Tumble Beacon, Banstead, Surrey

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – TQ 2432 5902

Archaeology & History

Tumble Beacon in 1911

This ancient “bowl barrow” as the modern archaeo’s are wont to describe it, is a Bronze Age tumulus that has seen better days.  But at least it’s still there – albeit slightly damaged and enclosed by modern housing, in the back of someone’s garden.  I expect that if you were to ask the owners, it would be OK to see this 4000 year old burial mound (in Scotland at least, we always find people very amiable when it comes to asking such things).  It’s quite a big thing too, so you can’t really miss it!  Standing more than 12 feet high, it rises like an archetypal fairy mound—now out of place—measuring some 38 yards east-west and roughly 44 yards north-south.

Highlighted on the early OS-map of the region, the name of the site indicates its multi-period usage, with the ‘beacon’ element derived  from when, in 1594, a fire was lit upon it to tell of the arrival of the Spanish Armada.  Whether it had been used as a beacon prior to that, I can find no historical accounts.  One of the early archaeological descriptions came from the pen of the old historian and folklorist, Walter Johnson (1903), who told us simply:

Tumble Beacon on 1871 map
Walter Johnson’s 1903 sketch

“About a mile South-west of Banstead Church, in a field close by Tumble Farm, on the outskirts of Nork Park, is an eminence marked on the map as Tumble Beacon.  A picturesque clump of pines stands on the mound, which, from its general character, and from the flint scraps we have found there, we have every reason to believe is a round barrow, despite the local tradition that it is a ‘sea-mark.’  The Scotch pines, in such positions as we find here, may probably, Mr. Grant Allen thought, be the descendants of trees put in by human hands when the barrow was first raised.”

Whilst this latter idea might be very hard to prove, the assertion that it’s prehistoric certainly gained favour as more antiquarians examined the site.  Johnson later told that when examining this and other sites nearby (sadly destroyed) he came across a variety of prehistoric stone utensils in the area.

References:

  1. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, A. & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Surrey, Cambridge Univserity Press 1934.
  2. Grinsell, Leslie V., The Ancient Burial Mounds of England, Methuen: London 1936.
  3. Johnson, Walter, Neolithic Man in North-East Surrey, Elliot Stock: London 1903.
  4. Lambert, H.C.M., History of Banstead in Surrey, Oxford University Press 1912.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.316710, -0.217431 Tumble Beacon

Ruston Beacon, Ruston Parva, East Yorkshire

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TA 0584 6128

Archaeology & History

Ruston Beacon tumulus on 1854 map

Ruston Beacon tumulus on 1854 map

A fallen tumulus that once marked the southwestern side of the village boundary line, and was once adjacent to the prehistoric Green Dikes earthworks that once passed here.  Sadly however, sometime early in the 20th century, this ancient burial mound fell victim to usual ignorance of arrogant land-owners who place money ahead of history and local tradition and it was ploughed-up and destroyed.  Thankfully we have an account of the site in J.R. Mortimer’s (1905) incredible magnum opus.  Listing it as ‘Barrow no.272’ in the number of tombs excavated, he told us that:

“It is situated on elevated ground about half-a-mile (south)west of Ruston Parva.  On September 20th and 21st, 1886, it measured about 70 feet in diameter and 2 feet in elevation; and had originally been several feet higher, as an old inhabitant remembered assisted in removing its upper portion, which was carried away and spread on the surrounding land many years previously.  At the base of the barrow, near the centre, was a long heap of cremated bones which had been interred in a hollow log of wood with rounded ends, about 3 feet in length and 14 inches in width, well shown by impressions in the plastic soil, and by the remains of the decayed wood.  The heap of bones was rather large and probably consisted of the remains of more than one body.  No relic accompanied them.  Several splinters and flakes of flint were picked from the mound.”

The tumulus (as its name implies) became a spot besides which one of East Yorkshire’s many ancient beacons were built.  In Nicholson’s (1887) survey of such monuments, he told that

“the modern beacon, apparently, stood on the site of the old one, on the high ground in the angle of the road from Driffield to Kilham.  It was a prominent object and would be well-known to the coachmen and guards…for it stood on the side of the road from Driffield to Bridlington.  Mr John Browne, of Bridlington, remembers it; and says, ‘It would be the last of the beacons that remained in this district and was removed between fifty and sixty years ago.  My recollection of it is that it was a tall pole, with a tar barrel at the top, and had projected steppings to reach the barrel.”

One of the earliest accounts of the beacon from the late-1500s told that it took signal for its light from the beacon at Rudston, which stood upon one of the Rudston cursus monuments, a short distance from the massive Rudston monolith.

References:

  1. Mortimer, J.R., Forty Years Researches in British and Saxon Burial Mounds of East Yorkshire, Brown & Sons: Hull 1905.
  2. Nicholson, John, Beacons of East Yorkshire, A. Brown & Sons: Hull 1887.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Ruston Beacon tumulus

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Ruston Beacon tumulus 54.036652, -0.385331 Ruston Beacon tumulus

The Falls (1), Boulby, Easington, North Yorkshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 74954 19429

Also Known as:

  1. Rockcliff Beacon

Archaeology & History

Tumulus on 1920 map

Occupying a prominent position above the ever-closer North Sea, upon which an old beacon was subsequently placed, this denuded prehistoric tomb was first surveyed by the Ordnance Survey lads in 1913, and subsequently in an essay by Messers Hornsby & Laverick (1920) on the ancient sites of Boulby, east of Easington.  This was the first one they explored, calling it ‘Mound No.1.”  They located it,

“due south of the ‘Soldier’s Garth’ in the east corner of the field called The Falls.  It was a cairn with a diameter of 50ft.  Two-and-a-half feet northwest of the centre peg, at a depth of 21 inches below the present surface, there was an unaccompanied burnt burial, which occupied a space of 15in by 18in.  In a centre cut 7ft 6in by 6ft, at a depth of 3ft 6in, we found much burnt bone and many potsherds of the Bronze Age type, scattered over the whole space of the trench, down to a further depth of 3ft 10½in.  In the south corner there were four stones set on edge and running in a direct (straight) line.  The interment had been placed upon the clay, the soil of the original surface having been cleaned off.  With this burial we found a good flint made from a polished celt and worn smooth at the point—possibly through having been used for striking fire on iron pyrites—many chips and several cupstones.”

