St. Bride’s Well, London, Middlesex

Holy Well (covered):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 3157 8111

Archaeology & History

St Brides Well on 1896 map

Close to the centre of that corporate money-laundering place of homo-profanus that is the City of London, was once a site that represents the antithesis of what it has become.  Tacked onto the southeastern side of St. Bride’s church along the appropriately-named Bride Lane, the historian Michael Harrison (1971) thought the Holy Well here had Roman origins.  It “was almost certainly,” he thought,

“in Roman times, the horrea Braduales, named after the man who probably ordered their construction: Marcus Appius Bradua, Legate of Britain under Hadrian, and the British Governer in whose term of office the total walling of London was, in all likelihood, begun.”

This ‘Roman marketplace of Bradua’ that Harrison describes isn’t the general idea of the place though.  Prior to the church being built, in the times of King John and Henry III, the sovereigns of England were lodged at the Bridewell Palace, as it was known.  Mentioned in John Stow’s (1720) Survey of London, he told:

“This house of St. Bride’s of later time, being left, and not used by the Kings, fell to ruin… and only a fayre well remained here.”

The palace was eventually usurped by the building of St. Bride’s church.  The most detailed account we have of St. Bride’s Well is Alfred Foord’s (1910) magnum opus on London’s water supplies.  He told:

“The well was near the church dedicated to St. Bridget (of which Bride is a corruption; a Scottish or Irish saint who flourished in the 6th century), and was one of the holy wells or springs so numerous in London, the waters of which were supposed to possess peculiar virtues if taken at particular times.  Whether the Well of St. Bride was so called after the church, or whether, being already there, it gave its name to it, is uncertain, more especially as the date of the erection of the first church of St. Bride is not known and no mention of it has been discovered prior to the year 1222.  The position of the ancient well is said to have been identical with that of the pump in a niche in the eastern wall of the churchyard overhanging Bride Lane.  William Hone, in his Every-Day Book for 1831, thus relates how the well became exhausted: ‘The last public use of the water of St. Bride’s well drained it so much that the inhabitants of the parish could not get their usual supply.  This exhaustion was caused by a sudden demand on the occasion of King George IV being crowned at Westminster in July 1821.  Mr Walker, of the hotel No.10 Bridge Street, Blackfriars, engaged a number of men in filling thousands of bottles with the sanctified fluid from the cast-iron pump over St. Bride’s Well, in Bride Lane.”  Beyond this there is little else to tell about the well itself, but the spot is hallowed by the poet Milton, who, as his nephew, Edward Philips records, lodged in the churchyard on his return from Italy, about August 1640, “at the house of one Russel a taylor.”

In Mr Sunderland’s (1915) survey, he reported that “the spring had a sweet flavour.”

Sadly the waters here have long since been covered over.  A pity… We know how allergic the city-minds of officials in London are to Nature (especially fresh water springs), but it would be good if they could restore this sacred water site and bring it back to life.

Folklore

Bride or Brigit has her origins in early British myth and legend, primarily from Scotland and Ireland.  Her saint’s day is February 1, or the heathen Imbolc (also known as Candlemas).  Although in christian lore St. Bride was born around 450 AD in Ireland and her father a Prince of Ulster, legend tells that her step-father (more probably a teacher) was a druid and her ‘saintly’ abilities as they were later described are simply attributes from this shamanic pantheon. Legends—christian and otherwise—describe Her as the friend of animals; possessor of a magickal cloak; a magickian and a healer; and whose ‘spirit’ or genius loci became attached to ‘sacred sites’ in the natural world, not the christian renunciation of it.  St Bride was one of the primal faces of the great prima Materknown as the Cailleach: the Gaelic deity of Earth’s natural cycles, whose changing seasons would also alter her names, faces and clothes, as Her body moved annually through the rhythms of the year.  Bride was (and is) ostensibly an ecological deity, with humans intrinsically a part of such a model, not a part from it, in contrast to the flawed judaeo-christian theology.

References:

  1. Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
  2. Gregory, Lady, A Book of Saints and Wonders, Colin Smythe: Gerrards Cross 1971.
  3. Harrison, Michael, The London that was Rome, Allen & Unwin: London 1971.
  4. McNeill, F. Marian, The Silver Bough – volume 2, William MacLellan: Glasgow 1959.
  5. Morgan, Dewi, St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, in the City of London, Blackfriars: Leicester 1973.
  6. o’ Hanlon, John, Life of St. Brigid, Joseph Dollard: Dublin 1877.
  7. Sunderland, Septimus, Old London Spas, Baths and Wells, John Bale: London 1915.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St Bride's Well

loading map - please wait...

