A wonderful informative day with Andrew Langdon studying St Buryan’s stone crosses and hearing their history. Photos – Laetitia Latham Jones
A wheel-headed wayside cross situated on the B3315 at a junction with a minor road to St. Buryan. It was discovered in a hedge 1869 and placed in a grass triangle built specially for the purpose in the middle of the road.
It has suffered from the predations of modern traffic. It was hit by an army lorry in 1941, then later by another vehicle causing it to be moved to its present location in a layby. No respite however – it was hit by another car in the fog in 1992.
The face of the cross displays a figure of Christ with his arms outstretched and feet pointing outwards. The reverse shows a four-limbed cross with expanded ends formed by cutting away at each end 4 triangular areas. The support is composite. The cross and shaft were fixed to an old granite roller with a millstone and the base of a cider press. Megalithic.co.uk.
Tregiffian Chamber Tomb
Tregiffian is a type of chambered tomb known as an entrance grave. It survives largely intact, despite the levelling of part of its mound to make a road in the 1840s. Entrance graves are funerary and ritual monuments dating to the later Neolithic, early and middle Bronze Age (around 3000–1000 BC).
Of 93 recorded examples in England, 79 are on the Isles of Scilly, and the remainder are confined to the Penwith peninsula at the western tip of Cornwall. They are also found on the Channel Islands and in Brittany.
Such tombs typically comprise a roughly circular mound of heaped rubble and earth built over a rectangular chamber, which is constructed from slabs set edge to edge, or rubble walling, and roofed with further slabs.
The few entrance graves that have been systematically excavated have revealed cremated human bone and funerary urns, usually within the chambers but occasionally within the mound.
However, it is by no means certain that they were solely – or even primarily – burial places. Some may have been shrines at which various religious rituals and ceremonies were performed. Tregiffian is a large entrance grave, with a low, narrow stone-lined chamber; what survives is about two-thirds of the original structure of the chamber.
Internally the chamber measures 16 feet (4.9 metres) long by up to 6 feet (1.9 metres) wide and 3 feet (0.9 metres) high. The walls are built from a combination of edge-set slabs and roughly coursed slabs and rubble. Four massive slabs or capstones span the chamber width to form the roof.
The entrance, at the south-west end, is constricted to 2 feet 7 inches (0.8 metres) wide by two ‘portal’ slabs: one of these is most unusual, as its face is entirely covered by a network of 25 carved hollows – a rare form of prehistoric rock carving called cup marks. This example may be the oldest in the south west.
The slab here is a cast of the original, which has been moved for safe keeping to the Royal Cornwall Museum at Truro. English Heritage.
The medieval wayside cross-base 125m west of Merry Maidens stone circle survives well and is a good example of a natural boulder being utilised as a wayside cross-base. It has been suggested that it originally supported the Nun Careg Cross, 180m to the north east on the southern route around the Penwith peninsula. The cross base forms an integral member of an unusually well preserved network of crosses marking routes that linked the important and broadly contemporary ecclesiastical centre at St Buryan with its parish. The routes marked by this monument are also marked at intervals by other crosses, demonstrating the major role and disposition of wayside crosses and the longevity of many routes still in use. The monument includes a medieval wayside cross-base situated on the verge at the junction of a path leading to St Buryan with a road along the southern coastal belt of Penwith. The wayside cross-base is visible as a large, rounded, rectangular block of granite. The cross base measures 0.83m north-south by 1.22m east-west and is 0.45m high. The rectangular socket in the top measures 0.36m long by 0.27m wide and is 0.16m deep. The sides of the cross-base are rounded and slope downwards from the socket. This cross-base is formed from a natural granite boulder. The cross-base is located close to another cross-base, the subject of a separate scheduling (SM 24270) on one of several church paths, now a public footpath, radiating out of the parish from the church and village of St Buryan; the cross marks the junction between that path and the route around the southern coastal fringe of the Penwith peninsula. The courses of both the path and the coastal route are also marked by other medieval wayside crosses. St Buryan, the site of a major Celtic monastery traditionally founded in the early tenth century by Althelstan, forms the focus of an unusually large number of wayside crosses within its parish, several of which bear distinctive designs early in the known sequence of wayside crosses. Historic England.
The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network is a charitable partnership formed to look after the ancient sites and monuments of Cornwall. We work closely with local communities and official organisations to protect and promote our ancient heritage landscape through research, education and outreach activities. CASPN representatives come from a wide range of organisations and community groups that share an interest in Cornwall’s ancient sites,
including: National Trust, Cornwall Council’s Historic Environment Service, Cornwall Archaeological Society, English Heritage, Penwith Access and Rights of Way, Madron Community Forum, Pagan Moot and Meyn Mamvro. http://www.cornishancientsites.com
Tregurnow Cross is a stone slab with a cross in relief on front and back, although little remains of the latter. It dates from sometime in the medieval period, and is one of many stone crosses in the area. Another stands at the side of the road at Boskenna, a little way to the west. This has a modern base supporting an ancient head which was found buried in the hedge during roadworks in 1869. There is a figure with outstretched arms and feet on the front of the cross, and a four-armed wheel cross on the rear. In its original position the cross marked the churchway between St Buryan and Boscawen-Rose.
The footpath passes the old Tregurnow Pottery, set up in the early 1960s by George and Margaret Smith, who converted the seventeenth-century farmworker’s cottage into a studio. Now it is the Old Well Studio, which has occasional open days in its ceramics and painting workshops. South West Coast Path.
Gun Rith is a standing stone measuring three and a half meters tall, located across the road from the Tregiffian burial chamber, near the Merry Maidens stone circle. It is one of a high concentration of menhirs, or standing stones, in Penwith, some of which reach over five meters. Gun Rith, whose name translates as ‘Red Dawn’, has fallen a few times in recent years, which is why the base is now set in concrete. The purpose of Gun Rith remains unknown, although it was probably linked to the Merry Maidens in some way. William Borlase excavated around the stone at the end of the nineteenth century, but his only find was a beach pebble. Cornwalls.co.uk
The monument includes a medieval wayside cross, the Choone or Chyoone Cross, within a 2m protective margin, situated on the roadside verge beside a ridge- top thoroughfare running south-east from St Buryan, at the junction with a track to Moor Croft Farm and to Choone Farm, in Penwith, west Cornwall. The Choone Cross, which is also listed Grade II*, survives with a large, upright, granite cross-head set in a large granite base stone. The cross-head is of the Latin form, an equal-armed cross with unenclosed limbs. The cross-head measures 0.66m high and is 0.75m wide across its arms, NE-SW, and 0.15m thick, tapering to 0.1m thick at the top of the upper limb. The upper limb is 0.28m wide; the two lateral limbs are 0.27m wide. The lower limb, forming the top of the shaft, is 0.33m wide. The south-east face of the cross-head bears a relief figure of Christ at the intersection of the limbs. The figure is depicted with long thin outstretched arms and legs straight with large out-turned feet. It measures 0.39m high and 0.36m wide across the arms. At the equivalent position on the north-west face is a slender low relief Latin cross. The cross-head lacks a shaft and is set directly into a large, almost square, granite base-stone measuring 1.1m NE-SW by 1.07m NW-SE and rising 0.3m above ground level. The Choone Cross is situated in its original position beside one of several church-paths, now a modern minor road, radiating into the parish from the church and village of St Buryan and marked by other medieval wayside crosses. The cross marks the junction of that route with two other early routes, each followed by a public footpath; one leads north-east to the present Moor Croft Farm, the other follows another church path also marked by wayside crosses, giving access to the far south-east of the parish. St Buryan, the site of a major Celtic monastery traditionally founded by Athelstan in the early 10th century, forms the focus of a distinctive series of crosses bearing the Christ motif present on the head of this cross. Studies of these crosses have suggested that they date to the late 9th or early 10th century and provided a major design inspiration for the mid-10th century development of a highly elaborate series of west Cornish decorated crosses. The surface of the farm track passing south-east of the cross base is excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath is included. Historic England.
The monument includes a medieval churchyard cross to the south of the church at St Buryan on the Penwith peninsula in west Cornwall. The granite churchyard cross, which is Listed Grade II, survives as a round or `wheel’ head, set on a granite base which is mounted on a massive four step base. The overall height of the monument is 2.07m. The head measures 0.83m high by 0.64m wide and is 0.24m thick. The principal faces are orientated east-west. The head is fully pierced by four small holes creating an equal limbed cross with widely splayed arms linked by an outer ring. Both principal faces are decorated. The west face bears a figure of Christ with outstretched arms, wearing a knee length tunic and with its feet turned outwards. The outstretched arms are slightly splayed at the ends, indicating the sleeves of the tunic, and there is a bead or halo around the head. There is a single bead around the outer edge of the upper limbs of the cross-head, and a double bead on the lower limbs starting below the Christ figure’s arms. The lower limb is shaped to accommodate the lower part of the figure of Christ. The east principal face is decorated with five large round raised bosses, one on each of the limbs and one at the centre of the head. The edges of the limbs are outlined with a double bead. The north and south sides of the cross-head have a bead around the ends of the side arms, and the outer ring has a bead on both edges. The cross-head is set in an almost square granite base which measures 1.15m north-south by 1.18m east-west and is 0.35m high. This base is mounted on a massive four step base constructed of large blocks of granite. The top step extends between 0.63m to 0.83m beyond the edge of the cross base, and is 0.25m high. The next step extends 0.34m beyond the upper step, and is 0.26m high. The third step is 0.3m high and extends out at least 0.3m beyond the second step. The bottom step is 0.08m high, and extends out at least 0.4m beyond the edge of the third step. The bottom step measures 4.7m east-west by 4.7m north-south. This churchyard cross in St Buryan churchyard is considered to be the original churchyard cross. The massive four step base is probably of a much later date, as may be the cross base in which the head is set. The figure of Christ motif is more widely found on crosses in west Cornwall, notably around St Buryan which is the site of a major Celtic monastery traditionally founded by Althelstan in the early tenth century AD. A recent study of these crosses, in which this cross is specifically mentioned, has considered that they date to the late ninth or early tenth century and provided a major design inspiration for the mid tenth century development of a more highly elaborate series of west Cornish crosses. The four granite steps immediately to the north west of the cross, the low wall to the west, the headstone and kerb surround of a grave to the south west, the two headstones and iron railings to the south, and the headstones to the south east, east, north east and north, fall within the cross’s protective margin and are all excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath is included. Historic England.
The monument includes a wayside cross, set into a roadside hedge beside the entrance to Pendrea, to the south west of the settlement of St Buryan. The cross survives as a roughly circular socket stone with a diameter of 1.1m and measuring up to 0.3m thick set into the field boundary on its edge. The socket itself is 0.3m long, 0.15m wide and 0.2m deep with rounded ends. It was found at Pendrea sometime prior to 189,6 when it was recorded by Langdon and placed in its current location by 1908. Ancient Monuments.