brindley, the famous canal engineer of Turnhurst Hall at Newchapel – possibly they were brothers? At the low church door entrance a memorial to the bell ringers of the 1800s. At the side of the church-yard entrance a long recumbent medieval stone that has carved decoration. And close by Molly Leigh’s tombstone (south-side) is a 15th-century hollowed-out coffin which was said to have once contained the body of Lady Elizabeth. These may have come from Hulton Abbey, a few miles from here. The abbey was founded as a Cistercian house in 1219 by Henry de Audley (d 1276) of Heighley Castle, Staffordshire. Sadly the abbey was dissolved in 1538.

The tomb of Molly Leigh in St John’s Churchyard, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent.

At the south side of the church is the now blackened table tomb of Molly (Margaret) Leigh, the so-called Burslem Witch or Hamil Witch – now alas without its inscription on the side, which has worn away. From time to time posies of flowers are left on the top by modern-day witches who come here on pilgrimage. Molly was born in about 1685 and lived the whole of her life in an old cottage at Jackfield on Hamil Road. Park Road schools now occupy that site. Her father Richard, some say he was called Ralph, was a pottery manufacturer at Jackfield, but he disowned his daughter at birth due to her disfigurement. Molly had a pet raven, or a blackbird, which would perch on the cottage roof, or the roof of the nearby Turks Head Inn, turning the beer sour, and, it would warn her of anyone approaching her cottage; Molly would get very angry with people and would curse them, shout at them, and stare at them until they left her alone; and she would use magic. Local folk bought watered-down milk from her because they did not wish to cause upset, knowing her to be bad-tempered. She kept her dairy cows at Jackfield with part of her humble cottage being an actual dairy! Molly was, by all accounts, a very eccentric person, but she was certainly “not a witch”. It seems that Molly was more a victim of the times and the depravity of those times, and, she was only a witch in the minds of the poor folk of Burslem in the 18th century.

Molly (Margaret) Leigh’s Tomb and Medieval Hollowed-out Coffin from Hulton Abbey.

When Molly Leigh died in March 1748 she was hated by the local vicar, Rev. Spencer, of St. John’s, Burslem, for her blasphemous denunciations of the church, which she had refused to attend. Rev. Spencer had already denounced her as a witch. Her pet raven had been found guarding Molly’s dead body which lay on the floor of her cottage in a hideous and contorted, agonised state. The body was taken to Barnfield Yard prior to burial in St. John’s churchyard on 1st April 1748. Rev. Spencer managed to capture her pet raven and seal it into the coffin! Molly Leigh’s body was later reinterred and a hollowed-out, table-top tomb built over her grave at right angles in a north-to-south direction; this now blackened tomb still points in a different direction to all the others in the churchyard – those people having died in the Christian faith. The ghost of Molly Leigh has been seen in the churchyard and on the site of her humble cottage at Jackfield and also at Hamil Grange; the cottage itself was demolished in 1894. We do know that in her will Molly left money for the poor and destitute of Burslem, so she wasn’t all that bad a person.

Fred Hughes (2000) also says that: “From the 1840’s we find the town’s children dancing around her unattended grave engaged in a ‘chase and search’ game; the ‘hare’ would run away singing. ‘Molly Leigh, Molly Leigh, follow me into all the holes I see!”. There is a variant of this which goes something like: Molly Leigh, Molly Leigh, chase me around the apple tree. The said apple tree, or hawthorn tree, grew beside Molly’s cottage, but it never bore any flowers or fruit, so the legend goes.

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Hughes, Fred, Mother Town — Episodes in the history of Burslem, Burslem Community Development Trust, 2000.

Pickford, Doug, Staffordshire — Its Magic & Mystery, Sigma Press, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1994.

More info on St John’s here:

More interesting info here:

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.


The Pillar of Eliseg near Llangollen, Denbighshire (Sir Ddinbych), North Wales.

The Pillar of Eliseg in the Vale of Llangollen.

NGR: SJ 20267 44528. The Pillar of Eliseg or ‘Eliseg’s Pillar’ stands upon a burial mound beside the A542 in the Vale of Llangollen, just a couple of miles to the north of the town of Llangollen itself, near the ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey in the Vale of Llangollen. Eliseg was, in fact, known as Elise or Elised but owing to a mistake made by the 9th-century stone-carver, the name of ‘Eliseg’ has stuck! The top of the pillar once had a cross-head but this was lost in the mid-17th century, and the shaft would have been taller as a large section also went missing. The cross was probably set up to commemorate a battle that took place in c 603 AD. It would seem that the cross-shaft is not in its original position as it was erected on top of the mound in 1779. Earlier the monks of Valle Crucis Abbey had held the cross in great sanctity and respect. On the pillar there were some 31 lines of inscription, but now only 8 are visible, recalling the names of the royal family of Powys during the 8th-9th centuries AD – beginning with the person who erected the cross, Cyngen (or Concenn), the grandfather of Eliseg and last king of Powys, who died at Rome in 854 AD. The inscriptions were added to the cross at a later date, and, these go on to recall Eliseg (Elised ap Gwylog) King of Powys – whom the cross is named after. The burial mound on which the cross stands was traditionally where Eliseg was said to be buried, but more than likely it was a Bronze Age burial, which pre-dated the monument.

Fortunately for modern-day scholars Edward Lhuyd (1660-1709) the Shropshire-born writer and historian made a drawing of Eliseg’s Pillar and also recorded the Latin inscriptions (1696) from the monument, which stands in Llandysilio parish. So, we know at least eight of the lines of inscription. Chris Barber writing in 1983 gives the following information:-

Eliseg’s Pillar-Cross in the Vale of Llangollen, Denbighshire (Sir. Ddinbych), North Wales. A photo dating from the 1970s.

“1. Concenn (Cyngen) son of Cadell, Cadell son of Brochmail, Brochmail son of Eliseg, Eliseg son of Guoillauc.

2. Concenn therefore being great-grandfather of Eliseg erected this stone to his great-grandfather Eliseg

3. It is Eliseg who annexed the inheritance of Powys…throughout nine (years) from the power of the English which he made into a sword-land by fire

4. Whosoever shall read this hand-inscribed inscription stone, let him give a blessing on the soul of Eliseg

5. It is Concenn Who…with his hand…to his own kingdom of Powys…and which…the mountain…the monarchy Maximus…of Britain…Concenn, Pascent…Maun, Annan.

6. Britu, moreover, (was) the son of Guorthigirn (Vortigern) Whom (St) Germanus blessed and whom Severa bore to him, the daughter of Maximus the king who slew the king of the Romans and

7. Convarch (Cynfarch) painted this writing at the command of his king Concenn

8. The blessing of the Lord (be) upon Concenn and all members of his family and upon all the land of Powys Until the day of judgement or doom. Amen”.

The sandstone pillar or pillar-shaft stands upon a large square-shaped base-stone which sits on top of a tumulus — a Bronze Age burial mound or cairn inside which were found, during excavations in 1803, the remains of a body, perhaps that of a Romano-British or Dark-Age chieftain (possibly the remains of Eliseg?), with what were described as “blue stones” both beneath and on top; the cremated body lying within a stone-slab chamber along with a silver coin. But the ancient pillar monument itself is much later in date — probably mid-9th century AD, though there has been speculation by some historians that the pillar was actually a tall cross, alas without its head, dating from a couple of centuries earlier, with the inscription being carved onto it sometime between 840-845 AD. It was erected by Prince Cyngen fab Cadell (Concenn) about the year 844 AD in memory of his great-grandfather, Eliseg or Elise.

The picturesque ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey (the name Valle Crucis meaning ‘Valley of the Cross’) lie a ¼ of a mile south of Eliseg’s Pillar. It was founded in 1201 for Cistercian monks by Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor, Prince of Powys, but dissolved in 1538. There are considerable remains, especially of church and east range, according to Frank Bottomley. Well worth a visit.

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Barber, Chris, Mysterious Wales, Paladin Books, London, 1983.

Bottomley, Frank, The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward Ltd., London, 1981.

More info here on TNA:

More info here:

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.


Mermaid Carving at Zennor Church in Cornwall.

The Mermaid of Zennor bench-end inside St. Senara’s Church.

NGR: SW 4547 3851. In the church of Saint Senara at Zennor on the north Cornish coast there is a carved 15th-century bench-end portraying the legendary Mermaid of Zennor – of whom there are a few strange tales often told. She is depicted with her long flowing hair, fishy tail, comb and mirror. Comb and mirror symbols also appear on Pictish stones in Scotland. The Medieval carved bench-end or, more correctly, the Mermaid’s Chair (for one person only), now stands in the south side chapel. There are other legends of mermaids, and, even mermen! from other coastal places in both Cornwall and Devon and other coastal places. St Senara’s parish church stands on Post Office Row at the east side of the village, which takes its name from the 6th century St Azenor, who was born at Brest in Brittany, but, gave birth to her son, St Budock, in Ireland, according to the legend. However, in Corn-wall she is more often called St Senara. Also inside the 12th-century church, and, standing close by the Mermaid’s Chair, is a carved Norman font, while outside in the churchyard there are three Celtic crosses – each having short, stubby shafts and round cross-heads – a very common type of Celtic cross that is so often found in Cornish churchyards. Two of the crosses are built onto the grave of a local antiquarian. Zennor village is 5 miles southwest of St Ives on the B3306 road.

Jennifer Westwood writing in 1992 tells us: “The most famous of Cornwall’s mermaids is the Mermaid of Zennor, whose re-puted likeness can be seen on a fifteenth-century bench-end in the chancel of Zennor church.  A finely dressed lady used to come every Sunday to church to listen to Matthew Trewhella, the best singer in Zennor, and finally the pair of them disappeared. Some time later, a mermaid hailed a ship off Pendour Cove and asked them to hoist the anchor, as it had landed on her house and she could not reach her husband and children.  Zennor people surmised that this was the lady who had lured Matthew Trewella away.  Though mermaids often lured sailors to their deaths, there was always an old belief that water spirits needed human husbands to give them souls. The bench-end is traditionally said to commemorate the Mermaid of Zennor, it probably gave rise to the tale”

Sally Jones writing in 1980 tells us more and says: From Towednack, the coast road led me along the grassy slopes inclining steeply and smoothly down the quoit-littered heights on my left to the sea, calm and Aegean-blue on my right — a view so breathtaking that I almost crashed the car while gazing over my shoulder.  My next destination, Zennor Church, shares both Towednack’s vicar and its charm. It is set high up, overlooking the sea, which was the home of the village’s most famous character, the Mermaid of Zennor. 

“Mermaids appear in the legends of Cornwall, even before the dawn of Christianity, when they were one of the symbols of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and held a quince — or love apple — and a comb.  Later these became a mirror and a comb, symbols of heartlessness, since mermaids were supposed to lure men beneath the waves with their beautiful siren-like voices.  In the Middle Ages, the symbol of the mermaid was used in the Cornish Mystery plays to explain the two natures of Christ: just as the mermaid is half-human, half fish, so Christ is half-man, half God. 

“Zennor’s mermaid is immortalised, rather unflatteringly, on a carved bench-end in the little church which I visited at Harvest Festival. The church, bench-end and all, was glorious with flowers and fruit and wheatsheaf loaves, with only a smattering of tinned foods to set the seasonal scene in the twentieth century. The carved mermaid is estimated to be between five and six hundred years old and carries a comb and a glass. The dramatic story tells of how a strange and beautiful woman enchanted generations of Zennor churchgoers with her changeless loveliness and sweet voice. No one knew her name or where she lived as she seemed to vanish after each service, only reappearing the following Sunday. Her beauty and mysterious air discouraged anyone from asking who she was and where she came from.” 

Janet & Colin Bord writing in 1986 tell us that: “Mermaids are usually thought of as belonging only to the wide-open spaces of the sea, but there are a few inland lakes, some quite small, which have legends of mermaids, and this may be simply another form adopted by the water divinity. Some degree of overlap between the different types of lake-dwelling maidens is suggested, because the Welsh fairy maidens’ habit of emerging from the water and combing their hair is exactly the behaviour one expects from a mermaid.”

Zennor village with Church of St Senara

The patroness of Zennor church, Cornwall, is St Senara, who was also known as Azenor and Asenora, and is said to have hailed from Brest in Finistere. She was the daughter of the legendary King Gradlon of Cornouaille, and the wife of Alain ab Hoel. Azenor and her husband would later journey to Ireland where their son St Budock was born at a monastery near Waterford, although other accounts say he was born in South Wales, or, in the Celtic Sea when his mother was cast out to the sea in a cask or barrel, according to one unlikely legend. St Azenor and her husband died before they could make their return to Brittany, settling in Cornwall where they ended their days; St Azenor built her cell/church at Zennor. St Budock, her son, would become Bishop of Dol in Brittany. St Azenor is thought to have died in AD 635 (it could, in fact, have been many years before that date, though) and her feast day in Cornwall is on 8th December (9th December in Brittany). She is venerated at Plourin Ploudalmezea, Finistère, where her shrine can still be seen; St Budoc’s relics are also there.

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Paladin Books, London, 1986.

Fisher, Graham (Advisory Editor), Historic Britain, Odhams Books, Feltham, Middlesex, 1950.

Jones, Sally, Legends of Cornwall, Bossiney Books, St Teath, Bodmin, Cornwall, 1980.

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

Westwood, Jennifer, Gothick Cornwall, Shire Publications Ltd., Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, 1992.,_Zennor

More info here:

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.

Sinners Well / Gratton Lane Well, Endon, North Staffordshire

Sinners Well or Gratton Lane Well at Endon, North Staffordshire.

Gratton Lane Well at Endon, in Staffordshire Moorlands. A close-up view of the well.

NGR:  SJ 9305 5407.  In Gratton Lane at Endon, in North Stafford-shire, is a former sacred, possibly holy well/fountain, which was originally known as ‘Signers Well’ or ‘Sinners Well’, and, before that possibly it was known as St Ann’s Well. Today it’s just called Gratton Lane Well. The large well-house structure that you see there today was built in 1845 by a local man, Thomas Heaton, whose name is inscribed above the well basin. Springwater issues through the mouth of an iron head and down into the basin. It is possible the head is that of Mr Heaton who was a local landowner and re-built the fountain. He died in 1875. But, going further back in time it may have been dedicated to St Ann, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and, with that in mind, it was possibly a pre-Christian spring. In more recent times, however, it was called ‘Sinners Well’. Even more recently it has, and still is, the site of traditional annual well-dressing ceremonies which take place at the end of May and early June each year when the villagers decorate the well here at Endon; this being an ancient custom with pre-Christian, pagan origins. A well-dressing Queen (May Queen) ceremony is also held simultaneously. The well is to be found at the side of the lane at the north-side of Endon village (Endon Bank) in the very beautiful and picturesque Staffordshire Moorlands, some 5 miles to the east of Stoke-on-Trent (The Potteries).

Gratton Lane / Sinners Well, Endon, in North Staffordshire.

The Gratton Lane well-dressing ceremony on the 4th of June, 2022.

The old custom of well-dressing (well flowering) and the decoration of such wells, springs and fountains is now not just confined to the counties of Cheshire and Derbyshire, because in recent times it has started to be practised in the North Staffordshire Moorlands where a few villages have now adopted this idea, in particular, the wells at Endon and Rushton Spencer, near Leek. The well at Rushton Spen-cer is called Saint Helen’s Well and is a miraculous healing spring, according to F. W. Hackwood. And how very colourful and pleasing to the eyes are these well-dressing ceremonies, especially at this time of the year – late May Bank Holiday – to the beginning of June.  The decorative floral art-work which is laboured over as a ‘labour of love’ by the good folk of Endon is ‘truly wonderful to behold.’ These Spring-time floral designs, greenery and garlands covering the wells and fountains sometimes have a religious flavour to them. More often than not, though, local themes are now becoming more evident with depictions of war-time events that took place in the village of Endon.

Janet & Colin Bord (1986) say: “Apart from the well-known Derbyshire locations, well-dressing is still also practised at Endon and Newborough in Staffordshire.”

Doug Pickford (1994) tells us: “There used to be many well dressings in Staffordshire but now they are mainly confined to neighbouring Derbyshire. There was one at Rushton until the 1920s, as I have mentioned in a previous book. I had the pleasure of speaking to the last of the Well Dressing Queens, the former Miss Mary Eardley, who was crowned in 1924. There is a well-dressing ceremony still in existence at nearby Endon. I am pleased to say, and the thanksgiving to the water goddess has now been replaced  by a Christian ceremony.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Paladin Books, London, 1986.

Hackwood, Frederick, W., Staffordshire Customs, Superstitions and Folklore, EP Publishing Limited, 1974.

Pickford, Doug, Staffordshire — Its Magic & Mystery, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1994.

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.


Tunstall Park Glacial Boulder, Tunstall, Stoke on Trent, North Staffordshire

Tunstall Park Glacial Boulder, Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

Tunstall Park Boulder, Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire.

NGR: SJ 86410 51380. Near the main entrance to Tunstall Park (also known as Victoria Park) on Queens Avenue in the town of Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, in North Staffordshire, is a glacial erratic boulder, which is said to be many millions of years old, and, to weigh over six tonnes. The large 4½ foot high rock is to be found close to the Adams clock tower in what is a very well-kept suburban park in the Potteries. We know that the erratic boulder was dragged along by a retreating glacier some 13,000-15,000 years ago and then deposi-ted here; it was apparently dug out of the ground during some ex-cavations in the park. Did this huge rock come from the Lake District? or somewhere else? but there is a possibility that it could have come from the Pennines, or even Scotland, but that is much, much further north. There are other glacial erratic boulders scattered about the country, more especially in the north of England, and on exposed moorland in Yorkshire. The Tunstall park boulder is mostly made of granite but with a mixture of other types of rock too – all of which are not native to North Staffordshire, which is mostly Carboniferous – Limestone and Coal measures, and, also Devonian – Sandstone and Mudstones.

The Information Plaque

The Boulder and Plaque

The information plaque at the front of the boulder does give us a bit more to go on. It says: This rock originates from the Lake District where it was formed, around 450 million years ago, during an extensive period of volcanic activity. It was trans-ported by ice flows which covered the Potteries in the last Ice Age. The ice finally retreated about 15,000 years ago leaving boulders like this one which are known as “glacial erratics”.

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.


Brink Ends Cairn, Near Wycoller, Lancashire.

Brink Ends Cairn, near Wycoller, Lancashire.

NGR: SD 9403 3786. On Dovestones Moor to the southeast of Wycoller, Lancashire, are the remains of Brink Ends Cairn, a kerbed burial mound dating from the Middle Bronze Age (roughly 1,200-600 BC). The site takes its name from Brink Ends Farm, which is 200 metres to the east. However, today only a few piles of stones arranged in a roughly circular fashion are the only surviving remnant of this former burial cairn. Excavations on the ancient mound were carried out by Mr Stanley Cookson and Mr Herbert Hindle in 1971 and 1972 but no funerary artefacts were found, though some artefacts showing signs of burning were exca-vated from what might have been a hearth, and, also a few flints. There was thought to be an Iron Age hut circle just to the south of the cairn, and, a possible ancient settlement somewhere in this area too. The site can be reached from Wycoller village by walking along the track that runs southeast beside Wycoller beck for a mile, and, then out onto the rugged Dovestones Moor and Brink Ends Moor for another mile and onto the shoulder of a hill, keeping Brink Ends Farm in front of you. You can also reach it from a footpath running southeast from the Panoptican on the Haworth Road.

Brink Ends Cairn, near Wycoller, Lancashire.

Peter Wightman writing in 1978 says of the Brink Ends Cairn: “The most recent discovery in this area is probably that of the late Stanley Cookson who uncovered a bronze age burial (c. 1500 B.C.) below Boulsworth.  This single grave was built on the shoulder of a hill, the cairn being 34 ft. in diameter and about 2ft. 6in. high at the centre.  No daggers, tools, or pottery were found but there were a few flint artefacts and all the stones were arranged as if there had been an urn.  Around the centre circle was an outer circle of stones six feet further away.  On what is presumed to be the hearth were charcoal and calcined bones.  There was also a small circular burnt stone with four sugar-lump sized pieces of coal charred only on the underside, and surrounding the hearth were lumps of a soapy-like substance, something of the nature of fat.  The inner part of the grave was laid very symmetrically but towards the outside less care seems to have been taken with the stones.  From the evidence we can only surmise the original use.  Mr Cookson’s theory was that it could have been the proposed burial site of a headman that never took place, or some token form of burial.  It could also be that a different burial rite had become adopted from that known to have been the custom of the bronze age people.  The practice of identifiable burials, with grave goods and pottery seems to have been abandoned at the beginning of the middle bronze age (c.1250 B.C.)  Possibly this grave is such.  Around this grave are curious growths of heather which might indicate the presence of other overgrown edifices, and looking down the valley towards Wycoller are innumerable other curious arrangements of stones that might have had some connection with this bronze age grave that overlooks them all.”

John Bentley (1975 & 1993) adds that: “A suspected Bronze Age burial mound at Brink Ends in Wycoller was excavated by Stanley Cookson in 1971 and 1972. Although no interment was discovered the remains of a fire was found in the centre of the mound with half-burnt twigs and coal. Some small cubes of coal stood on a fire-burnt stone yet the coal had only just begun to ignite.

“Boulder stone walls on the south side of Wycoller Beck suggest an Iron Age settlement and the occurrence of a clam bridge, the earliest and most primitive bridge in Wycoller, supports the theory. Stanley Cookson has strong suspicions that an Iron Age settlement existed in this area but only time and further exploration will tell.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Bentley, John, Portrait of Wycoller, first published by Nelson Local History Soc. in 1975. Later published by Wycoller Country Park Project, Townhouse School, Nelson, Lancs, 1993.

Cookson, Stanley & Hindle, Herbert, Wycoller, Hendon Publishing Co. Ltd., Nelson, Lancs, 1973.

Wightman, Peter, Bonnie Colne, Hendon Publishing Co. Ltd., Nelson, Lancs, 1978.

Also check out TNA website:

More info here on Wycoller Country Park:

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.


Woodhenge and Durrington Walls, Near Amesbury, Wiltshire

Curved section of Woodhenge, near Amesbury, Wiltshire.

NGR: SU 15068 43372.  A Neolithic henge monument consisting of banks and ditches sur-rounding six wood circles, 2 miles to the north of Amesbury, Wiltshire, dating from around 2,500 B.C. The Woodhenge site was originally known as Dough Cover. Whereas Stonehenge ‘has’ circles of stones, Woodhenge ‘had’ circles of wooden posts, or more precisely, six concentric ovals of wooden posts, which are today marked by ugly concrete markers. Just to the north of Woodhenge is Durrington Walls, an almost circular Neolithic henge monument with its associated hut settlement; and there are also burial mounds in this same area. Woodhenge was first identified from an aerial photograph taken by Squadron Leader Gilbert Insall, VC, in 1925, which was around the same time that an aerial archaeological survey of Wessex by Alexander Keiller and Osbert Guy Stanhope Crawford (of the Ordnance Survey) was also being undertaken. The Cunnington family excavated the site between 1926-28, and, further excavations took place there during the 1970s. This classic henge monument is to be found in a field beside Fargo Road at Larkhill, 2 miles north of Amesbury and ½ a mile southwest of Durrington village.

James Dyer (1973) says: “Lying 91 m north of the great henge monument of Durrington Walls, which contained at least two timber circles, now under the main road, Woodhenge should probably be seen as part of the same complex. Discovered by aerial photography in 1925 and subsequently excavated by the Cunningtons, it was shown to consist of six concentric ovals of posts, enclosed by an irregular circular ditch 1·8 to 2·1 m deep and 3·7 to 4·9 m wide. At the north-east was an entrance causeway 10·7 m wide, whilst outside the ditch was a wide, low bank of earth. The positions of the internal wooden posts are indicated by concrete markers. At the centre of the structure was the grave of an infant about three years old, who had died from a blow on the skull. The position of the grave is marked by a cairn of flints. Grooved-ware pottery from the site indicates that it is broadly contemporary with Durrington Walls. 

“Timber circles, such as Woodhenge, were probably roofed buildings, used for religious purposes, the precise nature of which remains obscure. They may have had a central court, open to the sky. If this is the case there may have been a connection with the observation of the sun or moon. Alternatively, Woodhenge may, as was originally suggested, have consisted of free-standing circles of posts, some, perhaps, with wooden lintels, looking as its name suggests, like a timber version of Stonehenge. Or again, the posts standing alone, carved and painted like totem poles, might be considered.”

Jacquetta Hawkes (1975) tells us that: “Although Stonehenge must by comparison render any other site something of an anti-climax, before leaving the Plain the traveller should push northward, following the Amesbury-Marlborough road until about a mile and a half north of Amesbury, it passes a circular maze of concrete stumps, recalling those seen at Overton Sanctuary……This remarkable site was discovered by air photography, and subsequent excavation proved it to have been another sacred enclosure of the henge type monoliths with no less than six oval settings of posts, their long axis apparently orientated on the Midsummer sunrise. Looking at the concrete markers set in the former post-holes, one would hardly suspect, what was in fact the truth, that the excavators found near the centre of the sanctuary the skeleton of an infant with its skull cleft open—probably a dedication sacrifice. The post-holes probably represent a circular, roofed wooden temple, comparable to the sanctuary.

“A short distance beyond this temple (i.e. Woodhenge) lies the almost obliterated Durrington Walls, an earthwork which would hardly claim attention were it not that it constitutes the remains of another henge monument that was once of considerable size and importance. When excavated in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties it was found to date to the late New Stone Age and was thus roughly contemporary with the neighbouring sanctuary of Woodhenge. Indeed the surrounding area was a focal centre for early human occupation. Just a quarter of a mile to the northeast, close to the Stonehenge Inn, is a flint mine, and there are many early round barrows. Inside the bank and ditch, which were more extensive though much less massive than those of Avebury, there had stood two circular wooden buildings, the larger having features in common with Woodhenge.” 

Timothy Darvill (1988) says of Durrington Walls: “Durrington Walls is a large, roughly circular enclosure, constructed about 2500BC. The site is best viewed from the car park to Woodhenge.  When new, Durrington Walls was of comparable proportions to Avebury Ring…..but all that can be seen today are the denuded remains of the banks, and, when the fields are ploughed, a dark line around the inside of the bank indicating the position of the silted-up ditch.  However, much is known about the site as a result of excavations during the realignment of the A345 which runs through the enclosure. This work revealed that the ditch was 18m wide, 6m deep, and that the bank was originally about 27.5m wide and approximately 3m high. Inside the enclosure were several massive circular timber buildings each over 30m in diameter. Finds included much-grooved ware pottery, and the animal bones indicate that many pigs were consumed by the inhabitants or users of the site.” 

Woodhenge – the complete site – photo by GothamNurse (Creative Commons).

Woodhenge is in the care of English Heritage: while Durrington Walls is on land owned by The National Trust:


Sources / References & Related Websites:-

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

Dyer, James, Southern England: An Archaeological Guide, Faber And Faber Limited, London, 1973.

Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments In England And Wales, Cardinal (Sphere Books Ltd.,), London. 1973.

The AA, Treasures Of Britain — And Treasures Of Ireland, Drive Publications Limited, for the Automobile Association, London, 1968.

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Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.