Overlee, Clarkston, Renfrewshire

Souterrains & Settlement (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 577 572

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 43802

Archaeology & History

Overlee Farm in 1896 – no remains highlighted

This was an astonishing-sounding place, little-known beyond the pages of specialist historians.  It has been described in modern terms as simply “subterranean structures”, “weems”, or “prehistoric underground houses”; but were this site still in evidence it would be a huge attraction!  From the literary descriptions we possess, the extensive remains found and destroyed sound very much like the much-visited fogous found throughout Cornwall, or more commonly known as ‘souterrains’ in Scotland—although there’s no mention of the place in Wainwright’s (1963) singular study on such monuments.  Despite this, here, on the south-side of modern Clarkston, it seems we once had a Renfrewshire equivalent to the prehistoric Cornish village and fogous known as Carn Euny.

The first known account of this site was written by James Smith (1845) in the survey for the New Statistical Account, who thankfully gave us a reasonably lengthy account of what was once here.  He told:

“About thirty years ago, on the farm of Overlee, which lies on the north bank of the river Cart, in the south-west angle of the parish, Mr Watson, the proprietor, on removing the earth from a quarry which he wished to open, discovered a great many subterraneous houses ranged round the slope of a small swelling hill. Each house consisted of one apartment, from eight to twelve feet square. The sides, which were from four to five feet high, were faced with rough undressed stone, and the floors were neatly paved with thin flag stones which are found in the neighbourhood.  In the centre of each floor was a hole scooped out as a fire-place, in which coal-ashes still remained, and seemed to indicate that their occupiers had left the place on a sudden.  That coal and not wood or peat had been employed as fuel, seemed at first an argument against the antiquity of the houses, until it was remembered that many seams of coal crop out on the steep banks of the river in the immediate vicinity, which may have been picked out for firing by the aboriginal inhabitants, as is still done to a limited extent by a few of the poorer classes in the neighbourhood. Near the fire-places were found small heaps of water-worn pebbles, from two to three inches in diameter, the use of which it is difficult to conjecture. They may have been used as missiles for attack or defence in the rude warfare of ancient days, or more probably they served the purposes of an equally rude system of cookery, by which meat was prepared for being eaten by heated stones placed round it, as is still done in many of the South Sea islands.  The floors of the houses were covered to the depth of about a foot with a rich black vegetable mould, which was in all likelihood the decayed remains of the roofs mixed with soil filtered from the surface.  As was gathered from the different appearances of the soil, in and over them, the houses were partly excavated from the hill and partly built above ground, and a level approach to the entrances was dug out of the slope.  The number discovered amounted to forty-two, of which thirty-six formed the arc of a lower and larger circle, and the remaining six, also circularly ranged, stood a little higher up the hill.  The writer is informed that the ruins of villages of a similar description have been discovered in several parts of Scotland; and there is an account of one very much the same as the above, recorded in the third volume of the Transactions of the Antiquarian Society of Scotland.  About twelve querns or small hand-mills were found near the site of these houses, and a grave lined with stone containing a rude urn filled with ashes.  These latter relics, however, may have belonged to a still distant but less remote antiquity. The old castle of Lee or Williamwood was erected near the place, and it is not improbable that, in procuring materials for the building from the freestone, of which the hill consists, the soil, which for so many centuries concealed the remains of the village, was thrown down upon it. Several years ago, the proprietor, in clearing away the old foundations of the castle, which interfered with the rectilineal operations of the plough, found within the square which they enclosed many human bones, which he avers were of almost superhuman magnitude.

“If the natives of the village, described above, deserted their homes hastily, as may be conjectured from the fact of the fuel remaining on their hearths, it may have been in terror of the Romans—one division of whose invading army must have passed not far from the place. In a direct north-east line from this hill, without any intervening eminence, and at the distance of about two miles, there are still very distinct traces of a small Roman encampment on the summit of a hill, the name of which, from the circumstance, is Camp Hill…”

Although the modern official description of these remains is simply that of “a settlement”, the idea that some of the remains here were souterrains seems beyond doubt.  The comparison James Smith makes with remains that were found shortly afterwards that were “very much the same”, unearthed at Cairnconon—or the West Grange of Conon, as Canmore call it—northwest of Arbroath, confirms this idea.

Just over a decade after Mr Smith’s initial account, the Glaswegian historian James Pagan (1856), in his huge History of Glasgow, included another description of the place from the pseudonymous 19th century writer “J.B.”  In what were called Desultory Sketches, much of what he wrote merely echoed the original notes by Smith, but they are still worth repeating:

“Specimens of the winter houses, or weems, were to be seen, till recently, in our own district, at Cartland Craigs, near Stonebyres, on the Clyde; and one very interesting example of the pit-houses was revealed in 1808, on the farm of Overlee, near Busby, in the vicinity of Glasgow.  The following particulars regarding these were communicated to the writer of this sketch, by the parish minister of Cathcart, who had his information from an eye-witness.

“While the farmer was removing soil to get at freestone, for building a new steading, he came on a cluster of subterranean aboriginal huts. They were forty in number, and ranged round the face of the hill on which the farm-house of Overlee now stands. These huts were of the most primitive kind. They were mere semicircular pits, cut out of the hillside, with a passage to the door, also dug out of the slope, on a level with the floor, as indicated by the different colour of the soil. Each consisted of one small apartment, about twelve feet square, five feet high, and faced with stone. The floors were neatly paved with thin flag-stones, found in the neighbourhood. In the centre of each was a hole for a fireplace, in which ashes were still visible. Near the fireplace were small piles of water-worn stones, two or three inches in diameter, probably for cooking food, by placing heated stones round it, as is yet done by some of the islanders in the Pacific Twelve hand-querns of stone for grinding grain were found in the houses. At a short distance, a grave was discovered, lined with stone, and containing rude urns filled with ashes, thus indicating that the inhabitants of this primitive cluster, near what is now Glasgow, burned their dead. Unfortunately, the whole of these curious pit-houses were ruthlessly destroyed.

“In some of the weems and pit-houses, small groups of pretty oyster-shells have been found, perforated with small holes, as if they had been strung together, and formed an ornamental necklace—shall we say for the lady-savage of that distant epoch?  In others were discovered bodkins and skewers, made of horn, probably to hold together the folds of the wild beasts’ skins forming the savages’ winter covering; the bones of oxen, neatly notched, as if for ornament; bowls made of stone, the hollow having been drilled out by the circular action of another stone, sharper and harder, aided by the grit of sand (one of which is now before me); arrow-heads and lances formed of flint or bone, some of the former of which I happen to possess; —nay, swords have been found, fashioned from the bone of a large fish! Heavy oaken war-clubs, too, must not be omitted from this curious catalogue.”

Although highly unlikely, there is the remote possibility that some remains of these underground ‘houses’, or souterrains, could possibly still be unearthed hereby.  In recent years we’ve encountered a number of good farmers and land-owners who’ve told us about souterrains beneath their fields that are not in any record-books.  Intriguingly, each one asked us, “who are you working for?” – and when we’ve assured them that we have nothing to do with the ‘official’ bodies, they’ve opened up and showed us.  In one instance, a land-owner in Angus told us how he was farming the field as he’d always done, “when my tractor fell into a huge hole in the ground – and there was another souterrain!”

Why am I telling you this?  Well, if you’re a local, maybe get round to Overlee and ask around some of the olde local people.  You never know what you might find!  And we could perhaps try find more about the other souterrain which the pseudonymous ‘J.B.’ said was “at Cartland Craigs, near Stonebyres, on the Clyde.”

References:

  1. McBeath, H.D., Walks by Busby and Thorntonhall, with Historical Notes on the Area, EKDC: East Kilbride 1980.
  2. Pagan, James (ed.), Glasgow, Past and Present – volume 2, David Robertson: Glasgow 1856.
  3. Ross, William, Busby and its Neighbourhood, David Bryce: Glasgow 1883.
  4. Smith, James, “Parish of Cathcart,” in New Statistical Account of Scotland – volume 7: Renfrew, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1845.
  5. Stuart, John, “Notice of Underground Chambers recently Excavated on the Hill of Cairn Conan, Forfarshire,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland – volume 3, 1862.
  6. Wainwright, F T., The Souterrains of Southern Pictland. RKP: London 1963.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.787536, -4.270462 Overlee souterrain

Langside House, Cathcart, Glasgow, Lanarkshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone (removed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 5726 6128

Also Known as:

  1. Bluebell Woods
  2. Canmore ID 44291
  3. Langside Stone

Archaeology & History

The Langside House, or Bluebell Woods carving

Amidst where now the busy city spreads on the south-side of Glasgow, there was once an excellent multi-ringed prehistoric petroglyph to be seen.  According to the official records, it was all alone – but I don’t buy that for one minute! (petroglyphs rarely occur in isolation)  However, it looks as if this might have been the last of its kind in the area, betwixt where now large houses grow in the landscape of Langside and Battlefield, a few hundred yards south of the hillfort-topped Queen’s Park.

Before being noticed by archaeologists, the stone was apparently being used as a stone seat in the woods for people to sit on!  It was probably a part of a larger monument, perhaps a cairn of some sort.  Certainly from the sketches we have of it, it was part of a larger piece of stone and was likely to have had companions, but records seem to be silent on the matter. The most detailed description of it comes from the pen of northern antiquarian Fred Coles (1906), who gave us the following literary portrait:

“The first notice of the Stone incised with the design shown below was due to Mr W. A. Donnelly, who contributed a description and a sketch to The Glasgow Evening Times of 25th June 1902.  Later, Mr Ludovic Mann, at my request, sent me certain notes he had taken of the cup-and-ring-marks.  But prior to this, the Stone itself had, on the instigation of Mr Donnelly, I think, been removed from its site in the wood, and placed near one of the entrances to the new Kelvinside Museum.  There I saw it and made measurements in July 1903.

“The Bluebell Wood lies in a curving line to the west and south of Langside House, and the cup-marked Stone was at a point in the southern extremity of the wood, above and north of the river Cart.  It is interesting to be able also to record that the longer axis of the Stone lay almost precisely north and South, and the opposite axis east and west.*  The Stone is of a hard, whitish sandstone, a good deal weathered and rounded at the edges. It measures 4 feet 9 inches in length and 3 feet 2 inches in breadth, and varies in thickness from 2 feet 6 inches to 1 foot 7 inches.  The striation of the Stone has helped to efface the cuttings which, though perfectly clear and measurable, are shallow in proportion to their width.  And this feature I have endeavoured to portray in the accompanying illustration (above).  Beginning at the north end of the Stone, there is one cup placed just where the outermost ring of that group touches the edge of the Stone.  The ring has a groove leading towards but not into a central cup, and four other cups are placed on the two outermost rings, there being four rings in this group.  The middle group consists of a central cup and three rings, flanked on the west by a row of three cups (one of which is the largest of all), and on the east by a double row of six cups, three of which are almost obliterated.  This middle group is imperfectly concentric, two of its arcs running into the fourth ring of the group on the south, which has a fine deeply picked central cup.  All the better-preserved rings are very nearly 1½ inches in width of cutting.

“The diameters of the outermost rings in each group are: of the north group, 1 foot 9 inches; of the middle group 1 foot 5 inches; and of the south group 1 foot 7 inches.  The cups vary in diameter from 3 inches to 1½.

“Considering the extremely easily weathered nature of this Stone, and the fact that its sculptured surface has already suffered much ill-usage, its present position, near the entrance of the Art Galleries, entirely unprotected by a railing and exposed to all sorts of abuse by casual passers-by as well as the weather, is not a fit and proper place for a Stone of such interest.”

