Healey Stone Circles, Masham, North Yorkshire

Stone Circles (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference -  SE 170 810

Archaeology & History

I was hoping to get a Northern Antiquarian team to explore this arena before moving to Scotland, as I lived in hope that we might uncover some remains of an important cluster of megalithic rings in this quiet North Yorkshire area — but we didn’t manage to get here.  So this short profile is one based purely on texts.

A mile east of the standing stone and impressive cup-and-ring carvings of West Agra, was once to be found several stone circles — according to John Fisher (1865), who told us about them in his magnum opus on the history of the region.  Not to be confused with the giant Druid’s Temple a couple of miles south, Fisher was contextualizing them with the “huge circles of upright stones” which our great heathen ancestors built.  Although he made some mistakes trying to link the local place-names with these stone circles (a common pastime of Victorian writers), his remarks still make interesting reading. He told that,

“In this parish there are places which fully answer to this description, as well in situation and appearance, as in the names which they still bear. I refer more especially to Healey-Baals, Beldin Gill, and Baal Hill, which latter place is situate either upon or near to the range of hills known by the name of Healey-Baals.  The very name of Baal-Hill, without reference to its appearance or locality, indicates that the place is a hill dedicated to the worship of the heathen god Baal; and the name Healey-Baals, according to the interpretation which I put upon these words, is, if possible, still more conclusive of the matter. I take it that the name of Healey is derived from Heil, holy or sacred, and ley, land consisting of fallow-ground, pastures, or meadows. If, therefore, I am right in my interpretation of the name of Healey, then Healey-Baals means simply land sacred to Baal. This supposition is strengthened by the circumstance of circles of upright stones having recently existed near to the place, and from ancient relics which have been found within the parish, and at but a short distance from Healey and Healey-Baals, which are supposed to have been used in the mystical rites of the Druids or priests of Britain, for at least antiquaries can assign no other use to them…”

There are very few other references I can find that tell of these lost stone circles.  Edmund Bogg (1906) mentioned them briefly, saying that between Fearby and the hamlet of Healey a mile west, “there were formerly circles of upright stones and other relics suggestive of druidical origin.” But there’s little more.

In exploring the local field-names we find that three of them here carried the name “Standing Stones” – which seems to tell us where once we could find these old stones.  It may be possible that some of the stones were removed into the hedgerows at the sides of the fields.

Folklore

Fisher told of the local tradition of quarterly fire ceremonies close by, which he thought may have related to religious practices at the stone circles, telling:

“There are traditions, too, which have been handed down to us, to the effect that the heathen custom of making feasts and Baal-fires (which although unknown to the persons making them, were in truth so made in honour of Baal) have been continued until very recent times in this district — and especially in Nidderdale — the remembrance of which is transmitted to us in the annual feast which is still held at Healey.”

References:

Bogg, Edmund, Richmondshire and the Vale of Mowbray, James Miles: Leeds 1906.
Cunliffe-Lister, Susan, Days of Yore, privately printed: Bath 1978.
Fisher, John, The History and Antiquities of Masham and Mashamshire, Simpkin Marshall: London 1865.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1928.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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