Duel Cross Hill, Grafton, North Yorkshire

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 426 634

Also Known as:

  1. Deuill Cross Hill
  2. Devil’s Cross
Urn from Devil’s Cross tumulus

Archaeology & History

In Henry Smith’s wonderful Reliquiae (1852) on the history of Aldborough and district, this intriguingly named but forgotten site is given the greatest literary attention extant.  Assumed by a couple of modern academics – without evidence – to have been little more than a natural hillock, this once great mound was undoubtedly an important burial place for some ancestral characters.  Although its exact location is unknown (anyone out there know for certain?), it was said to have been located about 100 yards from where the old tracks crossed at Duel Cross.

First described by a Mr Urban in the Gentleman’s Magazine of June, 1787.  He told it to be known as the Devil’s Cross and was a tumulus,

“whose elevation is about 18 feet, and circumference at the base 370 feet.  It was broken into some time since to supply materials for the repair of the high road leading from Aldborough to York. The soil consists, first, of a black earth, and under that a red sandy gravel, human bones, some of which are entire, and urns of various sizes.  The urns are composed of blue clay and sand, some ornamented and others quite plain; several Roman coins have also been found here.”

There were a great number of old urns found in the mound, leading Mr Urban to believe the site was used an ancient cemetery.  Intriguingly he told that all of the urns and their ashes were found to have been placed on one side of the mound, with many human bones being deposited in another section, away from the urns.  This, the finding of Roman coins next to the mound and the proximity of the Roman road led Mr Urban to believe the site was a Roman tumulus, though this seems unlikely.  Years later, Henry Smith’s (1852) commentary on the Devil’s Cross hill led him to believe the mound was from a much earlier period:

“From a sketch of one of these, which is stated to have been nine inches high, there can be little doubt of these cinerary urns bring of the ancient British period, but from the great number of bones discovered, this tumulus was probably used as a cemetery during the Romano-British period, if not still later.  Of its use in Roman times, evidence is unequivocally supplied in the numerous coins found here…”

Carved stone figure (from Smith’s ‘Reliquiae’)

Not far from this long lost tumulus,  a curious carved stone figure was located “among ancient foundations” in a cellar!  Thought to be a local deity, it may have been a carved representation of whichever figure or spirit ancestor was buried in Duel Cross Hill — though we’ll never know for sure.

Folklore

Although archaeologically, etymologically and geomantically related to the nearby Devil’s Arrows at Boroughbridge a couple of miles up the road, there is nothing specific I can find of this once important tumulus.  However the place-name in both forms, Deul and Deuill, refers to the pre-christian devil (from deofol, Old English, “devil”).  This name may relate to the stone figure shown in the illustration, or of long lost heathen rites enacted here in bygone times.  Any further info on this place is very welcome.

References:

  1. Smith, Henry E., Reliquiae Isurianae, J.R. Smith: London 1852.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.064788, -1.350606 Duel Cross

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