Dodging Storm Dudley on Dere Street

..with Mr Vasey

Piercebridge – Fawcett – Stanwick

Cartimandua

stanwick-horsePrehistory ends with the Romans and the introduction of the written word into our islands. We only know the personal names of a few 1st century Britons from the time of the Roman occupation of Britain, two of them are women, Boudicca and Cartimandua.

At the time of the Roman invasion Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes, was a ruler in her own right, and the living symbol of Brigantia , a tribal alliance that covered much of northern England. She is the first recorded British Queen and her royal palace is thought to have been at Stanwick, four miles south of the River Tees.

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We do not know a great deal about Cartimandua but the Romans must have considered her a very important figure as they chose to maintain good relations with her. She ruled The Brigantes for twenty six years during a time of massive social upheaval and military occupation.

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Roman historian, Tacitus’s account of Cartimandua is brief and not very complimentary but it does give us a glimpse into the life of an extraordinary northern British woman in the 1st Century. The fact that she managed to keep her throne, and maintain a relative peace for more than a quarter of a century during a time of war and rebellion, implys that she was a powerful leader during a period when society was rapidly changing

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Apart from an account in Tacitus’s Histories there is no archaeological evidence that Cartimandua ever existed.  There is a possibility that her life passed into oral history as Gwenhwyfar the wife of King Arthur and was recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his work The History of the Kings of Britain.

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

Piercebridge Barrow alignment

A while ago I came across a reference to a couple of Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age barrows on the southern bank of the Tees close to Piercebridge. Lowland barrows are rare in the Tees valley so I was keen to find out more about this pair. On further investigation I noticed that there were three barrows, one north of the river and two south. Looking on the map I noticed that the three barrows formed an alignment that crossed the Tees at the point where the Romans had built a bridge. Projecting the alignment south leads to the Iron Age Oppidium of Stanwick.

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According to Ray Seton’s Astronomical Significance chart, the barrows are also roughly aligned to the rising sun at the summer solstice 2000 BCE.

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This map shows that the ancient crossing point was still being used as a ford in the nineteenth century

I checked through all of the sources but could not find a reference to this barrow alignment, so on a misty morning my friend Martyn and I set out to give the place a looking at.

The two barrows on Betty Watson’s Hill and a cup marked cobble stone with two possibly three cups. In North Yorkshire there is a definite association between cup marked stones and prehistoric funerary monuments.

I suggest that the barrows were not actually aligned on the river crossing but were aligned on a trackway or road that crossed the river at this point. The trackway and crossing point, if regularly used, would probably have been quite visible. There is plenty of evidence in the archaeological record to demonstrate a relationship between prehistoric monuments and trackways.

The Tees at Piercebridge and the remains of the Roman bridge. The bridge is built on a gravel bed which is rich in flint pebbles. Perhaps in prehistory this place was not only significant as a river crossing point but also as a source of raw materials.

This part of the River Tees also had a special significance to the Romans. A substantial amount of votive offerings have been recovered from this small section of the river, leading to the suggestion that there was some form of shrine here during the Roman period. The barrow alignment may suggest that this part of the river also carried a spiritual significance to the people who populated this area long before the arrival of the Romans.