Cairn: OS Grid Reference – SD 80652 66193
Also Known as:
- Scar Pasture
Paul, Danny and I came here via the Feizor village route, zigzagging about, to and fro, seeing the other old sites in the region; but the easier direct way to get here would be from Settle. Walking through Settle, going out of the top end of town, cross the old bridge and take the country-lane on the right, up northwards towards Stackhouse. A mile along the road (shortly before Stackhouse), a footpath on your left veers up diagonally through a small copse of woods. Go up here and out the other side of the trees, the path turns left and up over the fields. Go up here, and over the third wall along the footpath, you’ll see a large overgrown pile of rocks 30 yards in front of you with a large stone laid roughly in its middle. You’re here!
Archaeology & History
This is an excellent though much neglected prehistoric cairn of some considerable proportions, its rocky mass laying half-covered in deep earth and grasses, yet with still a very large section of it open to the elements. The creature is nearly 30 yards across and some 4 yards high — though it’s hard to say with any certainty, where exactly the natural Earth begins and the cairn starts. But from whichever way you look at this large cairn, walking around the overgrown features, you know it’s a big thing — similar in size and nature to the Great Skirtful of Stones on Burley Moor, and the neolithic cairn on Bradley Moor, near Skipton.
On the modern OS-map there are 2 ancient cairns marked close to each other — and our “Apronful of Stones” is the lower one of the two.
In recent years the site was described briefly in Dixon’s (1991) Journey through Brigantia, but there’s been very little written about the place in modern archaeological surveys. The first account I’ve found of the site was written by an anonymous “W.F.” in The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1784. In a detailed lengthy essay, the following words were penned:
“This barrow, or tumulus, stands in an elevated situation, upon a mountain, above the hamlet of Stackhouse, and may be discerned at a great distance…
“The form of this vast mass is circular, or rather orbicular ; the height, by computation on the spot, about 9 or 10 feet. It is composed of an incredible quantity of stones, piled in such a manner as to rest upon each other’s basis, and strengthened by its conic form, it rises upwards in this curious shape. Those stones that form the outside of the work are so small that a soldier could carry them; and since it has been argued that such a monstrous work as this would not be attempted by any nation, but was natural, the largeness of the tumulus may easily be accounted for, since they were annually increased out of reverence…
“This barrow had been opened many years ago, and it is represented in the plate in the state in which it has appeared till lately. Some old people in the neighbourhood remember its being entirely complete, and having a very flat top. It was usual, in finishing these works, to lay a flat stone at the top. The people that opened it left their intention unfinished, only throwing down the lid of the stone coffer, and one or two of the sides; and, meeting with nothing worth digging for, they left it. Upon examining it in this state, before its being entirely disfigured in the last attempt, I found several human bones scattered up and down therein, amongst which I selected the patelae of the knee, the vertebrae of the spine, part of the jaw, and several teeth.
“Round the area is a wall or rampart, of the same materials as the outside, its height from the interior part about 2 feet, irregularly ranged with fissured remnants. In the centre of the cavity or area is the above chest, consisting of several huge stones of vast magnitude and density, fixed firmly into the ground, which supported a lid of equal size, though it is now thrown off the top. In this chest are partitions, for what purpose is not known, unless each space was allotted to its particular relique or body. In the partitions and sides of the coffin is a kind of hole in the edge, with a rude mould. (my italics, PB) Not many weeks ago, the curiosity of some of the neighbourhood was excited to investigate this stupendous work of art, and accordingly labourers were hired, when, upon searching a day (yet not half the work done), a human skeleton was found, in due proportion, and in a fine state of preservation, excepting the skull and one of the limbs, which were moved out of their place by the workmen’s tools. A small circular piece of ivory, and the tusk of an unknown beast, supposed to be of the hog genus, was also found ; but no ashes, urns, coins, or instruments were discovered. ”
Many years later the giant cairn was described briefly in William Howson’s (1850) early survey of the district, when he told that,
“Near a gate on the path, where the descent is commenced to Stackhouse, there’s a cairn of eighty feet in diameter; it has not been completely examined, but human bones are commonly found in it.”
