Cairns: OS Grid Reference – SE 138 402
Easy one this! Go up thru Baildon, on towards Baildon Moor over the cattle-grid. Take your first left and go up for several hundred yards past the reservoir until you reach the track on the left which takes you onto the Low Plain, Baildon Moor.
Archaeology & History
In the year 1845, on the Low Plain on the western side of Baildon Hill, an intrepid archaeologist and historian, Mr. J.N.M. Colls, came across extensive earthworks and a number of prehistoric tombs in a very small area. Upon excavation, the ‘earthworks’ were found to be what sounds like neolithic walling running parallel to each other in a roughly north-south direction (north is the traditional direction for death). Scattered amidst these lines he found more than a dozen cairns and barrows, along with remains of “a circle, or ring.” Although the majority of what Colls wrote about has been destroyed, leaving only scanty remains of a once considerable archaeological arena, his lengthy description deserves being reprinted in full. He wrote:
“This level (the Low Plain) bears numerous traces of earthworks or other embankments running in many cases parallel with one another, at distances varying from 50 to 80 yards apart, and intersected by other works of similar construction. These earthworks can be remembered to have been from four to five feet in height; their bases nearly invariably appear to have been eight feet in diameter, composed of loose blocks of calliard, or close-grained sandstone, and earth. The greater part of the stone has been torn away to make and repair the roads of the neighbouring district; and the surface of the earth has been so nearly levelled that it is only by the scattered and disfigured remains, carefully delineated upon my plan, that any idea can be formed of their original character.
“In connection with these earthworks, and upon the north side of them, immediately above a steep fall to the next lower level (approx SE 1372 4020, Ed.), is a circle, or ring, formed originally of earthworks of precisely similar character, size and construction to those I have just described. The diameter of this ring is about fifty feet; its interior area is perfectly level; but the earthwork forming its circumference has been defaced and torn up for a considerable extent for the stone it contained. Circles of this nature have generally been termed druidical, from their presumed use as places of worship or sacrifice. I therefore opened its centre, in the hope of finding some trace of fire confirmatory of its character; and commenced clearing away a layer of peat earth, of from 10-11 inches in depth. I then found a layer of calliard boulders one-and-a-half feet in depth, the lower ones slightly burned, and resting upon a deposit of peat-ashes three inches in depth and from 2-3 feet in diameter (see Barrow No.8 in plan, Ed.). This I should have concluded to be the remains of a beacon fire, but, upon continuing the excavations, I found about three feet SSE of this deposit of ashes (at point b on the plan) a rude urn standing in an upright position, at a depth of two feet from the surface, a layer of calliard stones having been removed from above it, one of which appeared to have covered it. This urn was 12 inches in diameter and 9-10 inches in depth, of a circular or bowl shape, the upper stage of it being rudely ornamented by incised lines crossing each other at acute angles: it was filled with calcined bones (some remaining tolerably perfect), ashes and charcoal; and I selected some half-dozen of them as specimens, which Mr Keyworth, surgeon and lecturer on anatomy at York, has examined… He is of the opinion that they belonged to a very young subject, perhaps from 9-12 or 13 years of age; he thinks it possible however, that they may all have belonged to the same subject… The urn in which the were placed appears to have been rudely formed by the hand, without the assistance of a lathe; in substance about half-an-inch…it appears pretty evident that this urn has been formed of the black earth of the mountain and coal measures of which Baildon Hill is formed…
“A little to the west by south of the circle…are the almost obliterated remains of another circle (fig.9 on the plan), which I had not an opportunity of thoroughly examining; the slight traces remaining bear strong testimony of its character being similar to that of fig.8.
“Scattered over the surface of the Plain, and at irregular distances, cairns or heaps of stones, composed of bare sandstone and calliards (and not mixed with earth), frequently occur; they are generally about twenty feet in diameter and appear to have been originally 4 or 5 feet in height: these remains still require examination. In passing over them, I remarked that some of the stones of which they and the earthworks near them were constructed, had marks, or characters, but so rude that a doubt remains whether they may not have been caused by the action of the atmosphere on the softer portions of the stone.”
This final remark seems to be the very first written intimation of the cup-and-ring marked stones which can still be found amidst the grasses in the very area Mr Colls described. Sadly, much of the other remains shown in the drawing have been all but obliterated, or grown over. However, the decent concentration of cup-and-ring stones in this small area (see other Baildon Moor entries), highlights once again an associated prevalence of these carvings with our ancestor’s notions of death.
Sadly, year by year, the important neolithic and Bronze Age english heritage remains across this upland ridge are slowly being destroyed. The lack of attention and concern by regional archaeologists and local councillors, and the gradual encroachment of human erosion are the primary causative factors. Hopefully there are some sincere archaeologists in the West Yorkshire region who will have the strength to correctly address this issue. Under previous archaeological administrators, Bradford Council have allowed for the complete destruction of giant tombs, stone circles and other important prehistoric remains in their region—a habit that seems not to be curtailed as they maintain a program of footpath “improvements” on local moors without any hands-on assessment of the archaeology on the ground.
…to be continued…
- Baildon, W. Paley, Baildon and the Baildons – volume 1, St. Catherine Press: Adelphi 1913.
- Barnes, Bernard, Man and the Changing Landscape, Eaton Press: Wallasey 1982.
- Colls, J.N.M., ‘Letter upon some Early Remains Discovered in Yorkshire,’ in Archaeologia, volume 31, 1846.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian