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A Guest Article by Alan S> Heritage Action Site Inspector

Lanyon Quoit in West Penwith is one of the staple tourist symbols of Cornwall, and at the time of writing has appeared as the Heritage Action Wallpaper image more times than any other site.

Lanyon Quoit, Cornwall

Lanyon Quoit, also known as The Giant’s Table, dates back to the Neolithic period (3500-2500BC), predating both the pyramids in Egypt and metal tools.  It looks very different today from how it originally was constructed.  It is thought that a great mound of earth would have covered the monument as a long barrow some 90 ft long and 40 ft wide, and indeed today traces of the original shape of the mound can just about be discerned on the ground.  However, the biggest change is in the height of the 9 feet by 17 feet capstone which weighs some 13.5 tonnes. William Borlase, writing in 1769 recounts that, at that time, it was possible for a horse and rider to pass under the capstone.

In 1815 a great storm brought the monument crashing to the ground, and one of the uprights was broken.  The collapse was attributed in part to soil removal from numerous treasure hunting explorations, including a six feet deep pit dug in the mid 1700’s which uncovered a grave (details now lost) – just as well that today such excavations, and even metal detecting on scheduled monuments are strictly illegal!

Within nine years the local inhabitants had raised enough money for a re-erection, and in 1824 this was achieved by a Captain Giddy R.N. and his team.

Unfortunately, the restoration is said to have been somewhat ‘botched’ as part of the capstone was broken off, and the three remaining uprights were squared off, leaving the monument as it is seen today with the capstone only some  6 feet off the ground, and looking slightly unbalanced.  In addition, the reconstruction was completed at a 90 degree angle to the original layout.  The date of the restoration, 1824 can just be seen (in the right light) etched into one of the uprights.

There are remains of several stone cists in the immediate area.  The monument, and the land surrounding it, was given to the National Trust in 1952 by Edward Bolitho of Trengwainton, and stands alongside the main road between Penzance and the north Penwith coast, making it one of the most accessible and frequently visited of West Penwith’s prehistoric monuments.


July 2010

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