Until we’ve isolated this site, it’s difficult to suggest an age for it. It’s an all-but forgotten grave of some sort, last mentioned by John Clough (1886) in his rare work on Steeton township. Although the folklore indicates some medieval date here, the site may have been a prehistoric tomb, as it was located in the same valley a mile east of another little-known prehistoric burial at Crosshills. Mr Clough wrote the following of the site:
“Until AD 1790 the road to Kildwick would be down Pot Lane and past ‘The Lion’. Near a field, now called Nanny Grave Hill; there were four land ends; there are three lane ends yet; there was what i’s called Devil’s Lane, the lanes towards Eastburn and Steeton, and Wood Street… The junction of these four lane ends is the scene of one of Steeton’s tragedies. At this place is buried a suicide called Nanny, with “a stake in her inside.” Some people point out the mound under which she’s buried. When the suicide took place isn’t known, but it would certainly not occur later than the 17th century.”
But there are no records telling of the said ‘nanny’ and her death, nor archaeological accounts of any excavations hereby. The epithet nanny is sometimes used in northern counties to mean a witch, and although we have no remaining lore telling of such a character, the old name Devil’s Lane certainly infers some pre-christian or supernatural history hereby, common to many ancient burial mounds throughout Britain and across the world. Also a burial at an old crossroads is another heathen indicator; and the legend of the body having “a stake in her inside” is highly suggestive of further archaic death rituals, fixing the spirit of the dead at the site to prevent transmigration of any form, effectively ending the lineage of shaman or other heathen priestess. Any further information about this site would be most welcome.
…to be continued…
Clough, John, History of Steeton, S. Billows: Keighley 1886.
The sites that were once here have long since been destroyed as a result of quarrying operations. But thankfully this place was given a quick appraisal by those renowned Scottish archaeologists, Anna Ritchie and D.V. Clarke, before final destruction. They recorded the site in an early edition of Discovery & Excavation in Scotland:
“Two short cists were discovered in November, 1970, during the removal of a long low gravel ridge protruding into the flood plain of the River Clyde. The two cists were both aligned NE-SW and were 14m apart. Both employed identical construction techniques. The side slabs overlapped both end slabs and the N end slab was shorter than the other three slabs, necessitating a building-up of the floor by some 30cm. Both appear to have had a double layer of capstones although this is uncertain in one case. The cists contained and adult and child without grave goods on a gravel floor in one, and an adult with a beaker on a ‘crazy-paving’ floor in the other.”
Crazy-paving in prehistoric times sounds good! The Scots got there first!
Clarke, D.V. & Ritchie, Anna, “Boatbridge Quarry: Short Cists,” in Discovery & Excavation in Scotland, 1971.
Found inside a prehistoric tomb that was excavated in the late 1920s “by Messrs R.C. and W.P. Hedley at Pike Hill, near Stamfordham,” this fascinating-looking carving was found on a stone that “was overlying the primary burial” cist in the middle of the tumulus, measuring “2 feet 9 inches long by 2 feet wide and 12 inches deep, with an orientation on the longer axis of NE.” As we can see in the old photo that accompanied Mr Hedley’s (1928) short article in Antiquity journal, four single cups are arranged in a rough square and are joined with each other by a single line, running from cup to cup, outlining a clear quadrilateral formation. Two other single cups are outliers on the left and right side of the ‘square.’
A second smaller cist was also found inside the same mound and on the central inner face of this was another, more simplistic carving described as “a very fine cup-mark 1½ inch in diameter and ¾-inch deep.” These carvings are no longer in situ (I think they’re in Newcastle Museum) and apparently this second single cup-marked stone can no longer be located.
Beckensall, Stan, Northumberland’s Prehistoric Rock Carvings, Pendulum: Rothbury 1983.
Beckensall, Stan, Prehistoric Rock Motifs of Northumberland – volume 2: Beanley to the Tyne, Abbey Press: Hexham 1992.
Hedley, R. Cecil, “Ancient British Burials, Northumberland,” in Antiquity Journal, volume 2, December 1928.