Cow and Calf Stones, East Bierley, West Yorkshire

Crosses / Legendary Rocks (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 1975 2909

Archaeology & History

Site location at Cross House

Not to be confused with a much more renowned namesake above Ilkley, this was the name given to two old stones that once existed in the middle of the East Bierley hamlet (as it was then) southeast of Bradford.  They were two large boulders next to each other, not far from the early farmstead of Cross House (see map, right) and were described in James Parker’s (1904) historic collage of the area, where he informed us that:

“On the village green (are) the primitive large stones locally called the “Cow and Calf stones,” which used to be in days gone by a Preaching Cross and Market Cross.”

When William Cudworth (1876) described the place nearly thirty years prior, he only mentioned a single cross, telling us:

“There is a lane which has long been called Kirkgate at Birkenshaw, leading up to an ancient cross on the hill.  The fact of this cross being on the hill must have given rise to the name Kirk (church) gate, as there was not, until a few years ago, any church at Birkenshaw.  In a previous paper we had occasion to notice the existence of the cross as an evidence of a pre-church period.”

The meaning behind the name Cow & Calf is unexplained by our respective authors, although Cudworth’s citation of “the cross as an evidence of a pre-church period” is probably not without merit here.  It seems very likely that the animal names of the two large stones—akin to the Cow & Calf Rocks at Ilkley and others of the same name elsewhere in the country—that sat near the top of the hill, probably possessed a creation myth similar to others of the same name.  From this, it seems logical that local folk held the rocks as important, which would have obviously attracted the regressive attention of Church; so they stuck a cross here to christianize the place and in doing so ensured that local people could continue using the place as a meeting place.  This practice (as if you didn’t already know) was widespread.

Although Mr Cudworth seems to give the first real account of the place, field-name records of 1567 listed a ‘Cowrosse’, which may have been the “cross on the Cow” stone.  A.H. Smith (1961) listed the site and suggested the element –rosse may derive from a local dialect word meaning a marsh, but a ‘cow’s marsh‘ seems a little odd.  It is perhaps just as likely that an error was made in the writing of rosse instead of crosse.

References:

  1. Cudworth, William, Round about Bradford, Thomas Brear: Bradford 1876.
  2. Parker, James, Illustrated History from Hipperholme to Tong, Percy Lund: Bradford 1904.
  3. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 3, Cambridge University Press 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  53.757799, -1.701925 Cow & Calf Stones

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