A blog by an historian, Pagan and fanfiction writer, with left-wing leaning politics. In short, I could be waffling on about anything.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Hunt for the Landywood Great Stones Part Seven

In part six, we worked out what seemed like the definitive position of the Landywood Great Stones in the 19th and early 20th century. However, something is bothering me about it.

Where Does the Evidence Place The Landywood Great Stones?

Somewhere between the end of the 18th century and the early years of the 19th, Essington Forest was felled. It was so drastically cleared for charcoal (then the land used for coal-mining) that all that remains of it is now called Essington Wood.

It is currently believed that where Essington Forest met the modern day Holly Lane, the Landywood Great Stones originally sat. But they were moved under this industry to be dumped alongside Gorsey Lane.

19th century maps and an eye-witness from Great Wyrley all place them at the modern junction of Poplar Road and Gorsey Lane. Here is that view from Poplar Road:

View Larger Map

This position would make sense too, as it's downhill from Holly Lane. The stones could easily have been loaded behind a horse and dragged there. This 19th century position doesn't need to have any major relationship with the landscape. It was little more than a rubbish heap, from the point of view of those taking the stones there.

It appears cut and dried. But I still have my doubts.

Why the Landywood Great Stones Might not Have Been on Gorsey Lane

My problem is the photograph, which was produced by EJ Homeshaw and used in The Story of Bloxwich.

If the Landywood Great Stones were arranged in that arch position facing Gorsey Lane, then two aspects are immediately wrong. The first is that it's too close. The junction space touches Gorsey Lane itself, but that row of houses in the photograph is further away. Secondly, Poplar Cottages, just over the road, would have been there in the 1950s. They aren't shown in the photograph.

Moreover, the caption reveals something else very wrong. We are supposed to be able to see Barr Beacon, Druid's Heath and Cannock Chase from that position. Cannock Chase - check! There are few places in Great Wyrley where that forest can't be seen on the horizon. The sheer elevation of Wyrley Bank itself ensures that. This is also true of the junction of Poplar Road. By looking straight down Gorsey Lane, there is Cannock Chase in the distance.

But even accounting for the presence of modern housing, anyone standing there would struggle to see Barr Beacon or Druid's Heath. The slope of Broom Hill is in the way. Gorsey Lane was built to go around much of this hill, while also climbing into Landywood. By placing the Great Stones down there, much of the view described by Homeshaw is lost. Yet this is what he was seeing in 1951.

Problems with the Landywood Great Stones Facing Wharwell Lane

I puzzled this out, particularly what I had been told by Steve. He had seen them roughly at the junction of Poplar Road, before the Tower View council estate had been built (and therefore before Poplar Road even existed). I had duly noted that without asking one pertinent question of him: which junction of Poplar Road?

I had made a huge assumption, based on the fact that the 1888 map clearly places the Landywood Great Stones alongside Gorsey Lane. They are roughly in the position where it now meets Poplar Road. I thought that Steve was just confirming this.

He could well have been. That map does show a kind of arch motif, but facing towards Wharwell Lane. If so, then the terraced houses in the background would certainly be those houses. The photographer would basically be standing on Gorsey Lane, with their back to Poplar Cottages. There would be a slight elevation, from that angle, so the background of the photograph would match everything else that we know.

Except that we still wouldn't be able to see Barr Beacon and Druid's Heath from there; and we're assuming that the houses in Wharwell Lane were terraced then, because they aren't now.

Were the Landywood Great Stones Were at the Other End of Poplar Road?

Poplar Road starts halfway down Broom Hill and climbs to its summit. There it meets Fairoaks Drive and the view is impeded by a lot of mid-20th century houses. These did not exist when Homeshaw was taking his photograph.

View Larger Map

Steve had said that a patch of land had not been built at the junction where the Landywood Great Stones stood, because the original plan was for them to be replaced. The bungalow, on the right-hand corner, has a much bigger garden than any home in that area. It's also in an arch shape.

This junction, between Poplar Road and Fairoaks Drive, would have afforded a view of Cannock Chase to the north and both Barr Beacon and Druid's Heath to the south-east. That's not possible now, because of the houses on the east side of Fairoaks Drive.

Moreover, if we leapfrog over these houses and visit the Walsall Road, directly behind them, we find precisely the terraced houses for which we were looking.

View Larger Map

In short, a position at the other end of Poplar Road fits perfectly with the view that Homeshaw was describing and photographing in 1951. Neither does it contradict what Steve told me (and how I'm now kicking myself for not clarifying that at the time!). However, this position contradicts that given in the 19th century maps.

Were the stones moved twice before being scattered? Or are we simply looking at Wharwell Lane; and there was a view through Broom Hill, that isn't obvious when it's covered with houses? If any Wyrley people know, I would love to hear from you!

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Hunt for the Landywood Great Stones Part Six

Every great quest eventually has to involve an encounter with a white-bearded man, who casts light on the journey. Arthur got Merlin; Bilbo and Frodo got Gandalf; Harry Potter got Dumbledore. I got a bloke called Steve. His beard wasn't entirely white, but nevertheless I certainly knew where to slot him into this particular legend.

In part five, we learned all that the local archives could tell us about the Landywood Great Stones (not much). Now it was time to firmly locate two of them.

How Big Were the Landywood Great Stones?

Nowhere in the history books had the actual size of the Landywood Great Stones been mentioned. Their name implies something magnificent. Homeshaw and Sambrook had called them a 'temple of the Druids'.

Cllr Williams had asked around and duly informed me, "We're not talking small here. These were big, massive things." But she also counselled that this was hearsay. She had never seen them for herself, other than the existing stone beside Landywood Enterprise Park. This, she had been told, was one of the smaller stones.

Most people would be forgiven for imagining something on the scale of Stonehenge by now. But we had evidence. We had a photograph and we had a stone that was in that photograph. It would be a simple case of matching up the two, then getting out the tape measure. The rest could be extrapolated from that.

Rejoice in my amazing Paint skills!
Then note that the red lines are meant to indicate a circumference.

Historical Research: Not Like Indiana Jones

Of course, I chose to do this during the school run, thus attracting the attention of several parents walking down to Landywood Primary School, just around the corner. A short pause and then I had another audience of parents AND their young off-spring.

Conscious of my onlookers, I tried to make my historical research look as much like Indiana Jones as possible. Which was a bit hard, when I was using a tape measure in the shape of a bubble bee. I did answer several questions about the megalithic period and hoped my answers were pitched at the right level. I also pointed out the shape of Holly Lane to a few interested youngsters and parents. While reassuring one anxious father that I really wasn't from the council and no, I wasn't doing this with a view to removing the stone.

Landywood Great Stones: Enter Merlin

I had deep suspicions before even arriving that this purportedly small stone was actually one of the larger stones in the black and white photograph.

Now I was there, I was sure; but I also thought that the stone was now upside down. I needed the right camera angle to work this out. So I was lying flat on my back on a manhole cover, with my knees akimbo and a camera poking through the gap, shooting great images like this:

When a voice piped up, "Now I know what I look like, when I'm taking pictures of trees and rocks and the like."

I felt that some explanation was clearly needed, so I started on the speil that I'd practiced on all of those little children. I indicated the notebook lap-top lying beside me on the ground, with the 1951 photograph showing the Landywood Great Stones.

"I know," said Steve, "I've got the book. It's that one." He pointed to the stone that I'd been looking at all along. It turned out that Steve had lived in Great Wyrley all of his life. He could remember when the Tower View council estate didn't exist and when schoolboys had done cross country running over Broom Hill. "But this used to be the base." He encircled the stone and patted one of the surfaces. In this photograph, this original base is now on the right-hand side, bowling slightly inwards.

I was jubiliant! That was precisely the angle that I'd determined to be the bottom! The stone was upside down, but it was definitely the one in the photograph. "They used to be where the junction of Poplar Road and Gorsey Lane is now."

Then Steve added, "You know that there's another of the stones under the hedge over there, don't you?"

The Second Landywood Great Stone is Found

To be honest, I did kind of know. I'd found it on that first meander around the lane and thought it quite precisely placed for just a random stone. However, I was still under the impression that I was looking for something awe-inspiring in its megalithic majesty, like a poor person's Stonehenge. So I'd snapped a couple of pictures for later consideration, then promptly forgotten about it.

Now that I knew the true size of the stones, I had no doubt that Steve was correct.

The Position of the Landywood Great Stones

Poplar Road/Gorsey Lane junction, Great Wyrley. The grass verge still arches around where the Landywood Great Stones once stood during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

View Larger Map

Steve suspected that the builders were asked not to construct anything on that spot, as it was believed that the stones would be replaced. But once the houses were built, a decision was taken not to put them back. Instead they were scattered into their current positions.

So far that definitely includes two back in Holly Lane and the rest carted onto the Streets Lane estate. It was looking increasingly likely that they were those in a ditch opposite Chillington Close.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Hunt for the Landywood Great Stones Part Five

In part four, Paul Ford of Walsall Local History Centre, provided us with a photograph of the Landywood Great Stones. It was time to hit Great Wyrley's archives too.

A Visit to Great Wyrley Library's Local History Section

'Wyrley grew through the centuries as the trees of the Cank Forest were cut down and the wastes were cultivated. Little remains now of the glory of the forest, but in the Old Gosse Field in Hazel Lane there is a copse of oak trees which, on a summer's day, give in miniature what the whole parish looked like in those days, when the Great Stones of Landywood stood overlooking the valley of Wyrley Brook, and constituted the temple of the Druids.'
A Plesance Great Wyrley 1051-1951

At least the book's spine and ASIN registration says that the author was A Plesance, but a glance at the back page reveals that the history is a reprint. It was reproduced for a local history exhibition in 1967, with permission granted by the widow and son of the original authors.

It is our old friend EJ Homeshaw (here named James Homeshaw) and Ralph Sambrook who did all of the research and writing. In July 1951, they had persuaded Great Wyrley Horticultural Soceity to publish this history for them. They are the real authors of Great Wyrley 1051 - 1951.

This was a great relief, as the same book also included, with precisely the same caption and type-face, EJ Homeshaw's photograph of the Landywood Great Stones from The Story of Bloxwich.

That would have been some thoroughly unashamed plagiarism (beyond the cheekiness of Mr Plesance for claiming authorship merely of a reprint) if that hadn't been the case!

Despite a thorough search through the large collection of local history sources, in Great Wyrley Library, there was little more to tell. Two writers in the 1950s had believed the stones to be Druidic - thus presumably placed there by the Celts back in the days when Wyrley was part of modern day Powys; ruled over by the Cornovii.

I wrinkled up my nose. I would want a lot more evidence than that to implicate the Celts. By the time they reached Britain, most of the standing stones and circles had been withstanding the British weather for at least a 1000 years. Which isn't to say that my ancestors didn't use them in their religious rituals, so maybe Mr Homeshaw and Mr Sambrook had a point after all. We'll call this 'not proven' for the moment. I will return to the issue in a later blog entry.

Landywood Lost Beneath Essington Forest

The only other item of interest was an 18th century map, which appeared to show the vast Essington Forest encroaching down to Gorsey Lane. It was impossible to tell from the scale whether Gorsey Lane ended at its present day junction, or if the forest went on further still. But something was patently clear - there was no Holly Lane.

The mention of the stones, which had set me on the trail of them, had stated that Holly Lane looped around their original position. I brushed off my latent artistic talent (stop laughing) to produce that here:

The map that I now consulted had been charted between 1734-1798, which made precision pin-pointing a little vague. Nevertheless whenever the cartographer had walked through, there had been no Holly Lane, just Gorsey Lane ending at the edge of the forest. Moreover, the contours of said forest looked suspiciously like the modern day shape of Holly Lane.

Was the road created when the forest was felled for charcoal, then dug up for coal? Highly likely. Particularly when we consider that the lane provides access to the coalfields of under and around today's Streets Lane estate, as well as to the canal built to take coal to Wolverhampton. I could also hazard a guess at the type of trees most common at the edge of Essington Forest...

Were the Great Stones Ever Near Holly Lane?

It's tempting to dismiss the local legend that the Landywood Great Stones were ever in that Holly Lane loop. But that may be too premature.

The story went that the stones were removed because of coal-mining. That is precisely why Essington Forest disappeared and why that area is still an expanse of fields. Also, why did the forest bulge out at that exact point? Those clearing the trees to its 18th century edges obviously had something they wanted to skirt, or else the forest contour would have been perfectly straight.

The second part of the story is that the Great Stones were dragged to a ditch in Gorsey Lane and dumped there. This also makes sense, because the 18th century map reveals that Gorsey Lane was the only track in the vicinity.

The photograph, from 1951, clearly places the stones on a hill. The 19th century maps show this as Broom Hill (under the Tower View housing estate, as modern Wyrley folk would know it). It's hard to imagine them getting there accidentally; and easy to see why local historians concluded that this was a Druidic temple. But for one pertinent fact: Broom Hill wasn't the highest point in Great Wyrley.

From Holly Lane, you actually have to go downhill into the Tower View Estate. Gorsey Lane slopes steadily from Landywood all the way to the Quinton Estate. Wharwell Lane slopes even more steeply towards the Walsall Road. In short, the proposed original position, in that loop of Holly Lane, is the highest point in the area.

Which still doesn't mean that the Druids put them there; but if any megalithic human beings did, then the Holly Lane loop remains the most likely original position in the area.

'Would our interest in history have been greater had we known that... the stones lying in an untidy heap in the corner of a field at Landywood were older than the Romans themselves?'
James Homeshaw and Ralph Sambrook, Foreword
in A Pleasance 'Great Wyrley 1051-1951'