Pen Twyn, Bargoed, Glamorgan

Cup-Marked Stone (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SO 1491 0045

Archaeology & History

Sometime in the 1940s, a certain Lady A. Fox recorded a cup-marked stone “in the vicinity of Pen-twyn” near Bargoed.  Its position in the landscape is a good one: on a geological promontory and overlooking the valley below.  The find was indexed by the Ordnance Survey, but apart from it’s grid-reference, all attempts to locate the design have so far proved unsuccessful.

It was mentioned briefly in the Royal Commission (1976) survey of Glamorgan, then subsequently listed in the surveys of Sharkey (2004) and Nash (2007), but none of them were able to locate it.  And hence, I post it here, in the hope that some local hunter will be able to recover it from its hiding place!

References:

  1. Mazel, A., Nash, G. & Waddington, C. (eds.), Art as Metaphor: The Prehistoric Rock Art of Britain, ArchaeoPress: Oxford 2007.
  2. Nash, George, “A Scattering of Images: the Rock Art of Southern Britain,” in Art as Metaphor, ArchaeoPress: Oxford 2007.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Wales, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Glamorgan – Volume 1: Pre-Norman, Part 1: The Stone and Bronze Ages, HMSO: Cardiff 1976.
  4. Sharkey, John, The Meeting of the Tracks: Rock Art in Ancient Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch: Llanrwst 2004.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Careg Bica, Dyffryn Clydach, Glamorgan

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SS 72500 99602

Archaeology & History

An interesting new cup-marked stone found by Paul Blades is this smooth rounded (female) stone that may originally have had some relationship with the tall standing stone of Careg Bica 160 yards to the south.  Around ten cup-marks are etched onto its surface, in a seemingly random arrangement (as usual!).  Although it seems to be an isolated carving, it’s likely that others will exist in the area.

Carving & outlying monolith
Careg Bica petroglyph

The direction and proximity of the standing stone may have had some relationship with the carving.  In traditional northern hemisphere societies, the cardinal direction North is generally associated with darkness and death, primarily due to the fact that this is the area in the heavens where neither sun or moon ever appear; whilst South relates to life and positive natural associations due to it being the high point of the sun during the day. This animistic attribute existed till recently in the water-lore of northern England and Scotland where “south-running streams bore a high repute.”  Whilst such mythic attributes are well established, any cardinal relationship here is purely speculative.

AcknowledgementsHuge thanks to Paul Blades for use of his photos in this site profile – and of course for finding the stone!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Cliff Cottage Circle, Broad Haven, Pembrokeshire

Stone Circle (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SM 8615 1428

Archaeology & History

Described in context with an extant standing stone 100 yards to the north, this stone circle seems to have been destroyed in the latter half of the 19th century.  It was described in the Royal Commission’s huge Pembrokeshire (1925) survey, after they had visited the site and viewed the remains.  They told us:

“On the side of the road immediately opposite to Cliff Cottage, and constituting part of the garden walls of Upper Lodge, are numerous boulders which formed a well-defined stone circle.  A few years ago they were moved, dressed, and used for walling.  The entrance to the circle is said to have faced north-east.  The southern portion was still visible about the year 1896.”

As far as I’m aware, local people report that a couple of the stones are still visible in the overgrown walling.  Students working for the Welsh Coflein database allege that the remaining stones “are of doubtful antiquity.”  Unless they have some substantial evidence to validate this statement (none is given) their remarks should be taken with a pinch of salt.

References:

  1. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Wales, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales & Monmouthshire: VII – County of Pembroke, HMSO: London 1925.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Ellen’s Well, Angle, Pembrokeshire

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SM 86913 03483

Archaeology & History

Ellen’s Well on 1869 map

Very little seems to be known about this apparently lost site, deemed to be an authentic holy well in Francis Jones’ (1954) fine survey: the ‘Ellen’ in question here being the legendary St Helen.  It was highlighted on the first OS-map of the area in 1869 and subsequently included in the Royal Commission’s huge Pembrokeshire (1925) tome, but when they came to visit the site they reported that “it could not be traced, nor any information obtained about it.”  Has it truly fallen back to Earth, or do any local historians and antiquarians know where it is…?

References:

  1. Jones, Francis, The Holy Wells of Wales, University of Wales 1954.
  2. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Wales, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales & Monmouthshire: VII – County of Pembroke, HMSO: London 1925.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Maen Sigl, Llandudno, Caernarvonshire

Legendary Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SH 7792 8297

Also Known as: 

  1. Rocking Stone
  2. St. Rudno’s Stone

Archaeology & History

Maen Sigl on 1901 OS-map

Highlighted on the 1901 OS-map of the area, this old rocking stone was located on the heights of Pen y Filas above Llandudno.  Originally a site of heathen worship—the druids, it is said—the site was later patronised by the Irish saint, Tudno: a hermit who lived in a cave (Ogof Llech) a mile to the northwest, on the heights of the legend-filled Great Orme.

Rocking stones are well-known as geo-oracular forms (stone oracles) in folklore texts across the country, although they’re almost entirely rejected by historians as little more than ‘curiousities’ and meaningless geological formations.  In olde cultures elsewhere in the world however, stones like this were always held in reverence by traditional people – much as they would have done in Wales and elsewhere in Britain.

References:

  1. Hughes, Arthur R., The Great Orme: Its History and Traditions, R.E. Jones: Conway n.d. (c. 1950)
  2. Jones, H. Clayton, “Welsh Place-Names in Llandudno and District” in Mountain Skylines and Place-Names in Llandudno and District, Modern Etchings: Llandudno n.d. (c.1950)

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


Ffynnon Rufeinig, Llandudno, Caernarvonshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SH 76551 83858

Also Known as: 

  1. Ffynnon Llety Fadoc
  2. Roman Well

Archaeology & History

Ffynnon Rufeinig, 1901 OS-map

To be found on the legend-filled landscape known as the ‘Great Orme’, this ancient well was highlighted on the 1901 OS-map of the region, on the south side of the track.  Sadly,  despite an occasional puddle that fills the old trough when She rains, its waters are no longer running.  H.C. Jones (n.d.) informed us that this was a ‘Roman Well’, which tradition said was a place they used when they invaded this part of Wales, although Paul Davies (2003) thought this “to be wishful thinking”.

Despite this, in recent years the walling around the well has been rebuilt by the track-side and a stone plaque with the words ‘Roman Well’ has been mounted to tell you that you’re at the right place.

References:

  1. Davies, Paul, Sacred Springs, Blorenge: Llanfoist 2003.
  2. Jones, H. Clayton, “Welsh Place-Names in Llandudno and District” in Mountain Skylines and Place-Names in Llandudno and District, Modern Etchings: Llandudno n.d. (c.1950)

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian


St. Canna’s Stone, Llangan, Carmarthenshire

Legendary Rock:  OS Grid Reference – SN 1770 1874

Also Known as:

  1. Chair of St. Canna
  2. St Canna’s Chair

Archaeology & History

St. Canna’s Chair Stone

This once important healing stone that was moved a short distance (from grid reference SN 1775 1875 to SN 1770 1874 according to officials) to its present spot, around 1925, whilst having a long history according to the folk traditions of Carmarthenshire, was previously questioned as an authentic site by none other than Prof John Rhys (1875), following his visit to the site in the 1870s.  Although Rhys seemed an isolated voice, some modern archaeologists have also questioned its veracity.  It’s difficult to say precisely what the original nature of the stone may have been, but it was certainly accommodated in medieval times as a healing stone and used in conjunction with a pagan well – which was of course, accommodated by the Church.  If the stone itself had a megalithic pedigree, as some have believed, we know not what it may have been…

As Janet & Colin Bord (2006) wrote, the stone “still survives, but to the casual observer it looks like any other abandoned block of stone,” sitting innocuously within the ring of trees surrounding the church.  An early account of the stone was written by E.L. Barnwell (1872), who told:

“The present church of Llangan in Carmarthenshire is a wretched structure, built in 1820, and is about to be removed, as the population has long since migrated to some distance from it, and in a few years even the memory of Canna’s church having once existed here may cease. There is, however, a relic still left, which we trust will not be overlooked by the local authorities, as indeed it seems to have been hitherto ; for no notice occurs of it in the account of the parish in Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary or any other work. This relic is a rude stone, forming a kind of chair, lying in a field adjoining the churchyard, and about thirty or forty yards from it. When it was removed to its present position is unknown. There was also a well below the church called Ffynnon Canna; and there is still a small brook available, if required, for following the rules prescribed to those who wish to avail themselves of the curative powers of the saint’s chair. It appears that the principal maladies which are thus supposed to be cured are ague and intestinal complaints. The prescribed practice was as follows. The patient first threw some pins into the well, a common practice in many other parts of Wales, where wells are still thought to be invested with certain powers. Then he drank a fixed quantity of the water, and sometimes bathed in the well, for the bath was not always resorted to. The third step was to sit down in the chair for a certain length of time; and if the patient could manage to sleep under these circumstances, the curative effects of the operation were considerably increased. This process was continued for some days, even for a fortnight or longer. A man aged seventy-eight, still living near the spot, remembers the well and hundreds of pins in it, as well as patients undergoing the treatment; but, about thirty or thirty- five years ago, the tenant carried off the soil between the well and the watercourse, so as to make the spring level with the well, which soon after partly disappeared, and from that time the medical reputation of the saint and her chair has gradually faded away, and will, in the course of a generation or two, be altogether forgotten.”

Folklore

In Wirt Sykes (1880) classic text, he told us that the field where the original Canna’s Chair may have been, possessed fairy-lore that we find at other sites, usually ascribed as prehistoric.  He wrote:

“In the middle of this parish there is a field called Parc y Fonwent, or the churchyard field, where, according to local tradition, the church was to have been originally built; but the stones brought to the spot during the day were at night removed by invisible hands to the site of the present church.  Watchers in the dark heard the goblins engaged in this work and pronouncing in clear and correct Welsh these words, “Llangan, dyma’r fan,” which means, “Llangan, here is the spot.””

References:

  1. Allen, J. Romilly, The Monumental History of the Early British Church, SPCK: London 1889.
  2. Baring-Gould, S. & Fisher, John, Lives of the British Saints – volume 2, London 1907.
  3. Barnwell, E.L., “Canna’s Chair,” in Archaeologia Cambrensis, volume 3 (4th Series), 1872.
  4. Bord, Janet & Colin, Cures and Curses: Ritual and Cult at Holy Wells, Heart of Albion: Wymeswold 2006.
  5. Breverton, Terry, The Book of Welsh Saints, Bro Morganwg: Glyndwr 2000.
  6. Davies, Jonathan Ceredig, Folk-lore of West and Mid-Wales, Welsh Gazette: Aberystwyth 1911.
  7. “D.M.”, “Canna’s Chair,” in Archaeologia Cambrensis, volume 4 (4th Series), 1875.
  8. Rhys, John, “On Some of Our Inscribed Stones,” in Archaeologia Cambrensis, volume 4 (4th Series), 1875.
  9. Sikes, Wirt, British Goblins, Sampson Low: London 1880.
  10. Sharkey, John (ed.), Ogham Monuments in Wales, Llanerch: Felinfach 1992.
  11. Westwood, J.O., Lapidarium Walliae: The Early Inscribed and Sculptured Stones of Wales, Oxford University Press 1879.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 


Rhiwderin, Newport, Monmouthshire

Cup-Marked Stone (lost):  OS Grid Reference – ST 260 870

Archaeology & History

Rhiwderin cup-marks

This fine-looking cup-marked stone was uncovered during a botanical outing in the last decade of the 19th century.  Described as being around the township of Rhiwderin, the exact whereabouts of the carving is unknown and it’s not been seen since the first description of it in an early edition of Archaeologia Cambrensis by Mr T.H. Thomas. (1895)  John Sharkey (2004) mentioned the site in his recent survey of Welsh rock art, saying simply “location unknown.”

The missing Rhiwderin stone

Although we know there are no hard and fast rules for working out the location of cup-and-ring markings, one may be fortuitous in exploring any nearby Bronze Age or neolithic tombs (cairns, tumuli, etc) in the Rhiwderin district, as they do tend to enjoy the company of such sites — but I must stress, this is by no means a dead cert!

Mr Thomas’s description of the carving was as follows:

“I enclose a sketch of what seems to be a cup-marked stone which I observed yesterday near Rhiwderin, Monmouth.  Unless there be some operation which simulates such markings with which I am unacquainted, I take the specimen to add an instance of these mysterious prehistoric remains to the very short list given for Wales by Mr. Romilly Allen, and to be the first reported for South Wales.

“The stone displaying the cup-markings is a mass of millstone grit, earth-fast, the slanting surface appearing above the turf being about a yard wide, and 4 feet long.  Upon the upper half of the surface is a group of twelve cups from 1½ to 2in diameter, and about 1in deep. On first noticing the cups they were taken for holes out of which quartz pebbles, abundant in the local millstone grit, had been weathered, but examination of the block showed that no pebbles of large size exist, or had existed in it, and the conclusion was arrived at that the cups are artificial.

“On turning back some of the turf covering the base of the slope of the stone, no other cups were discovered.

“The stone lies within an old enclosure, as shown by wild apple-trees and an abundance of daffodils, and still more clearly by ruins, which seem those of a cottage or small farm near by. This contiguity to a habitation which does not seem to have been abandoned more than a century, made me suspect some medieval or more recent origin for the markings. I cannot, however, account for them otherwise than by supposing them to be cup-markings in the technical archaeological sense.

“The stone was observed while in the company of Dr C.T. Vachell of Cardiff, searching for varieties of narcissus which occur at several points in the neighbourhood…”

If anyone comes across this lost carving, please let us know!

References:

  1. Sharkey, John, The Meeting of the Tracks: Rock Art in Ancient Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch: Llanrwst 2004.
  2. Thomas, T.H., ‘Archaeological Notes and Queries,’ in Archaeologia Cambrensis, volume 12 (5th series), 1895.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 


Gwytherin Churchyard, Denbighshire

Stone Row: OS Grid Reference – SH 8767 6147

Also known as:

  1. Gwytherin Church Standing Stones
  2. The Four Stones

Getting Here

From the Denbigh road (A543 and A544) turn off at Llansannan for Gwytherin on the B5384 for 6 miles or so. At the village of Gwytherin St Winifred’s church stands roughly in the middle of the place at a junction of four roads. The church stands upon a small round hill and within the confines of the churchyard (north side) are four small standing stones – you can’t really miss them!

Archaeology & History

At the northern side of the churchyard near the wall there’s an alignment of four small standing stones probably dating from the Bronze Age.  The stones stand roughly 3 metres or 6 feet apart and are about 1 metre or 3 feet in height.  The westernmost stone has a Latin inscription carved onto it which is ‘VINNEMAGLI FILI SENEMAGLI’, or, ‘The Stone of Vinnemaglus, son of Senemaglus’, which is generally thought to date from the Romano-British period in the 5th-6th century AD and to be a grave marker.  Most probably the inscription was carved onto the prehistoric stone during the early Christian period — the stones themselves being from pre-Christian times.

The general thinking is that these stones belonged to a Bronze Age settlement that stood here long before any church was founded.  Perhaps there were other stones here forming a linear alignment that must have meant something to the ancient folks who lived here.  There has also been speculation as to whether the inscribed standing stone could actually mark the grave of St Winifred herself.

The churchyard is circular, indicating that it is a pagan sacred site.  Celtic churches being built on sites like this to Christianize them, but not entirely forget the meaning to the peoples of “the old religion,” as it’s called.  Also in the churchyard stand three ancient yew trees — yet another sign that the site is a holy one.

The first church in Gwytherin was founded by St Eleri (Elerius), a Welsh prince, in the mid-7th century.  He may be identical with St Hilary, a saint commemorated at a village of that name near Cowbridge, South Glamorgan.  Other than that, Eleri and his mother, Theonia, founded a double monastery here: one for men and the other for women, to which a young St Winifred (of Holywell) came to and was elected second abbess after Theonia.  St Eleri was probably a disciple of St Beuno, uncle to St Winifred, and also her cousin.  Here in 650 or 670 AD Winifred was buried in the churchyard — her relics being taken to Shrewsbury abbey in 1138.

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  2. Houlder, Christopher, Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber & Faber: London 1978.
  3. Hulse, T.G., Gwytherin: A Welsh Cult Site Of The Mid-Twelth Century, (unpublished paper) 1994.
  4. Nash-Williams, V.E., The Early Christian Monuments of Wales, Cardiff, 1950.
  5. Westwood, J.O., “Early Inscribed Stones of Wales,” in Archaeologia Cambrensis, 18:255-259, 1863.

Copyright © Ray Spencer 2011


St Winefride’s Well, Holywell, Flintshire.

Holy Well:  OS Grid ReferenceSJ 1851 7627

Also Known as:

  1. Ffynnon Gwenfrewi
  2. St. Winifred’s Well

Getting Here

St.Winifred’s Well

From the Chester ring road head into north Wales along the coast road (A548) from Connah’s Quay for about 13 miles taking you through Flint. After 12 miles turn left into Holywell town (Treffynnon). At the western end of the town go down the Greenfield-Mostyn road back towards the A584 taking you down a hill.  After 500 hundred yards you arrive at the holy well/shrine and pilgrimage centre on the right-hand side; there is parking on the opposite side of the road. There is a small entrance fee, but as well as the famous healing well and bathing pool, they have a gift shop, toilet facilities and a late medieval/Gothic two-storey structure that is built over the polygonal, vaulted well chamber, whilst at the side (at the corner of the hill) stands another Gothic chapel from 1500.

