Rudston ‘A’ Cursus, East Yorkshire

Cursus:  OS Grid Reference — TA 0998 6577 to TA 1016 6802

Also known as:

  1. Beacon Cursus
  2. Rudston Cursus 1
  3. Woldgate Cursus

Archaeology & History

The site has been known about for nearly 150 years, albeit mistakenly as a series of prehistoric barrows that William Greenwell (1877) told were “near the division between the parishes of Rudston and Burton Agnes” near the crest of the hill.  He further told the place to be,

“Two long mounds, almost parallel, their northern end gradually losing themselves in the surface-level, but connected together at the southern end by another long mound.”

South end of Cursus A (after D.P. Dymond)
Early photo of Cursus A (after J.K.St Joseph)

Then in 1958 when C. & E. Grantham of Driffield did the first modern excavation here across a section of the western ditch, they found that the long embankment went on much further than ever previously anticipated, for more than half-a-mile downhill in the direction of Rudston village.  It wasn’t a long barrow or tombs of any sort, they found!  Then in 1961 when Dr. J.K. St. Joseph did aerial survey work over the area, he and his colleagues established that this monument consisted of extensive parallel ditches stretching for at least 1½ miles towards and past the eastern side of Rudston village.  It’s nature as a cursus monument was rediscovered after several thousand years in the wilderness… (on St. Joseph’s survey, two other cursus monuments were also found in the vicinity, being Rudston Cursus B and Cursus C)  Readers will hopefully forgive me for quoting at some length Mr Dymond’s (1966) article on the site (with minimal editing!):

“The southern end of the cursus lies in the western angle of two roads, Woldgate and Burton Agnes Balk.  In plan it is square with rounded corners and consists of a bank with outer ditch.  Although the bank has been ploughed for many years, it still remains substantial; it stands up to 4 feet high from the outside and 1-2 feet wide from the inside.  The east and west banks decline in height northwards and are now at their greatest height where they join the southern end.  The profile of each bank is smooth and rounded and merges on the outside with the broad shallow depression of the silted-up ditch.  The south bank is now 170 feet long overall, and spread to a width of 60-80 feet.  It stands higher at both ends than in the middle.  This fact was noted by Greenwell, who also recorded that at the southwest angle “there was the appearance of a round barrow raised upon the surface of the long mound.”  There is no surface evidence today to suggest a secondary round barrow, and to some extent at least the greater height at the angles is probably due to the concentration of upcast inside a fairly sharp corner.

“The south arm of the ditch has been largely destroyed by a chalk-pit, but the southeast turn is quite clear on air-photographs.  There is no suggestion on the ground or from the air that the cursus had ever extended further to the south.

“The cursus begins its descent in a due northerly direction, and loses its eastern side for approximately 600 feet under the enclosure road, Burton Agnes Balk.  The ditch can be traced intermittently on the western and eastern verges.  It then swings gently NNW around the head of a small slack draining northwest.  Thus far the cursus is traceable on the ground.  The ditches are the most consistent feature, showing as broad shallow depressions 20-40 feet wide and 70-80 yards apart, which when in fallow attract a dark coarse vegetation (particularly thistles and nettles.  The banks inside the ditches are sometimes visible in relief though considerably spread.  Where the banks have been almost entirely ploughed out, a chalk spread usually marks their position.

“There is a suggestion on the ground that the banks and ditches may have been separated by berms, particularly on the east side near the square end.  This appears to be confirmed by the silting of the ditch in the excavated section…

“Proceeding further downhill in the direction of Rudston village, the cursus quite suddenly swings north-NNE, finally crosses Burton Agnes Balk, and passes to the west of Pits Plantation.  On the west of the road both banks and ditches are still visible in relief, and the ditches produce a firm crop-mark.  East of the road no surface traces are discernible, and only the eastern ditch shows intermittently as a crop-mark.

“For ½-mile across the floor of the Great Wold Valley, there is no trace of the cursus.  The area has been ploughed since medieval times, and there is in addition a considerable Romano-British settlement.  It is worth noting that in this length, the cursus must have crossed the stream of the Gypsey Race, surely a fact of some importance in any discussion of the function of cursuses.

“Two parallel ditches c.60 yards apart, visible on air photographs in a field immediately north of the modern Rudston-Bridlington road, seem to represent the continuation of the cursus.  The ditches travel for approximately 300 yards and end at the Bridlington Gate Plantation.  There are no surface traces in the field, but a depression in the plantation may represent the eastern ditch.  This depression is crossed obliquely by the remains of a low bank and ditch running along the length of the plantation WSW and ENE.  This latter (part) is probably part of the supposedly Iron Age entrenchment system, and has certainly been used as a road from Rudston to Bridlington, as the name of the plantation implies.

“The northern end of the cursus cannot be traced.  Possibilities are that the end was in the plantation and has been destroyed by the later earthwork, or that the cursus proceeded NNE for an unknown distance.  If the latter hypothesis is accepted, the western ditch must be under the Argam Dykes, a double entrenchment which appears to terminate at the northern side of the plantation, and the eastern ditch is indistinguishable  from ploughing lines to which it is parallel…

“Cursus A has its southern end at a height of 254 feet OD, on the forward face of a long chalk ridge running WSW and ENE.  From this point the course of the cursus is visible, except for that part west of Pits Plantation.  The last known part in Bridlington Gate Plantation, 1½ miles off, is clearly visible.  Seen against the contours of the area, the cursus has one end resting on a high ridge, crosses a broad valley, and climbs at least in part, the far side.  It appears to pass approximately 300 yards east of the monolith in Rudston churchyard.”

Line of Rudston A

The presence of this and three other cursus monuments close by (Rudston B, C and D) indicates that the region was an exceptionally important one in the cosmology of our prehistoric ancestors.  Four of these giant linear cursus monuments occur in relative proximity, and there was an excess of ancient tombs and, of course, we have the largest standing stone in the British Isles stood in the middle of it all.  A full multidisciplinary analysis of the antiquities in this region is long overdue.  To our ancestors, the mythic terrain and emergent monuments hereby related to each other symbiotically, as both primary aspects (natural) and epiphenomena (man-made) of terra mater: a relationship well known to students of comparative religion and anthropology who understand the socio-organic animistic relationship of landscape, tribal groups and monuments.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Dymond, D.P., “Ritual Monuments at Rudston, E. Yorkshire, England,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 32, 1966.
  2. Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harvest: New York 1959.
  3. Greenwell, William, British Barrows, Clarendon Press: Oxford 1877.
  4. Hedges, John & Buckley, David G., The Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, Essex County Council 1981.
  5. Nicholson, John, Beacons of East Yorkshire, A. Brown & Sons: Hull 1887.
  6. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.

Links: – ADS: Archaeology of the Beacon Cursus, or Rudston A – Notes on the cursus which has been given the most attention to date.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Rudston 'A' Cursus

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Rudston \'A\' Cursus 54.082679, -0.321463 Rudston \'A\' Cursus

Rudston B Cursus, East Yorkshire

Cursus:  OS Grid Reference – TA 0805 6697 to TA 0944 6755 

  1. Rudston Cursus 2

Archaeology & History

One of the four (known) cursus monuments around Rudston: this one stretches between the Ordnance Survey coordinates TA 081669 near Kilham Grange on the southwestern edge of Rudston, then heads northeast towards the village itself at TA 094675.  Described briefly in D.P.Dymond’s essay on (mainly) Cursus A, he said how Cursus B was part of,

Early ground-plan (after D.P. Dymond)
Early photo of Rudston B (after J.K.St Joseph)

“a large complex of crop marks.  The largest feature is the squared, tapering end of Cursus B, which can be traced for 700 yards in a north-easterly direction.  No surface remains seem to survive in an area intensively ploughed, except for a swelling under a hedge on the line of the south-eastern bank (at TA 0834 6703).  West of the square end and partly overlying it, are several small rectangular enclosures, which are probably part of a later (?Romano-British) settlement and field-system.  Also in this tangle of crop-marks there are four roughly circular shapes, which may well be barrow circles associated with the end of the cursus.  On certain barrow just south of the end of the cursus has an inner ring of pits.  Where the cursus is lat visible to the north-east, it is headed roughly for the monolith ¾-mile away.  The width of Cursus B is approximately 90 yards between ditch centres.  It has its square end on the forward slope of a ridge (like Cursus A) at a height of 180 feet OD, and descends towards the village, which is visible from the end, through a shallow valley.”

Dymond’s note about the alignment feature of this cursus, towards the gigantic Rudston monolith, was one echoed in the Hedges & Buckley (1981) survey.  They noted:

“At Rudston, the B cursus extended eastwards aligns upon the Rudston monolith in Rudston churchyard. Destruction of standing stones elsewhere may have removed similar associations between the stones and cursuses.”

This alignment feature was also confirmed by cognitive archaeologist and alignment specialist, Paul Devereux (Pennick & Devereux 1989) in his survey of cursus monuments.

Typical of these fascinating antiquities, nothing of any worth has been found along the length of the cursus that can give us any clues to its nature and function.  However, the presence of this and three others close by indicates that the region was an exceptionally important one in the cosmology of our prehistoric ancestors.  Four of these giant linear cursus monuments occur in relative proximity, and there was an excess of ancient tombs and, of course, we have the largest standing stone in the British Isles stood in the middle of it all.  A full multidisciplinary analysis of the antiquities in this region is long overdue.  To our ancestors, the mythic terrain and emergent monuments hereby related to each other symbiotically, as both primary aspects (natural) and epiphenomena (man-made) of terra mater: a phenomenon long known to comparative religious students and anthropologists exploring the animistic natural relationship of landscape, tribal groups and monuments.

References:

  1. Dymond, D.P., “Ritual Monuments at Rudston, E. Yorkshire, England,” in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, volume 32, 1966.
  2. Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane, Harvest: New York 1959.
  3. Hedges, John & Buckley, David G., The Springfield Cursus and the Cursus Problem, Essex County Council 1981.
  4. Pennick, Nigel & Devereux, Paul, Lines on the Landscape, Hale: London 1989.

Links:

  1. ADS: Archaeology of Rudston B – Brief archaeological notes on the cursus to the southwest of Rudston.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Rudston 'B' Cursus

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Rudston \'B\' Cursus 54.090181, -0.337988 Rudston \'B\' Cursus

Kemp Howe, Sledmere, East Yorkshire

Long Barrow:  OS Grid Reference – SE 962 662

Archaeology & History

J.R. Mortimer’s ground-plan

In the superb work of the legendary J.R. Mortimer (1905) he tells what was found when him and his team excavated this “remarkable barrow,” as he called it.  Although Mortimer’s contemporary researcher, Canon Greenwell (1877), also looked at the site, the “mound was covered with a clump of old fir trees” which prevented further examination at the time.  Mortimer and his team seemed to have worked here when the trees had been felled and following “a three-week free use of the pick and shovel during July and August, 1878,” they opened up this prehistoric mound to see what lay within.

Their discoveries here were intriguing: for this wasn’t merely a burial site in its early phase but, moreso, a house of the dead no less, where the people whose bodies, or those who cremated ashes were deposited herein, lived in their spirit-life.  It was an abode for the spirits of the dead.  Mortimer’s lengthy notes tell the story:

“At the time of opening, it measured 4½ feet from base to summit, and the natural surface of the ground beneath it stood fully 1 foot higher than the present surface of the land for some distance round its margin.  It was formed entirely of chalk rubble and soil, mainly obtained from an encircling trench, which on the northwest side was very deep and wide.

“We turned over the whole of this mound except its outskirts.  Near the northwest margin there was an excavation (D on the plan) extending 8 to 10 inches below the base of the mound, and measuring 8½ feet by 6½ feet, the floor of which was covered with a film of dark matter, in which were small bits of burnt wood.  No relic, nor the slightest trace of an interment was observed.  A little west of the centre (at B) there was s still larger excavation, 18 inches deep.  It contained rough chalk, but no traces of an interment.  East of this was a third excavation (E), oval in form and 3 feet deep.  Like the previous one it was filled with chalk and contained no relic or trace of a skeleton. The digging of these had preceded the erection of the mound, as there were no indications of it having been cut through.  These excavations were doubtless graves, the bodies having entirely decayed.

“This was not, however, the case with the secondary and comparatively recent interments of six adult skeletons, found at the south-east side of the mound, 1 foot to 2 feet below its base.  Though unaccompanied by any relic, the very narrow form of the graves and the extended and slightly flexed position of the interments alone showed them to be Anglo-Saxons.