St Bride\'s Well 51.513575, -0.105216 St Bride\'s Well

Witch Tree, Aberuthven, Perthshire

Sacred Tree:  OS Grid Reference – NN 9621 1587

Getting Here

Witch Tree on 1901 OS-map

Witch Tree on 1901 OS-map

Just off the A9 between Stirling and Perth is Aberuthven village.  Down the Main Street and just south of the village, turn west along Mennieburn Road.  A half-mile on, just past Ballielands farm, you reach the woods.  Keep along the road for another half-mile, close to where the trees end and go through the gate where all the rocks are piled. Walk up to the tree-line 50 yards away and follow it along the line of the fence east, til it turns down the slope.  Naathen – over the barbed fence here, close to the corner, about 10 yards in, is the tree in question…

Archaeology & History

Witch Tree03

Looking along the fallen trunk

Laid down on the peaty earth, fallen perhaps fifty years ago or more, are the dying remains of this all-but forgotten Witch Tree.  To those of you who may strive to locate it—amidst the dense eye-poking branches of the surrounding Pinus monoculture—the curious feature on this dying tree are a number of old iron steps or pegs, from just above the large upturned roots.  About a dozen of them were hammered into the trunk some 100 years or more ago and, were it to stand upright again, reach perhaps 30 feet high or more.  These iron pegs give the impression of them being used to help someone climb the tree when it was upright; but their position on the trunk and the small distance between some of them shows that this was not their intention.  Their purpose on the tree is a puzzle to us (does anyone have any ideas?).

Embedded pieces or iron from roots...

Embedded iron from the roots

Embedded iron 30-40ft along

Embedded iron 30-40ft along

The fallen trunk has broken into two main sections, each with iron pegs in them.  The very top of the tree has almost completely been eaten back into the Earth.  Unfortunately too, all the bark has completely rotted away and so identifying the species of the tree is difficult (though I’m sure there are some hardcore botanists out there who’d be able to enlighten us).  The possibility that the early map-reference related to a Wych-elm (Ulmus glabra) cannot be discounted, although this would be most unusual for Ordnance officers to mistake such a tree species with a ‘witch’.  Local dialect, of course, may have been a contributing factor; but in Wilson’s (1915) detailed analysis of the regional dialect of this very area, “wych elm” for witches does not occur.  Added to this is the fact that the indigenous woodland that remains here is an almost glowing birchwood (Betula pendula) in which profusions of the shaman’s plant, Amanita muscaria, exceed.  There were no wych elms hereby.

The tree was noted by the Ordnance Survey team in 1899 and was published on their maps two years later, but we know nothing more about it.  Hence, we publish it here in the hope that someone might be able top throw some light on this historical site.

Folklore

Looking along the fallen trunk

Halfway along the fallen tree

We can find nothing specific to the tree; but all around the area there are a plethora of tales relating to witches (Hunter 1896; Reid 1899)—some with supposedly ‘factual’ written accounts (though much of them are make-believe projections of a very corrupt Church), whilst others are oral traditions with more realistic tendencies as they are rich in animistic content. One of them talks of the great mythical witch called Kate McNiven, generally of Monzie, nearly 8 miles northwest of here.  She came to possess a magickal ring which ended up being handed to the owners of Aberuthven House, not far from the Witch Tree, as their associates had tried to save her from the crazies in the Church.  This may have been one of the places where she and other witches met in bygone centuries, to avoid the psychiatric prying eyes of christendom.

Until the emergence of the Industrialists, trees possessed a truly fascinating and important history, integral to that of humans: not as ‘commodities’ in the modern depersonalized religion of Economics, but (amongst other things) as moot points—gathering places where tribal meetings, council meetings and courts were held. (Gomme 1880)  The practice occurred all over the world and trees were understood as living creatures, sacred and an integral part of society.  The Witch Tree of Aberuthven may have been just such a site—where the local farmers, peasants, wise women and village people held their traditional gatherings and rites.  It is now all but gone…

References:

  1. Gomme, Laurence, Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Lowe: London 1880.
  2. Hunter, John, Chronicles of Strathearn, David Philips: Crieff 1896.
  3. Reid, Alexander George, The Annals of Auchterarder and Memorials of Strathearn, Davdi Philips: Crieff 1899.
  4. Wilson, James, Lowland Scotch as Spoken in the Lower Strathearn District of Scotland, Oxford University Press 1915.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Witch Tree

loading map - please wait...

Witch Tree 56.323789, -3.679771 Witch Tree

Beltane Well, Kenmore, Perthshire

Sacred Well:  OS Grid Reference – NN 7867 4725

Also Known as:

  1. An Tobar
  2. Holy Well of Inchadney

Getting Here

An Tobar, or Beltane Well, on the 1867 map

An Tobar, or Beltane Well, on the 1867 map

From Kenmore village on the north-side of the river, over the bridge, take the small road on your right towards Dull.  After a very short distance the road runs alongside the woodland for nearly 1½ miles until, on your left, you’ll reach Drummond Cottage.  Across from here a dirt-track takes you into the trees.  Barely 100 yards along, watch for the overgrown path that runs down the slope on your left.  At the bottom a small stream has several feeds – one of which is surrounded by a ring of bright quartz stones.

Archaeology & History

Shown on the early Ordnance Survey maps as An Tobar (meaing simply “a well”), this somewhat nondescript title betrays a much more colourful folk history, albeit dissolved by those common culprits of Church and disrespectful incomers (which shows little sign of diminishing).

Lara by the Well

Lara by the Well

Close-up of quartz surround

Close-up of quartz surround

In the field immediately south, back up the slope above the well and through the trees, was once an ancient church whose existence has all but vanished.  Hereby was held an ancient fair known as Feill nam Bann Naohm, or the Fair of the Holy Women, named after a group of nuns whose lived here, who William Gillies (1938) and others proclaim were the legendary Nine Maidens, whose dedications at wells, trees and other sites scatter Scotland. But the fair was ended in 1575 and moved to Kenmore; then, several years later in 1579, the church also moved onto Eilean nam Ban Naomh (NN 7664 4536) on Loch Tay.

The old well however, after being left by the descendants of the Holy Women or Nine Maidens, continued to be frequented by local people.  Gillies (1938) wrote:

“The Holy Well of Inchadney is situated at the foot of the terrace, about five hundred yards to the north of the churchyard… Up to the middle of last century the well used to be visited by great numbers of people on the morning of Bealtuinn, the first day of May.”

In Ruth & Frank Morris’ survey (1981) they told how the site had become much overgrown and,

“The well was cleaned out in 1914 and among articles found was a stone 21 inches by 16 inches, with a rude St Andrew’s cross scratched on it, a George III farthing among other copper coins, a rudely made stone cup 2½ inches high and 7 inches in diameter, three metal buttons, a glass bead and six pins.”

No such offerings seemed in evidence when we visited a few weeks ago; but we were told that people are still seen visiting the well.

Looking down into the pure waters

Looking into the pure waters

A small stone-laid footpath runs towards the adjacent burn from the circular well, which is almost completely surrounded by large quartz rocks.  In the well itself was a small fish, showing how clean the waters are—or as would be deemed in times of olde: a ‘guardian’ of the waters.

We must also make note of the fact that, just two fields away to the north, according to the antiquarian Fred Coles (1910), a stone circle was once in evidence.  This old well sat neatly between the sites of megalithic ring and church.

Folklore

In the field in front of the well, Hilary Wheather (1982) told that there once lived a legendary water bull, but she lamented on his passing.  With the coming of the modern-folks and their unnatural ways,

“and having great timber lorries rumbling past your home every day is no fun for a peace-loving waterbull living in Poll Tairbh, the Bull’s Pool opposite the Holy Well.  Gone are the days when he was the revered Spirit of the Meadow, passed with trembling and fear by all the young maids of the Parish lest he should jump out and carry them off to his watery lair. Half the calves of the area were sired by him and it was always easily seen which cow had the attentions of the Great Waterbull.  Her calf was always the biggest and the best.  But he hasn’t been seen by his pool for many a year…”

The waters are cited by Geoff Holder (2006) to be good for toothache.

References:

  1. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire (Aberfeldy District),” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 44, 1910.
  2. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  3. Holder, Geoff, The Guide to Mysterious Perthshire, History Press 2006.
  4. McHardy, Stuart, The Quest for the Nine Maidens, Luath Press: Edinburgh 2003.
  5. Miller, Joyce, Magic and Witchcraft in Scotland, Goblinshead: Musselburgh 2010.
  6. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  7. Wheater, Hilary, Kenmore and Loch Tay, Appin Publications: Aberfeldy 1982.

Acknowledgements:  Big thanks to the bunch who got us here:  to Paul Hornby, Nina Harris, Aisha Domleo & Lara Domleo (ooh – and Leo too!).

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.601379, -3.977933 Beltane Well

Witch’s Stane, Craigie, Ayrshire

Legendary Rock (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 4268 3231

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 42851
  2. White Stane
  3. Witches’ Stone

Archaeology & History

It is difficult to assess the precise nature of this megalithic site, sadly destroyed some two hundred years ago.  The Royal Commission thinks it may have been a rocking stone, but the legend said of it indicates it to have been associated with a giant prehistoric cairn, although nothing remains nowadays.  The site was mentioned briefly in James Patterson’s (1863) huge work on the townships of Ayrshire, where he described the site as “standing upright” and “being in a field on Lodgehouse Farm,” near the village church.

“It stood on three stones, so high that a man could crawl under. It was blasted in 1819 to build houses.  The farmer’s wife, it is said, took some antipathy to it, and would not give her husband rest until he consented to have it removed.  A person of the name of Jamieson, and an assistant, were employed to blast it, which was accordingly done.  When broken up, it filled twenty-four carts.  Such was the feeling of sacrilege occasioned by the removal of the stone, that it was observed the farmer’s wife became blind, and continued so for eight years, when she died. Jamieson, who blasted it, never did well afterwards.  He drank and went to ruin.”

Serves them right!  Additional lore gained from a local lady in the 1870s has one of those all-too-familiar elements to it, speaking of something more substantive.

Folklore

When Archibald Adamson (1875) wrote his fine work on the history of Kilmarnock and district, folklore elements more typical of the Cailleach—whose legends abound in our more northern climes—seemed to have been attached to this missing site.  It is worth telling in full:

“After partaking of refreshments in the village inn, and indulging in a chat with the landlord, I retraced my steps to the highway, and in doing so got into conversation with an old lady who was very loquacious and well versed in the lore of the district. Amongst other things, she informed me that once on a time the church of Craigie had a narrow escape of being destroyed by a witch who had taken umbrage at it. It seems that the hag selected a large stone, and having placed it in her apron, flew with it in the direction of the building with the intention of dropping it upon its roof.  Her design, however, was frustrated by the breaking of her apron strings, for, upon nearing the object of her spleen, they gave way, and the stone fell with a crash that shook the earth. This accident seemingly so disheartened the carlin that she abandoned the destructive idea and allowed her burden to lie where it fell. The boulder lay in a field near the churchyard wall, and was known as “The White Stane.” It was long regarded with superstitious awe by many; but the farmer on whose ground it lay being of a practical turn of mind, looked upon  it with an eye to utility, and had it blasted for building purposes. Strange to relate, when broken up the debris filled twenty-five carts–a circumstance that would lead one to suppose that the witch must have been very muscular, and must have worn a very large apron.”

It is most likely that the witch in this legend originally set off from the Witch’s Knowe, more than 500 yards to the west of the church (and still untouched, despite the mess of the quarrying immediately adjacent).  Any further information on this missing site would be greatly appreciated.

References:

  1.  Adamson, Archibald S., Rambles round Kilmarnock, T. Stevenson: Kilmarnock 1875.
  2. Paterson, James, History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton – volume 1, James Stillie: Edinburgh 1863.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  55.559106, -4.495609 Witch’s Stane

Gomersal Maypole, West Yorkshire

Maypole (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 2068 2672

Archaeology & History

As in countless villages and towns across the British Isles, Gomersal also once had its maypole near or at the village centre.  We don’t know when the first maypole was erected in the village and many local sites were openly destroyed by rampant christian puritans and similar idiots.  It stood not far from the Moor Lane Well and was described by the regional historian H.A. Cadman (1930), who told:

“The Maypole was at the top of Moor Lane and one can imagine the welkin echoing to the very old song:

‘Come lasses and lads take leave of your dads
And away to the maypole hie.
For every fair has a sweetheart there
And the fiddlers standing by.
For Willy shall dance with Jane
And Johnny has got his Joan.
To trip it, trip it, trip it, trip it,
Trip it up and down.’

Yet as with maypoles up and down the land, testosterone-fuelled Springtime fall-outs happened.  Mr Cadman told:

“Very often May Day gatherings ended up with fights.  Great jealousy always existed between the inhabitants of Great Gomersal, Little Gomersal and Spen.  There is a tradition which has been handed down that the last Maypole in this district stood on Liversedge Green.  This Maypole was demolished in a fight by the Gomersalians and there is a similar tradition about the Maypole on Cleckheaton Green, so as Mr Frank Peel says, “It is evident that ancient inhabitants of Gomersal were more pugnacious than their neighbours.”  I have no evidence when the Gomersal Maypole ceased to exist, but there is abundant evidence to prove that there was one in Gomersal, the proof being that the vane is now in Batley Museum.  It is in the form of a fish.”

If anyone has any further information on this important relic, or its history, please let us know.

References:

  1. Cadman, H. Ashwell, Gomersal, Past and Present, Hunters Armley: Leeds 1930.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Gomersal maypole

loading map - please wait...

Gomersal maypole 53.736462, -1.687978 Gomersal maypole

Strand Maypole, Westminster, London, Middlesex

Maypole (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 3073 8092

Archaeology & History

This huge traditional monument was once a sight to behold!  It stood close to where an ancient stone ‘cross’ once lived.  But—alas!, with the intrusion of the incoming christians bringing a profane ‘religion’ that belongs to countries far from here, its destruction was imposed.  They destroyed so many of our ancient monuments with their hatred and ignorance… But thankfully we have some good accounts of this long-forgotten relic of London’s real history.

In A.R. Wright’s (1938) account of it, he called this “the most famous maypole in England” and it stood taller than even the great maypole that’s still raised at Barwick-in-Elmet, in Yorkshire.

There seems to have been three maypoles on this same site – the first of which was standing before the destruction of Strand’s ancient cross, where local jurisdictions and early village meetings took place.  We don’t know the date when the first maypole was erected, but it was shown on a local plan of the area “which Anthony van den Wyngaerde issued in 1543…in front of the old church of St. Mary le Strand, which was demolished in 1549.”   According to Mr Hone (1826), it could be found a door or two westward beyond “where Catherine Street descends into the Strand.”

In Edward Walford’s (1878) massive tome, he gave us perhaps the best and most extensive account of the site, telling:

“The Maypole, to which we have already referred as formerly standing on the site of the church of St. Mary-le-Strand, was called by the Puritans one of the “last remnants of vile heathenism, round which people in holiday times used to dance, quite ignorant of its original intent and meaning.” Each May morning, as our readers are doubtless aware, it was customary to deck these poles with wreaths of flowers, round which the people danced pretty nearly the whole day.  A severe blow was given to these merry-makings by the Puritans, and in 1644 a Parliamentary ordinance swept them all away, including this very famous one, which, according to old Stow, stood 100 feet high.

On the Restoration, however, a new and loftier one was set up amid much ceremony and rejoicing. From a tract printed at the time, entitled The Citie’s Loyaltie Displayed,’ we learn that this Maypole was 134 feet high, and was erected upon the cost of the parishioners there adjacent, and the gracious consent of his sacred Majesty, with the illustrious Prince the Duke of York:

“This tree was a most choice and remarkable piece; ’twas made below bridge and brought in two parts up to Scotland Yard, near the king’s palace, and from thence it was conveyed, April 14, 1661, to the Strand, to be erected. It was brought with a streamer flourishing before it, drums beating all the way, and other sorts of musick.  It was supposed to be so long that landsmen could not possibly raise it.  Prince James, Duke of York, Lord High Admiral of England, commanded twelve seamen off aboard ship to come and officiate the business; whereupon they came, and brought their cables, pullies, and other tackling, and six great anchors. After these were brought three crowns, borne by three men bareheaded, and a streamer displaying all the way before them, drums beating and other musick playing, numerous multitudes of people thronging the streets, with great shouts and acclamations, all day long. The Maypole then being joined together and looped about with bands of iron, the crown and cane, with the king’s arms richly gilded, was placed on the head of it; a large hoop, like a balcony, was about the middle of it.  Then, amid sounds of trumpets and drums, and loud cheerings, and the shouts of the people, the Maypole, ‘far more glorious, bigger, and higher than ever any one that stood before it,’ was raised upright, which highly did please the Merrie Monarch and the illustrious Prince, Duke of York; and the little children did much rejoice, and ancient people did clap their hands, saying golden days began to appear.”

A party of morris-dancers now came forward, “finely decked with purple scarfs, in their half-shirts, with a tabor and a pipe, the ancient music, and danced round about the Maypole.”

The setting up of this Maypole is said to have been the deed of a blacksmith, John Clarges, who lived hard by, and whose daughter Anne had been so fortunate in her matrimonial career as to secure for her husband no less a celebrated person than General Monk, Duke of Albemarle, in the reign of Charles II., when courtiers and princes did not always look to the highest rank for their wives.

…Newcastle Street, at the north-east corner of the church of St. Mary-le-Strand, was formerly called Maypole Alley, but early in the last century was changed to its present name, after John Holles, Duke of Newcastle, the then owner of the property, and the name has been transferred to another place not far off. At the junction of Drury Lane and Wych Street, on the north side, close to the Olympic Theatre, is a narrow court, which is now known as Maypole Alley, near which stood the forge of John Clarges, the blacksmith, alluded to above as having set up the Maypole at the time of the Restoration.

As all earthly glories are doomed in time to fade, so this gaily-bedecked Maypole, after standing for upwards of fifty years, had become so decayed in the ground, that it was deemed necessary to replace it by a new one.  Accordingly, it was removed in 1713, and a new one erected in its place a little further to the west, nearly opposite to Somerset House, where now stands a drinking fountain.  It was set up on the 4th of July in that year, with great joy and festivity, but it was destined to be short-lived. When this latter Maypole was taken down in its turn, Sir Isaac Newton, who lived near Leicester Fields, bought it from the parishioners, and sent it as a present to his friend, the Rev. Mr. Pound, at Wanstead in Essex, who obtained leave from his squire, Lord Castlemaine, to erect it in Wanstead Park, for the support of what then was the largest telescope in Europe, being 125 feet in length.  It was constructed by Huygens, and presented by him to the Royal Society, of which he was a member. It had not long stood in the park, when one morning some amusing verses were found affixed to the Maypole, alluding to its change of position and employment. They are given by Pennant as follows:

“Once I adorned the Strand,
But now have found
My way to Pound
On Baron Newton’s land;
Where my aspiring head aloft is reared,
T’ observe the motions of th’ ethereal Lord.
Here sometimes raised a machine by my side,
Through which is seen the sparkling milky tide;
Here oft I’m scented with a balmy dew,
A pleasant blessing which the Strand ne’er knew.
There stood I only to receive abuse,
But here converted to a nobler use;
So that with me all passengers will say,
‘I’m better far than when the Pole of May.'”

Along with the Strand Cross, this old maypole would have been on the ancient ley (not one of those ‘energy lines’ invented by New Age fantasists) that was first described first by Alfred Watkins (1925)—running from St. Martins-in-the-Field to St. Dunstan’s in Fleet Street. The alignment and maypole was subsequently described in greater detail in Devereux & Thomson’s (1979) work on the same subject, and again by Chris Street. (2010)

The nature of the maypole (and the nearby cross, it has to be said), may have been representative of an omphalos in early popular culture (before the christians of course)—which would put the original ritual function of the place far far earlier than is generally considered.  This is something that Laurence Gomme (1912) propounded in one of his London works and cannot be discounted.

References:

  1. Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark – volume 4, Cowie & Strange: London 1829.
  2. Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  3. Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Sheed & Ward: London 1958.
  4. Gomme, Laurence, The Making of London, Clarendon: Oxford 1912.
  5. Hone, William, The Every-Day Book – volume 1, William Tegg: London 1826.
  6. Street, Christopher E., London’s Ley Lines, Earthstars: London 2010.
  7. Walford, Edward, Old and New London – volume 3, Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
  8. Watkins, Alfred, The Old Straight Track, Methuen: London 1925.
  9. Wright, A.R., British Calendar Customs: England – volume 2, Folklore Society: London 1938.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

Strand Maypole

loading map - please wait...

Strand Maypole 51.511998, -0.117451 Strand Maypole

Witches’ Stone, Ratho, Midlothian

Cup-Marked Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 1273 6973

Witches Stone on 1817 map

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 50366
  2. Witch’s Stone

Archaeology & History

This fascinating looking carving (in my personal Top 10 of all-time favourites cup-and-rings in the UK!) was unfortunately destroyed sometime between 1918 and 1920.  A huge pity, as the design on the rock is almost unique in its ‘linear’ system of cups running a considerable length across the surface of the stone (like the similar design found at Old Bewick in Northumberland).

Wilson’s 1851 drawing of the Witches’ Stone
Simpson’s 1866 drawing of the Witches Stone

Shown first of all on Kirkwood’s Environs of Edinburgh map in 1817 (above), this legendary rock was found amidst a cluster of other cup-and-ring stones at Tormain (some are still there) and was initially said by Daniel Wilson (1851) to have been the giant capstone of a cromlech that once stood here, but whose structure had fallen away.  This idea is implied in the earliest drawing we have of the stone in Wilson’s magnum opus (above); Sir J.Y. Simpson (1867) gave us a similar impression with his drawing a few years later.  But upon visiting the Witches Stone just as his book was going to the press, Mr Wilson visited the site and proclaimed that he “altogether doubted if they are the remains of a cromlech”, and what rested here were more probably just fascinating geological remains, with even more fascinating carvings on top!

In the years that followed Wilson’s initial description, the Witches Stone was visited and described by a number of eager antiquarians.  Simpson (1867) gave us a quite revealing account, telling:

“On the farm of Bonnington, about a mile beyond the village of Ratho…are the remains of ‘this partially ruined cromlech’…with the capstones partially displaced, as if it had slid backwards upon the oblique plane of the huge stones or stone which still supports it.  Two or three large blocks lie in front of the present props.  Its site occupies a most commanding view of the valley of the Almond, and of the country and hills beyond.  The large capstone is a block of secondary basalt or whinstone, about twelve feet long, ten in breadth and two in thickness.  Its upper surface has sculptured along its median line a long row of some twenty-two cup-cuttings; and two more cup-cuttings are placed laterally: one, half a foot to the left of the central row and at its base; the other, two feet to the right of the tenth central cup and near the edge of the block. The largest of the cups are about three inches in diameter and half an inch in depth; but most of them are smaller and shallower than this…”

A few years later another early petroglyph authority, J. Romilly Allen (1882), visited the Witches Stone and found “an Ordnance bench mark (had been) cut on the stone itself”!  He then continued with his own description of this once-important megalithic site:

“The Witch’s Stone is a natural boulder of whinstone, rounded and smoothed by glacial action, whoso upper surface slopes at an angle of about 35° with the horizon. The length of the sloping face is 8 feet and at the top is a flat place 2 feet wide. The breadth of the stone is 11 feet 3 inches at the upper end, and 4 feet at the lower end. The thickness varies from 2 to 3 feet. The highest part of the stone is 6 feet 6 inches above the ground, and the lowest 1 foot 6 inches. It rests on what has originally been a portion of the same boulder, but is now a mass of whinstone broken up into several fragments, which serve as supports to prop up the stone above.  Viewed from the north side the whole presents the appearance of a cromlech, the upper stone forming the cap, and the disintegrated portion below the supports. This notion, however, will be clearly seen to be erroneous on looking at it from the opposite side, as shown on the accompanying sketch…where the crack separating the two portions of the boulder is very apparent… The sculpturings consist of twenty-four cups varying in diameter from 1½ to 3 inches. Twenty-two of these cups are arranged in an approximately straight line along the sloping face of the stone, and divide it into two almost equal parts. The two remaining cups lie, one 7½ inches to the left of the lowest cup of the central row, and the other 2 feet 3 inches to the right of the ninth cup up the stone… The field in which the Witch’s Stone is situated is called “Knock-about.” The sloping face of the stone has been much polished by the practice of people climbing on to the top and sliding down. Some of the cups are almost obliterated in consequence. The stone forms a very prominent feature in the view, and must always have attracted attention from its peculiar shape.”

Some twenty years after Allen, the megalithomaniac Fred Coles (1903) came and checked the Witches Stone out for himself and, as happens, had a few additional things to say about the place:

“Although this huge boulder and its cup-marks have been more than once figured and described, I found, on a close examination of the broad surface of the Stone, that none of the illustrations showed the cup-marks in their exact relation to each other, nor in their true relation to the contour of the Stone. The drawing shown above…was made after a careful measurement by triangulation of the Stone; and it is claimed to be the first that shows that the cups, two and twenty in number, are not disposed in one continuous line, but that thirteen follow each other from the high south edge of the stone for a distance of exactly 6 feet, and nine others lie a few inches to the west, occupying a space 3 feet long of the overcurving edge of the north end.  It is further shown that, at a point 2 feet 3 inches west of the ninth cup-mark, there is another one quite as large as the largest in the rows near the middle of the Stone. The south edge (A B) has slipped a little down from its original height, the boulder being frost-split horizontally; its height there above ground is 8 feet. The northern and narrower end is about 2 feet above ground, and does not touch the ground, as it rests upon its lower portion, beyond which it projects a few inches. The cup-marks run due north.”

Fred Coles 1903 drawing

If the Witches Stone was in fact a natural outcrop stone and not a cromlech, this very last point telling that “the cup-marks run due north” probably had much greater importance than a mere compass-bearing to the people who etched this carving.  For in pre-christian religious structures across the northern hemisphere, north is commonly representative of death and the land of the gods.  In magickal rites “it is the place of greatest symbolic darkness,” as neither sun nor moon ever rise or set there.  Additionally, north is the place where, in shamanic traditions, the heavens are tied to the Earth: the cosmic axis itself that links heaven, Earth and underworld revolve around the northern axis in the skies.  In early neolithic traditions this mythic structure was endemic. Whether its magickal relevance was intended here, at this stone, we will probably never know…

Folklore

Folklore tells that the Witches Stone was one of the sites used in magickal rites by the Scottish occultist, Michael Scot.  J.R. Allen’s (1882) description of “the sloping face of the stone has been much polished by the practice of people climbing on to the top and sliding down,” may relate to folk memory of fertility rites once practised here, as found at similarly carved rocks in the UK and across the world.

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Allen, J. Romilly, “Notes on some Undescribed Stones with Cup Markings in Scotland,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 16, 1882.
  2. Coles, Fred R., “Notes on Some Hitherto Undescribed Cup-and-Ring Marked Stones,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 37, 1903.
  3. McLean, Adam, The Standing Stones of the Lothians, Megalithic Research Publications: Edinburgh no date (c.1978).
  4. Morris, Ronald W.B., The Prehistoric Rock Art of Southern Scotland, BAR: Oxford 1981.
  5. 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.
  6. Simpson, James, Archaic Sculpturings of Cups, Circles, etc., Upon Stones and Rocks in Scotland, England and other Countries, Edmonston & Douglas: Edinburgh 1867.
  7. Smith, John Alexander, “Notes of Rock Sculpturings of Cups and Concentric Rings, and ‘The Witch’s Stone’ on Tormain Hill; also of some Early Remains on the Kaimes Hill, near Ratho, Edinburghshire,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland, volume 10, 1874.
  8. Wilson, Daniel, The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, Sutherland & Knox: Edinburgh 1851.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  55.912750, -3.397566 Witches Stone

Carlie Craig, Blairlogie, Stirlingshire

Legendary Rocks:  OS Grid Reference – NS 816 970

Also Known as:

  1. Carla Craig
  2. Carlin Craig
  3. Witches’ Craig

Getting Here

Carlie Craig is the tree- covered cliff, centre of photo

If you’re coming from Blairlogie, a half-mile west of the village, take the B998 road to the university, but turn right up the first road that runs uphill into the trees.  But if you’re coming from Stirling or Bridge of Allan, keep your eyes peeled for the barely visible B998 at the crossroads and go up the hill, and along, for a good mile, below the Uni, past the factory, then up the small road on your left.  Up this road go past the church another 100 yards and you’ll see the derelict ruins of Logie Kirk on your right.  Right above the ruin you’ll see the tree-lined cliff immediately behind.  This is the Carlie Craig!

Folklore

Carlie Craig on the 1862 map
Carlie Craig on the 1862 map

The tree-covered Carlie Crags above the old ruined church and graveyard of Logie Kirk immediately below (thought to have been built in 1684) has long been associated with legends of old witches.  Deriving its name from ‘carlin’, a witch or old woman (cailleach), the Crags were traditionally the place of heathen rites (authentic ones, not your plastic pagan types).  In David Morris’ (1935) essay on the local township, he told the common story that “an elder in Logie Kirk was of the opinion that the Carla’ Craig…was haunted.”  At the end of the 19th century, Morris remembered a local lady known as ‘Ailie’, who was said by many old folk to be the traditional “witch of Logie.”

“Sickly children were brought to her for her blessing. Occasionally people came from as far as Stirling on this errand.  Her method of giving the blessing was to blow her breath on the child, and this was supposed to ward off evil.  It was also said that anyone buried in Logie Kirkyard on the first day of May, Hallowe’en, or other days of that kind, without her blessing, would not rest in his grave…”

Another legend told that,

“around 1720 witches were believed to rendezvous with the Evil One (i.e. the devil) who would appear in the form of a large black dog.”

A lengthier account of the belief in witchcraft and animistic pre-christian rites above the crags was told by Charles Rogers (1853):

“About the second decade of last century, there lived in the parish of Logie several ill-favoured old women, to whom the reputation of witchcraft was confidently attached.  They were believed to hold nocturnal dialogues and midnight revels with the Evil One, and Carlie Crag was regarded as one of their places of rendezvous. Satan, though he was believed to appear to them in various forms, was understood, in his interviews with the dreaded sisterhood, to appear most frequently in the aspect of a large shaggy dog, in which form it was alleged he had repeatedly been seen by the minister.  An elder of the kirk had been returning of an evening from a shooting excursion among the hills, with a trusty musket, which he had picked up some years before on the field of Sheriffmuir, and discovering on the top of Carlie an animal realizing the description of the Satanic mastiff, resolved to try upon it the effects of a shot. He knelt down cautiously near the foot of the crag, and after ejaculating a short prayer, and slipping into his musket a silver coin, fired with trembling heart but steady aim.  His victim, evidently shot dead, tumbled to the base, and the delighted and astonished elder lost no time in personally communicating to the minister the success of his wonderful adventure. Though not a little superstitious, the minister was somewhat sceptical as to the mysterious dog being really dead. He however agreed to accompany his elder next morning to the foot of the crag to inspect the carcase; but on reaching the spot, they found the remains of no shaggy dog or evil genius, but the lifeless form of the beautiful pet goat of a poor and aged woman, a much respected parishioner. The minister and elder both shed tears. The wicked dog still lived, the innocent goat had perished. The elder however took credit to himself for his good intentions and valorous intrepidity ; and the minister deemed it proper to improve the subject in his pulpit prelections on the following Sabbath. Discoursing on the subject of resistance to the Devil, he remarked, that the Evil One might assume numerous shapes and forms; that he went about as a roaring lion was declared in the Word, but he might take to himself various other aspects. He might even appear as a black colley dog.”  But whatever form he may assume,” added the minister, ” he cannot be overcome or destroyed by powder and shot. There is a gun, however, that will shoot him, and it is this — it is the Bible. Shoot him then, every one of you, with this gun, and he shall be shot.”

Whether the vicar’s biblical superstitions were adopted by local people—who were so much more used to the living animism of landscape and natural cycles—is questionable.  The crag is a fine site for ritual magick and its associative devil-lore probably derives from Pictish shamanistic practices, remains of which are evident across the Scottish hillls and northern England, where they survived for some considerable time…

References:

  1. Morris, David, B., “Causewayhead a Hundred Years Ago”, in Transactions of the Stirling Natural History and Archaeological Society, 1935.
  2. Roger, Charles, A Week at Bridge of Allan, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.
  3. Watson, Angus, The Ochils – Placenames, History, Tradition, Perth & Kinross District Libraries 1995.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.151376, -3.906932 Carlie Craig

Witch’s Stone, Crossford, Dunfermline, Fife

Legendary Stone (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NT 058 865

Archaeology & History

Travelling along the old road between Crossford and towards Cairneyhill, on the right-hand (north) side, there was until recently a huge boulder, described by the folklorist J.E. Simpkins (1914),

“Its horizontal dimensions above ground are diagonally 18 feet by 21 feet; its vertical height above ground 5 feet…  I estimate its weight at nearly 200 tons.”

The stone was proclaimed by 19th century geologists to be a glacial deposit from the upper region of the Forth (the nearest mountain region possessed of this type of stone); although our old petroglyph writer, Sir James Simpson, postulated the Witch’s Stone to be “of meteoric origin.”

But like oh so many old sites with heathen tales attached, the stone was destroyed by a local farmer on 7 February, 1972.  The following interesting notes were made in a Crossford & Cairneyhill School log-book, describing its destruction:

“The local farmer blasted the “Witch’s Stone”, situated about 300m East of school at 2.30 this afternoon.  Children vacated both buildings and sheltered at West End of main building.  All windows were opened.  Police informed that further operations of this nature will be carried out at weekend.”

A week later on February 14, all “remains of “Witch’s Stone” removed by blasting at 3pm today.”

On the other side of the road from our Witch’s Stone was another boulder, this time known as the Cadger’s Stone, said by Beveridge (1888) to have got its name,

“from the circumstance of its having formed a landmark for the ‘cadgers’, or itinerant merchants, who were wont to rest themselves and their ponies whilst they deposited for a short while their burdens on the stone.”

The earliest OS-map of the region in 1856 shows neither of these stones, but does highlight a Capel Stane, or Stone of the Horse, very close by.

Folklore

The stone was obviously of some traditional importance to local people in pre-christian times.  David Beveridge (1888) described the position and creation myth of the Witch’s Stone as follows:

“On our right a singular-looking stone of blue limestone appears in a field, and is known as the Witch’s Stone, the popular legend being that a notable witch in this neighbourhood found it on the seashore, and that after she carried it some distance in her apron, the string of the latter broke, and the stone has since continued to lie in the place where it fell. “

A few years after this, the folklorist J.E. Simpkins (1914) wrote:

“The legend connected with this boulder is, that a witch wishing to bestow a valuable gift on the Pitfirrane family, resolved to present to them a cheese-press. With that view, she lifted this boulder and carried it some distance in her apron, but owing to its excessive weight the apron-strings broke and the stone fell to the ground, where it has remained ever since.”

If anyone knows anything more about this old stone, or has any old photos of the fella, please let us know!

References:

  1. Beveridge, David, Between the Ochils and Forth, William Blackwood: Edinburgh 1888.
  2. Simpkins, John Ewart, Examples of Printed Folk-lore Concerning Fife, with some Notes on Clackmannan and Kinross-shires, Sidgwick & Jackson: London 1914.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  56.062843, -3.513748 Witch\'s Stone

Nanny’s Grave, Steeton, West Yorkshire

Tomb:  OS Grid Reference – SE 022 448

Archaeology & History

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…

References:

  1. Clough, John, History of Steeton, S. Billows: Keighley 1886.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

loading map - please wait...

  53.899365, -1.968005 Nanny\'s Grave