Other antiquities

Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1814.

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Daniel Lysons. Samuel Lysons, 'Other antiquities', Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall, (London, 1814), pp. ccxlv-cclii. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/magna-britannia/vol3/ccxlv-cclii [accessed 20 June 2024].

Daniel Lysons. Samuel Lysons. "Other antiquities", in Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall, (London, 1814) ccxlv-cclii. British History Online, accessed June 20, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/magna-britannia/vol3/ccxlv-cclii.

Lysons, Daniel. Lysons, Samuel. "Other antiquities", Magna Britannia: Volume 3, Cornwall, (London, 1814). ccxlv-cclii. British History Online. Web. 20 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/magna-britannia/vol3/ccxlv-cclii.

In this section

Ancient Crosses.

Figure 28:

Ancient crosses in Cornwall

Every part of Cornwall abounds with ancient stone crosses, not only in the church-yards, but on the moors and other situations remote from any habitation; some of the most remarkable of them are exhibited in the annexed plate, in which fig. 1. represents a very rude one in the church-yard at St. Roche: fig. 2. the cross standing by the turnpike-road side on Temple-Moor, called the Four-hole cross, from the four openings by which the cross at the top is formed; this has been ornamented all round with scrolls, which are much defaced: fig. 3. the cross in Sancreet church-yard, having on one side a rude sculpture of the crucifixion, in bas-relief, and ornamented in the Saxon style: fig. 4. a very curious ancient cross, which originally stood in the Chapel-close of the barton of Roseworthy, in the parish of Gwinnear, from whence it was removed, some years since, to the garden of Lord Arundell's mansion-house, at Lanherne, where it now stands; on one side is a rude sculpture of the crucifixion, under which is a braid, and an inscription, apparently Saxon, of which this figure exhibits a fac-simile: and in fig. 5. is shewn another inscription, on the opposite side of the cross: fig. 6. a Gothic cross, standing in the church-yard of Mawgan in Pyder, on the east side of which is a niche containing the crucifixion, sculptured in pretty high relief. In the niche on the west side is carved a subject, taken, no doubt, from some legend, consisting of the figures of a King and Queen. She is in the dress of the fourteenth century, kneeling, on one side, before a desk; on the other side is a large bolt, with a serpent coiled round it, which seems to be biting the face of the King, whilst an angel holds its tail.

In the church-yard of Lanivet are two ancient stone crosses, one about ten feet high, standing on the north side of the church, enriched on both sides with various ornaments, chiefly braids, much defaced by time; the other, which is about eleven feet high, stands near the west end of the church, having at the top a cross upon an open circle, leaving four holes, like that on Temple-Moor, which it much resembles in the style of its ornaments, which are scrolls. Near the inscribed stone in the parish of St. Cleer, mentioned in p. ccxxiii, stands the lower part of an ancient cross, ornamented with braids, called the other Half-stone, from a supposition that it belonged to another fragment in a different part of the county.


Small chapels or oratories, erected over wells or springs of water, to which extraordinary virtues have been ascribed, abound in most parts of Cornwall, the greater part of them in ruins; that of Mena-cuddle, near St. Austell, remains pretty entire; it is a small Gothic building, nine feet by five feet six inches within the walls, having a groined roof; neatly moulded door-ways on the north and south sides, with pointed arches, and a small window on the west side: the well is on the east side, one foot two inches in width. Over St. Agnes' well, in Chapelcomb, in the parish of St. Agnes, is a plain Gothic building of stone, about eight feet wide in the front, where is an opening with an obtuse arch. There is an ancient stone building over the well of St. Cleer, situated about a quarter of a mile north of the church; and St. Piran's well, in the parish of Perran-Zabuloe. The oratory over St. Levan's well is five feet square and seven feet high. The largest building of this kind stands near Horse-bridge, in the parish of St. Dominick, being 10 feet wide, and about 15 in height, ornamented with pinnacles.

Camps and Earth-works.