A few years after this, the local historian Ludovic MacLellan Mann (1930) wrote a piece for the Glasgow Herald, in which he thought that both this and another carving in the area,

“commemorate chiefly…an eclipse of the sun seen in Glasgow district in the year 2983 BC, at three o’ clock in the afternoon of the sixth day after the Spring Equinox.”

A fascinating idea…  Mann was intrigued by the theory that petroglyphs represented astronomical events or maps of the skies – and we know from cultures elsewhere in the world that some carvings had such a function; but it’s not integral to all carvings by any means.

The stone was included in Ron Morris’ (1981) survey, merely echoing the description of Fred Coles, adding nothing more.  And so it seems that the carving is still in the museum somewhere.  Canmore has it listed as “Accession no: 02-78”.  Does anyone know of its present situation?  Can anyone get a photo so we can give it a more fitting site profile?  It looked a damn good carving!  And, if anyone lives nearby, I note that there are small patches of the old woodland still visible on GoogleEarth: therein, perhaps, a diligent explorer may just find another carving….

References:

  1. Coles, Fred, “Notices of Standing Stones, Cists and Hitherto Unrecorded Cup-and-Ring Marks in Various Localities,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 40, Edinburgh 1906.
  2. Donnelly, W.A., “Letter”, Glasgow Evening Times, 25 June, 1902.
  3. Mann, Ludovic MacLellan, “The Eclipse in 2983 B.C. – Discovery near Glasgow,” in Glasgow Herald, 17.09.1930.
  4. Morris, Ronald W.B., “The Cup-and-Ring Marks and Similar Sculptures of South-West Scotland,” in Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, volume 14, 1967.
  5. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  6. Morris, Ronald W.B. & Bailey, Douglas C., “The Cup-and-Ring Marks and Similar Sculptures of Southwestern Scotland: A Survey,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 98, 1966.
  7. Small, Sam, Greater Glasgow: An Illustrated Architectural Guide, RIAS: Edinburgh 2008.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:  Huge thanks to beautiful Aisha for putting me up.

* Although Coles did note how its earlier use as a stone seat probably negates his axial measurements.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.823689, -4.279978 Langside House

St. Oswald’s Well, Cathcart, Glasgow, Lanarkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 5883 6056

Also Known as:

  1. Kirk Well

Archaeology & History

St Oswald, or the Kirk Well, on 1863 OS-map
St Oswald, or the Kirk Well, on 1863 OS-map

St. Oswald’s Well was described in Hew Scott’s (1920) magnum opus as being  beside the parish church of the same name, but other references to it are scant.  An old well-house was built besides or over the waters, which subsequently became known as the Kirk Well due to its proximity to the church, 125 yards to the northwest.  All trace of it appears to have gone.  The road to the west of the site also 125 yards away, called Kirkwell Road, seems to be the last piece of folk memory that remains.

St. Oswald himself was a British tribal leader of Northumbrian descent who, legend tells, went to Iona and became a christian.  He had to leave the island eventually and go back into Yorkshire to bring peace back into the northern counties.  Whether this Well of his was dedicated to him as a result of his journey from back south from Iona, we do not know. His saint’s day is August 5—very close indeed to that old heathen celebration time of Lughnasadh or Lammas.  Most likely this is not just a coincidence, but will have related to what local folk were doing before the christian impositions.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Glasgow, TNA 2017.
  2. McNeill, F. Marian, The Silver Bough – volume 2: A Calendar of Scottish National Festivals, Candlemas to Harvest Home, William MacLellan Glasgow 1959.
  3. Scott, Hew, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae – volume 3: Synod of Glasgow & Ayr, Oliver & Boyd: Edinburgh 1920.
  4. Steele, Joyce, Seeking Patterns of Lordship, Justice and Worship in the Scottish Landscape, Glasgow University 2014.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  55.817576, -4.254658 St Oswald\'s Well