You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Cornwall’ category.

The Madron Church Inscribed Stone is probably the most beautifully decorated of all the Cornish inscribed stones.

Dated to the first third of the 7th century, the inscription is within a divided cartouche, and unique in that it begins with the Latin word ‘vir’. Literally “man”, it probably means “my man” or “my husband”, maybe indicating that the stone was commissioned by the widow.

The man is Conmael (cuno-maglo-s, “princely hound”, and represented on the stone as QONFAL), son of Uennorcit (uenn-orgit, “fair slayer”). Full details of the carving can be found in the CISP database.

The leaf-armed cross at the head of the stone suggests that Conmael may have been an early priest of the Celtic Church at the site, and the stone originally stood in the oval ‘lann’, or church enclosure, of the period, the outline of which can still be traced.

by the late Craig Weatherhill, via Myghal Map Serpren. Tom Goskar’s 3D model of the stone can be seen below.

This beautiful old cross stands inside St Dennis churchyard in Cornwall.

St Dennis Cross as photographed on 24th July, 2021

The cross is found beside the main path, approached from the southern entrance through large double wrought iron gates, to the south porch of the church. The cross has a decorated wheel-head and shaft set into a circular base.

The base measures three feet in diameter and a foot high, and the cross stands to six feet six inches high overall. All four sides of the shaft are highly ornamented, and the head is a more unusual horseshoe shape.

It was recorded by Langdon in 1896 as an ornamented Celtic cross:

St Dennis church stands within an ancient dynas (dinas)  fort on a prominent hilltop south of the A30 and Goss Moor. The village of St Dennis, home to many workers in the local industry – china clay – covers the hillside below it to the south and east. Due north is Castle-an-Dinas, well-marked from the A30, and sited about the same distance north from that trunk road as St Dennis dinas is south of it.

According to the late Craig Weatherhill, a recognised expert in Cornish toponymy:

“St Dennis church named not after the saint, but the ‘dynas’, the Cornish word for fort, stands in the centre of this site, the name of which might have been ‘Din Milioc’ meaning ‘Milioc’s Fort’ and recorded in 1284. This strikingly conical hill was formerly surmounted by two Iron Age ramparts defending an area 113m in diameter. The line of the inner bank, which may have been stone-built, is followed by the churchyard wall. Only faint traces of the outer rampart can be seen, on the north and east sides, about 18m beyond the churchyard wall.”

“The nearby place name Domellick suggests that the St Dennis hill fort was the Castle Dameliock defended by Duke Gorlois of Cornwall against Uther Pendragon’s force the night Arthur was conceived at Tintagel, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth 12th century account.”

The Genuki.org.uk website states:

“It is named after St Denys the Martyr, although as the church is on a hill top, the name may be a corruption of the Cornish word Dinas, meaning ‘Hill Fort’. Dimilioc represents a smaller hillfort inland 20 miles south of Tintagel now occupied by the parish church of St Dennis – it is within an estate listed as Dimelihoc in the Domesday Book of 1086. In the reign of Henry VIII, St Denys was the only parish in Cornwall with the prefix ‘Saint’.”

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren for the above account.

All things being equal and Covid mutations allowing, the Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN) will once again be holding their popular Pathways To The Past event over the late May Bank Holiday weekend (28-29 May 2022).

The event consists of a series of walks and talks over the two days. All events are free to CASPN members. The walks are restricted to members, and have to be booked in advance, but talks are open to non-members, for whom an entry charge of £5 is applicable.

We’ll be detailing the individual walks and talks planned for this year in a future post, so keep watching this space!

In addition to Pathways To The Past, CASPN hold regular monthly clean-up events at various sites, and are always looking for more volunteer Site Monitors to keep a regular eye on a selection of the many sites in the Penwith area.

Details of how to join CASPN and get involved in their activities throughout the year are available on their website.

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.

We are pleased to be able to report the new discovery of a possible inscribed stone in Cornwall. 

It was noticed by a friend of the Heritage Journal during a recent family walk approximately 2.5 kilometres south of Tintagel. The stone has been reused as a gatepost and is currently part of a stile construct on a public footpath, hidden in plain sight!

There appears to be faint lettering and Ogham script on the stone and a later incised cross symbol near the top of the stone. Initially, it was thought that the inscriptions may be a trick of the light (as at Kea, near Truro where at certain times of day the outline of a sword is visible on an upright stone in the churchyard), but viewing the stone from different angles confirmed the inscriptions, which are also faintly traceable with a finger.

The discovery has been reported to, and accepted by, the Cornwall HER for further investigation. Once confirmed, we hope to be able to report back here with the official description and location details.

I recently watched a shockingly atrocious, but never-the-less entertaining, American pseudo-archaeology program called What On Earth. The description for the latest series reads as follows:

“Thousands of advanced satellites and drones orbit Earth, invisible to us yet scanning every inch of our planet. They capture our world in unprecedented detail, revealing areas that until now have remained a mystery. In an all new season of WHAT ON EARTH, experts look to this state-of-the-art imaging technology to discover bizarre phenomena and strange mysteries including an inaccessible cave of bones on an island off the coast of Africa, a bizarre concrete structure sitting off the coast of the Baltic sea, and a crater in Mexico with extra-terrestrial connections.”

One of the subjects of this particular episode (S09E01) was the – strangely never named in the program – Chun Castle, an Iron Age hill fort in Penwith, Cornwall. 

Built during the Iron Age, in the third century BC, it is over 2000 years later than the nearby neolithic quoit. Although it is in a ruined state, its size is still impressive.  The fort is 85m in diameter, and consists of a central area, surrounded by two concentric granite walls with external ditches. The outer ditch was 6.1m wide, and the outer wall is now 2.1m high, but may originally have been 3.0m high. The inner wall (now mostly destroyed) was some 4.6m to 6.7m thick, and could originally have been some 6.1m high. There were originally some Iron Age huts in the inner area, though no trace of these now remain. 

Possible reconstruction of Chun Castle by Craig Weatherhill

Claims made in the program included the fact that it was built in ancient times to protect the cliff-top tin mines and engine houses (built in the 18th century!) nearby, on behalf of, yes, you guessed it – King Arthur!! An American archaeologist ‘investigated’ the site, and stumbled across what “the Germans (what do they have to do with Cornwall?) call a Hunebed – a burial tomb”. Why not call it a quoit, the local name for such dolmens? More nonsense was spouted about pagan ceremonies for the dead taking part at the quoit, with ceremonies for the living possibly being held in the nearby henge (the castle site). The late local historian Craig Weatherhill who dearly loved this site must be spinning in his grave at this piffle!

Whilst this is all patently nonsense, and Professor Mark Horton should be ashamed of being associated with the program, I must admit to wondering if there could indeed be any credence in the idea of Chun Castle being built on an earlier henge site. I know that a few years ago Sir Barry Cunliffe was involved in negotiations to investigate the monument with an archaeological excavation. Sadly, funding could not be obtained for the dig at that time and so we must wait until a future time for such questions to be definitively answered.

Over the weekend, certain portions of FaceBook were abuzz with stories of a possible alien visitation at the Merry Maidens stone circle near Lamorna in Cornwall. There was a report of a metallic structure which had appeared in the centre of the circle sometime before sunset on Friday. Video footage showed a metallic obelisk similar to those which have been reported in the news recently at various sites around the globe. Sites which included Utah, California, Romania, the Isle of Wight and Dartmoor among others. 

The Merry Maidens Obelisk

With my fact-checking hat on, I paid the site a quick visit on Saturday morning, but unsurprisingly, no obelisk was to be seen. What was present in the centre of the circle was a plate on the floor, bearing a QR code. 

We first mooted the idea of using QR codes at ancient sites for informational purposes back in 2011, and reported on a commercial application of such codes a year later. In this case though, the QR code at the Merry Maidens is not for informational purposes, but for entertainment. 

When scanned, the code points to a web site, http://plan8.earth/monolith, which when used with a Facebook app currently in development, will display the obelisk reported as an Augmented Reality (AR) image. 

It remains to be seen (pun intended) whether this technology will be widely implemented, or just used as a ‘proof of concept’ experiment in this single case. Either way, it is to be hoped that no damage will be caused to any of our ancient heritage sites, and that no modifications or physical installations will be made to the sites without the requisite permissions.

And so our series on Cornish Quoits comes to an end, with the last two (plus a small bonus) of our baker’s dozen in the extreme south-west.

 

12. West Lanyon Quoit

Half a mile or so from it’s much more famous neighbour lies West Lanyon Quoit. Only one upright and a collapsed capstone remain, after the quoit was dug out of an earthen mound (barrow) when the landowner directed his servants to remove the earth from the barrow for compost.

The cromlech was discovered in 1790, and the following account (by Rev Malachi Hitchins) was published in the Archaeologia in 1803 (Vol XIV, quoted in Cotton’s Celtic Remains p 37 ):

The gentleman who owns the estate of Lanyon happening to be overtaken by a shower took shelter behind a bank of earth and stones, and remarking that the earth was rich he sent his servants to carry it off when having removed near one hundred cart loads they observed the supporters of a cromlech from which the covering stone was slipped off on the south side but still leaning against them. This covering stone is about 13 feet long by 10 broad. The south supporter on which it still leans is 6 feet high and 5 wide, that on the west is nearly of the same height and about 9 feet wide. The east supporter, since cleft and carried away, was 10 feet wide and with the other two formed almost a triangular kistvaen with a space of about a foot at the north end uninclosed. As soon as the gentleman observed it to be a cromlech he ordered hismen to dig under it where they soon found a broken urn with ashes and going deeper they found half a skull, the thigh bones and most of the other bones of a human body lying in such a manner as fully proved that the grave had been opened before and the flat stones which formed the grave had been all removed out of their places. The cap stone and the two remaining supporters are in the middle of a hilly field two or three furlongs W of the much more frequented Lanyon Quoit.

Further information: 

Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society Transactions
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

13. Chun Quoit

Chun Quoit is the most westerly of the extant Cornish Quoits, and the end of our journey. Affectionately known as the ‘megalithic mushroom’ due to its appearance atop Chun Downs, Chun Quoit is structurally very simple, consisting of four inward leaning uprights, topped by a bulbous capstone. It is considered the most complete, but also the smallest remaining example. Like many other quoits, Chun sits upon a low stony mound or platform and may have at one time been buried beneath a mound of earth to form a tumulus.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

Bonus: Bosullow Quoit

Not a genuine quoit, but a piece of ‘farmer artwork’. This replica stands at a road junction on Bosullow Common, about a mile or so from both Lanyon and Chun Quoits. The capstone rests on three uprights, and the whole stands less than a metre tall.

An interesting distraction/tribute.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief visit to the Cornish Quoits.

Nearing the end of our series on Cornish Quoits, and nearing the end of the land, we continue with three more Penwithian quoits.

 

9. Mulfra Quoit

Well placed at the summit of Mulfra Hill, with excellent all-round views, before the capstone collapsed this would have resembled the box-like construction of Chun Quoit which we’ll visit at the end of our journey. The outstanding feature of the 3.2m by 3.0m capstone here is a chamfered ridge on the base which would have fit snugly inside the uprights to support the capstone. Only three uprights remain, it is unknown whether there would have originally been more.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

10. Bosporthennis Quoit

Pronounced ‘Bosprennis’, three of possibly four original upright stones survive. The capstone is somewhat damaged, having been removed and unsuccessfully trimmed for use as a possible millstone. The area around Bosporthennis is rich in antiquities, and a quoit in the area is mentioned in Hunt’s Popular Romances of the West of England:

In Bosprenis Croft there was a very large coit or cromlech. It is said to have been
fifteen feet square, and not more than one foot thick in any part. This was broken in
two parts some years since, and taken to Penzance to form the beds for two ovens.

This description does not match the extant cromlech in any way, so must refer to a lost monument. One wonders how many more have been lost in this way?

Correspondence in the Cornish Telegraph in 1871 confirms that the capstone of the existing quoit had fallen ‘long before the living memory of anyone in 1865’.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

11. Lanyon Quoit

Possibly the most photographed monument in West Penwith, Lanyon Quoit is sadly, despite appearances, possibly the most damaged of the Cornish quoits. The stones were (poorly) restored in 1824, after collapsing in a storm in 1815. The quoit was described prior to its collapse in Hitchin’s History of Cornwall:

At Lanyon… the incumbent stone of this monument is about nineteen feet long; but its thickness, which is not proportioned to its area, is rather irregular. In the middle, and on its eastern edge, it is sixteen inches; at each end rather less; but at the western edge it is full two feet. The two principal supporters of the incumbent stone were either not originally placed in a true perpendicular, or they have since been forced from it by the prodigious weight which they have been compelled to sustain. At present they have an inclination in their summits towards the verge of the incumbent stone, and consequently they recede from each other in the same proportion. There is however no danger of their ultimately giving way (sic). For as the stone by which they are pressed, has its under surface somewhat inclined towards a concave form, the weight must chiefly rest on the outward extremities of the supporters, and therefore prevent them from falling asunder, as much so as if the supporters had been exactly perpendicular, and the incumbent stone strictly flat and horizontal.

This monument, which is more elevated than anyone besides of this kind which the county can produce, being sufficiently high for a man to sit on horseback under it, stands on a low bank of earth, that is raised about two feet above the surrounding soil.

Given that the monument now requires anyone over 5’9″ to crouch when passing under it, it is clear that the reconstruction caused grave damage to the height of the supporting stones. As stated on Wikipedia (link below), on 19 October 1815, Lanyon Quoit fell down in a storm. Nine years later enough money was raised by local inhabitants to re-erect the structure, under the guidance of Captain Giddy of the Royal Navy. One of the original stones was considered too badly damaged to put back in place, thus there are only three uprights today and the structure does not stand so high as it once did. The reconstruction also placed the structure at right angles to its original position. There is a faint carving on one of the uprights, ‘1824’, the date of the reconstruction.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

We continue our series on Cornish Quoits, moving westward as we head toward West Penwith, with a brief look at three more quoits.

 

6. Carwynnen Quoit

In the space of the last 200 years, the Giant’s Quoit at Carwynnen has collapsed and been rebuilt twice! Both times earth tremors were responsible for the collapse, the last happening in the 1960’s, resulting in the pile of rubble shown below, augmented by subsequent field clearance.

Carwynnen Before Restoration

The field in which the quoit is sited was purchased by the Sustainable Trust in 2009, and plans were laid to rebuild the quoit. During the excavation of the site, the “floor” of the monument, an intact stone pavement was found to be made up of “a narrow strip of compacted small stones which formed a hard-standing surface arranged in a doughnut-like circuit. At the front end of the monument, a fine narrow strip of the pavement extended well beyond the shelter of the capstone“. The full story of the excavation can be found on the ‘Giant’s Quoit’ link below.

Carwynnen After Restoration

Further information: 

The Giant’s Quoit
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

7. Sperris Quoit

Some 300m NE of Zennor Quoit (see below), Sperris is in a poor state, consisting of a single upright and three fallen stones. The capstone is missing, presumably used in construction of the dilapidated mine workings nearby. Despite it’s proximity to Zennor, this can be a difficult site to find, although recent clearance work by the Penwith Landscape Partnership has made it a bit more accessible.

Further information: 

Cornish Archaeology Soc. Journal 6 – membership protected
Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

8. Zennor Quoit

In 1861 Zennor Quoit narrowly escaped destruction; more details are given in an extract from the Cornish Telegraph of 4th September of that year.

A farmer had removed a part of one of the upright pillars, and drilled a hole into the slanting quoit, in order to erect a cattle-shed, when news of the vandalism reached the ears of the Rev. W. Borlase, Vicar of Zennor, and for 5s. the work of destruction was stayed, the Vicar having thus strengthened the legend that the quoit cannot be removed.

We can be grateful to Dr. W Borlase (great-grandfather of the Rev. Borlase mentioned above) for a sketch of the quoit before the capstone had collapsed into its current position.

Zennor Quoit in 1769, drawn by WIlliam Borlase. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The local legend mentioned above states that the quoit possesses mystical powers and that any stones removed from the structure will soon mysteriously find their way back in the middle of the night. As related by C Taylor Stephens to Robert Hunt:

“I was in the neighbourhood of Zennor in 1859, and by accident came across the Zennor cromlech, and was struck with the mode of its construction (not having heard of its existence before), and thinking it bore some resemblance to the Druidical altars I had read of, I inquired of a group of persons who were gathered round the village smithery, whether any one could tell me anything respecting the heap of stones on the top of the hill. Several were in total ignorance of their existence. One said, ‘Tes caal’d the gient’s kite; thas all I knaw.’ At last, one more thoughtful, and one who, I found out, was considered the wiseacre and oracle of the village, looked up and gave me this important piece of information,–‘Them ere rocks were put there afore you nor me was boern or thoft ov; but who don it es a puzler to everybody in Sunnur (Zennor). I de bleve theze put up theer wen thes ere wurld was maade; but wether they was or no don’t very much mattur by hal akounts. Thes I’d knaw, that nobody caant take car em awa; if anybody was too, they’d be brot there agin. Hees an ef they wus tuk’d awa wone nite, theys shur to be hal rite up top o’ th hil fust thing in morenin. But I caant tel ee s’ much as Passen can; ef you ‘d zea he, he ‘d tel he hal about et.'”

The stones now seen in front of the quoit are the remains of the cattle shed subsequently built by the farmer mentioned above.

In 1882, another member of the Borlase family was mentioned in a report of a field trip to the quoit by the Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society:

Mr. Borlase, one of the members, met with a man who had made a find beneath the Zennor Quoit. The man explained that about a year ago, finding that other people were searching about, he and his son thought they would have ‘a bit of a speer too.’ After removing some of the earth, they came upon a flat stone, which they ‘shut’ (blasted). They then removed more earth and came upon another flat stone, which they also ‘shut.’ Underneath it they found what Mr. Borlase said was an ancient whetstone, which no doubt was buried with the dead, in order that he might have something to sharpen his weapons with in ‘the happy hunting grounds’ to which he was supposed to have gone. Mr. Borlase had found similar stones, with urns containing the ashes of the dead, in different barrows. Under this quoit he found part of an urn. Mr. Borlase expressed a hope that there would be no more ‘shutting’ near the quoit, because it ought to be regarded as sacred as the grave of a father.

Further information: 

Cornwall HER
The Megalithic Portal
Wikipedia

Archives

January 2022
S M T W T F S
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Follow Us

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on Facebook

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10,390 other followers

%d bloggers like this: