Quernhow, Ainderby Quernhow, North Yorkshire

Cairn (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – SE 338 803

Archaeology & History

Long since destroyed by the self-righteous advance of the Industrialists, this was a pretty impressive-looking tomb according to the account of D.M. Waterman (1951).  Found between the villages of Ainderby Quernhow and Kirklington, right at the side of an important prehistoric trackway—later used by the Romans and known as Leeming Street (on what is now the A1 motorway).  Waterman cited it as being “of primary importance in prehistoric times” as it stood on the great plain between the three great henges of Thornborough to the north and those on Hutton Moor to the south, accompanied by a number of other tumuli nearby.

Quernhow tomb on 1856 OS map
The excavated monument

When Waterman and his team arrived here, the barrow “appeared as a low-spread mound, about 3ft in elevation, the exact limits of which were difficult to define,” due to large parts of it being covered over in mud that’d been dumped there by the local land-owner, aswell as erosion due to other farming or industrial activity.  But once the archaeologists had stripped the centuries of soil from the damaged surface of the monument, a most impressive site emerged!  At the heart of this great burial mound was found “an imposing stone cairn, more or less flat-topped and with a circular constructed face.”  He (1951) continued:

“The material of the cairn was composed of cobbles or boulders, all of local geological origin, ranging in size from a few inches up to a foot in diameter or more.  A stone considerably larger in size was occasionally encountered , the largest found measuring 23in by 20in and from 3in to 5in in thickness.  The stones were heaped up without any deliberate  attempt at producing a stable structure and used indiscriminately, irrespective of size or shape, although there was a tendency for the larger stones to occur towards the perimeter of the cairn.  Since the cairn itself was built to a flat surface, and the underlying barrow-mound assumed a saucer-shaped profile, the cobbles perforce increased in depth towards the cairn face; at the very centre they were laid one, occasionally two deep, at the face three or four deep, although irregular size and placing precluded any consistency  whatsoever in the work.  The standard of the building in fact differed considerably throughout the structure.  On the northeast and northwest the facing-stones were quite carefully laid, standing to a height of 22in, the work becoming increasingly shoddy towards the south where the construction had so deteriorated that whole sections of the facing had fallen bodily away from the cairn mass, slipping down the tail of the underlying mound…”

Plan of Quernhow

In the middle of the large cairn were found four small pits and a number of small cremations in and around them.  There were also found the usual broken remains of pottery, human bones, charcoal, foods vessels and burnt pieces of oak and other vegetation.  Near the centre of the cairn was a curious “four poster” of upright stones, “about 1.4ft long and rather less in breadth and thickness (which) suggest, from consideration of their obviously deliberate and careful placing, some significant function in burial ritual.”  The four corners of these stones were close to the cardinal points: north, south, east and west.


  1. Waterman, D.M., “Quernhow: A Food Vessel Barrow in Yorkshire,” in Antiquaries Journal, volume 31, 1951.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian