Plan – Coles, F. R. (1899). Report on Stone Circles in Kincardineshire (North), and part of Aberdeenshire, with measured Plans and Drawings, obtained under the Gunning Fellowship.. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 34. Vol 34, pp. 139-198. via the Archaeology Data Service
This beautiful book has been published to celebrate the 90th birthday of Stan Beckensall. It is available as a Paperback or an open access eBook.
Stan Beckensall is renowned for his work, done on an entirely amateur basis, discovering, recording and interpreting Atlantic rock art in his home county of Northumberland and beyond. Presented on his 90th birthday, this diverse and stimulating collection of papers celebrates his crucial contribution to rock art studies, and looks to the future.
Presented to Stan Beckensall on his 90th birthday, this diverse and stimulating collection of papers celebrates his crucial contribution to rock art studies, and also looks to the future. It should be of value to students of prehistoric Britain and Ireland, and anyone with an interest in rock art, for many decades to come.
Stan has done a phenomenal amount of work over recent decades, on an entirely amateur basis, discovering, recording and interpreting Atlantic rock art (‘cup-and-ring marks’) in his home county of Northumberland and elsewhere. Much of this work was done in the 1970s and 1980s when the subject, now increasingly regarded as mainstream within Neolithic studies, was largely shunned by professional archaeologists.
Anyone with an interest in rock art is greatly indebted to Stan, not only for his work and his wisdom, so graciously shared, but also, as the contributors to this volume make clear, for the inspiration he has provided, and continues to provide, for work undertaken by others.
On a sunny Lammas morning I decided to take a drive over to Middleton Tyas. I parked up at the lovely church of St. Michael and All Angels.
‘The majestic N arcade has six bays with round piers (except for one octagonal one), scallop captials, square abaci, and single-step arches, i.e. must date from before 1150.‘ N. Pevsner
The lepers window and priests door have been blocked, I love this beautiful irregular walling.
A fragment of a Saxon Cross and a carved spiral an an exterior wall stone hint at a much older church being here prior to the arrival of the Normans.
One the church wall stones is copper-stained, The presence of veins of copper in the local rocks is something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while.
Records show that copper has been mined in this area since at least the 15th century and continued until the 18th century. Yields were generally low but copper concentrations from Middleton Tyas ores were found to be up to 65% pure, making them some of the highest grade ores in Europe.
The fields around the church are dotted with earthworks know as shaft mounds. These were vertical shafts sunk to the level of the copper veins, these shafts are also known as bell pits.
In the woods beneath the church are the ruins of a mine pump house and workshops. There are a number of sites in this area where veins of copper have been found. We know that copper was used extensively by our ancestors, so I suppose the question is, were these sites exploited during prehistory?
Fieldwork at the Iron Age royal site of Stanwick revealed evidence of copper working. Excavations at Melsonby and Scotch Corner have also revealed evidence of copper smelting in the Roman Period. ‘Excavations in 2015 at Scotch Corner suggest that its Flavian inhabitants were engaged in metalworking, perhaps exploiting copper from nearby Middleton Tyas: if so, the odds that this source were already being exploited in the pre-Roman period must be considerably shortened.’ C. Hazelgrove Et al.
A later excavations, as part of the A1 widening scheme, of the Iron Age settlement at Scotch Corner discovered hundreds of fragments of moulds known as pellet moulds. These moulds were used to manufacture small metal balls, the balls were then used as blanks for coin production. Analysis of the moulds showed evidence of gold, silver and copper. Pits have also been discovered at Scotch Corner that may indicate that the inhabitants were prospecting for copper locally. There was also evidence of copper processing in the same area.
There has been no physical evidence found of prehistoric copper working at Middleton Tyas but mining is a destructive process, later workings may have destroyed any evidence of previous workings.
What we do know is that there was definitely evidence of prehistoric activity in this area dating as far back as the end of the last Ice Age. There is plenty of evidence to show that this area was occupied during the Neolithic and Bronze ages, a prehistoric burial mound, known as Five Hills, sits in woodland on the northern edge of the village.
In 2016 a newly discovered henge was spotted on a LIDAR survey. The henge is located on the outskirts of the village of Moulton just 2km to the south of Middleton Tyas.
Moving further south, a wealth of prehistoric monuments have been found. A large cursus monument was discovered at Scorton, 6km south of Middleton Tyas, most traces of it have now been lost to gravel extraction. The monument was comprised of two double ditches 32m apart, 1m deep and from 2 to 3m wide, it ran for over 1.5km across the landscape, later work has suggested that the Cursus may have been even longer. Another possible cursus, a palisaded enclosure, a timber circle, a chambered cairn and a henge are just some of the prehistoric monuments that have been found around Catterick, just 7km from Middleton Tyas.
The Catterick henge is of particular interest to me, on excavation it was found that the monument lacked an outer ditch and the oval bank of the monument was constructed using river cobbles from the nearby River Swale. What I find fascinating is the only other henge on mainland Britain that shares this construction method is Mayburgh henge, which is located beside the River Eamont on the outskirts of Penrith and less than half a kilometre from the modern A66. So, what we have is 2 henges close to rivers, located at either end of a trans-pennine route that is still in use today. Both The A1 and the A66 have a number henges located on or very close to their routes, the A1 corridor through North Yorkshire has at least 8. This implies that these two modern roads, a major north-south route and a major east-west route probably have their origins in prehistory.
The trans-pennine route would also have provided access to the Irish Sea, there are prehistoric monuments in Ireland that share similarities in construction and style with the henges at Mayburgh and Catterick. Perhaps this indicates connections with communities in Ireland. Access to the west coast could also provide a potential route for Cornish or Breton Tin to travel eastwards across the Pennines, allowing North Yorkshire metalworkers to manufacture Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin.
The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: The North Riding. Nikolaus Pevsner. 1966. Penguin Books.
Cartimandua’s Capital/ The late Iron Age royal site at Stanwick. Colin Haselgrove Et al. CBA Research Report 175. 2016
Catterick Racecourse, N. Yorkshire, The reuse and adaptation of a monument from prehistoric to Anglian times. C. Moloney et Al. Archaeological Services (WYAS) Publications 4. 2003
Nikolaus Pevsner describes All Saints Church, Helmsley as ‘big and self confident, in the C13 style’.
It is always a good sign when the church entrance looks like this.
Stepping into the church is a joy, there are beautiful, bright, colourful murals everywhere.
The Victorian restorers of the church not only retained elements of the earlier church, they also added to them. The beakheads and outer order of the chancel arch are modern as are many other ‘romanesque’ features both within and on the exterior of the church, Rita Wood calls them ‘Heavy handed Victorian additions’, I quite like them.
The capital on the left side of the chancel arch has three heads carved on it, one creature emitting foliage and two small human heads, one wearing a pointy cap. The capital on the right side of the arch has a tiny head carved between the angle of the volutes.
This 10th century Hogback is a bit knocked about, the motif on the top is quite a rare design to find on a Hogback, it is known as a Key Pattern.
There are two chapels within the church, the south chapel is dedicated to Columba and has an altar made of what looks like Swaledale Fossil Limestone and may have come from the quarries at Barton. The North Chapel is dedicated to Aelred and has an altar made with Frosterley Marble from Weardale.
This striking painting is in the north chapel, it’s by Gabriel Max and is called St. Veronica’s Handkerchief. When I first saw the painting, the image was of Christ with his eyes closed, when I looked again his eyes were open. I found this rather disturbing, I was raised in a strict catholic household but have been an atheist, with the odd lapse into heathendom, for the past 45yrs. Was this to be my moment of conversion? was the shepherd calling me back to the fold?…then I read the notice beside the painting … ‘was painted in the middle of the 19th century, it is a form of art with a little trick, where the eyes of christ can be seen either open or closed‘…I laughed, relieved but also feeling slightly unnerved by the experience.
On reflection, I quite like the painting, it was inspired by a miraculous handkerchief that contained a perfect image of the face of Christ. As usual with these sort of Medieval relics, there were three in existence, all claiming to be the original. I suppose most religions have to rely on some form of smoke and mirrors when it comes to dealing with the supernatural.
All Saints is a wonderful church and well worth a visit if you are in the area. The history of the district is written all over its walls often in bold bright mural form. Architecturally it has embraced and built upon its past and is currently undergoing further exterior renovations. The church is open for visitors from 9-5 daily.
Driving home I remembered that in her book, Romanesque Yorkshire, Rita Wood compared the tiny carving of a man in a pointy cap to a carving in the church at Hawnby. Hawnby wasn’t too far from Helmsley so I decided to seek it out.
The Church at Hawnby, All Saints, can be found to the west of the village on the Kepwick road. The little church sits in an overgrown churchyard down by the River Rye, the setting is beautiful. The church is picturesque but architecturally fairly unremarkable, Pevsner describes it as ‘basically Norman‘. I found the carving located just inside the church door, it is lovely. Rita Wood thinks that it probably came from the chancel arch, who knows?
The Buildings of England. Yorkshire, The North Riding. Nikolaus Pevsner. Penguin Books. 1973
I, Orm the son of Gamal, Found these fractured stones Starting out of the fragrant thicket. The river bed was dry. The rooftrees naked and bleached, Nettles in the nave and aisleways On the altar an owl’s cast And a feather from a wild dove’s wing. There was peace in the valley: Far into the eastern sea The foe had gone, leaving death and ruin And a longing for a priest’s solace. Fast the feather lay Like a sulky jewel in my head Till I knew it had fallen in a holy place Therefore I raised these grey stones up again
Tucked away in the secluded valley of the Hodge Beck is the ancient church of St Gregory. It is thought that there may have been a church on this site as early as the eighth century. A number of early crosses have can be seen built into the walls with further loose remnants held within the church including a quern
Above the south doorway is a sundial that reads, Orm Gamal’s son bought St. Gregory’s Minster when it was all broken down and fallen and he let it be made anew from the ground to Christ and St. Gregory, in Edward’s days, the king, and in Tosti’s days, the Earl. This is day’s Sun marker at every tide. And Haworth me wrought and Brand, priests. The sundial dates to just before the Norman Conquest, we know this because Tosti refers to Earl Tostig, Tostig Godwinson, the Earl of Northumbria from 1055-1065.
The church was restored in 1907 by Temple Moore, of the greatest Victorian church architects. A few elements from the early church can still be seen including the beautiful, tall, narrow Saxon south door, which was once an entrance but now leads into the tower, and a wonderful waterleaf capital.
Just across the valley from the church is the site of the famous Kirkdale Hyena Cave, a place of some significance in the history of the study of geology and evolutionary science. More of that another time.
To celebrate the Summer Solstice, and my release from self-isolation, Graham Vasey & I took a walk up to the Swinside Stone Circle in Cumbria.
This beautiful circle, one of my favourites, is also known as Sunkenkirk. The folklore of the site tells of how the locals once tried to build a church here, the Devil wasn’t best pleased and cursed the stones causing them to sink into the ground. In common with many other circles, it is said that it is impossible to count the stones.
…that mystic round of Druid frame
Tardily sinking by its proper weight
Deep into patient earth…
..this well preserved ring is one of the finest stone circles in western Europe.
A guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland, & Brittany. Aubrey Burl. Yale University Press. 1995
I have been seeking out prehistoric sites and hoary old stones for most of my life and have come to view these places as benevolent, liminal spaces. I believe that many of these sites mark a period of departure, a time when our ancestors decided to create physical spaces within the landscape, places that allowed them to temporarily separate themselves from the material world and enter the realm of the sacred or the supernatural, essentially a temple or ‘kirk’.
These places are not only the physical remnants of ancient beliefs and associated cosmologies, they are also evidence of the desires of our ancestors to ‘sign the land’ and leave permanent, visible markers of their presence , a practice that has remained unbroken ever since.
It should be acknowledged that not everyone views these ancient sites this way. Many ancient sites, as evidenced in folklore, have been viewed as having malevolent associations . These were dark locations where witches and demons would meet or sites where bloody druidical sacrificial rites were once enacted. These associations still linger in the modern era and may still effect how these sites are viewed. This is an account by Cumbrian poet Norman Nicholson of a boyhood encounter with the Swinside stones on a bleak Cumbrian winters day.
And there at last, I saw the stones, black, huddled and hooded, with the snow mounded against them on the one side. There was no comfort in them, no hint of anything to do with humanity at all. They were as frightening as the moor, yet they were not part of it. They were separate, persisting through the centuries in a dumb, motionless struggle. They were in opposition to the moor, struggling against it, just as I was – but they were not on my side. I turned and went as fast as I could down the snowy track to the main road, and walked home towards the friendly glare of the furnaces purring in the mist.
I recently found a bag of photographs that I thought were lost. Amongst the photographs were a few that I took in 2003 after a devastating fire swept across Fylingdales Moor. The fire burned off the peat deposits along with dense heather and bracken cover and in the process gave us a brief look at the prehistoric landscape that potentially exists beneath many of our moorlands.
The fire revealed a wealth of archaeology on the moor ranging from prehistory to the Second World War. If you are interested in finding out more I’d recommend seeking out Local Archaeologist Blaise Vyner’s excellent booklet, Fylingdales Wildfire and Archaeology. 2007. Published by North Yorkshire National Park.
St. Andrew’s church at Haughton-le-Skerne is the oldest in Darlington and probably stands on the site of a previous Saxon Church. The church is essentially Norman and has a collection of early medieval carved stones.
I walked up to the porch, it was locked, my heart sank, I walked around to the west door, a big smile, not only an open door but a beautiful plain Norman arch and tympanum.
On entering the church things just got better, I was given a very warm welcome into the church by two lovely attendants who were sat in the baptistry on either side of this handsome font. The original font has gone but the beautiful Frosterly Marble base survives. We had a chat about this and that and I was shown around the church then left to wander.
In the nave there are a number of early medieval stones that have been built into the walls. The stones were found during the 1895 restoration. One of the carvings (bottom picture) stands out as being exceptionally good.
This piece establishes that the best carving from this site occurs with the most purely Scandinavian ornament. The ribbon animal panel on A is closely linked in style with Sockburn 8 and should date from an early stage after the introduction of the Jellinge-type style. It is possible that this piece was carved elsewhere, since it is the only piece from the site in this stone.
Another simple arch and plain tympanum leads into the porch and more remnants of carved stones including some knotwork and fragments of cross slabs. A blackbird has made its nest on a shelf, she watches me but does not move.
Back in the nave, the amount of 17th century woodwork is quite overwhelming. I’m told that this style is known as ‘Cosin woodwork’ named after Bishop Cosin of Durham. This style is unique to County Durham and is now quite rare. Nikolaus Pevsner dates the woodwork to the 1630’s and writes that ‘the church gives a very complete picture of that date.’
The chancel arch is Norman, its single-step simplicity reflects the entrance and porch arches. Below the arch on the left of the picture is a squint or ‘hagioscope’ designed as a viewing point between the nave and the chancel. Below the arch on the right side is a niche with the remains of an original pre-reformation fresco painting. This niche may have housed a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Displayed on a shelf in the south transept are a number of sheets of lead. These were removed from the tower roof. All date to the eighteenth century, three are outlines of shoes, one is a hand and another is an etching of a fully-rigged ship. All of the sheets are initialled, presumably by the craftsmen who repaired the roof at various times.
I would encourage you to visit this beautiful church. This Grade one listed church is warm and welcoming and proudly displays its rich history and heritage. The church is open for visitors every Wednesday 10am-4pm June til November.
The Buildings of England. County Durham. Nikolas Pevsner. 1953. Penguin Books.