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

 

Into Eden

For the past two decades or so I have been researching the links between Cumbria and North Yorkshire. For most of that time my researches have focussed upon Prehistory and the movement of people, objects and beliefs.

In recent years my focus has broadened and I’ve become interested in the post- Roman period, a time when our identity was more about being Northern than being English. With this in mind I decided to return to Cumbria and spend a couple of days travelling around the Eden Valley.

On trips like this I can never completely detach myself from Prehistory but I consciously  decided to limit the megalithic sites to a couple and loosely focus upon looking for remnants from the post-Roman period onwards.

The journey started at the western foot of the Stainmore Pass at Brough. For me, Brough has always been the gatekeeper of the Eden valley. The Romans recognised the strategic value of the place and built a large fort there called Verteris, later in the 11th century the Normans chose to build a castle on the Roman site.

When seen from the A66 the ruined castle of Brough is generally my first glimpse of the red sandstone of the Eden valley.

St Michaels Church Brough

In the bible, Michael the archangel was Gods’ General, leading the forces of heaven in the  fight against Satan. It is fitting that the a church built within the confines of a ‘pagan’ roman fort should be dedicated to him. Perhaps the site was once occupied by a Roman temple and continued to be used by local people until the arrival of  Christianity. The current church was founded in 12th century and has undergone a number of improvements in the years since.

Mason Marks

There are many masons marks on the exterior walls of the church. Most of them are in the form of a crossed ‘Z’. I am guessing that the stones as they were quarried and were marked with the orientation of the cross indicating how the stone should be aligned, but this is only a guess.

Cross Slabs and Roman Inscription

Built into the wall of the porch of the church are a number of large cross slabs and a tribute to the Roman commander of the fort. The stone was found in 1880 during building work to the church. The inscription translates as For the Emperor Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus and for Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caesar … in the consulship of Lateranus and Rufinus. 

The Brough Stone – A Roman tribute, written in Greek, to a young Syrian who died a long way from home.

A lovely Norman arch

A possible Celtic/Romano-British carved head and a hexafoil, a symbol of purity that has been used elsewhere as a folk-magic symbol of protection.

Pin Cone

 Andy Goldsworthy has built one of his beautiful Cone Pinfolds in the grounds of the local school.

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

 

Stan Laurel

Stan Laurel went to school in Gainford, that’s more than enough of a reason to have a wander around.

Stan

Lovely Medieval cross slabs line the church porch walls

Inside the church, a pair of carved stones

AD stones

AD stone

There is a dragon carving on the opposite face of the second stone, it is almost impossible to see the carving as the stone is close to the wall and fixed into the floor. A photograph of it can be seen here

Pillar

The house next to the church has an impressive piece of garden architecture.

A path from the churchyard leads down to the Tees, its waters stained with Pennine peatShap Granite

 A boulder, transported from the Shap Fells.

Peg Powler

Peg Powler patrols the banks

A wall blocks access to a broken Bailey Bridge, many of its boards are missing, one of the supporting columns has been washed away.

Dovecote

With no convenient river crossing, the distant dovecote will have to wait

Returning to the village, I stop to admire this lovely Festival of Britain bench.

Illustration of Gainford Carved Stones from The Antiquities of Gainford. J.R Walbran 1846

The Gainford Stone

The Barforth Bailey Bridge 

The Devil’s Arrows

The Devil’s Arrows are a row of three prehistoric standing stones located in a field on the outskirts of Boroughbridge.

Devils arrows

The stones exist in a wider, complex, prehistoric landscape, a recent archaeological survey of the surrounding area uncovered a number of features including a double timber post row and an associated ditch, extensive flint scatters and grooved ware pottery.

The tallest stones is 22.5 feet high making it the second tallest prehistoric standing stone in the UK after the Rudston Monolith at 26 feet. Graeme Chappell recently informed me that the Rudston Monolith, 44 miles away, is aligned precisely due East of the Arrows.

The antiquarian John Leland visited the town sometime between 1535 and 1540  and described the row as four upright stones with no mention of a fallen fifth stone

..little without this Towne on the west part of Watiling-Streate stadith 4 great maine stones wrought above in conum by Mannes hand.
They be set in 3 several Feldes at this Tyme.
The first is a 20 foote by estimation in higeth and an 18 foote in cumpace. The stone towards the ground is sumwhat square, and so up to the midle, and then wrought with certen rude boltells in conum. But the very toppe thereof is broken of a 3 or 4 footes. Other 2 of like shap stand in another feld a good But shot of: and the one of them is bigger then the other; and they stand within a 6 or 8 fote one of the other.
The fourth standith in a several feld a good stone cast from the other, and is bigger and higher than any of the other 3. I esteme it to the waite of a 5 Waine Lodes or more.
Inscription could I none find yn these stones; and if there were it might be woren out; for they be sore woren and scalid with wether.
I take to be a trophaea a Romanis posita in the side of Watheling Streat,as yn a place most occupied in Yorneying ad so most yn sighte.

A German traveler, Lupold Von Wedel visited the stones in 1584 and recorded seeing five stones, four upright and one lying on the ground. Thirty years later another antiquarian, William Camden visited the stones but only three were left upright, and again, no mention of a fifth stone..

Neere unto this bridge Westward wee saw in three divers little fields foure huge stones of pyramidall forme, but very rudely wrought, set as it were in a streight and direct line. The two Pyramides in the middest, whereof the one was lately pulled downe by some that hoped, though in vaine, to finde treasure, did almost touch one another. The uttermore stand not far off, yet almost in equall distance from these on both sides.

Aubrey

John Aubrey’s notes in his Monumenta Britannica complied between 1665 and 1693. Aubrey thought that the stones may have been part of a great stone circle. No evidence has ever been found to support his theory.

devils_arrows stukeley

Illustration from Itinerarium Curiosum II by William Stukeley. 1776


The Arrows copy

Illustration from The Strangers Guide: Being a concise history & description of Boroughbridge by Boroughbridge. 1846

The fourth stone, toppled by treasure hunters, is thought to have been broken-up and used as the foundation for the bridge over the nearby River Tutt in 1621. There is an account of the top of the stone being taken and placed into the garden of Aldborough Manor.

If its lower portion was embedded in the bridge it may still be there. A local belief that the upper segment was set up in the grounds of Aldborough Manor (Lukis 1877, 134), has been kindly confirmed by the present owner, Sir Henry Lawson-Tancred (pers. comm.).

The Devil’s Arrows: The Archaeology of a Stone Row by Aubrey Burl. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal. Vol 63. 1991

Graeme and I have recently been discussing the fate of the fourth stone and decided to take a look to see if we could locate any traces of the missing stone.

Devils Arrows

We started at the stones themselves. There is currently a crop of beets in the field so we followed the well worn path around field margin. Whilst we were looking at the possible cupmarks on the northern stone we got chatting to a woman who told us that, whilst walking her dogs in the area, she had once experienced an energy at the stones that was so powerful it had made her feel ill.

I have enhanced this image a little to highlight the cupmarks on the stone.

We also noticed that there were lots of ladybirds on the stones, it turns out that these are Harlequin Ladybirds, an invasive species that are said to be responsible for the decline of our native species.

Devils Arrows grooves

I’ve recently read that the grooves on the tops of the stone were caused by The Devil trying to hang his grandmother from the stone.  The tale does not say why he was trying to hang her or whether he was successful. I was just surprised to learn that the prince of darkness had a grandmother

The road beside the field is currently being improved to provide access to a new housing development. It is always a little disturbing to see a development encroaching upon an ancient site.

We took a walk down to the bridge over the River Tutt to see if we could spot any remains of the stone.

Tutt Bridge

The Arrows are made of Millstone Grit and are thought to have been brought to the site from Plumpton Rocks, a distance of over 8 miles. The local building stone is a fairly uniform. fine grained sandstone so the coarser grained gritstone, with it’s large quartz grains is quite easy to identify. We didn’t find any evidence of gritstone in the bridge but Graeme did spot three large dressed gritstone blocks in the kerbing leading from the bridge.

Tutt Bridge kerbs

We decided to head over to nearby Aldborough to see if we could track down the top fragment of the fourth stone.

Aldborough.jpg

Aldborough is a small village on the outskirts of Boroughbridge. It is the site of a walled Roman town called Isurium Brigantum. We enquired at the Manor House regarding the whereabouts of the stone, the owner told us that they have looked for evidence of the stone in the manor grounds but not found any trace of it.

In the centre of the village is a large column called the Battle Cross. A nearby plaque states that the cross commemorates the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322. The plaque also mentions Thomas Earl of Lancaster who was in collusion with the Scots. A Yorkshireman rarely passes up the opportunity to have a pop at his Lancastrian neighbours.

The local church is reputed to be  built on the site of a Roman Temple, there is a carving inside the church which is thought to portray Mercury.

The devil's arrows

Having arrived at a dead end in our search for the fourth stone, we decided to visit the site where, according to legend, the devil stood when he threw the Arrows, How Hill.

How Hill

How Hill is just over 7 miles west of the Arrows. The first written record of the hill is from 1346 and refers to it as the site of a medieval chapel dedicated to Saint Michael, possibly a place of pilgrimage. The site became a ruin after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. The tower was rebuilt in 1719 and further domestic buildings were added to it during the 19th century. It is likely that the tower was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh

What surprised both Graeme and I were the views from the hill, although relatively low lying it has a fantastic viewshed, the Pennines in the West, the North York Moors in the east and as far south as Drax power station.

The tower is currently boarded-up, it’s a substantial building, quite singular in design. It has a slight air of malice about it, I’m not sure I’d like to visit it in the dark, as Graeme once did. On checking the BGS website I discovered that the bedrocks around the hill are Plumpton Gritstone, the same stone as the Arrows, perhaps the folklore is right and the Arrows did originate from here.

smith's arrows

The Devil’s Arrows should be viewed as one of a number of prehistoric monuments that align roughly north-south through North Yorkshire. I recently found this lovely pdf booklet which details this alignment. Booklet

I’m not sure if anyone has ever tried to tie-in the Arrows with the Prehistoric  monuments that extend eastwards towards the Yorkshire coast, both Graeme and I believe that it is not unreasonable to think that there may be a connection.

Stanwick – St John the Baptist

The circular churchyard of St John the Baptist’s church is located in the middle of a late Iron Age royal enclosure, this suggests that the origins of the church are at least pre-Norman. Recent archaeological studies have suggested that the slightly elevated ground upon which the church sits may have at some times of the year been surrounded by water.

The present church dates from the thirteenth century and was renovated in 1868

The Anglo Saxon cross shaft dates from the ninth century

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