Montalt, Dunning, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 06 13

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 26675
  2. Mount Alt Farm

Archaeology & History

Montalt’s curious cup-marked stone

This is a curious stone and may not be the type of ‘cup-marked’ rock we’re used to.  Maybe… It is presently housed in Stirling’s Smith Art Gallery & Museum, where a small note tells that is was originally found “on the top of the Ochils, near Mount Alt Farm, Path of Condie in 1893.”  The stone was found at the same time, and adjacent to, a prehistoric collared urn being uncovered—which implies it had an association with a cairn or cist, or burial site of some sort (which isn’t uncommon).  However, the exact location of its original whereabouts has been forgotten.

Broken off from a larger piece of stone, the remaining piece of rock has six cup-markings cut into it, between one and three inches across.  The smallest cup is what we might call a ‘normal’ size, but the rest of them get increasingly large and may have been more functional than purely mythic in nature.  In a small note attached to the stone in the Museum, they add the interesting note that,

“There are…indications that in some places they may be related to transhumance: the practice of moving sheep, cattle and goats to higher pastures in the summer, where they may have been used to mark routes or sources of water.”

They may indeed – amongst a variety of other things too.  But the suggested relationship with cattle occurs in stones found near Haworth, West Yorkshire, where large man-affected carved ‘cups’ such as the ones here, were known to be filled with milk at specific times of Nature’s calendrical rhythms, for the spirits of the place to give good fortune to the farmer and local people.  We know of one instance where this practice still occurs and goes back generations in the same family.  Examples of this animistic practice have also been found in the Scottish Highlands.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Broad Oak, Hatfield Broad Oak, Essex

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – TL 5352 2083

Also Known as:

  1. Doodle Oak

Archaeology & History

Hatfield’s Doodle Oak, 1807

Erroneously ascribed by the reverend Winsland (1952) as being the ‘Doodle Oak’, the ancient and giant tree called the Broad Oak was, as records show, always known by that name, but was subsequently replaced by another after its demise.  This second tree became known as the Doodle Oak.  Winsland described it as “an immense and famous oak tree”, under whose “spreading branches in olden days the Lord of the Manor probably held his court and dispensed justice.”

The tree was described as early as 1136 AD and was probably an early tribal meeting site, or moot spot.  In Philip Morant’s (1763) work, he described it as,

“A tree of extraordinary bigness. There has been another since…called Doodle Oak.”

The old Oak in 1890

The Doodle Oak was thought to date from around 10-11th century and its predecessor may have been upwards of a thousand years old before this one took its place.  In 1949, one patient botanist, Maynard Greville, investigated the Doodle Oak tree-rings and found it to be 850 years old.  Other estimates suggest it was a hundred years older than that!  Whichever was the correct one, a measurement of its trunk found it to be some 19 yards in circumference – one of the largest trees ever recorded in Britain!

Sketches of its dying body were thankfully made near the beginning and the end of the 19th century: one in Mr Vancouver’s (1807) Agriculture of Essex, and the other by Henry Cole of the Essex Naturalist journal.

Doodle Oak on 1896 map

Some speculate that the Broad Oak of ancient times and the subsequent Doodle Oak were at very different places in the parish, but without hard evidence this idea is  purely hypothetical.  And whilst the name ‘broad’ oak is easily explained, the name ‘doodle’ is slightly more troublesome.  However, a seemingly likely etymology is found in the Essex dialect word dool, which Edward Gepp (1920) told,

“seems to mean, (1) a landmark; (2) a path between plots in a common field.”

The former of the two would seem to be the most likely.  This is echoed to a greater degree in Wright’s (1900) magnum opus, where he found the dialect word dool all over the southeast, meaning,

“a boundary mark in an unenclosed field.”

Giant trees on ancient boundaries, like the Broad Oak of earlier times, would seem to be the most probable reason for its name.  Today, all that’s left of the site is a small plaque on a small tree-stump, telling us what once stood here…

References:

  1. Gepp, Edward, Contributions to an Essex Dialect Dictionary, George Routledge: London 1920.
  2. Morant, Philip, The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex – volume 2, 1763.
  3. Reaney, P.H., The Place-Names of Essex, Cambridge University Press 1935.
  4. Vancouver, Charles, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Essex – volume 2, Richard Phillips: Blackfriars 1807.
  5. Winsland, Charles, The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Hatfield Broad Oak, Anchor: Bishop Stortford 1952.
  6. Wright, Thomas, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 2, Henry Frowde: London 1900.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Airthrey Mineral Wells, Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire

Healing Wells:  OS Grid Reference – NS 79504 97686

Also Known as:

  1. Airthrey Spa
  2. Airthrey Springs
  3. Bridge of Allan Spa
  4. Canmore ID 317260

Getting Here

Site shown on 1865 OS map

The old well-house is accessed easily.  From the main road of Henderson Street (or A9), that runs through the town, as you approach the main shopping area, go up Alexander Drive, then immediately turn right up Well Road. 100 yards up, take your first right again along Kenilworth Road and then first right up Mine Road.  100 yards or so along here, as you reach the tennis courts on your right, a small crumbly-tumbly building is to your left, just by the car-park to the hotel, with some old trees hiding its presence.  You can’t get into it and the waters therein sound to have fallen silent.

Archaeology & History

In 1761, the great writer Daniel Defoe in his Tour across Britain, found himself visiting a healing spring under the western reaches of the Ochils:

“Airthrey Well, two miles north of Stirling, flows from a mountain, where is a copper mine, with some mixture of gold; the water is very cold, and being tinctured with the minerals it flows through, is of use against outward distempers.”

Airthrey Wellhouse in ruins

Perhaps the earliest literary description of this site, the Bridge of Allan that we see today was little more than a stretch of old abodes, reaching into woodland above the crystal clear river and burns, chiming with countless fauna and that rich chorus of colours that pre-date the Industrialist’s ‘progress’.  The old hamlet was said by Robert Chambers (1827) to be “a confusion of straw-roofed cottages and rich massy trees; possessed of a bridge and a mill, together with kail-yards, bee-skeps, colleys, callants, and old inns.” But all of this was about to change.

In the old woods on the northwest slopes above the hamlet was indeed an old copper mine as Defoe described, and housed therein were a number of mineral springs–six of them according to the early reports of Forrest (1831) and Thomson. (1827)  They were obviously “known to the country people,” said Thomson, and had been “used by them as an occasional remedy for more than forty years”; although in Forrest’s very detailed account of these wells, he told how

“one of the old miners, an intelligent man and an enthusiastic admirer of the medicinal virtues of these waters, informs me, that they have been known for at least one hundred years.”

This comment was echoed a few years later when Charles Roger (1853) wrote his extensive book on the village.

It was in the 1790s when the mineral waters were channeled out of the mines for the first time, and Mr Forrest told that they were collected lower down the slope,

“in a wooden trough, for the use of the miners, and of the country people, some of whom used it as an aperient, whilst others, deeming the water impregnated with common salt merely, employed it for culinary purposes. …It was…much used as a medicine by the country people of the neighbourhood who attended regularly every Sunday morning to partake of it.”

Airthrey waters channeled along the long trough (Robert Mitchell 1831)

The fact that Sunday mornings was when people came here tell us that the Church had something to do with the timing; strongly implying that the wells possessed earlier indigenous traditions—probably similar to those practiced at the Christ’s Well, the Chapel Well and countless others across the country.  But written records on this are silent.

The main history of the Airthrey Springs is of them becoming famous Spa Wells and, much like Harrogate in Yorkshire, were responsible for the very growth of Bridge of Allan itself.  Oddly enough, this came about a few years after the copper mines were closed in 1807.  This wouldn’t have stopped some of the local people still getting into them and drinking the waters when needed—but the written records simply tell that, for a few years at least, their reputation faded.  Around the same time in the village of Dunblane, just a few miles to the north, another Spa Well had been discovered and it was attracting quite a lot of those rich wealthy types—bringing fame and money to the area.  As a result of this, the medicinal virtues of the Airthrey Springs were revived thanks to the attention of the local lord, a Mr Robert Abercromby, who thought that Bridge of Allan could gain a reputation of his own.  And so in the winter of 1821-22, Abercromby procured the research chemist Thomas Thompson to analyse the medicinal waters at Airthrey and have them compared with the ones at Dunblane.  He was in luck! Not only were they medicinal, they were incredibly medicinal!

Dr Thomson then wrote a series of articles in various academic journals in the early 19th century—each espousing, not just the health-giving property of the Airthrey waters, but lengthy chemical analyses outlining the active constituents.  To his considerable surprise he found that the Airthrey waters were as good as any of the great spa towns in England at Harrogate, Buxton, Bath and Leamington.  Their virtues were so good that Mr Forrest (1831) doubted any of the Spa Wells in England were as beneficial as the waters here!  R.M. Fergusson (1905) echoed this sentiment in his massive work on the adjacent parish of Logie, calling the Airthrey springs “the Queen of Scottish Spas”!—and these accolades prevailed long after Dr Thomson’s analyses.  He wrote:

“At Airthrey there are six springs containing, all of them, the same saline constituents, but differing a good deal in their relative strengths. I analyzed two of these during the winter of 1821-22, and the other four during the autumn of 1827.”

He found that, in varying degrees, the main constituents were salt, muriate of lime, sulphate of lime and muriate of magnesia. At that time, in medical circles, these ingredients were beauties!  As Mr Logie (1905) said:

“This mineral water has been for long distinguished as a specific for derangements of the stomach and liver, and skin and chest diseases, rheumatism, gout, sciatica, and nerve affections…”

Thomson’s initial findings were much to the liking of Mr Abercromby; for hereafter, he realised, all and sundry who could read and travel to the country spas in England and beyond, would visit Bridge of Allan and bring with it great trade.  So Abercromby quickly,

“caused the water of the two Springs analysed by Dr. Thomson, one of which was characterised by its strength, the other by its comparative weakness, to be carefully collected and conveyed apart in earthen pipes, to two stone troughs placed in a convenient situation, from which it was raised by two well-constructed forcing pumps. Over these pumps a commodious house was erected.

In 1822, several thousand copies of Dr. Thomson’s analyses were circulated; and the water acquired immediate celebrity.  Invalids from all parts of the country, but especially from Glasgow and its vicinity, resorted to Airthrey. Every house, in fact, in its neighbourhood, however mean and incommodious, was occupied by strangers; and so great was the popularity of the new springs that even in 1823 they threatened to supersede all the other same springs of Scotland.”

The success of these medicinal waters created the town itself and, unlike many other spa wells, this one continued to be used until the end of the 1950s.  Its demise came when, in one financial year, only two people came to “take the cure,” as it was called.

Side wall of ruined wellhouse

If you visit the well-house nowadays, it’s in rather poor condition and will be of little interest unless you’re a devout architectural fanatic.  It’s thought to be the earliest surviving building associated with this spa town, said by Mr Roger (1853) to have been built in 1821.  Shown on the first OS-map of the area, adjacent buildings were constructed to accommodate the overflow of people who came here.  And in the woodlands above, if you look around halfway up the slopes, an old trough has water running into it just by the side of a path.  This, say some local folk, is the trickling remains of the medicinal waters, still used occasionally by some people…

References:

  1. Durie, Alastair J., “Bridge of Allan: Queen of the Scottish Spas,” in Forth Naturalist & Historian, volume 16, 1993.
  2. Erskine, John, Guide to Bridge of Allan, Observer Press: Stirling: 1901.
  3. Fergusson, R. Menzies, Logie: A Parish History – 2 volumes, Alexander Gardner: Paisley 1905.
  4. Forrest, W.H., Report, Chemical and Medical, of the Airthrey Mineral Springs, John Hewit: Stirling 1831.
  5. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  6. Roger, Charles, A Week at Bridge of Allan, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.
  7. Stewart, Peter G., Essay on the Dunblane Mineral Springs, Hewit: Dunblane 1839.
  8. Thomson, Thomas, “On the Mineral Waters of Scotland,” in Glasgow Medical Journal, volume 1, 1827.
  9. Turner, E.S., Taking the Cure, Michael Joseph: London 1967.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Abbey Craig, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – NS 8094 9566

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 47113
  2. Wallace Monument Fort

Getting Here

Abbey Craig on 1866 map

Most folk visiting here are coming from Stirling city.  There are various buses to get here, which head out over Stirling Bridge along Causewayhead Road (the A9) for half-a-mile where, at the roundabout and the William Wallace pub, go straight across up the minor road, zigzagging back on itself, until you reach the signs for the Wallace Monument.  Follow the well-defined footpath and, once on top of the hill, walk round the back of the mightily impressive tower.

Archaeology & History

Abbey Craig – and the great Wallace Monument

Located right where the impressive Wallace Monument proudly stands, this prehistoric precursor to Sir William Wallace’s memory was where Scotland’s legendary hero and his men cast a clear and easy view over Bannockburn, where the halfwit english came for a fight—and deservedly lost!   The structures that used to be inside the now denuded hillfort would, no doubt, have been used by Wallace’s men; but much of those prehistoric remains have now been destroyed.  The visible remains of the fort can be seen round the back of the Wallace Monument: elongated rises of overgrown walling that run almost all the way round, getting slightly higher as you approach the more northern edges, like a semi-circular enclosure.  It’s not much to look at nowadays – only a visual echo of things long past…

Royal Commission plan

Remains of fortress walls

The site was described very briefly in William Nimmo’s (1880) early survey of the area, where he told that in 1784, “eleven brazen spears were found on the Abbey Craig, by a Mr Harley”, which he thought came from the time when the earlier ‘castle’ stood here.  He was probably right.  Many years later, the prehistoric remains were included in the county survey of archaeological sites by the Royal Commission lads (1963), who told that, near the north end of the summit of Abbey Craig,

“there is a fort which has been damaged by the construction within it of the Wallace Monument.  All that remains is a substantial turf-covered bank, crescentic on plan and 260ft in length, the ends of which lie close to the brink of the precipice that forms the west face of the hill.  The bank stands to a maximum height of 5ft above the level of the interior and presumably represents a ruined timber-laced wall, since numerous pieces of vitrified stone have been found on the slopes immediately below it.

The entrance to the fort presumably lay between one end of the bank and the lip of the precipice, but both the areas concerned have been disturbed by the construction of the modern approaches.  The interior of the fort measures about 175ft from north to south, by about 125ft transversely and the interior is featureless.”

The fort was probably built sometime in the early Iron Age; so the next time you visit this fine spot, check the remains out round the back of the tower—and remember that our ancestors were living up here 2500 years ago!

References:

  1. Aitchison, N.B., “Abbey Craig Rampart’, in Discovery & Excavation, Scotland, 1981.
  2. Feacham, Richard W., Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, Batsford: London 1977.
  3. Hogg, A.H.A., British Hill-Forts: An Index, BAR: Oxford 1979.
  4. Nimmo, William, The History of Stirlingshire – volume 1 (3rd edition), T.D. Morison: London 1880.
  5. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling –  volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Gormyre, Torphichen, West Lothian

Standing Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 9836 7315

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 47916

Archaeology & History

A couple of fields east of one of Torphichen’s Refuge Stones (a prehistoric thing by the look of it!), another standing stone could once be seen.  It wasn’t a particularly big fella, and its existence may have completely fallen out of history were it not for the Scottish Royal Commission (1929) lads who visited and described the place thus:

“In the fourth field north-east of Gormyre Farm is a narrow, upright, pointed boulder of schist, 3 feet 10 inches high and 1 foot 6 inches wide at base, which is roughly pentagonal.  The greatest width on the east face is 20 inches, on the west face 8 inches; but the faces die into each other at the upper part till the section becomes triangular.”

A few years after the Royal Commission boys had been here, the land-owner saw fit to uproot the stone and dump it at the side of the field.  In the 1980s, when the Royal Commission lads came to visit the site again, they reported that the “standing stone no longer exists”—probably meaning that the land-owner had destroyed it.  Some idiotic land-owners do this sort of thing.

When we visited the arena a few weeks ago, Frank Mercer and I found a couple of stones at the side of the adjacent field which may have once stood upright, but if the early accounts of its position are correct, we were looking in the wrong place.  Another visit is required to see if we can find it in the undergrowth along the field edges.  If not, another one has bit the dust, as they say…

References:

  1. Mackay, P.H.R., Sanctuary and the Privilige of St. John, WLHAS: Edinburgh n.d. (1976?).
  2. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Inventory of Monuments & Constructions in the Counties of Midlothian and West Lothian, HMSO: Edinburgh 1929.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Langside House, Cathcart, Glasgow, Lanarkshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone (removed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 5726 6128

Also Known as:

  1. Bluebell Woods
  2. Canmore ID 44291
  3. Langside Stone

Archaeology & History

The Langside House, or Bluebell Woods carving

Amidst where now the busy city spreads on the south-side of Glasgow, there was once an excellent multi-ringed prehistoric petroglyph to be seen.  According to the official records, it was all alone – but I don’t buy that for one minute! (petroglyphs rarely occur in isolation)  However, it looks as if this might have been the last of its kind in the area, betwixt where now large houses grow in the landscape of Langside and Battlefield, a few hundred yards south of the hillfort-topped Queen’s Park.

Before being noticed by archaeologists, the stone was apparently being used as a stone seat in the woods for people to sit on!  It was probably a part of a larger monument, perhaps a cairn of some sort.  Certainly from the sketches we have of it, it was part of a larger piece of stone and was likely to have had companions, but records seem to be silent on the matter. The most detailed description of it comes from the pen of northern antiquarian Fred Coles (1906), who gave us the following literary portrait:

“The first notice of the Stone incised with the design shown below was due to Mr W. A. Donnelly, who contributed a description and a sketch to The Glasgow Evening Times of 25th June 1902.  Later, Mr Ludovic Mann, at my request, sent me certain notes he had taken of the cup-and-ring-marks.  But prior to this, the Stone itself had, on the instigation of Mr Donnelly, I think, been removed from its site in the wood, and placed near one of the entrances to the new Kelvinside Museum.  There I saw it and made measurements in July 1903.

“The Bluebell Wood lies in a curving line to the west and south of Langside House, and the cup-marked Stone was at a point in the southern extremity of the wood, above and north of the river Cart.  It is interesting to be able also to record that the longer axis of the Stone lay almost precisely north and South, and the opposite axis east and west.*  The Stone is of a hard, whitish sandstone, a good deal weathered and rounded at the edges. It measures 4 feet 9 inches in length and 3 feet 2 inches in breadth, and varies in thickness from 2 feet 6 inches to 1 foot 7 inches.  The striation of the Stone has helped to efface the cuttings which, though perfectly clear and measurable, are shallow in proportion to their width.  And this feature I have endeavoured to portray in the accompanying illustration (above).  Beginning at the north end of the Stone, there is one cup placed just where the outermost ring of that group touches the edge of the Stone.  The ring has a groove leading towards but not into a central cup, and four other cups are placed on the two outermost rings, there being four rings in this group.  The middle group consists of a central cup and three rings, flanked on the west by a row of three cups (one of which is the largest of all), and on the east by a double row of six cups, three of which are almost obliterated.  This middle group is imperfectly concentric, two of its arcs running into the fourth ring of the group on the south, which has a fine deeply picked central cup.  All the better-preserved rings are very nearly 1½ inches in width of cutting.

“The diameters of the outermost rings in each group are: of the north group, 1 foot 9 inches; of the middle group 1 foot 5 inches; and of the south group 1 foot 7 inches.  The cups vary in diameter from 3 inches to 1½.

“Considering the extremely easily weathered nature of this Stone, and the fact that its sculptured surface has already suffered much ill-usage, its present position, near the entrance of the Art Galleries, entirely unprotected by a railing and exposed to all sorts of abuse by casual passers-by as well as the weather, is not a fit and proper place for a Stone of such interest.”

A few years after this, the local historian Ludovic MacLellan Mann (1930) wrote a piece for the Glasgow Herald, in which he thought that both this and another carving in the area,

“commemorate chiefly…an eclipse of the sun seen in Glasgow district in the year 2983 BC, at three o’ clock in the afternoon of the sixth day after the Spring Equinox.”

A fascinating idea…  Mann was intrigued by the theory that petroglyphs represented astronomical events or maps of the skies – and we know from cultures elsewhere in the world that some carvings had such a function; but it’s not integral to all carvings by any means.

The stone was included in Ron Morris’ (1981) survey, merely echoing the description of Fred Coles, adding nothing more.  And so it seems that the carving is still in the museum somewhere.  Canmore has it listed as “Accession no: 02-78”.  Does anyone know of its present situation?  Can anyone get a photo so we can give it a more fitting site profile?  It looked a damn good carving!  And, if anyone lives nearby, I note that there are small patches of the old woodland still visible on GoogleEarth: therein, perhaps, a diligent explorer may just find another carving….

References:

  1. Coles, Fred, “Notices of Standing Stones, Cists and Hitherto Unrecorded Cup-and-Ring Marks in Various Localities,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 40, Edinburgh 1906.
  2. Donnelly, W.A., “Letter”, Glasgow Evening Times, 25 June, 1902.
  3. Mann, Ludovic MacLellan, “The Eclipse in 2983 B.C. – Discovery near Glasgow,” in Glasgow Herald, 17.09.1930.
  4. Morris, Ronald W.B., “The Cup-and-Ring Marks and Similar Sculptures of South-West Scotland,” in Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, volume 14, 1967.
  5. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  6. Morris, Ronald W.B. & Bailey, Douglas C., “The Cup-and-Ring Marks and Similar Sculptures of Southwestern Scotland: A Survey,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 98, 1966.
  7. Small, Sam, Greater Glasgow: An Illustrated Architectural Guide, RIAS: Edinburgh 2008.

* Although Coles did note how its earlier use as a stone seat probably negates his axial measurements.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Overlee, Clarkston, Renfrewshire

Souterrains & Settlement (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 577 572

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 43802

Archaeology & History

Overlee Farm in 1896 – no remains highlighted

This was an astonishing-sounding place, little-known beyond the pages of specialist historians.  It has been described in modern terms as simply “subterranean structures”, “weems”, or “prehistoric underground houses”; but were this site still in evidence it would be a huge attraction!  From the literary descriptions we possess, the extensive remains found and destroyed sound very much like the much-visited fogous found throughout Cornwall, or more commonly known as ‘souterrains’ in Scotland—although there’s no mention of the place in Wainwright’s (1963) singular study on such monuments.  Despite this, here, on the south-side of modern Clarkston, it seems we once had a Renfrewshire equivalent to the prehistoric Cornish village and fogous known as Carn Euny.

The first known account of this site was written by James Smith (1845) in the survey for the New Statistical Account, who thankfully gave us a reasonably lengthy account of what was once here.  He told:

“About thirty years ago, on the farm of Overlee, which lies on the north bank of the river Cart, in the south-west angle of the parish, Mr Watson, the proprietor, on removing the earth from a quarry which he wished to open, discovered a great many subterraneous houses ranged round the slope of a small swelling hill. Each house consisted of one apartment, from eight to twelve feet square. The sides, which were from four to five feet high, were faced with rough undressed stone, and the floors were neatly paved with thin flag stones which are found in the neighbourhood.  In the centre of each floor was a hole scooped out as a fire-place, in which coal-ashes still remained, and seemed to indicate that their occupiers had left the place on a sudden.  That coal and not wood or peat had been employed as fuel, seemed at first an argument against the antiquity of the houses, until it was remembered that many seams of coal crop out on the steep banks of the river in the immediate vicinity, which may have been picked out for firing by the aboriginal inhabitants, as is still done to a limited extent by a few of the poorer classes in the neighbourhood. Near the fire-places were found small heaps of water-worn pebbles, from two to three inches in diameter, the use of which it is difficult to conjecture. They may have been used as missiles for attack or defence in the rude warfare of ancient days, or more probably they served the purposes of an equally rude system of cookery, by which meat was prepared for being eaten by heated stones placed round it, as is still done in many of the South Sea islands.  The floors of the houses were covered to the depth of about a foot with a rich black vegetable mould, which was in all likelihood the decayed remains of the roofs mixed with soil filtered from the surface.  As was gathered from the different appearances of the soil, in and over them, the houses were partly excavated from the hill and partly built above ground, and a level approach to the entrances was dug out of the slope.  The number discovered amounted to forty-two, of which thirty-six formed the arc of a lower and larger circle, and the remaining six, also circularly ranged, stood a little higher up the hill.  The writer is informed that the ruins of villages of a similar description have been discovered in several parts of Scotland; and there is an account of one very much the same as the above, recorded in the third volume of the Transactions of the Antiquarian Society of Scotland.  About twelve querns or small hand-mills were found near the site of these houses, and a grave lined with stone containing a rude urn filled with ashes.  These latter relics, however, may have belonged to a still distant but less remote antiquity. The old castle of Lee or Williamwood was erected near the place, and it is not improbable that, in procuring materials for the building from the freestone, of which the hill consists, the soil, which for so many centuries concealed the remains of the village, was thrown down upon it. Several years ago, the proprietor, in clearing away the old foundations of the castle, which interfered with the rectilineal operations of the plough, found within the square which they enclosed many human bones, which he avers were of almost superhuman magnitude.

