In Pete Chalmers (1844) historical brief about the long lost chapel and hospital of St. Leonard (and its associated holy well), mention is made of this long forgotten relic. Its memory was preserved in an old place-name, and was to be found less than half-a-mile southeast of St. Leonard’s sites on,
“the high part of the road, about a quarter of a mile to the south, the Spital-Crosshead, (named) from a pillar which, according to tradition, was erected there, decorated on the top by a St Andrew’s Cross, and removed probably towards the close of the 16th or 17th century.”
The cross is believed to have been erected in the 15th century.
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.
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.
The Cross is on the east side of the A10 Tottenham High Road, on the traffic island at the Monument Way Junction.
Archaeology & History
One of the earliest records of what was called the “hie crosse” is contained in a court-roll of 1456. It was at that time a wooden wayside cross, but there are hints that its origins may go back to Roman times. The Cross is next to what was the southern end of Ermine Street, built by the Romans where there was no pre-existing roadway and described as the most important thoroughfare in Britain: built to give direct communication to the main centres of the military occupation at Lincoln and York. Writing of Roman land survey marks, the now discredited early 20th century Middlesex historian Sir Montagu Sharpe (1932) thought Tottenham Cross possibly marked an earlier (i.e. Roman) stone, although no archaeological evidence has been found to support this. As it was next to Ermine Street it could equally have been a milestone or ceremonial pillar. After the Romans left it may have become a local heathen shrine which, with the coming of Christianity, was ultimately replaced by a wooden cross—but this is speculation, and we will probably never know why and when the original cross was placed where it was.
Originally in the historic County of Middlesex, the settlement of Tottenham surrounding the Cross was known from mediaeval times to the 19th century as ‘Tottenham High Cross’. Local historian William Robinson writing prior to 1840 thus describes the Cross:
“About the year 1580, a column of wood was standing, with a square sheet of lead on the top to throw off the water, supported by four spurs: these, being decayed and rotten, were taken down, about the year 1600, by Dean Wood, Dean of Armagh, who at that time resided in a house on the east side of it, and who erected on its site an octangular brick column, pointed at the top and crowned with a weathercock, and the initials of the four cardinal points, and under the neckings, small crosses, which were called tau-crosses, according to the true cross or Greek letter T.
“Tottenham High Cross, as it appeared in 1788, was an octangular brick pillar, divided into four stories, viz.: a double plinth, first portion of the pillar; second portion, of the same; and a pinnacle; each plinth and story rendered distinct one from the other by certain appropriate mouldings ; and the whole design appeared without any kind of ornament, pointed at the top and crowned with a weathercock. The Cross having fallen into decay, several of the inhabitants of the parish entered into a subscription, in the year 1809, for the purpose of putting it into a proper state of repair, and about the sum of £300. was raised. It was accordingly repaired, and covered with Parker’s cement. The octangular plan, and the proportions of the Cross in its four stories, have not been departed from ; but in other respects it is a new work ; some of the decorations seem to be formed from the exterior and interior of the chapel of Henry VIII; the double plinths or pedestals are as plain as before, but the intermediate mouldings are new; the first portion of the pillar consists of angular pilasters at each cant done with a pointed head; compartment of five turns, connecting itself with another compartment; above it diamonded, with a shield containing an imitation of the black letter. As there are eight faces to the upright, of course there are as many shields, each bearing a letter of the same cutting, beginning at the west face, TOTENHAM: in consequence of there being but eight shields, one of the T’s in the spelling has been necessarily dispensed with. The mouldings between this story and the second are worked into an entablature, with modern fancy heads and small pieces of ornaments alternately set at each angle.
“Second story—small buttresses at the angles of the octagon, with breaks and pinnacles, but no bases. The face of each cant has a compartment embellished with an ogee head, backed with narrow pointed compartments. The mouldings between this story and the pinnacle, making out a fourth story, give, at each angle, crockets, and its termination is with a double finial, but not set out in geometrical rule to the crockets below : there is at the top a vane, with N. E. W. S. The base is surrounded with a neat iron railing on Portland stone curb. The date at which these alterations were made is not placed in any conspicuous part of the structure.”
The craftsman who carried out the modernisation was a Mr. Bernasconia, working to the designs of a Mr. Shaw. Not everyone was pleased by the transformation. A regular contributor identified only as ‘An Architect’ made these caustic comments in the November 1809 edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine:
“Tottenham High Cross has this summer been covered over with Compo: it previously bore a simple appearance, but is now rendered of a very rich and elaborate cast, doing away in the first instance the Architectural history of the erection; and allowing it possible that there might once have been on the spot an Eleanora Cross, holding in contempt, by a want of due imitation, the characteristic style of decoration prevailed at at the time of the Queen’s demise. But according to the system of our Professional innovators, to destroy a sacred relick of antiquity, and to restore it as it is called, upon a model quite in a different style and nature, is one and the same thing. “Any thing is Gothick.”
