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.