“If the natives of the village, described above, deserted their homes hastily, as may be conjectured from the fact of the fuel remaining on their hearths, it may have been in terror of the Romans—one division of whose invading army must have passed not far from the place. In a direct north-east line from this hill, without any intervening eminence, and at the distance of about two miles, there are still very distinct traces of a small Roman encampment on the summit of a hill, the name of which, from the circumstance, is Camp Hill…”

Although the modern official description of these remains is simply that of “a settlement”, the idea that some of the remains here were souterrains seems beyond doubt.  The comparison James Smith makes with remains that were found shortly afterwards that were “very much the same”, unearthed at Cairnconon—or the West Grange of Conon, as Canmore call it—northwest of Arbroath, confirms this idea.

Just over a decade after Mr Smith’s initial account, the Glaswegian historian James Pagan (1856), in his huge History of Glasgow, included another description of the place from the pseudonymous 19th century writer “J.B.”  In what were called Desultory Sketches, much of what he wrote merely echoed the original notes by Smith, but they are still worth repeating:

“Specimens of the winter houses, or weems, were to be seen, till recently, in our own district, at Cartland Craigs, near Stonebyres, on the Clyde; and one very interesting example of the pit-houses was revealed in 1808, on the farm of Overlee, near Busby, in the vicinity of Glasgow.  The following particulars regarding these were communicated to the writer of this sketch, by the parish minister of Cathcart, who had his information from an eye-witness.

“While the farmer was removing soil to get at freestone, for building a new steading, he came on a cluster of subterranean aboriginal huts. They were forty in number, and ranged round the face of the hill on which the farm-house of Overlee now stands. These huts were of the most primitive kind. They were mere semicircular pits, cut out of the hillside, with a passage to the door, also dug out of the slope, on a level with the floor, as indicated by the different colour of the soil. Each consisted of one small apartment, about twelve feet square, five feet high, and faced with stone. The floors were neatly paved with thin flag-stones, found in the neighbourhood. In the centre of each was a hole for a fireplace, in which ashes were still visible. Near the fireplace were small piles of water-worn stones, two or three inches in diameter, probably for cooking food, by placing heated stones round it, as is yet done by some of the islanders in the Pacific Twelve hand-querns of stone for grinding grain were found in the houses. At a short distance, a grave was discovered, lined with stone, and containing rude urns filled with ashes, thus indicating that the inhabitants of this primitive cluster, near what is now Glasgow, burned their dead. Unfortunately, the whole of these curious pit-houses were ruthlessly destroyed.

“In some of the weems and pit-houses, small groups of pretty oyster-shells have been found, perforated with small holes, as if they had been strung together, and formed an ornamental necklace—shall we say for the lady-savage of that distant epoch?  In others were discovered bodkins and skewers, made of horn, probably to hold together the folds of the wild beasts’ skins forming the savages’ winter covering; the bones of oxen, neatly notched, as if for ornament; bowls made of stone, the hollow having been drilled out by the circular action of another stone, sharper and harder, aided by the grit of sand (one of which is now before me); arrow-heads and lances formed of flint or bone, some of the former of which I happen to possess; —nay, swords have been found, fashioned from the bone of a large fish! Heavy oaken war-clubs, too, must not be omitted from this curious catalogue.”

Although highly unlikely, there is the remote possibility that some remains of these underground ‘houses’, or souterrains, could possibly still be unearthed hereby.  In recent years we’ve encountered a number of good farmers and land-owners who’ve told us about souterrains beneath their fields that are not in any record-books.  Intriguingly, each one asked us, “who are you working for?” – and when we’ve assured them that we have nothing to do with the ‘official’ bodies, they’ve opened up and showed us.  In one instance, a land-owner in Angus told us how he was farming the field as he’d always done, “when my tractor fell into a huge hole in the ground – and there was another souterrain!”

Why am I telling you this?  Well, if you’re a local, maybe get round to Overlee and ask around some of the olde local people.  You never know what you might find!  And we could perhaps try find more about the other souterrain which the pseudonymous ‘J.B.’ said was “at Cartland Craigs, near Stonebyres, on the Clyde.”

References:

  1. McBeath, H.D., Walks by Busby and Thorntonhall, with Historical Notes on the Area, EKDC: East Kilbride 1980.
  2. Pagan, James (ed.), Glasgow, Past and Present – volume 2, David Robertson: Glasgow 1856.
  3. Ross, William, Busby and its Neighbourhood, David Bryce: Glasgow 1883.
  4. Smith, James, “Parish of Cathcart,” in New Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 7: Renfrew, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1845.
  5. Stuart, John, “Notice of Underground Chambers recently Excavated on the Hill of Cairn Conan, Forfarshire,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland – volume 3, 1862.
  6. Wainwright, F T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland. RKP: London 1963.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Renfrewshire, Scotland, Souterrains | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Green, Glen Lochay, Killin, Perthshire

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference — NN 53976 35248

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 274203
  2. Falls of Lochay

Getting Here

The cliff-face and its ledge

Going out of Killin towards Kenmore on the A827 road, immediately past the Bridge of Lochay Hotel, turn left. Go down here for just over 2 miles and park-up where a small track turns up to the right (half-mile before the impressive Stag Cottage carvings), close to the riverside and opposite a flat green piece of land. Notice a small cliff-face just over the fence by the road and a small ledge about 3 feet above ground level. That’s yer spot!

Archaeology & History

Deep & shallow cups together

Rediscovered by rock art student George Currie in 2004, this small, little-known and unimpressive cup-marked site was carved onto a rocky ledge just off the roadside down Glen Lochay.  Comprising of at least three very distinct cup-marks—two next to each other on the far-right of the ledge and the other on the nose of the rock—at least another three more shallow cups are on the same surface. What looks like an unfinished cup, or deliberately etched crescent-Moon-shaped cup, has been cut into the same ledge a yard to the left of the prime cluster.

In Currie’s (2004) brief description of the site, he told:

“Ledge, 1m above ground level on a rock face; four cups, 50 x 25mm, 45 x 15mm and two at 40 x 10mm.”

Looking down at rock surface

Curious crescent-shape ‘cup’

It’s unusual in that the cups have been carved onto a small ledge that’s too small to stand upright on.  Whilst not without parallels, it’s an odd position to find petroglyphs and begs the question, “why here?” when there are other rocks close by that are easier and more accessible.

References:

  1. Currie, George, “Falls of Lochay (Killin parish): Cup-Marked Rocks”, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, volume 5, 2004.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Cup-and-Ring Stones, Perthshire, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rolleston’s Barrow, Rushmore, Tollard Royal, Wiltshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – ST 95552 18233

Archaeology & History

Plan of Rollestons Barrow, 1880

In what today seems a barely visible tumulus, amidst the large cluster that could once be found upon the large estate grounds of Rushmore House, were once the overgrown ruins of an old tumulus.  It seems to have been rediscovered in the 19th century, when the legendary antiquarian, General Pitt-Rivers, moved onto the huge estate.  It was all but hidden even in his day, he told, but being “of such slight elevation that, like many others, it had never been noticed.”  It was the first of all the barrows they excavated on his Estate, and is to be found “near the house on the south side of the lower south coach road.”

So, in 1880, he got some of the estate lads to help him and Rolleston start a dig into the old tomb – and they weren’t to be disappointed.  It wasn’t anything special, but it was the first amongst many hereby.  In Pitt-River’s (1888) massive tome on the prehistory of the region, he told us:

“This was the first barrow opened at Rushmore, on the 10th August, 1880. Professor Rolleston and the Rev. H. Winwood were present at the opening. The elevation was so slight that it had hitherto escaped notice.  In the centre, 1 foot 6 inches beneath the crest, a layer of charcoal and ashes, 9 feet by 6 feet, was found containing a burnt body.  The body appears to have been burnt on the spot, and not gathered up after cremation, but a mound raised over the funereal pile.  A few fragments of bronze, probably the remains of some implement which had corroded or been burnt, were found in the ashes, and in the body of the barrow two flint scrapers, a well-formed flint borer, and a boat-shaped flint…were found (see illustration above, PB).  A few scattered fragments of pottery found in the barrow were of a superior and harder baked quality than is usual in barrows.  No trace of a ditch was found around the barrow, but towards the north of the centre, a depression—EE on plan—which might, or might not, have been a grave, but filled with mould and without remains, was discovered.  The barrow is undoubtedly of the Bronze Age, and is interesting on account of it being the last at the opening of which Professor Rolleston assisted shortly before his death.”

As a result of this, he decided to name to barrow after his old friend and also planted a beech tree on top of the barrow in remembrance of him.

References:

  1. Pitt-Rivers, A.H.L.F., Excavations in Cranborne Chase, near Rushmore – volume 2, Harrison & Sons: London 1888.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Cairns, Tombs, Tumuli, England (south), Wiltshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jim Craven’s Well, Thornton, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference — SE 0967 3251?

Archaeology & History

Is this the site of the lost Jim Cravens Well on the 1852 map?

Another well with considerable supernatural renown was this little-known site near the old village of Thornton, on the western outskirts of Bradford.  We’re not 100% sure about its exact location, but the grid-reference cited here is of an old ‘Well’ that was highlighted on the first Ordnance Survey map of the region, at the end of solitary path which led to it and nowhere else.  Our only documentary information comes from Elizabeth’s Southwart’s (1932) fine old book on the folk life of the old village, as it once was.  At a place once known as Bent Ing Bottom, just south of the old village, is where it used to be known.  The name of this Well is also curious, as no historian has yet worked out who the ‘Jim Craven’ was, nor what his relationship to the site might have been.  It’s the folklore of it, however, which brings it the attention it deserves.

Folklore

In Elizabeth Southwart’s (1923) work, she told us that the place once known as “Bent Ing Bottoms have lost their romance.” She continued:

“Whether the golfers have driven it away—for the fields now form part of the Thornton Golf Links—or whether the advance of modernity in other forms is to blame, it is difficult to say.  Once they were the haunts of “Peggy-Wi-T’-Lantern” and the Bloody-tongue.  Peggy, a dame in a white mob cap, kilted skirt and white stockings, walked about with a lantern, enticing the unwary traveller to his doom.  She was given to wandering, for, they say, Jim Craven Well, half a mile away, was a place to be avoided after nightfall.

“The Bloody-tongue was a great dog, with staring red eyes, a tail as big as the branch of a tree, and a lolling tongue that dripped blood.  When he drank from the beck (known as the Pinch Beck, PB) the water ran red right past the bridge, and away down—down—nearly to Bradford town.  As soon as it was quite dark he would lope up the narrow flagged causeway to the cottage at the top of Bent Ing on the north side, give one deep bark, then the woman who lived there would come out and feed him.  What he ate we never knew, but I can bear testimony to the delicious taste of the toffee she made.

“When the dark was coming we used to sit on the filled-in pit, which makes a hump in the middle of the field, and wait for him.  The sun would sink redly, through the arches of the viaduct, the trees that lined the beck would grow an ever darker green until they became black, the beck would begin to gurgle and gulp in a queer way; and down in the hollow we would hear a whimper, a whine, a moan, a snarl.  Then, with scalps and spines playing queer tricks, we would wait and wait.  But none of our little band ever saw him, except one girl, and she saw him every time.

“One Saturday a girl who lived at Headley came to a birthday party in the village, and was persuaded to stay to the end by her friends, who promised to see her ‘a-gaiterds’ if she would.  As soon as the party was over the brave little group started out.  But when they reached the end of the passage which leads to the fields, and gazed into the black well, at the bottom of which lurked the Bloody-tongue, one of them suggested that Mary should go alone, and they would wait there to see if anything happened to her.

“Mary was reluctant, but had no choice in the matter, for go home she must.  They waited, according to promise, listening to her footsteps on the path, and occasionally shouting into the darkness:

““Are you all right, Mary?”

““Ay!” would come the response.

“And well was it for Mary that the Gytrash had business elsewhere that night, for her friends confess now that at the first sound of a scream they would have fled back to lights and home.

“We wonder sometimes if the Booody-tongue were not better than his reputation, for he lived there many years and there was never a single case known of man, woman or child who got a bite from his teeth, or a scratch from his claws.  Now he is gone, nobody knows whither, though there have been rumours that he has been seen wandering disconsolately along Egypt Road, whimpering quietly to himself, creeping into the shadows when a human being approached, and, when a lantern was flashed on him, giving one sad, reproachful glance from his red eyes before he vanished from sight.”

Southwart later tells us that the ghostly dog travelled into the north and vanished.  From the description she gives of the children walking their friend to “the end of the passage which leads to the fields, and gazed into the black well, at the bottom of which lurked the Bloody-tongue,” I can only surmise that the solitary well shown on the very first OS-map of Thornton at the coordinate given above is the place in question.

The ‘Bloody Tongue’ is first mentioned in Yorkshire folklore, I think, by Roger Storrs, in his article on holy wells in 1888, where he tells it to be one of the mysterious beings that live, usually at the bottom of the waters and almost universally used “to deter children from playing in dangerous proximity to a well.”

From the description of the waters turning red when the ghostly dog drank from it, we have a mythic account of when the waters occasionally turned red from the iron-bearing waters (chalybeate) which, obviously, wasn’t like this at all times.  Whether this was a sporadic, unpredictable flow of iron in the waters, or a cyclical pattern of the water-flows, we are not told (which would imply, moreso, that it was sporadic).  The folklore about this ghost and its appearance with another elemental creature along an old straight track running north from Upper Headley Hall to Thornton is intriguing—as in many old pre-christian traditions, North is the airt, or direction, representing Death; and black dogs are traditionally guardians of underworld treasures in the land of the Dead.  With the plethora of other animistic folktales once known in this district (boggarts or goblins were known in nearby woods, wells and farms) it is likely that the origin of such folklore dates way back into antiquity.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of West Yorkshire, forthcoming
  2. Southwart, Elizabeth, Bronte Moors and Villages: From Thornton to Haworth, John Lane Bodley Head: London 1923.
  3. Storrs, Roger, ‘Legends and Traditions of Wells,’ in Yorkshire Folk-lore Journal – volume 1 (ed. J. Horsfall Turner) 1888.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Posted in Brigantia (Northern England), Holy Wells, Yorkshire, West | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments