The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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.

More Info here:

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.

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


St John’s Church and Witch’s 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:

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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:

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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

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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.

Photo here at:

This is interesting

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


Pike Low, Near Briercliffe, Burnley, Lancashire.

Burial Robbed away cairn.

Pike Lowe burial mound and former beacon site near Briercliffe, Burnley. Photo: Stephen Oldfield.

On the summit of Pike Low with the destroyed barrow. Photo: Stephen Oldfield.

NGR: SD 8944 3422. On the summit of a low, grassy hill called Pike Low (or Lowe), near Briercliffe, Burnley, in Lancashire, are the re-mains of a Bronze Age bowl barrow or cairn circle. It is recorded as being a tumulus and has been robbed of its stone-work, though some of the stones that made up the cist burial can still be seen scattered around on what was the burial mound itself.  At some point in the past, the summit of Pike Low was the site of a beacon used at times of great national festivities, which then came to be known as Bonfire Hill. Some of the stones on the hill’s summit bear evidence of burning from this beacon, according to Stephen Oldfield. The Pike Low site is just to the north of the Swinden Reservoirs and 60 metres south of Shay Lane.

Another view of Pike Low. Photo courtesy of Stephen Oldfield.

A stone on Pike Low shows signs of burning and a possible carving.

We do know that the Bronze Age barrow here was excavated in the mid and late 19th century and some grave goods were found, but these items were, sadly, lost at some point along the way. Was Pike Low the burial site of a princess or (a well-to-do person) from the Bronze Age? There are several other interesting ancient sites within a few miles of Pike Lowe, including Beadle Hill, a Romano-British farmstead, or was it an Iron Age settlement? and, also nearby, is Twist Castle or Twist Hill, which could have been a Romano-British settlement, farmstead and enclosure, although there is a possible Bronze Age tumulus there. There are other tumuli in this area too. The Pike Low burial site is located just to the north of the Swinden Reservoirs and about 60 metres south of Shay Lane.

The Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin (1984) gives the following information: “Parish: Briercliffe. Site Name: Pike Low. N.G.R. SD 895 343. Primary Reference: Wilkinson 1857, No. 6. Wilkinson & Harrison 1893, No. 14. Disposition Of Finds: Lost. Damaged tumulus or earth Circle. Sometimes called Pike Low.” And with that the Referencers are given; “Wilkinson T.T. (1857) On the Battle of Brunanburh: and the probable locality of the conflict. HSLC 9 (1857) 21-42. Wilkinson T.T. and Harrison , W. (1893) pp. 156-161 in Proceedings, LCAS 11 (1893) 131-183. (Text summarises Wilkinson on a field meeting: map by Harrison).”

Sources / References & Associated websites:-

Many thanks to Stephen Oldfield for the use of his photos, above. Thanks Stephen – much appreciated.

Edwards, Margaret & Ben, Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 2/3, Preston, May & July, 1984.

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

Archaeological Discovery of a ‘Priest’s House’ on Malham Moor, North Yorkshire

NGR: SD 8967 6743. In 1964 Arthur Raistrick the author, historian and archaeologist, stayed at Malham Tarn House, in North Yorkshire, and whilst there he conducted a number of archaeological excavations in that area, one of which was a rectangular-shaped Dark Age “priest’s house” or a “hermit’s hut” located on Malham Moor above the Malham Tarn Field Centre.  This structure and a similar one close by, were built from the surrounding Limestone, and at the edges of a circular feature that might be an Iron Age enclosure? or something else. There were a number of interesting finds from inside the hut which were of Celtic-Anglian design-work. But it begs the question – just what was a priest doing living in a stone hut on a bleak high ridge of the moor well-over 1,000 feet above sea-level – in what must have been an often weather-beaten existence, although maybe he withdrew down to lower ground in the Winter-time where there would be more shelter from the elements. Arthur Raistrick (1896-1991) also excavated some prehistoric hut circles and, a possible Medieval chapel site upon Chapel Fell, although this structure later proved to be only 16th century. Unfortunately, there is no direct footpath up to the site.

Raistrick (1972) tells us: “On Malham Moor and within a few hundred yards of the Tarn, at SD 897674, a building was excavated a few years ago to which the name of ‘priest’s house’ has attached itself, and the features of this may reflect one of the more permanent Dark Age huts. It stands on a high shelf of the hills, about 1,500 ft OD, with a magnificent view across the upper Airedale country and over the moors of Bouldsworth beyond. The house is a rectangular building 15 ft by 9 ft inside, with two slender partition walls, one cutting off a room 8 ft by 9 ft at the south end into which there is an entry from outside at the south-east corner. The narrower room is divided by cutting off 3 ft from the south end. The outer walls are remarkable, made of a double row of limestone boulders up to 6 ft long and 4 ft wide, set on edge, making the inner and outer faces of a 6 ft-wide wall. The space between the large stones is carefully packed with smaller limestone boulders, but no gravel. The natural limestone floor of the rooms was carefully levelled with small stones, then covered with a layer of calcareous marl from the near-by Great Close tarn. There was a small hearth in one corner of the larger room and a large stone placed as a footing for a central post to support the mid point of the ridge tree. If timbers had been footed on the long walls which were about 3 ft high, they could have met on a ridge tree supported at the ends and mid point by posts, and would give a height to the house of more than 7 ft. The end gables could be made up with a thick turf wall or with wattle screening.

“Among the finds in the house was a cast bronze disc, head of a large pin, 1¼ ins in diameter with pierced ‘Celtic’ interlacing ornaments and traces of gold inlay, a simpler bronze brooch and buckle, and pieces of perforated bronze strip which could be the edging for a book cover, along with typical book ornaments. The house and material found in it are very like those excavated from the Anglian monastery which underlies Whitby Abbey. All this suggests that we have the little house of a seventh-or-eighth-century priest or hermit, but it was no doubt based upon prevalent tradition, built here in stone instead of timber.” 

The priest’s house (site) is 300 metres (984 ft) north of Malham Tarn at the SE side of Malham Moor. The very beautiful Malham Tarn covers an area of 153 acres (619 square-metres) and it measures 1132m S-N and 1016m SW-NE. “Malham Tarn is Yorkshire’s second largest natural lake – the largest being Hornsea in East Yorkshire”, according to Eric Lodge. There is no direct path up to the site but a footpath at the edge of the tarn goes up further to the east towards Middle House.

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Lodge, Eric (Compiler), The Yorkshire Dales Official Guide And Handbook, The Yorkshire Dales Tourist Association, Grassington via Skipton.

Raistrick, Arthur, The Pennine Dales, Arrow Books Ltd., London, 1972.

Arthur Raistrick – Wikipedia

Malham Tarn – Wikipedia

Malham Tarn archaeology walk | National Trust

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

The Washington Family Coat-of-Arms Stone at St Oswald’s Church, Warton, Lancashire

Washington coat of arms, Warton Church by Karl & Ali (Geograph).

NGR: SD 49819 72316. On Main Street at the southwest side of Warton village, near Lancaster, Lanca-shire, is the 14th Century church of St Oswald, and housed inside is a heavily-worn stone plaque or shield which used to show the Washington family’s Coat-of-Arms; this very worn stone has become a place of pilgrimage for visiting American tourists. The stone was originally on the outer (west) wall of the church-tower, but because of the vulnerability to the carving from weather-related erosion in 1955 it had to be placed on the tower wall inside the church, and now has a glass cover over it. This, then, (the) Washington Family Coat-of-Arms is generally believed to be the source of the ‘Stars and Stripes’ emblem of the United States flag. Robert de Washington was (of a branch of the Washingtons of County Durham) and he settled in Westmorland in the late 15th Century, and later owned land at Warton.  It was from this branch of the Washington family that George Washington was descended.  Robert de Washington of Warton was a generous benefactor to the village church and also had the stone plaque   or shield placed on the exterior tower wall. 

Washington shield at Warton Church, Lancs.

Sydney Moorhouse (1958) says that: “Here, on the outside of the western wall of the fifteenth century tower is a stone shield greatly worn by the weather, displaying the armorial bearings of the Washington family — “Arg. 2 bars, Gul, 3 mullions of the 2nd, with crescent for difference” which according to Lucus, the Warton historian of the early eighteenth century, ‘“is a plain indication that this family, ancient and yet creditable in the town, where the Rev. Laurence Washington has a good estate, have been largerly contributory towards the building of this fabric”’. It is generally believed that this coat of arms was the source of the Stars and Stripes emblem of the United States.

