by Sandy Gerrard
The stone rows and cairns at Hart Tor lie on a gentle west facing slope overlooking the River Meavy at an altitude of between 335m and 345m. Despite considerable tinworking activity and some stone splitting in the immediate vicinity, the stone rows, in particular, survive well. The most significant damage relates to a prospecting trench excavated by tinners through both rows and the removal of the western end of the double row by alluvial streamworking. Four cairns are associated with this ritual complex, and whilst the three on the Hart Tor side of the river have all been pillaged, a fourth lying on the edge of the streamwork on the Black Tor side of the valley appears to be intact.
The stone rows and cairns lie east of B3212 which leads between Princetown and Yelverton, at SX 576717 and are shown on the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure Map 28. The monument in common with many in the Meavy Valley lies within an area which is frequently visited, and because it is so prominent it receives considerable numbers of visitors each year. The site is not seasonally obscured by bracken and can therefore be visited at any time of year. The site is readily accessible from the B3212, and those travelling to the area by car can park at at SX 57507254. Car parking is sometimes available closer than this, but consists of small pull-ins which are often full on days when the weather is good. The walk to the site will take you across a tin streamwork adjacent to the River Meavy. The river can be very relatively easily crossed in this area, except after heavy rain when special care should be taken.
In contrast to much of the archaeology in the Meavy Valley, the Hart Tor stone rows have received considerable attention over the years. The first mention of the rows appears in Samuel Rowe’s Perambulation of Dartmoor, which was first published in 1848. Rowe describes them as a “pair of rows which are only forty feet apart, and run parallel to each other, east and west” (Rowe, 1898, 190). The rows do not in fact lie parallel diverging as they do by 16º. Rowe continued “They are formed of stones two feet and a half high, and each is terminated at the east end by a circle, thirty-six feet in diameter, consisting of fifteen stones, inclosing a cairn.” In reality only the cairn at the end of the double row now fits Rowe’s description and whilst it cannot be entirely ruled out that a second ring of stones was removed in the early part of the 19th century, it does seem most unlikely. Rowe records the double row as upwards of four hundred feet long and the single row as about two hundred feet. Finally, he describes the prospecting trench cutting through both rows as an old streamwork, which certainly confirms that the tinwork in this area had been abandoned long before this time.
The earliest plan of the site would appear to be that produced by Wilkinson in his British remains on Dartmoor which was published in 1862. The accompanying text describes the northernmost cairn in great detail and records that there were probably originally 15 stones forming the encircling kerb of which 14 remained and 10 were standing. He went on to note that other stones within the cairn itself had apparently been placed in concentric circles. Wilkinson recorded the length of the double row as 418 feet and recorded that its western end was denoted by “a large monolith, now fallen, measuring about 25 feet long by 2 feet 3 inches” (Wilkinson, 1862, 37). The single row he describes as 205 feet long and the cairn at its eastern end as 27 feet to 29 feet in diameter and again he noted the presence of inner rings of stones protruding from the mound material. The inner rings of stones mentioned by Wilkinson are no longer visible, but given that examples are known at other sites such as Scorhill and Drizzlecombe, they certainly can not be dismissed and there must be a strong possibility that they still survive buried amongst the mound material. Spence Bate’s account describes the rows as “Under Black Tor, near Princetown” (Bate, C. Spence, 1871, 505). He describes the double row as consisting of a total of 90 stones measuring nearly a furlong in length. The single row he notes as having 16 stones. According to Spence Bate both barrows at the upper end of the rows were “encircled by stones”. This description may however be the result of a misreading of Wilkinson’s earlier account, where the cairns are described as concentric-circle-carns on page 36, but on page 37 it is made clear that, whilst Wilkinson strongly believed that both mounds had originally been encircled, that the stones around the southern cairn were no longer visible.
John Page writing in 1889 describes only the cairn at the end of the double row as “enclosed by a circle” and notes that the double row measured 396 feet and the single one as not exceeding 80 feet (Page, J.Ll.W., 1889, 148). He also mentions the damage caused by tinworking, but this time calls it a “deep trench” rather than a streamwork.
Most interestingly he refers to several cairns “A short distance up the slope to the east” all of which had been rifled. These cairns have never been identified and it seems most likely that he has misidentified some of the lode-back pits and their associated spoil as robbed cairns. By 1892 the site had been By 1892 the site had been described so frequently that R.N. Worth started his account with a review of the existing literature before commencing with his own contribution (Worth, R.N., 1892, 396-8). Worth concluded that the cairn at the end of the single row had never had a stone ring around it because of its close proximity to the encircled cairn. He counted 102 stones within the double row of which 69 “are still standing“. The Hart Tor site which R.N. Worth refers to as Harter was clearly one of his favourites as he notes that it is “among the most interesting we have” and “this is the only place on the Moor where distinctly double and single rows are so associated“.
At around the same time that Worth carried out his fieldwork the site was visited by John Chudleigh who very briefly noted that “opposite Black Tor, are remains of numerous hut circles and enclosures, and a long avenue leading from the river to a circle 7 yards diameter, probably enclosing a kistvaen” (Chudleigh, 1987, 87). Hugh Breton similarly only mentions the site in passing noting that the rows can be seen from Black Tor and that they “terminate in a circle which formerly enclosed cairns“. Given the amount of existing literature concerning the rows his description short though it is, is also very misleading. He says that the cairns no longer exist (and they do) and that both rows had circles (and they did not). A year later, William Crossing added the site to his Guide to Dartmoor and from this time onwards it was almost certainly visited on a regular basis. Amongst other details, he noted that the double row was 460 feet long and the single one 260 feet. One must view the length attributed to the single row with some suspicion because it is 22.85m more than that recorded during this survey and is only beaten by Starkey who recorded it as 82.3m. As one might expect R.H. Worth also described the row and cairns. A number of writers have been more concerned with the cairns than the row and amongst these are Leslie Grinsell, Aubrey Burl and Joe Turner. Grinsell visited the three cairns on the Hart Tor side of the river in the company of Roger Mercer on the 25th April 1973 and published details in his gazetteer (Grinsell, L.V., 174). Aubrey Burl includes the cairn with the encircling stone circle in the gazetteer which accompanied his The Stone Circles of the British Isles. Joe Turner visited the same cairn as part of his work on Dartmoor ring cairns, the results of which were published in 1990. In this publication he describes the site as an encircled cairn.
Further relatively brief mentions of the Hart Tor stone rows and cairns appear in the works of Paul Pettit, Harry Starkey and of course in Emmett’s article on stone rows (Emmett, 1979). The most up to date and detailed published account of the site can be found in Jeremy Butler’s Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities. In this there are detailed plans of the stone rows and two of the cairns together with useful statistical information. The plan of the rows shows most of the stones recorded during the present work, but the scale is wrongly numbered giving the impression that the rows are half their actual size.
This review of the existing literature is probably not comprehensive and there may be a few published accounts which have been missed. Nevertheless it demonstrates the considerable level of interest there has been in this site for over 150 years. It also highlights how different workers have described the site in very different ways. As an interesting exercise on the reliability of written accounts it is perhaps useful to briefly examine differences in the dimensions attributed to the rows over the years. The double row is variously described as being between 91.44m and 201m. This huge difference is perhaps explained by the fact that some of the earlier writers would appear to have estimated the length or perhaps paced it. The figures for the single row are equally inconsistent with readings of between 24m and 82m having been recorded. For the record, the lengths recorded by the present examination were 122m long for the double row and 56.4m for the single one. These figures are very similar to those recorded by the Ordnance Survey archaeologists in the 1970′s, but are slightly less than those recorded by Butler. The most plausible reason for this difference is that Butler’s survey did not take account of the prevailing slope.
References: See Part 2.