Tumulus (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SD 873 277
Archaeology & History
A prehistoric cairn or tumulus could once be found close to the grid-reference cited here, but all trace of it has long since been destroyed. The site was mentioned briefly in Thomas Booth’s (1899) short survey on the prehistoric tombs of the area, telling:
“I have omitted to mention in its proper place a find which took place at Holmes Chapel about the year 1826. The particulars are very meagre but, according to a local journal published some fifty years ago, called The Comet (edited by the late Abraham Stansfield), some workmen who were engaged in pulling down a barn at Thieveley discovered an ancient urn, whose contents were of a similar kind to those of other urns of this class.”
The “other urns” he mentions are those that have been found in prehistoric tombs on the north side of the same valley, including those at Cliviger Laithe, at Catlow, at Delf Hill and other sites close by. Remains of another prehistoric cairn can be found close by on top of the hill at Thieveley Pike to the south, where a beacon was built, damaging the original tomb.
The grid reference given here is an approximation as we don’t have the exact position of the tomb that could once be seen in the fields immediately south of Cliviger Laithe farm — but it’s a pretty good approximation! Overlooking the once proud cairn of Cliviger Law some 800 yards below to the southeast, Geoffrey Watson (1952) told us the site was “on the summit of the hill…which tailed off near Barcroft Hall,” but this area of the fields have been dug and quarried away in recent years, leaving no trace of the original tumulus that stood here. It also appears that the discovery of the site was quite an accident, Mr Booth (1899) telling us how the urns that were unearthed here were located “while some men were engaged in digging there.” As a result of this, we have little by way of description of the burial mound itself, but thankfully the prehistoric vase which they unearthed was kept intact. Of this artifact Mr Booth told:
“The vase came into the possession of a Mr Roberts…who lived at the old hall near the church at Worsthorne… By the kind permission of Mr Roberts I had an opportunity of making an examination of the interesting object. The urn itself was of a similar character to those already found in our locality* and measured 14 inches in depth, about 8 inches across the mouth, and 36 inches in circumference at its widest part… The vase “bulged” out in the middle, as these cinerary urns invariably do, and from thence it tapered down to a base of about 3 or 4 inches in diameter. It was ornamented at the top by the usual deep collar of about 5 inches in depth, the upper and lower edges of which were ornamented (with) encircling lines… The vase contained a large quantity of calcined human bones. Dr Dean gave as his opinion that there were the remains of two if not three human bodies, one of which was the body of a child… Besides the bones, the vases contained a quantity of charcoal and ashes, and also a very friable bone pin.”
The tomb evidently made a good enough impression on the Lancashire historian J.F. Tattersall as he took to writing a poem about the place! It went:
In this lone cairn upon the mountain head,
On one far morning of the misty past,
The earliest wanderers o’er these moorlands cast
A kinsman’s ashes to their narrow bed.
Now we, by Nature’s kindly guidance led
By marvellous ways, through revolutions vast
Of Time, her latest children, not the last,
Gather again around the ancient dead.
Bennett, Walter, The History of Burnley – volume 1, Burnley County Council 1946.
In days of olde this once proud tomb stood upright on the slopes below the more prominent Cliviger Laithe tumulus above. But, like many of the ancient ancestral tombs of this region, its days seem long gone. Although we’ve found what may be some traces of the outline of the cairn (further analysis required!), when the legendary Lancashire historian Thomas Dunham Whitaker (1872) wrote about the place, he was already writing about it in the past tense. He said briefly, that “this heap of stones was removed as materials for building a turnpike road” in 1763. The archaeologist Bernard Barnes (1982) told us that “a cist with an inhumation was found. In 1766 another tumulus was removed and an urn found. An axe-hammer is said to have been associated” here. The most lengthy description of this site can be found in Mr Booth’s (1899) short work where, in his summary of various prehistoric sites in this region, he told that,
“The first find recorded in this locality took place at Law House, near Mereclough, in the year 1763, when a mound was opened which covered a kistvaen, or stone cist, which, upon being opened, was found to contain a human skeleton. The information concerning this ancient burial is very meagre, and we have no information as to who were the discoverers of the mound. It may be noted that nearly 70 years before (in 1695) a number of Roman coins were found close to this barrow. The mound also contained a rude earthware vase filled with calcined bones.”
It’s unlikely that the earthworks by the walling hereby represent the denuded remnants of the monument in question, although the rise in the field here may be some remnant of the place, but without further excavation we might never know for sure. However, the recent discovery of what may be remnants of the cairn in an adjacent field requires further analysis. WATCH THIS SPACE – as they say!
Barnes, B., Man and the Changing Landscape, University of Liverpool 1982.
Bennett, Walter, History of Burnley, volume 1, Burnley 1946.
Booth, Thomas, Ancient Grave Mounds on the Slopes of the Pennine Range, R. Chambers: Todmorden 1899.
Whitaker, T.D., History of the Original Parish of Whalley, London 1872.