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Burras is a small hamlet situated between Redruth and Helston in Cornwall.

Recorded as ‘Berres’ in 1337, the name is derived from the Cornish language ‘ber-res’ translating as ‘short ford’. It is sometimes known as ‘Burhos’ and there is a ‘Burras Farm’ and a ‘Burhos Farm’.

A 19th-century milestone survives in the hamlet. It is a painted dressed granite monolith with a pyramidal head, triangular in plan shaft over a square in plan base and is inscribed on the left side:  ‘REDRUTH 5 MILES’ and the right-hand side inscription: ‘HELSTON 5 MILES’

The road bridge over the River Cober which runs through the hamlet dates from the early 19th century and is a listed structure comprising granite rubble with roughly-hewn granite monoliths as lintels. It is a two-span bridge of primitive lintelled construction with iron railings. The railings are threaded through iron stanchions between terminal granite monoliths at either side of the bridge while the lintels are linked by iron cramps.

Burras Menhir can be found at Lezerea Farm a short distance south of the river. This impressive Bronze Age standing stone measures 12 feet 5 inches in height and is a listed monument.

It may not stand in its original site and local historian Michael Tangye in 1971 records the re-erection of the stone in a large pit during the early 1900s by the brothers Pearce with the use of a steam engine, in the presence of Sir George Smith, the owner of the land. 

Traces of one of several Iron Age Rounds in the area has been identified by crop marks just a few fields to the south-east.

Toponymy by the late Craig Weatherhill.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren.

John Thomas Blight was born on 7th October 1835 in Redruth.

His father, Robert, a teacher, moved the family to Penzance and introduced his sons to the study of nature, antiquities and folklore.

By the age of 20, Blight had published a book on the antiquities of Penwith and a large collection of drawings. His expansion of this work, in two volumes, was at first encouraged by the Rev. R. S. Hawker and then the cause of a prolonged argument.

John Blight’s second patron, James Halliwell, was similarly unhelpful, never paying him for his vast labour in illustrating Halliwell”s projected edition of William Shakespeare”s Works.

In the mid-1860s, Blight had a mental breakdown and was incarcerated for the remainder of his life in Bodmin Mental Hospital.

Blight’s recording of Cornish antiquities includes many that no longer exist. His descriptions and illustrations of them provide a most valuable source for archaeologists and local historians.

His enduring and most substantial works remain as ‘Ancient Crosses and Other Antiquities in the East of Cornwall‘ (1872), ‘Ancient Crosses and Other Antiquities in the West of Cornwall’ (1856) and ‘A Week at the Land’s End’ (1861)


John Thomas Blight on Wikipedia

Amalveor is a hamlet in the parish of Towednack, West Penwith, Cornwall.

The settlement of Amalveor is first recorded as “Ammalvoir” in 1337

Amalveor is a Cornish name derived from ‘Amal vuer’ translating as ‘great Amal’. Amal is probably a river name and the word means ‘edge’ ‘boundary’ or ‘slope’ also found in the Cornish place-name Amalebra which itself means ‘lower Amal’ from the Cornish ‘Amal ebry’.

A nearby hut circle and associated field system lays just west of Amalveor, the southern part has been almost destroyed by modern cultivation. The northern section is in moorland and consists of shallow lynchets with cross banks or earth and small stones.

A sunken lane, known locally as Badger’s Lane is part of the ancient Tinner’s Way which curves around the southern edge of Amalveor Downs up onto Lady Downs from the road to Amalveor.

On the 11th December 1931, ancient gold jewellery was discovered at Amalveor Farm about one mile due west of Towednack church, concealed in an ancient stone hedge. The collection of beautiful gold objects, known as the Towednack Hoard, included two twisted neck rings, four armrings and two lengths of unfinished gold rod.

One necklet consisted of a single twisted strand of gold, and the other consisted of three strands loosely twisted together. The gold was very fine, and probably came from Ireland.

The items were dated as middle Bronze Age – about 1000BC, were declared to be treasure trove, and are now in the British Museum. Copies of the finds can be seen in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

This find served to illustrate the immense age of some of Penwith’s stone hedges and points to the virtual certainty that the Tinners’ Way was a well-established trade route at that time.

To the northwest of Amalveor is Sperris Quoit, one of a type of tomb unique to West Penwith, and the nearby Sperris Settlement, a collection of seven Bronze Age hut circles.

Toponymy by the late Craig Weatherhill.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren

Varfell is a hamlet situated in Ludgvan Parish west Cornwall. It was recorded as ‘Varwell’ in 1568 after the 16th-century Varwell family. The hamlet was the ancestral home of the famous Cornish chemist, Sir Humphry Davy 1778 to 1829, inventor of the miners’ safety lamp.

Varfell Farm is the world’s largest producer of daffodil bulbs and until recently was home to the National Dahlia Collection, where it enjoyed a long and successful growing period of over 20 years under the management of Mike Mann with the help of Dahlia breeder Mark Twyning.

Varfell and its daffodil farm

The nearby Giant’s Grave linear earthwork may be an early medieval linear earthwork and is comparable with both the Bolster Bank in St Agnes parish and the Giants Hedge, which runs from Lerryn to Looe.

This earthwork has borne the name for many years as the Tithe Award refers to it as an `ancient road called Giant’s Grave’.

It consists of a bank up to 10 feet high, but is sadly much mutilated by agricultural activity. At one time there was a ditch on the south side. It has been proposed that this may the best surviving section of an earthwork that ran from coast to coast, effectively isolating the Penwith peninsula.

Excerpt from 1888 OS Map Cornwall LXVIII.SE

A large circular mound just over 50 feet in diameter is visible as a cropmark on aerial photographs in a field east of Varfell. The date and function of this feature is unknown. It may be an agricultural feature, post-medieval in date.

Toponymy by the late Craig Weatherhill.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren.

About ‘hulls’……

‘Hulls’ have been used mostly as storage places for potatoes, root crops, dairy products such as milk, eggs and cream both for domestic use, and in farmyards for storage prior to taking the products to local markets.

‘Hull’ is not a mispronunciation of ‘hole’. It is derived from the Cornish word ‘huth’ meaning ‘cover’ or ‘shade’ in Cornish.

The photograph below illustrates a ‘hull’ with this example being situated in Four Lanes, near Redruth.

The ‘hull’ at Four Lanes, near Redruth

A listed building, much of the structure is located underground and it extends westwards for approximately 28 feet from the entrance steps. The side chambers, which are at right angles to the central passage, extend for some 15 feet to both the north and south of the passage.

Interestingly, Cornish dialect – not Cornish language, but dialect – describes a hole in the rocks or a shellfish store as a ‘hully’.

Existing across Cornwall and into Devon, the Cornish exported this method of storage, kept at an even temperature, to North America and very possibly, Australia.

There is some suggestion that the earliest ‘hulls’ date from medieval times and they were still being constructed and used in and up to the 19th century.

Local historian Michael Tangye has researched and written extensively about these unique features. See ‘“Hulls” in Cornwall: a survey and discussion’ in the Journal of Cornish Archaeology.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren.

The ‘crows’ at Rosemergy

‘crow’ is Cornish and translates as ‘hut’.

Post-medieval ‘crows’, which rhymes with ‘cows’, were used to house geese or pigs. Some were used as cold stores, too.

The Rosemergy ‘crows’ taken by John Ralph

These openings are joined together and measure about three feet by two feet.

There are a good many of them around the Carnyorth – Trewellard – Pendeen – Lower Boscaswell area of West Penwith, and some are big enough for human use as shelters.

Edith Nicholas compiled a catalogue list of crows, with descriptions of each, in an early edition of ‘Cornish Archaeology’.

The two pictured are Grade II Listed Buildings.

Local production of milk and cheese in this area goes right back to the Middle Bronze Age.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren.

Caer Bran is an Iron Age hillfort, located near the village of Sancreed in West Penwith, Cornwall. The site encloses a space some 200 feet in diameter. Surrounding this is a ditch forty-five feet wide and seven feet deep, an earthen rampart fifteen feet high with stone revetment and a slight counterscarp outer bank. There are remnants of a stone-lined causeway over the ditch at the original entrance to the North West adjacent to an ancient trackway. There are three Bronze Age ring cairns within the outer ramparts, and three settlements within half a mile, including Carn Euny.  

The Cornwall Heritage Trust have recently announced that they have purchased nine hectares of land at Caer Bran, which includes the hillfort and a range of later agricultural and mining remains.

The Chariman of CHT, Lt Col Richard Trant announced:

“The Trust has been tracking the Caer Bran property for many years and we were hugely excited when it came back on the market over the Christmas period. It is therefore tremendously pleasing that we have now secured this very special site for the future.

Caer Bran is a property which, as an example of Iron Age presence in Cornwall, has great archaeological importance. Equally, it gives sanctuary to some wonderful flora and fauna, our natural heritage, that the Trust will also protect and nurture. 

Caer Bran is a jewel of a site which complements our adjacent sites in West Penwith. Its purchase aligns perfectly with our recently reviewed strategic purpose to protect and preserve Cornish heritage sites for ‘One and All’. I would like to thank the CHT team for their hard work to secure Caer Bran and also a big thank you to Historic England for their potential support of this Cornish gem.”

We last visited Caer Bran in 2013, and you can read about our visit here.

‘Fogou’ is derived from a Cornish word meaning a cave, and Cornish fogous are prehistoric underground passages constructed by excavating a trench and lining its sides with either large stone blocks or drystone walling, then roofing it over with large flat slabs. Fogous are all associated with habitation: usually a small farmstead surrounded by a bank, or a group of courtyard houses. Their purpose is unclear. 

Halliggye (plan shown below) is the largest and best-preserved of the Cornish fogous. It is now home to horseshoe bats and is closed during the winter. A torch is essential when visiting many of the extant fogous.

Plan of Halligye Fogou, from the on-site information board

There are at least twelve known surviving fogous in Cornwall, but many more may have been ‘lost’ over the centuries and new examples are revealed from time to time.

They were constructed from the 5th Century BC to the first two centuries AD, placing them in the late Iron Age and early Roman periods.

Their function remains a mystery; the most plausible explanations see them as places for storage, refuge, or as the setting for religious or ritual activities.

Similar sites are also found in Brittany, Ireland and Scotland where they are known as souterrains, but their architecture, date range, and possibly also their function, differ from the Cornish sites. In Ireland, for example, they may be constructed or continue in use into the medieval period.

The definitive guide to Cornish fogous is considered to be ‘Mother and Sun’ by Ian Mcneil Cooke (1993) – originally published as a limited edition of 1000 copies, and prices can therefore be high when copies do become available on the secondhand market. Earlier, Evelyn Clark had written ‘Cornish Fogous’ (1961) which is equally scarce these days, but also worth seeking out.

More recently, Lucas Nott has compiled a series of Youtube videos of his visits to many of the remaining fogous, which are well worth watching.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren.

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 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.


November 2022

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