In Rob Wilson’s (1991) study on the saints and wells of South Yorkshire, he mentions this site which, it would seem, may have been lost to history. In Wilson’s site-entry for the St. Helen’s Well at nearby Barnburgh, he tells that,
“There may have been other wells in South Yorkshire dedicated to St. Helen… Two 18th century surveys by William Fairbank list St. Helen’s Fieldin Thorpe Hesley and St. Ellen’s Field in Wentworth.”
Around ten different wells are highlighted in the village itself on the first Ordnance Survey map of the area, with a number of others scattered in the surrounding fields. Any one of these may be the well in question. Much of the region was badly disfigured by the Industrialists in their usual desecration of the landscape, which may make any recovery of this site impossible. However, a foray into the whereabouts of William Fairbank’s survey could be worthwhile — and if St. Helen’s Field is one that remained untouched by local mining, the site could be recovered from its present “lost” status.
(Please note: the grid-reference cited above is an approximation until further data allows us to correct it.)
Wilson, Rob, Holy Wells and Spas of South Yorkshire, Northern Arts: Sheffield 1991.
From Church street turn down into Wellgate, the well is on the right hand site at 18 Wellgate surrounded by railings near some new properties, on a little island.
Archaeology & History
Near the castle, and although dry it is a substantial site variously called the Town well or the Well of St Francis. This is as C.F. Innocent (1914) described it:
“Covered by a curious little building very medieval-looking with it a chamfered plinth and steeply slanted roof”
Little is recorded of its history, but the structure more a conduit house probably dates from the 1500s at the earliest and was used as source of domestic water until the 1900s.
Which St Francis it is, is unclear, but Alport (1898) records the local tradition which states that he was a local holy man and probably not a true saint and it is interesting that a number of churches are dedicated to a St. Francis in Yorkshire. Interestingly though, the date of creation of the well is recorded and is quite late compared to other local saints.
It is said that in 1320 -1321 the village was suffering from a particularly terrible drought and this St. Francis, said to be an old and wise man was sought for his advice. He suggested that the local people cut a willow tree from Willow Vale and then as the people sang psalms and hymns he lead them through the church and priory grounds to the site of the well. At the spot St Francis then struck is and not only did a spring arise and followed for the next 582 years (for its sadly dry now) but the tree took root.
Sadly this tree has either died or was dug up. Clark (1986) believes the story recalls a Pagan priest and that the legend was a legacy of Conisbrough’s pre-Christian past; certainly the reference to a willow indicates a water diviner.
Extracted and amended (where both sites of the town are discussed) from http://insearchofholywellsandhealingsprings.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/a-yorkshire-field-trip-conisboroughs-two-holy-wells/
Allport, C.H., (1898) History of Conisborough.
Clark, S., (1986) “The Holy well of Conisborough,” in Source, Old Series no.5.
Innocent, C.F (1914-18) “Conisborough and its Castle,” in Trans of Hunter Archaeology Society.
Stone Circle (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SK 26 94
Archaeology & History
This lost ring of stones was one many sites that could once be found in this area. It was written about in John Watson’s (1776) essay on the local antiquities, where, in describing places he thought were druidical remains (like the prehistoric Bar Dike and Apronful of Stones cairn), he told that
“There is something also of this sort on the other side of Bardike on Bradfield Common; in particular a circle of about eight yards diameter composed of twelve stones, and a confused heap in the centre, near Handsome Cross, and the faint remains of two larger not far off.”
Subsequent local historians like Joseph Hunter (1819) and Harold Armitage (1939) mention the place, with Armitage giving the impression that remains of it could be seen in his lifetime, but today we are at a loss to known its exact position and nature. By the sound of Watson’s initial description, this circle sounded as if a cairn of some sort was in the centre, giving it more a funerary nature than an open stone circle. But we don’t know for certain. This is also what John Barnatt (1990) posited in his local survey.
Based on the landscape, an initial analysis would place the circle most probably at SK 2615 9424, close to where the Handsome Cross itself stood—but this is conjectural. The natural landscape hereby has been ruined by extensive farming and forestry, so any remains of it seem improbable.
Armitage, Harold, Early Man in Hallamshire, Sampson Low: London 1939.
Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain – volume 2, BAR: Oxford 1989.
Barnatt, John, The Henges, Stone Circles and Ringcairns of the Peak District, University of Sheffield 1990.
Hunter, Joseph, Hallamshire: The History and Topography of the Parish of Sheffield, Lackington: London 1819.
Morgan, Paul & Vicki, Rock around the Peak, Sigma 2001.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire– volume 1, Cambridge University Press 1961.
In Hemswell Village at the junction of Church Street and Maypole Street.
History & Archeaology
According to a 2010 report in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, the Hemswell villagers,
“claim to be the hosts to one of the oldest maypole celebrations in the world, dating back to at least 1660”.
The then clerk to the parish council, Dianne Millward is quoted as saying:
“Hemswell is widely regarded in historical circles as having one of the oldest if not the oldest celebrations for May Day. We have pictures of the pole being prepared for the big day in the very early 1900s.”
This writer has not yet been able to independently verify these claims.
May Day is still celebrated in the village with dancing around the maypole and an accompanying fete. Recent online photographs show that it is now only children, in ‘historic’ fancy dress who ribbon-dance around the Pole.
Birley Spa is now open for special events and the first Saturday in the summer months; however it is best to check that the site is open as it is open by volunteers. It can be viewed from the outside when closed and can be reached off the A1635 take Occupation Lane then Birley Spa Lane on the left and once passing a school on the left there is a lane going into the woods on the left by a side, down here is the Spa. There is some parking.
Archaeology and history
Our first record is when it was established as seven baths by Earl Manners. A work by Platt (undated but around 1930s) contains much of the information and it is from this work I have taken most of the notes. The earliest establishment of the spa is thought to be in the early 1700s being built by a Quaker named Sutcliffe. The spa then consisted of a square stone building with a cold bath within with a bolt fixed on the inner side to ensure privacy. This structure appeared to exist until 1793 when the bath was ruined and filled with stones. In 1843, the Earl Manvers who owned the Manor developed this spa for a larger and more upmarket clientele. An administrative committee was appointed and even a Bath Charity was started so that poor people could benefit and take the waters. Unfortunately the baths did not make profit and by 1895 only one plunge bath remained; the Hotel apparently ceased to function as such about 1878. It is believed that Earl Manvers removed the marble from the warm bath for his own use. The site then went into a slow decline. In the 1920s and 30s a children’s pleasure ground was established but the grounds were closed in 1939, due to the prohibition of assemblies of crowds, introduced as a safety factor in case of air raids. The buildings and grounds were allowed to decay and become very dilapidated. Since the building of the Hackenthorpe Housing Estate in the 1950s Sheffield Corporation have become owners of the property.
Fortunately unlike other sites, the bath house still exists, probably as a consequence of the first floor being used as community centre. The cold bath was derelict and rubbish strewn, but a splendid restoration has been undertaken. The bath house can be found in a small wooded dell in the housing estate. Despite predations by vandals on the house, the interior reveals an impressive oval stone lined cold bath with steps into the water either side. To the other side are a small collection of artifacts and the history of the site. There is also the store room where coal was stored for the warm bath which no longer exists.
Very little folklore is recorded other than the belief that the site has an ancient origin, the spring being located along Neolithic trade routes and indeed implements have been found in the vicinity. Some authorities have noted that there was a Roman bath here supported by the proximity to the Rykneid way. There is however no direct archaeological evidence to support this theory and it may have been spread around by the proprietors to support the quality of the water; and the Leeds chemist West analysed the waters stating that they were beneficial for those suffering from constipation.
Platts, T. L., The History of Birley Spa
Parish, R. B., (2010) Holy wells and healing springs of Derbyshire.
This was another example of the many giant cairns that scatter the upland moors on the Pennines, but much of it has been destroyed, with some halfwits in recent years cutting a track right through whatever remains there might have been! It was first described in John Watson’s (1776) essay on the local antiquities of Bradfield and district where, in relative conjunction with the curious Bar Dike, he told that “this is not the only curiosity on this common.” He continued: “there is on one part of it a large carnedde, called by the country people the Apron-full of Stones”, where he conjectured there laid a British tribal chief after he’d been slaughtered by the Romans. This might have been the folklore of the place, but we know such places were thousands of years earlier than the Romans.
It was later described in Joseph Hunter’s Hallamshire (1819) as a giant barrow, or ‘vast carnedde’, even then in the past tense; but some recent investigation here found “a few small stones and some lumpy turf which looked to be covering a few clumped stones.” The site requires further investigation by local people to assess the state of damage inflicted on this once great tomb.
Said to have been the site of a local battle in ancient times; this is also another site which, as A.H. Smith (1961) tells, “is explained in folklore by tales of the devil undertaking some major building project and tripping up, only to deposit his apronful of stones” here. Does anyone out there have any more info on this place?
Hunter, Joseph, Hallamshire: The History and Topography of the Parish of Sheffield in the County of York, Lackington: London 1819.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire, Cambridge University Press 1961-63.
Watson, John, “An Account of some Hitherto Undescribed Remains of Antiquity”, in Archaeologia, volume 5, 1776.
From the South Kirkby library, go west along Hague Lane and take the left turn up Homsley Lane on your left after a few hundred yards (keep your eyes peeled!). Go up here, past the housing estate, and where the trees begin on your left at the top of the Hilltop Estate, go thru them and as you emerge out the other side, the earthworks are all around you. In fact you’re just about in the middle of this hillfort-cum-settlement!
Archaeology & History
W.S. Banks (1871) gives an early description of this site, although he thought it to be Saxon in nature. He told that,
“About half-a-mile east of Ringston Hill, in a field between Quarry-road and Hornsley-road, is the site of a supposed Saxon camp, as it is called on the ordnance map — a large enclosure containing above three acres of land. It slopes to the north, and is now rough and uneven, and has been cast into ‘lands.’ The mound on the east, west and south is still very distinct. The northern side is much lower than the other and a ditch is cut across at that part…”
And in Banks’ day, as he told, “the history of it is not known.” But this site was later declared as a hillfort – a Brigantian one at that – for the first time by the director of Wakefield Museum, Mr F. Atkinson, following some excavation work here in 1949. Nothing much was found apart from,
“pieces of decayed and burnt sandstone and medieval pottery sherds,” though he still concluded the site to be Iron Age. Although little of its original form can now be seen due to extensive damage, infra-red aerial photography showed “traces of a five-sided annexe to the northwest, the line of the ploughed-out rampart to the south-southwest, and a possible defended entrance to the south.”
The same aerial survey also found another enclosure to the east of the hillfort.
…to be continued…
Banks, W.S., Walks in Yorkshire: Wakefield and its Neighbourhood, Longmans Green & Co.: London 1871.
Keighley, J.J., ‘The Prehistoric Period,’ in Faull & Moorhouse’s, West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Survey, I, WYMCC: 1981.
In August, 1984, a Mr James Rickett was out with his metal-detector, scanning the Swinston woodland area south of Dinnington, when he was fortunate to locate a superb, ornamental ‘Celtic’-design bronze torc, thought to be of Romano-British origin, and believed to have been made in either the 1st or 2nd century AD. Following Mr Rickett’s discovery, a small team from the Sheffield City Museum and the South Yorkshire Archaeoloogy Unit got off their backsides and did a survey of the region where the torc had been found —and they weren’t to be disappointed!
An initial assumption based on place-name evidences led them to believe that a settlement of the Saxon period may once have been here; but their investigations
“located the earthworks of a sub-rectangular enclosure, 40m by 25m, and possible fields about 140m south of the discovery site (South Yorkshire SMR record no.PI3021). The enclosure is sub-divided into a smaller and a larger compound with no surface evidence for ditches associated with the stony banks, which enclose a total area of about 0.1 hectares. In both size and shape it compares closely with the class of very numerous small ditched enclosures… The origins of some may lie in the late Iron Age, but fieldwork and excavation have produced predominantly Romano-British material. Other local metal detector finds, some from this enclosure, include first- to fourth-century Romano-British material.”
Beswick, Pauline, Megaw, M.R., Megaw, J.V.S. & Northover, Peter, “A Decorated Late Iron Age Torc from Dinnington, South Yorkshire,” in The Antiquaries Journal, 70:1, 1990.
Highlighted on the 1854 Ordnance Survey map close to the township boundary line as Adam & Eve’s Oak, between Brierley and South Kirkby, I can’t find too much about this once great tree. However the Wakefield historian W.S. Banks (1871) told us the following:
“Upon the common at Ringston Hill grows the remarkable ‘old Adam’ oak, much decreased in size in late years. It is an ancient and large tree measuring twenty-seven feet in girth at a yard above the ground. The trunk is hollow and the north side is broken away. Most of the branches are also gone. In 1868 a very large branch was blown off by the wind; but on the southerly side are still some very vigorous limbs.”
Even when Banks wrote this he said how the tree “must be many centuries old.” In the time of King Charles II there used to be an old inn by Adam’s Oak at the foot of Ringston Hill, where the famous highwayman, Nevison (much-loved by many Yorkshire-folk because of his Robin-Hood-like character), used to stay. The inn was owned by one Adam Hawksworth, but was ordered “to have his sign taken down for harbouring Nevison.”
W.S. Banks also wrote of this once great tree:
“The people at Brierley tell of Nevison the highwayman lodging in it and hiding stolen treasures in it, things which probably did not happen, though Nevison’s name is connected with Ringston Hill.”
The treasure legend may have more to do with the adjacent stone circle, as we find ‘treasure’ a common motif at such places.
Banks, W.S., Walks in Yorkshire: Wakefield and its Neighbourhood, Longmans, Green Co.: London 1871.
This was one of the many sacred trees beneath or next to which, in pre-christian days, tribal councils met. Thanks to the local historians Paul Rowland and Lis Tigi Maguire Coyle (see ‘Comments’, below), the whereabouts of the tree has been located (contrary to my earlier idea that it had sadly died). The local writer Harry Garbutt wrote of it in the 1940s, saying:
“The importance of Harthill in Saxon days may be adduced also from the fact that of the Three Hundreds of the Wapentake, Harthill was one. The Hundred was the Court of local justice and government, and at Harthill would meet under the old Trysting Tree.”
The very word trysting relates to any species of tree that has importance, be it by its appearance or position, and relates to those that were used as traditional or popular meeting sites.
Garbett, Harry, The History of Harthill-with-Woodall and its HamletKivetonPark, Arthur H. Stockwell: Ilfracombe n.d. (c.1948)
Acknowledgements: Massive thanks to Paul Rowland (‘Comments’, below), for information pointing us to the exact spot where our Trysting Tree lived; and to Lis Tigi Maguire Coyle for the additional folklore ‘Comment’, below. Huge thanks to you both!