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William Copeland Borlase, born this day in 1848 in Castle Horneck, near Penzance, was the only son of Samuel Borlase and Mary Anne Copeland – an Essex girl.

The great-great-grandson of Dr William Borlase, William visited many of the sites in Cornwall documented by his ancestor before an education at Winchester College and Trinity College, Oxford.


In 1863 he was asked (aged 15?) to supervise an excavation of the Iron Age village at Carn Euny, for which he in turn commissioned the antiquarian J T Blight to do many of the engravings for the subsequent report.


William married in 1870, to Alice (or Ellen) Lucy Kent, the wife of a minister.

In 1872 his major work “Nænia Cornubiæ: a descriptive essay, illustrative of the sepulchres and funereal customs of the early inhabitants of the county of Cornwall“, was published. It has been estimated that Borlase excavated about 200 barrows in Cornwall but he has been criticised for poor archaeological practice, particularly in only writing accounts of a tenth of the barrows. 1878 saw publication of an account of his travels around the world from October 1874 to September 1875, entitled “Sunways: A Record of Rambles in Many Lands“, a journey on which his wife did not accompany him.

Standing for Parliament in the 1880 general election, Borlase was elected Liberal Member of Parliament for East Cornwall, until the seat was divided in the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885. In the 1885 general election, he was elected MP for St Austell, and in 1886 he was made Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board.

However, with all his standing, his tastes became ever more expensive.  By 1887 his effects were being sold off by auction and he resigned his seat in disgrace after his mistress revealed the extent of his debts, which brought him to bankruptcy.

The Times, February 8, 1887:
The valuable Library of William Copeland Borlase, Esq., MA.. F.S.A., M.P.
MESSRS. SOTHEBY. WILKINSON.and HODGE, will SELL by AUCTION, at their House, No. 13. Wellington Street, Strand, W.C., on Monday, February 21. and two following days, at 1 o’clock precisely, the valuiable LIBRARY of William Copeland Borlase, ESQ., M.A., F.S.A., M.P., comprising highly important Cornish manuscripts and printed books, including Hals’s and other County Historeies; Chinese, Japanese, and East India Literature: Chinese, Japanese, and Hindoo Drawings : Antiquarian and Scientific Works, Illustrated Publications, and Writings of Standard Authors. May be viewed two days prior. Catalogues may be had ; if by post, on receipt of six stamps.

The Times, October 12, 1887:
Sale of Mr Borlase’s Effects.- the sale of the effects of Mr W. Copeland Borlase, formerly M.P. for the St Austell Division, commenced at Penzance on Monday. There was a large attendance, buyers being attracted by the fact that Mr. Borlase was a well-known collector of curios and rarities. There was keen competition for many of the pictures, and good prices were realized, and this was the case with the old gold and silver coins. The old silver plate fetched prices varying from 3s, to 16s, 9d. per ounce.

He moved to Ireland to work, and subsequently managed tin mines in Spain and Portugal. The move allowed him time to write however, and in 1895 he published “The Age of the Saints: a monograph of early Christianity in Cornwall with the legends of the Cornish saints and an introduction illustrative of the ethnology of the district” and followed this two years later with “The Dolmens of Ireland, their Distribution, Structural Characteristics, and Affinities in Other Countries; together with the folk-lore attaching to them and traditions of the Irish people” – a work in three volumes.

Ardaragh, from the Dolmens of Ireland.

Ardaragh, from the Dolmens of Ireland.

But sadly, the disgrace was too much, the rest of the family disowned him and he died aged just 51, in London on 31 March, 1899.

By Graham Orris
This is the first in a series of articles on how to find “hard to find” sites.

My wife and I have been regular visitors to Cornwall for over a decade now, and have explored some areas in great depth, while other areas remain uncharted for us.

A site that particularly appealed to us was the so-called “Bosporthennis Beehive Hut” – a seemingly well-hidden mysterious gem of a site which has, by all accounts, eluded many people. I must admit the appeal of seeing this with our own eyes was heightened by the fact that not many people could find it!

The Beehive Hut as seen from the angle of approach.

The Beehive Hut as seen from the angle of approach.

It took us 3 attempts on 3 separate visits to find it, but when we did, the route we took was astoundingly simple.

Attempt number 1 was a non-starter due to my own terrible map-reading “skills”, and had us ending up in Bodrifty. Ahem. ;)

Attempt number 2 found us looking at a footpath from the Nine Stones of Boskednan stone circle (approx OS map ref SW435351). The path took us from the circle down the side of the hill (in a very roughly North-Easterly direction) toward a cottage marked on the OS map as “Brook Cottage”. As we approached the end of the road, a friendly resident appeared and very happily pointed us in the right direction for the continuation of the footpath through a field and over a style. The path on the other side of the style was completely overgrown with ferns that must have been over 7ft tall! We pushed our way gingerly through, but decided it was a non-starter as we simply could not see where we were heading. Cue the end of attempt number 2!

Attempt number 3 was an altogether different approach. We found a footpath which starts beside the Treen – Newmill road (approx OS map ref SW437373). Basically, if you have an OS map you should simply follow the footpath, across fields and through styles (you can generally see the next style/footpath sign from the one you’re at) and in around 25 minutes’ time you will see the beehive hut! It’s not hidden, it’s just… there! (Approx OS map ref SW437360) The feeling of actually finding it after several aborted attempts was amazing. But having seen how easy it is to find, it was also annoying that we’d not found it sooner! :D

The walk is fairly even, and not too strenuous (if a little muddy), although not wheelchair-friendly and *possibly* navigable with only the sturdiest of pushchairs (with plenty of carrying) if taking young ‘uns. The overall walk is around one and a half miles and took us about 25 minutes at a fairly leisurely pace.

This is largely from memory, so please forgive any inaccuracies. If in doubt, just keep an eye out for the footpath signs on the styles or gates and you shouldn’t go wrong:

Starting at the road, enter the field by the footpath sign (approx OS map ref SW437373) heading SSE(ish)
Continue straight ahead to the next style at the far end then straight ahead again to the style in the far corner
Follow the wall along to the next style in the corner, now heading almost due South
Go straight ahead for the next 3 fields, curving slightly SSE toward the corner of the wall that juts out
Head roughly due South again for the next 2 or 3 fields until you reach a road/path that takes you over a stream
Follow the stream for about 2 fields until you find the footpath sign again
Head straight through the field to the far corner
In the next field, curve around to the next gate in the SE wall
Again, curve around to the SW, through the next gate, then due South
A short distance past this gate to the SW and you will see the Beehive Hut at the far end of the field.

Due to the amount of fields/styles/gates you go through it sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is. Some fields are very small and therefore I may have missed some out! If anyone manages to use these directions to find the site, please let me know. And please do let me know of any inaccuracies! :)

We’re pleased to be able to present a guest post by Peter Cornall, the Area Representatives Convenor for the Cornwall Archaeological Society, telling us a little about the Society’s “Monument Watch” scheme and its workings. 


The late Tony Blackman was President of the Cornwall Archaeological Society until his untimely death early in 2012. Highly regarded both locally and nationally, in particular for his work with young people, Tony felt keenly the need to offer members of a local Society the chance to play an active role in the archaeology of their area. Opportunities in excavation for amateurs are infrequent, even in a region rich in monuments of the past. Other openings were to be sought, one being helping with the care of  Cornwall’s ancient monuments.

Of these hundreds of monuments, scheduled and unscheduled, some may be found to be under no threat at all, while others may be neglected and clearly at risk. All stand to benefit from regular inspection, so it is no wonder that the development of Monument Watch across Cornwall came to seem a highly appropriate objective for the Society.  The idea is by no means new, and important groups of volunteers have for some time been active in the protection and sometimes also the physical care and maintenance of monuments in several areas of Cornwall, including the Lizard, Meneage, West Penwith, Newquay and Bodmin Moor. Monument Watch countywide is in debt to their pioneering example.

For many years, the Cornwall Archaeological Society had recognised volunteer ‘Area Representatives’ acting as archaeological watchdogs for whatever group of parishes each felt to be within their reach. The members of this small group met quite informally each spring and autumn to exchange ideas and to report significant items of archaeological news, which might prompt the Society to action, often in concert with the Cornwall Historic Environment Service, English Heritage and the National Trust. It was this group which could be developed into a countywide watchdog for monuments, although this would never be the whole of its work.

During the past four years the group has doubled to twenty, as new volunteers have been recruited from the CAS membership, each to ‘adopt’ a contiguous group of ‘orphan’ parishes which the new Area Representative feels able to cover. By the autumn of 2012 the whole of Cornwall’s considerable land area and all its numerous Scheduled Monuments were covered by the scheme. (We also have an associate in the Isles of Scilly, who works alongside us.) A Short Guide has been written to describe the role of Area Representative; this paper can be consulted on the AR page of the CAS website, and probably offers the best concise picture of what we are trying to do. Our Monitoring Report Forms can also be found on the website.

This group of monument watchers now includes a wide range of age, experience and expertness, with some of the local heritage professionals doubling as advisers and Area Representatives. After careful discussion, a format for reporting has been devised which meets the recording needs of both English Heritage and the Cornwall Historic Environment Record. Reports on monuments can be submitted at any time either by e-mail or post, and the steady flow of these new-style reports is now of key importance to the sadly shrunken group of professionals in Truro. Thanks to this routine process, monuments under threat can be identified and action taken, while those reported as comparatively safe and sound -happily the majority- need not take up precious time. In this manner, Tony Blackman’s original wish to offer Society members a chance to be more active has led to an important and most timely collaboration between volunteers and professionals, just when resources for heritage protection are under serious threat.

It is possible, I guess, that this account may come under the eye of enthusiasts in other parts of the country where no such collaboration as that described here yet exists. There is one aspect of our Monument Watch which we would not offer up as ideal. Ours has been an organic growth, with the untidiness  often associated with such a pattern of development. A group starting from scratch would certainly wish to achieve a more even distribution of responsibility for Scheduled Monuments than ours, which is numerically grossly uneven, reflecting the history of the Area Representatives group and its relatively rapid expansion. We have not seen fit, as yet, to attempt any redistribution of parishes in order to achieve a fairer sharing of burdens. Our answer has rather been to encourage the ARs to form support groups (where these do not already exist) or to recruit friends and fellow-members as sharers in the monitoring work. At the same time, we recognize the inherent difficulty of achieving even an approximate evenness of load, where the variables of terrain, distance, monument type and site distribution are so significant.

Our distribution of MW responsibilities to Area Representatives happens – somehow – to be based on the ancient ecclesiastical parishes of Cornwall;  church and civil changes over the years have sometimes complicated matters for us, and more up-to-date boundaries would obviously be easier to use.

Then there must be more exciting – and descriptive – titles for monument watchers than ‘Area Representatives’, even when their duties (like ours) extend further than simply MW,  and I am sure that they will be found and employed!

Any scheme starting-up elsewhere would certainly wish to ensure that all its monument watchers could at least send in their reports online, even if not all would be ready to deploy every possible gadget in the field, seeking their targets by GPS, making notes on tablets and taking their photographs on smart phones. Some of us in Cornwall still cherish the compass, the map, the notebook and the camera!

Peter Cornall


Our grateful thanks go to Peter for taking time out to put together this account of an important part of the Society’s work. If your local society has a similar or comparable scheme, please let us know and we’d be happy to give space to it  here on the Heritage Journal

William Borlase was born on this day, February 2nd 1695 in Pendeen, Cornwall. It is said that he was born in the farmhouse where the Pendeen Vau fogou is located. The family descended from an old Norman family who took the Borlase name from the farm where they had first settled, just northwest of St Wenn. The family moved to Pendeen in the mid-17th century. There is still a Borlase Farm at St Wenn today.

He attended Exeter College at Oxford and was ordained as a deacon in 1719, and a year later as a priest. He returned to Ludgvan in 1722 and ten years later following the death of his brother (the incumbent) was also presented with the vicarage of St Just, the parish of his birth. William married Anne Smith, a rector’s daughter, in 1724 and they had six sons though only four survived infancy – three of whom became churchmen like their father. Anne died in 1769, aged 45.

William Borlase

As an antiquarian he is best known for his ‘Antiquities of Cornwall’, first published in 1754, but he was also known as a naturalist and geologist as well as being vicar of Ludgvan for 50 years before his death in 1772.

Living in a strong mining area led to an interest in geology and collection of mineral samples, and from this came an interest in the natural history of the county, and the various ancient monuments there, many of which still survive.

In 1730, he became acquainted with Alexander Pope (for whose grotto at Twickenham he later supplied many the fossils and minerals), Ralph Allen, and other persons of eminence and ability and began a correspondence with them, and other distinguished persons whose acquaintance he afterwards made. This continued throughout his life, and a considerable archive of his letters exists.

Visiting Exeter in 1748 for the ordination of his eldest son, he met with Dean Lyttelton (afterwards bishop of Carlisle). This acquaintanceship seems to have led to the publication of William’s essay ‘Spar and Sparry Productions, called Cornish Diamonds‘ in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’. Shortly after this, in 1760 he was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society.

Borlase Title

‘Cornish Antiquities’ was published in 1754, with a second edition released in 1769, complete with many plates based upon his sketches, including depictions of Zennor Quoit prior to it’s partial destruction and subsequent restoration, and Lanyon Quoit before it’s collapse in the early 1800′s.

'Senar Cromlech'

‘Senar Cromlech’

In 1766 his account of the Scilly Islands, ‘Observations on the Ancient and Present State of the Islands of Scilly, and their Importance to the Trade of Great Britain’ appeared, being an extension of an earlier essay in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’. 1758 saw the publication of his ‘Natural History’, also illustrated with numerous plates from his own drawings.

Shortly after 1758 he presented his collections to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. In acknowledgment of this gift, and in recognition of his distinguished services to literature and archaeology, the university conferred upon him by diploma, in 1766, the degree of doctor of laws.

William died at Ludgvan on 31 Aug. 1772, aged 77. Only two of his sons survived him: the Rev. John Borlase, and the Rev. George Borlase.

A ‘scholarly biography’ is available from the Cornish Bookshop.

A guest post by Alan S.

Desecration is a powerful word. The Oxford Dictionary suggests two main meanings of the verb ‘to desecrate’ – to treat (a sacred place or thing) with violent disrespect, or to spoil (something which is valued or respected).

Imagine the scene: You visit a world-class, fragile, prehistoric monument after a period of continuous heavy rain. On arrival you find that the monument is standing in a sea of mud. Do you:

a) experience what you can of the atmosphere of the site, but cause no damage, or
b) let your family trample through the mud and climb all over the monument for a photo opportunity?

A clue to help: The first is respectful of the site, the second is desecration.

On New Year’s Day, as I was on holiday in Cornwall, I had decided to walk up to Boskednan Downs to take a look at the stock-proofing measures being implemented prior to allowing cattle to graze up there. I’ve documented this walk in the past, a walk which can be quite pleasant in summer. Unfortunately, as anyone who knows the area will attest, the pathway up onto the moors is often flooded, and such was the case on this occasion. Although I could have worked my way around the waterlogged path, I decided to abandon the walk, and headed back down to Men an Tol.

As I approached the monument, I could see an extended family (2 sets of parents, and 4 pre-teen children) laughing and joking around near the stones. As I got closer, they were taking turns sitting on the holed stone for photographs, and trying to clamber through the hole. Sadly, all fairly normal activities when the weather is fair.

In fact, so much so is this activity considered normal that early in 2012, CASPN felt that some remedial work was required as the ground below the holed stone was quite worn away. After the appropriate permissions were acquired (this is a Scheduled Ancient Monument after all), this work was undertaken by CASPN on behalf of the Historic Environment Service with volunteers spending significant time and effort in the Spring to fill in the worn area, which was also re-turfed and seeded. Sadly the turf did not ‘take’, but some improvement in the ground level was achieved, ensuring the stone was stabilised. (This remedial work is currently due to be monitored and continued for a period of three years.)

The Men an Tol, after remedial work to the ground level. Sadly, the turfing did not 'take'.

The Men an Tol, after remedial work to the ground level. Sadly, the turfing did not ‘take’.

Now 7 months later, and after consistently heavy rainfall for an extended period, which has caused nationwide flooding, this family had popped out during the holidays with the kids for a walk to a national monument before lunch. Unwittingly (and I can only hope they didn’t know what they were doing – the alternative truly is unthinkable!) their actions have caused further potential damage to the stones, if not immediately, then certainly by wearing away the ground level still further, in the fullness of time.

The remedial work destroyed, by rain and wellies!

The remedial work destroyed, by rain and wellies!

Being outnumbered 8-9/1 as I was, I decided discretion was the better part of valour on this occasion and decided not to approach them about their behaviour, but hung around looking unhappy and annoyed, thus hopefully curtailing their time at the site – which eventually happened. They made their way, noisily and happily back to the path and down to the road, seemingly oblivious to my disgruntlement.


So what can be done? CASPN have spent a large amount of money on signage such as the above at various sites throughout the area, explaining that the monuments deserve respect and that any damage should be reported immediately. This family were not the ‘group of local lads’ thought to be responsible for recent vandalism at the nearby Madron Well and Chapel – all the indications were that they were just your average ’2.4 kids’ family. They seemed totally unaware that their actions could be in any way damaging to the monument rather than not caring one way or the other whether any damage was done. It was obvious from the state of the ground that the monument was potentially at risk – indeed, the path across the moor from the stile was sodden and very spongy underfoot, suggesting very little in the way of support for any upright structures. A series of questions thus present themselves:

  • Did they know of the history of the site?
  • Did they read or even notice the sign by the stile?
  • What additional measures are needed to make people aware?
  • Would outreach sessions in local schools help the youths of the area gain some knowledge and pride in the (pre)history and heritage of the area where they live?

Of course, in this particular circumstance, one family tramping through the mud pales into insignificance given recent decisions made concerning grazing on the moor. I mentioned above the measures being taken to stock-proof the moor. If the plans to graze go ahead – and all current signs are that they will – then there will be large cattle not only trampling around the stones, but also using them as rubbing posts! A similar scheme has been implemented on Carnyorth Common and the stones of the Tregeseal Circle there have been damaged, loosened and toppled by the cattle at least thirteen times since the scheme’s implementation four years ago. For more details of the grazing scheme, and the campaign to stop it, see the Save Penwith Moors campaign website or Facebook page.

Having recently published some resolutions for 2013, which suggested getting out to see and hear more about our prehistoric heritage, here are some more dates for your diaries of events that we can heartily recommend attending.


For the 7th year running, The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) will be holding their “Pathways to the Past” event across the weekend of May 25th-26th. The weekend consists of guided walks around the sacred landscape of West Penwith, with a couple of talks thrown in for good measure! We attended one of last year’s walks, and found it highly entertaining and educational! Full details of this year’s events can be found in full on the CASPN website, and include the following:

  • 25th May 10:00-12:30 – “Curiouser and Curiouser!” A guided walk taking several sites including the Treen entrance graves, Bosporthennis Quoit and entrance grave, and the Treen Common circle enclosure. Meet at Gurnard’s Head.
  • 25th May 14:00-16:30 – “A Stank Around the Gump” A guided walk around Portheras Common and Chun Downs taking in both well known and lesser known sites in the area, such as barrows, circles, a tor enclusure and field systems. meet at North Road layby,
  • 25th May 20:00-22:00 – “Art of the Ancestors” An illustrated talk on Palaeolithic cave art, at the Count House, Botallack.
  • May 26th 11:00-12:30 – “Living on the Edge: The Purpose and Strategies of Penwith’s Cliff Castles” An illustarted talk exploring some of Penwith’s most interesting monuments. At the Count House, Botallack.
  • May 26th 14:00-16:30 – “Sanctuaries: a lan and a circle” A guided walk exploring the church at St Buryan, it’s site and furnishings, followed by a walk to the Bronze Age circle at Boscawen-un and its outliers. Meet at the church.
  • May 26th 20:00-21:00 – “Place Names of West Penwith” An informal talk with Craig Weatherhill chatting about his latest research in to the original meanngs of some of Penwith’s intruiging place names. At the North Inn, Pendeen.

If you plan to attend one or more of these events, why not drop us a line and let us know what you thought of them? Alternatively, if you know of a similar series of events near to you, let us know and we’ll publish the details here for all to see.


To search for other events put Diary Dates in the search box.

We recently published some ideas for resolutions for 2013,  which suggested getting out to see and hear more about our prehistoric heritage. To that end, throughout this year we’ll be bringing news of various events around the country which we think worthwhile visiting.

First up, our friends at Carwynnen Quoit have announced a series of events taking place throughout the Spring, so start planning your trips down to the SouthWest now!


A full listing of events can be found on their web site Events page but some that have caught our eye are as follows:

  • 2nd-9th March: “The Giant’s Quoit – A Fallen Cornish Icon” An exhibition at the Cornwall Centre, in Redruth.
  • 7th March: “Archaeological investigations at Carwynnen Quoit” A talk by Jacky Nowakowski, Archaeologist Team Leader for Historic Environment in Cornwall, again at the Cornwall Centre, in Redruth.
  • 5th-7th April: “A Celebration of Neolithic Technology” The Sustainable Trust will be putting on this exhibition at the Frying Pan Field, site of the Carwynnen Quoit.
  • 13th-26th May: “The Giant’s Quoit – A Fallen Cornish Icon” Another chance to see the exhibition, this time at Heartlands in Pool.
  • 6th-8th June: “The Giant’s Quoit – A Fallen Cornish Icon” Another chance for thousands to see the exhibition, at the Royal Cornwall Show, at Wadebridge, in the Heritage Marquee.
  • Spring 2014 (Date to be confirmed): “The Restoration” a Celebration of the resurrection of the Quoit at Frying Pan Field.

If you plan to attend one or more of these events, why not drop us a line and let us know what you thought of them?


To search for other events put Diary Dates in the search box.

By Alan Simkins

Our brief Cornwall break continues…

As regular readers will be aware, I’ve visited the National Maritime Museum a couple of times since last Spring, to check on the progress of their reconstruction of a Bronze Age boat, based upon the design of a boat uncovered at Ferriby in East Yorkshire. This is true experimental archaeology, using only hand tools that would have been available at the time.

The original plan was for the boat, started in April, to be launched sometime in October, but several delays meant that this deadline was missed. On my last visit in October, a possible date in November was mentioned for the launch, but this was always overly ambitious, given the work left to do. A new date of early spring this year has now been set for the flotation.

And so, on the last day of 2012 I visited again (the museum having a policy of limitless revisits in a 12 month period) to gauge the state of play. Luckily, although the group was on a Christmas break, one of the volunteers had popped in to finish off his last paddle, and after a brief discussion invited me behind the barriers to take a close up look, for which I’m very grateful.


At first glance, it didn’t look as if much real progress had been made, but on closer inspection a great deal has been accomplished. The second of three layers of planks have been added to the sides, and much of the yew stitching to hold the planks together has been completed, including the caulking. This has been done using a mixture of moss, wood shavings and sheep fat, and looks to be very effective.

20130102-153557.jpg 20130102-153613.jpg

The completed vessel will be just over 49 feet long, and weigh approx 5 tons. There are 7 struts along its length, and it will be powered by 16-18 rowers, using 5′ paddles made of ash. A total of 20 paddles have been prepared.


The project has been managed by professional boatbuilder Brian Cumby, under the control of Exeter University, and with a team of 15 volunteers. Month by month time lapse videos of the build are available via YouTube.

By Alan Simkins

It’s that time of year again, when I take a short holiday break in Cornwall, and subsequently there will be a short series of posts about our exploits there. First up, a short look at the Higher Drift Stones.

This pair of standing stones, also known as the Triganeeris Stones, or the Sisters, lie in a field just south of the A30 some three miles west of Penzance.


The field is often in crop, and so is inaccessible, but if you time your visit right, it’s possible with care to get up close to these stones which stand some 18 feet apart, aligned NW to SE. The smaller stone is around 7.5 feet tall, and it’s larger sister to the south a foot taller at around 8.5 feet. The larger stone has a natural diagonal crevice on it’s south face, which is home to a large colony of snails!


W.C.Borlase excavated the site in 1871, and found a pit had been cut between the stones (offset and slight north of centre), but no finds were recorded by him. Despite this lack of evidence, the stones are assumed by comparison with similar stone pairs, to be of Middle Bronze Age date (1000-1500 bce).

Why sisters? This alludes to the common legend found at many Cornish sites where young women are ‘turned to stone’ for dancing or playing on the Sabbath. In this case, as with the Boscawen Un circle further to the west, the musician is thought to be the ‘Blind Fiddler’ or Tregonebris Longstone, which lies half a mile to the west of the Drift Stones. Payne, in Romance of the Stones, suggests that the name Triganeeris could either indicate a farming origin connected with pigs, or more intriguingly via a Welsh linguistic connection, a place to dwell, or to die.

The nearest ancient site to the Sisters is not the Blind Fiddler mentioned above, but the Tresvennack Pillar. This 11.5 feet tall stone sits approximately a quarter of a mile to the southeast, across the other side of the Lamorna Valley. It’s entirely possible that the sites are, or have been in the past, intervisible.

A guest post by Pip Richards, of the Sustainable Trust.

The Sustainable Trust’s archaeological investigations at Carwynnen Quoit have produced a tantalising look at life in Neolithic times. Run as a community archaeology project and reported by Jacky Nowakowski and James Gossip of Cornwall Council’s Historic Environment, the excavation revealed the full extent of the original footprint of this megalithic monument. Massive socketholes for the three principal granite uprights were discovered. Members of the Cornwall Archaeological Society were among the team whose major discovery was a largely intact and well-preserved artificial chamber “floor”.

This paving was made up of two elements, one of which was a narrow strip of compacted small stones which formed a hard- standing surface arranged in a doughnut-like circuit.  This circuit wrapped around, and contained within, a pavement made up of larger stones. Both surfaces would have been protected by the suspended capstone when it was in place, but, at the front end of the monument (in the north-west), a fine narrow strip of the pavement extended well beyond the shelter of the capstone.

Aerial view of the excavation, showing the ‘pavement’. © the Sustainable Trust.

This is the first time that the original footprint of a monument of this type and great antiquity has been revealed by excavation in Cornwall. It shows that wider Megalithic architectural styles in far south-west Britain accommodated tremendous variety.

The provision of artificial pavements at such ancient sites would have guided movement into and around these open chambers, and their presence suggests formal design which may well have invited proscribed access – that is, guiding the visitor the right way to approach and to enter and leave the monument. These discoveries bode well for the future restoration of Carwynnen Quoit and will help guide future discussions about how the reinstatement of the monument will proceed.

Carwynnen Quoit, pre-collapse. Picture courtesy of Charles Thomas.

Numerous finds of flint, some prehistoric pottery and worked stone objects were  found across the entire excavation trench. Amongst the best finds were a unique greenstone pestle, the tip of a greenstone axe, flint blades and worked fragments of prehistoric pots (possibly Bronze Age) as well as a few sherds of Neolithic pottery. Another interesting find were numerous small granite balls, purposely rolled and many no larger than ping pong balls.

Much of this evidence points to the commemorative role of Carwynnen Quoit over 5-6,000 years ago, and its major purpose as a community monument: for it was conceived, built, maintained and remembered by, and for, the prehistoric communities who once lived in the immediate neighbourhood. Carwynnen Quoit may well have acted as a major community landmark and a place where homage was paid to the ancestors. Tokens of that homage were sometimes left behind and indeed some may well have been removed. The artefacts found show that this place was visited frequently and over a long period of time,and so as its significance for communities finally waned and the monument was abandoned, it became a forgotten place in the landscape.

We have enjoyed massive support of friends, family, media and the local community who have made the Carwynnen Big Dig such a big success. The open day on Sunday 30th September attracted well over 350 people and we conducted 7 site tours to large groups who were able to see at first-hand the excavation team at work. An archaeology week was held with children from the local primary school, with hands-on experience of the dig, poetry and neolithic art workshops.

All the information on the Carwynnen Quoit project will soon become available at The investigations have been funded mainly by the Heritage Lottery Fund along with a series of events, already posted on the site, running until June 2013. For Facebook users we have a page at Carwynnen Quoit as well as the Sustainable Trust page. The next events are a writing meeting on November 26th,’Sound Bites and Short Writes’, and a Cornish Language talk by Pol Hodge, on December 7th, entitled ‘The Celts are Coming’. Ring Pip on 01209 831718 for details or mail


April 2014
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