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.
In times of olde on this prominent tree-covered hill, a tomb of some ancient ancestor once lived. It had already been destroyed by some retards by the time the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1885; but thankfully, memory gave its existence the note it deserved. The place had thankfully been given the once-over by some archaeologists in the middle of that century, giving us a pretty good idea as to its size and nature. Measuring some 90 feet across and fourteen feet high, this was no mere toddler!
A Mr W.T. Collings (1846) gave his Intelligence Report to the archaeological journal of the period, from which the following description is gained:
“The excavation of this tumulus in 1845 was made from east to west, commencing from the eastern side, in the direction of its centre, in which, at a depth of about three feet, there was found a cinerary urn in an inverted position, slightly tilted on one side, and surrounded by charcoal and burnt earth. It was filled with charcoal, but contained only one small fragment of bone. This vessel, which was of the simplest manufacture, moulded by the hand, and sun-baked, measured in height five inches, and its diameter at the largest part was five inches and a half. From the deep red colouring, and the general appearance of the surrounding soil, it would seem that a small hole had been first dug, charcoal and bones burnt in it, the vase placed on the fire in an inverted position, and the whole covered up. About ten feet eastward of the central deposit, on the south side of the line of excavation, and half a foot deeper, a deposit of fragments of bone was found apparently calcined, but with little charcoal or burnt earth, forming a layer not more than three inches thick, and two feet in circumference. There were several pieces of the skull, a portion of the alveolar process, inclosing a tooth, apparently that of a young person, pieces of the femur and clavicle, and other fragments. A little to the north of this spot there appeared a mass of charcoal and burnt earth, containing nothing of interest. After digging five or six feet deeper, operations were discontinued; and on the next day shafts were excavated from the centre, so as completely to examine every part, without any further discovery, and in every direction charcoal was found mingled with the heap, not in patches, but in fragments.”
Collings reported the existence of another burial mound a short distance to the south. It was one of at least five such tumuli in the immediate locale, all of which have been destroyed by retards in the area.
Collings, W.T., “Archaeological Intelligence,” in Archaeological Journal, volume 3, 1846.
Tumulus (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TQ 192 735
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Archaeology & History
Oliver’s Mound was highlighted as early as 1746 on John Roque’s map of the Country Near Ten Miles Round (London) as still standing. One hundred and fifty years later, when the Ordnance Survey lads came to map the area, it had gone. We don’t know exactly when it was demolished, so Historic England (not necessarily a good measure of accuracy) tell us its demise occurred “between 1760 and 1868”, so giving themselves at least some degree of safety!
As we can see in Mr Roque’s old map, an avenue of trees led up to the barrow. This avenue will have been created when Richmond Park and its gardens were laid out.
The round barrow was most likely Bronze Age in origin. The historian and folklorist Walter John (1093) reported that in 1834, three skeletons were found at a depth of a yard beneath the surface.
Traditional tells that the name of this barrow comes from when the religious extremist, Oliver Cromwell, and his men, set up camp here. A slight variant tells that Cromwell stood here to watch a skirmish.
Tumulus (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TQ 222 709
Archaeology & History
It seems that a great number of prehistoric remains used to exist in and around the Wimbledon Common area. This one is mentioned only briefly in Thomas Stackhouse’s (1833) rare work on early British remains, where he wrote:
“Near an old single-trenched Camp at the South West comer of Wimbledon Common, is a very small flat Barrow cut into the form of a cross: I don’t know that it has been noticed by any writer.”
The “single-trenched Camp” he described is today known as Caesar’s Camp hillfort. By the time the Wimbledon historian William Bartlett (1865) came to write his survey, the site had been destroyed. In Mr Johnson’s (1903) survey, he seems to confuse this site with the large barrow cemetery that used to exist on the northern edges of Wimbledon Common described by William Stukeley and others.
(the grid-reference to this site is an approximation).
Bartlett, William A., The History and Antiquities of Wimbledon, Surrey, J. & S. Richards: Wimbledon 1865.
Johnson, Walter, Neolithic Man in North-East Surrey, Elliot Stock: London 1903.
Located on the old boundary line between Clapham and Battersea, what might have been a forgotten tumulus, whose memory was thankfully preserved by the renowned folklorist and historian Walter Johnson (1903), was described in his work on prehistoric Surrey. He seemed to think it serious enough to add to his survey, where he told us that,
“there still exists, near Cedars Road, Clapham, what may possibly be a round barrow. It is in the garden of a house opposite St. Saviour’s Church, and is visible to anyone passing along the old, narrow passage called Wix’s Lane. Mr. J.W. Grover, who brought the matter before the Archaeological Association in 1884, had been struck by the discovery that old maps marked the spot ‘Mount Nod Fields.’ …The mound must originally have been 70 or 80 feet across, but had been tampered with on one side for the construction of an ice-house. Mr. Grover suggested that the mound may be of Celtic date. To us, the height—some 12 feet or more—together with marked signs of reconstruction at a comparatively modern date, indicate the necessity of withholding judgment. The original tumulus may simply have been increased in height, but…digging alone could settle the question.”
Local historian Michael Green (2010) has found that there were prehistoric tombs on Clapham Common only 500 yards away, so this one along Cedar Road was not in isolation. Is the site named on the boundary perambulation records? Has it been explored since Johnson wrote about it and, if so, has its veracity as a prehistoric tomb been ascertained, or is it merely the remains of some post-medieval creation?
Take the Glenfarg road out of Bridge of Earn, cross the motorway and park at the layby past the bend. Go through the gate opposite and follow the track up to the telecoms mast, you can’t miss it..
Archaeology & History
Visible from the lowlands below, it is described in the official listing as a cairn of prehistoric date, a funerary monument dating to the late neolithic to early Bronze Age. It is a broadly round stony mound, partially overgrown with turf on the north eastern (mid-summer sunrise) slope of Balmanno Hill, where it has extensive views over the surrounding country. It is 1.8m (6′) high, 17m (56′) across on the N-S axis and 16m (52′ ) on the E-W axis.
The top of the cairn has a depression in it: possibly the result of treasure-seeking long ago, but there is no evidence of any burial cist.
So who was ‘Edmund’? Was this a place of heathen ritual Christianised with the designation of St Edmund during the Anglo-Saxon incursions of the early middle ages, or the name of a local landowner? It is lost to history. The name ‘Balmanno’ can be interpreted as ‘Place of the Big Man’ – so have we an echo of a lost giant legend here in an area of Scotland where such legends abound, and long pre-date the construction of the cairn? Did later people name their local mythic giant ‘Edmund’?
An alternative meaning of ‘Balmanno’ is given by David Dow in the Old Statistical Account – the ‘Town of the Monk’.
The Ordnance Survey inspectors of the early 1860s were told that the cairn is where one of the Roman Generals of Agricola’s time was buried.
Dow, Rev. David, The Statistical Account of Scotland 1791-99, Vol. XI, EP Publishing, Wakefield, 1976
Jamieson,John, An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, Vols.I & III, Alexander Gardner, Paisley, 1880
Ordnance Survey Name Books Perthshire, Volume 21 OS1/25/21/11, 1859-62
The easiest way is to turn south off the A91 at Gateside onto Station Road, and the site of the cairn is in the third field to the left over the railway bridge. I accessed the site walking along the old railway line and climbing up the embankment.
Archaeology & History
In the shadow of the Lomond Hills of Fife, what was once a very large pre-historic cairn, officially described as of ‘unassigned’ period, was quarried to destruction around two hundred and twenty years ago, presumably to provide stones for dykes (stone walls), at that time of enclosures of common land and what the landowners liked to call ‘agricultural improvements’.
In the early nineteenth century, this part of the Eden Valley between Gateside and the Lomond Hills was what would now be called a ritual landscape. There were, according to Miller:
‘nearly in a line between the two Laws ( Lomond Hills) noless than eight “druidical temples” (Stone circles) close together‘
and a number of impressive burial cairns, of which Easter Nether Urquhart seems to have been the largest. There were in addition large numbers of graves containing masses of cremated of human bones. Nearly all this archaeology has been subsequently destroyed by the farmers.
Two local antiquarian writers proposed that all these human remains had been buried there following the battle of Mons Graupius between the Roman Invaders under Agricola, and the Caledonians, and went on to argue that the Eden Valley was the site of this historic defeat for the ancient Caledonians defending their homeland. Whatever and whenever the origins of the cairns and human remains, subsequent researchers disagree with these nineteenth century arguments in favour of the Eden Valley, and tend to favour a more northerly location for Mons Graupius. Nevertheless we have these two historians to thank for leaving us descriptions of the cairn.
One of the antiquarians, Rev. Andrew Small wrote in 1823:
‘The Slaughter here seems to have been so dreadful, that even after the lapse of 17 Centuries the Common tradition of the Country bears, and seems to be as fresh in the Mouths of both old and young as though the battle had been fought only a hundred years ago, – that after this battle the River Eden ran red with blood for two days…’
It seems more likely that the event remembered was part of the campaign by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus and his son Caracalla to subdue the Caledonians around 209-210 CE. Modern writer, Simon Elliott:
‘Archaeological data is now emerging to show ….. a major depopulation event, indicating something close to a genocide was committed by the Romans in the central and upper Midland Valley.’
Andrew Small describing the cairn and some of the cremation remains in 1823:
‘There was also a very large cairn laid upon these ; and the proprietor lately told me that when removing the stones, besides the ashes already mentioned, there was also a pit of pure fine sand by itself, about as fine as is usually put into sand-glasses, which he thinks had been used for regulating the fire in burning of the dead. This cairn stood a little north of an ancient Druids temple, only one stone now remaining, out of ten of which it formerly consisted ‘.
Lieutenant – Colonel, Miller writing in 1829:
‘Farther west ….a very large cairn stood, containing upwards of two thousand cart-loads of stones. Upon removing it about thirty years ago, a pit six feet long, two broad, and of the same depth, was found, quite full of burnt bones; and near it another, two feet square and two deep, full of the finest sand. An urn was also found, near the surface of the cairn, full of bones. A very fine Druid’s temple stood on the south side of it, consisting of seven very large stones…’
As the builders of the cairn didn’t have access to carts, and that the stones all had to be moved by hand, it gives an indication of the manpower needed to build the cairn, and the status of the individuals whose remains were buried there. And we have to question why a special chamber been built into the base of the cairn to hold fine sand, and what was the purpose of this sand?
While not writing specifically of the cairn, Revd. Small recounts these tales of the surrounding land, relating it to his belief that it was the site of Mons Graupius:
‘I cannot forbear to mention here, also, a singular circumstance I had from the landlord and landlady, both yet alive, — viz. that before parking or inclosing took place, they were accustomed to have folds built of feal or turf for the cattle lying in at night ; but that, when the folds happened to be in this place where the dead had been burnt, the cattle would never lie in them, but always broke through or leaped over the dyke ; that they were obliged to give a man a boll of barley extra to watch them, when they lay in this spot, which was obliged to be repeated every four or five years in rotation ; but that sometimes the man was not able to keep them in by all his endeavours, the cattle looking wild and terrified in appearance ; and sometimes it required the united efforts of all the hands that could be had to keep them in, oftentimes springing over the fold dykes close beside them, and frequently crouching and trembling as if they would have fallen down with terror, although nothing appeared visible to the visual organs either of the man or those that occasionally assisted him. However, after the discovery of so many ashes and fragments of human bones, the man declared that, had he known of these being so near, he would not have been so fond of watching.’
‘The late farmer of Upper Orquart, a most respectable man, with whom I was well acquainted, and upon whose farm the principal part of the battle was fought, told me also that always when the folds happened to be both at where the Caledonians were burnt as well as the Romans — but particularly he specified the spot where the Romans had been burnt, or the Witch Know or Knoll — the cattle would never lie in the fold, but were always breaking ” the fauld,” as he called it, except when they were particularly watched ; and even that was not always effectual for keeping them from doing it either. This would insinuate as if the spirits of these departed heroes of antiquity sometimes visited and hovered about the places where their ashes had been deposited ; though invisible to the more refined visual organs of the human eye, yet obviously visible in some shape or other to the more gross visual organs of the irrational or bestial tribe, else how can these forementioned occurrences be accounted for? This hypothesis seems to be borne out by Balaam’s Ass perceiving the Angel twice, when he himself could not do so till his eyes were supernaturally opened.’
Although the cairn no longer exists, its stones were probably reused for local walling, and it’s likely, but not provable, that the wall on the south side of the A91 past the Station Road turning is built from stones removed from the cairn.
Elliott, Simon, Septimus Severus in Scotland, Greenhill Books, 2018.
Miller, Lt. Col., “An Inquiry Respecting the Site of theBattle of Mons Grampius“, 1829, published in Archaeologica Scotica vol. IV, 1857.
Small, Andrew, Interesting Roman Antiquities Recently Discovered in Fife, John Anderson, Edinburgh, 1823
Tumuli (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – TL 584 600
Archaeology & History
The precise location of two prehistoric burial mounds at place with the conspicuous name of Beacon Hill, has yet to be satisfactorily located. Their existence is recorded way back, in 1279 according to P.H. Reaney (1943), when they were described as Tweynhowes, being on the boundary of Swaffham Priory. Information on them is scant and scattered with the earliest seeming to be an account by Thomas Kerrich (1817), who reported their removal and finds therein, in 1815. The editor of Archaeologia told us:
“The Rev. Thomas Kerrich…exhibited to the Society, an Urn, which had been found a few days before by some labourers who were employed to remove one of the Barrows upon Newmarket-heath, called the Beacon Hills. “It stood upon what probably was the surface of the earth before the tumulus was raised. The diameter of the barrow was near thirty yards, and the perpendicular height probably about eight or nine feet. There are more of these tumuli remaining, some of them very near to the place on which this, out of which the urn came, lately stood. They command an extensive view over the town of Cambridge, Gog-Magog Hills, &c.”
Subsequently a short piece in the Cambridge Chronicle in 1846 told the following:
“Two of the barrows on the edge of Newmarket Heath, belonging to the group called the Beacons, were examined in May 1846 by a party from Cambridge. In one of them nothing was found as it appeared to have been previously opened; in the other the remains of a British interment, consisting of rude vase (now in the Cambridge Antiquarian Museum), a few bones and some ashes, were discovered.”
This was echoed nearly forty years later in a survey by Charles Babbington (1883), who gave little by way of extra information; and was echoed again in Cyril Fox’s (1923) huge archaeological survey. Herein, Mr Fox told us that the two barrows were located at the “east end of a four-mile racecourse.” The only additional lore we’ve had since then is a collation of by the Royal Commission lads who thought that the respective tombs were located more precisely as the grid-references TL 5839 5998 and TL 5850 6004 respectively.
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.