Sheriff Hill, Malham, North Yorkshire

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SD 8994 6405

Also Known as:

  1. Friar’s Heap
  2. Monk’s Grave

Getting Here

‘X’ marks the spot!

There’s nowhere to park any vehicles anywhere near this place if you wanna reach this site.  And so, from Malham village, take steep eastern road up Malham Rakes (ask a local if needs be) for exaclt half-a-mile (0.81 km) where, at a bittova sharp turn in the road, there’s a footpath on your left.  Walk along here for about 350 yards until you hit a straight line of walling on your left.  Follow this along, about 30 yards before it turns at a right-angle. On the other side of the wall from here, a barely discernible denuded heap is in the overgrown field.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

To be found above the grand rise of Malham Cove—on its eastern side—the earliest mention I’ve found of this once-large prehistoric burial cairn was in the Cravendale travelogue of William Howson (1850).  His description was only a brief one, telling us how,

“The workmen engaged on the fences have lately opened a large barrow, which is known by the local as the Friars’ Heap, near the eastern arm of the Cove, and a quantity of human bones were found.”

In Howson’s opinion he thought “the spot is much more likely to be connected with the marauding Scots than the peaceful monks”; but he was wrong on both counts.  When the site was later visited and described by the great northern antiquarian, Harry Speight – aka, Johnnie Gray (1891) – he told us that the place “was much more likely to have been a British or Danish burial mound.”

Originally standing to a height of more than six-feet, the tomb has subsequently been reduced to half that height.  The most lengthy descriptions of it were written by the regional antiquarian Arthur Raistrick.  In his topographical literary meanderings across the Malham landscape, he gives a fine overview of its features and locale:

“Across the clints the old valley which leads to the edge of the Cove is seen, and looking upstream a grand impression of the Dry Valley, properly called Watlowes, is obtained.  Across the foot of the valley a stile crosses rhe wall, and a footpath goes up the hill near to the boundary wall of the Cove; this is Sheriff Hill.  At the prominent corner of the wall where the path resumes a level course, it joins the path from Malham Lings called Trougate.  Between here and the road there are abundant traces of the Celtic fields, nestling under the small limestone crags that offer shelter from the northeast, evidently as unwelcome a quarter for the wind when these were occupied as today.  Where the wall turns at right-angles again towards the Cove, there is a very prominent circular mound nearly a hundred feet in diameter.  This is a burial mound of late Iron Age.  It was dug into about the year 1845 and in addition to many human bones , fragments of an iron spearhead were found.  It is to be regretted that no careful account of this excavation was preserved, as there seems no doubt that this was a multiple burial of some importance.  Like other burial mounds in this district, the site was well chosen with a most extensive view which includes many notable hill summits…”

This latter remark could well have come from the pen of the old ley-hunter, Alfred Watkins (1925), who noted time and again how landscape features would seemingly connect one site with another, and another. (the modern idea of leys as ‘energy-lines’ is an American invention and wholly without merit)

A few years after Raistrick gave us his initial description, the cairn was excavated.  In his short work on the archaeology of Malham Moor (1961), he wrote:

“A burial mound (that was) three-quarters removed at the time of the enclosures (about 1845) when the mound was dug as a quarry for walling stones. The remaining fragment was trenched right through and was found to be built entirely of stone with a kerb of large flaggy stone laid on the slope at the foot of the mound.  Many fragments of decorated pottery were founmd under the turf cover and were associated with what appeared to be discarded gravel from the original quarrying, so may have come from the centre.  At the inner edge of the kerb and under a carefully placed cover-stone, a smal oval vessel was got.  This is of thick bluey-grey paste, red outside and very flaky so that part of the surface is lost on the two-thirds of the vessel which remains.  Prof Stuart Piggott has reported on the pottery.  Of this vessel he says — “an oval cup of the so-called ‘Incense Cup’ class: one sherd is of the wall and base of one end, the other a piece spalled off from the inside of the base. I only know of one paralle to this remarkable pot, another oval incense-cup from Far Fields, Lockton, N.R. Yorks, in the York Museum.  A very odd little oval ‘cup’ of sandstone from Defford, Bredon, Worcs, in the Hastings Muesum at Worcerster is a stray find and might be of any age, and anyway only provides a vague parallel.”

Another “vessel is represented by sherd of what appears to be a small cinerary urn of collared or overhanging-rim type with the yellow-brown surface characteristic of so many pots of this class.  The decoration appears to be in alternating panels of vertical and horizontal lines of uncertain width, the whole forming the so-called ‘hurdle’ pattern.  The ornament is made of double lines of twisted cord, one with a right-hand and the other with a left-and twist: such ornament is widely distributed on such vessels…

“A third “vessel is represented by a few sherds with purple-red exterior, decorated with impressed cord, whipped cord and grooving.  It is diffcitul to say what sort of pot is represented, but I suspect something within the food vessel class… The whole assemblage could well be contemporary and would fall withini the Middle Bronze Age of conventional nomenclature, somwhat in the middle of the second millenium BC…”

The most striking feature of this site is its position in the landscape, typical of large cairns in the Pennines and much further afield.  The view to the south is extensive and would have had some bearing on its construction, as such heights allow for the spirits of the dead to move across the landscape.  The huge cliffs of Malham Cove below may also have been an important factor.  In the days when this tomb was built, a great waterfall existed at the Cove that has subsequently fallen back to Earth.  In many traditional cultures, water is an extremely important element.  Its relationship to life is obvious; but also in the Lands of the Dead water feeds the spirit on its journeys.  These animistic and geomantic features are essential in looking at the nature of the placement of sites—and this at Sheriff Hill would have been no exception.

Enjoy your sojourns and meditations here…

References:

  1. Gray, Johnnie, Airedale, from Goole to Malham, 1891.
  2. Howson, William, An Illustrated Guide to the Curiosities of Craven, Whittaker: London 1850.
  3. Raistrick, Arthur, Malham and Malham Moor, Dalesman: Clapham 1947.
  4. Raistrick, Arthur & Holmes, Paul F., Archaeology of Malham Moor, Headley Bros: London 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

 

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  54.072281, -2.155226 Sheriff Hill cairn

Caravan Park, Blair Drummond, Stirlingshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NS 7253 9906

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 46065
  2. Old Farm

Getting Here

Caravan Park burial mound

Caravan Park burial mound

Along the A84 Stirling-Doune road, watch out for the minor Cuthill Brae road to the caravan park. Go up and into Blair Drummond caravan park (ignore the old grumpy southern-type fella who tells you “this is private”), right into and through the walled area where the caravans are situated.  Out the other side is a children’s playground— and the very large mound to your left with a tree on top (and a children’s slide built on it) is the burial mound in question.

Archaeology & History

Tumulus from the southeast

Tumulus from the southeast

This comes as something of a surprise when you first set eyes on it.  It’s big! (bigger than I expected anyway!)  Seemingly on its own, rising from the level ground and surrounded by cultivated land, there were probably others of its kin close by, but the closest that we know about is 1.5km to the east; although the standing stone of Boreland Hill a few hundred yards west might have had some relevance….

This tumulus may be the one noted by Charles Roger (1853) in his visit to the area.  He spoke of the now denuded burial mound to the east (in the Safari Park), but also told that,

“Within the park are two other tumuli, one situated in the garden, of a conical form and measuring 92 yards in circumference and about 15 yards in height…”

Blair Drummund tumulus on 1866 OS-map

Blair Drummund tumulus on 1866 OS-map

This mound is more 15 feet in height than yards, but the other measurement is close—and it does seem to be in the right area.

There is much greater certainty in J.G. Callander’s (1929) account.  He was fortunate in being part of the excavations undertaken here by Sir Kay and Lady Muir in 1927-28 and gave a damn good account of what went on:

“The mound is not quite circular, as it measures about 75 feet in diameter from north to south and about 65 feet from east to west, its height being about 15 feet.  Before the excavations were started it seemed as if the monument consisted entirely of earth, but before the examination was completed it was found that it contained a small cairn of stones, heaped over a grave formed of large slabs arid boulders which undoubtedly was the primary interment.

“Commencing at the south-south-eastern edge of the mound, a trench driven in towards the centre, revealed the presence of a short cist which had apparently been disturbed at some previous time.  A large block of stone formed the northern end and a large slab the east side.  A smaller slab lay at the south end and another on the west side, but as the latter was too short to fill the space, a larger slab lay obliquely between it and the large stone at the north end.  There was no appearance of a cover stone.  The length of this grave was 3 feet 3inches, its breadth 3 feet, and its depth 2 feet 3 inches.  The longer axis lay practically north and south.  No traces of human remains or relics of any sort were found here.  This was evidently a secondary burial sunk into the mound as far as the original surface of the ground, and covered with about 4 feet of soil at the centre.

“As the trees interfered with further excavations at this part, another trench was cut in from the northern arc as far as the centre of the mound, where an undisturbed cist, formed of large rough slabs and a cover stone, was encountered.  Although this grave was considerably larger in length, breadth and depth than any of the numerous short cists that I have examined, I think it should be classed with them rather than with the large cist-like chambers sometimes found in long cairns.  It was formed of two side and two end slabs.  The sides were roughly parallel, but the slab at the southern end was placed obliquely so that the length of the grave was 4 feet 6 inches on the east side and 4 feet on the west side. The general breadth was 3 feet at the floor, and the depth 4 feet.  Both side slabs converged towards the top.  As the slabs on the east side and at the ends were not so high as that on the west, the spaces between them and the cover stone were carefully built up with smaller stones.  A slight vacancy between the slabs at the south-east corner was filled in a similar fashion.  A small cairn of clean stones without a mixture of soil had been heaped up over the cist, covering the lid to a depth of about 9 inches: the diameter of the cairn at the base was  not ascertained.  The depth of earth above the summit of the cairn was about 8 feet.  But for a layer of a few inches of earth on the floor the cist was empty.  Nothing was found except some small unburnt fragments of human bone, very much decayed, and a few teeth.  Some small fragments of charred wood were found in making the trench and in the grave, but whether it was charred by natural carbonisation or by burning was not determined.

“In making the trench just before the grave was reached, but at a higher level, a small portion of the cutting edge of a stone axe was found.  It had no evident connection with the cist, and may have happened to be lying about amongst the soil that was piled up over the grave.

“As there remained a space on the top of the mound which could be excavated without destroying any of the trees, it was examined.  About 1 foot under the surface a cinerary urn was found in an inverted position.  The base had been crushed in, and the wall was full of cracks into which tree roots had penetrated.  On taking it out the vessel was found to have originally been about half-filled with cremated human bones.  These after examination were reinterred in the mound.  No other relics were found in the urn.

“The vessel, which is formed of buff-coloured clay with a tinge of red in places, is a cinerary urn of the cordoned variety belonging to the Bronze Age.  It is encircled at the widest part, about 3½ inches below the lip, by a raised moulding or cordon, and about 3 inches lower down by another.  The greater part of the vessel was recovered, but as the basal portion was completely crushed, it is impossible to ascertain the height of the vessel or the width of the base when complete.  It measures 10¾ inches in external diameter at the mouth and 11 inches at the widest part: what remains of the wall is 13 inches in height.  The rim, which is unusually thin for a vessel of this class, is only ⅜-inch in thickness, and it is bevelled downwards towards the interior.  The space between the upper cordon and the rim is the only part which is decorated, and here there is a row of large triangles, alternately plain and filled, with a reticulated design, bordered above and below with a single marginal line, all formed by pressing a twisted cord on the clay before it was fired.”

Protected tumulus, damaged by slide

Protected tumulus, damaged by slide

The burial mound is still in a reasonably good state of preservation… on the whole…  There is however, a slightly worrying note: this tumulus is a protected scheduled monument but despite this it has, as of late, been quite deliberately built upon.  When Penny Sinclair and I visited the nearby Christ’s Well recently (out of season), an unhelpful grumpy man working or living there told us we were “not allowed on the site – it’s private.”  We thought he was joking and I laughed that, “This is Scotland!”  He repeated his words.  A week later, Paul Hornby and I revisited the Christ’s Well and then took to see this large burial mound – only to find that a children’s play area had been built right up to, and upon, the northwestern part of the monument. This is in contravention of legal regulations to build upon Scheduled Monuments, as:

“The area to be scheduled encompasses the mound and an area around it in which traces of associated activity may be expected to survive.”

This has been violated.

If you like your prehistoric burial mounds, this is well worth having a look at.

References:

  1. Callander, J. Graham, “A Bronze Age Burial Mound at Blair Drummond, Perthshire,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 63, 1929.
  2. Roger, Charles, A Week at Bridge of Allan, Adam & Charles: Edinburgh 1853.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.167180, -4.054446 Caravan Park

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

Acharn Burn, Kenmore, Perthshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NN 7607 4294

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 25011

Getting Here

Acharn Burn tumulus, Kenmore
Acharn Burn tumulus, Kenmore

From Kenmore, take the minor road on the south-side of Loch Tay for 1½ miles (2.4km) until you reach the hamlet of Acharn.  From here take the track uphill for ½-mile past the Acharn waterfalls and when you come out on the east-side of the trees, keep walking uphill parallel to the trees and burn until the land levels-out and the track heads away, east.  200 yards ahead, on the left-side of the track, you’ll see the large fairy-mound.

Archaeology & History

The tumulus looking NE
The tumulus looking NE

First reported in archaeological circles in the Discovery & Excavation Scotland mag in 1964, this archetypal fairy-mound or tumulus sitting on the grassy plain overlooking the eastern end of Loch Tay and district would have been known of by local people in older times, but I can find no early accounts of it, nor its traditions.  When Bob Money (1990) came here, he told of the grand vista stretching into the distant mountains:

“From here the views…are superb, and the little mound, which is an ancient tumulus, or burial mound, has sat here undisturbed for several thousand years, guarding the secret of its once important occupant.”

Circular in structure and measuring 20 feet across, the mound rises nearly four-feet high and is probably Bronze Age in origin.  Although mostly covered in grass, there are some loose stones visible on the side of the mound, seeming to indicate that it may be a covered cairn.  No excavation have yet taken place here.

References:

  1. Money, Bob, Scottish Rambles – Corners of Perthshire, Perth 1990.

AcknowledgementsMany thanks to the unholy bunch who helped travel, locate, photograph and take notes on the day of our visit here, including Aisha, Lara & Leo Domleo; Lisa & Fraser; Nina and Paul.  Let’s do it again and check out the unrecorded stuff up there next time!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.562124, -4.017857 Acharn Burn

Church Field, North Ockendon, Essex

Church Field, N.Ockendon mapTumuli (destroyed): OS Grid-Reference – TQ 618 850

Also Known as:

  1. Monument No. 414124

Archaeology & History

Lay out of destroyed tumuli
Lay out of destroyed tumuli

As with many prehistoric sites, this too was unearthed and seemingly destroyed in the 19th century. Although it seems that nothing now remains of the place, the english archaeological fraternity have the site listed as a “Romano-British site”, which seems reasonable; although the lay-out of the barrows or tumuli described and portrayed in the sketch here give a more traditional Bronze Age look. But we may never know for sure.  Thankfully a fellow antiquarian called Walter Field (1863) was on hand to make a record of the place before its final destruction.  In a short paper he wrote for the Essex Archaeological Society, he told that:

“In the Spring of 1858, a number of labourers were employed in trenching some fields belonging to Holme Farm, forming part of a large tract of land called Bulphan Fen, and situated about a mile-and-a-half west of the village of North Ockenden.  In the course of their operations they found a number of beds of dark soil, in which were a large quantity of bones, supposed at first to be human, together with fragments of pottery and pieces of charcoal.  It was the general belief among the workmen that the field had been the scene of some great battle, a belief supported by some local traditions.  One thing seems certain, that it is the site of a Roman or early British Burial Ground, extending over a space of about sixteen acres; but whether it marks the battlefield of one of those many great struggles which took place in this county between the Britons and Romans, or whether it denotes the peaceful cemetery of a Roman Station, it is perhaps not very easy to determine.

“The little evidence, however, which the plough and the harrow have left remaining, seems in favour of the latter. The regular and almost equidistant arrangement of the lines of dark soil in many parts, and the many fragments of cinerary urns found in nearly all of them, seem to indicate rather the orderly interment of a cemetery, than the more hasty burial of a battle-field; but this is by no means conclusive.

“The graves are at once discernible from the surrounding soil, the natural soil being a yellow clay, whilst the earth of the graves is nearly black.  It is impossible, with any accuracy, to trace the exact forms of the graves, some appear to be circular, and to vary in size from 10 to 40 feet in circumference, others appear to be of an oblong form; one grave is much larger than the rest, and is of about 60 feet in length and 20 in width.  There are doubtless more of these graves in the bordering fields.  It is worthy of note that a neighbouring meadow is called the Church Field, and a portion of the land on which these discoveries were made is still called Ruin Field.  Both these names, probably, have reference to the formerly uneven sur&ce of the ground, caused by a great number of burial mounds.  The fragments of Pottery vary much in their character, some being of the very rudest workmanship, whilst others have been more carefully manufactured; and a few small pieces of Samian Ware were found; mingled with them, were the bones of different animals — the horse, the deer, the boar, etc., but no human bones; much of the earth, stones, and pieces of wood bear evident marks of the action of fire; beyond these there was nothing found, except a portion of a flint arrow-head and a part of a hand mill stone.  Not a single coin or piece of metal was discovered.  The circumstances that all the fragments of pottery, and nearly all the bones of animals, are broken up into small pieces lying equally at the bottom as at the top of the dark soil, and that the graves are about three feet deep, narrow at the bottom and widening to the surface, lead me to think that the present graves are only the trenches of the original barrows, but that the field has been gradually levelled for agricultural purposes, and that the plough and the spade have in process of time filled up the original trenches with the soil, urns, bones, &c., of the burial mound.”

References:

  1. Field, Walter, “Discovery of British and Roman Remains at North Ockenden and White Notley,” in Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, volume 2, 1863.

This site entry is dedicated to Sarah Hunt, once of North Ockendon, wherever she may be…

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Church Field tumuli

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Church Field tumuli 51.541106, 0.332363 Church Field tumuli

Craigkennockie, Burntisland, Fife

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference — NT 237 861

Archaeology & History

Very little is known about a prehistoric tomb that once existed near the coast at Craigkennockie.  Its existence was briefly described in Andrew Young’s (1913) fine history of the township where he told that it had been highlighted on an old Estate Map of the area and marked as, “an artificial cairn, probably a place of sepulture.”  On old maps just below the cited place we find the place-name of ‘Lammerlaws’, which may indicate a name once given to the site, as the element -law is commonly found relating to prehistoric cairns.

Although the modern place-name researchers in central Scotland have opted that the word ‘law’ is primarily “a rounded hill”, they have curiously forgotten or omitted its other derivation.  Throughout northern England and beyond, the English Place-Name Society finds that many ‘law’ place-names derive from the old English and Saxon word, hlaw, which is originally told to be “a mound, a hill.” This has been the reference cited throughout in Taylor & Markus’ (2006-2012) otherwise fine multi-volume analysis of Fife county.  But there’s much more to it than that.  I hope that readers will forgive me reciting A.H. Smith’s (1956) full entry about this simple term, as it can (and many times does) show our history is much richer than initially thought.  Prof Smith told that law, hlaw, hlæw, has the following etymological origin:

“(1) In OE (old English) the common meaning in literary contexts is ‘an artificial mound, a burial mound, a mound in which treasure is hidden’, as in Boethius Metr. 10.43, ‘in what hlæwa do the bones of Weland cover the ground?; Beowulf 2802, ‘Bid them make a hlæaw…on Hronesnæsse’; Guthlac 4 ‘there on the island was made a great hlæw, which through the lust for treasure had been dug up and broken into’; or Gnomic Verses 26, ‘a dragon shall be on hlæw’, an allusion (as in Beowulf 2773) to the Germanic tradition that mounds containing valuable grave-goods were guarded by dragons.  The word glosses Latin, agger, ‘something heaped up, a mound, a rampart’ (Wright’s Anglo-Saxon & Old English Vocabularies 355.4).  This meaning ‘tumulus, artificial mound, burial mound’ is well attested in place-names.  According to Grundy, it always denotes a tumulus in the OE charters and doubtless those place-names in which it is combined with personal names are the burial places of the men so named; at Taplow at least a remarkable burial treasure was discovered and Cuckhamsley, Berkshire, is named from Cwichelm, the West Saxon king who died in 593.  The majority of such places-names belong to the heathen period when this method of disposing of the dead was practised.  Particular compounds also suggest that it could be an artificial mound which formed the centre of a place of assembly; Oswaldslow Hundred (Place-names of Worcestershire, 87), for example, was created in 964 and it was to meet at a place to be henceforth called Oswaldeslaw in honour of Bishop Oswald (Cartularium Saxonica 1135).

“(2) The meaning ‘hill, a conical hill resembling a tumulus’ is also found in OE, as in Leechdoms Vol.3, 52, ‘they rode over the hlæw’, and local topography establishes this meaning as a common one in place-names and dialects in certain parts of the country; it survives as law in Durham and Northumberland and as low in northwest Midlands…

“(3) The two forms hlaw and hlæw are on record, the latter being better evidenced in literary use, especially in West Saxon texts, and the former in place-names; hlæw normally becomes low, north country law, whilst the i-mutated hlæw (found in place-names only in the south and south Midlands) later becomes lew, as in Lew, Oxfordshire, Lewes, Sussex and is more frequent in middle-english spellings; it is often later replaced by –low as in Dragley, Lancs, Cuckhamsley, Berkshire…”

Smith continues with many topographical evidences regarding a ‘burial-mound’ derivation for the place-name ‘law’, finally adding notes on relative linguistic similarities, like the “Gothic hlaiw, ‘grave’; old High German hleo, ‘grave mound, hill’; old Saxon hleo, ‘grave mound’…”  It seems pretty convincing, and so we need to take this into account in our walks over the hills if we are exploring ancient history.

As if to emphasize this derivation—’law’ as prehistoric tombs—we find it is cited in the massive Scottish National Dictionary (6,1:16) where—alongside the ’rounded hill’ aspect—Mr Grant (1962) tells it to be,

“An artificial mound or hillock, specif.: (1) a tumlus or barrow, grave-mound….”

thereafter giving a number of Scottish examples.  The same meaning is echoed again in the modern version of Concise Scots Dictionary (2005), along with the rounded-hill.  Jamieson’s (1885) Scottish Dictionary cites similarly, ‘law’ as both hill, aswell as “a tomb, grave or mound.”

This association of ‘law’ with ancient burial mounds in Scotland should not be that surprising.  Despite it having an Anglo-Saxon origin, we must remember that the Saxon kingdom is known to have stretched all the way up to the Firth of Forth (Edinburgh) and across to Glasgow. So if the linguistic roots have any credibility at all, it doesn’t take much stretch of the imagination to have this simple word travel further north amongst the people.  Perhaps this is why, more recently, Margaret Gelling (2000) has said that the association of hlaw with burial mounds up here lessens in Scotland.  Nonetheless, let us not presuppose one meaningful definition of the word above another, as it can, consciously or otherwise, be seen as more symptomatic of the all too common English attitude of papering over another country’s rich and ancient heritage by depleting its language—again…

(Law has another element attached which has all but fallen out of historical analysis.  Prof Smith touched briefly upon it, mentioning ‘law’ as being a meeting place—otherwise known ‘moots’.   Moots occurred everywhere in early times: in England, in Europe and in Scotland too.  They were originally where local tribal gatherings took place, for the purpose of what we might call council or political decisions, amongst other things.  Some of these moots occurred on burial mounds of great age, aswell as  stone circles—and evidence indicates that some of them originated way back in prehistoric times.  Although written accounts of many such moot spots have fallen from historical texts, the term law or low (and their variants) is again found in Scottish etymological and topographical lore.  Mr Grant again cites it to mean:

“Law cairns, or court cairns…the judicial sites of baronial court of justice…”

Thereafter giving numerous citations of its use in both the common tongue and sites where it is known.  As far north as the Shetland Isles, where such law-courts aer known from the Scandinavian ting of thing, the 18th century Statistical Account of Tingwall states there being “the Law Stone” at the cite of the parish court.)

Folklore

Also in Mr Young’s (1913) work, he told how this old tomb was a place that seemed cursed or should not be disturbed, saying,

“About 50 years ago, any illness in the neighbourhood of Craigholm was ascribed to the influence of this burial place…”

adding that an adjacent spring of water, of high esteem, was close by.

References:

  1. Grant, William (ed.), Scottish National Dictionary – volume 6, SNDA: Edinburgh 1962.
  2. Jamieson, John, Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, W.P. Nimmo: Edinburgh 1885.
  3. Robinson, Mairi (ed.), Concise Scots Dictionary, Aberdeen University Press 2005.
  4. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1956
  5. Young, Andrew, History of Burntisland, Fifeshire Advertiser: Kirkcaldy 1913.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.062031, -3.226100 Craigkennockie

St. John’s Green, Colchester, Essex

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TL 9965 2467

Also Known as:

  1. Monument no. 384079 (PastScape)

Archaeology & History

St Johns Green, Colchester
Decorated prehistoric urn from St John’s Green tumulus

In a prehistoric burial mound that was destroyed by the usual self-righteous arrogance of industrialists, this well-decorated urn or beaker in the old photo (right) was somehow retrieved. Included in Dave Clarke’s (1970) major survey on such vessels (as an Abercrombie type A, no less!), the remains came to light in January 1930, “during the laying of a gas main under the west footpath of Flagstaff Road, about 100 yards south of St. John’s Green.”  Although the barrow or tumulus had already been levelled, sheer diligence and care on behalf—one believes—of antiquarian M.R. Hull saved the vessel from an otherwise inevitable doom!

In Mr Hull’s (1946) article on to this and other similar finds in Essex, he described how the urn, about seven inches high,

“…stood upright in the side of the trench, only 18in below the surface.  The ground had been disturbed before, and one side of the beaker was badly damaged… The clay was fine, but contains some sparse grit, fairly large and white.  It is light brown-red in colour and black in the break. The body is decorated all over with impressed lines, some done with the print of a stick or bone, some in an indefinable way which produces an almost maggot-like impression of varying length, and some with the end of a comb, as on the Type B beakers, but the teeth are oblong (very narrow) instead of square—the comb in fact, was very thin, at least at the point.”

References:

  1. Clarke, David L., Beaker Pottery of Great Britain and Ireland – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1970.
  2. Hull, M.R., “Five Bronze Age Beakers from North-East Essex,” in Antiquaries Journal, volume 26, Jan-April 1946.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St John's Green

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St John\'s Green 51.884865, 0.899618 St John\'s Green

Alresford Hill, Alresford, Essex

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TM 0628 2022

Archaeology & History

Alresford Hill urn

In a region well known for the finding of early British remains (Belloc 1905), another prehistoric burial mound was destroyed in the Essex landscape simply due to ignorance and neglect.  Thankfully once more we have local antiquarians and an astute schoolgirl for discovering and preserving a record of this site, otherwise we’d have no record of the place at all!  Described in M.R. Hull’s (1946) article on some of the Bronze Age relics of the area, he told how a well-preserved urn in the edge of the tumulus,

“was found in June 1942 by a schoolgirl, Miss Anne Pilkington, on the top of the hill overlooking Alresford Creek and the Colne Estuary, about 70 yards northwest of Bench Mark 74.8 and 560 yards slightly west of south from Alresford church, west of the road to the creek and south of the lane running west along the north side of the field.  This is the northern limit of a huge gravel-pit. She noticed the vessel standing upright in the side of the pit and recovered it. Nothing else was noticed…

“Afterwards the diary of our late Fellow, Mr P.G. Laver came into my hands and I find under the date 8th July, 1922, that he noticed, when motoring past the site, ‘a definite tumulus, but much ploughed down, now barely 18ins above the field level.  It is close to the road through the field, the centre being roughly 20 yards S of the road and about 200 yards from the road to the ford.’ The sketch-plan leaves no doubt on the identity of the site.”

Annoyingly though, Mr Hull didn’t think it worthwhile to reproduce this alleged sketch-map.  He did however give us a good description of the urn and its position in the ground, saying,

“The vessel is stated to have been about 5ft below the surface when found, but I am not certain whether the top-soil had been removed or not.  The clay is fine, burnt light red, but black within, and the whole body is covered with horizontal lines impressed in exactly the same way as (those on the Flag Inn urn), but much less clearly.  The base is slightly hollowed beneath and is not far from having a foot-ring.”

Folklore

Mr Hull (1946) also made an interesting comment on the views of local people about the site where Anne had found this urn, reminding me of what Highland and hill folk would have put down to faerie-lore, though no such memory was noted. He told:

“On enquiry I learnt that no one had observed a mound at the spot, but that it had been observed that exactly there the corn, when the field was cultivated, grew taller and greener in a large round patch”!

References:

  1. Belloc, Hilaire, The Old Road, Archibald Constable: London 1905.
  2. Hull, M.R., “Five Bronze Age Beakers from North-East Essex,” in Antiquaries Journal, volume 26, Jan-April 1946.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Alresford Hill

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Alresford Hill 51.842599, 0.993399 Alresford Hill

Flag Inn, St. Osyth, Essex

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TM 117 178

Archaeology & History

Bronze Age beaker from the Flag Inn tumulus

Roughly halfway between Thorrington and St. Osyth, a few hundred yards east of the Flag Creek on the grassy wasteland south of the historic Flag Inn, could once be found a fine tumulus, of whose past we sadly know so little.  Nothing now remains of the old burial mound apart from a carved urn that once lived therein and was recovered from the site before its final demise.  According to M.R. Hull (1946) the well-preserved Bronze Age beaker found here—which he said “stood out as different” from others in this area—

“was found in 1930 on the 50ft contour-line about 200 yards south-southeast of the Flag Inn, in a gravel pit, in St. Osyth parish. The position is a mile and a quarter north-northwest of St. Osyth church.  On this occasion it was not possible to examine the site, which could only be established with moderate accuracy some time after the discovery…

“The clay is fine, of light red colour, ornamented with three bands of trellis pattern, each bounded by three horizontal lines, and a band of four such lines at the base, all executed with an instrument making a short line of square impressions, probably the end of a comb used in weaving.”

References:

  1. Hull, M.R., “Five Bronze Age Beakers from North-East Essex,” in Antiquaries Journal, volume 26, Jan-April 1946.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Flag Inn tumulus

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Flag Inn tumulus 51.819169, 1.070950 Flag Inn tumulus

Perces, Halstead, Essex

Tumulus (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TL 8228 2704

Archaeology & History

Aerial image showing ghostly circular outline

This is one of many lost prehistoric burial sites destroyed in Essex in recent centuries and whose only remains now, as seen here to the right, are the ghostly outlines left in the Earth when looking down from above.  We are very fortunate indeed in even having a record of this place—this time thanks to an astute fellow antiquarian hearing of some old remains alleged to have been in an old burial mound, south of Greenstead Green.

It’s short story was described in M.R. Hull’s (1946) essay on a series of Bronze Age beakers in Essex that were found in association with once-proud tumuli, living amidst a landscape held as sacred by our peasant ancestors.  Although we have no good description of the tumulus, Mr Hull said that this well-preserved clay beaker,

Perces Bronze Age beaker

“was found in 1930 on the 200ft contour-line 366 yards due south of Piercys in the parish of Halstead…that is 2¼ miles south-southeast of Halstead Church.  I visited the site immediately after the discovery with our late Fellow, Mr P.G. Laver, and the finder assured us that no other remains were found.  He had dug a small pit into the natural gravel, and in doing so came upon this vessel at a depth of 7ft from the surface.  When we arrived the burial pit had been destroyed, and, although the depth of the vessel from the surface suggests that a tumulus existed, we were unable to see any remains of it.  We found a calcined flint…in the excavation. The vessel…(of) clay is fine, containing a very small quantity of quartz-like grit; the colour is a warm red-brown, and the body is decorated all over with finger-nail impressions.”

References:

  1. Hull, M.R., “Five Bronze Age Beakers from North-East Essex,” in Antiquaries Journal, volume 26, Jan-April 1946.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Perces tumulus

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Perces tumulus 51.912101, 0.648812 Perces tumulus