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Topic: Probably not a Viking burial site, but...

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Probably not a Viking burial site, but...

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This is a complete shot in the dark, but my late Mum used to wonder whether the mound of earth in land at the corner of Station Road in Thurstaston which now sprouts trees could have been some sort of barrow, perhaps Viking. It was a gut feeling she always had. If you put the following co-ordinates:

53°21'0.06"N   3° 7'51.25"W

Into Google maps the green arrow shows exactly the spot (as in my attached screen shot).

Ok, it's probably a shot in the dark and could possibly even be a mound of landfill from when Telegraph Rd was being cut through, but even I've wondered why Wirral has never had any barrows discovered. After all, we do have evidence of Prehistoric activity here and there are prehistoric earthworks in surrounding Cheshire and Wales. If this mound of earth in question isn't landfill from road building, then what is it, if anything?

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Nick Lauro
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Drum Doctor

That area does has stron Viking links however i think Professor Steve Harding would be the best person to that to. Im certainly not aware of any barrows on Wirral.

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It looks interesting but I'm not an archaeologist I'm afraid: I will ask my colleagues for comment,
Best wishes
Steve

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Steve Harding NCMH Laboratory University of Nottingham LE12 5RD http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/-sczsteve
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It just seems like a man-made earth mound to me - but why is it there? It's covered by trees but I don't know what age they are. If they're under 200 years old then I guess it could be a landfill site from when Telegraph Rd was being cut. Anyway, anything that can be found out would be of great interest to myself.

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Nick Lauro
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Its currently in the hands of the experts at Liverpool Museum who are in the best position to comment- there may be an entry in the Sites and Monuments Register.

At the moment it looks very speculative to make a link with the Vikings, but if it were than Dan Robinson, former Keeper of Archaeology at the Grosvenor Museum in Chester says the following. "Steve: I wouldn't claim to have any specialist knowledge of the Wirral barrow, but it's always seemed to me that the Vikings had a fairly open idea of how to dispose of their dead - almost anything was possible. I think this makes them unique amongst the archaeological cultures that I'm familiar with. So you can't work from a proposition that because there were Vikings living in an area there would be a certain type of burial 'monument', ie something for the archaeologists to find. There certainly _are_ Viking barrows, but there are also plenty of other less obvious burial methods".

But lets see what the experts say.

In terms of Viking burials on Wirral the hogback tombstones at West Kirby (St. Bridgets Church) and Bidston probably marked the graves of prominent (Christian) Vikings in the area, and some weaponry was found at Meols (shield boss, part of an axe and what looks like a bent spear head) which may have been part of a pagan burial. The Arno in Oxton may have also been the site of a pagan burial of a man called Arni (from Arni haug, haug been old Norse for a hillock or burial mound).

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Steve Harding NCMH Laboratory University of Nottingham LE12 5RD http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/-sczsteve
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Thank you very much for the update, this is indeed, fascinating.

If they come back with anything please let us know here!

My late Mum had a big interest in local history, especially Viking and I have inherited your books from her which I have enjoyed.

My area of interest is Prehistoric Wirral which there is little publically written about as every book seems to focus on Wirral history from the time of Hugh Lupus. A buried Prehistoric cremation urn discovered in West Kirby in the 19th century would however offer, another story...

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Nick Lauro
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Hi all. i am a new member, i am researching Vikings on the Wirral, and a bit taken aback to find Prof Stephen Harding is a member, i feel a bit not worthy now! anyway i have just looked at the drum doctors question, and i myself think the mound he is talking about which was there pre telegraph rd days, may have something to do with the high hill across the road, to be honest it is lower that the hill and i have seen many places from my research where a Thing is placed outside the main hill and lower, so the area is Viking maybe if a dig was dome you may find the remains of some very large stone holes there, if indeed some buried stones.

here are 2 pictures one is from the tythe map, for education purposes only,

and the other is a google shot of the big hill showing what seems to be a large ring, so now i am asking was there a fort on that site?

 



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C R Hayes
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I am going to go a few steps further and say that it could be Bronze age or Neolithic in origin. I've been doing some more research in the area and there was definitely Neolithic and Bronze age activity along the ridge running from West Kirby Column Road area. The problem we have is that there have been no proper studies done into these periods on Wirral. We have some Mesolithic temporary settlements scattered in the area, in particular Greasby and The Dungeons, but the money just doesn't exist to fund investigations. Until the Victorian age, Wirral was pretty much low density in population. It is fair to assume that anything left in the landscape post-Bronze age was recycled by the population who occupied the Wirral over the Iron Age, Roman, Viking and Medieval periods, so we have no obvious 'monuments' left to investigate. Each period in history would reuse and build on what their predecessors had done. However, the biggest change in the landscape has to be the Victorian era after the railway came. So much building was done over a short period time, and during a period when archaeology was the interest of a handful of antiquarians. Much has been destroyed I fear, though there are still things being discovered. I was told about a Bronze age cemetery that was been discovered in the last 5 years, location top secret. We are still waiting for data to be processed about that and released. This potential site in Thursaston lies in a prime location and you have to re-imagine the views towards Wales 4000+ years ago and consider that the River Dee was a much thinner river and that the shoreline we know now didn't exist, being way further out into Liverpool Bay.

I suspect that the Viking heritage is a bigger draw than pre-history, so my hope is that funding might become available for Viking investigations in the area that will in turn, allow the discovery of prehistoric activity as a bi-product!

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Nick Lauro
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Hi, yes i myself did more research into the ring shape in my picture, it seems it was investigated in 1965, and nothing came of it, sorry but they didnt have the equipment that we have today, so after looking at it a while longer, i suspect it is Bronze age also, in my research of the Wirral, i have spotted several rings, some a bit vague, and one or 2 stuck out like sore thumbs, but when i check on the databases, i find nothing! how very strange.
Also i noticed how similar Thornton is in layout to your village.



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C R Hayes
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We have come on in leaps and bounds since 1965. A geophysical survey would be nice for a start. There were supposed to be Neolithic finds in the vicarage gardens at Thursaston, the area definitely had a community, I don't doubt it for one minute. The hurdles to investigate are money and then permission.

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Nick Lauro
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There is a talk on the 11th of February in Burton on Viking life in Wirral for the Burton history society (link below)

 

 http://neston.org.uk/burton-neston-history-society/ 



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12th May looks good as well, if it covers prehistory.

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Nick Lauro
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Here's another aerial shot, not form the usual Google mapping source. You can see some very defined marks in the earth here. This is clearly worthy of a survey.



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Nick Lauro
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Hi, yes there is something round there, it can not be any predominant!
i use many earth viewers, including Google earth, but i find this Flash Earth quick and easy,
i have put a link on to it,
and a before and after shot i have just done for you, some people see things better by standing back from
your screen a foot or two.
Bob
http://www.flashearth.com/?lat=53.455921&lon=-2.630855&z=16.1&r=0&src=msl



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C R Hayes
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So a lot is depending on access to aerial photographs and the conditions when they were taken. I believe there is a way of requesting WWII aerial photographs of the area. I had a couple sent to me of Thurstaston shore to compare erosion of the cliffs between 1944 and today so there must be others taken further inland. Either way, surely there must be enough to see here to warrant a survey, but I guess it would be down to money and permission.

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Nick Lauro
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It certainly does depend on the picture, and what time of year it was taken,
for me the ww2 shots i have seen, have not given me the ability to enhance them, where as the 1970 shots taken over the area are much more clear.
in this later google shot i have just done, the rings that where so clear in the last picture are barely visible,
but another ring shown up in the field below.
Cheshire twin maps are fantastic, i just wish other areas around the country would follow their lead.
http://maps.cheshire.gov.uk/tithemaps/TwinMaps.aspx



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C R Hayes
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Yes, those tithe maps have been invaluable to all of us researching local history. It's a pity that none of this can be taken any further without the assistance of our cash-strapped local archaeological service!

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Nick Lauro
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Hi, Yes! it is a travesty! it makes me so angry when i see billions being spent on certain things many believe it shouldn't be spent on, and yet our own history is put to one side.
i was not going to mention this at all, but as i am a new member, i feel i should make my personal feelings known,
no one is more annoyed than me about it,
But! by have such groups like this, at least possible finds and information about our region can be preserved and may help future Archaeologists or Historians when money becomes available again.
Bob, Historian.


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C R Hayes
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The Overchurch site is a classic example. I wrote to Merseyside Archaeological Service on behalf of the Wirral Society, concerned that it may become neglected and vandalised, even though it is a protected monument. They acknowledged the potential problem and it's potential as a prehistoric site, but said they only had money to try and protect it if it was under threat. In other words, damage would have to be done before action was taken to protect. There is no pro-active program to cover this because there is no budget.

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Nick Lauro
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Just managed to find some time to catch up, which site at Overchurch is it you mention?
bob

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C R Hayes
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It's the old site of St Mary's church, check out this record link: archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archsearch/record.jsf

Note the following:

"The curvilinear form of the churchyard is taken to mean that the foundation may be early and possibly in the pre-Conquest period"

I have a copy of the actual survey data that was done by Merseyside Archaeological Society in the 1980s. To cut to the chase, there is what looks like to be a circular ditch construction, meaning that there is a strong case for the site being originally a prehistoric henge structure. I have visited a church in Cornwall that was built on a henge and this is a significant factor for the siting of early Christian churches. When Christianity was introduced to Pagan England, the missionaries had to go and preach to convert the people at the existing Pagan sacred sites. Once they had been converted, new church structures were built over those sites of ceremonial status. These church sites are built on circular boundaries that resemble henges.

Furthermore, there is at least one standing stone (collapsed) on the site of the old Overchurch children’s home. The Charles Close Society who study old maps have already outlined a circular set of standing stones surrounding the Overchurch site, what we deem to be 'marker stones'. You can see similar stones on old maps of Liverpool in the Calderstones area where a very significant burial mound stood. Prehistoric people seemed to erect 'marker stones' near places of ceremonial significance and thus, the Overchurch site appears to have a circular stone marker system. Add to that the nearby evidence of a basic timber Neolithic wooden crossing at Saughall Massie when the bypass area was being excavated for archaeology, then you have an area of significant interest to the prehistoric population.


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Nick Lauro
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Going back to your subject post, i managed to get an early Lidar shot of the area,
i have put a few arrows at points i find interesting, has anyone got any info on these sites.
bob



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C R Hayes
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This must be fairly recent as the roundabout is shown. However, there are a significant number of interesting outlines in the ground. I've downloaded some documentation from Liverpool Museum Archaeology concerning Prehistoric investigations in the North West and time after time, I am seeing reference to lack of research and the potential for mass discoveries. It's all still under our feet and accessible (in theory!)

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Nick Lauro
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I used to go to Sunday School at St. Mary's (the new one that is!).
Lack of funds is an all too familiar problem at the moment I'm afraid, and the museums have suffered particularly badly. They have also lost some excellent people such as Dr. Rob Philpott.
However amateur enthusiasts are still doing some great work: I'm seeing Peter France of Wirral Archaeology soon - we are thinking of getting a sample of wood from the old boat under the pub at Meols so we can get it dated, so will ask him what can be done about these other sites.
Steve

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Steve Harding NCMH Laboratory University of Nottingham LE12 5RD http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/-sczsteve
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Hi, sorry Steve, what do you mean by lost Dr Philpott?
bob

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C R Hayes
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Oh no! Rob Philpott gone? He did quite a bit of collaborating work with Ron Cowell.



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Nick Lauro
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Bob/Nick: Rob left the Museums Service last year and is now freelancing from Southport. He wrote a fantastic Chapter on the Irby and Moreton/Lingham (Digg Lane - appropriately named!) excavations in a book on the Vikings in NW England that myself, David Griffiths and Liz Royles edited last year.
Peter France has emailed his take on the Thurstaston, Overchurch and The Arno sites, I've asked if he can post it direct on here, if not I'll try and summarize!
Steve

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Steve Harding NCMH Laboratory University of Nottingham LE12 5RD http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/-sczsteve
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That would be fantastic! I hope that during my lifetime there will be more attempts to discover the Neolithic landscape of Wirral that obviously existed but has so far, only been granted limited investigation.



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Nick Lauro
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Nick/all
This is what Peter France says:
'Queries re. "barrows "..........can help here.
The feature on the corner at Thurstaston looks like a medieval motte.
However, we dug it many years ago, and found it to be a natural feature,
with no trace of human activity at all.
The mound in the grounds of Thurstaston Hall is not an ancient feature.
It is quite simply the spoil from the lake in the grounds, heaped up in the corner,
and landscaped to form a garden feature.
The Arno is interesting. Antiquaries used to refer to it as " the most perfect idea of a
Roman encampment ", describing it as a rectangular earthwork. A coin hoard of the
period was found during quarrying in 1834. I would be certain that this is a Roman farmstead,
with later occupation by a Viking resident. A small stretch of ancient wall still survives,
but little else.
West Kirby.........a Bronze-Age barrow cemetery on the summit of Grange Hill, found when
building the beacon.
Overchurch is a subject on its own..........the outer circle of stones was medieval, fossilising
the ancient outer boundary of the early Christian monastery we are certain once thrived here.
But that is another story............
Peter'
Should be seeing him Saturday (30th Jan) .. at the Railway Inn (where else!)
Steve

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Steve Harding NCMH Laboratory University of Nottingham LE12 5RD http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/-sczsteve
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Thanks very much for the information; it is disappointing to see the Thurstaston site as having no archaeological significance, but at least it can be ruled out.

 

I was never aware of a mound inside the grounds of Thurstaston Hall being of interest but at lest we know what that is, should it ever come up in conversation!

 

The Arno I have read as being associated with a barrow, suggesting an important older prehistoric burial site. The fact that it has been occupied during the Roman period might suggest that it was a place already in use earlier, in keeping with the finds in Irby below the Roman excavations.

 

I am aware of the various Bronze Age burials around Grange Hill – under the site of the old mill and Hill House grounds. Of course, there is very little recorded about these, which is pretty much in keeping with what is yet to be discovered about Wirral’s prehistoric landscape. One of the best books on prehistoric Cheshire is by Victoria and Paul Morgan (2004) but there is very little in it about Wirral and what there is, has already been documented so nothing new.

 

Regarding the Overchurch site, are we talking about an outer circle of stones as on the 1899 OS map I’ve uploaded?



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Nick Lauro
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Thanks for the post reply Steve,
Nick this 1856 map only shows a church on a hill, and not much else around, for me that would indicate the church possible replaced a pre christian site! i would certainly like some information on the site.
bob



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C R Hayes
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Well I go back to my Cornwall experience when we were taken to one of the oldest churches on the Land's End peninsula, having been built on the site of a prehistoric henge. Plus we have a prehistoric population who obviously buried their dead, cut down the forest, made a crossing at Saughall Massie bridge with the wood they cut down, made a settlement on what is now Leasowe shore etc...so they MUST have had marks in the landscape to do with ceremony and belief. It's just that no one's bothered to look properly yet. Plenty of artifacts (http://www.archaeologyuk.org/ba/ba62/feat3.shtml) have turned up from all the periods showing settlement and because of the proximity of the shoreline in comparison to what it was 2-8000 years ago, we have to see the Wirral landscape in a different way. Clearly the highest points would have always been the ridge from West Kirby to Heswall and Bidston Hill, so I would expect such prominent points to have held some sort of significance in burial and monument.

It is also worth considering the wider landscape going into Cheshire, already well researched as far as prehistory goes. In doing so, consider the Beeston Crag in its promintory position, with its history of Neolithic, Bronze Age & Iron Age activity. I mention this, because when standing around the area where the garage is on the Meols-Moreton stretch (A553), on a clear day, it is possible to see Beeston Crag in the distance! Imagine once trees were removed from that line of sight, it would have been possible for the prehistoric population of the Meols Moreton area to see where their neighbours lived on an even higher ground. There's no way this was an isolated landscape, it's just that somebody needs to start joining the dots.



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