“The Washingtons originated from a small village named Wessington, in County Durham, and even to-day there are Old Washington and Washington marked on the maps of that county. A branch of the family settled in Westmorland and eventually came into the possession of lands around Kendal and in the vicinity of Warton. It was from the branch that George Washington was descended.

“Towards the end of the fifteenth century, one Robert de Washington, according to Mr. T. Pape’s excellent little publi-   cation on ‘“George Washington’s Ancestors and Their Memorials in England”’, held the lordship of Tewitfield in the    Manor of Warton by Knights Service and fivepence yearly instead of doing his duty at Lancaster. This same man owned fifteen burgages in Warton and ‘“in all probability the Washington Coat of Arms carved in stone on the outer western wall of Warton Church tower was a record of this Robert Washington’s generosity in the building of a Church”’.

Moorhouse goes on to say that: “It was the grandson of this Robert Washington who married a member of the Kitson family, who had large estates in Northamptonshire, and his son Laurence left Warton in the reign of Henry VIII for Northamp-tonshire and later settled at Sulgrave Manor. These were the ancestors of the illustrious George. Need I continue the story? I do so to show that the line of ancestry is unbroken and quote from a description of Sulgrave in ‘“English Country Houses”’ by Ralph Dutton and Angus Holden:

‘“Laurence Washington died in 1584 and was buried in the parish church. He was succeeded by his son       Robert, who in 1610 sold the Manor to his nephew, Laurence Makepeace.  It was in 1657, during the Commonwealth, that John Washington, great-grandson of Robert, sailed to America and settled at           Bridges Creek, Virginia, where the famous great-grandson, George Washington, was born in 1732.”’

“Although the main branch gravitated to Northamptonshire, some Washingtons remained in Warton until just over a century ago. Lucas refers to one in his History. The last was Thomas, who was vicar from 1799 to 1823 and is buried there. 

Maxwell Fraser (Miss) writing in 1939, says: “There is a closer link with America at Warton, about a mile from Carnforth which, although not actually in the Lake District, is within easy reach of Grange, either across the sands, or by the road round the head of the estuary. There was a branch of the Washington family settled at Warton centuries ago, and the arms of Robert Washington were carved on the tower of Warton church, where they are now protected from the ravages of weather and tourists by a sheet of glass. Lawrence Washington left Warton in the reign of Henry VIII for Northampton, and later settled at Sulgrave, but a branch of the family remained at Warton, and Thomas, the last of the Warton Washingtons, was vicar from 1799 to 1823 and is buried there.”

Miss Fraser adds that in St Martin’s church at Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria: “………every American visitor is attracted by the stained-glass panels in the east window (top) which show the arms of the Washington family.” This would be the crest/shield of George Washington, who became the 1st President of the United States of America in 1789, and whose ancestor one John Washington of Warton, had it placed here in the 15th Century.

And, finally, Pevsner (1979) tells us more about Warton church, saying: “St Oswald. The oldest evidence is early C14: the S chapel Sedilia (pre-1300?), the s arcade, if it represents original evidence (it is C19), and a S aisle window. Perp W tower, chancel, and N arcade . — In one PEW set-in shields — from older bench ends? — TWO BENCH ENDS, dated 1571 and 1612, are in the vestry.* — FONT. The base is typical of 1661, its date in the one elementary geometrical pattern. Also dated 1661 the lead interior, and this has much finer, indeed very delicate, patterns. — PLATE. Unmarked Chalice; Paten of 1716 by S.L.; Flagon inscribed 1802.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Fraser, Maxwell (Miss), Companion Into Lakeland, Methuen & Co. Ltd., London, (Second Edition) 1939.

Moorhouse, Sydney, Twenty Miles around Morecambe Bay — a Guide To Local Beauty Spots & How To Reach Them, The Morecambe Bay Printers Ltd., (Fourth Edition) 1958.

Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England — North Lancashire, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, (Reprint) 1979.

Photo (top) by Karl & Ali:,_Lancaster

More info here:

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.



The Flasby Hall Iron-Age Sword, Near Skipton, North Yorkshire

Flasby Hall Iron-Age sword and scabbard in The Craven Museum.

NGR: SD 942 563. In 1848 a well-preserved late Iron-Age sword and scabbard were dug up in the grounds of Flasby Hall, near Skipton, North Yorkshire. This ancient antiquity was said to date from the 1st Century AD. The Victorian edifice of Flasby Hall, dating from about 1843, is a couple of miles to the northeast of Eshton and some 3 miles to the southeast of Winterburn. It is thought that the iron sword belonged to a Celtic warrior or chieftain of the Brigantean tribe who lived at a nearby settlement, possibly the one at Sharp Haw, and around the time when the Roman army was marching north and eastwards through the Dales in order to consolidate their grip on the north of England and, ‘put down’ the Brigantes tribe, who had held sway here. But did this Celtic warrior bury his sword here in order to retrieve it at a later time? or was it just thrown into a pit maybe as an offering to some pagan god? That we will probably never know.

The sword and its scabbard were kept for many years at Flasby Hall by Captain Preston, but then in more recent times it was donated to The Craven Museum, Skipton, where it is still on display in a glass cabinet along with the Malham Pipe (flute) from the Seaty Hill tumulus, and also a Celtic stone-head. According to the ‘Out of Oblivion’ website’ “The scabbard is made from beaten and cast copper alloy, lined with wood and is decorated in typical ‘celtic’ style. The sword itself is of iron. Such a sword would have been the prized possession of a local Iron Age warrior and an important symbol of his status. It is similar to several others found in the area occupied by the tribe known as the Brigantes.” See ‘Out of Oblivion’ and ‘Wikipedia’ websites, below.

Sources & References:-

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

Rieve Edge Cross, Thursden Valley, Lancashire

Rieve Edge Cross above Thursden Valley.

NGR: SD 9076 3457. Rieve Edge is a steep hill overlooking Thursden Valley at the north side of Extwistle Moor, in Lancashire. At its summit is an outcrop of Gritstone rocks with more rock debris on its lower flank, down as far as the Pennine Bridleway, which skirts the lower side of this hill. On one of the large flat rocks on the lower slope of Rieve Edge there is a large carved cross which is “possibly” Medieval, or could it be more recent? And on another rock a bit further up the hill there is a carving of a head with a helmet and some letters; this particular carving being more recent though. There don’t appear to be any prehistoric carvings on the rock outcrop though there are erosion-related holes in some of the rocks. There is a stone with a single cup-mark beside the bridleway. No designated footpath goes up to Rieve Edge from Ridehalgh Lane, in Thursden Valley, so it’s just a case of climbing up the steep hillside with the rock outcrop up ahead of you, but it’s worth the climb just for the views!

Carved head on stone at Rieve Edge, above Thursden Valley.

The crude cross that is carved onto a large flat stone about a quarter of the way up Rieve Edge is what’s referred to as a “Potent” style cross and is similar to the St Chad’s Cross, although their designs are slightly different. Could this cross have been carved by monks from either Whalley abbey or Sawley abbey and, could it mark the extent of their lands, the boundaries of their monastic estates? However, we don’t know when the cross was carved though it could be late Medieval, or maybe more recent? And was it carved by a Whalley monk, or a pilgrim making his way to the abbey? There is another similar cross carved on a rock further up Ridehalgh Lane, although it’s very faint. Going further up the slope of Rieve Edge there is another curious carving on a rock of a helmeted, mustachioed head (probably a knight) with the letters ‘BR’ above. This carving is obviously quite recent in date, but why it was carved, and what it signifies is anyone’s guess. The name “Rieve” as in the context of ‘Rieve Edge’ is taken to mean “a bank of snow”, which sounds about right, but it can mean a few other things too.

Sources / References:-

Post, W. Ellwood, Saints Signs And Symbols, (Second Edition), SPCK, London & Morehouse-Barlow Co, 1974.

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

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The Written Stone, Grimsargh Near Longridge, Lancashire

The Written Stone at Grimsargh, near Longridge, Lancashire.

OS Grid Reference: SD 62622 37892. At the northern end of Written Stone Lane at Grimsargh, near Longridge, Lancashire, is a very curious and mysterious stone slab, with an even stranger inscribed message carved onto it and the name Ralph Radcliffe (1655), although this very large lump of gritstone might be much older. This inscribed stone, known locally as ‘The Written Stone’, stands at the side of the lane close by the entrance to Written Stone Farm, originally called Cottam House. It became known as ‘the cursed stone’ after very strange and ghostly happenings took place when the farmer decided to try and move it, but he had to return the stone to its original position when ‘all hell let loose’, according to the legend. To reach this site from the east side of Longridge: head onto the B6243 for a couple of miles in the direction of Hurst Green. Passing the two Spade Mill reservoirs on your left continue for a short distance, then take the next (left) turning up Written Stone Lane; the stone is in the bank beside the entrance to Written Stone farm, on the left-hand side.

The Written Stone is a huge long lump of sandstone measuring 9 feet in length, 2 feet wide and 18 inches in depth, and is said to weigh several tonnes. There is a long inscription along the side of the stone in large letters dating back to the mid-17th Century. The message reads: RAVFFE: RADCLIFFE: LAID: THIS STONE TO LYE: FOR: EVER: A.D. 1655. It is, according to the legend, said that a terrible murder was committed here. The victim of this murder began to plague the conspirators – the Radcliffe family – who lived at Cottam House. Several members of Ralph Radcliffe’s family began to die in strange circumstances as if they were cursed in some way. In the hope of atoning for this terrible murder Mr Radcliffe had a large stone carved and an inscription written onto it; the hope being, perhaps, that the restless spirit would be calmed. But travelers going along the lane, which local people called Boggart Lane, began to report strange happenings – loud screeching sounds, bumps and bangs, ghostly appari-tions, people being pinched and their clothing being messed about with. All this was simply put down to a poltegiest trying to cause trouble.

The Written Stone is a long slab of gritstone with an inscription carved on its side.

Many years later when the Radcliffe family had moved away from Cottam House its new tenant decided to try and move the large stone so that he could put it into use as a “buttery stone” in his dairy. However moving the stone proved very difficult. It took six horses and many local people to actually move it. But during the removal a number of persons were injured and much noise seemed to eminate from the stone itself. When the said stone was finally moved to its new resting place the problems continued – anything placed upon it just fell off or was thrown off by unseen hands. During that first night “all hell let loose”, with loud bangs and clatterings, and other horrid noises. The next morning the farmer decided he’d had enough and the six horses and local folk were asked to move the stone back to its original site but, oddly enough this time only one horse was required – the stone almost moving of its own accord – seemingly the demonic spirit was eager to get back from whence it came and, from that day onwards the stone has not been moved or touched, according to the Legend. So peace and quiet returned to the country lane. Today, people walking past the stone seem unaware of its terrible history, but I wonder whether anyone dares to touch the stone or get too close to it. Let it be ‘a warning’ to anybody who might even consider trying to move, or take the stone away, from its “place of eternal rest” and, if you do, be ready for the consequences, or not.

Janet & Colin Bord (1980) tell about a doctor riding his horse along Written Stone Lane: “Late one night he was riding past the Written Stone…….when his horse became hysterical, and took off at a gallop, only stopping two miles further on. The doctor must have been feeling especially bold, for, despite this adventure, he decided to return to the Written Stone and face whatever had  frightened the horse. He rode up to the stone and issued a challenge, whereupon, in the words of Kathleen Eyre, describing the encounter in her Lancashire Legends, a shapeless mass materialized, seized him, plucked him from the saddle and almost squeezed the breath from his body. As soon as he was able, the doctor left the spot at a gallop.”

In recent times it has been suggested by a few people that the ‘Written Stone’ was brought down from the fell where it had perhaps been a standing stone, or that maybe it had once formed part of a stone circle, and as such it might have been a pagan altar-stone. Another theory is that it could possibly lay on the site of an earlier standing stone, according to Janet & Colin Bord (1980). I have heard it said that it might actually be an outlier. But from which stone circle did it come? as there are no such ancient monuments like that anywhere near here, so it must have travelled some distance. Written Stone Lane, also known as Boggart Lane, forms part of, or intersects with, a Roman road that links the forts of Ribchester and Lancaster.

The British Listed Buildings (BLB) Source ID number is:- 1147440. See Link below.

Sources/references and related websites:-

Bord, Janet & Colin, The Secret Country — More Mysterious Britain, Granada Publishing Limited, St Alban’s, Herts, 1980.

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

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

Howarth, Ken, Ghosts, Traditions & Legends of Old Lancashire, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1993.

Written Stone Lane

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.