CWAAS Transactions 1880 Article VII Castlerigg

CWAAS Transactions 1880 Article VII Castlerigg is in CWAAS Transactions 1880 Article VII.

Castlerigg Stone Circle [Map]. It has been the fashion to class this with the temples of the prehistoric ages. The magnificence of its site, and the rectangular inclosure on the eastern side,—which has been thought to be an adytum, foreshadowing the chancel of a Christian church,—have lent strength to the idea. In the present imperfect state of our knowledge on this subject, it is, however, well to refrain from using technical terms which involve the advocacy of premature theories; and to confine ourselves to such as are simply descriptive of that which meets the eye. Nothing now remains to show for what purpose this chamber was constructed. If it once contained a barrow, all traces of such an object have disappeared. A shallow circular trench, shown on the plan, within the stone-ring, but outside this chamber, at first sight looks like the remains of a barrow; but as the field was ploughed little more than a century ago, and, perhaps, continued to be for many years, it is probable that this trench is still more recent.

The earliest printed notice of this object of antiquity appears to have been published by Stukeley, the substance of whose account will be found below, in a quotation from Gough.

1769. Next, in order of time, is that of Gray1 who visited the circle in 1769, and writes thus shortly:- "After dinner walked up the Penrith road two miles, or more, and turning into a corn field to the right, called Castle-rig, saw a Druid circle of large stones, one hundred and eight feet in diameter, the biggest not eight feet high, but most of them still erect: they are fifty in number."

Note 1. Gray s Works, Vol. II, Letter to Dr. Wharton, p. 332.

The fact of the field being sown with corn at that time, shews that it had been ploughed. It is now, and has for many years been, a pasture.

1773. Following Gray, Hutchinson, in 1773, writes:-1

"We visited a Druidical Monument within about two miles of Keswick, situate to the south of the road which we had passed from Penrith.—This monument is placed on a plain, formed on the summit of a hill, around which the adjoining mountains make a solemn circle; --it is composed of stones of various forms, natural and unhewn; they seem to have been collected from the surface, but from what lands it is impossible to conjecture, most of them being a species of granite. The stones are fifty in number, set in a form not exactly circular, the diameter being thirty paces from east to west, and thirty two from north to south: at the eastern side a small inclosure is formed within the circle by ten stones, making an oblong square in conjunction with the stones of that side of the circle, seven paces in length, and three in width, within. In this place we conjectured the altar had been erected. At the opposite side, a single square stone is laid at the distance of three paces from the circle;—possibly this may have been broken off, and is only the foot of such a column as Long Meg [Map] in the Salkeld monument. * * * The stones forming the outward line are some of them standing erect, others fallen, and the same observation is to be made, as to the appearance of entrances, as at Salkeld. The stones here are of various sizes; some of the largest of those standing being near eight feet in height, and fifteen feet in circumference. The singularity noticed in this monument, is the recess on the eastern side."

Note 1. Excursion to the Lakes, pp. 159, 160.

1774. The next account of the circle is that of Pennant, who visited it under the guidance of Dr. Brownrigg, and who describes it as follows:—1

"An arrangement of great stones tending to an oval figure is to be seen near the road side, about a mile and a half from Keswick on the summit of a pretty broad and high hill in an arable field, called Castle. The area is 34 yards from north to south and near thirty from east to west; but many of the stones are fallen down, some inward, others outward: according to the plan, they are at present forty in number. At the north end, are two much larger than the rest, standing five feet and a half above the soil: between these may be supposed to have been the principal entrance. Opposite to it, on the south side, are others of nearly the same height: and on the east is one near seven feet high. But what distinguishes this from all other Druidical remains of this nature, is a rectangular recess on the east side of the area, formed of great stones like those of the oval. These structures are in general considered to have been temples or places of worship: the recess here mentioned seems to have been allotted for the Druids, the priests of the place, a sort of Holy of Holies, where they met, separated from the vulgar, to perform their rites, their divinations, or to sit in council to determine on controversies, to compromise all differences about limits of land, or about inheritances, or for the tryal of the greater criminals, the Druids possessing both the office of priest and judge. The cause that this recess was placed on the east side, seems to arise from the respect paid by the antient natives of this isle to that beneficent luminary the sun, not originally an idolatrous respect, but merely as a symbol of the glorious all seeing Being, its great Creater."

Note 1. Tour in Scotland, in 1774, edition of 1790, Vol. I, p. 43

Gough says:—1

"In the neighbourhood of this place, on the right hand of the road from Keswick to Penrith, is a collection of stones, of unequal size and shape, about thirty nine yards diameter, and on the east side, within the circle or area, two more rows of like stones, including a space of about eight yards by four. Stukeley2 describes it as very intire, an hundred feet diameter, consisting of forty stones, some very large, at the east end a grave, made of such other stones, in the very east point of the circle, and within it not a stone wanting, though some are removed out of their original situation. They call it the Caries, and corruptly Castle-Rigg. At the north end is the kistvaen of great stones. There seemed to be another lower, in the next pasture, towards the town."

Note 1. Antiq. Repert. Vol. I, p. 248.

Note 2. It. curios., Vol. I, P. 47, Vol. II, p. 48. Can Stukeley have mistaken the gateway for a cist-faen?

1809. Another contributor to the same work thus writes:—1

"This Druidical Monument is not mentioned by Camden, neither has it yet acquired any name, and indeed seems little known. Mr. Pennant says it was discovered by Dr. Brownrigge, who resides somewhere near it. It stands on the flat summit of a hill, close under the mountain Saddleback, about two miles from Keswick, and near the road from that town to Penrith. It is composed of stones, mostly granite of divers shapes and sizes evidently collected from the surface of the earth, being rude and untouched by any instrument. They are ranged nearly in a circular figure, some standing, and others lying: the diameter from east to west is thirty paces or yards, and that from north to south measures thirty two. The stones at the north end, are the largest, being near eight feet in height and fifteen in circumference. At the eastern end a small inclosure is formed by ten stones, in conjunction with those of the side of the circle: three sides of it are right lined, the fourth being a small portion of the circle, is necessarily rounding. On the whole, not attending to this rounded side, but considering it as straight, the shape would be what is called an oblong square. This is supposed to have been the Adytum or Sanctum Sanctorum, into which it was not lawful for any, but the Druids to enter. It is on the inside seven paces in length from east to west, and three in breadth: here probably the altar was placed On the outside, opposite the Adytum, a single stone lies about three paces out of the circle. The whole monument consists of fifty stones, forty of which form the circle, and ten are employed in the Adytum."

Note 1. Antiq. Repert., reprint of 1809, vol. Iv, P. 458.

At nearly the same time, Clarke says:—1

"About a quarter of a mile farther on the left is Castrigg or Castle Rigg: here is a druidical monument consisting of a circle of fifty-two large stones. This temple (as they all commonly get that name) differs from all I have seen, in having on the eastern side an inclosure formed within the circle: this inclosure is of the form of an oblong square, one of the shorter sides of which is formed by part of the circle, and its dimensions are nearly four yards by two."

Note 1. Survey of the Lakes, p. 62.

The last account I shall quote is that of Otley, whose work contains the only plan of the circle that has hitherto been published: and, considering the date of its execution, it is fairly correct. His description is as follows:—1

"A Druidical Circle, 100 feet by 108 in diameter, in a field adjoining the old Penrith road, at the top of the hill, a mile and half from Keswick. It is formed by rough cobble stones of various sizes, similar to what are scattered over the surface, and imbedded in the diluvium of the adjacent grounds. The largest stands upwards of seven feet in height, and many weigh about eight tons. Ten other stones form a square within, on the eastern side."

After giving directions how to find the "Druids' Temple," Otley continues:-2

We have given a plan of the circle, on a scale of 40 feet to an inch, with the exact number of stones, in the positions they have occupied from time beyond memory, and as they remain to this day, May 2nd, 1849. Very probably the spaces have been once filled up by smaller stones which have been since removed for secular purposes."

Note 1. Guide to the Lakes, 8th ed., 1849, p. 67.

Note 2. Guide to the Lakes, 8th edition, 1849, p. 114.

There is some uncertainty as to the exact number of stones remaining when the early writers counted them. It will be observed that, while both Stukeley and Gray report the number as 50, Clarke, who came later, calls it 52. Hutchinson, following, merely endorses Gray's statement. The editor of these Transactions has in his possession a published plate of antiquities containing a birdseye view of the circle, described as discovered by Dr. Brownrigg, F.R.S., and of the last century, which represents 49 stones, one, now gone, apparently being between Nos. 43 and 44 of my plan; while Otley's plan shows 48, the present number. Clarke has inadvertently greatly erred in recording the dimensions of the rectangular inclosure. The outlying stump on the west side has probably disappeared, for nothing of the kind, so far as I know, is now visible unless the reference be to the stone which was seated at 49 on my plan. Perhaps the same may be said of the cist-faens mentioned by Stukeley. The position of the gateway may be compared with that at Gunnerkeld [Map]. The transverse position of stone No. 26 suggests, at first sight, the question whether it may not have been one jamb of another gateway, of which the fellow may have been removed. The probabilities are, however, against it; for we sometimes find stones standing similarly across (as, e.g., at Gunnerkeld [Map]) in positions where a gateway is not suggested. A slight peculiarity, common to both the circles at Keswick and Long Meg, may be noticed in the breach of continuity made by No. 49 (missing stone) of the former, and No. 25 of the latter, — each at about the same part the circumference.