The “several” cup-marked stones they describe at the end seem to have been lost; perhaps sleeping in some museum cellar somewhere (does anyone know?).

This cairn was one in a complex of eight that Frank Elgee (1930) suggested may have been laid out deliberately in the form of the constellation of Ursa Major, or The Plough, also known as ‘Charles Wain’.

References:

  1. Brown, Paul & Chappell, Graeme, Prehistoric Rock Art in the North York Moors, Tempus: Stroud 2005.
  2. Crawford, G.M., Bronze Age Burial Mounds in Cleveland, Cleveland County Council 1990.
  3. Elgee, Frank, Early Man in North-East Yorkshire, John Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  4. Hornsby, William & Laverick, John D., “British Barrows round Boulby,” in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, volume 25, 1920.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  54.564547, -0.842310 The Falls (1) cairn

Rye Loaf Hill, Settle, North Yorkshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SD 86419 63309

Also Known as:

  1. Inglehow

Getting Here

Triangulation & cairn atop of Rye Loaf Hill on a truly foggy eve

Best way is to take the Settle to Kirkby Malham road: a tiny little thing running steep from Settle up and around the hills, making sure you don’t miss the turn-off to Kirkby and head down to Airton instead.  About 100 yards along from the road-junction to Kirkby, there’s a small copse of trees and a gate just before it.  Walk up through that and head right to the top of the nice hill a mile or so ahead of you to the north.  It can be boggy, slippy and well good!  A decent Barmy Bennett expedition this way lies!  Get to the top of the hill and you can’t miss the cairn!

Archaeology & History

First shown on the 1771 Greenwood map, this is another intriguing little-known antiquity in our Yorkshire hills.  It’s intriguing as the precise age and nature of the site doesn’t appear to have been ascertained.  On top of this lovely rounded hill is not only a stunning view for many miles in all directions (unless you climb it on a very cloudy foggy day, like we did!), but the rock-pile which someone in recent years has turned into a wind-break has been taken from a much larger, and much older rock-pile on the very summit.

The cairn stands about a yard tall at the highest and measures roughly 12 yards in diameter, but the edges of the site seem to disappear further beneath the peat and vegetation on the hilltop.  A section in the middle of the cairn has obviously been dug into, probably to create the stone shelter on its southern side, but it also gives the impression of having been dug into by treasure-seekers in the past — similar to the trenches found in the Snowden Crags cairn circle, the Great Skirtful of Stones and other prehistoric tombs.

The site has been marked on Ordnance Survey maps as a simple marker cairn (non-antiquated writing on the maps), but I have strong suspicions after visiting this peak that the cairn in question is a lot older than has previously been assumed.  So I contacted local archaeologist Robert White and asked if he knew of any archaeological data about the cairn, but he said there was nothing that he knew.  However, an additional piece of information that adds potential to the antiquity of the cairn came from the awesome pen of Harry Speight (1895) who told that,

“The original name of this eminence is Inglehow, which suggests like Ingleborough and ancient look-out post or beacon hill.”

The suffix how or howe is well-known to place-name students in northern England and beyond as a burial mound or tumulus.  We must be cautious however, for as Gelling (1988) says, the word “is frequently applied to a tumulus, but it can refer to a natural hill.” But Speight’s idea that the name may have had something to do with beacons was mentioned — albeit without reference to Rye Loaf Hill, whose history and features he ignored — in Thomas Whitaker’s (1878) huge survey, where he wrote:

“In this parish was an immemorial custom, continued within the memory of many persons yet alive, of kindling fires on the tops of the surrounding hills on St. Laurence’s Eve, the 9th of August.  This night was called the Kennel or Kennelk night; and the tradition of the place is, that the fires were intended as a memorial of the beacons kindled by the Saxons to alarm their countrymen on the sudden approach of the Danes.”

The parish in question that Whitaker described was Giggleswick, which is right next door to Settle, in whose parish Rye Loaf Hill lives.

On the southern edge of Rye Loaf are a couple of other archaeological place-names that need looking at.  We have a couple of ‘Stone Haws’, which are probably cairns, close to which we find extensive evidence of human activity at some time in the past.  But close to one of these piles of stones is another, far more fabled rock whose history appears to have long since been neglected: the Dragon Stone of Scosthrop Moor.  Never heard of it?  That’s not surprising…

References:

  1. Gelling, Margaret, Signposts to the Past, Phillimore: Chichester 1988.
  2. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1956.
  3. Speight, Harry, Tramps and Drives in the Craven Highlands, Elliot Stock: London 1895.
  4. Whitaker, Thomas Dunham, The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven in the County of York, (3rd edition) Joseph Dodgson: Leeds 1878.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Rye Loaf Hill cairn

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Rye Loaf Hill cairn 54.065540, -2.208999 Rye Loaf Hill cairn