I took a trip down to London to see the British Museum’s The World of Stonehenge exhibition. It was wonderful to see items that I’d read about over the years all gathered into one place and beautifully displayed. If prehistory is your thing, I’d definitely recommend a visit. here’s a few images to whet your appetite.
I recently saw this wonderful illustration of Yorkshire Megaliths. I contacted the author, Adam Morgan Ibbotson, and he kindly sent me a copy.
I was rather chuffed, Adam wrote one of my favourite books of 2021, Cumbria’s Prehistoric Monuments. It’s a lovely book, comprehensive, very readable with beautiful photographs, maps and illustrations. If prehistory and big old stones are your thing, you’ll love this. You can buy it here
The church at Kirklevington has been in existence since the early medieval period. The chancel is Medieval, the rest of the church was rebuilt during the nineteenth century. Many ancients stones were found during the rebuilding of the church and have been incorporated into the fabric of the church.
Inside the porch is the entrance arch to the church. The two orders are a bit of a hodge-podge of weathered stones. There are spirals carved onto the capitals and one has a carving of intertwined serpents which is quite hard to make out.
The Chancel Arch is much more satisfying. The left hand capital is beautifully carved with a man’s head, stars and spirals. Beside the capital is the carving of a lion. The capital on the right side is carved with a headless bird, beside it is a rather damaged carving that has been interpreted as an ox. There is a lovely booklet available at the church which informs us that these carving represent the four evangelists, Mark (lion), Mathew (the head), John (the bird), Luke (the ox).
There are quite a few Cross Slabs within the church. Cross slabs are difficult to date as they were used from the eleventh to the seventeenth century.
There are a number of stones embedded in the external walls including six chevroned stones which may have once formed part of an arch. I’m guessing these were left over from the rebuilding of the doorway arch.
This beautiful door handle is a nod to the ancient origins of the church.
A number of ancient carved stones were discovered during the rebuilding of the church. Many of the ancient cross fragments have been removed from the church and are currently being stored at the Preston Hall Museum, a few are on display. The stone below is part of a cross shaft and is probably my favourite local medieval stone. It is thought to depict the Norse god Odin and his two ravens Huginn and Muninn (thought and mind). Odin’s ravens would fly out into the world and report what they saw to Odin.
Why is Odin depicted on a christian cross?
The early medieval period was a time of transition from the Pagan religions of northern Europe to Christianity. Nothing was straightforward, Pagan kings would succeed Christian Kings and the Christian church itself was split between two traditions, the celtic church and the church of Rome.
It may seem odd to us to see pagan imagery on a Christian cross shaft but the people of the early medieval period would have recognised and understood this imagery. Odin would have been a familiar figure to not only the people of Scandinavian descent but also to people who’s ancestors had travelled to our area from northern Europe.
Odin was known in the Anglo Saxon world as Woden, perhaps Woden was also worshipped in our islands prior to the arrival of the Anglo Saxons. During the Roman occupation of Britain, the majority of the Roman army was comprised of Auxiliaries. These units were manned by soldiers from territories that had fallen to Roman conquest. The majority of the Auxiliaries in our islands were composed of men from northern Europe, lands where Woden was a primary deity.
The Roman tradition was not to suppress the local belief in the gods of the lands they were conquering, they would associate local gods with Roman gods who possessed similar attributes, Woden/Odin was associated with the god Mercury because of his role on guiding the dead to the afterlife. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that the Northern European tribes worshipped Mercury. Wednesday (Wodin’s Day) is known in Latin as Mercurii dies (‘Day of Mercury’).
This carving has been interpreted as portraying the god Mercury, is in the church at Aldborough, the church is said to have been built on the site of a Roman shrine.
It’s an interesting aside to look at Odin and Jesus. Given the evidence, it is fairly safe to assume that Odin may have originated in an older, shamanic-based belief system, if we detach ourselves from our christian assumptions we may also see similar shamanic elements in the life of Jesus.
In becoming a shaman there is generally a requirement for a ritual death and rebirth. Odin achieved this by hanging himself on a tree, Jesus was hung on a cross and then descended into the underworld before being reborn. Whilst on the tree, Odin pierced himself with his spear, whilst Jesus was on the cross he too was pierced with a spear.
Shamans are generally wanderers who undertake spirit journeys, Odin famously wandered in search of enlightenment, Jesus wandered with his small group of followers throughout his later life, the bible records his forty day solo journey into the Sinai desert without food or water. Both Jesus and Odin possessed the ability to speak to and raise the dead, Odin using his magic, Jesus by miraculous means, magic by a different name?
Perhaps the people of the past saw these similarities too. The early Christian church was very different to the church of today, the early Christian world was a place of mystics, demons, miracles, monks and local saints, many of who may have previously followed a pagan tradition.
Odin is thought to have hung himself on Yggdrasil, the world tree. The Pagans of northern Europe also had a world tree, Irminsul. These trees may have had their origins in the shamanic tradition where they symbolised the shaman’s journey between realms. Perhaps the cross represented the same idea to the early christians, an axis between the realms of heaven, earth and the underworld.
Anglian & Anglo-Danish Sculpture in the North Riding of Yorkshire. W.G. Collingwood. YAJ Vol.19. 1907
Yorkshire A Gazetteer of Anglo-Saxon & Viking Sites. G Points. 2007
Romanesque Yorkshire. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Paper No.9 Rita Wood. 2012
Archaeological Trail. St Martin’s Church. Kirklevington. A pamphlet available from the church.
Yggdrasil Image – Oluf Bagge, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Thanks to Gary & Kate for arranging access to their lovely church.
The Devil’s Arrows are a row of three prehistoric standing stones located in a field on the outskirts of Boroughbridge.
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.
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.
Illustration from Itinerarium Curiosum II by William Stukeley. 1776
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.
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.
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.
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.
We decided to head over to nearby Aldborough to see if we could track down the top fragment of the fourth stone.
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.
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 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.
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.
When parsley is sown it goes nine times to the devil before it comes up.
Only the wicked can grow parsley.
If a loaf of bread is cut at both ends the devil will fly over the house.
It is said that when a woman whistles, the devil rattles his chains.
It is unlucky to meet a red haired woman in the morning.
To keep the cramp away, carry a potato in your pocket.
It is lucky to carry a tip of dried tongue in your pocket.
If you lay a new born child on its left side it will always be awkward
If a child is put upon a bear’s back at a bear baiting he will be cured of the whooping cough.
It is lucky for your first child to be a girl.
If you sit on a table you want to be married.
If you dream of losing your teeth you will lose your best friend.
If you point nine times at the moon you will not go to heaven.
Crooked money brings good luck.
If you throw the gills of a fish over your house they will become a silver spoon.
Let a spoon fall and a fool will come to see you.
It is unlucky to turn a spoon over in your mouth.
It is unlucky for the clock to stand opposite the fire.
It is unlucky to mend your clothes whilst wearing them
It is unlucky to count your teeth.
Never buy black pins unless you are in mourning.
Taken from – Household Tales with other traditional remains. S Addy. 1895
..an old man asked me if I’d ever been to the Rudston Monolith? ‘Not yet’ I replied, at which he went silent. The old man mysteriously told me that there was much more to be found than could be seen there, and that it all would be revealed should I just ‘check out the Gypsey Race’.
Julian Cope. The Modern Antiquarian. 1998ce
Inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful book, Landmarks, here is part two of a North Yorkshire glossary. Most of these words were collected by Richard Blakeborough, Rev. Atkinson & M. Morris in the mid-late nineteenth century.
Awm – Elm. Beeaf – The bough of a tree. Benty – Wiry, blue looking pasture. Bessy-bainworts – Daisies. Bigg – Barley with four rows of ears on one stalk. Blarberry – Bilberry. Birk – The birch tree. Bleea – The inner bark of a tree. Bobblekins – The water buttercup. Boll – Trunk of a tree. Bottery, Bore-tree, Bur-tree – The alder tree. Brassic – Wild mustard or charlock. Breear – The briar. Breeking – That part of a tree where the stem breaks into branches. Brown-leemers – Brown or ripe nuts. Bullace – The wild plum. Bull feeaces, Bull fronts – Hair grass. Bumm’l-kites – Brambles. Burr-thistle – Small headed thistle. Busk – A small bush. Cat hawes – The fruit of Hawthorns. Cats and eyes – Seeds of the ash tree. Cat-trail – Root of valerian. Cat whins – The dog rose. Chatt – A fir-apple. Cheese-cake Grass – The common bird’s foot trefoil. Clot bur – The burdock. Corr’n-berries – Red or white currants. Cowstripling – The cowslip. Cramm’ls – The gnarled twisted boughs of trees. Crashes – Watercress. Cup or cock rose – Common poppy. Cushia – Cow parsnip. Daffy down dilly – daffodil. Deeaf nettle – The blind or hemp nettle. Docken – The dock plant. Dog-choops – Rose hips. Eak – Oak. Flags – Yellow iris. Floss Docken – The foxglove. Floss-seave – Cotton grass. Fog – The grass which grows after hay has been harvested. Fog field – A field that has been left for a second growth of grass. Fuzzball – Puffball. Goldens – Charred stems of burnt heather. Gowland – The corn marigold. Hag – A wood or coppice on wild broken ground. Hag berry – Wild cherry. Hag-snare – The stump left after coppicing. Horse-knops – Black Knapweed. Kelk – Fool’s parsley. Kitty-kels – Seeds of the ash tree. Lingberry – The seed capsule of heather. Mauls – The marsh mallow. Palms, Paum – Catkins. Sap tree – The rowan tree. Scrogs – Stunted bushes or shrubs. Sea-tang – Seaweed or wrack. Seggrums – Common ragwort. Sour-docken – The wild sorrel. Tangles – seaweed. Traveller’s joy – Stags-horn club moss. Whins – Gorse. Wickens – Couch grass. Yackron – Acorn.