Low Well, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 1589 3132

Archaeology & History

Low Well on 1852 map

Along the now-lost Low Well Road between Little Horton and West Bowling, could once be found this innocuous-sounding water source.   Shown on the 1st OS-map of the area in 1852, the site was deemed to be little other than a ‘public well’.  At the end of the 19th century, a small well-house was built over the waters; and the years following that saw its complete demise.  Its name you would think relates to a position in the land, but the dialect word low, or lowe can mean “a flame, blaze, light, glow”, it can also refer to a prehistoric tomb.  However in this case it most likely derives from “a pond or standing pool”.

…And if some of you wonder why I have given this so-called Public Well the provenance of being a “sacred well”, please keep reading…

Folklore

Although it was deemed a simple ‘public well’ by historians and the public water authority, local folk knew there was much more to it than that!  In the Bradford area, this innocuously-named Well is the most promiscuously supernatural of all water sources, with a hidden history of magickians, ghosts and black dogs haunting its once ancient flow.  It was a site remembered as having oracular powers, where local people used it in scrying the future.  For such powers to work here, one had to gaze into the waters as they stilled at 6 o’ clock in the morning – a common time used by ritual magickians for the invocations of spirits.

The Bradford historian William Scrotum (1889) told us that in the 1860s, local people reported that the phantom black dog—or Bharguest as it was known—with its glowing red eyes, was seen coming out of the well after dark and scaring people half out of their wits.  Very soon people would not even venture out after dark for fear of encountering this great harbinger of Death.  Several years passed before local people called upon the abilities of a ritual magickian in the hope that he could lay the ghostly hound and bring peace and stability back to the hearts and minds of those living hereabouts.  Eventually, after much work, the magickian exorcised the waters and cast the black dog back into the depths of the Earth from whence it had come and, to this day, sightings of the spectral hound have stopped.

Water sources that possess ingredients of hauntings, magic and oracular properties are universally ascribed as ‘sacred’ in one way or the other.  In pre-industrial times I have little doubt that, amongst the animistic pantheon of local Bradfordians, this was no exception.

References:

  1. Scruton, William, Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford, Thomas Brear: Bradford 1889.
  2. Wright, Joseph, The English Dialect Dictionary – volume 3, Henry Frowde: London 1902.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.777973, -1.760357 Low Well

Breckon Howe, Sleights Moor, Sleights, North Yorkshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NZ 85374 03406

Also Known as:

  1. Brakken Howe
Breckon Howe on 1853 map

Getting Here

Along the A169 road between Sleights and Pickering, some two miles south of Sleights at the highest point on the moors just above the west side of the road, you’ll see a large mound with what looks like a standing stone on top of it.  A minor road turns off the A169 at this point, heading southeast, and the large mound is 150 yards from the roadside. You can’t really miss it!

Archaeology & History

Shown on the first OS map of the area in 1853, this conspicuous prehistoric tomb surmounted by a relatively recent boundary stone, sits at the highest point on the moors in these parts.  Despite this (as with others on these moors), very little has been written about the place and it has received only minimal attention in archaeology tomes.  Even the renowned pen of Frank Elgee (1912; 1930) gave it only passing mention.  Perhaps it aint a bad thing to be honest.

Breckon Howe, from the south

As well as being conspicuous, it’s large.  Rising some six feet above the natural ground level, it measures 26 yards across its east-west axis, and 29 yards north-south, with a rough circumference of 88 yards.  The boundary stone that surmounts its crown sits in a hollow that looks like it was opened up a century or two ago by antiquarians (much like ourselves).  But its position of the tomb in the landscape that is most striking.  The view from here is considerable, having a clear 360º view for many miles around.  Other prehistoric tombs can be seen from here, but more importantly this tomb can be seen on the skyline from many others.  This was probably a deliberate feature intended by its builders–and it’s not uncommon, as many of our upland regions are crowned with ancient tombs like Breckon Howe.  In all likelihood this would have been the resting place of some important ancestral figure: a tribal elder or a shaman, whose spirit after death could view and travel across the landscape they inhabited in life.

Although the tomb presently sits amidst an endless sea of heather (Calluna vulgaris) typical of moorland across our northern lands, the name of the site ‘breckon’, according to George Young (1817) derives from the dialect word meaning ferns or bracken.  This is echoed in Francis Kildale’s (1855) local dialect study and subsequently in Joseph Wright’s (1898) unequalled magnum opus.

Folklore

In the early 19th century, one George Calvert who lived in the area, collected as much folklore as he could, as it was dying off with the coming of the Church.  One such piece told that there was once a hob who lived by this old tomb.  A hob is generally known as a supernatural creature, but in this area it can also be a medicine man.  Some hobs were good, others were malicious.  We know not what type of hob lived lived here, but Calvert simply told us there used to be “T’ Hob of Brackken Howe”.  Nowt more!  It would be good to find the story behind this old character, if it hasn’t been lost entirely…

References:

  1. Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
  2. Elgee, Frank, The Moorlands of North-Eastern Yorkshire, A. Brown: London 1912.
  3. Kildale, Francis, A Glossary of Yorkshire Words and Phrases Collected in Whitby and the Nieghbourhood, J.R. Smith: London 1855.
  4. Home, Gordon, The Evolution of an English Town, J.M. Dent: London 1905.
  5. Wright, Joseph, English Dialect Dictionary – volume 1, .Henry Frowde: London 1898.
  6. Young, George, A History of Whitby and Streoneshalh Abbey – volume 2, Clarke & Medd: Whitby 1817.

Acknowledgements:  A huge thanks to Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this great tomb and its companion.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  54.418942, -0.685822 Breckon Howe

Holy Well, Baildon, West Yorkshire

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 1609 3961

Archaeology & History

This site is all but unknown to the great majority of folk in Baildon, and even some of the local historians have let it slip from their investigative tendrils.  According to the primary Baildon historian, W.Paley Baildon, it was first known as the ‘Halliwell Holy Well’.  In his magnum opus (1913-26) of the township he relates that,

“The 1852 Ordnance map marks Halliway Banks Wood to the south of Langley Lane, with a well just below it, and a footpath from Holden Lane to the well.  Halliway, I think, is a corruption of Halliwell, the ‘holy well,’ with the special footpath leading to it and nowhere else.  Haliwell Bank occurs in (the Baildon Court Rolls of) 1490, when it formed part of the property held by William Tong of Nicolas Fitz William.”

This etymology is echoed by the great place-name authority A.H. Smith (1954).  It also caught the attention of archaeologist Andrea Smith (1982), in her investigation of twenty-five holy wells in the West Yorkshire region.

“Many wells,” she wrote, “are recorded simply as ‘Holy Well,’ or the various forms ‘Halliwell,’ ‘Helliwell’ and ‘Hollowell.’  It is possible that in these instances the identity of the patron saint or guardian of the well has been forgotten, which may be the case with the site at Collingham, now known as Hollowell.”

Site of the Holy Well in 1852

The well itself can no longer be seen.  When I looked for the site in 1982, I found that to the right of where the 1852 map showed it, was a waterworks lid covering the old holy waters, just in the trees atop of the field beneath a great sycamore with a number of small stones roughly encircling the site: perhaps the only possible relics of the century before when the waters would have been used.  A stone trough was situated at the bottom of Holden Lane, fed by the waters from the Halliwell and from here the course of the stream meandered down the side of Slaughter Lane, now known as Kirklands Road.  The land around Halliwell became known as Kirkfield, or field of worship.

A local resident told how during autumn and winter, the left side of the field gets extremely boggy – the region were the old stream ran from the old well, along which dowsers have found aquastats abound.  Now however, houses have been built where the waterworks-lid used to be and is likely to be in someone’s backyard, all but forgotten.

Folklore

According to local lore, the site of this most ancient of holy wells was found in the warmest place in the Baildon district.  Whilst its geographical position doesn’t necessarily suggest this (although it did face south, into the sun), this lore may reflect some healing aspect of the well that has long since been forgotten.

Perhaps relevant to Andrea Smith’s comment about there being ‘guardians’ at holy wells is found in folklore relating to nearby Holden Lane: locals in the last century also referred to it as Boggart Lane, so called after the Boggart which was seen there in the form of a spectral hound that was said to possess large glowing red eyes and was a sign of ill omen.  Modern sightings of the spectral hound, which appeared along the road which led to the old well, are unknown.

References:

  1. Baildon, W. Paley, Baildon and the Baildons (parts 1-15), St. Catherines: Adelphi 1913-26.
  2. Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1954.
  3. Smith, Andrea, ‘Holy Wells Around Leeds, Bradford & Pontefract,’ in Wakefield Historical Journal 9, 1982.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.852504, -1.756778 Holy Well, Baildon

Tun Well, Eccleshill, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Healing Well:  OS Grid Reference – SE 1822 3593

Also Known as:

  1. Tunny Well

Archaeology & History

Tun Well, on 1893 map

First mentioned in local history accounts from 1618—as the Tunwells—it was highlighted on the first OS-map of Eccleshill in 1851.  Located on the aptly-named Tunwell Lane, it was a deep well covered by a large flat slab of stone, at the back-end the old Victorian mill.  The stone was put there to prevent children falling into it.  Some old locals thought the name of the place derived from a ‘tun’, or hundred, meaning it to be a hundred feet deep; although as A.H. Smith (1961) tells, tun could equally relate it to be one of Eccleshill’s town wells, of which there were several.  It used to be one of the principal drinking supplies for the village and was said to rarely run dry.  In William Ranger’s (1854) survey, he told this to be one of the sites to which local people relied in times of drought, where the land-owner allowed local folk to collect their supplies.

Folklore

The old cobbled Tunwell Lane was long ago supposed to be the haunt of a phantom black dog: a visionary precursor of death and Underworld guardian. Its spirit came and went into the deep well.  I remember hearing tales of this when I was a young lad, as the old women who worked in the adjacent mills spoke of it.  The ghost of a so-called ‘white lady’ was also said to walk along Tunwell Lane.

In more recent times, Val Shepherd (2002) included this in her short survey of wells in the area as being on “an alignment” with Eccleshill’s Moor Well and Holy Well.  She thought “it may be part of a ley line”, but her alignment is inaccurate and doesn’t hit the spots.

References:

  1. Crapp, H.C. & Whitehead, Thomas, History of the Congregational Church at Eccleshill, Watmoughs: Idle 1938.
  2. Ranger, William, Report to the General Board of Health on a Preliminary Inquiry into the Sewerage, Drainage, and Supply of Water, and the Sanitary Condition of the Inhabitants of the Township of Eccleshill, George Eyre: London 1854.
  3. Shepherd, Val, Holy Wells of West Yorkshire and the Dales, Lepus: Bradford 2002.
  4. Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 3, Cambridge University Press 1961.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  53.819331, -1.724729 Tun Well

Jim Craven’s Well, Thornton, West Yorkshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference — SE 0967 3251?

Archaeology & History

Is this the site of the lost Jim Cravens Well on the 1852 map?

Another well with considerable supernatural renown was this little-known site near the old village of Thornton, on the western outskirts of Bradford.  We’re not 100% sure about its exact location, but the grid-reference cited here is of an old ‘Well’ that was highlighted on the first Ordnance Survey map of the region, at the end of solitary path which led to it and nowhere else.  Our only documentary information comes from Elizabeth’s Southwart’s (1932) fine old book on the folk life of the old village, as it once was.  At a place once known as Bent Ing Bottom, just south of the old village, is where it used to be known.  The name of this Well is also curious, as no historian has yet worked out who the ‘Jim Craven’ was, nor what his relationship to the site might have been.  It’s the folklore of it, however, which brings it the attention it deserves.

Folklore

In Elizabeth Southwart’s (1923) work, she told us that the place once known as “Bent Ing Bottoms have lost their romance.” She continued:

“Whether the golfers have driven it away—for the fields now form part of the Thornton Golf Links—or whether the advance of modernity in other forms is to blame, it is difficult to say.  Once they were the haunts of “Peggy-Wi-T’-Lantern” and the Bloody-tongue.  Peggy, a dame in a white mob cap, kilted skirt and white stockings, walked about with a lantern, enticing the unwary traveller to his doom.  She was given to wandering, for, they say, Jim Craven Well, half a mile away, was a place to be avoided after nightfall.

“The Bloody-tongue was a great dog, with staring red eyes, a tail as big as the branch of a tree, and a lolling tongue that dripped blood.  When he drank from the beck (known as the Pinch Beck, PB) the water ran red right past the bridge, and away down—down—nearly to Bradford town.  As soon as it was quite dark he would lope up the narrow flagged causeway to the cottage at the top of Bent Ing on the north side, give one deep bark, then the woman who lived there would come out and feed him.  What he ate we never knew, but I can bear testimony to the delicious taste of the toffee she made.

“When the dark was coming we used to sit on the filled-in pit, which makes a hump in the middle of the field, and wait for him.  The sun would sink redly, through the arches of the viaduct, the trees that lined the beck would grow an ever darker green until they became black, the beck would begin to gurgle and gulp in a queer way; and down in the hollow we would hear a whimper, a whine, a moan, a snarl.  Then, with scalps and spines playing queer tricks, we would wait and wait.  But none of our little band ever saw him, except one girl, and she saw him every time.

“One Saturday a girl who lived at Headley came to a birthday party in the village, and was persuaded to stay to the end by her friends, who promised to see her ‘a-gaiterds’ if she would.  As soon as the party was over the brave little group started out.  But when they reached the end of the passage which leads to the fields, and gazed into the black well, at the bottom of which lurked the Bloody-tongue, one of them suggested that Mary should go alone, and they would wait there to see if anything happened to her.

“Mary was reluctant, but had no choice in the matter, for go home she must.  They waited, according to promise, listening to her footsteps on the path, and occasionally shouting into the darkness:

““Are you all right, Mary?”

““Ay!” would come the response.

“And well was it for Mary that the Gytrash had business elsewhere that night, for her friends confess now that at the first sound of a scream they would have fled back to lights and home.

“We wonder sometimes if the Booody-tongue were not better than his reputation, for he lived there many years and there was never a single case known of man, woman or child who got a bite from his teeth, or a scratch from his claws.  Now he is gone, nobody knows whither, though there have been rumours that he has been seen wandering disconsolately along Egypt Road, whimpering quietly to himself, creeping into the shadows when a human being approached, and, when a lantern was flashed on him, giving one sad, reproachful glance from his red eyes before he vanished from sight.”

Southwart later tells us that the ghostly dog travelled into the north and vanished.  From the description she gives of the children walking their friend to “the end of the passage which leads to the fields, and gazed into the black well, at the bottom of which lurked the Bloody-tongue,” I can only surmise that the solitary well shown on the very first OS-map of Thornton at the coordinate given above is the place in question.

The ‘Bloody Tongue’ is first mentioned in Yorkshire folklore, I think, by Roger Storrs, in his article on holy wells in 1888, where he tells it to be one of the mysterious beings that live, usually at the bottom of the waters and almost universally used “to deter children from playing in dangerous proximity to a well.”

From the description of the waters turning red when the ghostly dog drank from it, we have a mythic account of when the waters occasionally turned red from the iron-bearing waters (chalybeate) which, obviously, wasn’t like this at all times.  Whether this was a sporadic, unpredictable flow of iron in the waters, or a cyclical pattern of the water-flows, we are not told (which would imply, moreso, that it was sporadic).  The folklore about this ghost and its appearance with another elemental creature along an old straight track running north from Upper Headley Hall to Thornton is intriguing—as in many old pre-christian traditions, North is the airt, or direction, representing Death; and black dogs are traditionally guardians of underworld treasures in the land of the Dead.  With the plethora of other animistic folktales once known in this district (boggarts or goblins were known in nearby woods, wells and farms) it is likely that the origin of such folklore dates way back into antiquity.

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of West Yorkshire, forthcoming
  2. Southwart, Elizabeth, Bronte Moors and Villages: From Thornton to Haworth, John Lane Bodley Head: London 1923.
  3. Storrs, Roger, ‘Legends and Traditions of Wells,’ in Yorkshire Folk-lore Journal – volume 1 (ed. J. Horsfall Turner) 1888.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Jim Craven's Well

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Jim Craven\'s Well 53.788820, -1.854705 Jim Craven\'s Well

Ghost’s Knowe, St. Ninian’s, Stirlingshire

Tumulus:  OS Grid Reference – NS 7474 8574

1861 OS-map of site

1861 OS-map of site

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 45953
  2. Craigengelt Cairn

Getting Here

West of Dunipace and the M9, go along the B818 for 3-4 miles until you hit the pub at the tiny crossroads of Carron Bridge. Take the lonely road up to your right and after several miles, just where the forest on your left finishes, a bend in the road takes you over a small river.  Stop here and walk up the track left, to Craigengelt.  Before you reach the farmhouse at the end, note a small clump of trees ahead of you.  Just before this, a seemingly natural rounded hillock in the field, just off the trackside, is where the monument used to be.

Archaeology & History

No trace remains of this once-important and seemingly impressive prehistoric ‘tomb’ or ritual death chamber, just off the trackside before old Craigengelt farmhouse.  The standard history of the site, repeated variously by Royal Commission (1963) and elsewhere, was first sourced in the New Statistical Account of the region in 1845:

“About two years ago the tenant was engaged in levelling and improving a field on the eastern extremity of Craigengelt in which there was a large cairn or mound, known in the country by the name of the “Ghost’s Knowe.” It was quite circular, exactly 300 feet in circumference at the base, and which was flanked around by twelve very large stones, placed at equal distances, and it was 12 feet high, with a slight inclination to one side, and fiat on top. On removing the turf and soil, it was found that the interior consisted of large and small stories built together with great care, which led the proprietor to think that it must have been a place of Druidical sepulture.

“About 6 feet from the centre, there stood four upright stones, each about 3 feet in height, describing an oblong figure like a bed. Within this a coffin was found, the length of which was about 7 feet, at broad, and at deep. The under part or bottom of the coffin was whin-flag, as was also the upper part or lid. Within this were found the remains of a human body of the ordinary size. The hones, except a very small part of the skull, were of the consistence of soft chalk, the body had been enveloped in something like a mixture of decayed vegetable matter and tar, which, when exposed to the atmosphere, emitted a strong odour.

“Strict orders were given to the labourers that if anything like a coffin should be found, they were not to open it until either the proprietor or tenant were present. But one of them, an old schoolmaster, who knew something of antiquities, went during the night, and carried off a variety of articles, the nature and number of which are not now likely ever to be ascertained. With reluctance, he gave up a stone axe of beautiful workmanship and a gold ring. The ring had had a jewel in it; but the jewel was out, and it was what is called “chased,” and must have been worn on a very small finger.  A labourer in the neighbourhood sold a variety of things of a rare description to a gentleman in whose possession, it is believed, they still are.  The axe and the ring were the only things obtained by the proprietor, J. Dick, Esq. of Craigengelt, and they are still in his possession.”

When Daniel Wilson (1851) visited the site a few years later, he discovered a little more about the valuable items discovered in the tomb:

“among which was a golden horn or cup, weighing fourteen ounces, and ornamented with chased or embossed figures. This interesting relic was purchased from one of the labourers by a gentleman in Stirling, and is believed to be still in existence, though I have failed, after repeated applications, in obtaining access to it.  The exact nature or value of the whole contents of this cairn is not likely ever to be ascertained.  The only articles secured by the proprietor, and now in his possession, are a highly polished stone axe or hammer, eight inches long, rounded at one end and tapering at the other; a knife or dagger of the same material, eighteen inches long, which was broken by one of the stones falling on it when opening the cist; and a small gold finger-ring, chased and apparently originally jewelled, though the settings have fallen out.”

The structure of the Ghost’s Knowe is similar in size and stature to another, large unrecorded round cairn or tumulus, 2.25 miles (3.62km) NNW of here, that still requires our full attention.

Folklore

Despite the name and the tale said by local people that “the place was haunted”, I can find no details that tell the story of the hauntings here.  Does anyone know?

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.
  3. Wilson, Daniel, The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, Sutherland & Knox: Edinburgh 1851.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.048100, -4.012463 Ghost\'s Knowe

Bogle Bush, Collace, Perthshire

Legendary Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NO 19 32

Also Known as :

  1. Bogle Busk
  2. Bogle Buss

Archaeology & History

1867 Map Bogle Bush

The site on the 1867 OS Map

Perusal of a 25″ OS map of  1867 shows, in almost microscopic lettering, a feature marked ‘Bogle Bush’.  I transferred the approximate location onto a modern map and set off to make a field visit, honestly not expecting to find anything almost a century and a half later.

Bogle bush 1

The Bogle Bush

As I walked down the designated road I was drawn to an ancient multi branched or trunked tree, the trunks held together by a hefty iron band. The band had been placed there many years ago as it was being absorbed by the growth of the tree. Unlike the other trees in the road the foot of this tree had crocus and grape hyacinth in flower, as if deliberately planted.

The band was forged and fitted by Kinrossie Blacksmith and Kirk Elder David Gray at the end of the nineteenth century, following the collapse of one of the three trunks then standing.

Bogle Bush 2

The band holding the tree together

The online Ordnance Survey Name Books for Perthshire, compiled prior to the survey of the 1867 map, list Robert Millar of Flowerdale, Mr James Stewart of Kinrossie and Mr Fraser of St Euchans as the informants that ‘This name is applied to a Birch Tree situated on the north side of the road leading from Saucher to Kinrossie. Mr Millar says that there is a superstitious tradition existing in the locality that Bogles have been seen &c at this tree’.

Whether Mr Millar and his co-informants were trying to mischievously mislead the (probably) English Ordnance Survey officials, we will never know, but the tree is in fact a Sycamore! And the 1901 25″ OS map shows the tree as the ‘Bogle Busk’.

Folklore

There has been speculation that the Bogle Bush may have long forgotten links with Macbeth whose fortess at nearby Dunsinnan Hill overlooks it, adding the rider that Sycamores only live 200 years or so before falling and then regenerating on the same spot, implying that a mother tree could have been on the same spot in Macbeth’s time.

David Gray, Blacksmith and Kirk Elder of Kinrossie.

David Gray, Blacksmith and Kirk Elder of Kinrossie.

Local folklore states that ‘a great calamity will befall Kinrossie’ should the Bush collapse. The tree is a local icon that’s ‘aye been there’ according to a local resident and it seems to be a local geo-caching site, judging by the small container of ‘stuff’ hidden in a plastic container underneath a couple of pieces of bark at the base of the trunk on my visits.

Please note that if you decide to visit, this is not a wishing tree, so do not hammer coins into the bark or suspend rags from the branches. Respect the Bush and the local people to whom this is an iconic tree.

My thanks to local resident Morag Hislop for leading me to further information on this site.

References:

  1. Scotland’s Place Names
  2. Collace Parish Millenium Committee, Off The Main Road, 2nd edition: Kinrossie District Recreation Club, 2010

 © Paul T. Hornby, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.473334, -3.316698 Bogle Bush

Ravenswood Avenue, Liberton, Edinburgh, Midlothian

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NT 28282 70502

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 52108
  2. Craigend
  3. Greenend

Getting Here

The Ravenswood Stone

Take the A7 road south from Edinburgh central (off Princes Street) for several miles.  It becomes known as the Old Dalkeith Road eventually, just as it passes the huge wooded ground of Craigmillar Castle on your left (east) and the Inch estate on your right. Walk along here, keeping your eyes peeled for the small path that takes you onto Ravenswood Avenue.  Barely 30-40 yards from the main A7 road, the standing stone is there surrounded by railings.

Archaeology & History

A curious place to find a standing stone – especially one that’s still alive!  But that’s what we find on the Inch housing estate, thankfully.  Highlighted on the 1855 Ordnance Survey map, it was one of a number of standing stones described in George Good’s (1893) fine survey on Liberton parish, which he thought commemorated ancient battles.  When he wrote about it, the monolith was “built into the wall on the public road to Greenend”, just as shown on the OS-map.  He told how the

“stone was taken down in the beginning of the present century (c.1801), when the road was widened, and it long lay in the field opposite, but was restored to its original place in 1891.”

When the Royal Commission (1929) lads came here many years later, they gave their own archaeocentric description, telling:

“About 40 yards from the main road near Little France…is a standing stone, which is set up without packing, with its main axis almost due north and south, but with a slight inclination towards the east. It stands 6¾ feet above ground, and has a girth of 6 feet 5 inches at 3 feet from the base.  It is of grey sandstone, badly weathered on two sides and without traces of any artificial markings or design.”

Ravenswood Stone, 1855 map

Ravenswood Stone in its cage

The monolith was included in Adam McLean’s (1977) megalithic survey of the area, where he rightly said how the iron fence that surrounds the stone destroys any atmosphere that might once be had here.  Still, at least it’s still standing and is worth checking out if you’re in the area.

Folklore

An old footpath that runs dead straight from Craigmillar Castle towards the stone was long ago said to be the pathway taken by the ghost of a white lady.

In days prior to the housing estate being built, local folk had annual bonfires here between Samhain (Halloween) and Guy Fawkes Night (Oct 31 – Nov 5).

References:

  1. Good, George, Liberton in Ancient and Modern Times, Andrew Elliot: Edinburgh 1893.
  2. McLean, Adam, The Standing Stones of the Lothians, Megalithic Research Publications: Edinburgh 1977.
  3. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Midlothian and West Lothian, HMSO: Edinburgh 1929.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.922242, -3.149171 Ravenswood Avenue

Witches Stones, Kirkton of Auchterhouse, Angus

Cup-and-Ring Stones (lost):  OS Grid Reference – NO 345 392

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 31908
  2. Greenfield Knowe
  3. Greenford Knowe
  4. Sidlaw Hospital
  5. Spittal Stones

Archaeology & History

1843 map showing the 'Stone'

1843 map showing the ‘Stone’

We have no precise location for this carving, nor several of its petroglyphic relatives who lived within this arena for countless centuries until (you guessed it!) the advance of the Industrialists brought their profane ways to the region, with the usual disregard for local people and their unwritten traditions.   Which is a great pity, for there was obviously some old stories and important archaeology hereby.  Aubrey Burl (1988) for one, thought this cup-and-ring carving may have played its part in being one of the stones in a larger “four-poster” stone circle; though local history accounts tell that it was part of an impressive prehistoric tomb.

One of the Witches Stones

One of the Witches Stones

The Witches’ Stone we see illustrated here was one of at least two carvings in a cluster of stones.  The great J. Romilly Allen (1881) wrote about the it, although it seems he never visited the site himself.  Instead, his description came from that of a colleague, a Mr W. McNicoll, who told him that at the position marked on the early OS-map as a single “Stone” that was “Remains of a Druidical Altar” there were in fact

“two in number: one, an upright pointed stone, 5ft by 2ft by 3ft 6in high; ans the other lying 3ft 6in to the southwest, 7ft 6in by 5ft by 2ft 6in thick.  The latter has fifteen cups, varying from 2 to 3in in diameter; one with a single ring carved on the sloping face at the south end of the stone.  It lies horizontally and has two hollows, worn at the ends where the cups are, by the toes of persons climbing onto the top.  The ground under this stone has been partly removed and it appears to rest on two others; but the whole appears to be natural and not a cromlech or rocking stone.”

Folklore

One of the Witches Stones

One of the Witches Stones

Reference was made to this “Witches Stone” in the 1860 Object Name Book of the region, where it was said to have been part of a larger group, “considered to have been used by the Druids as a place of worship.”  This catch-all phrase of druidic relevance should be translated as “local traditional importance” where animistic rites of some sort would have occurred.  Certainly we find the usual reverence or fear in the local tale told by Mr Hutcheson (1905) which he thankfully recorded following his visit to the site:

“Here…occupying a small knoll known locally as Greenfield Knowe, towards the western end of the plateau…two upright standing stones of boulder character formed a conspicuous feature.  They were, if tradition be accepted, the survivors of a larger group.  The same tradition records that the farmer of Greenfield Farm, requiring stones for the erection of dykes, removed some of the standing stones from Greenfield Knowe.  He, however, speedily found unexpected difficulty in carrying out his intentions.  The dykers whom he had employed absolutely refused to use the stones, alleging they would thereby bring misfortune upon themselves and families, , and threatened, rather than risk such calamities, to throw up the job.

“While in this quandry the farmer, it is said, had a vision: a ghostly figure appeared to him, and in a hollow voice warned him against interference with he stones on Greenfield Knowe, and concluded by the adjuration, “Gang ower the howe t’ anither knowe.”  Needless to say, the farmer lost no time in obeying his ghostly visitor.  Next morning he carted back the stones he had removed and sought material for his dykes elsewhere.”

This is probably the same tale, slightly reformed, which the local historian W.M. Inglis (1888) described, when he told that,

“About the beginning of the present century, when a worthy old parishioner was having some repairs carried out upon his house, he removed a few of the large stones with the intention of having them built into the walls.  Throughout the night, however, an eerie feeling came over him, his conscience was on fire, he could get no rest.  Accordingly he got out of bed, yoked his horse into the cart, and like a sensible man replaced yjr sacred stones where he found them, went home, and thereafter slept the sleep of the righteous.”

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Allen, J. Romilly, “Notice of Prehistoric Remains near Tealing, in Forfarshire” in Journal of British Archaeological Association, volume 37, 1881.
  2. Burl, Aubrey, Four Posters: Bronze Age Stone Circles of Western Europe, BAR 195: Oxford 1988.
  3. Hutcheson, Alexander, “Notice of the Discovery of Stone Coffins at Auchterhouse,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 39, 1905.
  4. Inglis, W. Mason, Annals of an Angus Parish, John Leng: Dundee 1888.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.540953, -3.064462 Witches Stone petroglyph

Ghaist Stane, Fern, Angus

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 4832 6173

Getting Here

Ghaist Stane on 1865 OS-map

Ghaist Stane on 1865 OS-map

Whichever route you take to reach this lovely hamlet, hiding away in deep greenery, when you get to the one and only road junction, where it goes downhill (towards the old church), look just above you just below the first tree.  All but covered in vegetation, the ruined stone lays down there. Climb up and see!

Archaeology & History

Tis up on the verge here

Tis up on the verge here

An exploration of this site was prompted when fellow antiquarian, Paul Hornby, came across the curious place-name of ‘Ghaist Stane’ when he was looking over some old Ordnance Survey maps of the region.  So we met up and took a venture over there!  Last highlighted on the 1865 map (when the old village was known as Fearn, not the modern spelling), even the Canmore lads had missed this one.  But it’s not easy to find….

After meandering back and forth by the village roadside, on the tops of the walls, into the field above, Paul eventually said, “Is that it?!” just above the roadside, almost buried in vegetation below the roots of a tree.  So I clambered back up and brushed some of the vegetation away – and there it was – in just the place that the old OS-map showed it to be (give or take a few yards).

The remains of the stone measure roughly 3 feet by 3 feet; with the present upper portion of the stone being of a lighter colour than the lower portion, indicating that this section of the stone was the portion that was underground when it was standing upright.  Its history is fragmentary, but we know that it was almost completely destroyed in the middle of the 19th century.  Notes from the Object Name Book of the region in 1861 told,

“The “Ghaist Stane”…formerly well known, is becoming little known from the stone having been recently blasted in making the Dike it now forms a part of, but it may be observed in the wall as a huge stone much larger than those beside it in the Dike. It does not project now from the side of the Road.”

Now the stone is almost entirely forgotten and lays covered, ignored, even by local people.  It could do with being resurrected and its heritage preserved before it disappears forever.

Folklore

The uncovered Ghaist Stane

The uncovered Ghaist Stane

The word “ghaist” is a regional dialect word meaning “a ghost or goblin”, inferring that the site was haunted.  And, considering the inherent animistic cultural psychology of the people here in earlier centuries, we must also consider the distinct possibility that the stone itself was the abode of a resident spirit, perhaps an ancestral one of a local chief, or queen, or elder of some sort.

In James Guthrie’s (1875) analysis of the folklore of Fern township, he told of the peculiarly odd violent brownies of the district and thought that they and the spirit of the Ghaist Stane were one and the same.

“In addition to the leading characteristics of Brownies in general the more prominent of these being, that they forded the rivers when their waters were at their highest, and that the sage femme always landed safely at the door of the sick wife—the brownies of Ferne are connected with scenes of cruelty and bloodshed.  This peculiarity would seem to indicate that the brownie and the ghaist of Feme, were one and the same.  The Ghaist Stane is in the vicinity of the church.   To this piece of isolated rock, it is said this disturber of the peace was often chained as a fitting punishment for his misdeeds, but tradition is silent as to the brownie being similarly dealt with, which strengthens the supposition that they were, in this quarter at least, generally regarded as one being.”

The spirit of the Ghaist Stane roamed far and wide in the district it seemed, and a long rhyme telling a tale of the ghaist was once well-known in the area which, thankfully, Mr Guthrie gave us in full:

THE GHAIST O’ FERNE-DEN

There liv’d a farmer in the North,
(I canna tell you when),
But just he had a famous farm
Nae far frae Feme-den.
I doubtna, sirs, ye a’ hae heard,
Baith women folks an’ men,
About a muckle, fearfu’ ghaist —
The ghaist o’ Ferne-den!
The muckle ghaist, the fearfu’ ghaist,
The ghaist o’ Ferne-den;
He wad hae wrought as muckle wark
As four-au’-twenty men!

Gin there was ony strae to thrash,
Or ony byres to clean,
He never thocht it muckle fash
0′ workin’ late at e’en!
Although the nicht was ne’er sae dark,
He scuddit through the glen,
An’ ran an errand in a crack —
The ghaist o’ Ferne-den!

Ane nicht the mistress o’the house
Fell sick an’ like to dee,—
“O! for a oanny wily wife!”
Wi’ micht an’ main, cried she!
The nicht was dark, an’ no a spark
Wad venture through the glen,
For fear that they micht meet the ghaist —
The ghaist o’ Ferne-den!

But ghaistie stood ahint the door,
An’ hearin’ a’ the strife,
He saw though they had men a score,
They soon wad tyne the wife!
Aff to the stable then he goes,
An’ saddles the auld mare,
An’ through the splash an’ slash he ran
As fast as ony hare!

He chappit at the Mammy’s door—
Says he — “mak’ haste an’ rise;
Put on your claise an’ come wi’ me,
An’ take ye nae surprise!”
“Where am I gaun?” quo’ the wife,
“Nae far, but through the glen —
Ye’re wantit to a farmer’s wife,
No far frae Ferne-den!”

He’s taen the Mammy by the hand
An’ set her on the pad,
Got on afore her an’ set aff
As though they baith were mad!
They climb’d the braes—they lap the burns—
An’ through the glush did plash:
They never minded stock nor stane,
Nor ony kind o’ trash!

As they were near their journey’s end
An’ scudden through the glen:
“Oh!” says the Mammy to the ghaist,
“Are we come near the den!
For oh! I’m feared we meet the ghaist!”
“Tush, weesht, ye fool! “quo’ he;
“For waur than ye ha’e i’ your arms,
This nicht ye winna see!”

When they cam to the farmer’s door
He set the Mammy down:—
“I’ve left the house but ae half hour—
I am a clever loon!
But step ye in an’ mind the wife
An’ see that a’ gae richt,
An’ I will tak ye hame again
At twal’ o’ clock at nicht!”

“What maks yer feet sae braid?” quo’ she,
“What maks yer een sae sair?”
Said he, — “I’ve wander’d mony a road
Without a horse or mare!
But gin they speir, wha’ brought ye here,
‘Cause they were scarce o’ men;
Just tell them that ye rade ahint
The ghaist o’ Ferne-den!”

References:

  1. Guthrie, James C., The Vale of Strathmore – Its Scenes and Legends, William Paterson: Edinburgh 1875.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.744338, -2.846504 Ghaist Stane, Fern