Gallow Howe – Prehistory to the Cold War
Gallow Howe was a large prehistoric burial mound located beside the moorland road that runs across the high moors connecting Eskdale with the Vale of Pickering. Today, there are no traces of the mound to be seen and it is no longer marked on the OS maps.
In 1863 R.C Atkinson, described the mound as a chambered cairn 7 – 8 feet in height and about 9 yards in diameter, with a kerb of stones standing 3-4 feet high around its base. On excavating the mound, an internal dry stone walled chamber or cist, 5 feet long 3 feet wide, was found. The excavator dug 5-6 feet down into the cist and found nothing.
Atkinson also tells us that there was a tradition that a gallows once stood on or near to the mound.
It’s unfortunate that large cairns close to roads were often used as convenient quarries for road menders and stone wallers. Today, the only trace of the site is a nearby stone carved with the name Gallow How, the stone is one of 25 erected along length of Castleton Rigg to mark the boundary between the Westerdale and Danby estates.
The site is intervisible with other large barrow groups along the Esk Valley margins including Danby Beacon which can be seen on the far right of the image above.
In her book, An Illustrated Guide to Stone Antiquities on the North Yorkshire Moors, Elizabeth Ogilvie wrote that the gallows was in use until around 1760 and that a gibbet* stood on the howe long after it was last used.
She also wrote that the Hand of Glory, which is now in the Whitby Museum, was alleged to have come from a corpse hanged on Gallow Howe.
Gallows sites were viewed as places of dread, inhabited by the lost souls of those executed, they were often located in liminal places. This site, a gallows built on top of a pagan burial mound, on an estate boundary, on an empty moor would have been seen and understood by everyone travelling to the dale. Two thousand years earlier, the Chambered Cairn may have been located here for similar reasons.
The site maintained its strategic value into the twentieth century. During the Second World War it was used by the Royal Observer Corps. During the Cold War an underground bunker was built on the site to monitor radiation levels during a nuclear attack. The bunker was abandoned in the 1990s and has recently been restored and can be visited on open days
* A gibbet was a cage or set of chains where the body of the hanged person was left to rot as a warning. The body was sometimes covered in tar to preserve it.
Map extract reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’
J.C. Atkinson. Traces of our Remote Ancestors The Gentleman’s Magazine Vol. 214. 1863
E. Ogilve. An Illustrated Guide to Stone Antiquities on the North Yorkshire Moors. 1996
Gallows image credit Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
S. White. Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North Yorkshire Moors.
I took a walk onto Danby Low Moor to have a look around the old silica rock quarries. The quarries were active from the late nineteenth century until the mid twentieth century.
The stone was transported from the moor via an incline to a crushing plant in Castleton. The silica-rich stone was used in the manufacture of refractory bricks and foundry moulding sand.
Keepers across the moors were taking advantage of the light southerly winds, I could see the smoke from at least half a dozen moorland fires. As the day progressed more fires were lit. Smoke was blowing from the high moors into the Esk valley via Westerdale and Danby Dale.
Looking eastwards along Eskdale , a low bar of smoke could be seen running along the coast where the light onshore winds met the stronger offshore wind, pushing the smoke northwards along the coastline
The smoke from the northern moor tops gradually made its way to the escarpment edge and could be seen dropping down into the Tees valley and East Cleveland. If you were beneath the escarpment you probably wouldn’t notice the smoke, however, it was quite visible from above.
The periodic burning of the moorlands is a controversial issue with arguments for and against, there is no doubt that it is a destructive process and can have a detrimental effect on the delicate ecosystems of the upland moors and bogs.
What isn’t often discussed are the human health effects of these burnings. In an attempt to cut pollution and improve air quality, the government is currently legislating to reduce emmisions from all sectors of society but I can’t find any reference to the burning of moorland in the Government’s Clean Air Strategy
In many ways, the grouse shooting industry seems to be untouched by the modern world. It occurs to me that with the current pandemic, many people are experiencing breathing difficulties, any increase in atmospheric pollutants is not a good thing, especially for those who live in the moorland dales.
Smoke is defined as the gaseous products of burning materials especially of organic origin made visible by the presence of small particles of carbon
It is unlawful to cause emission of smoke which is prejudicial to health or causes a nuisance. [Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990] The Heather & Grass Burning Code
The Giant’s Lapstone
The Giant’s Lapstone was a large boulder on the southern slope of the Basedale Beck valley at Hob Hole. The boulder was described by Blakeborough as Hanging, as though balanced and held by some unforeseen agency. he goes on to state that The massive rock was believed to possess the power of detecting those maidens who had in any way deviated from the paths of virtue..It was recognised as a testing-place of virginity and purity.
In the centre of the boulder was a hole about two feet deep shaped like a foot print. The tradition held that a maiden whose purity was tarnished would be able to place her leg in the depression without difficulty, whereas the leg of a virtuous women would cause the cavity to close towards the apex thus preventing her foot from being fully inserted.
The stone was also a place of pilgrimage for newly married women seeking a blessing on any children that they may have. For a pilgrim to receive a blessing from the stone she had to the perform the following ritual.
The visit must be made on a Monday, the mother to be had to bring a cobblers hammer and a shoe for her left foot. She had to then sit on the stone and recite a long doggeral rhyme. Blakeborough gives us an imperfectly remember version of the rhyme.
Cobbler, cobbler, look on me,
I come to crave thy blessing,
I beat thy leather for thee.
Nine nails to bind the heel I take.
A wild boar’s bristle, long and strong,
To thy wax-end I fix it.
To nine long strands well rolled,
I wax them well with drawn wax,
I wax, I wax it well for thee.
I wet the welt, I beat the welt,
As on they last I lay the welt.
Tough and firm from the middle hide,
Well-beaten on they lapstone,
I lay my sole upon thy last.
Strong as nine wax-ends thrice doubled,
So none but thy giant hands could pull asunder.
Now lifting up the shoe the supplicant had brought along with her, she continued:
The shoe is now made,
As well shaped as it I now put on, I pray
May all my children be;
Strong in every part.
I claim but one shoe from thee today.
May I never have a two-birth.
I cast my old shoes from me,
Poor and shapeless.
No part upon the lapstone ever lay-
Into the water I cast it-
To it may all my ill-luck cling,
And that of all that shall be mine.
So cobbler look upon me
With favour and great graciousness,
I pray thee look upon me,
And all mine yet unborn;
Ere I bid thee good-day.
Sadly, nothing remains of the Lapstone. Some time around 1830 the boulder slipped into the valley bottom causing an obstruction in the beck and the stone was broken up by blasting. The portion of the stone with the footprint shaped depression was taken to Castleton where it was used as a mounting-stone outside of one of the inns. This stone is thought to have been broken-up to repair the road. The legend of the Giant involves a wicked Baron and a boot-shaped chariot drawn by thirteen swans. I will write that tale in another post.
Source – The Hand of Glory. J Fairfax-Blakeborough. 1924