History and Legend                                                                                                 

According to the well known legend, a young Welsh girl called Winefride or Gwenfrewi, was the daughter of patrician parents, Thenith (Thewyth) and Gwenlo, who lived at Bryn-y-Castell (Treffynnon) at the beginning of the 7th century AD.  She was a very religious girl who was known for her kindness and charities to people in the area that was then called Tegeingl (after the Decengle tribe).  Winefride grew up to be a very beautiful young woman which troubled her because she had no wish to marry, only to live a life of chastity and serve God as only she knew how.

St. Winefrides Well 1742

One day a local chieftain from Hawarden (Penarlag) called Caradoc ap Alyn came hunting in the area. He became very thirsty so stopped off at the house where Winefride lived with her parents.  However, on this particular day her parents were attending the local church where St Beuno, her uncle, was conducting a service.  Prince Caradoc soon began to seduce her so she ran to the church but with the prince in hot pursuit.  When he caught up with poor Winefride, she again resisted him so he took his sword and beheaded her.  Her severed head fell to the ground and rolled down a hill and where it came to rest a spring of water gushed forth from the ground.  Her parents and uncle came rushing out of the church at which point St Beuno cursed the evil prince, who was calmly wiping blood from his sword, causing him to sink into the ground — never to be seen again.  St. Beuno then placed the severed head back into place, restoring Winifred to life again but leaving her with a thin scar round her neck.

Later, Winifred was entrusted for her education to St Beuno whom sent her to various holy men including St. Elerius at Gwytherin near Llanwrst.  Here she became abbess of a convent that had been founded by Elerius, with his mother St. Theonia as first abbess; and it was here for the next 40 years that Winifred lived out her life.  She was said to have died at Gwytherin in either 65o or 670 AD.  Her body was first interred in the churchyard there, however in 1138 her relics were transferred to Shrewsbury Abbey.  Sadly however, her shrine there was destroyed in the 16th century and now only a few relics remain with a finger-bone being housed at a convent in Holywell.

Mythology and Folklore                                                          

St. Winefrides Well 1750

The holy well and shrine of St. Winifred at Holywell became a place of pilgrimage during the middle-ages and many miracles of healing were wrought there.  The sick were cured of infirmities of the legs and body; crutches were left at the well and many were cured of leprosy, eye complaints, loss of hearing, being not able to bear a child, mental illness, palsy and lung disorders etc.  During the Reformation the holy well suffered much, but from the 17th century onwards pilgrims were returning to the holy place and, more recently it has become the Welsh Lourdes and still pilgrims come in droves from all over Wales and beyond.  The vaulted Gothic structure covering the well shrine is richly carved with bosses depicting various characters including St Beuno, Earl Stanley, Lady Margaret Beaufort, biblical characters, animals and an abbot of Basingwerk abbey, but there is also much recent graffiti too.  A tall statue of St Winefride looks down over the well while candles burn all around.  In the larger bathing pool outside, a stone lies at one side — this is claimed to be where St. Beuno sat whilst teaching his young niece.  Red stains on stones at the front of the well-basin were long taken to be the martyr’s bloodstains, but now these are thought to be iron oxide pigmentation on the lichens.  Today the people still come either to bathe in the special pool, throw coins in the well, or fill bottles with holy water from a tap on the wall.  Faith in miracles of healing is still much in evidence here and may it continue to be for many years to come.  Everyone is welcome here, you don’t have to be a Roman Catholic!

References:

  1. UneXplained - LiebreichBord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Paladin: London 1986.
  2. David, Christopher, Saint Winefride’s Well  – A History and Guide, Gomer Press: Llandysul 2002.
  3. Edwards-Charles, Thomas, Saint Winefride and Her Well – The Historical Background, Holywell 1962.
  4. Heath, Sidney, In the Steps of the Pilgrims, Rich & Cowan: London 1950.
  5. Jones, Francis, The Holy Wells of Wales, University of Wales Press: Cardiff 1992.
  6. Liebreich, Karen, UneXplained: Spine-tingling tales from Real Places in Great Britain and Ireland, Kindle 2012.
  7. Simcock, Richard, North Clwyd At Random, Countryside Publications Ltd: Chorley 1986.
  8. Spencer, Ray, A Guide to the Saints of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch: Felinfach 1991.

Copyright © Ray Spencer 2011