The second in a new series highlighting Cornwall’s megalithic masterpieces. Part Two: The Stripple Stones… Cornwall’s premier stone circle fights back. Unless otherwise stated text and images © Roy Goutté.

Nearly three years ago now I made a very belated first visit to a very special stone circle erected at the southern base on Hawks Tor, north of the A30 dual carriageway on Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor… The Stripple Stones (SX 14374 75215).

On private land and just a stone’s throw away from the Trippet Stones, another stone circle on Manor Common, the Stripple Stones are a rare breed indeed as they are just one of a very small number of henged stone circles built in the British Isles but… in terms of visitation compared to others, almost forgotten about!

At the time it was one of the last of two circles I still had to visit on Bodmin’s extensive collection of moors, downs and commons and potentially the most exciting. Stone circles with a ditch and bank circling them (ditch to the inside of the bank) don’t grow on trees and I was very excited at the thought of seeing one just ten miles away from my home.

I made my way to the henge via the Trippet Stones and the track leading to the western side of Hawks Tor then made my way to the top where the views are spectacular. Rough Tor, Brown Willy and Garrow Tor dominate the skyline to the north and the A30 and Colliford lake to the south.

Nearing the summit of Hawks Tor

My first view of the circle, through the lens of my bridge camera, picked out what I’d been hoping and praying to see in the stone setting… a tri-shaped stone… and it was initially to make my day as I have reason to believe they meant something special to the circle builders over the expanses of Bodmin Moor, particularly those in sight of Rough Tor!

At that moment in time the only thing missing was my ever faithful Border Collie Chief who accompanies me on all of my moor walks, but because of the dangers of adder bites on the day (there had been 13 reported in the past month) I had left him at home.

Within minutes I was approaching the henge, but with every step I took my excitement was waning. I have a habit of doing very little research whenever I plan to visit a new site other than finding out how to reach it, so that I don’t have a pre-formed opinion in my mind based on someone else’s findings.

Stood before me was the mere shadow of a former iconic Cornish jewel in the crown. Just four ring stones left standing, the rest recumbent and either lost to nature or on the way to being so. Even the apparent tri-stone I had viewed from the top of Hawks Tor was not quite what I was expecting. The ditch and bank where still discernible were covered in reeds and showed the signs of being overrun by cattle, ponies and sheep over the years. The base of two of the surviving four uprights and also some of the prostrate stones were ringed by hollows filled with water where trodden on and scraped out by stock over the years, or the uprights used as rubbing stones. It was heart-breaking to see, but worse was yet to come!

Stone 8 in the foreground broken in three pieces and Stone 9 recumbent. Stone 10 in background just one of four left standing

Stone 10. Not quite the tri-stone as I was expecting

Unbelievably, in the past, a boundary wall had been built across about a quarter of the bank, ditch and ring setting in the NE sector! I stood there in disbelief that someone years ago had actually shown such disrespect for our heritage that this had been carried out and felt compelled to video all my findings and report them to Ann Preston-Jones the Heritage at Risk officer for the area. I feel exactly the same today and always will when faced with such wanton destruction of our heritage even though it had occurred long ago in the 19th century and the recumbent stones a victim of wandering stock and shallow stone sockets in peaty soil… always a recipe for disaster. This was a rare henged circle for heaven’s sake and should have been protected much more!

The stone hedge/bank cutting through the original ditch and bank with the ‘modern’ ditch between it and the remaining ring stones

I could go on but things are different now as a wrong is finally being put right and must now be the centre of attention and the very reason for this article.

Over the past few months I am delighted to report that a transformation has taken place and I would like to think that my reporting of the condition the circle was in at the time of my visit helped play a small part in that with Ann then championing the cause further by taking up the cudgels and by doing so set the wheels in motion to reverse the trend.

I first heard of the restorative work to be carried out on the site when Ann contacted me to ask if I’d like to help out with others on an initial GPS and geophysical survey in March 2015 to determine the original position of the ditch, bank and line of ring stones where destroyed by the boundary wall. You bet I would, and thank you Ann for the invite which was gratefully accepted.

To make things complete, I then learnt that CAU archaeologist James Gossip was to be on site as was Richard Mikulski who was to carry out the earth resistance survey. I’d worked with James before on a couple of clearances and he brings such professional knowledge and enthusiasm with him that he is a pleasure to work alongside. Richard I had not met so looked forward to learning more about his work and helping him out when called for. We were joined and assisted by Caroline, Tom, Henry and Graham on the day and all joined in with the surveying and clearance work which was carried out in good humour on a very cold and bleak Bodmin Moor day. Richard explained in full detail how the geo-fizz worked and all helpers were given the opportunity to experience it practically which was much appreciated.

It was here that I was also introduced to David Attwell of Attwell Associates (Environment & Heritage) himself a very pleasant and knowledgeable person that it was my pleasure to meet. It was David that was the first to fill me in on the details of the work to be undertaken:-

The Stripples Stone restorative works formed part of a Heritage and Archaeological Feature Protection Grant awarded to Adrian and Julie Mansfield as part of a Higher Level Stewardship Agreement. This is an agri-environment scheme administered by Natural England (DEFRA) and is a 10 year agreement. The landowners receive an annual payment in return for managing the land to meet specific prescriptions designed to benefit key habitats, species and features of interest. This includes archaeology and under the capital works programme (physical improvements required to meet the objectives of the scheme) there is an option entitled ‘Heritage and Archaeological Feature Protection Grant’. Prior to entering HLS the applicant has to complete a detailed survey of the holding and this identifies all the features of interest and their condition. Information is supplied via the county’s Heritage and Environment Record and the results of the fieldwork are fed into the formulation of the agreement helping to identify potential works. In this particular case the holdings contain some of the densest and most important monuments on Bodmin Moor and a HAP was developed by NE in partnership with the landowners, Historic England and Ann Reynolds of Cornwall Council. This included a number of elements ranging from repairs to boundaries, a beehive hut, medieval longhouse settlements and the Stripple Stones.

A brief was prepared by the landowners and NE and this was tendered in December 2014 and awarded to Attwell Associates (Environment & Heritage) in February 2015. The contract required a full project management role from applying for statutory consents to delivering the works on the ground. We put together a proposal which involved CAU (James Gossip and Ann Preston-Jones) as the principal archaeological contractor and a number of other individuals to assist in delivering the HAP package. Central to this were Adrian and Julie Mansfield given that the project needed to work alongside the farming business and they played a hands-on role throughout. Physical works initially focussed on Garrow but moved to the Stripple Stones in September 2015 following receipt of the SAM consent.

A meeting was held with Nick Russell (South West Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments) in May where the principles of the project were shared and challenged. A formal application was registered in July and approval received in late August. This allowed for the erection of up to 5 recumbent stones, erosion repairs along with the removal of a 19th century field boundary. This had been built through the monument as part of a late phase of enclosure for Higher Hawks Tor Farm. The HAP brief stipulated three stones to be erected and these were selected by the project team, guided by Ann Preston-Jones of HE.

James and Richard setting out in preparation for the survey

Following the geophysical survey and until my next invite with my small team of clearance workers from the TimeSeekers amateur archaeology group on the 1st December 2015, work commenced on the circle and the re-directing of the old boundary wall.

The initial works involved the removal of the boundary wall with the stones carefully dismantled for re-use as part of the realigned boundary. This took the hedge away from the inner circle approximately 3 metres to the east of the outer ditch edge. During the work two previously recorded stones (Lukis and Borlase) were found in situ at the base of the bank plus an additional stone within the hedge core which displayed signs of stone packing so could possibly have been an original ring stone. The two recorded stones showed signs of being split so could possibly be a former circle stone as the marks when aligned suggest they were originally a single slab.

The section of offending boundary wall during its removal and re-positioning by Adrian and Julie Mansfield with the help of David and Attwell Associates employees. Photo: David Attwell

At the same time that the wall was being removed, work began to excavate the socket of one of the three stones to be raised. This failed to establish any notable ‘finds’ (a small Mesolithic flint was found in the hedge stone socket) but once again suggested that the original sockets were very shallow given the size of the stones. The recumbent stone was moved to enable this work to progress and then carefully drawn into an upright position using strops and a nine tonne swing shovel. A layer of white sand was placed to create a distinct horizon and then granite packing stones used to trig the base before successive layers of growan (rab) and granite were set and compacted to ground level. The finished surface was slightly domed to shed water before soil and turves were laid to finish the repairs. The re-erection of the further two stones followed on using a similar methodology. All were left unprotected as a key outcome of the HLS project was to restrict grazing by fencing off the area, without the public’s view or access being denied, to primarily prevent sheep and cattle poaching the ground or applying pressure on the surviving upright ring stones.

Stone 15 prior to re-erection

Nearly there… Stone 15 arises! Photo: David Attwell

The final main work involved the re-building of the new stone hedge alignment. This re-used the original stone on the inner face against the circle whilst some newer material (extracted from foundations for new farm sheds) was built on the western face. A gap was left for a gateway on the alignment identified through the field survey which suggests a further entrance opposite the known access on the western side of the circle. This new section is 90 metres in length but in total the project repaired just over 500 metres of hedgerow which included four gateways and three sheep creeps.

I have to say, without fear of contradiction, that the planning and work carried out to this point was of the highest order and all credit must go to David and his employees, Adrian and Julie Mansfield and also to James and Ann and all those working away in the background.

Then, on 1st December, under James and David’s guidance, four of the TimeSeekers clearance group (Jacqui Rukin, Caroline Lavelle, Colin Green and myself) were then asked to help out when the time came to begin a tidy-up within the circle itself and also help to re-expose a recumbent and buried ring stone that Gray had surveyed and recorded during his 1905 excavation and survey of the site. It was a bit of a puzzle to us though as to why it had not been exposed at the time but I’m sure there were acceptable reasons given as to why not!

As it was this was an easy undertaking as the stone was only some 4” to 6” under the surface and easily detectable by the slight mound above ground being visible.

Members of the TimeSeekers clearance group after the re-exposure of the long-lost ring stone. Left to right, Colin Green, Jacqui Ruken, Roy Goutté, Caroline Lavelle. On completion James re-turfed the sides to the stone to form a sloping surface which was very pleasing to the eye. Photo: James Gossip (CAU)

Further investigation around part of the circle where the clearance of other recumbent stones was felt necessary also detected two further buried ring stones thus adding more to James’ current survey although neither were re-exposed at the time.

There is something very special about re-exposing a buried stone that you know was once part of what we possibly perceive as being a ‘ritualistic or ceremonial’ monument and once likely to have been last handled by our great ancestors some 4,500-5,000 years ago! We often refer to these stones as being ‘sacred’ and I have to admit to feeling a tingle when they first see the light of day again and always hope that they are not too deep to leave exposed once recorded. They were meant to be seen and although no longer all standing are nevertheless there for our wonderment and why we as a group find great pleasure and privilege in re-exposing them at any given opportunity.

Without a doubt the discussions, site visits, planning, decision making, approvals, consents, putting out tenders etc is a lengthy process and maybe not appreciated by those who just want to get on with things, but has nevertheless got to be done. I asked James how it was for him as the leading archaeologist on site:-

Cornwall archaeological Unit were commissioned by David Atwell Associates to carry out a programme of archaeological recording at The Stripple Stones henge monument (located on Bodmin Moor at SX14374 75215) in advance of and during conservation work The Stripple Stones is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM CO124) and consent was therefore required from Historic England to enable conservation repairs to specific elements of the monument on behalf of the landowners Adrian and Julie Mansfield. This formed part of a Historical and Archaeological Feature Protection Grant (HAP) included within a Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement with Natural England.

This work involved the survey of the existing monument, to include standing and recumbent stones, an 1885 field boundary and topographic survey of a ploughed-down barrow to support geophysics results. The initial survey helped identify the location of a probable former entrance on the NE side of the monument which had been lost as a result of the improvement of agricultural land where enclosed by the nineteenth century field boundary bisecting the monument. The conservation work included erosion repair around selected stones, where stability was under threat. These were at risk of falling as a result of damage by livestock, compounded by the poorly backfilled excavations of George St Gray in 1905.

Removal of the 19th century hedge resulted in the discovery of two stones marked on the Borlase and Lukis plan of 1879 – although one had been moved as a result of splitting it is likely to have been left close to its original position. The two stones helped confirm the theory of an entrance on the north-eastern side, ‘framing’ a causeway across the ditch (now almost entirely backfilled) in alignment with the opposing entrance. The new hedge has been rebuilt outside the monument and respecting the arc of the ditch – a new gate now hangs in position leading the eye through the north-east entrance and through the entrance on the western side. The removal of the 19th century hedge and building of the new one, expertly constructed by Adrian and Julie Mansfield and David Atwell, has helped to re-establish the monument as a complete entity once more. 

Following erosion repair and stone re-erection a team of experienced Bodmin Moor volunteers (Roy Goutte, Jacqui Ruken, Caroline Lavelle, Colin Green) were invited to take part in some further enhancement works at the Stripple Stones. Most exciting of these was the de-turfing over a peculiar ‘stone-shaped lump’ on the north-west perimeter of the monument, as visible today as it was when ‘probed’ by Tregelles in 1902 and surveyed by Gray in 1905. As suspected, removal of turf revealed a long, recumbent granite stone, exposed for the first time in hundreds of years, if not millennia.

Thanks to the efforts of the Mansfield’s, David Attwell and the Bodmin Moor Team the Stripple Stones have been transformed, giving the visitor just a sense of its original glory once again.

It was wonderful to see many of the recumbent stones that had been partially covered once again being fully exposed and hope that it is something that can be carried out on a more regular basis otherwise they will be lost to nature yet again. The new boundary wall/hedge is exceptional and matches in perfectly with the existing walling and the builders are to be applauded.

Without sounding too flowery about it, these monuments have been left for us to enjoy and marvel at by our great ancestors and should be far more respected than many currently are if our future generations are to also benefit from them. In these times of financial cuts when funding for such projects are limited, it is a great opportunity for the public to ‘get involved’ and offer their services to help clean up many of our sites as we do on Bodmin Moor. It is very rewarding and at the same time a great privilege to be able to work alongside archaeologists on monuments erected thousands of years ago! Their builders may no longer be with us but that is no excuse to let things slide and we must all jointly take over the baton and share the responsibility of becoming the custodians of these wonderful structures that we are still puzzling over after all these years.

Work is still active on the Stripple Stones and will be completed in August when a new permissive access for visitors will be available to view the monument and provided by the landowners. Adrian has kindly offered to provide access to the circle even though it lies outside of the CROW Act land. This will be achieved by an access through the fence-line to the south of the Tor which separates the two compartments.

David has informed me that in discussion with the landowners, they would prefer at the moment that we promote the route via the lane off Manor Common (NNW of the Trippet Stone Circles) which then leads onto Hawks Tor Downs where there is open access. It is still currently possible to reach the Stripple Stones via two existing gateways but involves a somewhat zig-zag route.

A detailed report will be issued at the end of the project and I will notify the Heritage Trust accordingly and pen a follow-on article which will be much more descriptive in content and the reader made more aware of the circles surroundings and setting in the landscape.

In the meantime and with the promise of warmer and dryer weather just around the corner, why don’t you all get out your maps, re-dubbin the walking boots and get out there into the fresh air to see first-hand the fantastic views from the top of Hawks Tor before descending onto the West Countries only henged stone circle… the Stripple Stones. You know you want to and all of those involved with the planning, surveying and working on the project to make your enjoyment of the circle a much nicer experience would love you to make the journey. Go safely and have fun.