“….Surveyed November 1809. Entirely covered with the proclaimed everlasting stuff, Compo; a stuff now the rage for trowelling over our new buildings, either on the whole surface, or in partial daubings and patchings; it is used in common with stone work, for instance, on an arcade, half one material, half the other; “ making good,” as it is called (abominable expedient) the mutilated parts of Antient Structures, there sticking on until it reverts (after exposure to the air for three or four years, more or less) to its first quality, dirt and rubbish, and then is seen no more….
“Provided this Compo effort had been advanced on any other occasion, and on any other piece of ground, where no piece of Antiquity was to become the spoil, such as an object to mark the centrical point of three or four counties, a general standard of miles or any other common document for the information or amusement of travellers, all would have been well, and some praise might have been bestowed, for its tolerable adherence to the above style, if not for the material wherewith it is made up. But as nothing of this sort will come in aid of the innovators, and only the barefaced presumption, “ alter or destroy, what was,” is to be encountered, let the detail of parts, put this matter to issue….”
The Cross stood in front of the Swan Inn, a place frequented by fishing writer Izaak Walton in the 1640s when he would go to fish in the nearby River Lea. In 1653 he published The Compleat Angler describing his fishing activities in the classical form of a philosophical dialogue between him as ‘Piscator’ and ‘Venator’ (hunter) and other passing characters, starting and ending his adventures at the High Cross. The 1759 edition of Compleat Angler contains the earliest illustrations of the Cross, with some slight artistic licence, by Samuel Wale.
As the Cross now stands in the maelstrom of North London’s traffic, it is worth recalling American traveller Nathaniel Carter’s 1825 observation when travelling north from London:
“Passing Tottenham Cross, we entered a rich agricultural country, possessing the usual charms of English landscape.”
An Architect (pseud.) – Architectural Innovation No. CXXXIX – The Gentleman’s Magazine, November 1809
Anonymous – Tottenham High Cross, The Gentleman’s Magazine, April 1820
Blair, John, The Church in Anglo Saxon Society, Oxford University Press 2005
Carter, Nathaniel Hazeltine, Letters From Europe..in 1825 ’26 & ’27, G & C & H Carvill, New York, 1829
Margary, Ivan D., Roman Roads in Britain, 3rd Ed., John Baker: London 1973.
Robinson, William, The History & Antiquities of the Parish of Tottenham, 2nd Ed., Nicholls & Son, W. Pickering, W.B. Hunnings: London 1840.
Sharpe, Montagu, Middlesex in British, Roman & Saxon Times, 2nd Ed., Methuen: London 1932.
Walton, Izaak, The Compleat Angler, Facsimile of the 1st Ed., containing illustrations from the 2nd US edition by John Major, No imprimatur, 1907.
The Cross was close to the Tudor era Byrnand Hall which stood on the north side of the High Street. The Hall was demolished around 1780, and replaced by the present building, now a political club. The Cross was taken down around the same time, so we’re fortunate to have a contemporary sketch.
Harry Speight (1906), the Great Yorkshire antiquarian, described the Cross when he was writing of the ‘big houses’ of Knaresborough, saying:
“Another notable old mansion was Byrnand Hall, which stood at the top of the High Street facing Gracious Street, and was rebuilt about a century ago. It was the property and seat for many generations of one of the leading families of Knaresborough, named Byrnand, one of its members being recorder of York in 1573. Opposite the house stood a very ancient stone cross, consisting of a plain upright column, without date or inscription, supported by several rudely-formed stones placed on three tiers or steps. It appears that one Richard Byrnand paid a fine and was permitted to enclose a cross standing on a piece of waste land then lately belonging to Robert Nessfield. The cross may be conjectured to have been either a memorial or boundary-stone. In those days ” it was not enough,” says the old antiquary, Hearne, ” to have the figure of the cross both on and in churches, chapels, and oratories, but it was put also in church-yards, and in every house, nay, many towns and villages were built in shape of it, and it was very common to fix it in the very streets and highways.
“This ancient relic, the site of which is now marked by a brass cross sunk in the causeway, was in after times called the Byrnand Hall Cross, from its proximity to the house of the same name. It stands on the road equidistant between York and Leeds, being eighteen miles from either place.”