“Below these secondary graves was an older and far more interesting excavation.  Its form and position is shown on the plan at A.  At first it was thought to be a huge grave, but as the work proceeded appearances indicating it to have served some other purpose were visible.  Its filling-in was peculiar.  It consisted of broken chalk, surface soil, and burnt wood, presenting altogether a very unusual arrangement.  Along its centre for a distance of about 15 feet were six carbonized uprights of wood, 6 to 9 inches in diameter, at about equal distances  and in a row.  Wood ashes were also found on the sides and bottom, and scattered in the material filling the excavation.

“Also along the centre many of the large flat pieces of chalk stood on their edges, and at various depths were portions of animal and probably human bone, burnt as well as unburnt, and many fragments of a reddish urn.  It was observed that the east end of this excavation became narrower and shallower.  It now seemed evident that it was a habitation.  Its form, as shown on the (above) plan, was oblong, with a ground floor 25 feet by 4½ feet; and its greatest depth was 6 feet.  To its east end was a passage 11 feet long, gradually sloping to the surface.

“”On the south side, commencing at the inner end of the passage and extending inwards for about 12 feet, was a ledge or rock-seat, about 13 inches above the opposite side of the floor, as shown by the dotted lines in the plan and section.  The whole width of the floor at the south-west end, for a distance of about 6 feet, was 10 to 12 inches above the centre and lowest part of the floor.  The roof of the cave had most probably been formed of horizontal timber, supported by strong uprights of the same material, and then covered with a mound of earth and stones.  The roof eventually gave way and the superincumbent earth and stones slid into the dwelling, several of the large flat stones…remaining on their edges.

“The abundance of wood ashes affords unquestionable evidence of the dwelling having been burnt.  The preservation of the remains of the six uprights was due entirely to their having been completely charred.  The fragments of red pottery are quite plain and belong to three or more vessels, which were probably used for domestic purposes.

“The roof of the cave must have fallen in long previous to the Anglo-Saxon interments, as where the skeletons were found, partly over the cave and partly upon the undisturbed rock, not the slightest distortion was visible, which would have been the case had not the filled-in portion under the bodies become firm.  Near the south-side of the dwelling, at about the base of the mound, were several broken human bones and pieces of a dark-coloured urn.  Probably these belonged to a disturbed Anglo-Saxon burial.

“We also found in the mound, between the graves E, B, D, a considerable quantity of detached animal and human bones; the latter indicated three or more individuals; a few of the bones showed traces of fire.  There were also several small pieces of a dark plain urn.”

Mr Mortimer then commented on the unusual ‘habitation’ section within the mound, not thinking that the dead themselves “lived” here!  But we can forgive him this small detail as his work in general was superb.  The site was of course a decent East Yorkshire chambered tomb, wherein the dead were laid and, if entrance was ever possible by our tribal ancestors when it was erected, would have paid homage the ancestral figures buried here.  Traditional death ceremonies were pretty inevitable I’d say.

References:

  1. Mortimer, J.R., Forty Years Researches in British and Saxon Burial Mounds of East Yorkshire, Brown & Sons: Hull 1905.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Kemp Howe

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Kemp Howe 54.083143, -0.530198 Kemp Howe

Elf Howe, Folkton, East Yorkshire

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TA 0422 7726

Archaeology & History

A once-impressive haunted burial mound on the southern edge of Folkton parish, all that remains of the place now are aerial images showing the ghostly ring of its former site.  Commenting on the destruction of this burial mound  before he had chance to give it his full attention, in William Greenwell’s (1877) magnum opus he wrote the following:

“Elf Howe had been removed to a great extent, and the grave had been dug out before I had an opportunity of examining it.  I however got an account of what was discovered from the foreman on the farm, and I was able personally to inspect a small portion which had not been disturbed.  The barrow had been 60ft in diameter and 6ft high, and was made of earth and chalk.  Near the centre a deposit of burnt bones was met with, over which some large flints were placed; this was at a depth of 4ft, and as a great quantity of burnt earth was observed immediately round the bones, it is probable that the body had been burnt on the spot where the bones were placed.  Two unburnt bodies were found on the south side of the mound, with one of which a vessel of pottery was associated.  At a distance of 17ft south-south-east of the centre I found the body of a strongly-made man, laid on the right side, with the head to the south and the hands to the knees; he body was placed about 6in above the natural surface.  Immediately below the head was the body of a very young child, the bones of which were too much decayed to admit of anything being made out beyond the fact that it was a child’s body which was laid there.  Still lower, and on the natural surface, was a patella, a radius, and some other bones of a body, which had been disturbed, probably in the interring of the person who was found buried above.  At the centre was a grave, lying northwest and southeast, 7ft by 6½ft and 2½ft deep.  On the bottom at the north side was the body of a strongly-made man in the middle period of life, whose head…was to the south, but my informant could not remember on which side the body was laid; at the head was a ‘food vessel’, which, from the fragments that have been preserved, must have been a rudely-made one with unusually thick walls.”

Folklore

Although antiquarians and archaeologists such as Elgee, Grinsell, Gutch, Johnson and others each tell (in their own respective ways) that Elf Howe “testifies to a widespread belief in goblin-haunted barrows” — albeit in the linguistic ‘elven’ of the Scandinavian invaders — we appear to have lost the original tale behind this fairy-haunted site.

References:

  1. Greenwell, William, British Barrows, Clarendon Press: Oxford 1877.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Elf Howe

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Elf Howe 54.180530, -0.404618 Elf Howe

Spell Howe, Folkton, East Yorkshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – TA 0657 7878

Archaeology & History

This once impressive tumulus a half-mile east of the village was first mentioned in the Bardney Cartulary in the early 13th century, where is was written as Spelhou.  Suggested by Olof Anderson (1934) to have been an early moot site — “the meeting place of the Torbar Hundred” — this appears to be confirmed in Smith’s (1937) etymological analysis where he ascribes Spell Howe to be literally, “‘Speech mound’, from OE spell, speech and haugr” (burial mound).  Rising about four-feet above ground level, this is a traditional ’round barrow’ type of tumulus.  In recent years, reports tell that it has been built onto with some fencing.  Hopefully the present land-owners now look after the place!

References:

  1. Anderson, O.S., The English Hundred-Names, Lunds Universitets Arsskrift 1934.
  2. Mortimer, J.R., Forty Years Researches in British and Saxon Burial Mounds of East Yorkshire, Brown & Sons: Hull 1905.
  3. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the East Riding of Yorkshire and York, Cambridge University Press 1937.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Spell Howe

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Spell Howe 54.193688, -0.368142 Spell Howe

Mill Hill, Eastburn, Driffield, East Yorkshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – SE 986 553

Also Known as:

  1. Barrow no.268 (Mortimer)

Archaeology & History

Once located on the south side of the stream between the ‘lost’ village of Eastburn and the cottages at Battleburn, this burial mound was one of many explored by the great J.R. Mortimer (1905), who told that:

“On June 24th, 1884, it measured about 40 feet in diameter and 4½ in elevation, and had a depression in the centre, which might have been caused by a former opening.  By the old inhabitants of the neighbourhood it is known — like several other similar mounds near settlements — by the name of Mill Hill.  A 15-feet square was cut from the centre and the natural ground beneath was found to consist of 3 feet of clay, resting upon chalk gravel.  Through this clay and into the chalk gravel beneath was a roughly-cut trench, 3½ feet deep by about 3 feet wide, running north and south the whole width of our excavation and beyond, and from about the centre of the mound a similarly roughly-formed trench was observed to run east and west…”

In the sections that Mortimer and his fellows excavated, they uncovered various intriguing deposits, including the remains of ox, goats and horses.  Later deposits were also located in and around the mound, showing it had been used in more recent centuries.

Folklore

Mortimer suggested this site was once an old moot site; comparing it to a place of the same name a short distance west at Kirkburn.

References:

  1. Mortimer, J.R., Forty Years Researches in British and Saxon Burial Mounds of East Yorkshire, A. Brown & Sons: London 1905.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Mill Hill barrow

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Mill Hill barrow 53.984347, -0.497061 Mill Hill barrow

Danes Dyke, Flamborough, East Yorkshire

Earthworks:  OS Grid Reference – TA 2156 6923 (south) to TA 2131 7323

Getting Here

A 2½-mile long earthwork can obviously be reached from all sorts of ways, but coming out of Flamborough towards Bridlington (B1255 road) you can go down the Home Farm road and park up; and from here walk up the pleasant woodland walk, literally from coast to coast, where you’ll see good portions of the earthwork intact.

Archaeology & History

An impressive site by any means.  Running from Dykes End on its southern edge for 2½ mile, roughly north, until hitting the North Sea again at the other Dykes End, this great earthwork had little to do with the Danes.  It seems to have been originally started around 3000 years ago in the early Iron Age.  As Mr Gower (1975) told:

“Excavations carried out at the end of the (19th) century revealed traces of a flint workshop and many arroheads were found… The earthwork is about 18 feet high and on the western side is a ditch 60 feet wide.  Several openings are to be seen, but these are probably comparatively recent.”

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Gower, E., Flamborough, Dalesman: Clapham 1975.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Danes Dyke

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Danes Dyke 54.122145, -0.145407 Danes Dyke

Fimber Cursus, East Yorkshire

Cursus Monument:  OS Grid Reference – SE 893 610

Archaeology & History

Very little appears to have been written about this site, due no doubt to lack of archaeological investigation aswell as the destructive powers of intense agricultural practices hereby.  It was first described in the Yorkshire Archaeological Register and told about by a Mr. H.G. Ramm, who told us of,

“a probable cursus in the Scales, Fimber Grange and Fimber Station area. An aerial photograph taken by John Dent has entended parallel ditches previously known in fragmentary form and enabling them to be interpreted as a cursus running along the valley floor, the north ditch from SE 8939 6106 to SE 9075 6104 and the southern ditch from SE 8937 6103 to SE 9068 6102. The distance between the ditches varies from 18-27m west of Fimber Grange to 30-37m east of the Grange.  A trapezoidal enclosure, 30m by 15m, possibly a small long barrow, has been identified at SE 9008 6104, oblique to the north cursus ditch, which bends to take in account of it.  A group of five ring ditches, three of which are in the cursus, lies to the west of Fimber Grange, but indicate a wartime searchlight post.”

This makes the length of this monument pretty short, but the faint remains of this possible cursus are visible on aerial shots.  A number of other large ancient earthworks were charted here by the famous archaeologist, J.R. Mortimer (1905), though he made no mention of this particular site.

More info please!

References:

  1. Edmondson, T., History of Fimber, H. Smithson: Malton 1857.
  2. Gutch, Mrs. E., Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning the East Riding of Yorkshire, David Nutt: London 1912.
  3. Moorhouse, S., ‘Yorkshire Archaeological Register: 1976,’ in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, volume 49, 1977.
  4. Mortimer, J.R., Forty Years Researches in British and Saxon Burial Mounds of East Yorkshire, Brown & Sons: Hull 1905.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Fimber cursus

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Fimber cursus 54.037706, -0.637339 Fimber cursus

Ringstone Wood, Howden, East Yorkshire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 748 282?

Archaeology & History

I’ve looked and looked for info on this seemingly lost site, but have found very little.  It lent its name to the very woodland within, or on whose edges, it could once be found.  First described as early as 1284 in the ‘Calendar of Patent Rolls’ – where is appeared as ‘Ringestainhirst‘ – and then in the Testamenta Eboracensia in 1391, it is mentioned several other times before falling into nothing but literary memory in the middle of the 19th century.

We don’t know for sure where the circle was located, though one Latin reference describes it in proximity to a hermitage once known as St. Mary Magdalen’s Chapel at Howden: “heremitae de Ryngstanhyrste.”  The site would likely have been on the highest point in the locality, which may put it where the great church now stands, or perhaps on the more northern and western outskirts of the township.  Are there any Howden historians reading this who might be able to throw a bit more light on the issue?

The great place-name authority A.H. Smith (1937) thought that the Ringstone Hurst (woodland) at Howden got its name from a “wood near the circular stone”; but modern etymologists would place a  much greater likelihood that the woodland owed its name to the now lost stone circle that was once in this locality.

References:

  1. Raine, James (ed.), Testamenta Eboracensia; or, Wills Registered at York, J.B. Nichols: London 1836.
  2. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the East Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1937.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Ringstone Wood

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Ringstone Wood 53.744900, -0.867407 Ringstone Wood

High Street Barrow, Towthorpe, East Yorkshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – SE 881 637

Also Known as:

  1. Towthorpe Barrow 1

Getting Here

Mortimer’s sketch of Towthorpe-1 barrow

The faded remains of this old burial mound can vaguely be seen just off the right-hand (east) side of the B1248, across the road from the track which leads down to Burdale North Wold farmhouse, between Fimber and Wharram-le-Street.

Archaeology & History

Known as Towthorpe Barrow No.1 in the Mortimer survey (1905), there are a number of prehistoric tombs and other remains close to this site (which will be described on TNA as time goes by).  Some of you might think the lengthy description here a little unworthy, but I believe the extensive archaeological notes on this site by an archaeological legend, J.R. Mortimer, is a good indicator of the dedication and interest to which he gave each and every tomb that he opened (this’ll be the first of many). His slightly edited account told:

“This mound is situated near the centre of the (Towthorpe) group, close to High Towthorpe. Here the green lane…is crossed by the high road from Malton (B1248), through Wharram-le-Street… Part of this road, for some distance south and north of the barrow, is called ‘High Street’ by the old inhabitants of the neighbourhood…

“On 4 May, 1863, the writer, with the assistance of R. Mortimer and two workmen, commenced to open this mound. It was the first British barrow he had the pleasure of examining. A trench 10 feet wide was cut across its centre from the northern to the southern margin…

“The upper portion E, to a depth of 16 inches, consisted chiefly of the surface soil of the neighbourhood, the bottom part of which was reddened as if by the action of fire. Close below this was a stratum of wood and ashes and other dark matter, 2-3 inches in thickness; and then a lenticular bed of tough drab-coloured clay, 29 feet in diameter, and 12-14 inches thick in the centre, gradually thinning towards the circumference. The upper part of this bed of clay, which was in contact with the stratum of wood ashes, was reddened by fire; its under surface had a similar appearance and rested upon what seemed to be a second stratum of burnt and decayed matter, 2-3 inches in thickness, similar to that already described. The clay forming this lenticular bed contained numerous small fragments of grey flint, characteristic of the chalk of the neighbourhood. It must have been obtained from one of the valley bottoms (either Burdale, Wharram-le-Street or Duggleby), in which are exposures of the Kimeridge clay. In these places, angular pieces of flint and chalk crumble from the hillside, and mix with the clay, imparting a greyish colour to it. This is especially the case at Burdale, where there is a fine spring at the base of the chalk, and a small pond resting on the Kimeridge; and it is probably from this place that most of the clay for the construction of this barrow was obtained. It is not easy to explain the method by which the clay was transported, but several tons had evidently been used in this case. Many other instances in which material from a distance has been used in the erection of the barrows of this neighbourhood are recorded in (the Yorkshire Wolds).

“In the centre of the mound, at the base of the lenticular bed of clay and below the ashes (which probably represent the residue of a funeral pyre) stood two food vases, close together, and near to these, decayed bones (the remains of a human body) and a chipped flint. The smaller and more ornamented vase was situated to the south of its fellow. It measures 4.5 inches in neight, 5.5. inches in diameter at the top, and about the same across the shoulders. The ornamentation had been impressed on the plastic clay by a thin square-ended tool, about half-an-inch in length, which showed in the impression of a fine notched structure, and was equally divided into ten ridges about the size of the indentations on the milled edge of a shilling, and almost as truly cut. In the lower groove which runs round the vase are four pierced projections.

“The other vase is about 5 inches high and about 6 inches in diameter at the top and across the shoulders. Three encircling lines of short vertical cuts, rudely and apparently hastily made, previous to baking the vase, represent its entire ornamentation.

“During the excavation we collected from the material of the mound a dozen hand-struck flint flakes of various sizes, and a small splinter from the cutting-edge of a green-stone celt.”

Mr Mortimer returned to do further excavations here on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 1865, with the hope of finding more — but apart from a finely-cut knife made of black flint, nothing else was located. This was the first of Mortimer’s hundreds of diggings into the tombs and dykes of East and North Yorkshire.

References:

  1. Marsden, Barry M., The Early Barrow Diggers, Tempus: Stroud 1999.
  2. Mortimer, J.R., Forty Years Researches in British and Saxon Burial Mounds of East Yorkshire, A. Brown: London 1905.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

High Street Barrow

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High Street Barrow 54.062382, -0.655265 High Street Barrow