Books, Prehistory, The History of Buxton by Arthur Jewitt, The History of Buxton Chapter IV

The History of Buxton Chapter IV is in The History of Buxton by Arthur Jewitt.

British And Roman Antiquities In or Near Buxton by Arthur Jewitt (age 38).

It has already been mentioned that the region of the Peak abounds with British remains. This assertion is well supported by a view of the country about Buxton, where every hill bears a proof thereof on its summit. Buxton is situated on one of those gentle eminences which so peculiarly characterise the Peak, as uniting the broad bases of the surrounding hills, and in a manner filling up the deep extensive vallies which they must otherwise form. Mountain beyond mountain surround it on every side and form a regular amphitheatre, grand in its appearance, and extensive in its dimensions. On the top of each is a small raised mount in this part of the country universally called a lowe, and which, in many instances gives its name to some adjoining farm or village. That these are not the work of nature is evident a very slight exarninat:on: their origin must therefore be sought for in those dark times when oral tradition supplied the place of history, and when the manners and habits of the inhabitants of Britain rendered such erections neccssary.

And here the reader should carry back his ideas to the time, (and that there once was such a time is evident from the remains of forests frequently found,) when the vallies, the and the sides of the mountains were covered with trees; when wolves, and other savage animals over-ran the country, devouring every carcass that fell in their way ; and when petty feuds, among a nation of barbarians, rendered this kind of provision but too common. Recalling these periods to his imagination, the reader will soon perceive the necessity of resorting to some expedient to preserve the bodies of their friends and relatives from being mangled after death.

To deposit them on the tors of the high places where were worshipped the favourite gods of their nation or their tribe, naturally presented itself as the most simple course, particularly as these places, though surrounded by luxuriant woods, were of themselves bare, naked, and frequently rugged knolls, where beasts of prey seldom assembled, and where grazing animals could find no pasturage to allure them.

Here, then, they buried their dead: some in promiscuous heaps ; others with more care, in cells formed of flat stones, and over them smaller stones piled to a great height, which served not only to mark the spot, but to preserve them from profanation. Around the whole, for their greater security, they generally dug a deep trench, and not unfrequently, near those which contained the remains oftheir greatest chiefs, they erected altars, and at stated periods offered up sacrifices.

That this mode of interment was in use in early times among the northern nations, we have the evidence of Verstigan and Tacitus; that the Grecians in the time of the Trojan war followed the same practice, we have the authority of Homer himself; - and that this was the practice of our ancestors, when under the domination of the Druids, Mr. Pennant, the antiquarian of Wales, seems to have satisfactorily proved.

These lowes, too, might in all probability have various other uses. At a time whcn the inhabitants were divided into petty tribes or small nations, they must continually be liable to surprise from their neighbours, and what situation in case of sudden invasion could be so proper to disseminate the tidings, or to call together the clan? From their height they formed a communication with each other over a long tract of country, and this communication was incapable of being destroyed or interrupted, except by the natural changes of the atmosphere. It, therefore, appears reasonable to conclude that beside the two uses mentioned (that of sepulture and worship) these lowes served also for beacons.

One of the most conspicuous of these remains is that known by the name of Chelmerton Lowe, which lies about two miles from the bar on the London road, in a direction inclining to the left. It is easily known by its steep abrupt brow, and two little mounts [Chelmorton Low Round Barrows] which crown its summit. These mounts are both lowes, and in 1782 one of them was broken into, and examined. Of this Mr. Pilkington gives the following account: The which I shall now attempt to describe is a small circular mount, whose circumference at the base measures about seventy-five yards. Its height is seven feet. At the top is a hollow resembling a basin. Upon measuring down one side to the bottom, and ascending the opposite, it found to be eight yards across. But its perpendicular depth was no more than three feet. A knowledge of its inward construction was obtained 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 extremity, or skirts of the they discovered a 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 in their but were goon surprised by the sight of several human bodies. They found that the wall was 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. It was supposed to bc about a yard. The sides consisted of stones eight inches thick, and about two feet wide. They were placed upon their edge, and formed a kind of wall or partition. The stones used for the covering, were from one to two inches thick, but not large."

"Though some of the stones, and a small quantity of 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 together at the different joints, and 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 could easily bend without breaking. Those who saw the bones thought they wcre uncommonly large. It was imagined that the persons to whom they belonged, must have been, 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."

Though only one vault was opened and examined, it was presumed, that others were carried throughout the whole circumference of the mount: and, from the width of that which I have described, it was calculated that there were about twenty in number."

By this account, which, for its accuracy may be depended on, it should seem that these two lowes or barrows contained about twenty cells cach, and allowing each cell as in the foregoing statement to enclose five bodies, they must together have covered about two hundred corpses ; a number which must in all probability have arisen from some battle fought near the spot.

On this head tradition is silent, though some old mounds about half a mile to the east of the lowe, on what a few years ago was open land, which have the appearance of a rude encampment, and the various thin pieces of flint, (a stone which does not grow in Derbyshire,) some circular, others fashioned like arrow heads, which are frequently turned up by the plough in the fresh land, not only warrant the conclusion of there having been a battle fought there, but that one party in it was one of whose nations which inhabited the southern or midland parts of Britain.

Chelmorton Lowe lies about five miles to the south east of Buxton, and about two-and-a-half to the north east of it lies Presley or Priestcliffe Lowe [Map], on the top of a hill a good deal similar is appearance to that of Chelmorton. Like Chelmorton, this has also been opened for the sake of the stone of which it is composed, and like it, has been re-closed when human bodies were discovered. Indeed these depositories of the dead, are so similar in their formation, that a dcscription of one may almost be assumed as an account of all.

Between these two lowes a little to the south-west of the wall which is erected for a sheep-lay, in an inclosure called the Burying Close belonging to the farm of Mr. Ralph Mosley, is the remains of what has not only been a sepulture [Five Wells Chambered Tomb [Map]], but apparently a temple, similar to that of Arbor-lowe [Map], which Mr. Pilkington proves to have been of Druidical origin. Like that, it seems to have been composed of two concentric circles, one of large flat stones, and the other of soil or earth, with a shallow ditch, of which there are at present few traces. The diameter of the inner circle is about 25 yards, and from east to west a number of stones of large dimensions are now standing, and which most probably have been covered over with other stones, as in other barrows, cells or receptacles for dead.

That this should not have been a lowe or barrow only; is pretty evident from the following considerations: These works were always, or generally erected on the very apex of the hills, whereas this is on the southern side of the same hill which Chelmerton Lowe is situated, and like that at Mount St. Helier in the Isle of Jersey, which General Conway was at the expence of bringing over to England, and erecting in his own ground at Park-Place, as a singular curiosity, had in all probability been covered over with earth, to preserve it from destruction at the time when the Romans over-ran the country, and polluted or razed every sacred edifice.

In comparing this with the plate which Mr. Robertson has given of the St. Helier one at Park-place, there seems to be a great similarity in their formation, with the exception that by being rebuilt in the exact manner in which it was found, it has a more perfect appearance than this, mutilated as it is by the neighbouring labourers for walling stone.

When it was first discovered, a workman had by chance laid bare an open entrance to the east, composed of two large upright stones, with an impost over them; he ventured to enter, but meeting with a corpse or two (at that time in perfect preservation), he retreated, and informing his fellows of what he had seen, numbers came to look at the place, and soon spread a report of its containing many bodies, and, as a certain consequcnce, of its being haunted; this however, in time died away, and neither bodies nor goblins have been able to preserve it from an almost total destruction.

From hence looking across the river, several other lowes are visible, among the most conspicuous of which, are Cowlow [Map], which gives name to a small village, and Woolowe and Lowefoot, each of which gives name to a pleasant farm.

Whether the two last have or have not been opened, is not at present but the former, that at Cowlow, was examined a few years ago, and a number of bones of an uncommon size were found therein, of which two or three very large jaw-bones, apparently sound and good, with all the teeth entire, are preserved by a gentleman in Buxton. Some kind of ancient implements were found at the same time, which are said to be now in the possession of two maiden ladies at Great Rocks.

It is worthy of remark that in opening the above lowe, a large quantity of teeth and jaws were found in one part of it, which appear to have belonged to rats, or to some other animal of similar habits and correspondent size ; no other bones of these animals, except those appertaining to the head, could be found. What animals they were, or for what purpose their heads were here deposited in heaps, is a mystery which at present it will be diffcult to explain ; it may perhaps owe its origin to some religious rite.

This lowe is easily distinguished from the others near it, by two large hawthorns and a sycamore which grow near its apex: it lies about three miles beyond Fairfield, and nearly due east from Buxton.

About two miles south-east from Buxton is another of these lowes called Staden lowe, on the top of which is an old tree walled round, there is an appearance of this having once been opened, for on the south-west side, the breast work, as described in that at Chelmerton, appears to be laid quite bare.

Staden, the adjoining village, is a place of great antiquity, and has formerly been much larger and of proportionably greater consequence than it is at present.

The officers of the surrounding hamlets, have, in consequence of some ancient prescription, till within these few years, been annually chosen on the top of Staden lowe, and their names registered in the parochial records, on a large flat stone placed there for the purpose, and which has time immemorial occupied that situation.

There are also yet visible in the village, the ruins of some large building, probably that where Richard de Staden resided, who in the reign of Richard the Second was empowered by the king to take inquisitions post mortuum, upon the effects of persons in that part of the Peak of Derbyshire.

About a quarter of a mile from Staden Lowe, in a field which lies between it and the London road, on the way to Hayfield Nook, are the remains of an ancient encampment, which, though mentioned by several authors, has been but imperfectly described.

It consists of two parts, the eastern one a circle cut off by the chord A B, which runs due north, and is 104 feet long; the other, an irregular pentangular figure, of which this chord forms one side. The length of the other sides are as follow: A E, 81 feet; E D, 113; DC, 40; and CB, 57; the diameter of the circular part is about 140 feet from the south east to the north-west, and about 200 from north-east to south-west, forming rather an irregular ellipsis than a regular circle. These boundaries or lines, are mounds of earth and stones, raised about a foot above the level of the field, and gradually sloping from the centre each way; they measure from 19 to 21 feet broad, and have apparently had a ditch on the inner side, but of what breadth it is not easy to determine. = At the south-east part of the figure the bank is broken as if to form an entrance. The whole has suffered much by cultivation since the inclosure of the commons, and it is probable that in a few years these vestiges will be no longer traceable.