At the end of the eighteenth century, E. Hargrove wrote:
“The (Byrnand) family mansion was situated at the end of the High-street, leading towards York. Near it formerly stood an ancient Cross, which being placed on the outside of the Rampart, and opposite to the entrance into the borough, seems to have been similar in situation, and probably may have been used for the same purpose, as that mentioned by Mr. Pennant, in his History of London, which stood without the city, opposite to Chester Inn; and here, according to the simplicity of the age, in the year 1294, and at other times, the magistrates sat to administer justice. Byrnand-Hall hath been lately rebuilt, by Mr. William Manby, who took down the remains of the old Cross, and left a cruciform stone in the pavement, which will mark the place to future times.”
Abbot J.I. Cummins, writing in the 1920s about the Catholic history of Knaresborough, told:
“Of the Byrnand Cross beyond the old town ditch the site is now marked in York Place by a brass cross let into the pavement for Christians to trample on.”
The Cross occupied an important position in the Knaresborough of old, at one of the highest points of the town by the junction of the modern High Street and Gracious Street, this latter being the road down the hill to the riverside and the troglodytic shrines of St Robert of Knaresborough and Our Lady.
Assuming the eighteenth century drawing is an accurate representation of the Cross, it does give the impression of considerable antiquity, and looks to have been 15-16 feet (4.75m.) high. From its appearance it looks like either a prehistoric monolith or an Anglo-Saxon ‘stapol‘ or column, and if it was the latter, it may have been erected to replace an earlier heathen wooden column or sacred tree following the replacement of the old beliefs by Christianity. If so, there may be no reason to deny Hargrove’s speculation that Byrnand Hall Cross once had a similar juridical function to the Chester Inn Cross in London.
Bintley, Michael D.J., Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England, Woodbridge, Suffolk, Boydell Press 2015.
Cummins, J.I., “Knaresborough,” in The Ampleforth Journal, Vol XXIV, No II, Spring 1929.
Hargrove, E., The History of the Castle, Town and Forest of Knaresborough, 5th Edition, Knaresborough 1790.
Speight, H., Nidderdale, from Nun Monkton to Whernside, London, Elliot Stock, 1906.
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.
We are thankful that the antiquarian James Wardell (1881) gave us some details of this long lost site in his survey of prehistoric remains, otherwise information about it would certainly have been lost. Prehistoric burial mounds are rare in this part of Yorkshire, but on the rise of land behind Follifoot Ridge house could once be seen “a large barrow measuring 50 feet in diameter.” Believed by Challis and Harding (1975) to have been a late Bronze Age structure, the story of its demise was told by Wardell as follows:
“This monument of a former age…exists no longer, owing to the ignorance and cupidity of the surveyors of the highways of the township in which it was situate; by whose orders the stones, of which it was partially composed, were carted away at intervals, during a period of some five or six years, to keep in repair a neighbouring road. At the base were several very large stones, probably a kistvaen, and at the same time were found fragments of urns, bones and ‘pieces of brass’, which immediately became dispersed. Some of the latter articles came into the possession of the village smith, from whom this information was obtained, and were disposed of by him to a brass-founder as old metal, and in due time, doubtless, found their way to the foundry. From the description given of them by this person, there seems to have been amongst them some spear-heads and a palstave, but after a most diligent inquiry, there could not, as might be expected, anything whatever be recovered. I should say that from weapons of bronze being found in this huge sepulchral mound, it was not one of the most ancient kind, but has perhaps covered the remains of British warriors slain in conflict with the Roman invaders… I am indebted to Mr John Dixon of Leeds for the information relating to the demolition of this barrow, which was only obtained by him after a lengthy enquiry; and he states that on his visit to the site, it could distinctly be traced by the grass there being of a darker hue than in other parts of the field.”
A mile to the northwest, one would have been able to see the Stone Rings of Pannal, also destroyed, and the two sites may have served some geomantic relationship with each other.
Challis, A.J. & Harding, D.W., Later Prehistory from the Trent to the Tyne, BAR: Oxford 1975.
Wardell, James, Historical Notes of Ilkley, Rombald’s Moor, Baildon Common, and other Matters of the British and Roman Periods, Joseph Dodgson: Leeds 1869. (2nd edition 1881).
Acknowledgements: Big thanks for being able to use the 1st edition OS-map for this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland.
Prehistoric companion to the more pronounced Pen Howe (1) Bronze Age cairn just 20 yards to the west, this overgrown tumulus is hardly noticeable when the heather’s deep and is probably only of interest to dedicated antiquarians and geomancers. Its position in the landscape, whilst not as prominent as its companion and the nearby Breckon Howe, would still have been important to its builders and the relative proximity of the two tombs may imply a continuity of tribal companionship in the Land of the Dead. But hey! – that’s just a silly idea of mine! 🙂
Rising barely three feet above ground level, this is slightly smaller than Pen Howe (1), being just 13 yards across; and there is no indication that it has ever been dug into.
Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
Acknowledgements: Big huge thanks to my Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this old tomb (which is nearly as old as Linzi 🙂).
Along the A169 road between Sleights and Pickering, some two miles south of Sleights turn right as if you’re going to the tombs of Flat Howe and the Bride Stones, but just park up 80 yards along by the cattle grid. From here, a fence runs southeast and the mound is on the near skyline, just over 100 yards away. Just walk through the heather to reach it.
Archaeology & History
Shown on the first OS map of the area in 1853, this somewhat overgrown prehistoric tomb is one of two in close attendance to each other (see Pen Howe 2); and is some 435 yards (398m) away from the more prominent Breckon Howe tomb to the southwest. Like others on Sleights Moor, no real archaeological attention has been paid here, with Frank Elgee (1930) only giving it the slightest mention in passing.
Smaller than its nearby companions of Flat and Breckon Howe, the overgrown cairn raises about four feet above ground level and about 20 yards across. Probably Bronze Age in origin, it has a slightly concave top that gives the impression that someone at sometime in the not-too-distant past has had a bittova dig here to see if there’s owt inside. But we have no record of such a thing.
surmounted by a relatively recent boundary stone, sits at the highest point on the moors in these parts. Despite this (as with others on these moors), very little has been written about the place and it has received only minimal attention in archaeology tomes. Even the renowned pen of Frank Elgee (1912; 1930) gave it only passing mention. Perhaps it aint a bad thing to be honest.
Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
Acknowledgements: Big huge thanks to my Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this old tomb and its companion. (which is nearly as old as Linzi 🙂 )
Along the A169 road between Sleights and Pickering, some two miles south of Sleights at the highest point on the moors just above the west side of the road, you’ll see a large mound with what looks like a standing stone on top of it. A minor road turns off the A169 at this point, heading southeast, and the large mound is 150 yards from the roadside. You can’t really miss it!
Archaeology & History
Shown on the first OS map of the area in 1853, this conspicuous prehistoric tomb surmounted by a relatively recent boundary stone, sits at the highest point on the moors in these parts. Despite this (as with others on these moors), very little has been written about the place and it has received only minimal attention in archaeology tomes. Even the renowned pen of Frank Elgee (1912; 1930) gave it only passing mention. Perhaps it aint a bad thing to be honest.
As well as being conspicuous, it’s large. Rising some six feet above the natural ground level, it measures 26 yards across its east-west axis, and 29 yards north-south, with a rough circumference of 88 yards. The boundary stone that surmounts its crown sits in a hollow that looks like it was opened up a century or two ago by antiquarians (much like ourselves). But its position of the tomb in the landscape that is most striking. The view from here is considerable, having a clear 360º view for many miles around. Other prehistoric tombs can be seen from here, but more importantly this tomb can be seen on the skyline from many others. This was probably a deliberate feature intended by its builders–and it’s not uncommon, as many of our upland regions are crowned with ancient tombs like Breckon Howe. In all likelihood this would have been the resting place of some important ancestral figure: a tribal elder or a shaman, whose spirit after death could view and travel across the landscape they inhabited in life.
Although the tomb presently sits amidst an endless sea of heather (Calluna vulgaris) typical of moorland across our northern lands, the name of the site ‘breckon’, according to George Young (1817) derives from the dialect word meaning ferns or bracken. This is echoed in Francis Kildale’s (1855) local dialect study and subsequently in Joseph Wright’s (1898) unequalled magnum opus.
In the early 19th century, one George Calvert who lived in the area, collected as much folklore as he could, as it was dying off with the coming of the Church. One such piece told that there was once a hob who lived by this old tomb. A hob is generally known as a supernatural creature, but in this area it can also be a medicine man. Some hobs were good, others were malicious. We know not what type of hob lived lived here, but Calvert simply told us there used to be “T’ Hob of Brackken Howe”. Nowt more! It would be good to find the story behind this old character, if it hasn’t been lost entirely…
Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
Elgee, Frank, The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire, A. Brown: London 1912.
Kildale, Francis, A Glossary of Yorkshire Words and Phrases Collected in Whitby and the Nieghbourhood, J.R. Smith: London 1855.
Home, Gordon, The Evolution of an English Town, J.M. Dent: London 1905.
Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 1, .Henry Frowde: London 1898.
Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – volume 2, Clarke & Medd: Whitby 1817.
Acknowledgements: A huge thanks to Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this great tomb and its companion.