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We are grateful to Myghal Map Serpren for the following article, the first of an occasional series looking at sites and locations from prehistoric and early medieval Cornwall.

The Tolvan holed stone is a large triangular-shaped standing stone, and is the largest holed stone in Cornwall. Holed stones are rare Neolithic monuments.

The stone measures seven and a half feet high, seven and a half feet wide at the base and is just under a foot thick whilst the circular hole is around 17 inches in diameter.

The standing stone is located about half a mile north of the village of Gweek behind the farmhouse at Tolvan Cross.

 It has been suggested that the large standing stones were part of megalithic structures, used as entrance passages to the burial chambers of portal dolmens. These standing stones are believed to have been constructed in the Early and Middle Neolithic period (3500 – 2600 BC).

At least 20 portal dolmens exist in Britain, and the majority of these burial monuments are found in West Cornwall.

‘Tolvan’ originates  from the Cornish language ‘toll-ven’ meaning ‘hole stone’.

The Tolvan holed stone is mentioned in historical records in Cornwall in 1649, and is referred to as the ‘Main-toll great stone’.

The megalith is not in its original location, but was moved to its current position in 1847. At the time, the stone was modified to fit through gateposts when it was transported. A cottage was later built at the site.

At the stone’s original location, a stone-lined circular pit nearly five feet diameter and covered with a large slab was discovered before 1864. The pit was lined with slabs and held quartz stone and pottery fragments. Historians at the time determined that the pit was a grave, and the holed stone was part of an ancient dolmen.

Next to the circular pit was a trough-shaped stone called the ‘Cradle’ which was subsequently destroyed.

As we wrote 10 years ago:

In 1862, JT Blight in a journal for the Royal Institute of Cornwall described it thus:  “formerly a conspicuous object by the way-side. In the past 12 or 14 years a house has been built betwixt it and the road. It now forms part of a garden hedge“. Blight also wrote of a low barrow about 20 yards in diameter in a field adjoining the stone. Beside this was a cist which he referred to as a cradle used to place children in after they had been passed through the Tolvan. The site of the barrow is also Scheduled, and can just be made out as a slight rise in ground level in the field to the NE of the crossroads.

In 1885, it was recorded that one of the local traditions concerning the stone involved passing sick children through the hole in the Tolvan stone in hopes of curing their illness.


December 2021

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