Roy Goutté
North Hill
Cornwall

 

Harold St. George Gray’s Surveyed Plan of the Stripple Stones 1905.

Note the walling running through the north-east section of the bank, ditch and ring stones but has now thankfully been removed and re-aligned.

 

One of the five Stonehenge land trains
©
The Heritage Trust

Just over a year ago we ran a feature here entitled End of the line for the Stonehenge land trains? Then it was a question, now it’s a fact (see Friday’s Western Daily Press’ article here).

To quote from our earlier feature –

According to Historic England (formerly English Heritage), “They [the land trains] have all gone for the moment. They went about a week ago. We do not know when they will be back. The land trains are being serviced and will be offsite for several weeks while we also take the opportunity to look at design improvements.”

According to the Western Daily Press article however (quoting an EH spokeswoman), “Over time it became clear that the land trains were unable to cope with the daily demands of a site as busy as Stonehenge and English Heritage now intends to find new homes for them at other English Heritage sites…”

The Heritage Trust contacted Historic England several times over the last year to ask when the land trains would be back in service, ony to be told, “We do not know.” It’s now patently obvious that when the trains were withdrawn last year Historic England knew full well that they would not be returning so why fob the public off with wishy-washy statements like these (we’ve seen enough of those recently with David Cameron’s statements on his tax affairs!). Such statements do not engender confidence in the public; indeed they generate mistrust and, specifically at Stonehenge with its proposed tunnel plans and new solstice celebration arrangements, plant seeds of doubt in the public’s mind that not all is as transparent as it should be.

What is really sad about the end of the line for the land trains is that, though totally inadequate when it came to transporting hundreds of people from the Visitor Centre to the Monument (and someone should have known that!), they were a load of fun. Children loved them, and the slow pace they travelled at gave people a chance to take in the surrounding landscape. So, why not have both conventional coaches for those in a hurry and the land trains for those who don’t mind waiting for the opportunity to ride them. Far from being a failure the land trains could become an added attraction to those visiting Stonehenge.

See also our feature, The new Stonehenge Visitor Centre: First impressions…

 

The northern façade of the Church of Yemrehanna Kristos. Seen here within the cave which houses it
Image credit Stephen Battle/World Monuments Fund

Martin Bailey, writing in The Art Newspaper, reports that a team of British conservators will help preserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings. The paintings are in the twelfth century Church of Yemrehanna Kristos in Northern Ethiopia –

A project to conserve Ethiopia’s oldest wall paintings, which experts believe date to around 1100 or soon after, is due to begin this month. They are in the church of Yemrehanna Kristos, a full-sized building constructed inside a cave in the Lasta Mountains at an altitude of 2,700m. The cave is above a valley of juniper trees and, until recently, could only be reached by a day’s journey on foot or mule from the town of Lalibela, in northern Ethiopia. The church’s interior is so dark that international specialists did not note the paintings’ existence until the 1990s; the first published account was in 2001.

The London-based Ethiopian Heritage Fund, with support from the World Monuments Fund, is undertaking the project. The conservation team consists of two British specialists, Lisa Shekede and Stephen Rickerby; the latter describes the paintings as being in a “highly vulnerable and threatened condition”.

The initial investigation will include in-situ microscopy, along with ultra-violet and infra-red examinations. Paint samples will be tested, partly to determine the original pigments and media used and to identify added materials. There will be small-scale cleaning trials, to test which materials should be used. Monitoring sensors will be installed to record temperature and humidity changes. A separate team from the University of Cape Town will undertake a laser scan survey to create a three- dimensional data model of the church and cave, to map structural movement.

More here and here.

  

 58405
 
Lanyon Quoit by William Pascoe (active as an artist from 1905-1912)
Illustration from the frontispiece to Days in Cornwall (Methuen & Co)
 
To A Fallen Cromlech
 
And Thou at last art fall’n; Thou, who hast seen
The storms and calms of twice ten hundred years.
The naked Briton here has paused to gaze
Upon thy pond’rous mass, ere bells were chimed,
Or the throng’d hamlet smok’d with social fires.
Whilst thou hast here repos’d, what numerous
tribes,
That breath’d the breath of life, have pass’d away.
What wond’rous changes in th’affairs of men!
Their proudest cities lowly ruins made;
Battles, and sieges, empires lost and won;
Whilst thou hast stood upon the silent hill
A lonely monument of times that were.
Lie, where thou art. Let no rude hand remove,
Or spoil thee; for the spot is consecrate
To thee, and Thou to it; and as the heart
Aching with thoughts of human littleness
Asks, without hope of knowing, whose the strength
That poised thee here; so ages yet unborn
(O! humbling, humbling thought !)may vainly seek,
What were the race of men, that saw thee fall.
 
 
Poetry would normally be considered out of place in this Journal, but the lines printed above seem worthy of record here. Their author was the Rev. Charles Valentine Le Grice (1773-1858), who lived at Trereife, Madron, and was curate of St. Mary’s Chapel, Penzance,  from 1806 to 1831. He was a prolific writer and lists of his many published works may be found in Bibliotheca Comubiensis (/, 311; ///, 1266). The poem was written in 1816 and printed in the Appendix to the second (1823) edition of The Petition of an Old Uninhabited House in Penzance (p.37). Lanyon Quoit, Madron, “perhaps the noblest specimen of the kind”; the date of the fall is given by Le Grice as 19th October 1816, but this is evidently a mistake for 1815. For a drawing and account of the quoit in its fallen state see Proc. W.C.F.C. 1.4 (1956), 167; it was later re-erected at less than the original height.
 
From Cornish Archaeology: No 5, 1996. Page 16. For another poem on Lanyon Quoit click here.
 

The Egyptian Sekhemka statue (2400 – 2300bce)
Image credit Mike Pitts

Mike Pitts, writing on his blog Digging Deeper, reports on Northampton’s Egyptian statue of Sekhemka which will probably leave the UK now that the Department for Culture, Media & Sport’s export licence deferral has finally expired –

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey placed a temporary export bar on the beautiful statue a year ago, after Christie’s sold it on behalf of Northampton Borough Council for a staggering £14m (though the council’s right to sell was far from clear). That bar was extended last October until March 29, “following notification of a serious intention to raise funds to save the Sekhemka statue for the UK”. Martin Bailey reports in the Art Newspaper that such funds never materialised. We don’t yet know where the statue is going, so we can still hope, perhaps, that it might emerge in a publicly accessible gallery or museum. This is a sad and shameful turn of events, but it’s unsurprising no one in the UK bought the statue. Thanks to Northampton Council’s actions, which included a murky deal with Lord Northampton, Sekhemka is tainted.

So here, as he embarks on another journey in his long history, is what he looked like when last seen in public. I’m pleased if anyone uses these photos (and I can supply higher resolution files on request, and have others). All I ask please (Art Newspaper) is a credit to Mike Pitts.

See our earlier articles on the Sekhemka statue by typing Sekhemka in the search box above.

 

The first in a new series highlighting Cornwall’s megalithic masterpieces. One: Boscawen-un Stone Circle. Unless otherwise stated text and images © Roy Goutté

Boscawen-un Stone Circle
(SW 41222737)
 
The stone circle at Boscawen-ûn is considered to be one of Cornwall’s most popular prehistoric ceremonial centres as well as one of extreme aesthetic beauty. It lies beneath the southern slopes of Creeg Tol, enclosed by a later raised circular bank which, built in the 19th century to replace an earlier boundary that went straight through the circle, is an early example of archaeological conservation. The circle appears to have been carefully positioned within the landscape in such a way as to relate with key prehistoric landmarks, both natural and contemporary. To the north-west the rounded hill of Chapel Carn Brea fits neatly between the slopes of Leah and Creeg Tol. An unusual Neolithic long cairn lying on its southern slopes and an entrance grave on the summit are highlighted from the centre of the circle whilst to the south-south-east the dual menhirs of The Pipers and the Merry Maidens stone circle can be seen just below the skyline. The only glimpse of the sea is also in this direction at Boscawen Cliff. A positional change of the circle by just a few metres would render these sites invisible. (Historic Environment Service of Cornwall 2007).
 
And what a magical site it really is. Erected in the Bronze-Age the circle consists of an off-central leaning granite standing stone with what is believed to be two crude stone axes carved at the northern base of it and encircled by nineteen other upright standing stones, eighteen made of grey granite and one of white quartz. It is somewhat elliptical in shape with an axis of 24.9m and 21.9m. At the north-eastern edge of the circle two main ring-stones (7 & 8) have a cist type structure between them consisting of two reasonably large prostrate stones along with two smaller ones.
 
There is a wide gap in the west of the circle which suggests the loss of a stone, but on saying that, this gap may represent, as with the nearby Merry Maidens stone circle, an entrance. The centre stone is 2.7 metres high, but because of its strong inclination to the north-east, the tip is now about 2 metres above the ground. It is thought by some researchers that the off-central stone could represent the male phallus and the quartz stone representative of the female powers of the circle. We are all entitled to our views. There is reason to believe that the circle was not the first construct and it may be that the tall central stone was erected first in the 4th millennium BC followed by the stones 7 and 8 with the cist-like layout between them, and finally the circle itself. The two ring stones 7 and 8 which flank said cist are as close to a matching pair that you could get, both having opposite but identical slopes to their tops like a pair of book ends and straight inner sides. This would appear to be a deliberate act and once a stand-alone feature. Of course this then leaves the question…why would the circle then be built off-set from the ‘centre’ stone after using stones 7 and 8 as initial markers if it was indeed erected first?
 
 
Stones 7 and 8 and the ‘cist’ arrangement give the appearance of being a separate construct
 
William Camden the 16th century antiquarian and historian described the stone circle as, “In a place called Biscaw Woune are nineteen stones in a circle, twelve feet from each other, and in the circle stands one much larger than the rest.” Born in London, and educated at Christ’s Hospital, St. Paul’s School, and Oxford, Camden was in 1575 appointed Second Master in Westminster School, and Head Master in 1593, Camden spent his vacations in travelling over England collecting antiquarian information. His great work, Britannia, was published in 1586, and at once brought him fame both at home and abroad. It is a work of vast labour and erudition, written in elegant Latin. In 1597 Camden was made Clarencieux King-at-Arms which, setting him free from his academic duties, enabled him to devote more time to his antiquarian and historical labours.
 
It is very interesting that Camden does not mention the central stone leaning at an angle and that is important because it is the first thing observed and mentioned by all later antiquaries, authors and anyone visiting the circle for the first time. It suggests that in his time it was but a normal upright so we have to be careful how we interpret it today. In 1749 William Stukeley thought it may have been disturbed by someone looking for treasure resulting in the lean commencing. Measurements given over the years since Camden’s time by different antiquaries and archaeologists indicate that the lean has been gradually increasing. There could be a certain amount of truth to Stukeley suggestion, but not the whole reason surely as something that seems to have been overlooked is the ferocious winds that can cause havoc down in the far west of Cornwall. “Cornwall is exposed to the full force of the prevailing south-westerly winds that blow in from the Atlantic Ocean.” (Wikipedia, Geography of Cornwall). The stone leans to the north-east and the prevailing wind is from the south-west, so put two and two together, coupled with the possibility of treasure seekers digging away at the base of the stone and what have you got? Certainly a disaster waiting to happen that’s for sure!
 

A claim that keeps cropping up is that a direct line drawn from the quartz stone (18) through the centre stone passes straight through that collection of prostrate stones between stones 7 and 8. This simply isn’t true because a direct line goes directly between stones 9 and 10! Yet another claim is that the central stone was designed to lean towards that same collection of stones, but it doesn’t do that either as it actually points between stones 8 and 9! (See ground plan). Another well-known author states that the central stone is quartz which makes you wonder if they’d ever visited the circle at all!

The central stone as seen from the quartz ring stone
Photo by kind permission of A Brookes  ©
 
  

A cist between ring stones 7 and 8?

With regard to the axe carvings to the base of the leaning centre stone, I Cooke (Mermaid to Merrymaid, Journey to the Stones) wrote in 1987, “I visited the circle just after the summer solstice in 1986 and arrived shortly before dawn with the purpose of making some drawings. As the sun rose, I could see two very sharp and most unnatural shadows low down on the northern face of the pillar. On closer examination they turned out to have been caused by the sides of two elongated triangular ‘axe-heads’ which had been cut into the stone… the axes faced the direction from where the sun would rise on the long summer days and they could only become visible during that time for a few hours after dawn.”

William Borlase mapped the circle in 1754 showing eighteen stones standing and one fallen and sometime in the next one hundred years a Cornish hedge (stone wall) was constructed through the circle. The hedge is first mentioned in 1850 by Richard Edmonds and around 1862 the owner of the land, Miss Elizabeth Carne, had it removed and the hedge around the circumference of the site we still see today, built. This is, as such, an early example of the preservation of an archaeological monument. In 1864 the area around the stone circle was first studied in depth. The excavation reports show that the central stone was already inclined. A burial mound was discovered near the stone circle, in which urns were found. From this time originates one of the first illustrations of the circle, which John Thomas Blight sketched and included in his book Churches of West Cornwell. He also drew a plan of the burial mound and sketched one of the excavated urns.

John Thomas Blight’s 1864 sketches of the Burial Mound, Urn and Circle

Interestingly, at the time, a circle with 19 ring stones were not thought uncommon in Cornwall. In his Antiquities Historical and Monumental of the County of Cornwall (1754), W Borlase says that Boscawen–un is just one of four circles in Penwith with 19 stones, the others being the Merry Maidens (now thought to have been 18), Tregaseal (now thought to have had 21/22) and Boskednan (now thought to have had 22). However, although not mentioned, there was once another now lost. At this time, although Gulval was to be incorporated into the parishes of Penzance, Madron and Ludgvan in 1934, it was within the district of Penwith in 1754 and researching has discovered yet another 19 stone circle there. In his 1819 book The Circles, or Historical Survey of Sixty Parishes or Towns of Cornwall, author William Penaluna says: “In this parish of Gulval, there is an elliptical ring, formed wholly of perpendicular stones. These stones were originally nineteen in number, all placed at nearly equal distances from one another, but not with any particular regard to exactness. Of these stones, thirteen only remained erect, when Dr. Borlase wrote; the other six, having been thrown down, lay on the ground near the places in which they once stood. No rule seems to have been observed in the selection of these pillars or stones, with regard either to their height or their magnitude. They vary from one another in a promiscuous manner, leaving us wholly at a loss to conjecture the end for which they were collected, and placed in their erect positions.”

Casting an eye around the area of the Boscawen-un circle with the help of a detailed map, it is comparatively easy to pick up on some local landmarks whether they be naturally occurring or placed there by man. In the near distance are two tall standing stones to the north-east in the field west of Boscawen Noon Farm built into a hedge alongside the farm driveway and the other one to the north. But to get a fuller picture check out the plan of Boscawen-un below and the directions of principal landscape features around it.

Alignments, which always seems to be of interest to some but nonsensical to others, are a very important part of the megalithic and mystical scene and can keep discussion alive for hours on end, even though sometimes it can get somewhat over-heated! To me, this is one of the most interesting parts of our hobby trying to decipher what monuments such as Boscawen-un stone circle are all about and why they are placed where they are in the landscape, because, if truth be told, we are really no further significantly advanced about their use and placement than we were in the days of the likes of John Aubrey and William Stukeley! Plenty of assumptions but little concrete proof… and maybe there never will be!

Boscawen-un stone circle showing the stones together with directions of principal landscape
features from the approximate centre of the circle

Directions to Boscawen-un stone circle:

The more easy-going route avoiding what can be deep cover, nettles and undergrowth if you are walking. Travelling westwards on the A30 past Penzance toward Land’s End and just prior to the turning right to Sancreed, you will see an upright rectangular double-brown sign at the entrance to a driveway on the left with Boscawenoon and Chyandwens Farmhouse written on them.

The driveway and public footpath to the farmhouse

Park up sensibly to avoid blockages

Not only is it a driveway but also a public footpath up to the aforementioned properties. If driving a car make your way up this driveway very nearly to the farm until reaching a very nice long pull-in on the right adjacent to a tall pointed standing stone (previously mentioned) built into the hedge/wall with a large farm building just a little further on to the left. Park sensibly to avoid blocking farm vehicles from passing. From there, continue on foot down the driveway passing some farm buildings on the left and follow the driveway around to the right and past a house on the left. Continue on and you will shortly come to a divide in the driveway with a vertical sign between the two declaring that Boscawen-un is straight ahead!

The divide… take the path to the right

You’ve arrived… a magical moment awaits!

Take the path to the right which is like a high-hedged alleyway. Midway along you will come to a stile on the left showing the right of way but don’t go over it keep straight on up the alleyway until reaching the Boscawen-un stone circle entrance sign and gate on the left. You have arrived and once through the gate the circle awaits you!

If you prefer to take the ‘ramblers route’, then drive/walk on past the driveway entrance to Boscawenoon on the A30 for about half a mile until you reach a small pull-in on the left (2 cars) with a gated entrance and a small sign. A rough path takes you to the circle but it can be heavy going in the summer months if the undergrowth has not been kept down. Whatever route you choose to take, go carefully and enjoy your visit. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Is this heritage?

Kate Chapman, writing for the Spalding Guardian, reports on a new project called Our Lincolnshire. What does heritage mean to you? It’s a question historians and archaeologists from the University of Lincoln, England, are asking through a new online questionnaire designed to examine public attitudes towards heritage across the county and to find out what is seen as important when preserving and enhancing heritage sites and traditions.

More here.

 

 
 
Celtic gilt buckle found in the grave of a Danish Viking woman
Image credit Museum Østjylland
 
David DeMar, writing in the New Historian, reports 22 March on the discovery of a Celtic gilt buckle found in the grave of a Danish Viking woman –
 
The six-centimeter gilt buckle, which had once been used as a clasp on a petticoat, dates to somewhere between 900 to 1,000 years in the past and was buried with its female owner. The find is a rare one, as the workmanship and design of the artifact was common to contemporary Irish or Scottish bronze working.
 
Additionally, the researchers involved in the study of the disc unanimously agreed that it had not begun life as a petticoat buckle; instead it was likely pried off a religious wooden box and then stolen in a Viking raid. Stidsing  [Ernst Stidsing, archaeologist at the Museum of East Jutland] pointed out that such objects simply weren’t traded, meaning that some church or monastery – possibly a pre-Christian one – was looted through good old-fashioned plunder. The bronze ornament itself has been dated to approximately 800 CE; the grave, in comparison, is about a century younger.
 
More here.
 
 
 
“They groan’d aloud on London Stone.” William Blake
Wren’s rebuilt St Swithin’s church in 1831, with the casing of London Stone prominent in the middle of the front wall. Engraving after Thomas H. Shepherd, 1831
Source Wikimedia Commons
 
 
Charlotte Higgins, Chief culture writer for The Guardian, reports 12 March on the proposed rehousing of the London Stone –
 
Roman milestone, druidic altar, Excalibur’s resting place? Mysterious stone surrounded by stories is to be restored and rehoused
 
Rarely, perhaps never, has so spectacular a web of myth been woven around so unprepossessing an object: a small slab of limestone that lurks behind a metal grille set into a derelict, partially burnt-out building on Cannon Street in the City of London, with only balled-up pieces of chewing gum and dust for company. London Stone has, in its time, been identified as a druidic altar for human sacrifice; a Roman milestone; the slab in which Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, was embedded; and part of the remains of the palace of the Roman governor of Britain.
 
One version has it that Brutus, the legendary founder of Britain, brought it from the sack of Troy. The saying goes that “so long as the stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish”. Now the City of London has taken a small step towards a more dignified future for the London Stone than its current lodging in the facade of the 1960s former Bank of China office – more recently a branch of Sportec and, latterly, a WH Smith [bookshop].
 
Planning permission has been granted for the demolition of the building and the erection of new premises on the site, to include a special raised plinth so that the artefact can be viewed by the public. During the building works, it is hoped that London Stone will be displayed in the Museum of London for about 20 months from late spring.
 
More here.
 
 
Fragment of a Bronze Age copper/alloy knife recovered from a previously undiscovered burial site near Morecambe Bay
Image credit Stuart Noon
 
Dalya Alberge, writing in The Guardian yesterday, reports that –
 
A significant early bronze age burial site, believed to date from 2500BC, has been discovered near Morecambe Bay. Grave goods could include objects ranging from daggers and ceramic vessels to jewellery, textiles and material such as amber, jet and gold. The site will be excavated in July. Archaeologists were alerted to its existence by Matthew Hepworth, a nurse, who unearthed a well-preserved bronze age chisel using a metal detector.
 
Ben Roberts, a lecturer in later prehistory at Durham University and the British Museum’s former curator for European bronze age collections, said: “The potential is huge because untouched, undiscovered sites are very rare indeed. What’s really special about our site is that no one knew about it before … The barrow appears to be intact and it’s pretty substantial.”
 
Hepworth followed the correct procedure on discovery of the chisel, notifying the authorities under the portable antiquities scheme. He is now being given a rare opportunity to work alongside the professional archaeologists in an excavation that is being partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Morecambe Bay excavation is being partly financed through a crowdfunding project, DigVentures, a social enterprise founded by three archaeologists – including Wilkins – to address the severe cuts in local authority and university-funded research archaeology.
 
 
William Gowland standing in the main burial chamber of one of the Tsukahara Kofun mounds
©
Trustees of the British Museum
 
A workshop entitled Treasures from the ancient Japanese mounded tombs: current research on the Gowland Collection will be held on Saturday, 19 March 2016 from 09.30–13.00 in the Sackler Rooms, Clore Centre, the British Museum.
 
A half-day symposium where Japanese and British specialists will present the findings of their major research project into the Gowland Collection of Kofun period materials (3rd-7th centuries AD) held at the British Museum. These artefacts and archive, acquired by William Gowland during his long sojourn in Japan in the later 19th century, comprise a unique collection outside Japan, illuminating both the history of Japanese archaeology and the origins of the state in Japan, when rulers were buried in some of the largest burial monuments of the ancient world.
 
Admission is free but pre-registration is advised as seats are limited. To register please contact ayano@britishmuseum.org See also our earlier feature on William Gowland: Father of Japanese Archaeology here.
 
 
A little-known rock covered in Buddhist carvings in Sichuan Province, south-west China, is said to be all that remains of a temple complex
Image credit Newssc.org.
 
Chen Binglin, writing in the South China Morning Post, reports on the damage being done to the 1,000 year-old carvings of Buddhas in south-west China –
 
A 1,000-year-old giant boulder covered with carved images of the Buddha statues has been severely damaged due to government neglect in southwest China, according to the official news website of Sichuan province. Local officials say they did not protect the site because they could not find any writings on the rock to tell them when it was created, Newsssc.org reported.
 
 
Detail of the One Thousand Buddhas
Image credit Newssc.org.
 
The intricate carvings were created between the mid-Tang Dynasty, more than 1,000 years ago, to the Qing Dynasty, according to archaeologists. Some farmers took rocks with carvings from the site to build or decorate their houses, archaeologists said. The main cause of damage to the relic was vandalism, although serious weathering also played an important role due to the lack of protection.
 
More here.
 

The Anglo-Saxon site (not shown) in Lincolnshire is thought to have been a monastic or trading centre
Image credit and © Jon Boyes/incamerastock/Corbis

Haroon Siddique reports in The Guardian that –

The remains of an Anglo-Saxon island have been uncovered in Lincolnshire in a significant find that has yielded an unusually wide array of artefacts.

The island, once home to a Middle Saxon settlement, was found at Little Carlton near Louth, Lincolnshire, by archaeologists from the University of Sheffield after a discovery by a metal detectorist. Graham Vickers came across a silver stylus, an ornate writing tool dating back to the 8th century, in a disturbed plough field. He reported his find and subsequently unearthed hundreds more artefacts, recording their placement with GPS, thus enabling archaeologists to build up a picture of the settlement below.

A huge number of sceattas (Anglo-Saxon coins dating from the 7th and 8th centuries) have been unearthed
 

Dr Hugh Willmott, from the university’s department of archaeology, said: “It’s clearly a very high-status Saxon site. It’s one of the most important sites of its kind in that part of the world. The quantity of finds that have come from the site is very unusual – it’s clearly not your everyday find.”

Willmott praised Vickers for reporting his find to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, describing it as a “really nice collaboration between the general public and the university”.

More here and here.

 

 

 
Avebury’s 17th century thresher barn
©
The Heritage Trust
 
Avebury’s Grade I-listed thatched barn is under threat… from jackdaws! This lovely 17th century thresher barn, at the heart of the World Heritage Site of Avebury, is also a museum with interactive displays and activities bringing the history and landscape of the area to life.
 
BBC News Wiltshire reports that –
 
The roof of the Grade I-listed Great Barn, which is owned by the National Trust, has been damaged by jackdaws since it was re-thatched in 2013. Ed Coney, who re-thatched most of the roof in that £100,000 project, said the damage was “soul destroying”. “We did the job and were very proud of it and everything was fine, and then slowly it’s been pulled to pieces,” said Mr Coney.
 
Thatcher Alan Lewis said: “It is a Grade I-listed barn, the centrepiece of a world heritage site, and it should be reflecting the best in British craftsmanship.” He said birds had only damaged part of the roof that was re-thatched most recently, but they had left alone an older part.
 
“The National Trust are looking at the effect, that the jackdaws are having pulling straw through the netting onto the surface of the thatch, but I think the cause is somewhere else. “It may be a difference in quality of the two materials used.”
 
More here.
 
 
One of two Anglo-Saxon cross-heads embedded into the south wall of All Saints Church, Sinnington, North Yorkshire
©
The Heritage Trust
 

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