For those who may not know, the terms ‘cairns’ and ‘tumuli’ are just prehistoric tombs. Another word we find as we move further north into Scotland is ‘cist’, which has a similar affiliation. A cairn is a pile of loose rocks and stones, which tends to be erected over a single or multiple burial or cremation – though without excavation we can never be sure which one it’s gonna be! A tumulus meanwhile (‘tumuli’ is the plural) is a heap of earth piled up over a burial or cremation. Small cairns and tumuli tend to cover single graves; whilst larger ones can have multiple burials therein. However we sometimes find that huge tombs have only one or two burials/ cremations inside. In such cases it’s likely that the people entombed there were of considerable importance: perhaps a tribal chief, a king, a queen, or powerful shaman. In many places across northern Britain, where there’s a profusion of cairns/tumuli we tend to find a good examples of prehistoric rock art, or cup-and-ring stones.
Were it not for the valuable records in the Scottish Statistical Accounts, we’d have lost all knowledge of this site. It was described in notes by by Colin Baxter (1793), where he told us:
“About 200 yards west from the church of Monivaird, a barrow was opened some years ago, in which two urns were found, each containing a stone of a bluish colour, very hard about four inches long, and of a triangular shape, somewhat resembling the head of an axe.”
The site was subsequently mentioned in the Ordnance Survey Name Book of the parish, with some additional bits of information:
“In the year 17–, there was found, about one hundred yards to the westward of the old church of Monzievaird, a barrow containing a stone-coffin, in which were inclosed two coarse earthen urns, the one filled with burnt bones, the other containing the bones of the head. Of these, the under jawbone and the teeth were very entire. In the stone coffin was also found a stone hatchet, bluish-coloured, very hard, about four inches long, and of a triangular shape, a remain which proves the barrow of very remote antiquity – prior to the use of iron. The stone hatchet is preserved at Ochtertyre.”
No traces remain of the site; and although the stone axes came to be in the possession of Sir William Murray of Ochtertyre, the urns and other remains have long since been lost.
The name of ‘St Serf’s Water’ derives from it this area being dedicated to St Servanus in early times; the holy well of St Serf could be found a short distance south from where this tomb was built.
Baxter, Colin, “United Parishes of Monivaird and Strowan,” in Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 8, William Creech: Edinburgh 1793.
Mentioned as early as the 15th century in the Ely Cartulary as the “Tuomhowe,” or “two hills”, the place-name authority P.H. Reaney (1945) identifies this with the two “barrows” which our early cartographers map as our ‘Two Captains’.
In the 1834 survey by the Ordnance Survey lads, these conspicuous burial mounds were clearly marked on the west side of the Devil’s Dyke, less than 2 miles south of the Newmarket Necropolis. They were seen first-hand by a number of local walkers, including A.J. King (1845) in his account of the aforementioned dyke. But on the 1885 OS map, the old tombs had apparently gone. Evidently some local knob-head had come along and took it upon himself to destroy these two burial mounds, which had lived here for thousands of years. However, despite the OS-maps indicating that it had been totally destroyed in the 1880s, a couple of later writers said that faint traces were still visible, including the historian Charles Harper. (1904) When he came here, he told how
“Little is now left of this once prominent mound, once important enough to be marked on Ordnance maps, but now ploughed nearly flat. It stands in the third field from the road, on the right hand, a field now under corn, but until forty years ago a wood.”
Very little is known about the place and even the late great barrow fetishist, L.V. Grinsell (1936) could dig nothing out, despite the two tombs mentioned in passing by a number of writers.
In Grinsell’s (1976) book on the folklore of ancient sites, he drops the Two Captains into a simple category of them relating to some battle, without any information. But it seems there isn’t much to go on. The local history work of Charles Harper (1904) intimates the same thing, bringing attention to the folklore of the adjacent Devil’s Dyke, as
“it is one of the many sites identified as the scene of Boadicea’s defeat by Suetonius Paulinus, but we are sceptical of this particular one, although the ancient tumulus on the outer face of the Ditch, still called the Two Captains, points to some forgotten conflict in which two leaders were slain and buried on the contested field.”
Gomme, G.L., The Gentleman’s Library: Archaeology – volume 2, Elliot Stock: London 1886.
Grinsell, Leslie V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
Grinsell, Leslie, Folklore of Prehistoric Sites in Britain, David & Charles: Newton Abbot 1976.
This is one of at least five prehistoric tombs that were known to have existed in and around the Newmarket race-course—all long gone. It stood some 50-60 yards northeast of the Newmarket Heath (2) tumulus and was one in the cluster highlighted as ‘tumuli’ on the 1834 OS-map (right). Despite its destruction sometime in 1883, a scar of the monument was seen from the air in the 1940s by J.K.S. St Joseph as a ploughed-out ring ditch, showing it to have been some seventy feet across. Sadly, no ground trace of the monument exists.
This is one of at least five prehistoric tombs that were known to have existed in and around the Newmarket race-course. Found some 600 yards NNE of the Ninescore Hill tumulus, and some 40 yards from its nearest companion, it was shown as one in a group of ‘Tumuli’ on the 1834 OS-map (right) but, along with the rest, was subsequently destroyed sometime around 1883. A landscape scar of the monument was seen from the air in the 1940s by J.K.S. St Joseph as a ploughed-out ring ditch some 75 feet across. This was reported as still visible by the Royal Commission doods in the 1970s, but no ground trace whatsoever exists.
This is one of many long lost prehistoric tombs that were known to have existed in and around the Newmarket race-course, but unlike the Newmarket tumuli 1 – 4 which were all on the first OS-map of the area, this one had been destroyed before the Ordnance Survey lads came here. As a result we don’t know its exact whereabouts.
Described in both the Cambridge Chronicle and Gentleman’s Magazine in 1827, the accounts even then were talking about it in the past tense, albeit pretty recently. The race-course at Newmarket was being modified, leading to the destruction of our ancient landscape—and with it, this tumulus. In those days however, such destruction was deemed as an ‘improvement’, as Sylvanus Urban (1827) tells at the start of his account:
“The improvements making in the exercise ground at Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, have led to some discoveries which may, perhaps, tend to the elucidation of the hitherto obscure origin of the entrenchment commonly called “The Devil’s Ditch.” In removing one of the monumental remains denominated barrows, or tumuli, which are numerous in this neighbourhood, the skeleton of a person was found deposited near the surface, whose remains were too recent to be associated with the area of its place of interment; but, upon clearing away the earth to the centre of the mound, a discovery was made of an urn, of rude construction and materials, containing ashes, together with some beads, which, it is presumed, formed the ornaments of the person to whose honour the barrow was dedicated. There were also found two coins, supposed to be Roman, and a fragment of a cup, of far superior manufacture to the urn, lying promiscuously at the depth of about two feet.”
A summary of this was included in Babbington’s (1883) archaeological survey. But in Cyril Fox’s (1932) list of barrows near Cambridge he seemed to confuse this “tumulus on Exercise Ground” (no.16) with what he thought was another tumulus (no.17), which he described as, “Exact site unknown. Contained a cremation interment. Burnt bones and sherds of Bronze Age type, also Roman sherds.” The two are the same thing.
Tumulus (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TL 613 633
Archaeology & History
This is one of at least five prehistoric tombs that were known to have existed in and around the Newmarket race-course. It could be seen five-hundred-and-odd yards northeast of the Ninescore Hill tumulus and about 280 yards southeast of its Newmarket Heath 2 companion. The site was shown as one of the “tumuli” on the 1834 OS-map (right) but, along with its friends, was destroyed sometime around 1883. Unlike its companions, no scar of its remains are visible from the air so we don’t know how big it was, but I’d assume the olde fella to be of a similar size and style to its close neighbours.
Upon the small and curiously-named Ninescore Hill on the edge of Newmarket’s race-course, the old-school archaeologist Cyril Fox (1923) told that “800 yards due east of Running Gap”, was a prehistoric burial mound that was destroyed in 1885. Highlighted on the 1834 OS-map, a 19th century excavation found that the tomb “contained two inhumation interments associated with beakers,” along with some “flint arrowheads, and a secondary interment, probably Saxon.” In more recent times, the doods from the Royal Commission (1972) added the site to their inventory and noted that a faint outline—known as as ring ditch—is visible from the air when conditions are just right. But there’s bugger all left of it at ground level.
Fox, Cyril, The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region, Cambridge University Press 1923.
Royal Commission Ancient Historical Monuments, Inventory of Historical Monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire – Volume 2: North-East Cambridgeshire, HMSO: London 1972.
I prefer the much longer walk to this site, from Askwith Moor carpark some 5 miles to the west, but this wouldn’t be most folks cuppa tea. So for the lazy buggers amongst you: whether you’re coming via Ilkley (cross the bridge to Middleton and turn left, following the long winding road for several miles) or Bolton Bridge (hit Beamsley village and turn left up Lanshaw Bank), you need to get up to Langbar village. On the north side of the village is a distinct small rough carpark. From here, cross the road where the footpath sign is and walk straight up the steep hill to Beamsley Beacon at the top. Keep walking for exactly ¼-mile where you’ll find a large heap with boulders round its edge. You’re there.
Archaeology & History
At the highest point of these hills where the moorlands of Langbar and Beamsley meet, is this prominent rocky pile on the same skyline as Beamsley Beacon. The two are ancient cairns, both robbed of most of their stones, but still a good site to sit and behold the vast landscape which reaches out for miles in all directions. And, from this highest point, looking south to the highest point across the Wharfe valley on Ilkley Moor, the remnants of another giant prehistoric cairn is visible: looking across at each other, eye to eye.
Of the two great cairns on Beamsley moor, The Old Pike is the more peculiar of the two because—unlike its partner along the ridge—several large boulders near its top give the impression of being Nature’s handiwork. This may be the case, but Nature isn’t the lass who laid down the mass of smaller rounded stones that are mainly visible on the west and southern sides. These have been placed there by people. But it’s not until you step back 40 or 50 yards that you get a more distinct impression of the place. The Old Pike rises up like a rocky nipple out of the heath, showing a very embedded overgrown man-made heap, typical of the overgrown prehistoric cairns that scatter our northern uplands.
The site is included on the archaeologist’s Pastscape website, albeit citing it as a ‘possible’ cairn. But the more we look at it, the greater the impression becomes that this old heap is man-made – certainly on its eastern and southern sides. The rise of boulders on its west may be natural, and then ancient man placed the cairn material up and around them. Only an excavation would tell us for sure. But its old name of Howber Pike tells a tale before we even visit the place. When the great Yorkshire historian Harry Speight (1900) came here he picked up on this element, telling us,
“Howber literally is the ‘Hill of Tombs’, from the Teutonic haugr and Anglian how, a burial mound, and berg also her, a hill, often fortified.”
The great place-name authority A.H. Smith (1956) not only echoes this but goes into greater etymological detail, noting that as well as haugr or how being “an artificial mound, a burial mound,” it’s a word that is particularly used in the northern counties. He does note however, that this may not always be the case and can sometime just relate to a “a hill or hilltop resembling an artificial mound.” However, we also find in Smith’s tome on place-name elements that the latter part of ‘Howber’ deriving from beorg, can also mean a tumulus or burial mound. But there are cases where this has been corrupted and means, as Speight states, a fortified hill. So at Howber Pike we seem to have the ancient name of some probable burial site. As for its neighbour a quarter-mile west, the giant cairn of Beamsley Beacon is also known as the Howber Hill….
Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1956.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 5, Cambridge University Press 1963.
Speight, Harry, Upper Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1900.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to James Elkington for use of his fine photos on this site.
In a lecture given by Frank Hall at the Ilkley Library in February, 1910, he described a number of prehistoric remains found in the area—including the remnants of a “cinerary urn, containing calcined human remains” and more, as illustrated in the old photo here. He contextualized the findings as being typical of the remains found “under a large heap of earth and stones which we now call a ‘barrow’, ‘cairn’ or ‘tumulus'” and believed that one must have existed here in bygone times. The urn, he told us,
“was found within a few yards of these premises, for it was dug up when the excavations were being carried out for the erection of Messrs Robinson and Sons’ buildings on the opposite side of Cowpasture Road, in March 1874.”
Although we list this site as a cist, we don’t know for sure; but due to the lack of descriptive and historical data about a mound of any form in this area, it is most likely to have been a cist burial and not a tumulus or barrow which Mr Hall inferred. Its location near the valley bottom is unusual when we consider the huge number of cairns on the moors above here; but a cist was found in a similar low-lying geographical position on the south side of the moors near Bingley, 5.8 miles due south, when construction of local sewage works were being done.
Hall, Frank, The Contents of Ilkley Museum, William Walker: Otley 1910.
The only thing we know of this long lost site comes from a tradition narrated by the Canon Hulbert (1882) in his definitive history of Almondbury parish. High up the hill near the very top of the village where All Saints Church was built, he told how tradition said,
“that a tumulus or mound existed at the west end where now the Clerk’s house stands; which may have been an ancient British site and led to the erection of the church.”
Sadly, there seems to be no further information about the site.
Hulbert, Charles A., Annals of the Church and Parish of Almondbury, Longmans: London 1882.