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As prehistoric site enthusiasts we thought this was excellent. It’s part of EH’s extensive set of teaching resources and what struck us as particularly effective were the series of questions designed to get children to think a bit more deeply about any “bunch of old stones” they may visit.
“If you are visiting a prehistoric site, you can become a landscape detective… Often these sites weren’t just put anywhere but were carefully designed either to be seen from miles around or to have good views.
When you are being driven or are walking to the site, think about how soon you can see it… Could you see it for miles and miles or was it a surprise when you got there because it was hidden away? Did you have to walk or drive up a big hill?
Have a look at what you can see from the site… You might have to think about what wouldn’t have been there thousands of years ago (roads, walls, telegraph poles for example). Can you see a long way? Can you perhaps see other prehistoric sites?
Now, being a landscape detective, can you decide whether the site you are visiting was meant to be seen by lots of people or was the view from it more important? maybe it was meant to be a secret?”
Then they suggest the fun bit….
Make some sketches and take some photographs when you are there and draw or paint a picture of what you think the site might have looked like when it was first made… Collect between 15 and 25 stones from somewhere – perhaps your garden or a driveway or even the beach…. Think about the colour, texture, shape and size as your stones, just as they did in prehistory…. and so on.
What child could resist?
Back in January of this year, I was witness to unthinking desecration by a family group at Men an Tol. I recently returned to the scene, or rather, I attempted to return to the scene. On this occasion, my path was blocked by cows grazing on the approaches to the monument. The surface damage done by the grazing cattle was much worse than that caused by the family earlier in the year.
Indeed, I’m not alone in thinking that the damage caused could have easily been avoided, were it not for poor advice from certain government departments, coupled with the greed of the owners on whose land the monument lies. Save Penwith Moors, (SPM) a local pressure group acting to campaign lawfully for the removal of all new stock proofing (fencing, gates and cattle grids) from a few selected areas of open access moorland popular for local and tourist recreation, have been keeping a daily eye on the situation at Men an Tol, and have recently issued the following Open Letter to English Heritage, Natural England, Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN), as well as the local MP for the area:
“More potential trouble at Men-an-Tol!
As at Tregeseal Circle the cattle are gathering around the stones and using the two uprights as rubbing posts as well as covering the area with heaps of dung and ruining the public right of way – virtually impassable down towards the stream – by churning it up.
This is not an isolated out of the way site – and that would be no excuse anyway – but, probably, the most popular frequented ancient monument in the Peninsula and an iconic part of Cornish Heritage. It is high time remedial action was taken after this warning message – preferably by removing grazing stock from this Croft and undertaking manual maintenance.”
The Save Penwith Moors campaign web site and Facebook page includes photographic and video evidence of the damage being caused by the ill-conceived grazing policies as instigated by Natural England and (unjustifiably) supported by English Heritage who are ultimately legally responsible for the protection of the Scheduled Ancient Monument. We would urge all our readers to visit the SPM pages and give them every support possible in their campaign against the current grazing policies.
Press Release 15TH OCTOBER 2013:
After three years of fundraising, the Sustainable Trust, owners of the field formerly known as Cromlech Parc or Frying Pan Field, have finally found the required level of funding to restore this Scheduled Ancient Monument to standards required by English Heritage.
The Sita Cornwall Trust are funding the excavations and restoration, and the Heritage Lottery Fund are funding the education and outreach side of the project.
The Sustainable Trust are also grateful to the Tanner Trust, Cornwall Heritage Trust, The Council of British Archaeology and Cornwall Archaeological Society. Support has also come from our Patron Charles Thomas, the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies & Camborne Old Cornwall Society. Without this diverse interest, the larger bids would not have been forthcoming.
Our volunteers have been helpful too, pledging to carry on the good work after the successful phase of archaeological investigations last year. A film will be made, a bi-lingual ballad will be commissioned and an App will be built. Several exhibitions and talks will be held along with education days for schools.
The final excavations will take place between the 21st and 31st of October with an open day on Sunday 27th. Weather permitting we anticipate the erection of the first support stone, or orthostat, during the morning of 31st October.
Pip Richards, Director of the Sustainable Trust said “We are delighted with this long awaited news and are looking forward to fulfilling our ambition to restore this unusual iconic monument. Bringing Neolithic history into focus through what was once considered just a pile of old stones, and giving the local community something to be proud of, makes us happy to undertake the work. So much good feeling and encouragement was engendered during the last phase of the project, it makes it all worthwhile”.
English Heritage is to mobilise a volunteer Heritage Army – “the first crowd-sourcing project to tackle heritage at risk”. The idea is to get volunteers to carry out surveys of England’s 345,000 Grade II buildings “to enable thousands of passionate heritage fans to get more actively involved.”
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “Today we are announcing a win / win proposition. For English Heritage it means we will eventually get, for the first time, a complete picture of the condition of all England’s listed heritage. We can use this information to decide how best to deploy our national expertise to help owners and all those tackling heritage at risk on the ground. And we’ll have a grass-roots network to spread understanding and appreciation of local heritage so that less of it becomes at risk in the first place.”
It certainly fits with something we’ve been suggesting for years regarding prehistoric monuments – there is already a passionate, knowledgeable army of enthusiasts out there who regularly visit those, even ones in inaccessible places. Many of them keep EH informed of their condition but a more formalised system including phone apps would certainly improve protection at minimal cost.
However Rescue News made an important point (on Twitter) :
“Involving the volunteer public in assessing Heritage at Risk is a great idea. But they should NEVER replace qualified professionals!” And of course, doing that may well be in the Government’s mind. They also made a sharp retort to Planning Minister Nick Boles:
“not making it easier to demolish those beautiful places and heritage assets we all value would be a help too”!
Welcome to a new occasional series of Fascinating “Facts”, in which we’ll endeavour to present short snippets of history, folklore and news about Britain’s prehistoric heritage sites. Each article will be brief and to the point, and we’ll be looking to our readership (that’s YOU!) to provide some insight into a site that may be local to where you live or work, or that you’ve had some connection with in the past. Please get in touch with your own Fascinating “Facts” and we’ll publish them here. So without further ado, the first Fascinating “Fact” concerns:
Zennor Quoit, Cornwall
This chamber tomb, having stood for thousands of years on a hilltop overlooking the parish of Zennor on West Penwith’s north coast road, was threatened with destruction in 1861. A local farmer proposed to convert the monument into a cattle–shed by removing one of the uprights and drilling a hole in the sloping capstone.
Luckily, the plan was disapproved of by the villagers of Zennor (an early case of NIMBYism?) and the local vicar, William Borlase – a great grandson of Dr. William Borlase the antiquarian – offered the farmer an incentive of five shillings (25p in today’s money, though worth considerable more then) to build it elsewhere. The farmer had already started on construction of the barn, and three stone posts which he’d erected can still be seen today, next to the quoit. Traces of drill–holes can also still be seen in the capstone.
A poem commemorating the incident, “Zennor Quoit Preserved”, written by local postman Charles Taylor Stephens can be found in Issue 10 (pg 73) of the Transactions of the Cornwall Archaeological Society.
Who knows what the site would have looked like today if William Borlase hadn’t stepped in on behalf of the villagers?
Eric Pickles may have just advised Local Authorities not to rule out developments through inflexible rules on buffer zones but never fear, he’s about to impose millions more – see here. The guidance, to be published this week, will advise builders of new houses to provide space to hide away wheelie bins because “unsightly bins left lying around the neighbourhood can damage the visual amenity of an area”.
Mr Pickles said:
“For years, badly-placed wheelie bins and the proliferation of multiple bins have created a blot on the landscape. By ensuring that developers create appropriate waste storage areas when designing new homes, we can tackle the ghastly gauntlet of bin blighted streets and driveways”
Hurrah! No more ghastly blots on the landscape then!
The moorland of Walkhampton Common, Dartmoor contains many important archaeological sites including at least eight stone rows, many cairns, cists and hut circles dating to the Bronze Age. It is traversed by unsightly power lines…..
…However, there’s good news – four kilometres of them are to be buried underground. Western Power Distribution has obtained consent for the work from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Open Spaces Society is enthusiastic about it because, in their words,
“undergrounding the cables will restore the natural beauty of the area, and enable people to enjoy it, on foot and horseback, without this manmade intrusion. We commend Western Power for this initiative, and look forward to seeing this breathtaking landscape free at last of ugly poles and cables.”
It depends on perspective though. If Dartmoor was just “open space” no-one could argue with what they say but of course it is more, it also contains just as much hidden space containing masses of buried archaeology, very little of which has been explored – and the bad news is that the excavations will involve destroying some of it. You could argue that it’s good news that some of it will at least be learned about but this will be no limited sampling exercise it will be the creation of a major scar, not where archaeologists would judge is best but where finance dictates is most efficient. (A road runs across the Common and burying the cables alongside it would be less disruptive but it is some distance away so presumably that has been judged as not a viable option).
Then again, a properly conducted programme of archaeological work is one thing, a less comprehensive exercise is another. Just how good (or bad) the curate’s egg turns out to be is yet to be revealed.
Ten years ago today, at the suggestion of our much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt, a diverse group of ordinary people interested in prehistoric sites met at an extraordinary place for a picnic.
From that first meeting grew Heritage Action which subsequently morphed into The Heritage Journal which aims to promote awareness and therefore the welfare of ancient sites. It has perhaps filled a gap as it seems to have struck a chord with many people, both professional and amateur. 140 archaeologists have contributed articles to it and it is currently followed by more than 4,500 people on Twitter (including Nelson Mandela!).
We can’t claim the Journal always says things that everyone agrees with – that would be impossible bearing in mind how many individuals contribute content to it but we can claim two things – first, that everyone that puts it together or writes anything in it has their heart in the right place when it comes to ancient sites and second that anyone with an interest in prehistory who reads it regularly is likely to find at least something to pique their interest. At least, that’s the aim. The guiding principle is to try to make it like a magazine, updated nearly every day and with articles that are as diverse as possible. If you don’t like Stonehenge you could scroll down or use the search box to read about the last black bear on Salisbury Plain, the Hillfort Glow experiment, the stony raindrops of Ketley Crag, the policeman who spotted three aliens in Avebury or indeed that the Uffington Horse may be a dog!
Now that we’ve reached this milestone (which coincides with this year’s Day of Archaeology - do please join in there too, if you can!) the question arises – where does the Journal go from here, and for how long? It’s a matter for conjecture for it depends entirely on the efforts of contributors and the wishes of readers. A number of veterans from the original picnic are still involved and we’ve also been joined by a number of excellent new contributors but we’re always on the look out for still more. Please consider helping (an article, many articles or a simple news tip-offs and a photograph – whatever you like) as it’s a worthy cause that is only truly valid if it’s a communal entity with multiple public voices. In addition, any suggestions for future innovations or improvements will be gratefully received (brief ones in the Comments or longer ones at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Better still, we’ll shortly be holding a pow-wow and lunch (details to be announced) to discuss how the Journal should progress from now on. You’re more than welcome to come.
A guest article by member Sue Brooke, previously published on her own blog.
So far, so good then. Two beautifully preserved and protected monuments. So let’s move on to Yr Hen Eglwys. I’m guessing here that non-Welsh speaking readers may already be struggling with Welsh names. I appreciate how difficult this is and can also say that I too have found some difficulty in tracing these sites due to the many and various ways in which the Welsh Is written. Also it has been difficult due to the changing nature of areas locally.
However, I located the records for Cae’r Eglwys Long Cairn (The Old Church) and although Evans refers to its situation as Marcross it is now listed under the community of St. Donats. The summary available describes this site as a Neolithic long barrow on the headland of Nash Point. It was described in 1811 as an ‘ancient cromlech’ called the Old Church which was traditionally known locally as an ancient place of worship but with no documentary evidence to support this. This site has not fared so well. The reports describe a revetment which has been completely robbed but states that it now comprises of an oval mound covered by long grass and brambles with no stone detectable beneath. It is very sad that this site is known in tradition but was not protected by it. There is currently no legal protection. PRN 00408s. By using the facility available with Archwilio it is possible to see that this site is quite close to the sea. It is nice to see that the images available show that the recent ploughing respected the position of the monument and went around it, not through it.
The Laleston cromlech is now known as the Long Cairn NW of Laleston and is currently recorded as a Neolithic Chambered Tomb. This is not a straightforward site. There seems to have been some difficulties in its interpretation, partly due to the fact that the area has been regularly ploughed and there is some ongoing discussion as to whether any possible stones that were there in its original state are actually now forming part of adjacent field walls. The aerial view shows mostly a field with nothing visible of note. Evans described this is a ‘doubtful’ cromlech so perhaps the condition it is currently to be found in is similar to that at the time of writing in 1908. Due to the nature of this site it has not been possible to visit as landowners are not often happy to have crops trampled for the sake of a blog. This is something any visitor to any site should always consider. However, this site is now part of the Glamorgan and Gwent Archaeological Trust Prehistoric Funerary and Ritual Sites Project 2003 so more could still be discovered. This is the case with most of the monuments on our list. This site has no legal protection but the PRN is 04574m.
Creigiau is next on my list. The records I located refer to Cae’r Arfau, a Neolithic Chambered Tomb now listed within the community of Pentyrch. Because Evans describes it as being in Creigiau it wasn’t easy to locate the correct records at first. The summary available tells us that it is the remains of a stone burial chamber, situated on a low spur overlooking the Ely Valley. Prior to 1875 several large stones were believed to have been removed and, sadly, a visible mound had also been levelled. Its more recent past has been quite different in that it appears that for some years this chamber had been regularly lime-washed during its time being used as a coal store. However strange this may seem to us now it appears to have been quite common to use monuments such as this one as shelters for animals, but I have to admit this is the first one I’ve heard of that had effectively become a coal-house. It is not a site that could realistically be visited as the tomb itself is incorporated into a wall which is part of the drive to a private house. Effectively this is in their garden. Considering its current use, as part of a wall, I was a little surprised to see it has legal protection as a SAM, although of course, the changes to the site were made many years ago. The PRN is 00620m
Tythegeston Long Barrow or Cae Tor is to be found in the corner of an arable field within the Parish of Tythegeston. It is described as a Neolithic Chambered Tomb, being a well-marked mound around 1.2m high ‘represented by the E-W aligned capstone propped up on the S side by a single orthostat towards the E end’. The records for this monument show that it has been regularly surveyed. Today it would seem that it is much the same as that described previously. It remains very over-grown but it remains more or less untouched, not only by time but by human intervention. The barrow is legally protected as a SAM, the PRN is 00287m. It is nice that this site has been respected and allowed to remain as an important part of our historic landscape.
The last on Evans’ list is the Coity burial chamber. It is also known as Coedparcgarw. Evans described this as Cae Letwych so I’m guessing that it is this chamber he referred to. It seems that this Neolithic Chambered Tomb was surveyed by RCAHMW in 1968 when it was described as two stones partly supporting a capstone. There was, at that time, a third stone that had fallen and a fourth still partly supporting what was believed to be a detached part of the capstone. It is stated that there were the possible remains of a mound. This monument stands in an enclosed field with a wall and a lane encroaching on its north side. It is sadly described now as much ruined and overgrown, so much so that is it difficult at this point in time to interpret its original character, although it seems there remain suggestions of a mound where it would be expected to be located if indeed it is a long cairn. Again, although seemingly not much loved, this is a SAM, PRN 00374m
All of these sites can be looked at in more detail by accessing the Archwilio website. The biggest difficulty for people wishing to find records is the many and varied ways in which sites are named. Each of these discussed here are given their names as they are listed in the records. To access these you simply need to use the link for Glamorgan and Gwent. Use the search facility by entering the names listed, remembering to click that you agree to the terms and conditions. When records appear in the list click on the one you wish to view, this will then highlight the position of the site on the map. It is possible to zoom in to the aerial view of these sites and to find their position in relation to other similar sites locally.
It’s always good to be able to get out and about to visit monuments such as these. Particularly around the Tinkinswood area where you can get a real sense of the importance of such chambers. Permission may be needed at some sites if you are actually on private land. It is very important to remember that trampling around or worse, over, such chambers can add to their demise. Please, if you visit any of these sites then remember to treat them with the respect they deserve, particularly as some could be the final resting place of what were once, real people. I cannot emphasise this enough.
C. J. Evans, The Story of Glamorgan was published by The Educational Publishing Company Limited, Trade Street, Cardiff in 1908.
Arthur’s Stone (or Maen Ceti) PRN 00068w – a Scheduled Ancient Monument. I believe it is this site that Evans referred to.
Ward, J, 1915, ‘Archaeologica Cambrensis’ 253-320
Thanks once again to Sue for permission to publish her thoughts on some of her local sites.
A guest article by member Sue Brooke, previously published on her own blog.
The nice thing about a collection of old books is that they can give you a starting point. If you are lucky your collection may contain books on the same subject but written at different points in time. This not only allows you to understand how the various schools of thought on any subject may have developed and changed but also allows you yourself to think about whether things have changed for the better or for the worst. When reading a little book called The Story of Glamorgan this was highlighted for me. Towards the end of this book by C. J. Evans, published in 1908, there was a chapter written about ‘Antiquities of the County’. There is a brief introduction where Evans talks of ‘cromlechau’ – giving the translation; Cromen as roof, Llech as a stone. When discussing these monuments Evans mentions the ‘largest in the kingdom’ which he stated would be found at Dyffryn Golwg. He translates this thus; Dyffryn Goluch, the Vale of Worship.
This Vale of Worship is roughly between Wenvoe and St. Nicholas near Cardiff, within walking distance of where I live. It obviously caught my attention as I had not heard it being referred to as such. So, I did a kind of ‘let’s find out’ to see what now remains of these monuments. It’s always nice when you learn something new so it was lovely that Evans gave a little list of eight names of these different sites in Glamorgan. I obviously knew of the most well-known, such as those at St. Lythans and at Tinkinswood, but there were some on this list I did not know a lot about. I had certainly never linked or grouped them together in this way.
Glamorganshire covers quite a large area so there was one site in this list that was not local to me called Arthur’s Stone in Gower. I always like to link my work back to my own local area as it helps me understand a little bit more about it. It could be possible for people living in my locality to walk to most of these sites but as I simply thought a walk to the Gower was a little too far I excluded this site. So, for my purposes the list of seven was:
- Castell Corrig
- Cromlech at St. Nicholas
- Yr Hen Eglwys (The Old Church) at Marcross
- ‘Doubtful’ Laleston Cromlech
- Cae Letwych, near Coity
So, to take a look at these sites I’ve used information available from some of my own book collection. I’ve used the Archwilio website extensively. I’ve also put my boots on and gone out to look for myself, where it has been possible, locally. Not all of these sites are easily accessed and one, in particular, is in someone’s garden. Overall I’ve done my best and this is what I think. Of course, you may not agree with me, and that’s fine. I’m just an enthusiastic amateur, but I have to learn somewhere – so this is where I’ve started.
Let’s look first at Castell Corrig. It’s also known as Castell Correg. It is better known now as Tinkinswood Chambered Tomb. This is described as a Neolithic Long Barrow, which is approximately 40m long. This monument was excavated by Ward in 1915 when human remains were discovered along with evidence of Neolithic life, for example pottery and stone implements. Having visited this site I can confirm that it remains much as it was re-constructed following the end of the investigations. It is interesting that this site remains as a site of significance. This is evidenced by the leaving of offerings as well as the tying of ribbons to nearby trees. It is reassuring that this clearly important site has legal protection as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM). PRN 00374s
The second site on Evans’ list is that nearby described as the cromlech at St. Nicholas, known also as St. Lythans burial chamber. It is better known now as Maesyfelin (or Gwal y Filiast) a Neolithic Chambered Tomb, possibly of the Cotswold-Severn class. It is quite a surprise to come across it for the first time as this is quite a spectacular monument and is preserved well. It is not really what you expect as you walk through the field. It is very well-known as it is regularly photographed and featured. Evans described this as a ‘splendid example’ and it is fair to say that it still is. This site has not been excavated but some evidence of human remains was reportedly found in debris nearby. Some coarse pottery was also discovered. Again, this site is protected as a SAM. PRN 00003s. It is also much respected by those in the local area and by those who visit.
To be continued…