The county of Cornwall abounds more, perhaps, than any other part of England, with ancient camps and earth-works; the greater part of them nearly round or oval. In many places on the coast, a single vallum is seen stretching across from the edge of one cliff to that of another, with a ditch next the land; the most remarkable of these are the little Dinas, in the parish of St. Anthony in Meneage, the space inclosed within which is about 500 yards by 200; (fn. n1) and the remains of a vallum, about half a mile north-west of Tehidy, the seat of Lord de Dunstanville, having a double ditch, the area inclosed within which has been much reduced by the falling of the cliff. At Pennare or Penarth is a double entrenchment, inclosing 100 acres, running east and west, from cliff to cliff, across the promontory called the Deadman. Dr. Borlase describes a vallum in the parish of St. Agnes, called the kledh (signifying in Cornish, the trench,) extending nearly two miles in length, from PorthChapel-Comb to Breanik Comb, in some parts 20 feet high, with a ditch 17 feet 6 inches wide (fn. n2). "To the west of St. Agnes' beacon," Dr. Borlase says, "are still to be seen the remains of a small square fortification, adjacent to which are three sepulchral barrows." There are considerable remains of a vallum called the Giant's Hedge, which appears to have been originally about seven miles and a half in length, extending, in an irregular line, from the river Looe, a little above the town of West-Looe, to Leryn, from which place it remains for the space of nearly four miles, when it fails, and does not appear again till within a mile of West-Looe.

In the parish of Probus are two camps, which are supposed to have been Roman, the one called Golden Camp, situated on the barton of Wolvedon, otherwise Golden, having a single vallum, of an irregular form, following the shape of the hill, and enclosing eight acres; the other, called Carvossa or Carfossa, about one mile west of Grampound, having a single vallum of an oblong form, inclosing about four acres, three sides of which have been nearly levelled. Dr. Borlase describes a Roman fort at Bossens, in the parish of St. Erth, with a single vallum 152 feet by 130. (fn. n4)

In the hundred of Stratton are several ancient camps of an oval form, with a single vallum; the largest of these is Ashbury, in the parish of Week St. Mary, the area within the vallum containing four acres, and extending 27 perches, from east to west and 24 from north to south. East-Leigh-Berrys, in the parish of Launcels, consist of three oval camps, joined together in a line, with openings for communication between them from east to west; that in the middle is the smallest, being only 126 feet from north to south, and 108 from east to west. The two others are of the same size, each of them being 204 feet from north to south, and 144 from east to west. Yerdbury, in the parish of Stratton, is oval, the area within the banks being 327 feet from east to west, and 250 from north to south. At Swannacot-wood, in the parish of Week St. Mary, is a small oval fort, 150 feet by 130, the bank and ditch of which are both low. Hilton-wood Castle, in the parish of Whitstone, is oval, the area being 215 feet by 170: the vallum and ditch are very perfect; the perpendicular height of the vallum being 14 feet, and the ditch being 12 feet wide at the bottom. Near to this, in the same parish, is a similar work, called Froxstone-wood Castle, the area of which is 160 feet by 145; the perpendicular height of the bank, 10 feet; and the width of the ditch, at the bottom, 10 feet. At Grew's Hill, in the parish of Stratton, is a circular work, 156 feet in diameter, the banks of which have been partly levelled; where they remain, they are 10 feet high. There is a small circular work, called Winwood Castle, in the parish of Kilkhampton, 85 feet in diameter. (fn. n5)

On Bury-down, in the parish of St. Neots, is a single vallum, of an oblongsquare form, 330 feet by 200, rounded at one corner, having some slight outworks on the south side: within the area are several circles of moor-stone, irregularly laid. The work at Binamy, in the parish of Stratton, supposed by Dr. Borlase to have been a Roman fort, is unquestionably the moated site of a mansion-house, (the seat of the Blanchminsters), traces of which are to be seen within it: and that at Whalesborough, also supposed by him to have been Roman, being situated in a field called Chapel-park, has been conjectured to be the remains of an ancient chapel; part of the walls were standing within the memory of persons now living: the dimensions of these remains are 40 feet by 18. (fn. n6)

Cadson-Bury, near Callington, is an oval work, with a single vallum, having two entrances opposite to each other, on the south-east and north-west sides; the area within the vallum is 700 feet by 450. Blacketon, in the parish of Morvall, has a double vallum; the inner one is an irregular oval, containing an area of 363 feet by 264, with an entrance on the west side: the outer vallum is of an irregular form, and its distance from the other varies considerably; on the east side they are very near together; but on the west they are 130 feet distant from each other. Castle-Kynock, near Bodmin, has a double vallum, the area within being 950 feet by 800. On Great Prideaux-warren, in the parish St. Blazey, and Paderbury-top, in the parish of St. German's, are camps of the same kind; the one being 297 feet by 231, with only one entrance; the other having an entrance on the east and west sides. In the parish of Pelynt is a camp nearly round, with a single vallum, and a ditch ten feet deep, having an entrance on the south-east side: on the south side is an advanced rampart, extending half round, in which is also an entrance, facing that of the camp. In Dunmeer-wood, near Bodmin, is a camp with a single vallum, of an irregular oval form, and a ditch in some parts 18 feet deep, having only one entrance: the area within the vallum is 450 feet by 375. The camp in Pencarrow-park has a double vallum, the inner one oval, inclosing an area 250 feet by 200; the outer one of an irregular form. On the east side, at the distance of about 700 feet from this camp, are some extensive out-works. On Bury-down, in the parish of Lanreath, is a camp of an irregular form, approaching to a circle, consisting of a double vallum, with an entrance on the east and west sides; the area within the inner vallum is 277 feet by 264: a beacon was erected within this area in the year 1804. On the north and west sides are traces of an ancient road; and at the distance of about 800 feet, to the south-east of this camp, is a very small one, of an irregular triangular form, called Little-Bury. Kelly-Rounds, in the parish of St. Mabyn, consist of a double vallum, the inner one being nearly circular, inclosing an area 396 feet by 330: on the east and west sides are out-works; on the east, 330 feet from the outer vallum; on the west, about 130 feet. There are traces of an ancient road leading from the entrance of the out-work on the east side. About 400 yards north of this camp, is a small earth-work, having a single vallum, of an irregular form, about 120 feet by 150. (fn. n7)

There is a very large camp, nearly circular, called Castle-Andinas, on the summit of a high hill, about two miles south-east of St. Columb, consisting of a double vallum; the inner area being 1,700 feet by 1,500, with only one entrance. Within the area of this camp are two tumuli, one of them surrounded by a slight ditch. At the distance of about a mile to the westward, is a Cromlech, now converted into a pig-sty. Another fortification, of large extent, is Warbstow-Burrows, having a double vallum, and two entrances: the inner area is 1,200 feet, by 1,075: in the middle of this area is an oblong tumulus, called the Giant's grave (fn. n8). Bartine castle, in the parish of St. Just, is a circular mound of earth, with very little appearance of a ditch: within this area are three circles of stones pitched on end, and contiguous to each other; one of them being nine yards in diameter, the other seven. (fn. n9) Mr. Whitaker speaks of a circular work, above 100 yards in diameter, on a hill in the parish of Breage (fn. n10), being the same of which Leland says, "the castle of Conan stoode in the hille of Pencair; there yet apperith 2 ditches." (fn. n11) In the parish of Cardinham is a circular entrenchment, called Bury-Castle, containing about two acres. (fn. n12)

The church of St. Dennis stands within a circular entrenchment. Dr. Borlase mentions a circular entrenchment in Lanerwood, in the parish of St. Allen; and Hals speaks of Gwarnike castle, a triple entrenchment, in the woody lands of Gwarnike, in the same parish. Caer-Dane and Caer-Kief, are two large oval camps, near St. Piran's Well, in the parish of Perran-Zabuloe. Near Pentowan, in the parish of St. Austell, is a camp of the same form, called the Van, and another near Penrice, in the same parish, called Castle-Gothia. There are also ancient earth-works in the parishes of Egloshayle, St. Erth, St. Gerrans, Gwithian, and Launceston. (fn. n13)

Besides the two camps above-mentioned, near Grampound, supposed to be Roman, there are others of the oval form, in the same neighbourhood, at Resugga near Trevellick, and Pencoose castle, near Pencoose.

Tumuli of earth or barrows abound in every part of the county; besides those already noticed, there are more than twenty on high ground, near the highways in the hundred of Stratton. Touchborough, about half a mile north of Davidstow church, is a large tumulus, 94 paces in circumference at the base; about 300 yards north-east of it are two other smaller tumuli. There is a large tumulus in the parish of Mawgan in Pyder, called Denzil-borrow (fn. n14); and another near Launceston, called White-borough.

Miscellaneous Antiquities.

In the north transept of Lanlivery church, against the east wall, are two fragments of sculpture in alabaster; one representing the resurrection of our Saviour; and the other, the general resurrection. Some ancient carvings of Scripture subjects in alabaster, originally painted and gilded, but now much defaced, were lately discovered in Cury church (fn. n15). In Launcels church are glazed tiles with raised figures of lions, griffins, birds, roses, &c.

In the year 1774, a silver cup was discovered, seventeen feet beneath the surface of the earth, containing a great variety of silver ornaments, (all of which are figured in the ninth volume of the Archæologia, pl. viii.) and many Saxon coins, most of which are now in the possession of William Rashleigh, Esq., M.P.: the following is a list of them, with the numbers of each: —
Offa Rex, one.
Ciolvvlf Rex, one.
Beornwulf Rex, one.
Berktvvlf Rex, nine.
Burgred Rex, thirty-one.
Eadmund Rex, two.
Eanred Rex, one.
Ceolnoth Archiep. five.
Egbeortht Rex, two.
Ethelvvlf Rex, two.
Aethelred Rex, two.
Aelfred Rex, two.
Aethelstan Rex, three.
Eadmund Rex, two.
Eadred Rex, two.
Eadwig Rex, one.
Eadgar Rex, four.
Aethelred Rex, (Second) eight.
Sithric Rex,
Ludovicus. (fn. n16)

An ancient instrument of brass, resembling a long pin or bodkin, (the end of which is bent, probably by accident), was discovered ten fathoms under the surface of the earth, at the bottom of a mine, near the river Fowey, and exhibited to the society of antiquaries in 1796, by its possessor, the late Philip Rashleigh, Esq.: it is figured in the Archæologia, vol. xii., pl. li., fig. 8.

Customs and Superstitions, &c.

The customs and superstitions, relating to Maddern Well, Gulfwell, and our lady of Nant's Well, have been already spoken of (fn. n17); Dr. Borlase says, that the common people attributed the same powers to St. Uny's Well, in the parish of Sancreed. (fn. n18)

The Well of St. Kaine has been often celebrated in prose and verse; its reputed qualities are sufficiently expressed in the following verse, quoted by Carew: —
"The quality, that man or wife,
Whose chance or choice attains
First of this sacred stream to drink,
Thereby the mastery gains."

The church ale was formerly kept up with great spirit in Cornwall (fn. n19), and on that occasion, no doubt, the athletic exercises, particularly wrestling, in which the Cornish still greatly delight, were not omitted.

Borlase says, that bonfires are kindled in Cornwall on the eve of St. John Baptist's, and St. Peter's day, whence midsummer, in the Cornish tongue, is called Goluan, which signifies both light and rejoicing. At these fires, he says, the Cornish attend with lighted torches, tarred and pitched at one end, making a perambulation round the fire, and go from village to village bearing their torches (fn. n20). Mr. Brand says, that the boundary of each tin-mine is marked by a long pole, with a bush on the top of it: these on St. John's day are covered with flowers. (fn. n21)

At Helston, the 8th of May, the festival of the apparition of St. Michael, the patron-saint of the town, is kept as a day of rejoicing, with music, singing, dancing, and processions, under the appellation of the Furry (fn. n22). Similar sports, under the same denomination, are said to have been held at the Lizard, at Sithney, and other places. The ancient custom called the Bodmin-riding, and some remains of it which still exist, are detailed under the head of Bodmin, in the Parochial Topography, p. 38.

Mr. Polwhele says, that "the custom of saluting the apple-trees at Christmas, with a view to another year, is still preserved both in Cornwall and Devonshire. In some places the parishioners walk in procession, visiting the principal orchards in the parish; in each orchard single out the principal tree; salute it, with a certain form of words, and sprinkle it with cyder, or dash a bowl of cyder against it. In other places, the farmer and his workmen only, immerse cakes in cyder, and place them on the branches of an apple-tree, in due solemnity; sprinkle the tree, as they repeat a formal incantation, and dance round it." (fn. n23) Carew speaks of a custom which formerly prevailed at Lostwithiel, where, he says, "upon little EasterSunday, the freeholders of the towne and mannour, by themselves or their deputies, did there assemble: amongst whom, one (as it fell to his lot by turne) bravely apparelled, gallantly mounted, with a crowne on his head, a scepter in his hand, a sword borne before him, and dutifully attended by all the rest, also on horseback, rode thorow the principall streete to the church: there the curate in his best beseene, solemnely received him at the church-yard stile, and conducted him to heare divine service: after which, he repaired with the same pompe, to a house foreprovided for that purpose, made a feast to his attendants, kept the tables end himselfe, and was served with kneeling, assay, and all other rites due to the estate of a Prince: with which dinner, the ceremony ended, and every man returned home again." (fn. n24)

They have a remarkable harvest-custom in Cornwall, — when the corn is cut, one of the reapers takes the last handful of wheat, or other corn, holds it up, and cries, "I have it," three times; another enquires, "What have you?" three times; he replies, "A neck, a neck, a neck:" (fn. n25) they then shout, and dress up this handful of corn with flowers, and parade about, carrying it, with great acclamations and merriment.

It seems from Dr. Borlase's account (fn. n26), that the superstition of the ancient Britons, respecting the formation of the Anguinum, or serpent's egg, as related by Pliny, or something very like it, prevailed in Cornwall, so lately as fifty years ago.

The Cornish were formerly much attached to sports and pastimes, especially the Guare-miracle, or miracle-play, wrestling, and hurling. The first is described by Carew (fn. n27), as "a kind of Entrelude, compiled in Cornish out of some Scripture history, with that Grossenes which accompanied the Romanes vetus Comedia. For representing it they raise an earthen amphitheatre, in some open field, having the diameter of his enclosed playne some 40 or 50 foot. The country people flock from all sides, many miles off, to heare and see it; for they have therein devils and devices, to delight as well the eye as the eare." As the plays were in the Cornish language, this pastime has of course long since ceased. The exercise of wrestling still prevails in this county, perhaps more generally than in any other part of England. The favourite pastime of the Cornish in former times was the game of Hurling, a great trial of strength and swiftness, performed with a wooden ball covered with silver: it was played by 20 or 30 on a side, and consisted in catching the ball, and carrying it by force or sleight to the goal assigned. A very particular description of this game may be found in Carew's Survey. (fn. n28)


  • n1. Borlase's Antiq. p. 312.
  • n2. Borlase's Antiq. p. 313.
  • n3. Ibid.
  • n4. Borlase's Antiq. p. 316. pl. xxviii. fig. viii.
  • n5. For the particulars of these earth-works in Stratton hundred, we are indebted to Wrey J'Ans, Esq., by whom they have all been measured.
  • n6. From the information of Wrey J'Ans, Esq.
  • n7. For the particulars of these nine camps, we are indebted to Mr. Robert Dawson, who made accurate plans of them, when employed on the Survey of Cornwall, under Lieutenant-Colonel Mudge.
  • n8. See the annexed plan, obligingly communicated by Mr. H. Stephens, who executed part of the Survey of Cornwall.
  • n9. Borlase's Antiquities, p. 346. pl. xxix.
  • n10. Cathedral of Cornwall, I. p. 336.
  • n11. Itin. iii. 16.
  • n12. Polwhele's History, vol. i. p. 107.
  • n13. See p. 83. 94. 118. 150. 192.
  • n14. Polwhele's History, vol. i. p. 107.
  • n15. From the information of the Rev. R. G. Grylls, jun.
  • n16. Communicated by Taylor Combe, Esq. Sec. R. S., who had engravings prepared of all the varieties
  • n17. P. ccii.
  • n18. Natural History of Cornwall, p. 31.
  • n19. Carew's Survey, 68., 1 ft. Edit.
  • n20. Antiq. p. 130.
  • n21. Popular Antiq., vol. i., p. 255, note.
  • n22. A particular account of the Helston Furry may be seen in Polwhele's History of Cornwall, vol. i. p. 41—45.
  • n23. History of Cornwall, vol. i. p. 48.
  • n24. Survey of Cornwall, f. 137.
  • n25. Mr. Brand, who gives an account of this custom as it prevailed in Devonshire, on the borders of Cornwall, with some circumstances different from what we observed in the neighbourhood of Truro, calls it a Knack. (Popular Antiq. vol. i. p. 443, note)
  • n26. Antiq. p. 137. See also Carew's Survey.
  • n27. Survey, f. 71. (a).
  • n28. Ibid. f. 73. (b).