This is one of at least five wells dedicated to St. Hilda in North Yorkshire that my old colleague Graeme Chappell has uncovered over his many years of research. It’s sadly been destroyed, and accounts of it seem to be few and far between; but from the short description of it by Mr J.C. Atkinson (1894)—and helped out by its later title—we at least know where it once was.
In his account of the old roads in the village, Grape Lane was mentioned as far back as 1396, and close by, he wrote,
“is a spring called Seynt-Hild-keld, possibly where the so-called “Virgin pump” stands, or stood, not so very long since.”
This ‘ere “virgin pump” is shown in an old photo taken about 1890, just round the corner from Grape Lane where, today, is the car park on Church Street, opposite The Endeavour.
St Hilda was a 7th century saint who was reputed to have founded Whitby Abbey. Her festival date was November 17.
Atkinson, J.C., Memorials of Old Whitby, MacMillan: London 1894.
Visiting this site is a bittova walk across the moors, with probably the best route being along one of two footpaths from near the Outdoor Centre following (whichever is your preference) the moorland track or path westward onto the open landscape. Tis a 2½ mile walk before you reach two large buildings stuck high up in the middle of nowhere. Y’ can’t miss them. Equally unmissable is the large blatant rocking stone between the buildings. Gerron top of it!
Archaeology & History
This impressive-looking rock that sits between the two buildings has a number of cup-markings of varying sizes across its topmost surface: some deep and some not-so-deep. There are perhaps as many as 20 of them on different parts of the stone, but some have been intruded on by more recent graffiti. On a recent visit to the site, photographer James Elkington and his young assistant MacKenzie, saw what looked like “a very faint ring around one of the cups” – which doesn’t surprise me. On one section of the stone we see a fascinating series of natural curves and geological undulations, some of which may have been modified a long time ago when the cupmarks were etched. But whether they were added to or not, it’s more than likely they’d have had some significance in the mythic nature of the rock.
The earliest description telling us that this possessed any prehistoric attributes seems to have been written by William Grainge (1871), in his huge work on the history of this region. He told that,
“This rock…is eleven feet in length, seven feet six inches in breadth, and two feet six inches in thickness. The whole of the upper surface is thickly indented and grooved with cups and channels; the artificial character of which can be easily seen by anyone. This logan rests upon a lower rock, the upper surface of which is about three feet above the ground, fourteen feet in length, and nearly the same in breadth.”
Although this yummy-looking geological sight no longer rocks, it wasn’t always that way. Indeed, according once more to the pen of Mr Grainge, although “it does not rock now, it has done so within living memory” – meaning that it would have been swaying at the beginning of the 19th century. We can only take his word for it. Also, as with many rocking stones the length and breadth of the land this, unsurprisingly it was adjudged to have been a place used by the druids.
Grainge, William, The History and Topography of Harrogate and the Forest of Knaresborough, John Russell Smith: London 1871.
The Cross was close to the Tudor era Byrnand Hall which stood on the north side of the High Street. The Hall was demolished around 1780, and replaced by the present building, now a political club. The Cross was taken down around the same time, so we’re fortunate to have a contemporary sketch.
Harry Speight (1906), the Great Yorkshire antiquarian, described the Cross when he was writing of the ‘big houses’ of Knaresborough, saying:
“Another notable old mansion was Byrnand Hall, which stood at the top of the High Street facing Gracious Street, and was rebuilt about a century ago. It was the property and seat for many generations of one of the leading families of Knaresborough, named Byrnand, one of its members being recorder of York in 1573. Opposite the house stood a very ancient stone cross, consisting of a plain upright column, without date or inscription, supported by several rudely-formed stones placed on three tiers or steps. It appears that one Richard Byrnand paid a fine and was permitted to enclose a cross standing on a piece of waste land then lately belonging to Robert Nessfield. The cross may be conjectured to have been either a memorial or boundary-stone. In those days ” it was not enough,” says the old antiquary, Hearne, ” to have the figure of the cross both on and in churches, chapels, and oratories, but it was put also in church-yards, and in every house, nay, many towns and villages were built in shape of it, and it was very common to fix it in the very streets and highways.
“This ancient relic, the site of which is now marked by a brass cross sunk in the causeway, was in after times called the Byrnand Hall Cross, from its proximity to the house of the same name. It stands on the road equidistant between York and Leeds, being eighteen miles from either place.”
At the end of the eighteenth century, E. Hargrove wrote:
“The (Byrnand) family mansion was situated at the end of the High-street, leading towards York. Near it formerly stood an ancient Cross, which being placed on the outside of the Rampart, and opposite to the entrance into the borough, seems to have been similar in situation, and probably may have been used for the same purpose, as that mentioned by Mr. Pennant, in his History of London, which stood without the city, opposite to Chester Inn; and here, according to the simplicity of the age, in the year 1294, and at other times, the magistrates sat to administer justice. Byrnand-Hall hath been lately rebuilt, by Mr. William Manby, who took down the remains of the old Cross, and left a cruciform stone in the pavement, which will mark the place to future times.”
Abbot J.I. Cummins, writing in the 1920s about the Catholic history of Knaresborough, told:
“Of the Byrnand Cross beyond the old town ditch the site is now marked in York Place by a brass cross let into the pavement for Christians to trample on.”
The Cross occupied an important position in the Knaresborough of old, at one of the highest points of the town by the junction of the modern High Street and Gracious Street, this latter being the road down the hill to the riverside and the troglodytic shrines of St Robert of Knaresborough and Our Lady.
Assuming the eighteenth century drawing is an accurate representation of the Cross, it does give the impression of considerable antiquity, and looks to have been 15-16 feet (4.75m.) high. From its appearance it looks like either a prehistoric monolith or an Anglo-Saxon ‘stapol‘ or column, and if it was the latter, it may have been erected to replace an earlier heathen wooden column or sacred tree following the replacement of the old beliefs by Christianity. If so, there may be no reason to deny Hargrove’s speculation that Byrnand Hall Cross once had a similar juridical function to the Chester Inn Cross in London.
Bintley, Michael D.J., Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England, Woodbridge, Suffolk, Boydell Press 2015.
Cummins, J.I., “Knaresborough,” in The Ampleforth Journal, Vol XXIV, No II, Spring 1929.
Hargrove, E., The History of the Castle, Town and Forest of Knaresborough, 5th Edition, Knaresborough 1790.
Speight, H., Nidderdale, from Nun Monkton to Whernside, London, Elliot Stock, 1906.
I prefer the much longer walk to this site, from Askwith Moor carpark some 5 miles to the west, but this wouldn’t be most folks cuppa tea. So for the lazy buggers amongst you: whether you’re coming via Ilkley (cross the bridge to Middleton and turn left, following the long winding road for several miles) or Bolton Bridge (hit Beamsley village and turn left up Lanshaw Bank), you need to get up to Langbar village. On the north side of the village is a distinct small rough carpark. From here, cross the road where the footpath sign is and walk straight up the steep hill to Beamsley Beacon at the top. Keep walking for exactly ¼-mile where you’ll find a large heap with boulders round its edge. You’re there.
Archaeology & History
At the highest point of these hills where the moorlands of Langbar and Beamsley meet, is this prominent rocky pile on the same skyline as Beamsley Beacon. The two are ancient cairns, both robbed of most of their stones, but still a good site to sit and behold the vast landscape which reaches out for miles in all directions. And, from this highest point, looking south to the highest point across the Wharfe valley on Ilkley Moor, the remnants of another giant prehistoric cairn is visible: looking across at each other, eye to eye.
Of the two great cairns on Beamsley moor, The Old Pike is the more peculiar of the two because—unlike its partner along the ridge—several large boulders near its top give the impression of being Nature’s handiwork. This may be the case, but Nature isn’t the lass who laid down the mass of smaller rounded stones that are mainly visible on the west and southern sides. These have been placed there by people. But it’s not until you step back 40 or 50 yards that you get a more distinct impression of the place. The Old Pike rises up like a rocky nipple out of the heath, showing a very embedded overgrown man-made heap, typical of the overgrown prehistoric cairns that scatter our northern uplands.
The site is included on the archaeologist’s Pastscape website, albeit citing it as a ‘possible’ cairn. But the more we look at it, the greater the impression becomes that this old heap is man-made – certainly on its eastern and southern sides. The rise of boulders on its west may be natural, and then ancient man placed the cairn material up and around them. Only an excavation would tell us for sure. But its old name of Howber Pike tells a tale before we even visit the place. When the great Yorkshire historian Harry Speight (1900) came here he picked up on this element, telling us,
“Howber literally is the ‘Hill of Tombs’, from the Teutonic haugr and Anglian how, a burial mound, and berg also her, a hill, often fortified.”
The great place-name authority A.H. Smith (1956) not only echoes this but goes into greater etymological detail, noting that as well as haugr or how being “an artificial mound, a burial mound,” it’s a word that is particularly used in the northern counties. He does note however, that this may not always be the case and can sometime just relate to a “a hill or hilltop resembling an artificial mound.” However, we also find in Smith’s tome on place-name elements that the latter part of ‘Howber’ deriving from beorg, can also mean a tumulus or burial mound. But there are cases where this has been corrupted and means, as Speight states, a fortified hill. So at Howber Pike we seem to have the ancient name of some probable burial site. As for its neighbour a quarter-mile west, the giant cairn of Beamsley Beacon is also known as the Howber Hill….
Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1956.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 5, Cambridge University Press 1963.
Speight, Harry, Upper Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1900.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to James Elkington for use of his fine photos on this site.
We are thankful that the antiquarian James Wardell (1881) gave us some details of this long lost site in his survey of prehistoric remains, otherwise information about it would certainly have been lost. Prehistoric burial mounds are rare in this part of Yorkshire, but on the rise of land behind Follifoot Ridge house could once be seen “a large barrow measuring 50 feet in diameter.” Believed by Challis and Harding (1975) to have been a late Bronze Age structure, the story of its demise was told by Wardell as follows:
“This monument of a former age…exists no longer, owing to the ignorance and cupidity of the surveyors of the highways of the township in which it was situate; by whose orders the stones, of which it was partially composed, were carted away at intervals, during a period of some five or six years, to keep in repair a neighbouring road. At the base were several very large stones, probably a kistvaen, and at the same time were found fragments of urns, bones and ‘pieces of brass’, which immediately became dispersed. Some of the latter articles came into the possession of the village smith, from whom this information was obtained, and were disposed of by him to a brass-founder as old metal, and in due time, doubtless, found their way to the foundry. From the description given of them by this person, there seems to have been amongst them some spear-heads and a palstave, but after a most diligent inquiry, there could not, as might be expected, anything whatever be recovered. I should say that from weapons of bronze being found in this huge sepulchral mound, it was not one of the most ancient kind, but has perhaps covered the remains of British warriors slain in conflict with the Roman invaders… I am indebted to Mr John Dixon of Leeds for the information relating to the demolition of this barrow, which was only obtained by him after a lengthy enquiry; and he states that on his visit to the site, it could distinctly be traced by the grass there being of a darker hue than in other parts of the field.”
A mile to the northwest, one would have been able to see the Stone Rings of Pannal, also destroyed, and the two sites may have served some geomantic relationship with each other.
Challis, A.J. & Harding, D.W., Later Prehistory from the Trent to the Tyne, BAR: Oxford 1975.
Wardell, James, Historical Notes of Ilkley, Rombald’s Moor, Baildon Common, and other Matters of the British and Roman Periods, Joseph Dodgson: Leeds 1869. (2nd edition 1881).
Acknowledgements: Big thanks for being able to use the 1st edition OS-map for this site profile, Reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Scotland.
From Pickering take the moor road towards Whitby (A169) for approx. 12 miles. After passing the Fylingdales Early Warning radar on the right (you can’t miss it), the road dips down to cross Eller Beck as a dog leg. After a half mile turn off left (west) towards Goathland (signposted). Follow the road under the North Yorks Moor railway bridge and after a third-of-a-mile the road turns slightly left. Park in the little layby and follow the track onto the moors. Cross the small stream and walk along the narrow track through gorgeous heather for a mile and a half. Ahead you will see Simon Howe prominent on a ridge, with a stone row leading to it.
Archaeology & History
Not included in either of the giant megalithic alignments surveys of Burl or Thom, it seems that the first archaeological reference to this site was made by Raymond Hayes (1988). He visited the site in 1947, shortly after a moorland fire had cleared away all the vegetation, allowing for a clearer view of the stones and, after his brief description of the adjacent Simon Howe tomb, he told that,
“The ridge is also the site of what is an unusual feature for the moors: a stone alignment consisting of three, formerly five upright stones that lead to a low eroded cairn c.65m to the south(west). A moor fire in 1947 revealed the fourth, fallen stone, and I was able to locate the socket of a fifth.”
From hereon, Hayes seemed to more interested in seeking out and describing a large number of flints that he found scattered on the ground around Simon Howe and its associated monoliths than the stones themselves. Very sad… The exact position of the missing fifth stone seems to be shown on Hayes’ plan as being closest to the cairn, about 10-15 yards away, but no trace of this remains. However, of the remaining monoliths, they are all clearly visible from the air on Google Earth!
The most southerly of the four stones (SE 83016 98119) stands just over 3 feet tall and the second upright, leaning at an angle, is just slightly taller, with the tallest of the three uprights at the northeastern end, being some 6 feet tall. The fourth fallen stone (SE 83031 98142) lies just beyond this in the heather and which, if resurrected, would stand some 4 feet in height. The length of the row, stone-to-stone, is just over 29 yards (26.6m). I’m not aware if this site has ever been assessed as having an astronomical function, but its angle to the northeast might suggest a lunar rising. Perhaps more pertinent would be another prehistoric cairn that can be seen less than 100 yards away past the northern end of stone row…
From Pickering take the moor road towards Whitby (A169) for approx. 12 miles. After passing the huge Fylingdales Early Warning radar on the right (you can’t miss it), the road dips down to cross Eller Beck as a dog leg. After a half mile turn off left (west) towards Goathland (signposted). There’s a free car park on the left where you can sit for awhile and enjoy the views. Follow the road under the North Yorks Moor railway bridge, and after a third-of-a-mile the road turns slightly left. Park in the little layby and follow the track onto the moors. Cross the small stream and walk along the narrow track through gorgeous heather for a mile and a half. Ahead you will see Simon Howe prominent on a ridge, with a stone row leading to it.
Archaeology & History
This impressive prehistoric tomb was first described in deeds as early as 1335 as Simondshou, which A.H. Smith (1928) translates to mean ‘Sigemund’s mound’ – alluding it to have been either the burial of someone with that name, or a name given to it by the incoming Vikings, oh so many centuries ago. The latter is the more probable of the two…
With excellent views in all directions, this monument is found high up in the landscape at the meeting of four paths that are closely aligned to the cardinal directions. It was highlighted as a tumulus on the 1854 OS-map of the region and subsequently included in Windle’s (1909) listings as a “round barrow”, found in association with “three upright stones” running to the northeast. There are in fact four stones.
Not much has been written of it in archaeological circles. Thankfully a brief survey of it was undertaken in 1947 by Raymond Hayes (1988) after a moorland blaze had cleared the heather that enabled good conditions to see the site clearly. When he came here he told that,
“Simon Howe…is very mutilated, what survives indicates that it was 11.50m in diameter and it is clear that it incorporated a stone kerb.”
This “stone kerb”, or surrounding ring of stones, is a feature found at other tombs on these hills—Flat Howe (1) being just one example. However, in contrast to Flat Howe (1), Simon Howe has had most of its central mound totally stripped by peoples unknown a few centuries ago. The remains we see today look more like a small ruined stone circle with internal rubble and a new walker’s cairn emerging from its centre. Outside the cairn, just a few yards northeast, a fascinating megalithic stone row emerges. Whether these were erected at the same time (in the early to mid-Bronze age, in my opinion) only an excavation would show.
Petrifying wells are found across the British Isles and would be deemed as being medicinal, or curative at the very least. In Jeremy Harte’s (2008) massive study, he infers that some of them will have been regarded as sacred or ‘holy’. Their ability to calcify objects would be seen as a very strange effect indeed! Yet despite this Eskdale example being shown on the first OS-map in 1853, its history seems to have been forgotten. Back then, you could find it on the east side of the Murl Slack Beck, nearly a mile north of Grosmont village. I highlight the site in the hope that someone may be able to unearth something about its past and/or its present condition.
Harte, Jeremy, English Holy Wells – volume 1, Heart of Albion Press: Marlborough 2008.
Prehistoric companion to the more pronounced Pen Howe (1) Bronze Age cairn just 20 yards to the west, this overgrown tumulus is hardly noticeable when the heather’s deep and is probably only of interest to dedicated antiquarians and geomancers. Its position in the landscape, whilst not as prominent as its companion and the nearby Breckon Howe, would still have been important to its builders and the relative proximity of the two tombs may imply a continuity of tribal companionship in the Land of the Dead. But hey! – that’s just a silly idea of mine! 🙂
Rising barely three feet above ground level, this is slightly smaller than Pen Howe (1), being just 13 yards across; and there is no indication that it has ever been dug into.
Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
Acknowledgements: Big huge thanks to my Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this old tomb (which is nearly as old as Linzi 🙂).
Along the A169 road between Sleights and Pickering, some two miles south of Sleights turn right as if you’re going to the tombs of Flat Howe and the Bride Stones, but just park up 80 yards along by the cattle grid. From here, a fence runs southeast and the mound is on the near skyline, just over 100 yards away. Just walk through the heather to reach it.
Archaeology & History
Shown on the first OS map of the area in 1853, this somewhat overgrown prehistoric tomb is one of two in close attendance to each other (see Pen Howe 2); and is some 435 yards (398m) away from the more prominent Breckon Howe tomb to the southwest. Like others on Sleights Moor, no real archaeological attention has been paid here, with Frank Elgee (1930) only giving it the slightest mention in passing.
Smaller than its nearby companions of Flat and Breckon Howe, the overgrown cairn raises about four feet above ground level and about 20 yards across. Probably Bronze Age in origin, it has a slightly concave top that gives the impression that someone at sometime in the not-too-distant past has had a bittova dig here to see if there’s owt inside. But we have no record of such a thing.
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.
Elgee, Frank, Early Man in Northeast Yorkshire, Frank Bellows: Gloucester 1930.
Acknowledgements: Big huge thanks to my Lindsay Mitchell for getting us up to see this old tomb and its companion. (which is nearly as old as Linzi 🙂 )