Books, Prehistory, The Reliquary Volume 7 1901, The Reliquary Volume 7 Page 299

The Reliquary Volume 7 Page 299 is in The Reliquary Volume 7 1901.

Five-Wells Tumulus, Derbyshire [Map] by John Ward.

This remarkable tumulus is two miles S.W. of Miller's Dale Station, on the Midland Railway between Derby and Manchester, and one-and-a-quarter from Taddington. It crowns a conspicuous and breezy knoll on the northern brow of an elevated stretch of fields (from 1,320 ft. to 1,440 ft. above the sea-level) between the above village and that of Chelmorton, which a century or more ago was waste land, and which still retains the name of Taddington Moor. The whole district is of carboniferous limestone, and, as might be expected, the view from the knoll is an extensive and characteristic stretch of Peak scenery. The name, "Five-Wells," has arisen from the circumstance that in the vicinity, five fields so about upon a spring that each has a drinking-place or "well" supplied therefrom. The name is also applied to a farmhouse near.

In its present condition, the tumulus is circular, from 60 to 70 ft. in diameter, with a well-defined outline, but with a low and irregular grassy summit. A little east of the centre is a fine half-buried (strictly, half-unburied) megalithic chamber minus its roof. It is constructed of ponderous weather-worn limestones; and between it and the eastern side of the mound several of the side-stones of a former passage or gallery, by which access was had to the chamber, peep above the sward. The accompanying drawing (fig. 1) will give a general idea of this old-world structure. West of the centre this arrangement of chamber and access-gallery was reproduced, but in reversed order, the entrance being in the western side of the tumulus ; their remains, however, are scanty. It is clear that these chambers with their galleries were originally covered by the mound, and there is reason to think that they all formed parts of one design and construction.

It is evident that the upper part of the mound was removed for the sake of its stone at the time the moor was enclosed, and that this process included the breaking-up of some of the large stones of the chambers and galleries. The mutilated tumulus then served as a convenient spot on which to deposit rubbish, as ashes and broken pots, derived, without doubt, from the neighbouring farmhouse, and surface stones from the surrounding fields, have been found on the south side. These potsherds were of the wares in common use towards the close of the eighteenth century.

The earliest printed notice of this tumulus appears to be the short account of its exploration in 1846 by the late Mr. Thomas Bateman, F.S.A., in his Vestiges of the Antiquities of Derbyshire (p. 91), published in 1848. This gentleman found that the chambers had been rifled, and he attributed this to the stone-gatherers just alluded to. His exploration was of a slight character, nevertheless he found a flint arrow-point and numerous bones, some of which were calcined ; and he concluded that "the quantity of bones" of both sexes and of various ages, "indicated a burying-place for a considerable time." He further remarked that "the lower jaws of twelve different persons were collected." Mr. Bateman made a passing allusion to this tumulus in a paper read before the British Archeological Association in 1851. This is given in Vol. vii. of the Journal of that Association, and is accompanied by a view and a misleading plan of'the chambers. A short description, with a small view and plan, is also given in Llewellynn Jewitt's Grave-mounds and their Contents, 1870.

For many years I had wished to see one of the few chambered tumuli of Derbyshire thoroughly explored, and in 1899 the opportunity of realizing this came through Mr. Micah Salt (whose valuable excavations around Buxton have been frequently referred to in the pages of The Reliquary) and myself receiving permission to make any necessary diggings at Five-Wells. Our operations on the spot began on August 16th of that year, and were continued the following day, having as enthusiastic helpers, Mr. Salt's sons. Our chief aim was to ascertain the structural particulars of the tumulus, and our labours were well rewarded, for it proved to be a notable piece of pre-historic architecture. The first care was to clear out the chambers and galleries. In doing this we brought to light several flakes and implements of flint and fragments of coarse pottery, which will be described presently. We also found that Mr. Bateman had collected in a heap at the entrance of the eastern chamber all the bones he did not take away, and had placed in their midst a piece of lead bearing his name.

The subsequent operations were carried out by the Salts mostly in October and November of the following year, 1900, and they had reference chiefly to the mound. During their work an interesting secondary interment in a cist was met with, which also will be described in due course.

I will now describe the structure as revealed by the diggings. The chambers and galleries had been built upon the natural surface. The east and best preserved chamber is wedge-shaped in plan, and is entered through the east or wider end. Its dimensions on the floor-level are: length, 6 ft.; and width, 5 ft. 6 ins. at the wider end, and 4 ft. at the narrower. It is constructed of five large stones, three of them slabs, two long ones forming the sides and one, the narrow end; while just within the wide end are two pillar-like stones, with an intervening space of 2 ft. The latter may be regarded as the terminal stones of the gallery, and from their position and greater height than the sides of the chamber, they bear a rude resemblance to the pylon of an Egyptian temple. The sides of the chamber lean inwards, and this is not due to the pressure of the mound, but is part of the original design, perhaps with the view to reducing the roof-span. The end slab tapers from a width of more than 3 ft. near the base to about 2 ft. at the summit, in order to allow of the sides sloping. The chamber is highest at the wider or portal end, the sides there reaching a height of more than 5 ft. Several gaps between its great stones are filled in with dry walling. It has been paved, one or two of the paving-stones remaining in situ in one of the corners, while others were found among the débris above, showing that the floor had been pulled up, probably at the time the tumulus was dismantled. The gallery was about 10 ft. in length, and had a width of 1 ft. 6 ins. or more, but it is impossible to say with certainty, as the remaining side-stones have shifted somewhat. Its height appears to have been about 2 ft. 6 ins.

The western chamber is about 5 ft. from the eastern, and is in a much more ruinous condition, but was evidently of similar shape and construction, although somewhat less in height. The two pillars of the entrance remain, but most of the slabs of the gallery have been removed ; its course, however, is clearly defined. It is considerably longer than the eastern gallery, and is roughly paved or pitched. Several large flat stones lie on the surface near, and these may have belonged to this gallery. The north view of the chambers (fig. 2) and the general plan (fig. 3) will make the foregoing clear to the reader.

At an early stage of the exploration we found that the mound had a vertical podium of dry masonry. At first we took this to be a retaining-wall, but the subsequent diggings of the Messrs. Salt disclosed it in its true character. They found that the whole mound, where not disturbed, was built of thinly-bedded quarried limestones, rudely coursed, and that the podium was simply the facing of the general construction. In these respects this tumulus contrasts with the numerous cairns of the Peak, in that they consist of weathered stones gathered off the surface, and usually thrown together without order. It would not be difficult for the pre-historic builders of our tumulus to obtain their materials. Along the hillside below, a seam of toadstone (a volcanic rock) crops out; and as it is more susceptible to the action of the weather than the beds of limestone above, its more rapid disintegration brings about the loosening of these beds, thus rendering their removal easy. The podium' facing consists of large and well-selected stones, ranging from 4 to 6 ins. in thickness, and having an average length of 2 ft. or more, and are put together with considerable skill, as may be gathered from Mr. W. H. Salt's drawing here given (fig. 4). In height it varies from 2 ft. 6 ins. to 3 ft. 6 ins. The topmost course was often found to overhang those below, but this was probably due to the pressure of the mound. Fig. 5 presents a section of the tumulus along the dotted line shown on the plan.

Although the Five-Wells chambers are of unusual form, they have their counterparts in the district. The two best preserved chambers of the greater tumulus at Mininglow [Map], near Aldwark, are also wedge-shaped in plan, with galleries terminating in their wider ends; and to judge from a sketch made by the late Mr. Bateman, that of the lesser tumulus was of similar form. A little burial-chamber on Harborough Rocks, near Brassington, which I opened in 1899 (Journal of the Derbyshire Archeological and Natural History Society, Vol. xii., p. 120), was also of the same form ; and it was neatly paved, and with inward-leaning sides effected in the same manner as at Five-Wells. The megalithic structures at Bole Hill, near Bakewell, and Ringham -Low, near Monyash, described in Ten Years' Diggings, pp. 93 and 104, were probably also "chambers" (in contra-distinction from cists, of which many have been opened in the Peak)1, but Mr. Bateman's accounts of them are too vague for us to form an estimate as to how far they conformed to the Five-Wells type. The notable chamber, however, opened at Wetton, a few miles beyond the Derbyshire border, by his colleague, Mr. Carrington, seems to have belonged to this type. It was similarly paved ; but no mention is made of a gallery (T.Y.D., pp. 144 and 182).

