Durham Dales – The Castles

Graham and I headed over to Hamsterley to have a look at a strange site called The Castles. Graham told me that despite modern archaeological investigations, including a visit by the Time Team Archaeologists, no one has been able to fully explained this strange site.

Mao

An archaeological evaluation was undertaken by Channel 4’s Time Team at The Castles, a Scheduled Monument at West Shipley Farm, Hamsterley, believed to be the remains of a fortified site of Late Iron Age, Romano-British or post-Roman date. The investigation included evaluation trenching and geophysical and standing remains surveys, the results of which are briefly summarised in this article. Although clearly constructed by a substantial workforce as a defensive fortification, there is little evidence to indicate what the site was used for or its date.

Abstract from McKinley, J. I., (2014). ‘The Castles’, West Shipley Farm, Hamsterley, Co. Durham. Durham Archaeological Journal (19). Vol 19, pp. 105-106.

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The monument remains enigmatic both in terms of date and function. Though clearly constructed by a substantial work force as a defensive fortification, there is little evidence to support by whom and for what it was used. It may have served as a demonstration of power, its use may have proved unnecessary by change of circumstances, or occupation may only have been temporary or seasonal. The date of  the original construction seems most likely to be Late Iron Age, with possibly post-Roman reuse of parts of the structure 

Summary detail from ‘The Castles’, West Shipley Farm, Hamsterley, Co. Durham
Archaeological Evaluation and Assessment Results. Wessex Archaeology. Report reference: 65303.01. May 2007

 

We drove along the narrow lanes to the farm entrance and walked along the public footpath to the farmyard. The friendly farmer was busy unloading a feed tanker but stopped to point out the right of way across his land. We walked down the extremely sodden fields towards the copse of woods that enclosed the site.

The site is located on a hillside midway between the ridge top and the valley bottom. It has views along the valley to wards to confluence of the Harthope and Bedburn Becks and then further east to the Wear Valley.

Lidar

Wessex Archaeology / Time Team report here

Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

LIDAR  Image from here

Durham Dales – Escomb

I took a trip into the Durham Dales with my friend Graham Vasey. County Durham is a bit of a mystery to me, growing up on the south bank of the Tees I’ve always viewed County Durham as a place of declining post-industrial townships hastily built in the service of king coal and the ironmasters; Institute walls maintaining memories of explosions, collapsing shafts and pals whose bones fertilise foreign fields. Graham is slowly enlightening me and correcting my ignorance.

We arrived at Escomb to visit the beautiful Saxon church of St John, itself once a ruin, now saved and restored.

Boundary walls topped with raw slag and scoria brick paving speak of the district’s recent past

Keys at No.28

Stone

An austere beauty, each stone block has a tale, many carved by Roman hands

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The near-by Roman fort at Binchester was a convenient quarry for the Saxon masons; an intact Roman arch, it’s underside decorated with remnants of a medieval fresco

The altar cross recycled, below it a beautiful Frosterley Marble Grave slab

Two sundials, one the oldest in England

The key to the interpretation of the sculpture lies in Saxon mythology, to a period before the emergence of the cult of Valhalla and the Viking Gods. For just as the beast’s head has little resemblance to a stag, so too it bears little resemblance to a wolf. We are looking at a chaos monster… Nicholas Beddow 1991

sundial leflet

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The Devil’s door and Roman Lewis hole

 

The Old Hell Way

 

When I dee, for dee I s’all, mind ye carry me to my grave by t’church-road

Street Lane – Water (Great Fryup Beck) -Long Causeway Road – Nun’s Green Lane – High Gill – Fairy Cross Plain – Water (Little Fryup Beck) – Stonebeck Gate Lane – Slate Hill – Church Way – Danby Rigg  – Tofts Lane – Crossroad – St. Hilda’s Church

TOHW path

Choose the wrong path, risk waking The Old Wife.

TOHW path round hill

Round Hill & The Fairy Cross Plain

TOHW path i

Stoups guard the route

TOHW path vii

 The descent into Danby Dale & St Hilda’s Church

Into Eden – Great Salkeld

Day 2

The Druids

I started the day with a walk around Penrith in search of coffee and hogbacks.

A monument in St Andrews churchyard known the the Giant’s Grave. Legend has it that it is the grave of a knight called Ewain Cæsarius, the four hogbacks are said to represent four wild boars that he killed in the forest of Inglewood. In reality the monument is comprised of four hogback stones and two ancient crosses. All of which have seen better days.

A Hogback is an Anglo- Scandinavian grave marker dating to between the 10th and 12th centuries. They are generally found in locations that were settled by the Danes.

Giants Grave

I was keen to get moving so didn’t take the time to have a look around St Andrews church. I later learned that it was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, I will have to return.

 

Great Salkeld.

The village is steeped in history, located on a Roman road and river crossing point, the route later became a major drove road between England and Scotland. The road was also a main route for invaders, marauders, reivers and moss troopers.

St Cuthberts

The local church founded in the 9th century is a wonderful illustration of the history of this part of the north of England.  The church is dedicated to Saint Cuthbert as this was one of the resting places for his body when monks removed it from Lindesfarne following the 9th century Viking conquest of the kingdom of Northumbria.

Cuddy

A beautiful stained glass depicting Cuthbert with an Eider or ‘Cuddy’s Duck’ at his feet

The church tower looks out of proportion with the rest of the church, this is because it was built in the 13th century as a defensive tower, a sanctuary from the invading Scots. The stone walls of the tower 6ft thick with thin window slits and a narrow iron entrance door. This style of building is known as a Pele.

Throughout the Middle Ages the North of England was a dangerous place. Following the Harrowing of the North by the Normans, Scottish raiding parties would regularly move down into England to steal cattle and goods and to take slaves. The 12th century Chronicler Simeon of Durham wrote Scarce a little house in Scotland was to be found without English slaves of one or other sex. 

Aside from the regular raids by brigands from the north, between 1060 and 1745 there were at least 10 formal invasions by Scottish armies into England.

Armour

The 17th century armour mounted on the church walls bears witnessed to the areas turbulent past.

Arch

For me, the crowning glory of the church is the 11th Century Romanesque arch

A Medieval cross slab and a Roman altar can be found in the porch

These 3 large boulders of red sandstone in the graveyard are a bit of a puzzle. I cannot find any references to them.

White Cross

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White Cross survives as a base of local fine gritstone…The shaft is dressed in a chevron pattern indicating a post medieval date probably in the 19th century. The base is dateable to the medieval period. The east face of the base has the inscription – White Cross. Each face of the shaft is carved with a simple cross with equal arms 0.22m across. The east face has an OS bench mark cut near the ground. The cross has been whitewashed over the years according to the practice of the Downe Estate. The cross stands in its original position 2m from the edge of the old route from Castleton across Danby Low Moor. It also acts as a boundary marker for the medieval parishes of Danby and Commondale and now the county constituency of Cleveland and Whitby. The original shaft for this cross is in a museum at Whitby.

EXTRACT FROM ENGLISH HERITAGE’S RECORD OF SCHEDULED MONUMENTS

St Michael’s Church, Liverton

The church is an ordinary building, raised on a considerable elevation. The sexton being engaged in harvesting, we were unable to procure the key, but easily found admission by the window, shewing, as in good King Edgar’s time, that there is no dread of dishonest or sacrilegious intruders. We were exceedingly well paid for our escalade, by the unexpected and therefore agreeable discovery of a noble specimen of early Norman (if not Saxon) architecture, in the round arch dividing the chancel of the church from the nave.

J W Ord 1846

ST MICHAEL. Nave and chancel and bell-turret. All of the restoration of 1902-3, it seems, except large patches of masonry which look Norman. They are indeed; for the chancel arch is a quite spectacular Norman piece of three orders.

Nikolaus Pevsner 1966

St. Michaels Liverton Arch s

I was keen to visit this beautiful church after reading Rita Ward’s paper, The Romanesque Chancel Arch at Liverton.  She explains how the arch has the appearance of a teaching scheme, the right side of the arch depicts the fall of man and the potential for redemption. The left hand side of the arch is purely symbolic, to be read as a metaphor of spiritual things, in the anagogical sense.

Liverton Chancel the fall and Salvation sThe fall, salvation and the hope of  heavenLiverton Chancel Arch Adam Eve Serpent sAdam and the tree of lifeLiverton Chancel Arch Adam Eve Serpent isAdam and Eve and the serpent
Liverton Chancel Eve Angel Foliate s Eve and an Angel, foliate head, Hunter and hornLiverton Chancel Foliate s The Green Man or foliate head is thought to represent Christ the Vine, the life giving blood and eternal life.

The boar hunt. The boar symbolises the devil, the two good dogs stay with the hunter, the third dog strays and is trampled by the boar.

Liverton Chancel Crane sHeavenly Paradise.  Death yields its prey to Christ the Redeemer

Liverton Chancel paradise Beakhead sIn medieval manuscripts intricate lacing is often used to symbolise heaven

The snake-like Wyvern. In the classical Roman tradition, the snake shedding its skin is a suggestion of eternal life.

St. Michaels Liverton Arch isThe Chancel Arch is made of three orders. The two inner orders of chevrons suggest the power of God in the altar, the third, outer, order is comprised of bestial masks emitting foliage suggesting resurrection and heaven.

There is a lovely old photograph on the East Cleveland Image Archive of the arch prior to the restoration of the church.

Thanks to Karen Ward, Church Warden, and the parishioners of Liverton for their warm welcome and allowing me to photograph their beautiful church.

Sources

The History & Antiquities of Cleveland. John Walker Ord. 1846

The Buildings of England, Yorkshire The North Riding. Nikolaus Pevsner. 1966

The Romanesque Chancel Arch at Liverton.  Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Vol.78 2006

 

Bishopton Fairy Hill

Bishopton Motte s

Bishopton is a pleasant village situated on an eminence a few miles West North West of Stockton. A little to the east of it are the foundations of a circular fortification which was raised by Roger Conyers, who made a powerful resistance there against the troops of William  Cumin, the Chancellor of the King of the Scots, when, supported by that monarch and the Empress Matilda, he usurped the See of Durham, in the middle of the twelfth century.

A conical mound, sixty feet high, stands in the centre of the fort and is surrounded by deep trenches. It is known in the locality as the Fairy Hill. The story goes, that the people were once carting away this hill, and had got it partly removed, when a mysterious voice was heard which said ” Is all well ? ” ” Yes” was the reply, ” then keep well when you are well,” rejoined  the voice, ” and leave the Fairy Hill alone.” The admonition was not attended to, however, and the work went on again. In a short time the workmen came upon a large black oak chest it was so heavy that it took several men to carry it to the nearest blacksmith’s shop. Hoping to find it full of gold and silver, they immediately got it broken open, when, alas, it turned out to be full of nails. The chest long remained, perhaps still remains, in the blacksmith’s shop, where the aunt of my informant, a trustworthy woman, has often seen it.

Legends and Superstitions of the County of Durham

William Brockie 1886