St. Martin’s Well, Looe, Cornwall

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – SX 2569 5407

Archaeology & History

St Martins Well on 1888 map

An early dedication to the St Martin of this well is from the 13th century, when referring to the “church of sanctus Martinus” in 1282, whose building is a half-mile to the north.  The well itself is located on the old parish boundary, on the footpath today known as the North View.

In earlier days, the water from this site came “flowing out of a rock” giving birth to St Martin’s stream (Quiller-Couch, 1894).  “It was much used by the villagers,” they wrote, “because of the excellent quality of the water; now it is covered in with an ordinary wooden lid, and is used to supply the town of Looe with water.”

Things hadn’t changed when Mr Lane-Davies (1970) visited the place, who was far from pleased at its status.  “The spring,” he told, “has been enclosed in an ugly shed and the water piped away.”

Despite this, when Meyrick (1982) came here, he thought the site had “a romantic and grotto-like air” to it, but he was equally displeased by barbed wire preventing folk from easily accessing the waters and “spoilt by a certain amount of rubbish.”  Unfortunately due to a dreadful accident here in 1993, when a young child fell into the waters and drowned, the site is now completely enclosed by railings to prevent this happening to anyone else.


  1. Bond, Thomas, Topographical and Historical Sketches of the Boroughs of East and West Looe, J. Nichols: London 1823.
  2. Lane-Davies, A., Holy Wells of Cornwall, FOCS: St Ives 1970.
  3. Meyrick, J., A Pilgrims Guide to the Holy Wells of Cornwall, Falmouth 1982.
  4. Quiller-Couch, M. & L., Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, C.J. Clark: London 1894.
  5. Straffon, Cheryl, Fentynyow Kernow: In Search of Cornwall’s Holy Wells, Meyn Mamvro: Penzance 1998.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Glastonbury Well, Sunny Corner, Truro, Cornwall

Holy Well (lost?):  OS Grid Reference – SW 837 434

Archaeology & History

There’s a minor discrepancy of opinion as to the exact location of this site, so I’ve chosen to go right in-between the positions cited by Leggat (1987): SW 836 433, and Meyrick (1982): SW 838 434.

The site was mentioned by Charles Henderson, who told that around the year 1750 there was a medicinal well at Sunny Corner, known as “Glastonbury Well”.  Its waters had the ability to “cure all disorders,” but its reputation was apparently short-lived, which would suggest that its fame beyond local villagers was concurrent to the rise of Spa Wells amongst the upper- classes at that time.

In the Leggats’ (1987) survey, no locals they spoke with had ever heard of the place; but that they “found a spring halfway up the lane adjacent to Sunnyside House which had been used in the past from time immemorial as a domestic water supply to a scattering of local cottages” and wondered if this might have been the long long Glastonbury Well…


  1. AdamsJ.H., “The Mediaeval Chapels of Cornwall,” in Journal Royal Institution of Cornwall, volume 3 (new series), 1957. 
  2. Henderson, Charles, One Hundred and Nine Parishes of the Four Western Hundreds of Cornwall, Oscar Black: Truro 1955.
  3. Leggat, P.O. & D.V., The Healing Wells: Cornish Cults and Customs, Dyllansow Truran: Redruth 1987.
  4. Meyrick, J., A Pilgrims Guide to the Holy Wells of Cornwall, Falmouth 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Holy Well, Gunwalloe, Cornwall

Holy Well (lost):  OS Grid Reference – SW 6602 2053

Archaeology & History

The old church at this headland just above the sea was, said Padel (1988), dedicated to Saint Gunwalloe or Winwalloe in 1332 and is thought to have been the character (a hermit by all accounts) who deemed this well to be ‘holy’.  In Alfred Cummings (1875) history of Gunwalloe parish, he devotes a short but singular chapter to this holy well which, according to most accounts, has fallen back to Earth.  It was found, said Cummings, “close to the church porch, only a few feet over the precipitous rock…and (was) doubtless the resort in former days of many a lad and maiden.”

Yet even in his day, he lamented its loss, telling that.

“The spring that once bubbled up in its rocky basin is no longer there; sand and stones fill up the well at each high tide, and though occasionally cleaned out for the satisfaction of the wayfarer’s curiosity is yet only an imperfect semblance of its former self.”

Yet remnants of practices and traditions of the well were thankfully remembered:

Gunwalloe church in 1885

“That Gunwalloe was considered by the country folk a well of some importance there can be little doubt, for one day in the year, which was called Gunwalloe Day, was set apart for cleaning out this holy well — it was quite at a different time of year to this parish feast — and now only remembered by two old men out of the whole population of the place.

“They fix the time in their memories as the period of tilling barley, for they recollect that on this Gunwalloe Day it was the custom for the men to mend all the cliff roads (doubtless these were useful in days of smuggling when a successful run was a desirable thing), and so strictly was it kept that, if any were found labouring in the fields, a party would go and take them by force, and press them into the service of the holiday makers, who, having mended the roads and cleared the holy well at Gunwalloe, wound up the day with merriment and revelry.”

Such practices are long since gone of course and, so most modern accounts would tell us, the holy well with it.  But when J. Meyrick (1982) came looking for the site on the summer solstice of 1980, he seemed a little more fortunate than his predecessors.  Located just a few yards from the detached church tower, he spoke with a

“Mrs Wilson, a churchwarden (who) told me that in heavy rain the tower continues to be flooded so the spring is still somewhere about, and curiously enough by the stile to the beach is a small granite trough with rainwater put there by someone no doubt in lieu of the Well and who is to say that the water is not holy!  The stream across the dune still meanders a few feet beneath the tower and into this the water from the well would have run, but there seems now no sign of an originating spring in the rocks around.”


The church itself possesses a folktale found up and down the land.  “It is said,” wrote Blight (1885),

“that the builders intended to erect the church on higher ground, nearer the centre of the parish, at Hingey; but as fast as materials were brought to the place they were, by some mysterious agency, removed during the night to the present site.  And here the church was built, it being found useless to contend with a supernatural power.”

The supernatural agencies that are nearly always responsible for such actions tend to be the devil, fairies or other types of little-people.


  1. Blight, J.T., Churches of West Cornwall, Parker: London 1885.
  2. Cummings, Alfred H., The Churches and Antiquities of Cury and Gunwalloe, W. Lake: Truro 1875.
  3. Meyrick, J., A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Wells of Cornwall, J. Meyrick: Falmouth 1982.
  4. Padel, O.J., Cornish Place-Names, Alison Hodge: Penzance 1988.
  5. Quiller-Couch, M. & L., Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall, C.J. Clark: London 1894.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Boskenna Cross, St Buryan, Cornwall

Wayside Cross:  OS Grid Reference – SW 42579 24266

Also Known as:

  1. Historic England Grade II Listed Building No. 1007955

Boskenna Cross on 1887 map

Getting Here

Travelling along the B3315 from Penzance to Lands End, the Cross is on the south side of the road at the junction with the minor road to St Buryan, past the Merry Maidens stone circle.

Archaeology & History

Arthur Langdon (1896), in his magnum opus on Cornish Crosses, describes this wheel-headed wayside cross:

Sketch from Langdon’s 1896 book

The only ancient part of the monument is the little cross at the top, which is mounted on a base made up of an extraordinary collection of apparently disused circular granite stones. Immediately beneath the cross is a cylindrical piece, the upper edge of which is roughly rounded off. Beneath this comes a short drum, about two inches wider than the piece above and nine inches deep. The next two stones are much wider but not so deep as the last, the bottom one consisting of the lower portion of an old cider-press, with its surrounding channel and lip !

Its roadside position.

There is a good deal to admire in the feeling which prompted this effort to once and for all preserve so ancient a relic, and the care bestowed in the erection of this curious substructure goes far to remove its incongruity.

Front — The figure of our Lord here sculptured is quite the best example in which He is represented wearing the tunic; the expanded sleeves are especially apparent, as well as the outline of the garment above the knees. The feet are very large, and turn outwards at right angles.

The Crucifixion face

Back — On the head is a cross with expanded limbs, flush with the surface of the stone. The four triangular sinkings, or recesses, which form the background are not of uniform size, the lower being considerably larger than those above, thus making the lower limb the longest. The inner portion of each sinking is raised, forming bosses in low relief.

Dimensions — Total height of the monument, 6 ft. 10 in; height of the cross, 2 ft. 4 in; width of head, 1 ft. 8 in; width of shaft, 12½ in.

The cross has had a chequered history. It is not known when it was demolished.  Langdon, once more, takes up the story:

The opposite face.

Mr. J. H. Johns, landlord of the “King’s Arms”, St. Buryan, informed me of the circumstances connected with the discovery of this cross. It appears that formerly one of the angles at the intersection of these roads was so sharp and awkward for traffic that, in 1869, the local authorities decided to ease this corner by rounding off the hedge, which was then about ten feet thick. Mr. Johns’ father was one of the men employed on this work, and shortly after commencing he found the cross buried in the hedge. By the advice of His Honour Charles Dacres Bevan, County Court Judge of Cornwall, and then residing at Boskenna Mansion House, the cross was erected on the triangular piece of grass in the middle of the roads, a spot on which it is extremely likely it originally stood.

Side view from the east.

In 1941 and 1942, the Cross was demolished by road vehicles, whereupon the council removed it to its present roadside position. It was again hit by a vehicle in 1992. And in 2002 there was another incident, reported by Meyn Mamvro:

..In February the top of the cross was found lying by the roadside. It is not known whether this was the result of deliberate vandalism or a road traffic accident, but local village witch Cassandra Latham acted quickly in alerting Cornwall Archaeological Unit, who took it away for repair and restoration…


  1. Langdon, Arthur G., Old Cornish Crosses, Truro, Joseph Pollard, 1896.
  2. Langdon, Andrew, Stone Crosses in West Penwith, The Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, 1997.
  3. Meyn Mamvro, No 49, Autumn 2002, p. 4

© Paul T. Hornby 2018

Nancekuke Carving, Portreath, Cornwall

Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SW 67 46*

Archaeology & History

Another one of those rare cup-marked stones from Cornwall, once again found in association with a burial— but once again destroyed, this time by having an airfield built over the tomb!  This “cup-marked and perforated slab” was said by Paul Ashbee (1958: 192) to have been unearthed “by Mr C.K. Andrew” in 1941 when he was digging in the Nancekuke round barrow.  Yet an earlier reference to the same site by Mr o’ Neil (1948: 26) told that “the grave was rifled c.1926, but in the ditch there were found traces of a Bronze Age wooden shovel and a perforated and cup-marked slate.”  For any students studying this arena, the correct date would appear to be the earlier of the two.

I’ve not been able to locate any decent photos or diagrams of this small cup-marked stone and would truly appreciate an illustration of it if anyone could get hold of one.


  1. Ashbee, Paul, “The Excavation of Tregulland Burrow, Treneglos Parish, Cornwall,” in Antiquaries Journal, volume 38, 1958.
  2. o’ Neil, B.H. St. John, “War and Archaeology in Britain”, in Antiquaries Journal, volume XXVIII, January-April 1948.

* The OS grid reference here is an approximation

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Tregulland Cup-Marks, Treneglos, Cornwall

Cup-Markings:  OS Grid Reference – SX 199 868


Archaeology & History

This is an intriguing find inasmuch as cup-marked stones are rare in this part of the British Isles.  Antiquarians have noted examples of such carvings in the Cornish townships of Davidstow, Delabole, Portreath, but very few others are known about.  But in the once-impressive Tregulland Burrow barrow that was found here on the south-side of the road a few hundred yards up from Cold Northcott, just next to the old township boundary line, as many as eighteen carved stones were unearthed!


They were all found inside different sections of the barrow, which was built on top of an earlier cairn structure, which appears to have been built upon an even earlier concentric ring of upright wooden poles.  The cup-marked stones appear to have been introduced, or etched, around the time when the cairn structure was laid on top of the concentric ring of stake-holes.  This “tradition” of adding cup-marked stones to cairns is a feature found at a number of sites in the northern lands of Yorkshire, Northumbria and across the Scottish counties, but such a celebrated event as this in the far southwest is highly unusual! (although the custom is pretty universal and is found, not only in the UK, but in many parts of the world).


In Paul Ashbee’s (1958) excellent essay on this prehistoric tomb, he described the carvings at some considerable length — which is unusual for an archaeologist of that period — noting them as the “cup-marked and ornamented stones”.  I hope that people won’t mind me repeating his lengthy notes on the relevant carved stones found in the tomb, the largest of which was on a big slab near the middle of the cairn that possessed cup-markings “and an ‘eyebrow’ motif”,* (figure 1, above) as he called it.  He described the respective carvings as follows:

From the Cairn-Ring:
1-2.  A hog-backed outlined slate slab (figure 1, above).  The bottom has a straight worked edge which suggests that the form was deliberate.  On the inner face are four close-set cup-marks, and an ‘eyebrow’ device which has been made around a natural flaw, whilst the outer half  has been formed by pecking and bashing to remove an appropriate amount of the laminated slate structure to form a depression.  On the outer face there are four widely set cup-marks, one being connected by a channel to the edge of the slab…
3-4.  A roughly rectangular slate slab.  The upper face bears two cup-marks, one much smaller than the other, together with one abortive cup-mark, the lower a single cup-mark.  Four perforations had been used to remove this slab from a parent block, the halves of these perforations gracing the upper edge.  The slab was incorporated in the upper part of the cairn-ring material stacked against the largest of the sub-megalithic blocks of the cairn-ring.
5.  The slab is hog-backed in outline, resembling No.1 above in general form.  On the upper face, at a right-angle to the straight bottom edge, a channel had been produced by pecking, the marks of a pointed instrument being clearly discernible at the bottom of the channel.  This channel extends almost from edge to edge of the slab, being narrow at the bottom and then expanding, being thus wider and then gradually tapering.  Were it not asymmetrical it could be considered as a dagger representation.
6.  A small block of roughly pentagonal outline, one side being irregular.  The device it bears has been made by pecking an outline and removing the intervening laminated slatey rock.  Found at the base of the cairn-ring on the south side.
7.  A weathered pillow-like lump of a coarse sandstone-like rock.  The plane face bears at least seven small ‘cup-marks.’  On other sides there are more weathered and uncertain marks which may well be natural.  It was found surmounting, in a central position, the faced walling on the western side of the cairn-ring.  Dr F.S. Wallis reports that: “This is evidently a sandstone rock with a large amount of quartz.  This is a very generalized rock and I am afraid that it is not possible to tie it down to any particular part of Cornwall.  The rock is much weathered and, judging from the print, I should say that the pits are entirely natural.  Such a rock would hardly contain fossils and thus the pits could not have an organic origin.”
8.  A roughly rectangular slate slab with opposing ‘cup-marks’ broken through before complete perforation.  In addition there is a single cup-mark on the upper edge. (see figure 2)  It was in the banked stones on the western side of the cairn-ring.

From the soil bank:
1.  An even, rectangular slab bearing a group of three cup-marks in one corner, and single cup-marks in two other corners. (see figure 3) From the outer cup-marks of the group run two channels.  A channel runs from one of the solitary corner cup-marks.  It was found, cup-marks and channels uppermost, almost exactly above the satellite cremation trench-grave.
2.  A roughly triangular slab, bearing on its upper face a single centrally set cup-mark.  Found by the cairn-ring in the eastern quadrant.
3.  A small slab, of pentagonal outline, bearing a single shallow cup-mark.  Found by the cairn-ring in the eastern side.
4.  A thin U-shaped slab which has been battered into shape by edge chipping.  A concavity has been made along the upper edge.

From the ditch infilling:
5.  A tough, quartz-veined slab with a shallow battered cup-mark.  From the western side of the barrow.
6.  A small, tough, even, rectangular piece of slate, bearing an abortive cup-mark.  From the western side of the barrow.
7.  A thin piece of slate bearing a small cup-mark set at a point where laminae of slate have left the piece.  From the eastern side of the barrow.

All the “unstratified” cup-marked slabs recovered from the central disturbances, both recent and earlier, may well be derived from the destruction of the central grave arrangements.
8.  A thick lozenge-outlined slab bearing one large cup-mark, and one smaller set side-by-side. (figure 4, above)
9.  A roughly square-outlined slab with two cup-marks of even size set across one diagonal. (figure 5, below)  One cup-mark has a smaller one close by it.
10-11.  Irregular pieces of thin slate, bearing traces of perforations on their edges, one bearing cup-marks.
12.  A roughly triangular slab bearing an ? unfinished cup-mark.
13.  An even hexagonal slab that appears to have been, by edge trimming, worked into this form.”


The prolific collection of cup-marked stones in this once-impressive monument would probably indicate that the character buried here was of some significance to the local people, both to those who knew him and, evidently, in the subsequent mythologies surrounding the site (click here for the details of Tregullan Burrow barrow if you wanna know the archaeology and structure of the site).  And although we find, statistically speaking, a lacking of other cup-markings in this region, it’s more than likely there are others that are hiding away amidst other old tombs and rocks…


  1. Ashbee, Paul, “The Excavation of Tregulland Burrow, Treneglos Parish, Cornwall,” in Antiquaries Journal, volume 38, 1958.

* the eyebrow motif description was used by a number of archaeo’s for sometime following publication of O.G.S. Crawford’s book, The Eye Goddess, to which the Antiquity Journal editor speculated some cup-and-rings may have owed their origin.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Higher Town Bay, St. Martin’s, Scilly Isles

Cist:  OS Grid Reference – SV 934 153

Also Known as:

  1. Monument no.303793

Archaeology & History

The remains of this old tomb were first noted by Mr Alexander Gibson, whose photograph of the site is here reproduced.  Thought by Paul Ashbee (1974) to date from between the Iron Age and Romano-British period, the site was first described in O.G.S. Crawford’s (1928) essay in Antiquity journal.  It was just one of several such sites in relative proximity to each other and which, due to them being so close to the sea, have been all-but washed over by Nature’s advance.  Mr Crawford told that this,

“cist on the shore…is on St. Martin’s, between Crethus Hill and English Island Point, about 20 yards from the edge of the rushy bank, and at approximately high water-mark.  It is oriented north and south and is 3 feet long by 2 (feet) wide.  It has now no capstone.  The cist when found was full of coarse, gravelly sand and stones, which were cleared out; amongst this were parts of leg bones (the joint-ends missing) and smaller fragments; then a piece of a human jaw, without teeth, and finally the skull.  The facial portion was missing.  The skull fell to pieces on removal but it and all the other pieces were preserved and the cist filled in again.”

In the same article, Crawford notes that,

“nearby, to the west, were two or three other cists of the same type, and many years ago yet others were observed, both round this bay and at Lawrence’s, to the west of Crethus Hill.”


  1. Ashbee, Paul, Ancient Scilly, David & Charles: Newton Abbot 1974.
  2. Crawford, O.G.S., “Stone Cists,” in Antiquity Journal, volume 2, no.8, December 1928.
  3. Weatherhill, Craig, Cornovia, Halsgrove 2009.


  1. Pastscape Notes on Monument no.303793

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Town Lane, St. Mary’s, Scilly Isles

Cist:  OS Grid Reference – SV 9157 1175

Also Known as:

  1. Monument no.304025

Archaeology & History

Town Lane cist

In Crawford’s (1928) article on stone-lined burials, or cists, this was one site that he described from the Scilly Isles, though little can be seen of the site nowadays as a road was built on top of it.  It was first discovered by a Mr Alexander Gibson (who took the photo, here reproduced) and was described as “the cist in the road”, due to its position in the middle of the old lane.  A number of flints and other Crawford told that it,

“is in Town Lane, about midway between Holy Vale and the Marconi Station, St. Mary’s (lat. 49° 55′ 35.2″ N, long. 6° 17′ 52.5″ W).  Nothing is known about it, but presumably it was found when the road was made by Mr Augustus Smith more than 80 years ago.  It measures about 3 feet in length by 2 feet in width, and is oriented approximately NE-SW.  There is said to have been another near it, but Mr Gibson has searched without success.”

