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We like to think of our ancient monuments as silent, unchanging sentinels, but this isn’t always the case, sometimes they go walkabout!
One of the delights of visiting Cornwall is the chance to catch up with friends who live in the area and on a recent trip Philip, a friend of ours who knows of my penchant for old stones, presented me with the gift of an old Francis Frith postcard. In a slight diversion from my usual prehistoric focus, the postcard depicts the old cross at Cross Common, Landewednack, a short distance east of Lizard town.
For those that don’t know, Cornwall is littered with old crosses of various forms, many of which date back to medieval times (9th-15th centuries). Whilst many remain in, or near their original positions, many crosses have been discovered in various odd situations: used as gateposts, fireplace lintels and church benches or built into church walls, hollowed out and used as feed troughs (ref. Sithney Church cross). The cross at Landewednack, just east of Lizard town, indicates the road down to the church and the postcard shows the cross as it was in 1907 when the photo was taken.
Arthur G Langdon, in Old Cornish Crosses (1898) describes the cross at Landewednack as follows:
The cross stands on the right-hand side of the road leading from Lizard town to the sea.
The edge of the stone is outlined by a bead, and there is an entasis on the left side only of the shaft, the right being slightly concave.
Dimensions. — Height, 4 ft. 11 in. ; width of head, 1 ft. 11 in. ; width of shaft, 1 ft. 4 in.
Front. — On the front is a Latin cross, nearly the full height of the stone, formed in a similar manner to that on the cross at Pradannack, Mullyon. Within the bead on the head is the upper portion of the cross ; it is equal-limbed, and extends to the neck. At this level the bottom of the lower limb is suddenly narrowed, and for the remainder of the distance is indicated by two widely incised lines. Between these lines and the bead on the angles are two plain surfaces, the upper ends of which, where they terminate at the neck, are rudely shaped to the narrowed parts of the shaft.
Back. — On the head is an equal-limbed cross in relief having widely expanded ends.
On the postcard, which presents the view looking back toward Lizard town, the cross is in exactly the same location noted some nine years previously by Langdon. On the Ordnance Survey 6″ map, Cornwall Sheet LXXXIV.SE & XC.NE, published in 1908 the location of the cross is clearly marked to the south of the road.
Curiosity got the better of me as I couldn’t recall having seen this cross in my travels, so I revisted the area. Today the view presents a much different story. Taking a comparison photo from roughly the same location shows that the cross is no more. The rough stone wall on the left is still there, as are many of the same buildings and rooftops:
The reason for the lack of the cross is evident on a Google Streetview image – the cross would have been located roughly where today’s junction lines are painted, close to the wall. This would present an obvious safety hazard.
However, the cross has not moved far, just a few yards northeast of its previous location onto a grass verge on the opposite side of the junction. The Pastscape entry for the monument describes the cross as “just about in situ” again after several moves. This assertion is repeated in the English Heritage description of the monument. If this is true, and the cross is now ‘back where it belongs’, then the postcard is an interesting relic in the history of the cross.
There is just enough space to squeeze between the cross and the hedge to take a facsimile of the original postcard, showing the extent of the shift in location:
If anyone has any information about when or why the cross was moved, we’d be interested to hear it! A good resource on Cornwall’s old crosses is Arthur G Langdon’s original ‘Old Cornwall Crosses‘, available for free download in various formats from the Internet Archive. Alternatively a more up to date listing can be found in Andrew Langdon’s (no relation) excellent series of booklets available from the Old Cornwall Society.
For information on some more ancient stones on the Lizard peninsula, see our brief tour.
PRESS RELEASE 8th July 2014
The Sustainable Trust at Stithians Show
For anyone who missed our fabulous Solstice ‘Rock on at Carwynnen Quoit’, we are holding the last exhibition in this phase of the project next Monday.
To celebrate the Festival of Archaeology, the Council of Archaeology’s annual event, we will be showing new footage of the restoration along with a photographic exhibition of the project. Stithians Agricultural Association have kindly accepted us as one of their featured charities this year and we relish the opportunity to bring this project to a wider appreciative audience.
Visiting children will be able to make a pop up quoit card, a thaumotrope and a pocket book about the history of this 5000 year old monument, written in both Cornish and English. It will be a chance to talk about your memories of ‘The Frying Pan Field’ and the ‘Devil’s Quoit’ and hear about our re-creation of the famous 1925 picnic and future plans.
Pip Richards, director of sustrust said ‘We have been astounded at the amount of people who have shown appreciation for our work at Carwynnen. This field has now become a focal point for the community with its iconic megalithic structure. It feels symbolic that we have managed to restore one of the first man made landmarks during this time of recognition of Cornish identity. Thank you to everyone who has made this possible’.
During my recent trip to Cornwall, I managed to finally visit a site I’ve had my eye on for some time: the remains of an Iron Age hillfort near to where we stay.
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales included in his description of Ludgvan the following:
“A ditched camp, called Castle-an-Dinas, and measuring 436 feet in diameter, occupies the summit of the highest hill, and commands extensive views.”
Whilst this may be factually correct, the hillfort is now quite difficult to see from the surrounding countryside, due in part to the existence of the upthrow of a large quarry to the southeast. However, once access to the hillfort has been obtained (see access notes, below), there are indeed wide ranging views to the North, East and round to the Southwest. Chysauster Courtyard House settlement lies 3/4 of a mile directly west from the hillfort. The hillfort itself consists of two concentric stone ramparts. A further slight external rampart of earth and stone can also be seen.
Borlase gives us slightly more detail:
“Castle-an-Dinas consisted of two stone walls, one within the other in a circular form, surrounding the area of the hill. The ruins are now fallen on each side of the walls, and show the work to have been of great height and thickness. There was also a third or outer wall, built more than half way round. Within the walls are many little inclosures of a circular form, about seven yards in diameter, with little walls round them of two or three feet high ; they appear to have been so many huts for the shelter of the garrison. The diameter of the whole fort from east to west is 400 feet, and the principal ditch 60 feet. Towards the south the sides of the hill are marked by two large green paths about 10 feet wide.”
But this hillfort, the north entrance of which is still quite well defined (if somewhat overgrown in mid-summer) holds another surprise. Near the southeast rampart is what looks to all intents and purposes to be a small castle with four turreted towers. This is Rogers’ Tower, a folly built sometime in the late 1700’s by the Rogers family, who carried much influence in the local area. They owned Treassowe Manor, situated between the hillfort and Ludgvan Churchtown, and later moved to the Penrose estate just outside Porthleven.
The tower was built largely using stone ‘robbed out’ from the ramparts of the hillfort. The precise date of construction is debatable, but there is some supposition that the tower may have been used as a lookout point over the English Channel during the political upheaval which lead to the Napoleonic wars.
However, although used by the family as a destination for outings it seems the tower quickly fell into disuse, and by 1817 was described as ‘now in a state of decay’. By 1859 this had progressed to ‘ruined’. In the 1920s, Castle an Dinas and Rogers’ Tower were included in Cornwall’s newly established list of Scheduled Monuments, and the tower was used as a lookout by the Home Guard during the Second World War. In 1960 some repair work was carried out, and this is commemorated by a roughly scrawled carving in the replacement pointing inside the tower. Further work was carried out in 2002/3 leading to the tower we see today.
Also placed within the confines of the hillfort, near to the tower is an Ordnance Survey triangulation (trig) point. The trig point was last levelled in 1955 (Levelling is the process of measuring the relative height marks across the landscape, and ultimately to a fixed datum – Mean Sea Level at Newlyn for the British mainland). Digital mapping has largely made such trig points redundant, and no doubt they will be regarded as heritage sites in their own right (if they’re not already – some enjoy scheduled monument protection).
The 6″ OS map of 1888 clearly shows a south eastern approach from the road at Inch’s Castle (now Castle Gate), but this has long been gobbled up by the quarry. A road 300 yards to the west now passes through into the quarry, but is marked as private property (and could be considered dangerous for pedestrians). There is a footpath on the road from Badgers Cross to Chysauster to the southwest, near to Little Chysauster farm but when I tried this route, the footpath was marked as closed ‘due to erosion’. Instead, I therefore elected to take a path from a farm shop to the east (just off the B3311 at Grid Ref SW491350), following the track northwest and skirting Trenowin Downs. At the first cottage, do not be tempted to cut across left, but continue on the track until a gate across the track. Go through the gate, and immediate left (now heading southwest and uphill) where the track dog-legs across Noon Digery. Continue uphill, crossing a stile where the track reduces to a footpath. Still heading uphill, look out for a stile on the left (approx SW482352), onto Tonkins Downs. This heads directly southeast again, and leads directly to the hillfort and the northwest entrance. Once through the causeway entrance, Rogers Tower can be easily seen almost directly ahead, beyond the trig point.
All photos © Alan S. 2014
Summer solstice in Cornwall was an occasion of glorious weather, and a large degree of celebration, with the completion of the raising of Carwynnen Quoit (full story to follow).
Sadly, elsewhere the summer sun obviously went to someone’s head, as they decided to dig a hole, approximately 2-3 inches deep and some 4 inches across, directly below the central stone at Boscawen-Un, near St Buryan in West Penwith.
Despite the best efforts of the CASPN monitoring team, it seems as if this wonderful site, one of my personal favourites, is the target of an attack every summer. A few years ago, a wax ‘talisman’ was found buried in the same spot, under the stone which leans at an acute angle. Wooden stakes with Christian slogans were also buried around the stone in an attack.
This time, the apparent intent seems to have been to dig a receptacle for a posey of flowers, and some crystals – an ‘offering’ of some sort? Certainly none of the Pagans of my acquaintance would endorse such a move! Maybe these were ‘wannabe’ pagans (small ‘p’), or someone looking to discredit Paganism? Either way, it’s a crass thing to do, as it harms our heritage in more than just a physical way, sending out signals that this kind of damage is in some way ‘acceptable’.
CASPN are aware of the damage and mitigating measures will shortly be undertaken by their team of volunteers.
Although I’m no longer in the area to personally verify, there has been a report on our Facebook page -
Visited today. Someone has dug under one of the recumbent stones which may been part of a cist or a dolman. They placed a tatty necklace with a childlike fairy on the stone. To make matters worse someone had pitched a tent between the circle and the surrounding wall. I waited, but owner did not return while I was there.
So I’ll repeat the question I added in the comments a couple of days ago. “How much damage is acceptable?” When do we say enough is enough?
With less than two weeks to go until the capstone is raised at Carwynnen, the project team have issued the following press release:
ROCK ON AT THE GIANTS QUOIT!
Come and watch the final phase of this project on Midsummer’s Day, Saturday 21st June at 3pm.
This will be a milestone, or even capstone! in this remarkable and unique project.
Musicians, poets and dancers are welcome to perform around 4pm and the ‘Ballad of Carwynnen’ will be sung around 5pm.
Some refreshments will be provided. Bring something to share.
‘This monument, which collapsed in the 1960s, is the focus of a remarkable and unique project, a community endeavour to rebuild the monument, develop the site and its surrounding landscape as an educational and leisure amenity, and create a sustainable monument for future generations to enjoy. The project, run by Sustrust is a great example of how rebuilding prehistoric monuments today, in the modern landscape, can impact on social well-being.
The focus has not just been the monument, but also the ecology of the surrounding landscape. Poetry and music have been composed and performed at the monument. Hundreds of people have been involved in this project in a whole range of different ways, and crucially the focus has not just been on what happened in the distant past, but also the relevance and role of the dolmen for people today and into the future.
This is a fantastic project, and one that demonstrates the potential social, ecological and even economic benefits of megalith construction. The ostensibly simple component parts – large boulders essentially – come together to form something magical, a structure that has great appeal to the public imagination. The numbers of volunteer hours, the effort expended to get this far, are evidence of the passion and potential this project is generating.’ Dr Kenneth Brophy @urbanprehistorian. Senior lecturer in Archaeology, Glasgow University.
Pip Richards, Director of Sustrust, said ‘Great thanks go to all those hundreds of people who have been involved in the project over the last 5 years:- our volunteers, photographers, artists, singers, writers, poets, translators, teachers, local children, archaeologists, engineers and friendly neighbours. Together we have done more than restore a scheduled ancient monument in a Cornish Field, we have engendered a sense of belonging and some local pride during this great time of change for the Duchy.
We also thank all our funders, especially those who contributed to our ‘match funding’:- The Tanner Trust, The Cornish Heritage Trust, The Marc Fitch Fund and The Council of British Archaeology. The Cornwall Archaeological Society, Camborne and Truro Colleges and Plymouth University have helped us too.
Full details of the day are available on the project website. With a bit of luck and a following wind, we hope to be there on the day, to bring you a first hand account of the placement of the capstone. Watch this space!
Starting next week, the next stage of the project to restore the Giant’s Quoit at Carwynnen will be taking place. The plan is that on Friday 2nd May the remaining two supports, or orthostats, for the capstone will be raised. The public are welcome to watch this event, which should start at about 11am.
The completion of the raising of the uprights will mark the culmination of a week of education events at the quoit – the capstone itself will be raised and placed later in the year (this is currently planned for Midsummer, Saturday 21st June).
Five schools will be visiting the quoit during next week, when the students will be taught a little about the archaeological processes of excavating, searching, sieving, and cleaning finds by professional archaeologists from the Historic Environment Service. They will be taught about the importance of Neolithic monuments in the Cornish Landscape, the age and weight of the stones and how the ancients made use of their surroundings to live, eat and clothe themselves. Art activities will take place in the marquee, along with an exhibition and quiz. A basic snapshot of the activities each day is as follows:
- Guess the Weight of the Stones – An introduction with all the team
- Gory Neolithic Demonstration – by Experimental Archaeologist Sally Herriet
- Honeysuckle Rope-making – by Experimental Archaeologist Jacqui Woods
- Sieving, Searching and Trowelling – with Community Archaeologist Richard Mikulski
- One Timeline, One book, One Spinning Image – with Artist and Designer Dominica Williamson
- Time Capsule Brainstorm – with Project Leader Pip Richards
Finally, on Sunday May 4th, Julian Richards, “Archaeologist and Broadcaster” will be de-mystifying the ancient art of moving large stones, utilising wooden levers, sledges, rollers and honeysuckle ropes. This will be a free workshop starting at around 10am. If you would like to participate, please register your interest with firstname.lastname@example.org or ring the Sustainable Trust on 01209 831718 – safety or stout boots and a hard hat will be required for all those taking part.
“The Sustainable Trust is grateful for the support of The Cornwall Heritage Trust, Sita Cornwall Trust and The Heritage Lottery Fund who are currently financing this work. We also thank all the volunteers who have made this project possible.”
During a recent holiday in Cornwall, I took the opportunity to revisit Carwynnen Quoit, to see what progress had been made since my previous visit during the recent excavations. Seeing one of the uprights back in place has prompted me to put together this brief overview of the history of the quoit.
Built some time between 3500-2600 BC, this Cornish dolmen had (presumably) stood for millenia before its collapse and reinstatement in the early 1840’s. The recorded history of the quoit begins in the early 18th century, mentioned by Edward Lhuyd during his Cornish travels. It was later drawn by Dr Borlase, and this illustration was included in W.C. Borlase’s ‘Naenia Cornubia’in 1872. J.T. Blight’s ‘Ancient Crosses of West Cornwall’, published in 1858 also includes an illustration of the quoit, somewhat different from that drawn by Borlase.
A section of the capstone broke off when the monument fell in 1842, and during its reconstruction “by workers on the Pendarves Estate and local people, galvanised by Mrs Pendarves”, one of the supporting stones was reduced in height and the arrangement of the uprights was thus changed. Comparing this reconstruction to the original, W.C. Borlase noted:
The two supporters at the south-eastern end seem to have retained their original positions. They were, formerly, respectively 5 feet 1 inch, and 5 feet 2 inches above ground, and are still nearly the same height. The single pillar at the other side has been moved nearer the edge of the covering stone than in the above sketch; it measured 4 feet 11 inches high, but is now shorter. The covering slab, which, like the other stones, is granite, measures twelve feet by nine; one side, however, seems to have been broken in its fall.
The monument seems to have remained in this state for around 124 years, until in 1966 it collapsed again, reputedly due to an earth tremor. With thanks to Paul Phillips and the folks at the Sustainable Trust, we have photographs of the quoit taken a short time prior to it’s later collapse.
After the collapse, the Pendarves estate declined, and what were once the landscaped gardens of the estate were returned to agriculture. The collapsed stones were piled in a heap, and with repeated ploughing more stones came to the surface, to be added to the pile of ‘field clearance’.
My own first view of Carwynnen came in May 2007, whilst trying to ‘tick off’ all the Cornish quoits. There was actually very little to see – a field of scrub, with a few stones almost hidden amongst the weeds. But the site was purchased in 2009 by the Sustainable Trust and their partners, and plans were immediately put in place to once again restore the quoit to it’s former glory.
I returned in 2012, to find on the surface very little had apparently changed, the pile of stones was still there, looking much as before.
But now there was a noticeboard at the entrance to the field, indicating that the plans were very much under way. Later that year, two excavations were held in the field. The first was a preliminary investigation via a series of test pits. The stones were then moved using a crane, from the place where they had been left after the 1966 collapse, in preparation for the ‘Big Dig’ in the autumn.
In April 2013 I returned again, to attend ‘Quest for the Quoit’ a neolithic exhibition of crafts and an archaeological test pit dig. This was just one of a series of events and exhibitions both at the Quoit and around various parts of Cornwall to advertise what was going on, and to get the community involved. The day was a great success with a lot of local interest and involvement. And of course, the ‘Big Dig’ had provided the perfect surprise with the discovery of the original footprint of the monument, and the stone ‘pavement’, the original chamber floor. A year after the excavation of the original socketholes, in October 2013, the first of the uprights was put back up into place.
Although it looks quite forlorn, locked away inside it’s protective fencing, the other two uprights are scheduled to be raised to join it in May this year, followed by the placing of the capstone at Midsummer. I hope to be there to witness that.
Further details about the history, excavation and events at Carwynnen can be found on the project website at http://www.giantsquoit.org
Unless otherwise stated, all photos © Alan S.
Carwynnen Quoit is situated a short distance south of Camborne, in Cornwall. OS Grid Ref: SW650372, Sheet 203.
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 – THE SUSTAINABLE TRUST CARWYNNEN QUOIT
A LEG UP FOR THE GIANTS QUOIT!
Despite appalling weather, our relentless volunteer diggers arrived on Monday morning to start working the site at Carwynnen Quoit, prior to the restoration of the first stone. An eleven day community dig will expose the socket for the stone, and further investigate the area to the rear of the monument. A new trench is being opened further up the field. The excavation will be carried out in the same manner as the autumn 2012 dig, with a small Historic Environment team leading the volunteer team.
We have an official open day on Sunday 27th October, between 10.30 and 4pm where you can engage in a free guided tour, and see an exhibition of the work so far. There will be demonstrations of ancient technology and experimental archaeology with Sally Herriett. She looks forward to introducing you to her unusual world, and sharing her passion for all things Prehistoric, presenting artifacts and demonstrating Flint Knapping. At 2pm she will be describing her work especially for children.
We are trying to preserve the grass in the field for as long as possible, so it would be appreciated if you would park in the campsite next door, or walk over from Treslothan Church (15 mins). If you remember Carwynnen Quoit before or after it fell in 1966, come and share your memories with us. The film on our giantsquoit.org homepage made use of some recordings we made during the last phase of the project. A second film is in production and we welcome your contribution to our collection of local memories. On 31st, at around 10.30am, at Samhain or All Hallows Eve, we intend to restore the first upright stone and you are welcome to come and watch. In Spring we will continue the restoration. A time capsule will be buried. If you have any suggestions for its contents, let us know!
Pip Richards – email@example.com
Regular readers will have spotted recurring Diary Dates for CASPN Site Clearances in our monthly listings. These clean ups are held on a monthly basis, at a different site each month, and staffed entirely by volunteers, under the instruction of Dave Munday from CASPN.
I was fortunate enough to be in the area this month, when a clearance was undertaken at a site I’ve not previously visited; the Courtyard House settlement at Mulfra. I went along to take a look around the site, and to see what was going on during the clearance.
The site lies on the southern slope of Mulfra Hill, which itself is topped by Mulfra Quoit, a neolithic burial chamber with extensive 360-degree views across the West Penwith peninsula.
A public footpath leads to the Courtyard site, but this was somewhat overgrown, and embarrassingly I had to be cut out of the brambles by one of the volunteers, who then pointed out an access path from the farm, which they had permission to use, across two open fields (not public). There is a single courtyard house discernable, with several other structures nearby. Dave told me that there is an enigmatic larger enclosure a short distance to the west, but currently totally inaccessible due to the undergrowth.
The picture above shows how little of the site is visible through the ground cover, which consists of tough moor grasses, brambles, bracken and gorse.
The CASPN volunteers are very dedicated to keeping the sites in their care in as good order as they can, and tools are provided for any volunteers that turn up. In fact, it wasn’t too long after I’d taken the photo above before a pitchfork was thrust into my hands and I was invited to help move the cuttings into a designated area (atop a cluster of nettles) to rot down naturally.
Despite it being a fine day, only five volunteers turned out, but CASPN can always make use of more hands, so if you’re in the area, check out their web site for dates and locations, and go along to lend a hand. Last minute information (weather, access routes etc) is usually posted on their Facebook page.