Following a request to see if anyone could locate a lost standing stone in Fence (in the Forest of Pendle) not far from my home, I took up the challenge to locate this relic. One evening in July 2017, I decided to go take a look and having studied all maps I was fairly sure of its old position. Upon finding the deep ravine and the old field boundaries, I followed the line of old mature beech trees (perhaps 250-300 years old) that shroud the deep clough. Behind the biggest beech tree, but now some 10 feet down the slope, there I found the said standing stone, now recumbent and partly stuck into the earth due to its weight (approx 1.5 tonne).
It appears to have either fallen on its own accord as the steep sides of clough are soft clays, unstable and eroding, or it has been pushed out of the way by a previous landowner. It is made of millstone grit and is likely a glacial erratic from off the top of the local fells; it is not of the same type of fine gain flaggy bedrock that exists in the river below. There are no more similar boulders within the clough other than a few small boulders in the bed of the stream. This stone is big: being about 4ft by 3ft and 5ft long that is visible, with considerably more into the banking.
I think it is worth approaching the local landowner to seek his approval to try and re-erect this standing stone in a position away from the crest of the ravine. It obviously was locally important and worthy of noting on the OS Map of 1848 and was not cut up and used as local walling stone, so it either was a boundary marker or held other folklore significance.
Research so far indicates no name is attached to the standing stone, but nearby is a ‘Hoarstones Lodge’ mentioned as a place for the Pendle witches to meet and the ravine and stream is called Spurn Clough, so I feel it apt to name it the Spurn Clough Standing Stone—unless I uncover another name used for the stone. It’s nice to locate a lost standing stone!
Now I throw open the question: should it be restored to its upright position and made safe from falling down the clough?
From Great Mitton village centre, take the B6246 road NW turning right up the B6243 road a quarter-mile past Great Mitton Hall. Same distance again, and just after where the road bends left, on the same side of the road you’ll see a wooden bus-stop. The site is just on the grass next to it.
Archaeology & History
In a region with many old crosses hiding away in the landscape, we have very little history about this particular wayside cross and its stony base, found below the western edge of Toot Hill. It will no doubt have had something to do with the monks of the once-prestigious Whalley Abbey a few miles away, but we know not what! The great Lancastrian historian John Dixon would, no doubt, have known something of this place, but he is sadly no longer with us… The only thing I can presently find is a passing mention in Fred Ackerley’s (1947) local history work, who told:
“Continuing along the high road past Mitton Green one sees the base of a roadside cross and directly opposite this cross-base is Toot Hill, where in ancient times it is probable that village meetings were held.”
Toot not being a just “a look-out hill” (Smith 1954), but in some cases places where ancient temples were built, “upon high totes” — though we have no record of such a temple, christian or heathen, upon this hill. So the reason for the stone cross at the bottom remains a mystery. Although, atop of the hill, we see marks very reminiscent of something much more archaic and heathen in nature, still visible in the crop-marks…
Ackerley, Frederick George, A History of the Parish of Mitton in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Aberdeen University Press 1947.
Smith, A.H., English Place-Name Elements – volume 2, Cambridge University Press 1956.
Dead easy to find. Get to the centre of Whalley and walk into the churchyard. Don’t confuse it with the ruins of the old abbey, or you won’t find the place!
Archaeology & History
I here wish to draw your attention to the three standing crosses in the churchyard (the crosses do not stand in their original positions having being ‘thrown down’ during the Commonwealth and used amongst other things as farm gate-posts):
1) THE EASTERMOST CROSS (Taylor ‘C’): Standing opposite the chancel door (Priest’s Door, early 13th century retaining the original ironwork and bronze head knocker) is a much-worn cross shaft that only under certain lighting conditions that can any decoration is made out. It has scrollwork as pat of its ornament and a pelleted border. Two figures, heads surrounded by halos, can be made out just above the shaft centre. The head of the cross is not original but of the late 14th century. The cross originally stood over 11ft in height (see drawing reconstruction). Fragments of this cross are built into the fabric of the church, the top section of the shaft and parts of the cross head are held in Blackburn Museum. One fragment can be made out in the outside Chancel wall displaying the pelleted border and some scrollwork. Another fragment is built into the back wall of the Sedilia and is in good condition. A further fragment is built into the back wall of the Bishops Throne, last stall, south side, east adjacent the Sanctuary.
The shaft is set in a broken oblong base that one may have held two or more shafts in the form of a ‘Calvary’.
2) THE WESTERMOST CROSS (Taylor ‘A’): Originally panelled crosses of this type were brightly painted in red, yellow, green, blue and white. All four sides are decorated but only the east face survives clearly enough to be made out. The shaft was divided into seven panels with roll-mouldings running along each of the panels, of which only six now exist (part of the upper panel, displaying the hallowed head of a figure and cross arm are held by Blackburn Museum). The two lowest panels and the top panel contain geometric and interlace patterns. Halfway is a sculptured panel containing a hallowed human figure, arms akimbo (raised as if giving a blessing). Either side of the figure are two serpents with open mouths. This design is repeated on the side face of the shaft along with two interlace panels. Above the figure panel is one depicting the figure of a bird (an eagle or pelican in her piety?). The lower panel shows that of a beast (a dog or a lion?).
Crosses 1 and 2 clearly show Hiberno-Norse influences, so named after the second and third generation Irish Norwegians who settled Lancashire in the 10th century whose artistic culture became dominant.
3) THE CROSS OPPOSITE THE PORCH (Taylor ‘B’): This magnificent cross is in a fair state of preservation, although a portion of the upper shaft and three arms of the head are missing. Originally it would have stood at around 10ft in height and is the oldest of the crosses being no later than the late 10th century. The central cross shaft measures approximately 2.2m high and is socketed into a square base stone carved with dog-tooth decoration. It is rectangular in cross section and tapers towards the top where it has been broken. A piece of the shaft about 0.75m in length is missing. All four sides of the shaft depict well-preserved late 10th century decoration comprising foliated scrollwork. The principal ornamentation is on the east and west faces and consists of a central rounded shaft or pole rising from the apex of a gable. At the top of the shaft are the mutilated remains of the carved central boss of the cross head.
The central rounded column forms the axis mundi (cosmic axis, world pillar), being a ubiquitous symbol that crosses human cultures. The image expresses a point of connection between the heavens and earth where the four compass directions meet. At this point travel and correspondence is made between higher and lower realms. Communication from lower realms may ascend to higher ones and blessings from higher realms may descend to lower ones and be disseminated to all. The spot functions as the omphalos (navel), the world’s point of beginning.
The axis mundi image appears in every region of the world and takes many forms: a hill or mountain (Pendle), a tree (Tree of Life, World Ash Tree, etc), a vine, a ladder (Jacob’s Ladder), a stone monolith, a maypole, Sufi whirling, etc. The foliated swirls represent interactive movement along the axis – transmission, unity within multiplicity.
The axis mundi concept has its origins in Indo-European shamanism, and a universally told story is that of the healer traversing the axis mundi to bring back knowledge (benefits/blessings, etc) from the ‘other world’. The Sufi concept of baraka and the Hindu mystical concept of akasha are akin to this.
All three crosses had cross heads of four arms of equal length, each widening at the outer end in an axe shape so that their rims nearly form a circle.
Editor’s Note: Henry Taylor (1904) described the “remains of other pre-Norman crosses” at the point marked ‘D’ on his map of the church, adding:
“The Bishop of Bristol thus describes the fragments of other crosses at Whalley: ‘A pretty and delicate fragment forms part of the back of the sedilia; there is at least one piece in the south wall of the chancel, outside, and there are fragments lying on the ground. One of these, showing a system of oval buckles, as it were, with straps through them, closely resembles a stone found — but now lost — at Prestbury…”
Taylor mentions how the Whalley crosses were long known as the Paulinus Crosses, “who is said to have been made Archbishop of York in the year 627, and who, it is alleged, preached and baptised in the wild districts far removed from that capital, even in such remote places as Whalley… His name is also attached to an ancient cross…on Longridge Fell.”
Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes: Manchester 1906.
Whitaker, Thomas Dunham, An History of the Original Parish of Whalley and Honor of Clitheroe, Nichols, Son & Bentley: London 1818.