Note 1. The essential difference between a "chamber" and a "cist" is that the former was constructed to receive successive interments, and so had some means (whether by a gallery or otherwise) of entry ; while the latter was the permanently closed receptacle of a particular interment (whether consisting of one or more individuals). There is good reason for thinking that the chambers were, in many instances at least, ossuaries, that is, that their contents had been first exposed or buried elsewhere, and then were introduced into the chamber as skeletons.

The mounds of these local tumuli have also features in common. So generally are they of an elongated shape, elsewhere, that the term "long" is used to designate the class; but in this district they all appear to have been circular; the Harborough Rocks example, however, was too mutilated to admit of an opinion as to its original shape. The greater tumulus at Mininglow is conspicuously circular, and Mr. Bateman has left on record a feature which leaves little room for doubt that it is a work of the same age as Five-Wells:—"An interesting discovery was made of the manner in which this huge tumulus was built, a wall being found to encircle it in a manner precisely to the walls built round some of the Etruscan tumuli discovered in the south of Italy. In one part of this wall, which was exposed by the excavation, a gallery formed of stones set up edgeways, with others across the top of them, was found to have its commencement "—( Vestiges, p. 40). At Five-Wells the galleries were found to commence in the same abrupt manner, like the port-holes of a ship, thus contrasting with the incurved entrances observed elsewhere. It is probable that if Mr. Bateman had pushed his investigations further, he would have found that Mininglow was of built construction. At Harborough Rocks the stones of the mound in the vicinity of the chamber had been wholly removed, leaving only débris behind; but a little distance away was a wall-like structure which appeared to be a portion of the original mound or of its podium.

We have observed that at Five-Wells the roofs are gone. At Mininglow they remain to a considerable extent intact, and consist of huge slabs which span the chambers. At Harborough Rocks, the capstone was found lying outside the chamber, from which it had been pushed off by the despoilers. The parallels between these tumuli are so great, that we can hardly doubt that the chambers and galleries of Five-Wells were similarly roofed, especially as large slabs of stone are abundant in its vicinity. Unfortunately none of these tumuli have given any clue as to the original height of their mounds, or how they were finished off above. All we can say of Five-Wells is that for the first three feet the sides were vertical. Perhaps its summit was pyramidal.

Five-Wells, however, has a peculiarity not shared by the other members of this Derbyshire type of chambered tumuli—I refer to the "pillars" which flank the openings into the chambers—but it would be rash, without further investigation, to say that they never possessed them. Tall stones like these, being suitable for gate-posts, would run great risk of removal for such a purpose; and besides, being slender, were liable to be broken across. Structurally, the pillars at Five-Wells may be regarded as the last pair of gallery side-stones; but their great height indicates a special use. What that use was we can little more than guess. It seems to me that they may have been connected with some means of closing the chambers, for surely it is unlikely that the builders of these chambers would leave the remains of their departed friends open to prowling beasts or human marauders. We carefully examined the entrance of the west gallery (which was little disturbed), but found no indication of any means of closing it. It has been suggested that the apertures and podia of chambered tumuli were purposely masked or covered with earth and stones; but our observations led us to the opposite conclusion, that the Five-Wells podium was exposed until it was gradually buried under the débris from the mound above.

The absence of a closing apparatus at the one end of these galleries turns our enquiring eyes to the other end. Here we meet with the significant fact, that while the galleries proper were low, say 2 ft. 6 in. from floor to roof, the space between the pairs of pillars must have been lofty, loftier even than the chambers. This superior upper space would admirably serve to receive a drop-stone when lifted to allow of access to the chamber. The method of raising and lowering this ponderous portcullis may not be clear to us, but we can hardly doubt that the ingenuity of these ancient builders would be equal to the task. This drop-stone hypothesis has some corroborative evidence from another source. The plans of these megalithic structures occasionally show a stone or two placed athwart the gallery or the anterior part of the chamber. We need not go further afield than Mininglow for examples. In Mr. Bateman's plans of the two chambers more than once referred to, the cross-stones occupy the corresponding position of our hypothetical portcullis at Five-Wells, that is between the last pair of gallery side-stones. In the one it is a single stone; in the other, two, with a short intervening space. I venture to suggest that these stones were raised thresholds or sills to strengthen the drop-stones and hold them in place when closed ; it is, however, a matter for further enquiry. In the section, fig. 6, I give a conjectural restoration of the east chamber, showing the drdp-stone in solid black.

have spoken of the Five-Wells tumulus as circular. A glance at the plan (fig. 3) will show that it is not strictly so. While the southern half conforms to a circular sweep, the northern half has an outward bulge. I do not think that this deflection from the circle is intentional or original. The ground has a northerly slope; hence any tendency of the mound to spread under its own weight would naturally operate in that direction—the direction of least resistance. That movements in the mound have taken place is well seen in the pillars of the western chamber, which lean to the north.

From the structural side of our subject, we pass to the "finds." These, as might be expected from the rifled condition of the chambers, have been somewhat scanty and uncertain as to original position. Such of the things found by Mr. Bateman as were removed to his private museum at Lomberdale, Derbyshire, are thus described in his Catalogue (published in 1855): "Arrow-head, etc." (I. 131); "A few bones" (i.e., calcined human bones—O. 46); and "Remains of about twelve persons, the crania of about three presenting examples of the narrow boat-shaped form" (P. 89). Of these, only the most perfect skull is now to be seen in the Public Museum of Sheffield, where a large portion of the Bateman collection was removed. Mr. E. Howarth, the Director of that Museum, has kindly forwarded two photographs of this skull—here reproduced (figs. 7 and 8). Although not displayed in the correct norme, one sees in it a typical example, not only of a dolichocephalic or long skull, but of that variety of the form which is especially associated with the British chambers, and of which excellent: examples have? been found at Harborough Rocks, Ringham Low, and Wetton. The cephalic index, as given in the Sheffield Catalogue of the Bate- man collection is 665. I examined the frag- ments of the. long bones left heaped to- gether by Mr. Bate- man with a view to determining the sta- ture of their former owners, but was not successful in building a complete bone. The shin-bones, however, exhibited the flatten- ing (platycnemism),and the thigh-bones, the bold projecting linea aspere, commonly seen in the pre-historic skeletons of the Peak. The presence of calcined human bones is unusual for: this district; perhaps they related to cremated interments of a later period, for it is a point which should never be overlooked, that the ancient grave-mounds often served as cemeteries for periods sufficiently long to cover great changes in the mode of burial. If, as is quite likely, there were later interments at Five-Wells, their remains would, during the partial demolition of the mound, gravitate and become mingled with those of earlier date below.

For instance, Messrs. Salt found many fragments of pottery amongst the débris within the chambers and without. Were these contemporary with the skeletons of the chambers, or did they belong to later interments? Little is known of the grave-pottery of the British chambers; but it seems to have closely resembled the well- known coarse, half-fired, hand-made ware of the Bronze Age burials. The Five-Wells fragments relate to two very dissimilar vessels. The one was of extremely coarse build, and was decorated by the im- pression of a toothed piece of stick or bone. It seems to have been top-shaped, about 7 ins. or 8 ins. in diameter, the upper part having the section shown in fig. 9. The impressions ran in crowded horizontal lines along the upper mouldings; were disposed as rude zig-zags in the hollow below ; and trailed vertically down the lower sides. Such a vessel would easily pass for a Bronze Age "food-vase," but until we know more about the neolithic grave-pottery of this country, it is useless to further discuss the age. Of the other vessel, only scanty fragments of the lip remain (fig. 10). Like the preceding, it has been shaped by hand, but was larger, thinner, of finer texture, and apparently quite plain; moreover, it had been drawn over with fine clay, and carefully smoothed. It is so unlike the earlier wares of this country, that one is inclined to regard it as much later than the era of the chambers.

There is the some uncertainty as to the original positions of the flint implements. Three were found, and their workmanship was of rare delicacy. Figs. 11, 12, and 13 show them full size. The long oval knife-like implement was found just within the east chamber near its S.E. corner. It is a well-formed flake, with one side carefully. trimmed to a convexity, by what may be termed ripple-flaking. The charming barbed arrow-head, with central stem, was picked off the surface immediately south of the east gallery. It has lost one of its barbs. The broken point of the leaf-shaped arrow-head was found in the throw-out from the west gallery. It is minutely trimmed on both sides, and does not exceed th inch in thickness. Besides this, a small untrimmed flake was obtained from this gallery. Whether these implements were contemporary with one another, it is impossible to say. Several leaf-shaped arrow-heads of the same delicate work- manship, all broken and one calcined, were found in the gallery at Harborough Rocks, under conditions which left no uncertainty that they were in their original positions. What I wrote at the time has a bearing on the present subject:—"Leaf-shaped arrow-heads have been frequently found in 'long' barrows, but never barbed ones ; hence Dr. Thurnam's surmise, that the latter were unknown at this period, has further support. The extreme delicacy and thinness of these weapons render it most unlikely that they were made for use. They are usually broken or burnt ; this, coupled with the fact that on the Continent the chambers of this era frequently contain small amber and jet models of implements, make it probable that objects of use to the living were broken or burnt under the impression that their spirits would pass away to the world of spirits ..... Such customs are widespread; the Chinese habit of burning imitation cardboard money to enrich the soul of the dead is obviously a survival." Delicate arrow-heads of this type were found in the chambers of Ringham Low and Wetton; and in the light of the above, one is inclined to regard the broken point at Five-Wells, and with it, the knife, on account of the similarity of its workmanship, as of the same age, but the barbed head, as later.

We now come to a discovery which goes far to dispel any doubt there may be as to the high antiquity of these chambered tumuli. On November 26th, 1899, Mr. W. H. Salt found a small cist con- taining a skeleton, constructed against the face of the podium, 12 ft. north of the entrance of the west gallery. I will proceed in his own words:—"It was constructed of large flat stones (see sketch-plan, fig. 14, which accompanied his letter). Inside lay the remains of an interment in a contracted attitude, with its face towards the wall and on its left side, the head pointing to the N.E. It had been deposited upon a bed of gravel on the surface of the natural soil. The cist, the south side of which had collapsed, was made of many stones, some driven into the ground 1 ft. 4 ins. for support. The capstone had fallen in, and had crushed the bones. It did not cover the whole of the space ; one end had been ledged upon the wall (podium), and a stone supported the other. The only implement was a thin white flake with the edges slightly trimmed." Thus far Mr. W. H. Salt. Of this skull, the right side of the calvaria, and practically all the facial bones, have decayed away, but what remains shows that it was of the long form, well shaped, and with bold and confluent superciliary ridges and half-closed sutures. The lower jaw is strong, with a well-formed chin, and the teeth are in the ground-down condition usual in pre-historic remains. From these data, one can hardly hesitate to assign the skull to a man who died in early middle life. The piece of flint cannot be dignified with the name of implement; indeed, except for a slight amount of trimming it might be taken for a purely natural fragment.

There can be little or no question as to the era to which this burial belonged. Several hundreds of such contracted interments have been opened in the Peak country and the adjacent parts of Staffordshire, and with most of them was associated an object or two of flint, even if only an untrimmed flake or mere splinter (as though the old custom of placing with the dead objects of utility had degenerated into a purely representative rite), while with a few were bronze implements of early type, or earthen vessels of characteristic form and decoration. These interments are certainly pre-Roman ; and they appear to belong to the period when bronze was making headway in Britain as a common material for cutting and piercing tools and weapons. The position of the cist, as built against the podium, demands that the tumulus was already there when it was constructed; and further, Mr. Salt's account implies that the tumulus was already in a ruinous condition. So that instead of these megalithic chambers being the work of comparatively late times, say, Post-Roman, as some would have us believe, we have here good evidence that they hark back to much remoter times, that they are, in fact, monuments of the British Pre-metallic Age.

In conclusion, when our excavations began, I had not been to Five-Wells for eleven years, and I was sorry to find that someone had, in the interval, worked considerable havoc with the west gallery. We can ill-afford to lose these ancient monuments, piece-meal or otherwise. It was quite unnecessary; and I can assure the reader that in our various diggings on the venerable site, we did not knowingly disturb a single stone of the original construction.

Since the above was penned, Mr. Salt and his sons have discovered the remains of another secondary interment. It was found immediately north of the two chambers (at "D" on the general plan), at a height of about 1 ft. 6 ins. above the natural surface, and in a trench excavated out of the parent mound, so that the sides had a rudely-built appearance. The skeleton was too decayed to admit of ascertaining more than that the head was towards the west, and upon the evidence of the teeth, that it related to an old individual. Associated with it were some burnt bones, and a large number of those of the water-vole.

John Ward

Cardiff Museum.