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By Dr Sandy Gerrard
A recent press report in the Express & Echo should concern everyone with an interest in the archaeology of the South West English uplands. Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor and Exmoor are particularly rich and important archaeological landscapes where the impact of the past can be easily appreciated.
On Dartmoor alone around 5,000 Bronze Age houses together with hundreds of hectares of field systems and enclosures survive in close proximity to thousands of cairns, hundreds of cists and the largest concentration of stone rows anywhere in Britain. Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor together provide a unique insight into the character of life and death in prehistoric times. Nowhere else in Britain is it possible to explore and appreciate the true impact of prehistoric people on the landscape. In recent years this incredible resource has been slowly disappearing beneath a sea of gorse, bracken and purple moor grass as farming practices have been adjusted in response to subsidy changes.
According to the Express & Echo article fresh plans are being drawn up to accelerate this process by returning parts of the moor “to the wild”. It is not clear which parts the bureaucrats have in mind, but we can be sure that given the extraordinary wide distribution of archaeology that important archaeology that we have all taken for granted could soon no longer be visible. Hopefully Historic England will fight this proposal and prevail – any other outcome would be disastrous. Any attempt to deliberately conceal our heritage from us all should be opposed with the utmost vigour. Inevitably once the archaeology was out of sight it would soon be out of mind.
We wrote a piece a few months ago about the heavy-handed management and ‘brandalism’ occurring in the name of ‘visitor engagement’ at Tintagel in Cornwall. Now, following recent archaeological excavations at the site, the BBC web site is proclaiming ‘The royal residence of 6th Century rulers is believed to have been discovered at the legendary birthplace of King Arthur.’
So, a known cliff castle site has uncovered evidence that it was used as a castle. Oh, and a medieval storyteller used the location as the setting for a story about the birth of a mythical figure. Knock me sideways! Is there nothing English Heritage/Historic England (which name do we use these days?) won’t do to increase the cash flow at what is undoubtedly already one of Cornwall’s major cultural attractions? At what cost to the integrity of the site?
Thankfully, we’re not the only people thinking along those lines. Dr Tehmina Goskar, a consultant curator and heritage interpreter with over 16 years experience (we featured her partner Thomas in an Inside the Mind article a few years ago) visited the Tintagel area earlier this year. Her critique of the experience makes for some interesting reading and raises some very pertinent points.
The key issues … are apposite not just to the situation at Tintagel but more widely concern methods of interpretation of Cornish history, medieval history, and the ways in which sites with multiple protective designations are treated by heritage agencies.
It’s a long piece, but for those of the TL;DR generation, there is a useful 10-point summary of the main points included at the start. We heartily recommend that anyone with any interest in site interpretation, Cornwall or tourism in general read the piece, and take home some of the lessons learned.
It’s always fascinating to see new entrants to the blogosphere, particularly those which focus upon heritage matters in geographical areas which interest me personally. The CornishBirdBlog appears to have been started earlier this year, and the About page tells us a little of the impetus behind the site:
After visiting 50 countries in 9 years I came home and realised that some of the best sunsets are found right on my doorstep. I want to share my walks around Cornwall and my thoughts with you. (And a little bit of local history too, the fun stuff I promise!) I should just add that I am not a professional historian, all the research is my own and I have formed my own opinions and stories from it – nothing should be taken as 100% fact.
In the few months since starting, there have been many interesting stories published on the site, from tales of shipwrecks, local folklore, treasure (the latest story tells of the Rillaton gold cup), lost Cornish kings, Roman roads and other ancient trackways, Cornish crosses, standing stones and other ancient sites, and some interesting historical Cornish characters. Yes, some of the stories are well known, but others are more obscure, and deserve a wider audience.
So if you’re interested in Cornwall’s history and heritage, why not pay the Cornish Bird Blog a visit, take a look around the archives, and leave a comment or two. Don’t forget to say we sent you!
Another Bank Holiday weekend, and another Pathways to the Past celebration with CASPN. And so it was that we set out from London at an ungodly hour for the drive to West Penwith. A few hours later, and we hit the infamous roadworks on the A30, the traffic giving every indication that the road into Cornwall was actually full and that no more visitors could be accommodated. But thankfully, after an hour or so’s delay, we were on the move again, and arrived at our destination just outside Penzance.
Sadly, we were too late for the first walk of the day, and so had some time to get unpacked and gather some provisions for the next few days before heading out for the afternoon walk, entitled ‘Round and about Little Lookout Tor’. The meeting point at Bosiliack was already quite busy when I arrived, with a good crowd already gathered. After renewing my FOCAS membership and getting reacquainted with old friends, around 45 people set off up the track to Greenburrow engine house, led by our guide for the day, David Giddings.
The industrial archaeology and traces of the connection between Greenburrow and the wider ‘Ding Dong’ mining area were discussed briefly, then we were off once again. The next stop was a kerbed cairn near to the Boskednan Nine Maidens stone circle, the first stop on a suggested processional route towards Carn Galver.
We continued on to the stone circle, where a quantity of material on the ground caused some confusion. Consensus was reached that it was probably dog hair, from someone grooming their pet – there was a lot of hair there. A brief explanatory note from David about the circle, it’s setting and known history then we moved on, having the much truncated outlier menhir and denuded barrows and cairns pointed out – more evidence of an important track/processional way? – before reaching the larger cairn which has been much cleared by the CASPN team. It now looks quite open, and the quartz stone which I’d previously visited last year takes pride of place.
We could now see Little Galver, our next destination and David set off across the moor, leaving the main path which we’d been following until now behind us. A parish boundary stone was pointed out as we passed a field boundary, with ‘Z’ for Zennor on one side and ‘G’ for Gulval on the other.
We then spent some time at Little Galver as there were two major points of interest here. A ‘propped stone’, which many geologists agree must have been man-made, with a small stone wedged underneath two very much larger stones, and a lookout point created by two stones leaning to make a triangle, through which the highest point of nearby Carn Galver could be seen by an observer kneeling down. Many people took turns to look through the gap and discussed the possible uses and meanings of such a feature. I’ll have to return here at some future point for a proper look around.
It was then time to descend off the moor, into the Bosporthennis valley, criss-crossed with many post medieval and Victorian field boundaries. As we descended, David pointed out that many of the boulders around us were actually the remains of a Bronze Age field system which had survived the reclamation of the moors evidenced before us. Here also was a ‘proto-courtyard house’, an early example of a possible roundhouse with a courtyard tacked on.
Again, locations of cairns, barrows, roundhouses and courtyard dwellings were pointed out, in one case the cairn having been intersected by a field boundary and outbuilding, but still visible for all that!
Our next target was the enigmatic ‘Beehive Hut’, a strange structure with corbeling and a small adjacent room, all built into a later field boundary. Was this the beginning construction of a fogou, or something else? Comparison was made with the side chamber at Carn Euny being of similar construction.
The clock was against us at this point, and it was time to make our way back to the meeting point, passing by another courtyard house (with a ruined later medieval outbuilding in it’s centre) before ascending onto the moor once more to retrace our steps, where a different approach view of the Nine Maidens was seen, the three large (recently re-erected) stones standing out, highlighted against the horizon.
All in all, a very enjoyable (if tiring after my long drive) afternoon, which opened my eyes further as to just how much heritage is all around us in this area. David is a knowledgable and entertaining guide and I’d recommend attending one of his walks if you get the chance!
It seems to come around so quickly, but next month will see the 10th annual Pathways to the Past event, a weekend of walks & talks amongst the ancient sites of West Penwith in Cornwall, organised by CASPN. And by pure chance(!), I’ve managed to book my next holiday to the area to coincide with the event once again.
