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.

A lorry passing the site of Gallow Howe carrying moorland stone… there’s a metaphor here somewhere.

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.

Sources

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 CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

S. White. Standing Stones and Earthworks on the North Yorkshire Moors.

Castleton Cold War Bunker


The Unblinking Eye

55 Years of Space Operations on Fylingdales Moor.

Michael Mulvihill

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The Whitby Museum at Pannett Park is one of my favourite places to spend a couple of  hours so when I saw a flyer for this exhibition I headed over the moors at the first opportunity.

The two nice ladies at the desk said to me ‘it’s probably not what you were expecting, it’s an artists response to the Fylingdales site.’

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The exhibition is the result of Michael Mulvihill’s three years of exploring the objects in the sites archive and the history of RAF Fylingdales.  I enjoyed the exhibition, if you go I would recommend that you read the accompanying booklet, which is excellent.

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The exhibition runs from the 3rd of August to the 3rd of November. There is also a public program of events which can be found here 

Two Minutes to Midnight – Richard Clay explores why we are no longer afraid of nuclear annihilation, and whether we should be.

On reflection, the objects on display will have a different meaning depending on your own personal experience. I was born in the 1960s, there was a civil defence siren located on the perimeter of my primary school playground, the four minute warning and the Doomsday Clock were ever-present in our lives. The threat of a nuclear attack was a very real one, the RAF Fylingdales early warning station was a constant reminder of this.

https://teessidepsychogeography.wordpress.com/2018/03/12/a-postcard-from-the-cold-war/

Pannett

Wise Men

york rattle1

My friend Graeme Chappell sent me this photo that he took in the York Castle Museum.  The photo is of a Cunning or Wiseman’s rattle, another example from the Whitby Museum can be seen here

The rattles are constructed of pine spills and decorated with charms and mottoes. Rattles were often used by shamanic healers. The rattle is often thought to represent the cosmos, the seeds or pebbles inside are spirits and souls of ancestors. Shaking the rattle activates these spirits who will then assist the shaman. (The Shaman. Voyages of the Soul. Piers Vitebsky. DBP 1995)

Below, a short piece that I wrote for the Bob Fischer show on BBC Tees

Wise Men

In past times when ordinary people were poorly educated, many held a strong belief in magic and witchcraft. If someone had problems they would often consult the local Wise Man.  According to the late Edna Whelan, the last wise man of the moors died in the 1930’s. His name was Charlie Brocket and he lived in Ellers Cottage in Goathland. Charlie had a good reputation for producing Amulets and talismans against witchcraft, many of which were found when clearing out his house

The most famous wise man in our area was John Wrightson of Stokesley, he was the seventh son of a seventh daughter. Wrightson travelled around the district dressed in a long black cloak bedecked with bottles, jars, herbs and a human skull. He had a powerful reputation as a seer, healer and vet, people would travel from far and wide to consult him.

Blakeborough describes him as ‘a man endowed with marvellous psychic power and with the smallest amount of fakery possible’. However local writer and historian George Markham Tweddle considered Wrightson to be little better than a huge swindler.

In his book Yorkshire Wit, Blakeborough tells the tale of Nathan Agar. Nathan was a sixty year old man who wanted to marry an eighteen year old woman. Wrightson had advised against the marriage and foretold an unhappy future for Nathan, but Nathan was besotted with the woman and the marriage went ahead. Later, Nathan called to see the wise man telling him that his savings, five golden guineas kept in a sock, had vanished from its hiding place in the eaves of his house. Wrightson told him to go home and place a leaf of the bible beneath the front doorstep to his house and then carefully watch to see who stumbled as they entered . Nathan did this, the first person to enter the house was his young lodger, who stumbled, he was followed by Nathan’s wife who also stumbled. Nathan returned to the Wise man to inform him of what had happened. Wrightson told Nathan that he would find his property hidden in the pig-sty along with an old watch that Nathan had not missed. The wise man advised that Nathan should return home, keep his watch, give the five guineas to the couple and send them packing.

Wrightson occasionally fell foul of the law, in 1799 he was hauled before an enquiry in Bedale into the poisoning of Thomas Hodgson of Theakston and in 1808 he managed to get himself outlawed from the town of Malton. Ten years later he was re-arrested and en-route to Northallerton jail took some of his own medicine and died.