Stone Hill Head, Allerston Moor, North Yorkshire

Standing Stone (missing):  OS Grid Reference – SE 881 947

Archaeology & History

A number of standing stones were reported by regional historian Robert Knox (1855) in his antiquarian work of this area, but forestry and vandalism has seen the demise of some.  This one, however, may possibly still be found, laid down somewhere on the tops, along the ridge aptly-named as Stone Hill Head.  Where precisely it might be, we know not—but one of you Yorkshire antiquarian ramblers might be able to find and resurrect it by following old Mr Knox’s notes.  Writing extensively of the ancient remains around nearby Blakey Topping this is what he told us of the Stone Hill Head monolith:

“The pillar…standing erect, is five and a half feet high, three broad, and from ten inches to two feet thick.  This is much corroded either by natural decomposition, or designedly made so by manual labour; some of the holes in it being circular, as if intended to fit the heads of human beings into them, at the time of their immolation, while laid prostrate on the ground… This stone stands northeast from Blakey Topping, distant about six furlongs, and is the furthest pillar in this collection from that hill.”

If the real explorers amongst you manage to rediscover the stone, please let us know.

References:

  1. Knox, Robert, Descriptions Geological, Topographical and Antiquarian in Eastern Yorkshire, London 1855.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

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Lady Betty’s Well, Leckie, Gargunnock, Stirlingshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 69441 94687

Getting Here

Lady Bettys Well, nr Leckie

From Gargunnock village, take the road west towards Leckie, and then just before the right-angled bend in the road down towards the A811, bear sharp left, and then immediate right below the farmhouse along what looks like a private road taking you onto the Watson House mansion.  About 500 yards along, with trees either side of you, look down the small steep slope where a small burn (stream) is visible. Get down there and, where the waters bend away changing direction to head north, look carefully for a small spring of water emerging, just a few yards south of the stream itself, beneath a young tree.

Archaeology & History

Lady Bettys Well on 1860 map

This all-but-forgotten water source is, thankfully, still running with clear waters below the wooded slopes.  It is highlighted on the first OS-map of the region in 1860, 50-60 yards east of a small but once-picturesque waterfall (now spoiled by a mass of industrial waste, dumped hereby).  Little seems to be known about its mythic history and, quite possibly, may have had something to do with our old cailleach.  May have…. I say this purely in relation to what was said about the site by the Ordnance Survey lads at the end of the 1850s when they visited the site and enquired as to its name and nature.  They told:

“A Small Spring issuing from under a rock like the mouth of a drain having no appearance of a Well.  It took its name (Betty) from an old woman who lived adjacent some two hundred years ago; there is no tradition or Antiquity connected with it – nothing more nor less than an Old woman’s well, but is well known in the neighbourhood by the name. Situated at the base of Craigmakessoch and about 10 chains north west of Leckie house.”

Water emerging by the roots

Although ‘Betty’ is obviously a shortening of Elizabeth, it’s the Old Woman’s bit that brings up the cailleach element, which may or may not be valid.  The small crag beneath which the spring still rises is known as ‘Craigmakessoch’, which Prof Paul Hornby thought might derive from a forgotten attribution to the little-known St. Makessog or Kessog. (are there any local folk who can clarify things?)

Were it not for the pollution due to the dumping here (in an otherwise beautiful place), it looks like the waters would still be drinkable – but we all decided to give it a miss…

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

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Red Well, Alloa, Clackmannanshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 87385 93435

Getting Here

The somewhat ruinous old well

Along the A907 a mile west of Alloa and heading towards Tullibody, just before the roundabout across the road from the school fields, a small entrance takes you into the small wooded parkland.  There, right in front of you as you walk in, and visible from the road, is the enclosed architectural stone walling and somewhat ruinous remains that are the Red Well, with its faded name carved on top.

Archaeology & History

Red Well on 1913 map

Although the waters no longer run for the people to drink, this old iron-bearing spring was long of repute to the old folk of eastern Alloa.  So much so, it seems, that even Janet & Colin Bord (1985) included it in their national survey of sacred wells!  Like other chalybeate springs, its waters were known to be good as a tonic—which makes sense as iron fortifies the blood and general immune system.  The Well was highlighted on the 1913 OS-map of the area.

References:

  1. Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Granada: London 1985.
  2. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Modsary, Tongue, Sutherland

Hut Circle:  OS Grid Reference – NC 65189 61639

Getting Here

Faint outline of Modsary hut circle, across centre

Along the A836 between Tongue and Bettyhill—nearly 5 miles (7.75km) east of Tongue—take the minor road north to Modsary and Skerray.  Some 1.75 miles along you’ll notice an inland loch to your right, and where the loch finishes, take the minor track up on your right to Modsary.  Walk past the cottages, through the gate and walk diagonally left down onto the moor. A small cave is across in front of you. Head towards that, but on the flat-ish piece of heathland barely 50 yards before it, above the small burn, look around for the low circular walling.

Archaeology & History

This previously unrecorded prehistoric hut circle was rediscovered in May 2018 by Sarah Maclean of Borgie during a brief excursion here, looking at the ancient clearance village of Modsary (which appears to be Iron Age in origin).  In walking onto the moor, shortly before leaving me to my own devices, she pointed out this low ring of barely discernible stones, wondering, “is this another hut circle?” (there are some on the western-side of the road from Modsary)  It would certainly seem so!

Grass showing centre of hut circle

It is constructed upon what seems to be a natural platform of earth above the slow-running burn.  A low ring of stone walling defines the construction: visible in parts, covered in vegetation for the most.  With an entrance on its southeast, the ring measures roughly 9 yards by 10 yards in diameter; with its outer walls being less than 2 feet high all round; but the width of the walls in some places measures up to 3 feet across.  It is certainly man-made and is certainly olde.  It requires excavation to assess its original construction period, although based on others I’ve seen that have been dated, would seem to be Iron Age in origin.

From this to the small cave that I mentioned, a most peculiar rectangular stone construction is evident 2-3 yards below it; and heading 40 yards south, beneath a craggy hill, a line of ancient walling runs SE-NW, with a much overgrown semi-circular arc of large stones, seemingly artificial in nature.  It would seem there is a lot more hiding beneath the heather hereby than official records suggest…

Acknowledgements:  Massive thanks to Sarah Maclean for locating and showing me this site; and also to Donna Murray for giving me a base-camp. Huge huge thanks indeed.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

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Dunvarich, Tongue, Sutherland

Souterrain (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NC 59 57

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5341

Archaeology & History

Site of the lost souterrain

There are a number of souterrains—or “earth houses” as they used to be known—in Sutherland that have been lost.  Many have simply fallen prey to being filled-in or covered over.  This is one such site, found in the fields between Tongue village heading out towards the sea-bridge crossing the Kyle.  In a brief excursion I made to the area a few days ago, I couldn’t locate the site and no one I spoke to seemed to know anything about it.  I’m assuming that the site has simply been blocked-up and overgrown, hiding beneath the green pastures above the sea-line.

Its exact whereabouts is difficult to ascertain, for when it was described in Mr Horsburgh’s (1870) excursion to the area, the location he gave for it was somewhat vague, telling:

“Between Tongue House and Kirkiboll, in a field on the right of the road, there is an Eirde house, which I opened for examination (it had often been opened before); it is now about 25 feet long, 2½ feet broad at the entrance, and widens to 4 feet at the far end, where it terminates in a circle; the sides are built with small stones without mortar, and the top covered with large flat slabs.”

This places the location of the souterrain anywhere in the fields between grid-references NC 5904 5815 to the north (near Tongue House) and NC 5901 5678 to the south.  If anyone knows anything about this site, please let us know.

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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Manse Bridge, Melness, Tongue, Sutherland

Cairns:  OS Grid Reference – NC 5784 6229

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5385

Getting Here

2 cairns in line of 3, Manse Bridge (photo Sarah Maclean)

Along the A836 road between Durness and Tongue, take the minor road north to Melness and Talmine. 400 yards or so past Talmine Stores shop, walk left up the track onto the moor. Follow the track along as if you’re visiting the Talmine West settlement, but walk uphill onto the moor a hundred yards or so after the sheep-folds on your right.  Before the top of the hill, keep your eyes peeled for the heather-covered rocky mounds in the moorland scattered about. You’ll find them!

Archaeology & History

A cluster of prehistoric cairns—or a cairnfield as they’re known— is found on the moorland scattering the south and eastern edges of the unnamed hill immediately west of Talmine.  They can be pretty difficult to see when buried in heather, but they’re there!  When Sarah Maclean took us up to see them, three in particular stood out: seemingly along a deliberate line, perhaps parallel with either an old trackway or old walling on the south slope of the hill.

Central cairn in line of 3 (photo by Sarah Maclean)

Central cairn hollowed out (photo by Sarah Maclean)

The main three that we visited were pretty easy to locate, with many loose stones comprising the respective piles, standing about 3 feet high and some 3-4 yards across.  One of them (left) had been dug into, leaving a deep hollow in its centre, leaving it more exposed and visible than the others. There are other cairns on the slopes to the east, but none seemed to be as well-defined as the three here described.

In the same area are also a number of hut circles, much overgrown but still visible amongst the heather.

References:

  1. Welsh, T.C., ‘Manse Bridge – Small Cairns, Hut Circles’, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1973.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Donna Murray of Borgie for putting me up (or should that be, putting up with me?!) and equally massive thanks to Sarah Maclean—also of Borgie—for guiding me up here and allowing us use of her photos to illustrate this site profile.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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Talmine (west), Melness, Tongue, Sutherland

Settlement:  OS Grid Reference – NC 5764 6248 — NEW FIND

Getting Here

Large arc of low walling, across upper-centre

Along the A836 road between Durness and Tongue, take the minor road north to Melness and Talmine. 400 yards or so past Talmine Stores shop, walk left up the track onto the moor. Half a mile on, walk straight uphill on yer right for about 150 yards until it levels out.  Look all around you!

Archaeology & History

This is a fascinating new find, explored under the guidance of Sarah MacLean of Borgie.  After looking at the nearby cairnfield and hut circles to the southeast, our noses took us onto the hilltop, where an extravaganza of curved and straight walling, hut circles, denuded cairns, cists, possible chambered cairn remnants and even unrecorded stone rows had us almost bemused at the extent of the remains.  A lot of it has been severely damaged and robbed – but in the low vegetation scattering the hilltop, it became clear that a lot of activity had been going on in the ancient and perhaps not-too-ancient past, with a social and/or tribal continuity stretching way way back (as found at Baile Mhargaite near Bettyhill).

Straight line of low walling

As we walked up the unnamed hill (well, to be honest, we zigged and zagged, or bimbled, until we got to the top), above a line of prehistoric cairns on the slopes below, small lines of walling barely above ground-level stretched out before us.  Structurally akin to the neolithic and Bronze Age features found from northern England to this far northern region, they are low and deeply embedded in the peat, but are quite unmistakable.

In following the first real line of walling near the eastern edge of the hill, a flat panorama eventually opened up as we reached the top and there, in front of us, appeared arcs and lines of more walled structures, thankfully unobstructed by vegetation.  A few expletives came out of my mouth (for a change!) at the remains we could see right in front of us—and then we set walking in different directions and began to explore the remains beneath our respective feet.

The first main element on the southeastern top of the hill was a wide curvaceous arc of walling, undoubtedly prehistoric – in my opinion either Bronze Age or neolithic in origin.  As I was looking at this section, Sarah walked only a short distance to the northwest and, with some excitement in her tone called out, “there’s some here too!” And so we continued, back and forth to each other as we zigzagged across the tops.

Stone row or denuded walling?

Intersecting lines of walling

Much of what we found (as the photos show) were low lines of settlement walling—some dead straight, others curving to form denuded hut circles and larger domestic forms. A lot of the walls had been knocked down and scattered on the hilltop, making it troublesome at times ascertaining precisely what we were looking at: but a settlement or large enclosure it certainly is!

The south and western edges of the hill itself seemed to be marked by low sections of walling, again deeply embedded into the peat; and on the same two sides are what appear to be remnants of stone rows leading up onto the top.  As with other stone rows in this region, they are defined by low upright monoliths.  The one that runs north-south runs into a low section of walling that cuts right across the top of the hill and away into the deep peat, roughly NNE, where we lost sight of it (where some old peat-cutting is evident).  The stone row running up the western face of the hill seems to begin near the bottom of the slope and is defined by a leaning standing stone that Sarah found.  Looking uphill from this there’s a gap of roughly fifty yards, where a small stone sits on the near-horizon; and from this small stone is a clear line of small stones, ending (it seems) at a stone less than three feet tall.  Just past this is the denuded remains of what seems to be a cist and a small robbed cairn, clearly defined by a curious rectangle of base-stones, barely 5 feet by 3 feet wide.

Intersecting arc & line of walling

Outline of robbed cairn?

My personal favourite of all the things on top of this hill has to be the small sections of interconnecting walling that we found on the more northern portion of the settlement.  At first glance, it seemed that we were just looking at a small hut circle; but then we realised this initial ‘hut circle’ was linked to a slightly larger ‘hut circle’, which was linked to another, all in a linear east-west direction (roughly).  As I saw looked at it from the western-side (looking east), Sarah was on its east looking west.  This difference in visual perspective gave us a wider view of what we were both looking at.  The easternmost section comprised of an arc of walling that joined into another ‘hut circle’, neither of which had axes any greater than 3 yards.  As we stepped further and further back from this, it seemed that other walled sections ran into it, expanding it into a form which I can only describe as a ‘stripped long cairn’, down to its initial architectural basis, upon which you’d construct the larger monument—but it was only 10 yards long at the most.  Most odd…  Sarah pointed out what may have been a stoned-lined trackway running parallel to this neolithic curiosum.  It still puzzles me as to what it may have been.

This short description doesn’t really do this site justice and, in truth, it needs a more competent survey than I could give it in just one short visit.  It’s very probable that a lot more is still to be found on these hills, from prehistoric all through to post-medieval (pre-Clearance) times.  So if you live in this part of Sutherland, get yer twitching noses and boots on and bimble with intent to find!  There’s still plenty of stuff hiding away…

AcknowledgementsHuge thanks to Donna Murray of Borgie for putting me up (or should that be, putting up with me?!) and equally massive thanks to Sarah Maclean—also of Borgie—for guiding me up here and being an integral part of rediscovering this site. Without them both, this place would still be unrecognised. And thanks to Miles Newman too. ;)

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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Tongue House, Tongue, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 5926 5862

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5325

Getting Here

Tongue House chambered cairn amidst the trees

I approached this by walking along the B8438 road northwest out of Tongue village, towards the road-crossing over the Kyle of Tongue.  There’s a small tiny road on the right (easily missed) nearly a mile out, just as the road starts to bend, which leads you down to Tongue House.  Go along here for about 325 yards (300m) and just as the road bends to the left, walk into the woods. Keep straight forward, following the low-level stream, and when you see the buildings ahead of you, veer diagonally upslope until you hit the large Tongue Burn. Cross this and walk uphill to the tree-covered knoll ahead. You’re there!

Archaeology & History

…and again, looking north

From the descriptions I’d read of this site, I wasn’t expecting much at all—but it was much better than I anticipated, and in a beautiful woodland setting too.  Admittedly the site is much overgrown, but the overall size, edges and outline of the tomb is easily discernible.  In pacing across it, from outer-edge to outer-edge, it measured 18 yards by 19 yards across.  All round the edges are many overgrown tumbles of smaller rocks which obviously had been part of the cairn in previous centuries; but it is primarily defined by the larger earthfast rocks at the very top of the natural knoll in the trees, all of them covered in deep mosses.

The site was first mentioned in James Horsburgh’s (1870) survey of the region.  He explored a small section of the monument and, upon digging, found a chamber therein—defined by Audrey Henshall (1963) as “a single compartment chamber”—telling us:

“A little to the south of Tongue House, and near the fountain head that supplies it with water, there is the chamber of a cairn of the same description as that near Skelpick, but rather smaller; on clearing it out, I found that one of the large upright stones had two holes bored artificially a short way into each of its sides, but not quite opposite, the holes were about 3 inches diameter.”

However, these internal structures have not been seen since and in Henshall & Ritchie’s (1995) catalogue of Sutherland’s giant tombs, there is some confusion over the definition of the structure itself, questioning whether or not it was indeed a chambered tomb.

“The ‘chambered cairn’ is a circular stone structure overgrown with small trees and covered in leaf-litter and moss.  A kerb about 15m in diameter can be traced for much of the circuit.  The kerb is of unusually substantial and closely-set boulders which have the appearance of the base of a massive wall such as is inappropriate for a dun or a broch rather than a cairn.  The interior is filled with loose stones including some quite large boulders, roughly to the level of the top of the kerb.  There is no indication that these boulders have formed part of a neolithic chamber or that the structure was a cairn.  There seem to be three possibilities: that the structure is not Horsburgh’s cairn; that the structure is that which he investigated but that he was mistaken in regarding it as a chambered cairn; that the writers are mistaken in identifying the structure as a ruined broch or dun.”

The general consensus today is that the monument I visited is indeed a chambered cairn.

References:

  1. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – 2 volumes, Edinburgh University Press 1963 & 1972.
  2. Henshall, Audrey S. & Ritchie, J.N.G, The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  3. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870
  4. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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Deanside, Tongue, Sutherland

Souterrain (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NC 591 556

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5343
  2. Dionaite

Archaeology & History

Location of Deanside souterrain

Nothing now remains of the prehistoric underground chamber, “eirde House” (as they were called) or souterrain, that was reported by the northern antiquarian James Horsburgh when he was exploring the sites here in the 1860s.  Found near Deanside a couple of miles south of Tongue, alongside the edge of the Allt an Dionaite (Deanside Burn), even in his day there wasn’t much of it left.  It was one of a number of souterrains in the region that he was shown, presumably by local people, telling us briefly that,

“Near Deanside, there were remains of the end of another (souterrain) on the bank of the burn, but it has since been washed away in a flood.”

In an exploration up the side of the burn today, I could find no remains whatsoever; although I didn’t walk too far up and have a feeling that its position would have been further up than where I got to.  In a brief chat with some of the old people living in the neighbourhood, they told me they had no memory of the site.

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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Cupar Stone Circle, St. Martin’s, Perthshire

Stone Circle (ruins):  OS Grid Reference – NO 15958 31227

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 28632

Getting Here

The stone circle on 1867 map

Follow the same directions as if you’re visiting the Witches Stone of St. Martin’s.  On the way up the long dirt-track, just where the track has levelled out above the slope, keep your eyes peeled on the left (west) for a line of large long boulders on the other side of the barbed-wire fence, laid down, just at the edge of the field.  That’s what’s left of the place!

Archaeology & History

This site is in a sad state of affairs and no discernible ‘stone circle’ of any form can be seen here.  The stones that constituted the megalithic ring were uprooted and dumped at the side of the huge field sometime in the latter-half of the 20th century.  The site is shown clearly on the early OS-maps but at some point in more recent years, the land-owner here (I presume) uprooted the stones and dumped them at the field-side, where they remain. Not good.

Cupar Stones from the track

One of the stones here bore the curious name ‘Cupar’, which probably relates to it being a place where criminal trials were held, or justice dispensed. (Grant 1952)  Traditions such as this were enacted at other megalithic rings and ancient sites in earlier times.

The first mention of the circle I can find is in the old Name Book of 1865, which informs us:

“Three large boulders set up edgeways, and part of a circular earthen bank.  There is no local tradition regarding the stones but the Rev Park believes them to be the remains of a Druidical Temple. The name Cupar Stone is not well known locally but still appears on the estate map.”

Cupar Stones at field-edge

It originally stood on the edge of the large flat plateau, just at the point where the land slopes down to the south, with the curious Witches Stone of MacBeth on the same level plateau just over 400 yards to the north.  This small monolith may have been a deliberate outlier from the ring, perhaps relating to the calendrical airt of death (the direction ‘north’ commonly denotes Death in pre-christian cultural cosmologies).  But we know little else about the ring.  In Margaret Stewart’s (1965) notes about the site, she indicated that some of the stones were still standing when she saw them, saying how the “largest remaining stones are to the south and west.”  They’re not anymore!

Postulating it as a possible ‘four-poster’ stone circle (a dubious one, he said), Aubrey Burl (1988) told us:

“In the south corner of a partly cleared wood…there are three large stones, two of them fallen. They are in a roughly straight line running NNE-SSW.  Nearby is a fourth prostrate stone in a boundary wall.  Stewart (1965:21) suggested that they had once formed a ring approximately 24ft 6in (7.5m) in diameter. Different opinions have been that if there had been a circle, it was probably larger.”

In light of the near-complete destruction of the Cupar stone circle, I feel that note should be made of a somewhat worrying trend, not only here, but many other prehistoric sites in the country.  In the site profile Canmore has given the Cupar stone circle, its destruction and vandalism has been termed “agricultural improvement”, as if to sound ‘acceptable’ and that it’s OK to destroy stone circles – which it plainly is not!  If you or I were to do such a thing, we’d be arrested!  We need to make sure that, as individuals and organizations, we treat what some term “agricultural improvement” for what it is: vandalism (usually by rich tory land-owners who give back-handers, or similar things, to make sure the official paperwork looks OK).  I know a lot of archaeologists agree with this too, but cannot speak out for fear of losing their jobs.

References:

  1. Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain (2 volumes), BAR: Oxford 1989.
  2. Burl, Aubrey,  The Stone Circles of the British Isles, Yale: London 1976.
  3. Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters: Bronze Age Stone Circles of Western Europe, BAR 195: Oxford 1988.
  4. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
  5. Grant, William & Murison, David D., The Scottish National Dictionary – volume 3, SNDA: Edinburgh 1952.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, South-east Perth: An Archaeological Landscape. RCHAMS: Edinburgh 1994.
  7. Stewart, Margaret E.C., “Excavation of a Circle of Standing Stones at Sandy Road, Scone, Perthshire“, in Transactions & Proceedings Perthshire Society Natural Science, volume 11, 1965.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

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