History and Gazetteer of the County of Derby

History and Gazetteer of the County of Derby is in Prehistory.

Books, Prehistory, History and Gazetteer of the County of Derby Volume 1

History and Gazetteer of the County of Derby Volume 1 Chapter VI

Antiquities: British remains; Castle-hill Barrows, Arbetows; Roo-Tor rocks, Graned Tor and other Tors, Nine ladies, Rocking Stone, Robin Hood's mark &c. Celts, &c. Roman antiquities, camps, stations, coins, Ancient Saxon, Danish and other remains.

The antiquities of any country or district are those vestiges of its earlier inhabitants, by the investigation of which, much of their origin, their manners and their superstition may be discovered. They aid the labours of the historian, and serve, frequently, either to corroborate or confute the voice of popular tradition or the legend. of the poets. In Derbyshire there are many of these important memorials, but it will be our business to describe them and to leave their critical examination to others. Of those that are to be ascribed to a period antecedent to the invasion of this island by the Romans under the command of Cæsar, there are remains probably belonging to the worship and interment of the Britons, the earliest inhabitants of this island known to authenticated history.

At Pilsbury, in Hartington parish, in a deep valley on the banks of the Dove, in a field called Castle Hills, arc some ancient remains deserving of notice. On the east side is a sharp natural ridge of rocks, which in one part rises to the height of seven or eight yards, bearing some resemblance to a sugar loaf. Adjoining to this is a raised bank, enclosing an area of about sixty yards from north to south, and fin-ty from east to west; and having barrow near its western side, about forty yards in diameter. Southward of the barrow is a second bank, forming a square of nearly thirty yards each way.

A large barrow [Wolfscote Hill Barrow [Map]] is to be seen on a high eminence called Wolfs-cote hill, in Hartington parish; and upon the common, which extends ten miles in the direction of north and south, are many barrows, generally situate on the highest points of ground. Near Brassington there is a remarkable low or barrow, called Mining low [Map], having a number of vaults carried round its circumference, several of them now exposed to sight. During the time of the enclosure, a quantity of human bones were found on the moor.

Between two and three miles north—east of Newhaven, at a little distance beyond the Roman road from Buxton to Little Chester, is one of the most remarkable monuments of antiquity in Derbyshire. This is the Arbor-Low or Arbelows [Map], a druidical circle, surrounded by a ditch and vallum. Its situation, though considerably elevated, is not high as some eminences in the neighbouring country ; yet it commands an extensive view, especially to the north-east. The area, encompassed by the ditch, is about fifty yards in diameter, and of a circularfurm ; though, from a little declination of the ground towards the north, it appears somewhat elliptical, when viewed from particular points. The stones which compose the circle are rough and unhewn masses of limestone, apparently thirty in number; but this cannot be determined with certainty, as several are broken. Most of them are from six to eight feet in length, and three or four broad in the widest part; their thickness is more variable, and their respective shapes are different. They all lie on the ground, and generally in an oblique position; but the opinion that has prevailed, of the narrowest end of each being pointed towards the centre, in order to represent the rays of the sun, and prove that luminary to have been the object of worship, must have arisen from inaccurate observation: for they almost as frequently point towards the ditch as otherwise. Whether they ever stood upright, as most of the stones of druidical circles do, is an enquiry not to determine; though Mr. Pilkington was informed, that a very old man living in Middleton, remembered, when a boy, to have seen them standing obliquely upon one end. This secondary kind of evidence does not seem entitled to much credit as the view of the stones themselves and their relative situations are almost demonstrative of the contrary. Within the circle are some smaller stones scattered irregularly and near the centre are three larger ones erroneously supposed to have once formed a cromlech The width of the ditch which immediately surrounds the area on which the stones are placed is about six yards the height of the bank or vallum on the inside is from six to eight yards but this varies throughout the whole circumference which on the top is nearly two hundred and seventy yards. The vallum seems to have been formed of the earth thrown up from the ditch. To the enclosed area are two entrances each of the width of ten or twelve yards and opening on the north and south. On the east side of the southern entrance is a large barrow standing in the same line of circumference as the vallum but wholly detached excepting at the bottom. This barrow was opened in June 1782 by H Rooke esq and the horns of a stag were discovered in it and June 1 1824 by Mr Samuel Mitchell (age 27) of Sheffield and the engraving here inserted is copied from an accurate drawing made by that gentleman.

About the distance of half a mile from Arbor low to the west is another large barrow called End low [Map] in which ashes and burnt bones have been found. From this numerous barrows may be seen on the distant eminences and in some of them urns human bones ashes and other memorials of the customs of remote ages have been discovered. The names of several places in this neighbourhood are also indicative of antiquity though the places themselves are now of little account as Aldwark five miles south of Arbor low on the Roman road from Buxton to Little Chester; Aldport on another ancient way leading from Aldwark towards Bakewell and some others.

Near to Wardlow a barrow [Wardlow Barrow 1 [Map]] was examined in the year 1759 by the Rev Mr Evat of Ashford. There were discovered in it about seventeen human bodies. These appeared to have been laid on the surface of the ground upon long flat stones They were enclosed by two side walls and the head and breast of each were protected from the incumbent weight of stone by a flat one laid over that part of the top Two bodies near the middle of the barrow were walled up and covered from head to foot in the form of a long chest with a stone cover to each Jaw bones teeth & c were found undecayed but none of the larger ones of the body The low was thirty two yards in diameter and five feet high The coffins were two feet deep and the complete ones seven feet six inches long.

At the summit of the eminence which rises above the little village of CHELMORTON there are two considerable barrows [Chelmorton Low Round Barrows] within a short distance of each other The circumference of the largest is nearly eighty yards that of the smallest about seventy on the top of both is a circular cavity or bason.

A barrow [Chelmorton Low Round Barrows] about the size of the former of those now mentioned described by Pilkington as being situate about a quarter of a mile north east from Chelmorton was opened in the year 1782 by some labouring men who were searching for stone to build a walled fence in a neighbouring field. After removing a thin covering of moss and soil from the lower extremity of the mount or barrow they discovered a kind of breast work or regular wall of single stones formed without mortar. Not apprehensive of meeting with any thing extraordinary beyond this wall they proceeded with their work but were soon surprised with the sight of several human bodies They found that the wall was at the end of a cell or coffin in which the bodies had been deposited. The breadth of the cell within was two feet but its depth was not fully ascertained though supposed to be about a yard. The sides consisted of stones about eight inches thick and two feet wide they were placed on their edge and formed a kind of partition the stones used for the covering were from one to three inches thick but not larger.

Though some of the stones and a small quantity of the soil had fallen into the vault yet several human bodies or skeletons might be clearly distinguished lying at full length with their heads towards the centre of the mount. The bones had never been disturbed and were apparently united at the different joints but by the slightest motion were found to be entirely loose and unconnected upon examination they were discovered to be remarkably strong and sound the ribs in particular were so little decayed that they would easily bend without breaking Those who saw the bones thought that they were uncommonly large and it was imagined that the persons to whom they belonged must have been when alive at least seven feet high the teeth were sound and perfect From the number of bones and skulls and the dimensions of the vault it was supposed that it contained about four or five human bodies and though only one vault was opened it was presumed that others were carried throughout the whole circumference of the mount and might be about twenty in number.1

Note 1. Pilkington's View of Derbyshire Vol II page 426.

Between Chelmorton and Buxton within about one mile of the latter near a hill called Staden low [Map] are the remains of some ancient earth works which Dr Stukeley has noticed in the second volume of his Itinerary. Since his time the ground has been enclosed and cultivated but sufficient vestiges may be distinguished to ascertain the form of these memorials of antiquity They consist of two divisions an ellipsis and an oblong square The former supposed by the Doctor to have been a place for shows is encompassed by a shallow ditch nearly a yard and a half wide and a mound or bank about one foot high and seven yards and a half broad the enclosed area measures forty five yards from south east to north west and sixty six from north east to south west The square division is bounded by a vallum now nearly levelled by the plough and ex tends in length forty five yards and in breadth twenty four A small semicircular cove of earth is mentioned by Stukeley as being at the side of the circle furthest from the square.

It is very probable from the derivation of the names of many villages in this county ending in the syllable Low that they were sacred places in the time of the Druids and may be supposed to contain barrows not hitherto discovered. We may rely upon this conclusion with more certainty as barrows have been opened at Wardlow [Map] and Hurdlow [Map]. The Swarkstone Lows con sisted formerly of three very large mounds but one of them has been levelled by the plough and the other two remain in very great preservation. At this ancient pass a battle was undoubtedly fought although history makes no mention of such an occurrence. At the small village of Priestcliff is a low [Priestcliffe Low Barrow [Map]] situate on a lofty eminence surrounded by a deep valley and on this emi nence there is a singular well fed by a clear spring which is said never to fail. On the top of the Great Finn in the township of Taddington there are many ancient British remains.

Mr Bray who has described the Woodlands in his Tour through Derbyshire observes that a large stone lying on the side of a hill to the right of the village was removed some years ago and that under it fifteen or sixteen beads were found about two inches in diameter and the thick ness of the stem of a large tobacco pipe one was of amber the rest of glass some black and white others of different colours. These he imagines to have been amulets used by the Druids. There are some remains of antiquity near the village of Edale supposed to be druidical.

This gentleman has also mentioned a pile of unhewn masses of stone called a Druid's altar which stood in a rough heathy pasture named Nether Moor on the summit of a hill but was destroyed some years ago for the sake of the stone. The altar was circular about sixty six feet in diameter composed of rough stone of various sizes rudely piled together without mortar or cement in the form of a haycock about eighteen feet perpendicular height. The top was hollow in the form of a bason about four feet deep and six feet in diameter the stone on the inside of this bason was black and much burned as if large fires had been often made in it. Mr Pilkington has observed on this passage that heaps of stone of a similar appearance are too common in this part of the country to be supposed druidical altars and that on Stanwich Top there are at least three of this kind.