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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?
I make no secret of my love of Cornwall, and on every trip there are certain sites that I return to again and again. The Merry Maidens is one of those sites, located on the B3315 between Lamorna and Treen at OS Grid Ref SW432245.
Although now largely a 19th Century reconstruction, the Merry Maidens is often described as a ‘perfect circle’. This geometric shape is very unusual in ‘stone circles’, which are very rarely truly ’round’, most being elongated or ovoid in shape.
The circle is surrounded by other monuments with the Pipers, two large standing stones to the northeast being the most often mentioned. These are the stones attached to the legend, supposedly being the musicians playing for the girls dancing on the Sabbath who were turned to stone. The Pipers are not inter-visible with the circle, the story being that they ran away when they heard the St Buryan church bells ring. The alignment of the two stones with the circle, SW-NE suggests an astronomical significance.
Gun Rith, on the other hand is very visible from the circle, standing in a field just across the B3315 road to the west. Indeed, the footpath through the circle has been cut in recent times to point directly at Gun Rith, which fell a few years ago and was re-erected in place against the hedge where it had previously stood.
To the southwest are the Boscawen-Ros stones, one in a field, the other now part of a field boundary hedge, and both much smaller than their counterparts, the Pipers, to the northeast. A second circle of similar size was recorded by Borlase, somewhere nearby to the east/southeast, but no trace of this now remains. A large Bronze Age barrow cemetery lies to the south-west of the circle, and beside the B3315 road a short distance to the west of the circle are the disturbed remains of Tregiffian barrow – a possible Neolithic entrance grave. The cup-marked stone at the entrance to the barrow is now a replica, the original can be seen in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.
Like many areas of West Penwith, there’s a lot to see in a comparatively small area!
On my recent visit to Cornwall, I managed to squeeze in a visit to a site I’ve only been to once before, but have never really seen. Caer Bran hillfort rests on a hill to the south of Sancreed Beacon, and when I last climbed up to the hillfort the area was shrouded in thick mist, which afforded me no overall view of the monument.
Luckily this time the weather was much clearer, though still very ‘damp’, and I was able to get a much better impression of the scale of the fort, which is around 120 or so metres in diameter.
Lake’s Parochial History of 1868 describes the hillfort thus:
“Caer Bran Castle, i.e. Brennus’s Castle, or the Crow castle, stands on the summit of a hill six furlongs and a half to the west of the church; it consists, or rather consisted, of three concentric circles, the greatest being about 240 feet in diameter, and still in some places 15 feet in height; it is composed of earth, and, as is usual in such cases, has a ditch on each side. The middle circle was built of stone, and was at least 12 feet in thickness; a large portion of the stone has been removed for building purposes. The innermost circle is about 30 feet in diameter, and was evidently a sort of citadel.”
The PastScape entry (see link below) mentions only two sets of ramparts, the inner one ‘now very mutilated’.
The hill fort, which dates to the Iron Age but has much later mining remains within it, is easily accessed via a concreted track south from the Sancreed-Grumbla road at OS Grid Ref SW409295. The hillfort also contains three Bronze Age ring cairns, which pre-date the fort. Though the hill is a bit steep in places, it’s a steady climb to the summit, and I reached the pathway leading off to the left to the fort in less than 15 minutes from the road.
Approaching from the northwest, the ramparts are open for the old mining track that leads through the monument, and I was saddened to see that much of the westerly ditch was quite flooded. On the northern side the ramparts are very well defined, though there is some evidence of animal burrowing activity, possibly rabbits. This activity was mirrored on the southeastern side, but the damage was much more in evidence – although I’m a city boy, I’d guess at badgers from the size of the burrows. From the southwest, the old mining track loops away to the south and west across toward the village of Brane.
The name ‘Bran’ means Raven or Crow, and it would be easy to speculate that the hillfort is named after the same Rialobran (Royal Raven) commemorated on the Men Scryfa, some 4 miles to the north.