This is what the weekend will involve:
Saturday May 28th
- Vounder Gogglas: an ancient traders’ track
- A guided walk with Cheryl Straffon & Lana Jarvis following part of a long-distance trading route from Sancreed Beacon to Caer Bran and Chapel Euny wells.
- Round and about the Little Lookout Tor
- An unusual guided walk with archaeologist David Giddings to visit the Nine Maidens circle and cairns, Little Galva view point and propped stone, and Bosporthennis beehive hut.
- The power of place: reconstructing Cornwall’s prehistoric environment
- An illustrated talk by Paul Bonnington based on findings from environmental archaeology about the placing of sites in the landscape.
Sunday May 29th
- Mining in Cornwall
- An illustrated talk by Adam Sharpe.
- In the footsteps of giants
- A guided walk with archaeologist Adrian Rodda around Chûn Downs.
- The geomantic network in West Penwith
To round off the weekend, Palden Jenkins shares his ideas about why the prehistoric sites are located where they are.
Whilst I’m unlikely to be able to attend all the events personally, I’ll certainly try to get along to one or two of them, and will report back later.
Fuller details of each event, including timings, location and cost can be found on the CASPN Events page.
We’ve written many times in the past about situations where, whether by arrangement with the site custodians, or illegally via vandalism, ancient sites have been damaged (temporarily in most cases) in the name of ‘marketing’.
Over the past couple of weeks, a new furore has arisen in Tintagel Cornwall, over a new carving of the ‘face of Merlin’ into the cliff face below Tintagel Castle.
Apparently, the sculpture is not much larger than life size and takes some effort to locate, being seen only from the base of the cliff. “So what?” you may ask? Well, English Heritage (EH) say this is
“part of ongoing re-interpretation and investment at the site. The new artwork is the first part of a project by English Heritage to re-imagine Tintagel’s history and legends across the island site. Further works will be revealed late this spring.”
The ‘further works’ planned include a large statue of Arthur, a Sword in the Stone sculpture and a scultured stone bench commemorating the legend of Tristan & Yseult. Leaving aside the artistic merit of the sculptures, the moves are being seen locally as ‘false history’, an attempt at further ‘Disneyfication’ of the village and castle site in a direct move to increase tourist footfall, maximising tourism income, and to hell with any authenticity as to historical fact.
Regardless of the local opposition, there is a much bigger issue to be resolved here. Cornish historian (and friend of the Heritage Journal) Craig Weatherhill commented:
“this is just one of 28 visual display proposals for the site, one being an 8.5ft statue of Arthur in late (not early!) medieval gear, to stand on the clifftop on The Island! The Cornwall Archaelogical Unit assess that 9 of these will have a neutral effect on archaeology and visual amenity, but that 19 have minor to moderate negative impacts. ANY negative impact on the archaeology and visual amenity of such an iconic, important and spectacular site should have been refused permission… Of the carving, the CAU says that it will have an irreversible physical impact on the natural environment. i.e. vandalism.”
With the withdrawal of government funding and the need for EH to become ‘self-sufficient’, should they be allowed to sacrifice or change the authenticity of a site in this way in the search for additional income? And if so, where does that leave our heritage, not only at Tintagel but at all the other sites up and down the country that EH are responsible for?
English Heritage: Merlin’s Face
Cornwall Archaeological Unit: Environmental Impact Assessment
English Heritage: Tintagel Castle
Daily Telegraph: EH accused of vandalism 18 Feb 2016
The Cornishman: Vandalism, or Art? 17 Feb 2016
Archaeodeath: Putting Merlin to Death? Tintagel, Art and the Death of Imagination 15 Feb 2016
Kernow Matters To Us: Campaign group web site
“I am told there are people who do not care for maps, and I find it hard to believe.”
—Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
I have loved maps ever since I was a child. We are extremely fortunate in the UK to have access to some of the best maps in the world, those of the Ordnance Survey (O.S.). I recall learning the symbols used on the O.S. maps when I was a school – the deciduous and coniferous pictograms, the various dotted lines for different rights of way, those gothic script labels; ‘Tumulus’, ‘Stone Circle’ and the crossed swords of battle sites of old.
Through the years, many of these indicators have remained roughly similar, but the interpretation of some historical sites has changed as new information about them has come to light. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, we can compare some of the earliest maps from the O.S with today’s versions and see how those intrepretations have changed. One excellent resource for this is the National Library of Scotland (NLS) which, depending upon the region, allows full view of historical O.S. maps dating back in some cases to the early-mid 1800’s.
Indeed, preparing for my next Cornwall jaunt, and looking at an area in Cornwall that I’m familiar with on the OS 25 inch (1841-1852) map series, I was surprised to see up to seven stone circles referenced within a relatively small area of Truthwall Common in West Penwith on sheet ‘Cornwall LXVII.14‘ surveyed in 1875 and published in 1878.
The same were still marked as ‘stone circles’ on the 1906 6 inch series maps, sheet LXVII.SW. Even as late as the 1938 survey, the 6 inch series was still marking the same features as ‘stone circles’. On the One inch ‘New Popular Edition’ map of 1947, although the scale was much reduced, several stone circles were still marked in the area.
It is not until the One inch 7th Series map of 1961, which begin to look more like the LandRanger 1:50000 maps of today, that the ‘stone circles’ vanish at this scale – even the remaining Tregeseal Stone Circle is no longer shown.
However, moving in onto the 1:25000 scale map, published in 1959, the additional circles are still shown, but now suffixed ‘Site of‘, suggesting they are no longer extant. Interestingly, the second Tregeseal Circle is still shown at this date.
That takes us to the limits of availability on the NLS site, but moving onto the current map of the area, available via Bing Maps or the Ordnance Survey itself (paid subscription required), the 1:25000 scale map shows only the single Tregeseal circle remaining.
So what of those 6 other stone circles? We know from antiquarian reports that the remaining Tregeseal Circle was one of three originally, but what of the other 4 (or 5)?
Returning to the Cornwall Interactive Mapping Service, which we highlighted back in October, it’s possible to zoom in on the area to see what the Heritage Environment Record has to say about each site. And in this case we can see that the ‘stone circles’ of old have now been recorded as ‘hut circles’, enclosures, the kerb of a barrow, and remains of an Iron Age Round. So a real mixed bag, and not a stone circle to be seen!
It was an interesting exercise to compare the maps through the ages though, and is one I’ll have to repeat in other areas of the country to see if similar discrepancies occur. Why not take a look at your favourite area, and see what you can discover on the old maps?
The Boslow inscribed stone in West Penwith stands at a crossroads of very ancient trackways – the overgrown one stretching away into the distance in the photo below is the Tinners’ Way, or Old St Ives Road, which is at least 4,000 years old and links St Just to St Ives 14 miles away and across the top of the Penwith Moors. It’s also right on the boundary of St Just and Sancreed parishes.
First mentioned in the Corpus of Early Christian Inscribed Stones of South-west Britain  `the stone was found in the summer of 1877 by G.B. Millett on the moor ‘under Carn Kenidjack’, the Cornwall Heritage Environment Record describes the stone thus:
An inscribed stone is marked at the location on current OS maps. It is situated in ‘Water Lane’ above Boslow and is on the parish boundary between Sancreed and St Just. On the front of the granite stone is an inscription ‘TAET VERA’ in two lines reading downward, and a peculiar cross with a looped transom. On the rear face is an incised cross (described by Macalister as a “cross potent”). The stone measures 4ft (1.22m) high and 1ft 2in (0.36m) by 1ft 1in (0.33m) wide. A site visit by the OS revealed that Macalister’s description of the stone appears correct. It stands on the north-east side of a small (probably modern) mound. The monument is included in the Schedule.
A 3D rendered model has recently been produced by Tom Goskar, and is available to view on the SketchFab site. The stone is thought to be in its original position at the head of a stone-lined grave and bears a single name which can only be read at midday when the sun is exactly in the south: TAETVERA. This is Latinised 7th century Cornish: Taithuere, “exalter of the journey”. The grave and mound have never been excavated and therefore provide one of the oldest known intact graves with a named occupant. A ground plan can be seen in issue 30 of Meyn Mamvro magazine, issue 30.
There has been some recent discussion of the stone on Facebook, where Cornish historian Craig Weatherhill supplied the following information:
A contemporary incised cross on the southern face of the stone, and Alpha-Omega symbols under the inscription, indicate that this is the grave of an early Celtic priest, but which one? “Taithuere” could be a “name taken in religion”, e.g. Wynfrith became St Boniface; Magonus was the birth name of St Patrick; and every Pope in history has done it, too.
Was there a local priest of this era who was known for taking himself off on frequent journeys? There was: St Just himself, actually a man called Yestin, who also journeyed to his other churches at St Just in Roseland and Gorran Haven, while there are tales of his visits to St Achebran at St Keverne. Then there’s the name of this stone in 1613: Crowze East (crows Ust, “St Just’s cross”). Is this the gravestone of St Just?
Yestin (St Just) was a son of King Gerent I of Dumnonia. His other two sons were Selyf (St Selevan), and Cado who succeeded him as king. Gerent I is known to have flourished at the end of the 6th century, so the mid 7th century date for the inscription on this stone would fit a son of Gerent perfectly. Selyf had a son Kybi (St Cuby, Tregony; also the St Kybi of Llangybi, Anglesey). Celibacy was not required of ordinary priests until the 12th century.
Sadly, it seems that the stone (and grave) is now in danger from modern farm machinery as a recent picture shows that deep rutted tracks have been made very close to, and over the grave.
Discussions with the landowner and Cornwall Archaeology Service are under way, and we can only hope that there will be a successful conclusion to those negotiations that will secure the future of the stone and grave.
The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) is extremely active all year round, monitoring and looking out for many of the prehistoric sites on the West Penwith peninsular. Once a month they organise a clearup session, staffed entirely by volunteers, to cut back growth on designated sites and ensure they are not entirely lost to nature.
October’s scheduled clearup coincided with my visit to the area, so I decided to once again go along and lend a hand. The designated site this month was the courtyard settlement at Bosullow Trehyllys, in the shadow of Chun Castle. The site lies on private land, so this was a chance to see a site that is not usually accessible to the public. I have been here once before, at a previous clearup session a couple of years ago, and it’s a wonderful site.
When I arrived, the clearup was well under way with half a dozen people dotted around the site, clearing bracken and brambles away from the stones to more easily discern the layout of the buildings. As usual, Luna, organiser Dave Munday’s dog was keeping a guarding eye out. Although she’s a softie at heart, she has a ferocious bark and growl when any strangers approach, and I got the full treatment!
After saying hello, I took some time to look around the site, orient myself and take a few photos. It’s quite a difficult site to photograph, especially when so overgrown. There’s no real viewpoint to get an overall picture of the layout of the settlement – I’ll have to invest in a drone one day…
Bosullow Trehyllys comprises of four identifiable courtyard house structures, with additional circular structures which may predate the courtyard structures. I was told that the settlement was much larger, but historical field clearance destroyed at least half of the original settlement. A large mound of stones in the adjoining field may attest to this.
Having had a look around, I was then put to work with a pair of shears, helping to cut back a section of one of the houses. I didn’t go too mad, being a novice and not wanting to cause any unintended damage. All too soon it was time to pack up for the day, and the piles of cuttings were evidence of the work that had been put in during the day. A nice tradition was the goblet of mead passed between the participants at the end of the day, with a small libation for the site itself too.
If you find yourself in the area, check out the CASPN web site or Facebook page to see if a clearup is scheduled – there’s one every month in Penwith, with additional clearups on The Lizard run by a separate team. It’s worthwhile work, helping to preserve some of our largely forgotten heritage for future generations.