I had the pleasure of chatting about our current exhibition to Dave Robson of Zetland FM. Interview starts at around 2:20:00
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.
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.
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
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.
A Memory – The Major Lunar Standstill 2006
Remembering Margaret Curtis Teacher and Archaeologist, born 7 June 1941; died 26 March 2022
Isle of Lewis
Escaping the mad parade
Walking from Farndale up towards Rudland Rigg, we followed the track up the side of Monket Bank. The track climbs up through the old jet workings and quarries along the moor edge.
In the 14th century this route was known as Monckgate and linked Bransdale with Farndale. The track was used as a Church or Corpse Road with coffins being carried over the rigg to Cockan Kirk in Bransdale.
The road across the rigg is now known as Westside Road, in the past, it was known as Waingate, running from Kirkbymoorside Market Place in the south to Battersby Bank in the north.
We cut out across the moor towards Ousegill Head and the Three Howes. Flint tools had been found by the gamekeepers for a number of years so in September 1973 Raymond Hayes and others excavated the area. His small excavation yielded over 800 flints from an area of 3.50 x 3.0m. The site was interpreted as ‘A temporary camping site in a forest clearing, probably being occupied by hunters following red deer or other game.’
Whilst at the Three Howes we saw a Red Kite being harassed by an anxious Curlew. Once the Kite had rid itself of its tormentor it flew directly over us, a joyful moment, this was my first sighting of a Kite on the moors.
We walked back across the old peat workings and rejoined the track, moving on to the waymarker at Cockam Cross and then onto our final goal, the Cammon Stone.
The Cammon Stone is a prehistoric standing stone that sits just beside the main track. The stone is about a metre and a half tall and leans towards the west. I have been visiting this stone on and off for at least two decades, my perception is that the lean of the stone has increased over the years but I may be wrong, I hope I am. The southern views from the stone look down along Bransdale, the axis of the stone is also aligned in this direction, which is probably no coincidence.
There are a number of faded letters carved onto the western face of the stone, in the past, antiquarians had speculated as to whether these letters were Phoenician in origin. They are actually Hebrew and spell out the word halleluiah. They are thought to be the work of the Reverend W Strickland, Vicar of Ingleby. Strickland is thought to be responsible for carving a number of inscriptions in this area.
There is a second stone, a large flat slab. No one knows whether this slab ever stood upright. There is no obvious weathering patterns to indicate that it might have been upstanding but I guess that question could only ever be answered by an archaeological investigation.
We picked our way along a track that ran from the moortop into Farndale and joined the daleside road at Spout House. If you are a fan of stone walls and troughs, you will love this road, it has massive walls with stone-lined gutters and numerous multiple carved stone troughs. The stonemasons and wallers were once kept busy in this area.
Also on this road is the Duffin Stone, a massive boulder that has tumbled down from the escarpment side and is embedded into the verge of the narrow lane. The stone bears the scars of contact with many vehicles.
Waingate – OE Waen Way – Waggon Road
Monket – The ‘Mun(e)k(e)’ spellings suggest ‘monks’, but in the absence of monastic associations one might suspect an earlier ‘Mened-cet’ (Welsh Mynydd-coed) – ‘forest hill’. Here one might compare ‘Monket House’ in north-east Yorkshire.
Cammon Stone – Cam Maen – Bank Stone.
Rudland – OE hrycg ON hyrggr ‘ridge’.
Old Roads & Pannierways in North East Yorkshire. R. H. Hayes.1988. The North York Moors National Park.
Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Vol.67. 1995. The Yorkshire Archaeological Society.
The Consise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Eilert Ekwall. 1974. Oxford.
The World of Stonehenge
I took a trip down to London to see the British Museum’s The World of Stonehenge exhibition. It was wonderful to see items that I’d read about over the years all gathered into one place and beautifully displayed. If prehistory is your thing, I’d definitely recommend a visit. here’s a few images to whet your appetite.
A few years ago I bought an album of old french postcards themed around prehistoric monuments and natural rock features.
This sparked a short obsession with prehistoric postcards. I bought most of them from ebay and boot sales, setting myself the challenge of paying no more than a pound or two for each card. The obsession burned itself out after a year or two so and I decided to put the collection online for anyone to use. I uploaded about a third of the cards and then kind of lost interest. I’ll return to it one day and finish the job.
If this sort of thing interests you, the collection can be found here
The Old Stones Exhibition March 2022
My friend Tony Galuidi asked me if I’d be interested in a joint exhibition, I agreed and here it is. If you like big old prehistoric stones and you happen to find yourself in Cumbria, pop in and have a look.
Wandering in the shadow of the sacred hill
My friend Graeme Chappell and I decided to have a wander around Thompson’s Rigg. We followed the Old Wife’s Way from Horcum, dropping down along Newgate Brow into the valley below.
We crossed the fields to take a look at the standing stones at the foot of Blakey Topping. These stones have been interpreted as a possible ruined stone circle.
After spending some time at the stones we walked onto Thompson’s Rigg. The Rigg is only a mile long. Its flanks slope down into the valleys of the Grain Beck to the East and Crosscliff Beck to the west. The moor is surrounded on three sides by higher ground and gently slopes to the south, where it narrows to form a valley which eventually leads to Langdale End and Howden Hill, a hill very similar in appearance to Blakey Topping.
About a third of the way along the Rigg the trackways bends, at this point, running diagonally to the trackway, is a cross ridge boundary. The boundary is a banked structure that bisects the full width of the moor and is topped, in parts, with large stones. The official scheduling for the area states that, Although this boundary forms part of the post-medieval field boundary system in the area, it is considered to incorporate elements of an earlier construction which had origins in the prehistoric period, contemporary with the cairnfield. source
In his book Early Man in North East Yorkshire Frank Elgee wrote, A wall of upright stones crosses the Rigg between the farm and the barrows, he also includes the boundary on his map of the area
It is curious that despite the earthwork being mentioned in the official scheduling of the area and despite it defining the the northern limit of the cairnfield and barrows and its close resemblance to other moorland cross ridge boundaries, this significant structure does not appear in either Don Spratt’s 1993 or Blaise Vyner’s 1995 inventories of the cross ridge boundaries of the North York Moors.
South of the large boundary earthwork we started to encounter many cairns, most are in deep heather and difficult to define, at least one of this group appears to be a large ruined barrow.
We continued south, traipsing through the deep heather to a grassy area containing a beautiful Platform Cairn. Platform Cairns are rare on the North York Moors, they are defined as, A roughly circular monument featuring a low, more or less level platform of stones surrounded or retained by a low stone kerb. Some may feature a small central open area, thus resembling a ring cairn. Source.
There is a large stone and hollow in the middle of the cairn implying a possible ruined cist, it is evident that this cairn had been excavated in the past. Graeme reminded me that we were only seven miles from Pickering, once home to James Ruddock.
James Ruddock was a nineteenth century commercial barrow digger. Between 1849 and his death in 1859 he opened many of our moorland mounds in search of finds to sell to the gentleman collectors of his time. His main client was the antiquary Thomas Bateman, he also opened barrows for Samuel Anderson of Whitby.
Unfortunately Ruddock did not always keep precise notes regarding the locations of his diggings, many of his finds have ended up in our museums with vague labels such as, from a mound 6 miles north of Pickering.
Moving further south we encountered this lovely, fairly well-defined ring cairn.
On the south eastern flanks of the Rigg is a group of hollow ways, these are not considered to be prehistoric.
At the southern end of the Rigg is this orthostatic wall which contains many large stones, some of which appear to be buried into the ground. If the wall contained unburied stones it would be classed as a boulder wall. The walling is definitely not prehistoric but may contain stones from an earlier feature.
Not far from the walling is this three foot high standing stone, located within an area of low banks and cairns at the southern end of the Rigg.
Blakey Topping and Thompson’s Rigg are well worth a visit, There is a wealth of prehistoric remains to be seen within a relatively small area. The area is owned by the National Trust and is not managed for grouse so has a mixture of habitats, we saw plenty of birds including Skylarks, Snipes and what I think were a large flock of Fieldfares.
If you visit this lovely place, what you’ll undoubtably notice is that wherever you are on the moor, Blakey Topping is the dominant landscape feature. Graeme and I agreed that this beautiful hill probably had a deep significance to the original inhabitants of this area. A sacred hill? perhaps even a sacred landscape?
Early Man in North East Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930
Orthostatic Field Walls on the North York Moors. D A Spratt. YAJ Vol. 60. 1988
Linear Earthworks of the Tabular Hills, Northeast Yorkshire. D A Spratt. 1989
Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North-East Yorkshire edited by D A Spratt. 1993
CBA Research Report 101: Moorland Monuments’ in The Brides Of Place: Cross-Ridge Boundaries Reviewed, B Vyner. 1995
OS Map – The National Library of Scotland
To illustrate Graeme’s comments