Cairn: OS Grid Reference – SE 01912 28366
From the village of Midgley, high above the A646 Halifax-to-Todmorden road, travel west along the moorland road until you reach the sharp-ish bend in the road, with steep wooded waterfall to your left. From here, across the road (roughly) there’s a track onto the moor. Go up this, keeping to the line of the straight walling uphill by the stream-side (instead of following the path up the quarries) all the way to the top. Here you’ll see the boundary stone of Churn Milk Joan. Take the footpath to its side for up onto the moor 250 yards or so, taking a right turn into the deeply cut footpath and walk along for several hundred yards, keeping your eyes to the north (right). You’ll see the rocky cairn of Miller’s Grave not far away in the heather, near to the large rounded boulder known as Robin Hood’s Pennystone.
Archaeology & History
Ascribed by some as neolithic, and others as Bronze Age (the more probable), here is a curious archaeological relic: curious, inasmuch as it’s received very little attention from archaeologists. It’s quite a large monument — and perhaps the fact that it has always seemed to be in isolation from other prehistoric remains has held it back a little. But recent ventures here have brought about the discovery of more cairns (though singular small ones), neolithic walling, hut circles and other prehistoric remains that have never previously been reported.
It’s a decent site aswell. Mainly consisting of the usual mass of smaller stones piled up and around one main point; in the middle of this ‘tomb’ is a large split glacial erratic boulder, which may have been the original focus of the builders. Some may even ascribe a coupla cup-markings on this ‘ere central rock form — but they’d be pushing it a bit! This large central feature aligns to the high peak of Nab Hill several miles north, above Oxenhope. Whether this feature was of any significance in the cairn’s construction is debatable (though as north represents death in pre-christian peasant lore, this ingredient has to be noted).
The cairn is a goodly size: some 4 feet tall and about 50 foot across at its greatest diameter. Some of the stones near the centre of the stones have been put there in more recent years. In previous centuries, treasure-seekers came here in the hope that they’d uncover gold or other trinkets and stripped off much of the original cover, moving many rocks to the edges. Others were also stolen from here to make some of the grouse-butts, not far from away. In a foray to the site on 5.9.10. we were lucky to find the heather had been burnt back and found, some ten yards to the north and to the southwest, the remains of small, outlying singular cairns (though these need excavating to ascertain their precise nature).
Calderdale Council’s archaeology notes on Miller’s Grave tell it to be “situated on the summit of Midgley Moor”, which is quite wrong. The summit of the moor is some distance west of here, near where an old standing stone called the Greenwood B stone (75 yards south of the Greenwood Stone) and the much denuded remains of other prehistoric sites could once be found — though I’m not sure that they, nor the regional archaeologist for Upper Calderdale has ever been aware of them.
In F.A. Leyland’s (c.1869) extensive commentary to Watson’s History of Halifax (1775), he relates a fascinating tale which seems to account for the name of this old tomb:
“About ninety years ago,” he wrote, “that is, towards the end of the eighteenth century – one Lee, a miller, committed suicide in Mayroyd Mill near Hebden Bridge. The jury at the inquest held on the occasion returned a verdict of felo-de-se, and the body was buried at Four Lane Ends, the Rough, in Midgley. The fact, however, of the body of one who had laid violent hands upon himself, lying in unconsecrated ground at a point where the highways met, and at a spot which the inhabitants passed early and late, oppressed the people of the neighbourhood with an irresistible dread. Persons going to market and passing from village to village, feared and avoided the unhallowed spot, until the feeling increased to one of insupportable terror; and, in the night time, a multitude collected with torches to disinter the body. This was speedily effected and violence was even offered to the dead. A man named Mark Sutcliffe, and others, who attempted to prevent the exhumation, were stoned* by the mob, and the body was hurried to the cairn on Midgley Moor, where it was hastily interred. Here however, it was not allowed to rest; the isolation of the body, though buried in a lonely spot, was yet apart from the common cemetery where the dead lie together in their special domain; and this invested the surrounding district with a superstitious awe difficult to describe. The body was still too near the haunts of the living; and, to the perturbed imagination of the inhabitants, the unquiet ghost of the suicide constantly brooded over the hills. As this was not to be endured, the body was at last removed from the cairn, and finally buried in the churchyard of St. Thomas a’ Beckett’s, Heptonstall. Although the interment of Lee, at the cairn, has conferred upon the spot the name of the Miller’s Grave, it cannot be doubted that the large quantity of heavy stones which we find heaped together at this place…was piled up in distant times…”
Modern pagan folklore ascribes the name of this site to relate to Much, the Miller’s Son: acquaintance of the legendary Robin Hood, whose ‘Penny Stone’ boulder is just 100 yards west of here.
- Abraham, John Harris, Hidden Prehistory around the North West, Kindle 2012.
- Leyland, F.A. (ed.), The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax by the Rev. John Watson, R. Leyland: Halifax n.d. (c.1869)
* Nothing too unusual there for the people of Hebden Bridge!
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian