Saveock – An Archaeological Mystery…

Going to Saveock is a bit like travelling back in time, seeing a peep of a thatched roundhouse roof only adds to the impression that you are somewhere else. Originally you would have had to wait on the other side of the train tracks, call the main station to see if any trains were coming and if they gave the all clear, open both sides of the gate then speed across – they had been known on the rare occasion to get it wrong. Today though there is a much safer way of getting into Saveock, a suitably narrow hedge lined drive leads down to the small holding and even though it is only a fifteen minute drive from Cornwall’s main city of Truro, it feels remote and tranquil – timeless.

So,where is Saveock?  Well, it is a small holding situated in a tranquil river valley near Truro in Cornwall.  On arrival at Saveock you are met with the ever smiling Jacqui Wood who is not only a well known and respected experimental archaeologist (did I mention the roundhouse?) and author of several books including Cliff Dreamer: The Goddess Returns, a new fictional story set in the turbulent times of our very distant ancestors. She also runs the Saveock Water Archaeology Centre where students of archaeology (age and experience no barrier) are instructed in the art of excavation, here they find their minds being opened to the endless possibilities that the study of the past can present to those willing to listen.

I met Jacqui some fifteen years ago when during a chance conversation she told me about some curious stake holes, a green clay floor and associated flint tools which she happened upon whilst digging a flue to conduct an experiment in tin extraction. At the time I was teaching A level Archaeology and we thought it would be a good chance for the students to learn some excavation techniques in the field, after all in archaeology practical experience is far more useful way to learn. It was the beginning of many seasons of excavation, intriguing finds, the remodelling of cow shed to comfy quarters for the diggers and much more. My eldest spent the first few months of his life sleeping safely at the edge of a trench.

 

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Volunteers and students at the trench face.

The site at Saveock covers a wide range of time as you would expect of a small river valley in the heart of Cornwall with fertile soils, natural springs and near a well known source of tin and possibly gold. The earliest phase belongs to the Mesolithic, the evidence for which comes firmly from those aforementioned stake holes, green clay floor and the associated flints.

 
“In the Mesolithic the main site trench was over a south facing peat bank on the bend of a river that was between two shallow lakes. This entire site has been purposely covered with various different coloured clays in an attempt to make the river bank a suitable place for dwellings. In the area A/2 the first phase of the site, is what we believe to be a Mesolithic dwelling platform covered with dense green clay surrounded by stony yellow clay in which the stakes to support the dwelling were driven.” (Jacqui Wood).
The second phase was and still is a bit confusing but it does seem entirely possible that it belongs in the Neolithic. When excavating it had been our intention to extend the trench to get a better picture of the Mesolithic features, so imagine our surprise when we came across a stone lined and capped drain covered in thick green clay that lead in one direction towards the river and in the other to another feature, rectangular in shape and lined with white quartz stones and spring fed. Several seasons later in 2005 Jacqui and her team uncovered another similar feature adjacent to the first original ‘pool’.
Dating the pool feature was problematic as it seemed to have been used over a long period of time.

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Inside the stone capped drain looking roughly north.

The only other similar feature we have found was the platform around the Neolithic monument of Maeshowe in Orkney. This platform was made up of thick clay and when a trench was put through it a stone lined and capped drain was discovered which was almost identical to the one at Saveock. The presence of the quartz stone too would suggest a very early date, the use of quartz in Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual sites is well attested to. The pool itself became known as the ‘moon pool’ as the white quartz glows in the bright moonlight.
As for its function, well ritual seems a good an answer as any other but only because there appears to be no other alternative and believe me we considered a wide range of alternatives. Jacqui herself was always of the opinion that the word ‘ritual’ was used far too loosely in archaeological circles to explain seemingly unexplainable objects or sites. Later post excavation work on the mud we scooped up from the bottom of the pool (it couldn’t be excavated in the traditional manner as it kept filling with water) revealed some small finds which told a story of long usage and deposition.  These included human hair, fingernails, Medieval straight pins, 128 small pieces of textile, parts of shoes, heather branches and perhaps most interesting was the broken half of iron pot or cauldron.

 

Many of these finds seemed to date to the last phase of usage at a time just before the pool was filled in and covered, a deliberate act to erase a pagan site. The lack of any finds earlier than the late Medieval may suggest that intervals the pool was clean out – thousands of years of deposition, not to mention silt, would have filled the pool considerably if it was not cleaned out regularly. Interestingly, in the layer just above the infill layer a broken glass bottle and a few sherds of pottery dated the closure of the pool to around the time of the English Civil War. Cornwall was at the time and even today a place where the rituals of time past were an important part of local society often overlooked by the Church. Cromwell’s puritan army would not have been so kind to Royalist (and pagan) Cornwall.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing episodes in the sites history comes from once more as a result of an extension of the trench with the Mesolithic features this time along the edge towards the marsh by the river. Whilst following the expected green clay floor and associated stake holes we encountered shallow pits with unusual contents cut into the clay floor. Because this area is essentially a waterlogged part of the site organic remains survived particularly well.

 

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The clay floor with pits.

“When we excavated the first one we were surprised to find white feathers in it and thought it might have been perhaps a bird plucking pit, which was a common farming practice at the turn of the century. This turned out not to be the case when we found that the feathers were not plucked, but had been laid skin side out with white feathers inside. We took samples of the feathers to the bird expert at the local zoo and found them to be swan feathers.” (Jacqui Wood).

 
In addition a small amount of tiny stones were found surrounded by some sort of organic matter. Initially the assumption was that this was the crop of the swan but the stones were too pristine and it was concluded that the stones had been wrapped in leaves and deposited on purpose alongside claws from a range of other birds. The stones themselves were of an interest as they appeared to be brought to the site as they contained tiny nodules of beach flint an unusual feature given how far inland Saveock is. A suggestion from a local had us mounting an expedition to Swan Pool, some fifteen miles away on the coast and sure enough the stones at Swan Pool were identical to our small sample. Radiocarbon dates from the swan skin dated the pit to the 1640s, once again it seems dangerous ritual activities are occurring at a time when to be called a witch would mean certain death.

 

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A pit being excavated.

 

A further eight pits were excavated that season, only two of them were intact the other six had had their contents removed in antiquity leaving just a few feathers and stones to show what their previous fill was. Excavation of this area was tough going, a thick layer of reeds impeded the work and as time went on more pits would be found, all with their contents removed that was until 2005 (two years after the first pit had been discovered).
Three pits were found in a row, two rectangular and one round in the middle. Of the three it was decided to excavate the middle round one, here the dig crew found the pit to be lined once again with swan feathers but also on either side the bodies of two magpies. In the midst of this were the remains of over fifty-five eggs and although the shells had rotted away the membranes were remaining. The eggs themselves appear to have come from a variety of birds, some even had full formed chicks ready to hatch inside them still.

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The egg membranes with chicks…

Further pits revealed the remains of a cat and dog skull.  Perhaps the most astounding part of this whole story is the radiocarbon dates for the cat pit which was dated to around the mid 18th century and the dog pit which had a date of circa 1950s.

But as archaeologists we need to ask why? What was the purpose of the pits? There is the suggestion that these are the result of witchcraft based rituals and conversations with many experts in the field of witchcraft have yielded very little to enlighten us. If these pits are connected in some way to witchcraft or even pagan rituals of a different kind it is not one commonly known. This is not too surprising given that so much knowledge about traditions and rituals has faded away. Jacqui though has her own theory as to who and why;
“My own theory (and it is only a theory) is that maybe if you got married and did not get pregnant in the first year, you might make an offering to St. Bride of a feather pit. If you finally got pregnant you had to go back to the pit and take out the contents and burn them and set the spirit of the swan free. If you never got pregnant then the pit remained untouched.”

Saint Bride or Brigit has many similarities to the Celtic deity of Brigid. The first of February is St Brigids feast day but also Imbolc where the goddess Brigid is remembered as one who brings the spring. Both are associated with healing, poetry and other domestic tasks. There is also a connection with the sacred wells. Today well dressing is done in the name of the Saint. Wells have long been a place of veneration, our modern wishing wells merely a continuation of a ritual act of deposition that begun in the Bronze Age if not earlier. The connection with the goddess and the saint at Saveock is slight but as we all know it is a place to start.

On a personal note I should like to mention that when the quartz lined pool was excavated it was myself and a friend who did the digging (we were the only ones willing to get so mucky). We spent the good part of a week in the mud and spring water. In late November of that same year I discovered I was pregnant with my eldest (who incidentally was born at midsummer) and a few days later my friend who had been digging too told me she too was pregnant – our children were born just a week apart.
More recent excavations have been looking in a completely different area of the farm and this time they have uncovered a hearth edged with smoky quartz crystals. Dating was provided by the large quantities of Bronze Age pottery found in association with the hearth. Work at Saveock is never dull but it is ongoing, so if you fancy have a holiday with a difference then check out the link below.

 

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Jacqui excavating one of the pits.

 

For more information on the Saveock Water Archaeology Centre please go to the website www.archaeologyonline.org
Jacqui Wood’s book Cliff Dreamers is available to buy on Amazon along with her book on food through the ages Tasting the Past. Jacqui also has numerous articles published many of which can be found at www.academia.edu

Please Note – all photos except the featured image at the top of the article were provided by Jacqui Wood and the copyright belongs to her.  The featured image at the top of the article is my own.

This article originally appeared in the Celtic Guide magazine December 2016.

And Now For Some Humour…

I originally wrote this article for Hubpages but over the last couple of years I have seriously neglected that writing avenue.  Anyway, I thought I would republish here might amuse some of you lovely readers.

Can Archaeology Be Funny?
It would depend on who you spoke to but in short, yes! It is often a humour born out of discomfort, sunburn, blistered hands, sitting through lectures that can test even the most ardent follower of archaeological theory. And lets not forget the constant need to defend ones subject choice. Whatever you do never ask an archaeologist about dinosaurs or worse – aliens…it is often hard to judge their reaction…

BBC meme
All of that aside, here is a short article with a few funny bits just to lighten the moment before we head into another (more serious) article. Have fun, don’t take it seriously and feel free to add your own funny moments in the comments.

An Alternative Glossary
Activity Area – Scatter of artefacts where archaeologists like to imagine something happened.
Artefact – (UK spelling) Any object that looks as if people made or used it.
BP – Nothing to do with petrol, simply an abbreviation for ‘Before Present’. As archaeologists tend to live in the past, their ‘Present’ is actually 1950 (the year radiocarbon dating was invented).
Barrow – A tumulus.
Culture – Archaeological term for regional groups of similar artefacts, often equated with different peoples, it is also the thing which grows on mugs and plates found in the excavation hut.
Dating Methods – Courtship rituals adopted by archaeologists who want to dig together…
Gender Archaeology – Feminist archaeology.
Hypothesis – A guess.
Lecturer – One who talks in someone else’s sleep.
Living Floor – Floor on which archaeologists think people lived.
Megalith – A big stone.
Microlith – A small stone.
Necropolis – An area of tombs; a kind of city set apart for the dead…think Cheltenham (UK)…
Posthole – Any hole too small to be a storage pit.
Ritual – All-purpose explanation used when nothing else comes to mind.
Spoilheap – Mound of discarded dirt resulting from an excavation, usually placed in the exact spot the dig director decides to excavate in the last two day of the dig…
Storage Pit – Any hole to big to be a posthole.
Theoretical Archaeology – Last resort of the desperate; those who can’t dig or just don’t like getting dirty/have an aversion to fresh air.
Theory – A series of hypotheses.
Tumulus – A barrow.

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This Is Important…
There are a few basic rules everyone about to embark on their first excavation needs to remember and they are as follows.
1.  The most interesting part of the site will be under your spoilheap, or at least outside   the area you are digging in.

2.  The most important find will turn up on the last day or when you are pressed for times and funds (have you ever excavated a cremation burial by the light of a jeeps headlights?).

3.  Finding anything worthwhile will involve extending your dig and in any case it will not be what you are looking for.

4.  If in doubt, hack it out.

5.  Only falsify data where absolutely necessary: every site is unique, excavation destroys it, so nobody can ever redo your work and prove your wrong.

6.  Painted potsherds are always found face down.

7.  The number potsherds rises the longer you sit on the box they are stored in.

8.  The number of mutates (big grindstones) recovered at the site depends on the distance to the excavations vehicle.
(From: Bahn P. 1989 Bluff Your Way In Archaeology)

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How to Read Archaeological Texts

It takes a special kind of person who happily reads archaeological reports without falling asleep – that is true dedication. The problem arises with the language used by those who write, designed to bamboozle, often causing the reader to glaze over. This is deliberate, the true aim is not to disseminate their knowledge but in effort to fool their bosses and keep their jobs (because as we all know working archaeologists are rare breed).
Below you will find a list of some of these phrases and what they mean in reality – hope it helps keep you awake!

‘Just possible’ – I’m pretty certain but I can’t actually prove it; the reader will see how cautious and clever I am being.
‘There is some evidence pointing towards…’ – There isn’t any but it would be nice if there were.
‘The evidence suggests that…’ – If it were twisted beyond recognition.
‘It would be premature to suggest’ – But wouldn’t it be fun.
‘All the evidence taken together points to…’ – It all points in different directions.
‘No right thinking scholar can doubt’ or ‘the discerning reader will observe…‘ – These are my final trump cards.
‘Further research may indicate…’ – Mine certainly doesn’t.
‘Adverse excavation conditions…’ – the recording was terrible.
‘There was no evidence of…’ – if there was, we didn’t see it.
‘The object crumbled to dust on exposure to air’ – Joe sat on it.
‘The relationship between the layers was uncertain…’ – Joe dug it away when we weren’t looking.
‘It was not possible…‘ – We didn’t think of it until afterwards.
‘A flimsy structure’ – Moira planned the postholes.
(From: Rahtz P. 1985 Invitation to Archaeology)

 

Hope this has given you a giggle – do keep in mind though it is entirely ‘tongue-in-cheek’- except the alien and dinosaur thing…seriously don’t mention it…

Thanks for reading!

 

The Superstitions of All Hallows Eve

Its October (surprise!) and with it comes the inevitable Halloween displays in the shops (followed closely by the Christmas decorations…) and although here in the Southern Hemisphere we should be celebrating Spring and the coming of Summer, those good old Northern Hemisphere traditions have a firm hold.  So in the mode of ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ I have compiled a wee list of some strange but true superstitions associated with Halloween.  But first a bit of history…

In the northern hemisphere the first of November marks the beginning of winter and on the Christian calender is referred to as All Hallows Day when all the saints would be celebrated (‘hallows’ = very holy).  Thus the day before became All Hallows Eve which in turn was eventually shortened to Halloween.  Originally, the Western Christian Church observed All Saints/Hallows Day on May the first but in the ninth century AD it was moved to November the first.

A seemingly much older tradition says that it is a time when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, when it is possible for the spirits of the ancestors to walk the earth.  Referred to as Samhain – a term mentioned often in Irish mythology when many important and heroic events happen.  Such traditions may well have a long pedigree.  There is some evidence that the Neolithic passage tombs were aligned with the sunrise at the time of Samhain.  In early Irish literature it is often seen as a liminal time when Aos Si (spirits/fairies) could come into our world more easily and offerings of food and drink were left out for them to ensure the people and their livestock survived the winter.

As an extension of this it was later believed that the souls of the dead would visit homes seeking hospitality and so feasts were held with a place being set for them at the table.  Increasingly, this tradition is being adapted for the modern age with families now using Halloween as a time to remember loved ones who have passed away.

As a time between the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter it also became a time when people would take stock of food supplies, cattle would be brought down from summer pastures and animals would be chosen for slaughter.  As part of the rituals associated with this time bonfires would be lit, sometimes two bonfires would be lit and people (plus livestock) would pass through the middle as a cleansing ritual.  In parts of Scotland torches from the bonfire would be carried sunwise around the homes and fields to protect them.

Strange but True

Many of the superstitions associated with Halloween are often connected with the tradition of the spirits walking the earth and the assumption that some of these may have an evil intent. Thus, it was said if you wanted to keep evil spirits away you should walk three times around your house backwards before the sun sets. Or spend the evening with your pockets inside out and no evil spirit will accost you (and most likely neither will the living…).  If you are lucky enough to be born on Halloween you will forever be protected from evil spirits.

Then there are those superstitions aimed at the overactive imagination – so if you hear footsteps behind you on Halloween night…DO…NOT…TURN AROUND…Furthermore, if you are out and about in the evening and the moonlight casts a shadow do not look at your own.  Both of these only make me want to look.

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There are some Halloween superstitions which are not so bad (depending on your perspective) – if you stand at a crossroads and listen to the wind you might here your future…just make sure it’s not a busy crossroads or your future might be rather short…For the unmarried make a dish of mashed potatoes and bury a ring in it, whoever gets the ring will be the first to marry.  However, if that fails you can eat a salted herring on that night and you will dream of your future lover.  Traditionally games such as apple bobbing all have their origins in divination traditions of Halloween – the first person to get a bite of the apple will be the next to get married…or you could peel an apple in one long strip and throw it over your shoulder, the shape it forms is said to be your future spouse whilst eggwhites dropped in water foretold the number of children you would have.

Spiders on All Hallows Eve get a reprieve from broom welding maniacs  for it is considered bad luck to kill a spider on this day – it could be the soul of dead person from your family visiting.

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Although this one might be okay…

Traditions associated with Halloween which we are more familiar with such as trick or treating, dressing up and pumpkin carving all have their origins in much earlier superstitions.

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A Canadian school girls Halloween costume. (1928 – wikimedia.commons)

Thus dressing up was a way to confound the evil spirits who might wish you harm whilst pumpkin carving began as turnip carving.  In the United Kingdom a turnip would be hollowed out and a crude face carved into it, then a candle would be placed inside and the whole scary apparition would be positioned in a window – a declaration to all potential ghouls that this house was already haunted.  It was also considered a wise course of action to carry said turnip when travelling out and about on this night as a warning to the spirits to keep away.  The proliferation of pumpkin jack o lanterns in North America essentially comes down to a lack of turnips…

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A Cornish turnip carved for Halloween. (photo courtesy of wikimedia.commons)
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The well known face of Halloween (with a demonic imp for company).

Trick or treating (every childs reason for celebrating Halloween) is a much evolved version of the earlier tradition of ‘guising’, ‘mumming’ and ‘souling’.  Guising was were ordinary folk would dress up in bizarre costumes and then would wander door to door singing and performing for wealthier people (mumming).  Often the wealthy would share sweetmeats or a cake known as a soul cake in exchange for their prayers for dead relatives (souling).  Guising and mumming were not restricted to Halloween.  Even today, in the far west of Cornwall guising and mumming are carried out during the midwinter festival of Montol.

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An illustration depicting Souling – the verse at the bottom says “Soul, soul, for a soul-cake: Pray you, good mistress, a soul-cake!”

 

 

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St Breaca – A Saintly Conundrum.

Amidst the chaos of house building I have been researching early medieval Cornwall as the backdrop to the new Sarah Tremayne novel.  One question which arose was – exactly how Christian were the locals?  At what point did Christianity take a firm hold?  And how were those who did not adhere to the new religion treated?  As a result I have been investigating early medieval Christianity with a great deal of frustration…the following blog serves to highlight a few of the issues using one of the more obscure Saints as an example.

In the small parish of Germoe partway between the Penwith peninsula and the Lizard is the village of Breage. It is an easy village to miss, the main road skirts its edges and unless you have done your research any ordinary person might just drive on by. However, there are several good reasons to stop and visit. The church is the focal point of the village and it is here you will find a number of medieval scenes painted on the walls of the church, a Roman waymarker dedicated to the Emperor Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus dated to between 258-268AD. (see an earlier post ‘The Frescoes of Breage’)

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The Church in Breage.

There are also several interesting stone crosses within the walls of the churchyard. The earliest is situated near to the front door and is likely to date between the late ninth and early tenth centuries. Carved from red sandstone it would have been highly decorated when first erected. Today only a little of this elaborate carving can be seen furthermore it is not in its original position, the cross was found buried in the churchyard and placed where it currently stands. The use of sandstone is very unusual, as the majority of Cornish crosses are carved from local granite. The cross has been described as a “four holed wheel cross with Hiberno-Saxon decoration” (N. Pevsner 1951 The Buildings of England: Cornwall).

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The early sandstone cross.

The church yard is also of interest, it is easy to discern its round shape, a feature often regarded as an indication of antiquity. Early Celtic missions would construct an enclosure around their settlement and in Cornish the prefix “Lan” is often found in conjunction with such sites.
Meaning church enclosure, it normally described an Early Christian foundation of the Celtic Church within a round or oval earthwork, usually a re-used prehistoric site. Parish churches still occupy many of these sites…” (C. Weatherhill 1998 Cornish Placenames and Language).
The church you see today was dedicated to St Breaca on the 26th December 1456 completely replacing the earlier Norman church. The earliest mention of Breage in documents is just prior to 1066 when the village was called “Eglosbrek” or “Eglospenbro” (the latter refers to the farm of Penbro) and was part of the large manor of Winnianton. By 1264 the church was being referred to St Breaca’s.

St Breaca is one of the many saints’ names which litter the Cornish landscape, however very little is known about her. A hagiography written in the late fourteenth century and which is now lost, recorded the lives of many Cornish saints. John Leland during his itinerary of 1540 did record parts of this lost hagiography as was pertinent to his travels.
According to Leland Breaca was born in the region of Lagonia and Ultonia in Ireland and she became a nun at the oratory founded by St Brigid of Kildare. At around the 460AD she travelled to Cornwall with seven other Irish saints – Germoe, Senanus (Sithney), Mavuanus (Mawgan), Elwen, Crowan, Helena and Tecia. They settled at Revyar on the River Hayle but some were killed by the tyrant king Tewdwr Mawr of Penwith. Breaca then travelled onwards visiting Castle Pencaire and establishing a church at Chynoweth. When she died the church was moved to its present location and many miracles occurred at her tomb.

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A view of the harbour at Hayle – one of only a few safe anchorages on the north coast of Cornwall. (from wikicommons -geograph.co.uk 179114)

On the face of it this is a good story but closer inspection reveals that a number of the story elements can be found elsewhere in other local saintly stories. Conflict with a local pagan tyrant, establishment of a hermitage in a remote part of the land, an Irish origin and connection with a more well known Saint. Simply read and compare the stories of St Ia or St Gwinear and you begin to get a feel for the standard hagiography, many of which were written some thousand years after the Saint concerned had lived and died. It is not surprising that the more obscure saints such at Breaca ended up with a mash up story for her life.

So is there any hope in finding out the real story behind St Breaca? Possibly. But first we need to look at the much wider picture.

Cornwall during the Roman period appears to be semi autonomous and although the Romans were in complete control of trade, life in Cornwall went on much as it had during the Iron Age. The impact of the Roman Legions leaving Britain in 410AD would have had a minimal effect on Cornwall even if the repercussions in other parts of the country were felt keenly for several decades. Political manoeuvring (and warfare) in the mid fifth century resulted in Cornwall becoming part of the kingdom of Dumnonia which spread from the far west of Cornwall up into south Somerset. Into this seemingly unsettled time the Irish missionaries appear.

There is some conflict on how many Irish came to Cornwall, some accounts say few as seven others seven hundred and seventy seven. In 1899 Sabine Baring-Gould wrote about the Cornish saints, he believe that it was a much greater number which arrived on the Cornish shores but with a less than peaceful mission. For Baring-Gould this was an invasion, hence the bloody reaction from Tewdwr in slaughtering, thus martyring, a number of the Irish (St Ia being the most well known). Interestingly St Germoe who was said to be one of St Breaca’s companions was according to legend a king in Ireland – a claim not yet substantiated.

The invasion theory may sound a little far-fetched but given that the Cornish as a rule over the centuries were more than amicable with all their neighbours along the Atlantic seaboard an outright slaughter of a peaceful mission of Christians seems also far-fetched. Tewdwr is often portrayed as a pagan tyrant and this comes to us from a time when our pagan past was seen as a dark time, he becomes the demon which our Christian saints have to triumph over. Afterall, who triumphed in the end? Who wrote the hagiographies?

It is believed that later Tudor era writers used Tewdwr (who was not a king, more a local chief/lord) to lampoon and criticise Henry VII in the wake of his crushing defeat of the Cornish Rebellion of 1497. If this is the case it is perhaps necessary to take much of what is said about the “tyrant” with a grain of salt.

Those who escaped the battle (irrespective of who started it) would have fled to remoter parts of Cornwall perhaps seeking protection from local and more sympathetic chiefs.
This may be where St Breaca’s story has a ring of truth about it. She is said to have visited Castle Pencaire before setting up home at Chynoweth on the lower slopes of Tregonning Hill. Castle Pencaire is situated on the summit of Tregonning Hill and was originally an Iron Age hillfort. Although there is no current evidence (much later mining works have almost completely destroyed the inside of the hillfort) for its reoccupation during St Breaca’s time it is strong possibility. Other Iron Age hillforts were temporarily reoccupied at this time, such as Chun Castle in West Penwith, and why would Breaca visit an ‘abandoned’ antiquity? If Breaca wished to establish a mission in the local area she would have realised the importance of asking permission from the local chieftain/lord, his goodwill would have been important to the success of her mission.

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An ordnance survey map of the area around Breage (bottom right) from the late 1800s.  Tregonning Hill (Castle Pencaire) is the area of open moorland above and to the left of Breage.

The question does remain when did she arrive and was she actually Irish? The date of her arrival will never be satisfactorily agreed upon, it will have to be enough to say she arrived sometime in the late fifth but not later than the early sixth centuries AD. Was she with that first flux of Irish? This we will never know, the later successes of Irish saints would suggest there were several voyages to the Cornish coast.

The presence of the early cross with its “Hiberno-Saxon” decoration might point towards a later commemoration of an Irish saint, the use of sandstone rather than granite could be explained by one of two ways. Either the stone was carved elsewhere and then brought to Breage or the stonemason was not from Cornwall and did not have the skills needed to carve in granite.

Breaca is occasionally mentioned in writings from other parts of the county. In 1478 William Worcester refers to her feast day as being May 1st even though in later times her feast day is celebrated on June 4th and is appears to be quite an important festival. An idiom recorded in the village of Germoe in the 18th century refers to their patron saint – Germoe – as a king but Breaca was a midwife. The 19th century residents of St Leven believed Breaca to be the sister to the villages’ patron saint – Selevan or Salaman.
In all likelihood we will never know the truth of St Breaca but it has been fun trying to find out…

 

 

North Head Historic Reserve

One of the features of the Auckland landscape is the profusion of volcanic cones, all of which have been altered in some way by the people who have lived here – North Head is no exception.  Situated at the entrance of the harbour it has over time been used as a part of Aucklands strategic defences during times of unrest.

 

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Looking across Torpedo Bay from Duders Beach to North Head.  Photo taken by William A Price 1909-1910.  Source – By National Library NZ on The Commons – https://www.flickr.com/photos/nationallibrarynz_commons/21281084976/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45247808

The Volcanic Story

Long before people walked the land there were volcanoes – a distinctive feature of Aucklands skyline – and although North Head is just one of many, it is one of the oldest and was formed over 50,000 years ago.  The following photos demonstrate the ancient geology of the headland – the different layers of scoria, ash and mud clearly visible.

The Maori Story

The story of Maori in the Devonport penninsula begins with the tradition of the arrival of the Tanui waka having put ashore at Torpedo Bay (a stretch of beach below the headland facing the inner harbour). Excavations were carried out in 2010 in the bay as part of the redevelopement of the Naval Museum and surrounding areas.  During this time a great deal was discovered about the use of Torpedo Bay during the colonial era but it was the unexpected prehistoric Maori finds which had the archaeologists most excited.

“Unexpected nationally significant prehistoric Maori archaeology was also found near the end of the investigation, including cooking ovens, moa bones and an adze.

Three species of Moa and at least five individuals have been identified from the lower two settlement layers. All of the species are known North Island Species of Coastal bush Moa (Anomalopteryx didiformis, Pachyornis geranoides and Euryapteryx curtus). As the only site in the Auckland, Coromandel Northland region with definitive evidence of hunted Moa rather than industrial Moa usage by Maori, the dating of this site will potentially answer long held questions concerning moa extinction in the North Island. It may dismiss the general belief that the Auckland Coromandel area was not associated with Moa hunting and is not a primary area of archaic settlement by early Polynesians and was therefore occupied later than other areas of settlement.

A small rectangular adze (hand tool) made from Motutapu greywacke was found in the prehistoric site. The Hauraki Gulf was a centre of adze production and the evidence found suggests that occupation of Torpedo Bay, at least during the Archaic period, was extensive, and that the people who inhabited the Bay played an active role in Motutapu greywacke adze production.

The preliminary radiocarbon dates indicate settlement at the site ranged between the early 15th century and the late 17th century. It could be one of the earliest sites discovered in Auckland.”  (from http://www.wasteminz.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/1b.Strong.pdf).

 

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An eroding shell midden on the north side of Maungauika.

 

Early photographs show the lower slopes of North Head (Maungauika) as being used by Maori  for gardens and early Europeans describe a Maori settlement at the foot of the hill with gardens and fish drying racks. Tradition also tells us that the Ngati Paoa settled Maungauika until the 1700s when Nga Puhi attacked and beseiged the pa.  The later European story of North Head has all but wiped clean the Maori history of the headland although it is still possible to see the occasional evidence of Maori occupation such as middens eroding out of paths and the occasional unexplainable terrace.

The Colonial Story

The first part of the colonial story begins with North Head being used as a pilot station from 1836 to guide ships into the newly established European settlement of Auckland.  In 1878 it was made into a public reserve with the stipulation that should it be necessary North Head would be re-appropiated for defence purposes.  By 1885 this became a reality as fears of a Russian invasion began to sweep New Zealand.

North Head became one of several defence forts that were set up to protect Aucklands harbour.  On the headland itself there were three defences – the North Battery, the South Battery and Fort Cautley on the summitt.  Each had there own heavy guns, an observation post and high earth ramparts with bullet proof gates and barbed wire.  In addition each had the very latest in military technology – an 8 inch disappearing gun. In addition to these defences a minefield was in place across the inner harbour to Bastion Point.

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The above are photos of the North Battery.

Over the next twenty-five years these first fortifications were expanded and strengthened by convict labour who lived in a prison on the summit.  They dug out many of the tunnels and underground storerooms which are so popular with young explorers today.  With the threat of war once more looming in the early twentieth century new engines were put into the engine rooms, more searchlights were added, new barracks were built.

 

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The prison/barracks used to house the convict labour.

 

In all three instances (the Russian scare, WWI & WWII) not once were any of the guns fired in anger.  During WWII the headland became the regimental headquarters and main administrative centre for the Auckland’s coastal defences. Many of the guns were moved to Whangaparoa although North Head did become the site of the anti-submarine boom (a wire netting barrier covered by two guns at sea level) which protected the harbour from attack by submarine.

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The South Battery and its disappearing gun.

By the end of the 1950s the army had left the headland although the navy still ran a training school on the summit.  In 1996 the navy had also left and now the area is administered by the Department of Conservation.

Observation posts and tunnels associated with the North and South Batteries.

The Engine Room – an independent source of electricity for the search lights etc.

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One of the features for the defence of the Auckland Harbour was the minefield which went from North Head to Bastion Point.

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So much to explore all around the headland…

 

For more information –

A History of NZ Coastal Defences

The Russian Scare

The Department of Conservation  A PDF can found here for a self guided walk around the headland.

Stepping Back in Time – Howick Historical Village.

Tucked away in east Auckland is the suburb of Howick, here you can find a gem of living history – the Howick Historical Village.

Over the years the family and I have visited the village on numerous occasions, it is pleasant escape from the technology and mass produced entertainment which so very much a part of our lives today.  Although the bones of the place are immovable the addition of monthly live days and special events makes every visit different in some way.

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By Pseudopanax at English Wikipedia – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26380935

The Village depicts life as it was in nineteenth century New Zealand with particular emphasis on the fencible settlement of Howick.  Colonial Howick was originally founded by Governor George Grey who concerned about the potential threats from both Maori and the French. He established a chain of settlements around the southern part of Auckland as both an early warning system and a line of defence for the burgeoning new town.

Governor Grey originally requested troops to man these settlements however, it was decided to send retired soldiers to settle the area as members of the Royal New Zealand Fencible Corps, these were men who had served in the wars of Britain in the 1830s and 1840s.  To be eligible to emigrate under the scheme the veterans had to be under 48 years of age and of ‘good character’ with ‘industrious habits’.  If they qualified they were given free passage to New Zealand with their families, a cottage and an acre of land.  In return they were required to partake in certain military activities and after seven years the land and the cottage would be theirs. Although they were given a small pension they were also expected to undertake work of some kind in the new colony.

Between 1847 and 1854 some 2500 fencibles and their families arrived in New Zealand, doubling the population of Auckland at the time.  Other fencible villages included Panmure, Otahuhu and Onehunga.  The live days at the Village have volunteers dressed in costume doing activities you might see on any given day in a fencible/colonial village including soldiers parading, wood turning, blacksmithing, ladies doing the chores such as washing, sewing and baking.  There are also special themed days such as ‘A Colonial Christmas’ or an Easter egg hunt or a summer fete.

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The Village today is based around Bell House which was given to the Howick Historical Society in 1972, negotiations at the time then secured a further five acres of land which later became the seven acres it is today.  It took eight years of fundraising and working bees by many volunteers to turn it into a living museum.  Many of the cottages on site were donated and transported to the village, of which there are now thirty buildings.  It was officially opened on the 8th of March 1980.

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Today the village is enjoyed by school groups as part of their education outside of the classroom modules and students on school holiday programmes – children are encouraged to dress in period appropiate costumes, leaving technology behind.  Having attended during a school visit with my sons class, I can vouch for it being throughly enjoyed by all.  On that occasion, the students learnt how to churn butter, played games of the times, baked bread in a wood fired oven, drew water from a well and attended a session in a nineteenth century school.

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A school group playing skip rope.
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My son and daughter trying their hand at walking on blocks.
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“Seriously?! This was the only way to get water?!” All round disbelief from the tweens.
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Practising writing in cursive made doubly hard by using a ink pen.

One of the striking aspects of the village are the gardens which have in themselves become an important heritage project with links to the Heritage Tree Crops Association and Auckland Seed Savers.  Vegetables, herbs and eggs from the free range chickens are often available to buy at the main entrance.  Another less well known part of the village is its research library which contains many documents and photographs for the early days of Howick – a vital resource for those who interested in the history of the area or those researching family trees.

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A traditional cob and reed roof cottage.
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Inside the cob cottage.
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A soldiers camp with two very unlikely looking soldiers…
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A view of the village, looking over the green.

 

For more information on The Howick Historical Village go to:-

www.fencible.org.nz

or for information on their collections you can search at the following link:-

https://ehive.com/collections/3000/howick-historical-village

 

 

An Auckland Icon – One Tree Hill and Cornwall Park.

During the last school holidays the kids and I decided to venture beyond the safe confines of the North Shore. Our destination? The well known and much loved Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill.  What follows is a brief description and overview of the history of this iconic parkland in the heart of Auckland.

Essentially the parkland most people know is in fact two parks, Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill, are separate entities under different management but with very similar objectives. At the heart of the area is the volcanic cone, the largest and most recent of the forty eight which make up the Auckland isthmus – it last erupted around 20,000 years ago.

The Maori Story
The Maori name for the hill is Maungakiekie which can be translated as ‘the mountain of the kiekie’. The kiekie or Freycinetia banksia is a type of vine which once grew on the slopes of the volcanoe and is better known as the fruit salad tree. Its fruit is edible.
However, this name seems to be a recent attribution as traditional histories dating from around the 16th century, do refer to the hill as Te Totara i Ahua or ‘the totara that stands alone’.

It is said that a branch of the Ngati Awa who were migrating from Northland to Taranaki had stopped for awhile in Tamaki (Auckland). During this time the chiefs’ son was born and was named Korokino. The cutting of the umbilical cord has great significance in Maori culture and Korokino’s was cut using a sharpened totara stick. The cord was then buried on the summit and the totara sprig was planted in the soil used as backfill. It took root and grew into a magnificent and tapu tree.

Unfortunately, it was gone by the late 1700s and no European ever saw it. Early colonists would often write of a large pohutakawa on the summit in the early 1800s and this is what gave rise to its modern name – One Tree Hill. However, the story of the tree then goes ‘pear-shaped’ as in the mid 1800s it is felled for firewood. In 1875 Logan Campbell replanted – possibly a puriri – within a stand of pines which served as a wind belt. But the native tree did not survive and all but one pine tree survived until 2000 when it too fell to an axe when the City Council deemed it unsafe.

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One Tree Hill, in the 1990s when the lone pine was still standing, (to the right of the obelisk). From wikimedia commons.

What most people will notice as they make their way to the summit is the how uneven the ground is, dips, hollows, banks and seemingly random humps and bumps will catch the unwary walker. These landscape features are the remains of the Maori settlement. There are at least one hundred and seventy terraces covering approximately forty five hectares and it is regarded as one of the largest pa (hillfort) in New Zealand. The traditional occupants of the site were the Wai O Hua tribe and their histories refer to it as the head pa of their paramount chief Kiwi Tamake in the early 1700s.

IMG_0244An example of some of the many terraces and platforms.

Perhaps one of the more unusual archaeological features in the park is the Rongo stone. Rongo stones are carved stones which are regarded as manifestations of a god and are used ritually to aid the growth and harvest of crops. This particular Rongo positioned on plinth near the BBQ area is not in it’s original context. It was originally rescued by Logan Campbell from the side of the road where it had been unceremoniously dumped and taken back to the Park. It is known as Te Toka i Tawhio or ‘the stone which has traveled around’.

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Humps and bumps in the landscape…

 

The eroded edge of a shell midden.

More terraces and platforms.

IMG_0248One of many defensive banks.

 

IMG_0243Building platforms overlooking one of the volcanic craters

IMG_0242My daughter standing in one of the many hollows – possibly a storage pit for kumara.

IMG_0239A large midden suffering under modern footsteps.

Terraces, defensive walls, storage pits, boundaries and middens are all part of the archaeology on One Tree Hill and attest to a well populated landscape. Which perhaps is what makes the next phase of the story even more unusual…

The Early Settlers
In 1840 Governor Hobson chose the Tamaki isthmus to be the capital of New Zealand. There were several reasons for this, the good harbours and fertile soils not withstanding however at the time it was a mostly deserted landscape.

“Terraced volcanic cones and numerous abandoned plantations testified, in 1840, to dense habitation in the days of old. But, paradoxically, so few Maori were living there in 1840 that Tamaki could almost be regarded at the time as a population void…there was no well-established tribe to be displaced” (R.C.J. Stone, 2007, Logan Campbell’s Auckland. Tales from the Early Years).

Into this early settler world came John Logan Campbell (1817-1912) for whom much of the early history of Auckland and Cornwall Park is intricately tied to.

John_Logan_Campbell,_ca_1880sJohn Logan Campbell c.1880

Logan Campbell was born in Edinburgh and in 1839 graduated as a Doctor of Medicine, later that year he set sail for New South Wales, arriving in New Zealand in 1840. On that ship was also a William Brown who became Logan Campbell’s business partner. The two men built the first house in Auckland – Acacia Cottage – which still stands and they opened the first shop. Both men quickly took advantage of being ‘in at the ground floor’ as the new settlement of Auckland took off. Logan Campbell in particular rose in prominence rapidly and was/is regarded the ‘father of Auckland’.

The oldest remaining wooden structure in Auckland
The oldest remaining wooden structure in Auckland – Acacia Cottage.

In 1853 Logan Campbell and William Brown bought what was then known as the Mount Prospect Estate and renamed it One Tree Hill. By 1873 the partnership with Brown was dissolved and Logan Campbell became the sole owner. In 1901 he gifted the land to the city of Auckland during a Royal visit by the then Duke and Duchess of York and Cornwall (later King George V and Queen Mary) and it was renamed in their honor as Cornwall Park.
In 1903 the park was formally opened. 

When Logan Campbell died in 1912 he left instructions and funds for the construction of a monument to the Maori people whom he admired a great deal. However, it was not until the late 1930s that work began on the obelisk. It was completed in 1940 but the unveiling was not held until the 28th April 1948 after WWII was over in keeping with the Maori tradition of not holding ceremonies during times of war.

IMG_0150 - CopyJohn Logan Campbell’s memorial to the achievements of the Maori people.

The obelisk is 33m high and was designed by Atkinson Abbott. Logan Campbell is buried at the foot of the monument under the flat paved forecourt.

Today
Today both parks are well used by Auckland residents and it is still farmed with sheep and cows wandering the slopes of the hill. It is a place where people meet, families picnic, dogs walk, joggers jog and children play. Every city needs its green spaces in order to breath and here in Auckland we are lucky to have this and so many other such spaces…

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Playing in the crater of an extinct volcano…

 

 

Archaeology, History and a little bit of time travel…