Other nearby monuments:
Some 75 yards or so to the east of the hillfort is a small enclosure, noted on PastScape as a pound, with a small mound at its centre. There was some thought at one time that this may be a henge, but this idea is now dismissed. There is no public access to the enclosure that I could see. The area is rich in prehistoric monuments, with the Carn Euny settlement and holy wells to the southwest, Sancreed Beacon to the northeast and Sancreed holy well to the east. Further afield is the Goldherring settlement to the south, Bartine Castle to the west and Brane chambered cairn further to the southwest. On a clear day, the hillfort provides a good all-round view to most parts of the West Penwith peninsula.
One of the sites I had on the target list for my recent trip to Cornwall was the Goldherring Settlement near Sancreed in West Penwith. Dating from approximately the 1st Century BC, the site consists of a walled settlement, set within a wider field system, with dwellings, including a Courtyard House, and a nearby well.
Close by is the settlement at Carn Euny, the Iron Age Hill Fort of Caer Bran and Chapel Carn Brea as well as the much earlier stone circle at Boscawen-Un. The Goldherring settlement had three main periods of occupation, starting in the late 1st Century BC or the early 1st Century AD. The field system dates from the 3rd Century AD and in early Medieval times (as well as possibly earlier) the site was used for the smelting of tin.
Located on CRoW access land, on the eastern slope of a small hill some 500 feet above sea level, thanks to clearance work the settlement is surprisingly easy to access.
I parked at the Boscawen-Un layby on the A30 at OS Grid Ref SW409277 and walked back towards Penzance for a couple of hundred yards. The field on the left came to end, and there was a gated track on the left. I walked up the track, following it to the right, then round to the left until the track ended at a gate to a ploughed, cultivated field. Off to the right was an information board, and rough path leading along the field boundary to the settlement, which is located at OS Grid Ref SW411282.
As mentioned, a lot of clearance work has been done, and it’s possible to just make out the form of the elements of a courtyard house within the main enclosure, although a weathered tree is now growing in the middle of the complex. Not a textbook layout, but the basic form is there if you look hard enough.
There is a well nearby to the east, but the clearance work hasn’t yet got that far and I was unable to make my way through the brambles. The site was also used for processing tin in the medieval period, so there’s a lot here to try to identify. Fancy led me to believe that maybe one area may have once been an underground fogou that had subsequently lost its roof but it could equally have been a later storage building. The site is on a slope and the current ground level is very undulating. Would it have been like this in the past when in use I wondered?
The settlement was excavated in the late 1950’s by A Guthrie. A full excavation report was published in the Cornwall Archaeological Society journal ‘Cornish Archaeology’ issue 8 (1969), sadly no longer available from the society as far as I know, though secondhand copies may be obtained at a price. There is some discussion of the age of Courtyard Houses, including that at Goldherring, in an article by Henrietta Quinnell in ‘Cornish Archaeology’ #25, available for download in PDF form.
I would urge anyone in the area to visit this overlooked site for themselves, before the bracken, brambles and gorse reclaim it and it becomes hidden from view once more.
Situated a couple of miles or so ESE of St Columb Major in Cornwall, Castle an Dinas is an Iron Age hillfort, considered by many to be one of the most important hillforts in the southwest of Britain. It dates from around the 3rd to 2nd century BCE and consists of three ditch and rampart concentric rings, 850 feet above sea level. Within the central enclosed area are the remains of two Bronze Age round barrows. During the early 1960s it was excavated by a team led by Dr. Bernard Wailes of the University of Pennsylvania during two seasons of excavation.
Traditionally, Castle an Dinas was the hunting lodge (hunting seat) of King Arthur, from which he rode in the Tregoss Moor hunt. The earliest written record was made by William of Worcester during his visit to Cornwall in 1478 when he noted that legend says that the fort was the place where Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall and husband of King Arthur’s mother, died.
In March 1646, during the English Civil War, Royalist troops camped for two nights within the rings of the fort and held a Council of War where it was decided that they would surrender to the Parliamentarians.
From 1916 to 1957 it was the site of Cornwall’s largest wolfram mine. Many of the old buildings and workings have now been removed, following work by the current owners, Cornwall Heritage Trust, in 2008-2010, details of which can be found in a report lodged with the Archaeology Data Service (ADS)
“The History of Cornwall: From the Earliest Records and Traditions, to the Present Time, Volume 1” by Fortescue Hitchins and Samuel Drew (1824), gives the following description of the hillfort, ascribed to a ‘Mr Hals':
In this parish stands Castell-an-Danis, alias Castell-an-Dynes, Castell-an-Denis, synonymous words; i. e. is the Men’s Castle, or is the Castle of Men; otherwise Castell-an-Dunes, Castell-an-Dunis; that is to say, is the castle, fenced fort, or fortress, or is the fort or fortress castle. It consists of about six acres of ground, within three circles or intrenchments, upon the top of a pyramidical hill, built of turf and unwrought rough stones, after the British manner, without lime, comparatively a hedge ; each of these circles or ramparts rising about eight feet above each other towards the centre of the castle, which consists of about an acre and half of land, in the midst whereof appear the ruins of some old dilapidated houses. Near which is a flat vallum, pit, or tank, wherein rain or cloud water that falls, abides, more or less in quantity as it falls, one half of the year. Which I suppose supplied the soldiers’ occasions, as no fountain, spring, or river water, is within a thousand paces thereof. There are two gates or portals leading to this fort, the one on the east, the other on the west side thereof, which on a stony causey, now covered with grass, conduct you up and down the hill towards Trekyning; that is to say, the king, prince, or ruler’s town.
On a recent visit, sheep and their lambs were grazing on the site, this is apparently quite usual – on a previous visit goats were also present. A couple of ponies were also present near the carpark.
On approaching the hill fort from the car park, the inclination (excuse the pun) is to head straight up the rampart – it appears as if a footpath has been cut for this purpose, but this is actually erosion of the rampart. An apparently ‘invisible’ sign directs visitors to the left, toward the original entrance at the southwest and away from the erosion, but as can be seen, it appears few people notice the sign!
Entering the central area from the SW, the remains of the barrows are to the right, and ahead to the left. On the far side is a boggy area, the pond or vallum described by Hals in the quote above. Also ahead to the left is an observation plaque set on stone. This points out various landmarks in all directions, very useful and interesting on a clear day, less so on a misty/foggy one! The plaque is placed upon an ancient stone with an interesting story:
“Anne, the daughter John Pollard, of this parish [St. Columb], and Loveday, the daughter of Thomas Rosebere, of the parish of Enoder, were buried on the 23rd day of June, 1671, who were both barbarously murdered the day before in the house of Capt’n Peter Pollard on the bridge, by one John the son of Humphrey and Cicely Trehembern, of this parish, about 11 of the clock in the forenoon upon a market day.”
The following tradition is given in connection with the above: “A bloodhound was obtained and set upon the trail, which it followed up a narrow lane, to the east of the union-house, named Tremen’s-lane; at the head, the hound made in an oblique direction towards the town, and in a narrow alley, known as Wreford’s-row, it came upon the murderer in his father’s house, and licked his boots, which were covered in blood.”
The sentence on Tremen was “that he be confined in an iron cage on the Castle Downs, 2 miles from St. Columb, and starved to death.” While in confinement he was visited by a country woman on her way home from market. The prisoner begged earnestly for something to eat; the woman informed him that she had nothing in the shape of food but a pound of candles; this being given him, he ate them in a ravenous manner. It’s a saying here, in reference to a scapegrace, that he is a regular Tremen.
Richard Cornish. St. Columb.
The stone is supposedly the one upon which the cage was set, and where John Tremen met his death.
OS Grid Ref SW945623.
From the A30 Westbound, take the B3274 through Victoria – this is the old A30 road. Continue along, under the old iron railway bridge until the road bends right and drops under the new A30. Just under a mile past the A30 bridge is a signposted track to the right. this leads direct to a small carpark behind a farm house. The fort is a 5 minute walk from the carpark.
From the East, take the A39 to the St Columb junction. Take the exit from the Roundabout signposted Castle an Dinas. The farm trackway is about 2 miles from the roundabout.
A signpost points the way to the Carpark and hill fort from both directions. There is an interpetation sign and map of the site in the carpark.
I have recently returned from another of my regular trips to Cornwall, which as usual, involved several visits to heritage sites. What follows is a short description of one such visit, which coincided with an Open Day (actually an Open Weekend, but I only attended for part of the second day) at Frying Pan Field, the site of Carwynnen Quoit.
The weekend of 6-7th April 2013 saw ‘Quest for the Quoit’ a neolithic exhibition of crafts and an archaeological test pit dig at the Frying Pan field near Troon. Also included in the weekend were geocaching, poetry, and various walks and talks.
I arrived at the site in good time on a bitterly cold Sunday morning, and was greeted by Pip Richards, Project Director, who I’d met when visiting the site last year. I had specifically come on this occasion to hear Jacky Nowakowski, Senior Archaeologist at Cornwall Heritage Environmemnt Service, talk about the quoit, its history and last year’s dig findings, but as her talk wasn’t scheduled to start for a while, I took a look at the four test pits that had been started the previous day, and some of the finds that had come from them.
One pit was much more interesting than the others as some stones had been uncovered. Possibly nothing, but also possibly part of a wall or other structure. More investigation will be required here in future. Many of the finds from the four pits were of pottery, from C18th dinner plate fragments and a rather nice medieval piece of pot edge, back through to Iron Age. Several flints were also found.
At this point I noticed a crowd gathering uphill at the gazebo tent constructed to provide some shelter, and joined the 30 or so other hardy souls for the start of the talks. Pip introduced Jacky, and the talk was under way. Jacky gave us some highlights of the history of the quoit. Those I noted included:
- First recorded by Edward Lhuyd Welsh antiquarian, who visited Cornwall in 1700.
- First illustrated in 1750 by William Borlase.
- Collapsed in 1830s and reconstructed.
- Collapsed again in 1967, possibly due to a minor earth tremor.
- The Sustainable Trust purchased the field in 2009 with the aim of restoring it to its former glory and for use as a community resource.
- Test pits in July 2012 gave a picture around the collapsed stones, allowing planning for a larger excavation in September. Stones were recorded and moved to one side ready for the excavation.
- Three uprights of 2 tons each and the capstone at just under 10 tons make up the main components of the monument.
- Excavation in September 2012 uncovered the footprint of the tomb and socket holes, and an unexpected stone pavement.
Jacky made the point that the ground under the monument was much better preserved than expected, given the 1830s restoration. Many artefacts were found during the excavation, dating to the early Neolithic period – pottery, burnt flint, greenstone pestle etc. Radiocarbon dates are eagerly awaited for some organic material retrieved from one of the post holes. It was felt that the way the monument collapsed actually aided the preservation, as the ground was covered by the large stones, thus blocking access to treasure hunters etc.
The group then moved down to the test pits, where some of the more recent finds were handed around the audience and the preliminary results of the weekend’s dig were discussed. The well received lecture ended at the stones themselves, with Jacky battling a strong wind to display various plans and photographs from the top of the capstone, which made a handy platform for the latter part of her talk.
With Jacky running slightly over time, those of us still around were advised of the next talk about to commence up at the gazebo, which involved discussion of the use of fungi to transport fire in the Neolithic. I didn’t attend this, which I assumed would cover similar ground to a recent Ray Mears TV program, but Sally Herriet had a small area outside the gazebo and was telling people about her attempts at preparing hides, using prehistoric techniques and materials for different uses, and I was drawn in to listen to her.
I found Sally’s experiments very interesting, including the use of various parts of the carcass, including brains, to prepare and soften the hide. She also had some samples of hides prepared in different ways – some were soft as a car chamois leather, others were stiff as a board, and possible uses for this could have included defense in battle, as shield, though some of the samples felt as if they may shatter if hit too hard!
The commencement of a botanical talk and fieldwalk to find various wild flowers drew away much of Sally’s audience, and the rest of the day was scheduled to include a storytelling session, and a ramble around the neighbouring woods, at which point I took my leave.
In summary, a very entertaining and educational day, which could have been better attended – the wind was bitingly cold – but those 40-50 people I saw while I was there all obviously enjoyed the event. The Sustainable Trust are working very hard to make the project as inclusive as possible, and there is a lot of local interest, as well as a growing interest from further afield, for which the Trust are to be applauded. I look forward to returning once again in the near future to see what progress has been made toward a full restoration. Check out the latest news on their dedicated web site at http://www.giantsquoit.org.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
‘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.
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.