In Paul Ashbee’s (1974) fine archaeological survey, he describes there being several other small prehistoric burials found in fields a little further down the same lane.


  1. Ashbee, Paul, Ancient Scilly, David & Charles: Newton Abbot 1974.
  2. Crawford, O.G.S., “Stone Cists,” in Antiquity Journal, volume 2, no.8, December 1928.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

North Hill, Samson, Scilly Isles, Cornwall

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – SV 877 131

Archaeology & History

Early photo of the North Hill tomb (Crawford 1928)

On the north side of Samson island there are several chambered tombs and cairns scattered around the edges of aptly-named North Hill; but the one illustrated here was one of the first to be excavated in 1862-3.  Although O.G.S. Crawford (1928) wrote about the site in his essay on Cornish cists — from where this old black-and-white photo of the site has been taken — it was described in much greater detail in Borlase’s (1872) archaeological magnum opus of the day.  In his time, this now much-denuded burial site had all the outer hallmarks of being a large tumulus.  This was described in some detail in a paper written by one Mr Augustus Smith (read at a Meeting of the Royal Institution of Cornwall in May, 1863) who was fortunate enough to be one of the first people to unearth this great tomb and find the site untouched since it had been laid, thousands of years earlier.  Citing extensively from Smith’s notes, Borlase told:

“The Barrow…is situated with four or five others, mostly rifled on the…high ground at the northern end.  “The mound, in its outer circumference, measured about 58 feet, giving, therefore, a distance of near upon 30 feet to its centre, from where the excavation was commenced.  For about 18 or 20 feet the mound appeared entirely composed of fine earth, when an inner covering, first of smaller and then or large rugged stones, was revealed.  These were carefully uncovered before being disturbed, and were then one by one displaced till a large upright stone was reached, covered by another of still more ponderous dimensions, which projected partially over the edges of the other.  At length this top covering, of irregular shape, but measuring about 5 feet 6 inches in its largest diameter, was thoroughly cleared of the superincumbent stones and earth, and showed itself evidently to be the lid to some mysterious vault or chamber beneath.”  On the lid being removed, there was “disclosed to view an oblong stone chest or sarcophagus beneath” on the floor of which, “in a small patch,” “a little heap of bones, the fragmentary framework of some denizen of earth, perhaps a former proprietor of the Islands—were discovered piled together in one corner.

“”The bones were carefully taken out, and the more prominent fragments, on subsequent examination by a medical gentleman, were found to give the following particulars: – Part of an upper jawbone presented the alveolæ of all the incisors, the canines, two cuspids and three molars, and the roots of two teeth, very white, still remaining in the sockets.  Another fragment gave part of the lower jaw with similar remains of teeth in the sockets.  All the bones had been under the action of fire and must have been carefully collected together after the burning of the body.  They are considered to have belonged to a man about 50 years of age…

“”The bottom of the sarcophagus was neatly fitted with a pavement of three flat but irregular-shaped stones, the joints fitted with clay mortar, as were also the insterstices where the stones forming the upright sides joined together, as also the lid, which was very neatly and closely fitted down with this same plaster.

“”Two long slabs, from seven to nine feet in length, and two feet in depth, form the sides, while the short stones fitted in between them make the ends, being about 3½ feet apart, and to fix which firmly in their places, grooves had been roughly worked in the larger stones.”  The paving stones had been “embedded immediately upon the natural surface of the granite of which the hill consists.”


  1. Borlase, William Copeland, Nænia Cornubiæ, Longmans Green: London 1872.
  2. Crawford, O.G.S., “Stone Cists,” in Antiquity Journal, volume 2, no.8, December 1928.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian