Stone Circle (destroyed?): OS Grid Reference – SD 892 367
Archaeology & History
Set in good landscape with fine views in most directions, it seems that the only thing that remains of this site is a place-name on a map—but I have to say that our search here was only a short one, and so more may be found hiding away in field walls or beneath the ground. However, if we listen to an early account of the place, it was said to have “completely gone by 1856.” A pity, as it was described as being “a large circle of stones.” The monument was used for repairing the nearby road and, in another account, we are told that the stones were added to the walls. Whether this was a cairn circle or a free standing stone circle isn’t known. The prevalence of tumuli close by at Catlow, Burwains, etc, would suggest a cairn circle, yet we have no accounts of human remains here… A puzzle.
Barnes, Bernard, Man and the Changing Landscape, Liverpool University 1982.
From Nelson town centre go northeast towards Catlow, turning left near the Shooters Arms public house, then turn right again to the Coldwell Activity Centre. Carry on towards Thursden Valley till you see the World War 2 pillbox on the right. Here turn right and after 300 yards a picnic site and carparking area is reached along the Briercliffe road. On the opposite side of the road over a wall and barbed wire is Broadbank Earth Circle, though unfortunately there is not much to see there today.
First excavated in 1950 by the Archaeology Department of Liverpool University and again in the 1960s, the earthworks here stand at 1,147 feet above sea-level (350m). The site comprises of an earth circle 150 feet (46m) in diameter which encloses an inner ditch 1 foot (30.5cm) deep and 10 inches (25.4cm) across. The bank was composed of boulder clay thrown out from the ditch. A hearth was found below the bank at the eastern end. Some rough flint and chert flakes were also found together with a stone axe of Langdale origin. This is four-and-half inches or 11.4cm wide. It has a curved cutting edge and a thin rounded head. Its surface is ground smooth but there is no evidence of polishing.
The earthworks at Broadbank have suffered through farming activity over many centuries and the earthen circle is now difficult to see at ground level, though the inner ditch is still visible. The low hillside or, what look like ramparts, at the northern end by the pillbox are probably not in any way connected, though this low bank may have added to the building of the bank. Archaeologists consider the site to be of Iron Age origin.
Liverpool University Archeology Department, Report and pamphlet, 1950.
Powell, J.G.E., “Excavations of a Circular Enclosure at Broadbank, Briercliffe, Lancs,” in Transactions of the Historical Society of Lancashire & Cheshire, 104, 145-151.
Long since destroyed, we are thankful to the writings of Thomas Booth (1899) that this site was recorded. In his rare work on the prehistoric burial sites of the region he told us how this tomb was unearthed,
“in March 1854, at Catlow quarry, in Marsden (Heights), a few miles across the hills from Todmorden in the direction of Colne, where a number of workmen who were engaged baring the rock came across two or three cinerary urns. These were very carelessly handled by the men, and as these vases are almost always made of clay only partially baked…they are very easily broken; the result, therefore, of the rude treatment of the quarrymen was that the vessels were broken to pieces.”
The mound from which the urns had been dug was also destroyed, but apparently the last remnants of the urns were presented to the Burnley Literary Institution sometime in the late 1890s — though where they’ve travelled since then, 120 years on, I have no idea!
Bennett, Walter, The History of Burnley – volume 1, Burnley County Council 1946.
Booth, Thomas, Ancient Grave Mounds on the Slopes of the Pennine Range, R. Chambers: Todmorden 1899.
From Colne train station, cross the road and go along Bridge Street and where it meets Knotts Street follow it all the way up into the countryside and, bending to the right, uphill again until it levels out. The farmhouse a few hundred yards ahead of you (just off Southfield Lane) at the bend in the road is where you’re heading. There’s a track on your right, just before the farm. Go on this and look into the field immediately right. The undulations and earthworks are the remains of this old hillfort!
Archaeology & History
This old site was constructed some 850 feet above sea level, overlooking the valley of Colne immediately west and giving commanding views of the outstretched landscape towards the sacred Pendle Hill and beyond for many miles. The place was described as early as Castell Clif in 1515, and then again as Castyclyff in 1533, meaning simply the “castle on a cliff” or high verge as it is here. Yet despite its early appearances in literary studies, the first real work to explore this monument doesn’t appear to have been done until one J.A. Plummer carried out work on the site between 1958-60. However, Plummer died before being able to publish his findings in full. Ascribed variously as a settlement, an enclosure, and generally in the archaeological fraternity as a hillfort, the first detailed published description of the site was done by Forde-Johnston (1965), where he told:
“The hillfort is a very regular oval in shape and encloses an area about 350ft long and 250ft wide. The overall dimensions are 550ft by 450ft. The site has been affected by quarrying on the south and east and there are a number of gaps in the defences on the northern and western sides. The character of the remains differs in various parts of the site, but the general pattern appears to be as follows. The innermost line of defence is represented by a very slight bank or, in many places, only a very shallow scarp which can be traced round the whole circuit of the site… The second or middle bank is the most prominent or substantial of the three. It has considerable gaps in its length, but the various portions are all of much the same character — it rises between 3 and 5ft above the interior and falls about 9ft to the ditch bottom. On the south side the middle rampart takes the form of a scarp about 10ft high, immediately below the scarp of the inner rampart. The third, outermost bank is, in fact, a counterscarp bank to the second ditch. It does not exist as a continuous bank around the whole of the site, but there are sections of it on the northern and eastern sides. On the eastern and northeastern sides, from which approach was easiest, there appear to have been additional outer defences, situated about 70ft forward of the counterscarp bank. These outer defences now take the form of a scarp about 4ft high curving round the eastern and northeastern sides for about 250ft. At the southern end there is an inner scarp, forming a bank, and a little to the south, is a detached portion of bank. There are other short detached sections of bank on the northern side which are presumably to be connected with these outer defences.”
When Mr Plummer did his excavation here a few years before, one section of the site was examined and, thanks to the survival of an interim report he did — described by D.G. Coombs (1971) — we know the following of what he did:
“His work was concentrated in the northwest corner of the site where he cut a trench through the defences. Outside the counterscarp bank, which was not continuous, there was a bedding trench, packed with stones and containing charcoal. The ditch, which was rock-cut and flat-bottomed, had a homogenous fill. The rampart itself showed timber supports at the front and back with traces of stone revetting at the front and some distance from the timber uprights. The rear of the rampart was marked by a line of stones. Behind this rampart the site had been extensively disturbed and here he claimed to have found traces of primitive iron-smelting furnaces constructed from stones packed and sealed with loose black earth. A single post-hole beneath the rampart was suggested to belong to an earlier phase.”
Though we have to note here that Mr Plummer believed that the iron furnace remains were actually medieval in date, but that the embanked settlement itself was Iron Age and “that the collapse of the fort could be dated between 60-90 AD.” When Mr Coombs and his team came back here in 1970 to re-examine the works of both Plummer and Forde-Johnston, they confirmed some of their earlier finds, but uncovered additional finds at what they called this “once great fortress.”
In Robert Lord’s (1976) superb imaginary piece on what he calls the Pendle Zodiac (a zodiac allegedly forged into the landscape in ancient times, in the manner of the famous and equally imaginary Glastonbury zodiac), a section of the deity Diana is made up of this prehistoric earthwork:
“The lower edge of the cap (on her head) coincides with a minor road between Colne, skirting the Iron Age Castercliffe hill-fort, above Nelson, as far as Catlow.”
Not included in the magnum opus of Henry Taylor (1906), the exact position of this long lost site remains unknown, as even the investigative abilities of Clifford Byrne couldn’t track it down! It was erected in a region full of pre-christian remains and (at the time) living remnants of heathen folklore and practices between Worsthorne and Nelson. Mr Byrne (1974) described his search for the place, saying:
“This cross is of ancient origin and no part of it now remains as far as can be ascertained by investigation, although the memory of it certainly remains, for an elderly gentleman living in the cottages of Holt Hill, Briercliffe, said instantly on being asked about he cross that he had often heard it referred to by older people when he was a boy, although he could not say exactly where in the hamlet the monolith had stood. We are told that the cross is mentioned in a document in the year 1313 when Robert Briercliffe granted away the Sene intacks in the Holt Hill as it lay by Annot Cross on the south side. This implies that it stood on the south side of the road (between) Thursden and Haggate, which is an old road from Burnley to Halifax…”
This would give a rough grid reference for its position around SD 881 353, but nothing appears to be there. However, Byrne told of another intriguing bitta folklore a short distance away which may have had some relevance to the positioning of the cross.
“Down the road to Lane Bottoms, behind some bungalows, is a stone shaft in a depression in a meadow which we are told is an ancient standing stone. Whether this is so is not easy to ascertain for the stone has apparently been used as a gatepost at some time, and further gives indication of having been utilised as a cattle rubbing post.”
Below here we find the old place-name ‘Burwains,’ which clearly indicate a site of a prehistoric burial, though nothing remains of such a place — officially at least. Perhaps a couple of ventures in and around this area need to be done! One final note that Byrne made related to the title of this lost cross, saying:
“The name “Annot” may be of Saxon origin, for the Saxon word annet means solitude, and this would have certainly fitted the area in ages past.”
Byrne, Clifford, A Survey of the Ancient Wayside Crosses in North-East Lancashire, unpublished report 1974.
Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes: Manchester 1906.