Happy Birthday Stan Beckensall

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.

Link

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

The Sunken kirk

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…

William Wordsworth

..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.

The Lakes. Norman Nicholson. Hale. 1977

Fylingdales Fire II

Following the devastating fire in 2003 a successful program of active stabilisation and regeneration of the moor was put in place. These pictures were taken a couple of years after the fire

If you are interested in the Prehistoric Rock Art of the North Yorkshire Moors, I would recommend getting hold of a copy of Prehistoric Rock Art in the North York Moors by Graeme Chappell and Paul Brown

Fylingdales Fire

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.

Etymology

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’.

Sources

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.