Transactions of the Woolhope Club

Transactions of the Woolhope Club is in Prehistory.

The Club's Transactions have been published for the years 1852 to date.

Books, Prehistory, Transactions of the Woolhope Club 1872

Transactions of the Woolhope Club 1872 Meeting at Bredwardine

Meeting at Bredwardine. Friday, July 26th, 1872.

The party re-assembled at the cromlech, or so-called druidical monument known as King Arthur's Stone [Map], which is situated in the middle of an ancient road, probably British, leading along the ridge to Herbage Point, and thence to Clock-mill where it joins the road to Hay along the south bank of the Wye. Arthur's Stone has been so often described as to need little to be said about it, save that it is a true cromlech evidently of great antiquity. It consists of a superincumbent slab of old red sandstone, probably brought from a neighbouring quarry on the west or Dorstone slope of the ridge, which is now broken in two ways. The lower stratum has become detached from the upper, and has fallen partly to the ground, while the upper portion, which is about two feet thick, and is estimated to be about 40 tons in weight, is split across the middle. The stone, however, is still supported by the six smaller stones upon which it was originally placed. It is surrounded at about eight feet distance by a circle of stones of considerable size, which are now mostly covered with greensward. There seems to have been an inner circle of upright stones about four feet high, of which only four are now to be traced, the remainder having probably been broken up and carried off to mend the road, or for some other purpose. One of these stones, which is singularly marked as though with a gigantic thumb and two fingers, lies on the roadside, where it is shown by some relaters of local tradition as bearing the marks of King Arthur's knees, as he knelt down, while others declare that the marks are those of his thumb and fingers, when he was playing at quoits. The marks themselves seem to have been produced by water, and are analogous to those produced upon the edge of a bed of rock where the stream breaks into tiny cascades, such as are common in the bed of the Wye near Builth and elsewhere. How the stone reached its present position is of course a matter for conjecture, but it is probable that it was with the other smaller stones brought from the Wye.

On the Dorstone slope of the hill, and in the valley, some large travelled stones are found, which would seem to suggest that at one time there had been an avenue of stones marking the ascent to the cromlech.

It is much to be regretted that this interesting relic of a far-off time is left in its present state of utter neglect, a prey not only to the destructive action of the seasons, but also to the heedless ravages of mankind. It would require no great expenditure at least to clear the outer circle of stones of the earth which has accumulated upon them, and thus to lay bare to the observer the exact nature of the place, and it would be a trivial sacrifice of land to divert the road a little to the eastsward, so as to save that side of the circle from further destruction. It is possible that the excavation necessary for the purpose would be rewarded by discoveries of articles of interest, but in any case the diversion of the road would be an easy way of presenting this fine relic from casual or wanton damage. As the only monument of its class in the county, it merits some little care for its own sake, while such care would relieve the archaeologists of the county of some discredit which the present neglected condition of the stone justly throws upon them.

As the party were grouped around the stone, the Vice-Presidents and some other gentlemen present invited Mr. Edmunds to say a few words on its history.

Mr. Edmunds, in responding to the unexpected call, said that he was much in the position of Canning's knife-grinder, when asked for his story:

Story, Lor' bless ye, I have none to tell. Sir!

He had not been able to find any historical references to King Arthur's Stone, while the legends were few and imperfect, yielding no distinct ground even for plausible conjecture as to the person to whom or the time when that structure was reared. The name was rather patriotism than history. There is no reason for supposing that King Arthur ever ruled in this district. It is true that the existence of Arthur had been disputed, but the doubt seemed to the speaker an unreasonable one. There was certainly a real King Arthur who ruled the district now known as Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall, and whose body was found buried at Avallonia in the reign of Henry II., but there is no reason for connecting him with this cromlech unless we take the name as a patriotic myth. As the great national hero, Arthur was to the Briton the symbol of the glorious past of their independence, and everything remarkable or interesting seemed to be consecrated by bearing the name of Arthur. Thus we have mountains, cromlechs, stones, and other objects in distant places where Arthur never ruled, as well as in his own little kingdom, named from the hero-king. Of course where nothing certain was known there was a fine field for conjecture (a laugh). The archaeologists had "ample room and verge enough" for theory. There were indeed some facts, very massive and imposing and undeniable ; there was the huge table of stone, the crom-lech, or covering stone, its firmly fixed supports, the remains of a small inner circle, and the large outer circle covered with earth and greensward, and fragrant with purple thyme and other wild flowers, upon which the audience were seated. These were the facts, and all he could do was but to endeavour to explain them from other monuments of the kind which he had visited. The ground plan, for example, seemed to be a miniature of that of Stonehenge, which, however, had no central cromlech. He thought it was probable that the circle had been double, a passage being thus left all round, although only one of the inner ring of stones was left standing. The circular form was to his mind conclusive evidence of British work. The Briton's mind seems to have been full of the circle: the circle of the heavens, the circle of the sun, the circle of the moon, the circle of the seasons, seem to have suggested the idea, which the Briton carried out in his camps, his dwellings, his temples, his burial places. Just as the Roman founded all his works on the right line and always used the square or the oblong, a square and a half. In this case, he thought the cromlech was built first. Some great Silurian chief was brought thither with rude pomp and ceremony ; his body was placed on the ground, covered perhaps with a little earth ; the body of his favourite horse was laid at his feet, and his weapons by his side, and the huge Lech or covering stone was brought up an inclined plane upon rollers, and so placed by the strong arms of a nation as a memorial of their lost chief to future ages. All this would be done, as the old British phrase has it, "in the face of the sun and in the eye of light," and amid a band of white-robed Druids and bards, while the armed throng formed a reverent circle around. Then, too, at night, if we might follow some interpreters of the bards, the hollow place beneath the cromlech might be used in the initiation of neophytes. Lonely watching in the house of death has always been supposed to confer wisdom, and especially prescience, upon the watcher, who regarded it as the house of life to his spirit. Here he communed with the invisible world, and from hence he issued after his vigils (like the knight of mediaeval times) pledged to a new life. Perhaps he ought to apologise for detaining the audience so long with these theories and conjectures, but he had told them that he had little of information to give them ; and they would all agree with him that when one has really little to say it sometimes takes a great many words to say it (applause).

The Rev. James Davies expressed the obligations of the meeting to Mr. Edmunds for his most interesting address, and added that if that was an instance of a person having little to say they all felt that Mr. Edmunds had said it extremely well (applause).

Mr. Lloyd also expressed the interest which he had felt in the address.

Mr. J. E. Smith said that some writers looked upon Arthur as the sun, and the legends regarding him as myths of the sun-worship. "Ar" was said to be a word meaning light.

Mr. Edmunds doubted the correctness of that theory. He knew the word ar as meaning land, and lux and cognate words as meaning light, in the Celtic and Teutonic tongues, but he knew nothing of ar as meaning light in those tongues.

Sir George Cornewall, who had arrived while Mr. Edmunds was speaking, expressed his regret that he had accidentally missed the address. What he had heard had greatly interested him.

The party then made their way to the beautiful "Clumps" above the village of Bredwardine, where they partook of lunch. Afterwards the club held an ordinary meeting, when some formal business was transacted.

Sir George Cornewall then announced that the only paper to be read that day was that of Mr. Edmunds and Mr. Curley, who had visited the scene of the destructive whirlwind of Sunday week. (See the succeeding page.)

Books, Prehistory, Transactions of the Woolhope Club 1881

Transactions of the Woolhope Club 1881 Golden Valley Meeting

Golden Valley Meeting. May 25th, 1882. Arthur's Stone, Dorstone, By Mr. George H. Piper, F.G.S., President.

The very fine, and tolerably well-preserved Cromlech (Welsh, from crom, bent, arched or covering ; llec a flat stone) on Merbage Hill, in the parish of Dorstone, known by the name of "Arthur's Stone [Map]," is one of the most perfect Druidic structures in our Island.

Cromlechs in British antiquities, are huge, broad, flat stones, raised upon other stones set up on end for that purpose.

Rowland partly inclines to the opinion of their having been altars, and partly to their having been sepulchres. He supposes them to have been originally tombs, but that in after times sacrifices were performed upon them to the heroes deposited within. Skeletons have been discovered under them. The Cromlech chiefly differs from the Kist-faen in not being closed up at the ends and sides, that is, in not so much partaking of the chest-like figure. It is generally of larger dimensions and sometimes consists of a greater number of stones. The terms. Cromlech and Kist-faen, are however indiscriminately used for the same monument.

Although we would gladly associate Arthur's Stone closely with the great British Hero, whose name it bears, and enrich it with some of the glorious traditions of his prowess and knightly worth, we are compelled to assign its erection to a period prior to the Roman invasion, and certainly more than 500 years before the era of the Great Pendragon, who was born at Tintagel, about the year 501. He established the first Military Order that was ever instituted in Britain, and by its means raised a glow of ingenuous heroism—the first spirit of chivalry that ever appeared in Europe—that manly and honourable gallantry of soul, which has made him and his worthies the subjects of romantic histories over all the world.

Beyond the assertion that it is pre-Roman its age is a question of mere conjecture.

The generally received opinion is that the name, Arthur's Stone, is simply a corruption of Thor-Stein, the Stone of Thor, or Thor's Altar, from which it is suggested the parish takes its name, Thorstein, Dorstein or Dorstone ; but this is not wholly satisfactory or conclusive ; if it be so the Saxon invaders must have adopted for their ceremonial rites, an ancient Keltic structure, which is improbable. The name "Stone," whether preceded by "Thor" or "Arthur," must be English—an English suffix given to an ill-understood relic of antiquity. It would seem more likely that the original British name was lost, and at some later period the name of "Arthur" was given to the Cromlech as a vague memorial of a shadowy but celebrated hero, whose name was so well known throughout Britain, and one of whose residences was not far distant. The title page of Duncumb's " History and Antiquities of the County of Hereford," published in 1804, has a fine woodcut of the Cromlech, as it then appeared, and although not signed with Bewick's name, there can be little doubt that it is his work. We have it on the authority of that eminent geologist, the Rev. W. S. Symonds, F.G.S., that "the large incumbent stone was no doubt hewn from the rock close by." The adjacent quarry was exposed which enabled a correct opinion to be formed. The other stones, some of which have fallen from their originally upright position, belong, Mr. Symonds says, for the most part, to the hard lime- stone of the cornstones, and are not in situ on the horizon of the Cromlech, but lie scattered about as boulders upon the land. All the stones belong to the Old Red Sandstone of the Country. On the south western side the Cromlech is close to an ancient road, probably British (as most of the British roads ran along the summits of the hills), in the angle, formed by another ancient road that comes up the hill to Dorstone, and is now used only for agricultural purposes, and as a bridle road. The Cromlech stands fifteen miles due north of the Skirred-fawr. Aline drawn from the Skirred-fawr, near Abergavenny, northwards to Arthur's Stone, would pass over the Camp on the southernmost point of the Hatterill Hill, Old Castle, Longtown Castle, and Urishay and Snodhill Castles. It consists of several stones, about 18 may be counted now, besides fragments. The chief feature is the large incumbent stone broken into three parts, and resting upon about ten smaller upright stones of various dimensions. In form it is nearly oval, the sides, east and west, being straight ; with two irregular sides north and south, the north somewhat curved, pointed at the extremity, and eroded considerably. An evident fracture of the stone has shortened the south end, which is about four feet in width. The long axis is due north and south, measuring about nineteen feet. The short axis, east and west, is twelve feet. The straight side, on the west, is fifteen feet, and on the eastern side thirteen feet. The thickness varies, and probably nowhere exceeds two feet. Between the under-surface of the stone and the ground is a space of about four feet formerly the distance was greater as the hollow has been partially filled up by worm casts and other means. At a distance of eight feet from the south end of the large stone is an upright one, five feet high, and five feet six inches broad, standing with its edges east and west. A similar, but smaller stone may be seen further on, and several fragments lie around. A small Avenue occurs at the north end of the large stone, leading from it to the old road, and formed by five or six stones standing erect, with their edges north and south. They project from one to three feet above the turf, and bear evidence of much erosion ; the avenue is in width about four feet, in length nine or ten feet. Fragments of stone lie scattered about more or less buried in the soil and covered by turf. The whole stands on a mound of oval shape, its lung axis twenty yards, its short axis ten yards.

To this modern description we are fortunately enabled to add some most interesting particulars, written by an intelligent and competent observer, who made a personal inspection of this interesting object, at the beginning of the reign of Queen Anne, or about 180 years ago.

In the first English Edition of Camden's Britannia, which was published in the year 1610, no mention is made of Arthur's Stone, nor is it marked on Speed's Map of that date. The other writer referred to is Nathaniel Salmon, a Bachelor of Laws, Antiquary and Historian, who was born circa 1676, son of the Rev. Thomas Salmon, also an antiquary. In Salmon's book, published in 1728 and 1729, entitled "A new Survey of England, wherein the defects of Camden are supplied and the errors of his followers remarked," he says, — "The remarkable curiosity of Rolle-Rich Stones [Map] (in Oxfordshire) hath not been sufficiently explained, either as to the original Form of that Monument, the age of it, or the Intention of the Erection. Out of the several Guesses that have been made, some hints may be taken, and seem capable of Improvement.

"Comparing that of Stonehenge with tliis, and the other in Cornwall, mentioned by the Right Reverend Annotator upon Camden, and a fourth which I have seen about twenty-five years ago, in Herefordshire, I am of opinion they are all the work of the same age, and made with the same intention."

"If my conjecture be right that of Herefordshire having more Remains of its Ancient Figure than any of the rest, is first to be described."

" Upon a hill west of the river Wye above Bradwardyn Castle, in the way toward the Black Mountains, is a flat, oblong stone, or a number of stones joined together, lying upon the pedestals of rude upright stones fix'd in the earth, after the manner of Rolle-Rich. A great part of the work is entire ; the supporting stones being at the same distance from the verge of that they bear. The eastern point (as I remember it was eastern), is narrower than the rest as much as the eastern part of a gravestone. It seems to have increased in breadth toward the west, but the western end being demolished, as well the upper stones as the pedestals, neither the length of the whole nor the breadth of the western part can be determined. What remains (as I remember), was about six yards long, and two yards broad. The flat stone was then in three pieces, but the sides of those pieces answering one another, and not joining as they would have been made to do if they had been originally single, but indented like something broken, I take them to have been but one at first. From whatever quarry it was brought, or by whatever carriage, it hath the air of a natural stone, not of one put together with a strong cement. Its height from the ground was about twenty inches. I remember the sheep of the country, which are small, sheltered themselves under it from the sun. The name by which the country people call this, is Artil's Stone [Map], corrupted probably from Arthur's Stone. This may have been taught them by somebody that had a notion of Arthur's Round Table, thinking this erected with the same design. Or supposing this to be of the same age and design with Stonehenge, the memory of Arthur may be kept up by its similitude to the other, for Arthur, according to our Monkish History was a great man ; and the honour attributed to Aurelius Ambrosius, who took upon him the government of the Britons when their affairs were desperate, after the departure of the Romans, Arthur is always allowed to share in. This might be from Arthur's being a Briton, whereas the other was half if not wholly of Roman blood."

"With due submission to those that pronounce otherwise these monuments seem the work of the Britons before Oiesar invaded them: it could not be of the Britons during the Romans' stay, for nothing was done then but Roman, and these are not like Roman. Nor could the Britons do it afterwards, who were, alas ! too much harass'd by their enemies to go about such a work as this for shew. Had the Saxons set up these stupendous pillars we must have seen more of the sort about the Island, and we should probably have had some account of it in their own or the British annals. Nor had the Danes quiet possession here long enough to carry on an undertaking that required so much time and application. The manuscripts of Ninnius, which mention Stonehenge, written two hundred years before the Danes had any considerable footing on this Island, decide the matter sufficiently against them."

"Two things ought to be cleared up before we go farther. The first is, that if this was a sepulchral monument erected by Pagans, we might expect to find barrows at some small distance. If it were Christian we might expect to meet with a cross or something of that kind implying the design."

"I confess there is a cross stands within a furlong or two (as near as I can remember) of Artil's Stone in Herefordshire: which phenomenon my readers are welcome to apply to what Hypothesis they please.

"It is upon a road over the mountain: an old coarse stone about eight foot above the ground, and about a foot and half broad. The figure of a cross is made by cutting into the stone an inch, or two, as we see them sometimes in churches." " The second difficulty to be accounted for, is, that this Arthur's Stone if coeval with Stonehenge, Rolle-Rich, and Biscaw-woune, should hold it out so bravely against time and weather, to which the rest have submitted. It is possible this being a natural stone may bear weather better than a compounded one, as I suppose the rest to be. And it is possible the race of Britons driven up to those mountains who are fond of pedigree, and delight in poems upon their worthies and heroes, may from time to time have repaired this decaying monument."

Salmon's details possess great interest, and prove that the appearance of the Cromlech is now much the same as it was two hundred years ago. The great top stone was then broken, and the description generally would apply to the present state of this curiously interesting ruin enveloped as it is in ages of mystery.

The "Old coarse stone about eight foot above the ground," bearing the incised figure of the Cross, should be the object of careful searches and enquiries. Such a stone would not have been broken up, and may yet be found built into the wall of some house or out-building. A careful—very careful—exploration should be made in the supporting mound, directed particularly towards a large stone shewing evident traces of tool-work, now lying against the bank of an adjacent hedge-row.

Now as to King Arthur. Whittaker's very able and learned treatise tells us his principal exploits were against the Northern Saxons, whilst he was only the Prince of the Silures, and Ambrosius was Pendragon, or Dictator of the Britons.

In a series of probably five campaigns, and in a succession of certainly eleven victories, this great Commander expelled the Saxons from the greater part of Britain. The twelfth battle of Arthur was fought in the South of England, after he was elected to the Pendragonship, against Kerdic, the Saxon. This extra- ordinary victory completed the circle of his military glories. The whole of our Island is in traditionary possession of his character, and more than six hundred places within it are still distinguished by his name. It is well established that the city of Caerleon, the capital of Silures, was his habitual residence, and as Arthur's Stone is distant some thirty-one or thirty-two miles only from that ancient capital, and lies immediately between it and the scenes of some of his martial exploits, it is not unreasonable to suppose that he made frequent visits to this mystical structure, before the hand of the Spoiler, Time, had destroyed its symmetry and marred its rude magnificence. Indeed it would require but little effort of the imagination to see his stout spear, Rone, made of ebon wood ; and his well dinted shield Pridwen, lying on the great altar now before us ; while he, grasping his trusty sword Excalibar, given to him by the Lady of the Lake, stood on the very spot we now occupy.

These arms were described in the uncouth, but remarkable language of Layamon, in the 12th century, and again three hundred years afterwards, in the rude numbers of Michael Drayton.

"The temper of his sword, the tried Excaliber,

The bigness and the length of Kone his noble spear,

With Pridwen, his great shield, and what the proof could bear."


Books, Prehistory, Transactions of the Woolhope Club 1898

Transactions of the Woolhope Club 1898 Lanigon Parish

Notes On Llanigon Parish. By Rev. W. E. T. Morgan.

I am proud to welcome to-day a visit from so distinguished a body as the Woolhope Club.

You entered the parish some short distance before Capel y-ffin was reached. It is somewhat strange that this little chapel is entirely surrounded by Blaenbwch, a hamlet of Glasbury. Capel-y-ffin means " The Chapel of the Boundary," and near this spot the three counties of Hereford, Brecon, and Monmouth meet, and the three dioceses of Hereford, Llandaff, and St. David's, and also England and Wales. I have very little to say about Capel-y-ffin. The Church was rebuilt about 1820. It is situated in the hamlet of Glynfach, " The Little Glen," or, as it used to be called, " Glynbwch, " The Stag's Glen." There are seven yew trees in the churchyard, two on the left and five on the right of the path leading to the Church, planted in a semi-circle.

It may be of interest to notice that the modern Monastery of Father Ignatius is situated in Glynfach. A little above the Monastery, near a waterfall, may be found the somewhat rare fern, Asplenium Viride.

Continues ...

Two Druidical altars are said to exist in the parish, one under an oak tree in the rough ground above Penyrwrlodd ; the other in front of the Allt cottage.

Books, Prehistory, Transactions of the Woolhope Club 1900

Arthur's Stone Arthur's Stone, Dorstone. By H. Cecil Moore.

Books, Prehistory, Transactions of the Woolhope Club 1969

Page 413 The Anglo-Norman Chronicle Of Wigmore Abbey By J. C. Dickinson And P. T. Ricketts