But it was more than a century after “W.F.’s” initial essay before another detailed appraisal of the place was given — and that was after a visit here by the legendary Harry Speight (1892) in the latter half of the 19th century. Along with mentioning a number of other prehistoric tombs upon this ridge, Mr Speight told:
“From Settle Bridge you may take the field-path…or the rustic lane to Stackhouse, and where the road divides just beyond Mr Priestley’s pretty house you wind beneath the wood behind Scale House to a gate and stile on the left. Here ascend the field between two large trees, and at the top go over a stile, whence a path leads up the field a good half-mile to a gate which opens into what our remote Celtic ancestors would have reverentially called the ‘Field of the Dead,’ for within this enclosure are traces and remains of human graves which carry us back to the far dim ages of unwritten history. Following the grassy cart-road a short distance you will see on the left a large circular mound thrown up about 30 feet on the south side, and about 10 feet on the north or higher side. There are other mounds of similar and smaller dimensions within the same area, some of which have been examined, but others do not appear to have been disturbed. Many of the barrows or ‘raises’, have at some time or other been carelessly dug into in the hope of finding valuables, and as doubtless in most cases nothing was found but rude chests or coffins, containing bones, these were tossed aside and no record of them deemed worthy of preservation…
“The largest of these existing raises has happily been described by a writer who signs himself ‘W.F.’ in the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ for 1784 and 1785. Although his account fills several pages, it is obviously defective in many particulars. We are told that the circumference of the base of the mound is 210 feet, and that its height is 9 or 10 yards, and that the casing is composed of stones “so small that a soldier could carry them,” while the inside is made up of earth and stones, some of the latter being “much larger than the external coating.” In form it was circular…and the diameter of the summit was 45 feet. The barrow he tells us was opened many years ago, but some old people in the neighbourhood remember it being entirely complete, and having a very flat top.
“…Upon examining it in its former state the writer discovered several human bones scattered about the rock and soil, among them the palletae of the knee, the vertebrae of the spine, part of the jaw and several teeth. In the centre of the mound was a cavity containing a chest composed of four upright stones and a lid 6 feet 9 inches long and 3 feet broad. The chest was in partitions, in the edges of which were a kind of hole with a rude mould. The writer, under date, Settle, Nov 23rd 1784, next informs us that, “not many weeks ago the curiosity of some of the neighbourhood was excited to investigate this stupendous work of art, and accordingly labourers were hired, when upon searching a day (yet not half the work done) a human skeleton was found, in due proportion, and in a fine state of preservation, excepting the skull and one of the limbs, which were moved out of their place by the workmen’s tools. A small circular piece of ivory, and the tusk of an unknown beast, supposed to be of the hog genus, were also found; but no ashes, urns, coins, or instruments were discovered.”
Other important prehistoric monuments can be found on the grassy limestone plain beyond the Apronful: these include the fascinating Sheep Scar Enclosure just 180 yards (165m) to the north; an associated prehistoric cairn (one of several) 57 yards further northeast; and a delightful, though overgrown cairn circle 325 yards NNW. Other Iron Age and Bronze Age remains can be found elsewhere within this arena. Archaeologists could do themselves a big favour by exploring this landscape more efficiently than they’ve done so far as other unrecognized sites exist in this area.
Harry Speight (1892) told us how the place got its name “from a tradition…that his Satanic Majesty, in haste to complete the bridge bearing his evil name near Kirkby Lonsdale, tripped and his apron-string broke which let drop this immense heap.”
Another tradition narrated again by our anonymous ‘W.F.’ in the Gentleman’s Magazine(1785) said how this giant tomb, “was raised over the body of some of the Danes slain in the general massacre of that nation.” He also told, “Such a conspicuous work must certainly be erected to the manes of some chiefs, though there is no ground to support its tradition.”
- Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys through Brigantia – volume 4: Beyond the Hill of Winds – Walks in Upper Ribblesdale, the Three Peaks & Upper Wharfedale, Aussteiger: Barnoldswick 1991.
- Ferrand, William, “Stackhouse, Yorkshire,” in The Gentleman’s Magazine (London 1784).
- Howson, William, An Illustrated Guide to the Curiosities of Craven, Wildman: Settle 1850.
- Speight, Harry, The Craven and Northwest Yorkshire Highlands, Elliott Stock: London 1892.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian