Culture, England, Societies, Society of Antiquaries of London Publications, Archaeologia Volume 14 Section XXXI

Archaeologia Volume 14 Section XXXI is in Archaeologia Volume 14.

Account of Roman Urns discovered in Cornwall, and of a Cromlech discovered in the Parish of Madron in the same County; in a Letter from the Rev. Malachi Hitchins to the Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Banks, Bart. K. B. P. R. S, and F. S. A.

Read March 11 and 18, 1802.



I take the liberty of transmitting to you a short account of three Roman urns found some years since in this neighbourhood, and mentioned briefly in a former letter which I did myself the honour of sending you, together with some notice of a very curious cromleh lately discovered by accident.

I wish my knowledge of antiquities would enable me to send you a more scientific statement of these facts; but as you think that any record of them is worth preserving, I have done the best in my power, and would rather expose my ignorance of such subjects, than appear ungrateful for the many favours you have con descended to confer upon me.

Conscious of the importance of your time to yourself and to the world, I shall only add that I remain, with the utmost respect, and with heartfelt gratitude,


Your most obliged, and very humble servant,

St. Hilary, near Merazion, Feb. 25, 1802.


A short Account of Three Roman Urus, and a Cromléh, lately discovered in the West of Cornwall.

The first urn was found on the Barton of Godolphin, the property of the Duke of Leeds, in the parish of Breage, about five miles west of Helston, in the month of April 1779, by one Nicholas Pearce, as he was narrowing a bank which formed the boundary of his field. He fold the greater part of the coins it contained to Jew foon after he had discovered them, and before he had in formed any gentleman of the circumstance; for which imprudent conduct his neighbours having censured and ridiculed him, it had such an unhappy effect on him as to cause a temporary derangement, and danger of suicide. The Jew bought eight pounds avoirdupois weight, for which he gave the finder only eight pence a pound; but as his brother and others found a great number scattered by the violent stroke of the mattock, which broke the urn in pieces, I suppose the whole of the coins to have weighed about ten pounds; and as ten of these coins weighed nearly an ounce, the whole number must have been about sixteen hundred. The urn was thick and curiously moulded, having many furrows and invo lutions; but I could not get a sight of the fragments, which might have enabled me to give a more particular description of it. The spot on which it was found lies but little more than half a mile from the Roman fort at Bosense, in which were discovered many curious articles of antiquity, as related by Dr. Borlase, page 316, & c. 2d edit. of his Antiquities of Cornwall, many of which are deposited in the Museum at Oxford. The urn lay under the north edge of a bank wbich is about six feet high, and near ten feet wide, composed of earth and stones, and running nearly in the arch of a circle for 170 yards, which would be about one-third of the circumference if completed; but as it appears to have had no fosse on either side, it was probably thrown up in haste to resist a sudden and unexpected attack of an enemy coming from the opposite hill, and the danger of the situation and circumstances might occasion the concealment of the coins, for the ground has none of those recommendations which would induce the Romans to make it a fortified station, as they did the fort at Bofense. The urn was covered by a curious stone of blueish elvan, about four feet long, two broad, and uniformly one foot thick, between which and the urn was a thin stratum of earth, and the stone itself was covered by the shelvings of the bank.

The next urn was discovered by one William Harry în June 1789, in the parish of Morva, about five miles nearly north of Penzance, and within a few yards of the road between those two places. It was near the N. W. corner of a small enclosure, sura rounded by a thick uncemented stone wall, or hedge, which seems to have stood ever since the interment of the urn, for it was found at the foot of a very long and large stone inserted in the wall, which might serve as a memento, about a foot under the surface of the earth, and corered by a flat stone of granite. The soil in this enclosure being rather deep the farmer carried off the surface even to the sub-stratum of clay, to manure other lands, and justly thinking that potatoes would thrive well in clay, and that the dung in which they were tilted would fertilize the mould, and prepare it for a crop of corn, a method of agriculture very prevalent in Cornwall, was digging up this clay when he struck his pickax into the urn, and broke it into many pieces. The coins in this urn, as well as those found at Godolphin, were almost all of them copper, but a very few were of the ancient lead, a coin much more rare than the former; a very perfect one of these has fallen into my hands.

A Jew likewise got possession of those coins, and retailed them round the country for about a penny each, though mostly in a high state of preservation. If this urn had been found in Dr. Borlase's time, as it lay within three quarters of a mile of Castle Chûn, between which two spots there are many walls of a construction similar to that under which the coins were dug up, it would probably have changed his opinion respecting the builders of that fortification, which he supposes to be of Danish erection; and indeed he seemed to have some doubts on this subject, for he says, page 316, "Some of our round intrenchments on the tops of round hills in Cornwall may be Roman works, if either ways pass near or through them, or coins be found in them." It is difficult to conceive why the Doctor did not determine Castle Chûn to be a Roman fortification; for, in his describing an intrenchment in the parish of St. Agnes, he says, page 314, that it was formed with "too much art and military science for either Britons, Saxons, or Danes; "and yet, in speaking of Castle Chân, which he pronounces to be Danish, he says, page 347, "The whole of this work, the neatness and regularity of the walls, providing such security for their entrance, flanking and dividing their fosse, shews a military knowledge superior to that of any other works of this kind which I have seen in Cornwall." If this Castle Chûn was a station of the Romans, which seems extremely probable, it was also, anterior to their settlement there, a favourite hill of the Druids, if they were, as is generally supposed, the builders of crom lêhs; for about 500 yards from the castle there is one on the north side; at little more than a mile further there are two on the eastern s; and two more in the north-east, distant four miles and three quarters. These cromlêhs, except one lately found, have been well described and delineated by the learned and accurate Dr. Borlase; but the great desideratum he lived not to see, is e. a human body interred under one of those erections, which has been recently discovered in the parish of Madron, and within half mile of the famous Lanyon Cromlêh, vulgarly called the Giant's Quoit. This Cromleh was found a few years since by the following incident. The gentleman who owns the estate of Lanyon, happening to be overtaken by a shower of rain in walking through his fields, took shelter behind a bank of earth and stones, and remarking that the earth was rich he thought it might be useful for a compost. Accordingly he sent his servants soon after to carry it off, when, having removed near a hundred cart-loads, they observed the supporters of a cromlêh, from which the cover stone was slipped off on the south side, but still leaning against them. These supporters include a rectangular space open only at the north end, their dimensions being of a very extraordinary size, viz. that forming the eastern side being ten feet and a half long, that on the west nine feet, with a small one added to complete the length of the other side, and the stone shutting up the south end about five feet wide. The cover-stone is about thirteen feet and a half, by ten feet and a half; but its length, and the height of the supporters, cannot be exactly ascertained, as they are inserted in the ground, the present height being about five feet. This cromlech is dissimilar to all others found in this county, which have small supporters, and the area under the cover-stone open on all sides; whereas this, when the cover was on, was fhut quite close at the top and on three sides, having only the entrance at the north end open, and therefore appears to resemble Kitts Cotty House [Map] in Kent, though the dimensions of this are larger. As soon as the gentleman observed it to be a cromlêh, he ordered his men to dig under it, where they soon found a broken urn with many ashes, and going deeper they took up about half of a skull, the thigh bones, and most of the other bones of a human body, lying in a promiscuous state, and in such a disordered manner as fully proved that the grave had been opened before; and this is the more certain, because the flat stones which formed the grave, or what Dr. Borlase calls the Kist-Vaen, i.e. stone chest, and a flat stone about fix feet long, which probably lay at the bottom, had all been removed out of their places. The scull, and some other bones, were carried into the gentleman's house, and shewn to his friends as curiosities, but were afterwards re-interred in the same spot inclosed in a box. These bones I have been assured were above the size of those of the present race of men, but I was not so fortunate as to hear of this event in time to get a sight of them.

The last Roman urn was discovered in June 1793, by some labourers in digging a trench about 100 yards from the sea, in the parish of Ludgvan, and little more than half a mile N. W. of St. Michael's mount. It was buried in the sand two or three feet under the surface, and was nearly of the same size as those found at Godolphin and Morva; but the coins, owing to the dampness of the situation, were more corroded. I saw none of them, but was informed that, like those found in the two other urns, they were chiefly coins of Gallienus, Victorinus, Tetricus senior, & c.

I shall conclude this account by remarking, that in this same parish of Ludgvan, about two miles and a half N. E. of the spot where this last urn was found, is situated the well of Collurion, very famous for time immemorial for its ophthalmic virtues; and it is a very singular circumstance, that it never occurred to any of the historians of Cornwall, Dr. Borlase, the rector of this parish, not excepted, that the name of this well is pure Greck, xoa úpoor ', a medicine for the eyes. How it was called by this name is a subject of curious inquiry and research. It could not be given by the Phoenicians, who traded here for tin; for though they had much intercourse with the Greeks, they are said to have spoken a dialect of the Hebrew, differing very little from the original. Neither is it believed that the Greeks had any traffic in these parts, and if so the great number of Greek words adopted into our language have been conveyed through indirect channels. May we not venture to conjecture that this name, Collurion, might possibly be given to this well by some Greek soldiers, who might have recovered their fight by its waters, many of whom were known to be incorporated in the Roman armies during their stay in this island? But this inquiry I leave to persons who are better qualified than myself for such learned disquisitions.