Copper & Henges

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.

Sources

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

Living Between the Monuments: The prehistory of the Dishforth to Barton A1 Motorway Improvements. G Speed. 2021. Northern Archaeological Associates.

Lidar Image

The Penrith henges: a survey by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. P Topping. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 58, 1992

Bronze images – Early Man in North-East Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930. J Bellows

A walk to the Source of the Ure

I wrote this account of a walk I took to the source of the River Ure in 2005. It was first posted on Julian Cope’s The Modern Antiquarian website.

The River Ure rises in the Pennines and then heads east into Wensleydale, it then flows out of Wensleydale into the Vale of York. South of York the Ure is joined by the much smaller Ouse Gill Beck and the river’s name becomes the River Ouse, I’ve never figured that one out. The river then flows south east and merges with the Trent to form the River Humber, which then flows out into the North Sea. What is significant about the Ure is its association with a number of nationally important prehistoric sites.

The Ure flows through Wensleydale, a Yorkshire Dale that has been occupied since at least the Late Upper Palaeolithic period. As the Ure flows through Yorkshire it is associated with at least 2 cursus, 7 henges, a stone row, numerous cairns, barrows, rock art sites, burned mounds and an assortment other prehistoric sites.

It is quite possible that during the Neolithic period, the River Ure was one of the ‘lines of communication’ between the Wolds culture of East Yorkshire and the Neolithic peoples of Cumbria. Evidence for this communication can be seen in the large numbers of Group VI stone axe blades found in East Yorkshire. The greatest concentration of Group VI axe blades occurs around the Humber estuary.

group vi

These axe blades all originated from the Great Langdale Axe production areas in Cumbria. Reciprocally there has been a significant amount of flint from the East Yorkshire coast found on a number of Cumbrian sites. There are also various other correlations between the prehistoric monument types and pottery found in both East Yorkshire and Cumbria but I’ll not detail them here in this brief summary.

Neolithic_stone_axe_with_handle_ehenside_tarn_british_museumLangdale Axe Image Credit

Archaeologist Jan Harding speculates that the name ‘Ure’ derives from the Celtic word Isura, meaning ‘Holy One’. The source of the Ure captured my imagination mainly because of its location and proximity to the source of another great river that features in the prehistory of the North of England, the River Eden.

The Ure and the Eden rise within two kilometers of each other on the western edge of the Pennines. At their closest point, the two rivers pass within less than four hundred metres of each other. This means that it is theoretically possible to travel from the North Sea to the Irish Sea only walking on dry land for less than four hundred paces. I’m not suggesting that this was actually the case, where the rivers are at their closest they are merely becks. All I’m saying is that it is theoretically possible that our ancestors may have used the course of these two great rivers as a guide, a navigable route, between the east and west coasts of Britain.

Ure Head 3

Field notes

“In November days,
When vapours rolling down the valleys made
A lonely scene more lonesome”

Influence of Natural Objects by William Wordsworth

I drove down to the site via Brough and Kirby Stephen and then along the Mallerstang Valley. I parked the car in a convenient lay-by and took the footpath to How Beck Bridge and then on up to Green Bridge.

With the Howgill Fells forming one side of Mallerstang and the Pennines forming the other it is easy to see why Mallerstang probably receives more than its fair share of rain. On the day I went it was raining on and off all day, the becks were full to the brim, almost every rocky ledge on the fell had been transformed into a beautiful waterfall with the ground completely saturated. In other words, a typical upland Pennine scene.  They say that the sheep around these parts have webbed feet.

Ure Head 2
I left the path at How Bridge and followed the beck upstream. Its rough walking on the fells and involves a fair bit of bog-trotting and beck jumping, the peat on the moor side had been cut at regular intervals, presumably to aid drainage, so it was possible to follow the tracks of the vehicle that performed the peat cutting for much of the journey.
There is very little wildlife to be seen on these upland fells, a few ravens and the odd small bird, I guess the ground is too waterlogged for rabbits, but it is far from a silent wilderness, there is the sound of running water everywhere. The hike to the summit is one of those frustrating walks that presents you with two false summits to breach before you reach the fell top.
The Ure finally disappears into a flat bog on the summit of Lunds Fell. I was hoping that the source of the river would be a discernible feature such as spring but this wasn’t the case, the beck just petered out into a featureless boggy plain.

Ure Head
I sat and had a cup of coffee at the modern cairn on top of the fell, to the north I could see the Pillar marking the source of the Eden . I was just about to set off walking to the pillar when a storm blew across from Wild Boar Fell and I found myself in cloud. Not being familiar with the area, and not wanting to blunder into a bog I decided that I would call it a day and return home. I would leave the Eden for another day. As I’ve said before, it’s always nice to have something to come back for.
All in all I guess the source of the Ure is definitely ‘one for the enthusiast’ but if you want to get the general feel of the place you can drive along the Mallerstang valley and stop somewhere around SD778963. At this point, you’ll be straddling the county border, east meets west, watching the Eden flowing north into Cumbria and the Ure flowing south into Yorkshire.

Yoredale

 

Following the sacred Ure up through Wensleydale, I have a yearning to visit a henge.

DSC_9505

I arrive at Thornton Rust and walk out into the empty upland pastures, everywhere is sodden.

Carperby

Across the valley, Carperby Moor. Flint tools have been found here, the most northerly evidence of Palaeolithic hunter gathers in our islands. Beneath the great Yoredale scar is Ox Close with its ring cairns and stone circle.

Gill Beck

Gill Beck, the beck is full, the stepping stones are nowhere to be seen. I walk across the swollen beck, my cheap boots offer no resistance to the icy water.

Addlebrough

The Henge sits on a low ridge, the peak of Addlebrough, with its cup and ring marked cairn, is visible to the west.

Height of Hazely

To the east, Height of Hazely and the prehistoric settlement of Burton Moor.

zoom earth

Cold and wet I happily retrace my steps back to the village and then home.

Limestone A small momento collected from a molehill at the entrance to the henge.

 

 

Monument Podcast

Screen ShotMonument 2017-10-01 at 10.33.53 copy

David Parker contacted me a few months ago and asked if we could meet up and have a chat about the Devil’s Arrows for a podcast he was putting together. I met up with David who is a lovely bloke, full of knowledge and enthusiasm. David has now released his podcast, the second in a series.

David’s website is here 

During our chat I said a couple of things that weren’t 100% accurate so here’s a few corrections

  • The paper on the alignment of Henges is by Roy, not Ron, Loveday
  • I was way out on the height of the bank at Mayburgh Henge, 15 feet is probably a more accurate estimate.
  • The Bronze Age monument at Street House was a round barrow not a long cairn. The long cairn was part of the final stage of the Neolithic monument.