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    Default The Calderstones - South Liverpool's Stonehenge

    Abridged excerpt from "The Calderstones of Liverpool" published in Darklore Vol 6 (2011)

    The Calderstones - South Liverpool's Stonehenge

    Formerly a private estate, the land which now makes up the Calderstones Park was purchased by Liverpool Corporation in 1902 for the sum of £43,000 from shipping magnate brothers Charles and David McIver. The Park was officially opened to the public three years later in 1905. The 94 acre (0.38 km2) space is well kept and always busy, boasting as it does a walled garden, a children’s play area, an historic Mansion House, a café, a former boating lake turned wildlife haven, a miniature ride-on railway, and even a thousand year old Oak Tree known as “the Law Oak”. Buried amongst this myriad of amusements, attractions and events – set back from the pathway which leads from the park’s heavily ornamented main gates - is an unassuming, semi-derelict looking conservatory*. This weather-beaten structure is known as “the vestibule” and once served as the entry point to a network of greenhouses belonging to the Harthill community allotments beyond. Though the allotments are still in use, the greenhouses are long gone. Today the padlocked vestibule is home to half a dozen curiously ornamented sandstone relics ranging in size from almost 8 feet (2.4 m) to 4 feet (1.2 metres) tall, whose history was already all but forgotten when the Law Oak was still an acorn.

    The oldest written record of the stones dates back to 1568 where they are marked on a map relating to a boundary dispute between the districts of Wavertree and Allerton thusly:
    The Calldwaye Stones, called by the Quenes tenantes. And called bye y tenantes of Rich. Lathame the Dojer Stones, otherwise Roger Stones, or Calldwaye Stones

    Three centuries later Baines's Directory of 1825 gave the following information:
    Close by the farm on which the famous Allerton oak stands, and just at the point where four ways meet, are a quantity of remains called Calder stones [...]. From the circumstance that in digging about them urns made of the coarsest clay [and] containing human dust and bones have been discovered, there is reason to believe that they indicate an ancient burying place [...]. Some of the urns were dug up about sixty years ago, and were in the possession of Mr. Mercer of Allerton.

    A young farmhand’s recollections of the destruction of the mound on which the Calderstones stood were recorded in 1833.
    When the stones were dug down to, they seemed rather tumbled about in the mound. They looked as if they had been a little hut or cellar. Below the stones was found a large quantity of burnt bones, white and in small pieces. He thought there must have been a cart-load or two.

    By this time the land which was to become the Calderstones Park was owned by wealthy lead shot manufacturer Joseph Need Walker (builder of the park’s extant Georgian-style Mansion House, completed in 1828). It was Walker who had the idea of making a feature of the stones - relocating them to a site at the South East entrance to his estate, not far from their original position. The Calderstones were retrieved from the nearby farmland and arranged in a circle, as they were assumed to have originally stood. A low wall was constructed around the Calderstones and still stands to this day at the junction of Menlove Avenue, Calderstones Road and Druids Cross Road. The stone plaque built into the barrier is now partly below street level so that only the top line of its inscription is clearly legible. Beneath “THE Calderstones” the sign once read “Enclosed and Planted 1845”.

    ---

    In a talk given for the Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire, later reproduced in their 1865 Transactions, the noted Scottish physician Sir James Young Simpson spoke eagerly about the “small megalithic circle” he had examined in Liverpool. Sir Simpson is most famous today for discovering the anaesthetic properties of chloroform but he was also something of an antiquarian, speaking and writing on various archaeological and historical topics. The most fascinating, though perplexing, detail of the Calderstones, so far as Sir Simpson was concerned, were undoubtedly their markings:
    Many suggestions, I may observe, have been offered in regard to the intent and import of such lapidary cup and ring cuttings as exist on the Calder Stones; but none of the theories proposed solve, as it seems to me, the hieroglyphic mystery in which these sculpturings are still involved. They are old enigmatical 'handwritings on the wall,' which no modern reader has yet deciphered.”

    The “cup and ring cuttings” referred to by Sir Simpson are a form of rock-art found chiefly in Europe, although similar markings have been discovered elsewhere including Mexico, Brazil, Greece, and India. They consist of a concave depression (cups, cupmarks, or cupules), carved into a rock surface and are often surrounded by etched concentric circles (rings). These markings upon the surface of the Calderstones literally date back millennia.

    Cup and ring marks are often found on rock outcrops, standing stones, and on cists (small stone-built coffin-like boxes) but they are also commonly associated with passage graves. Passage graves consist of a narrow passageway made of stone leading to one or more burial chambers enclosed in more stone. A circular earthen mound is set over the chamber(s) giving them a hillock-like appearance. The nearest such surviving tombs to the Calderstones are Barclodiad y Gawres ("The Giantess's Apronful"), and Bryn Celli Ddu (“The Mound in the Dark Grove”) 100 miles (160 km) to the West on the isle of Anglesey, in Wales. Both of these passage graves are virtually intact and some of the stones at Barclodiad y Gawres have very similar carvings (known as petroglyphs) to the Calderstones, most notably the double spiral design on the Welsh tomb’s “Stone 6”. Comparable patterns are also found on the stones of Irish passage graves at Newgrange and Knowth, which Barclodiad y Gawres and Bryn Celli Ddu also share similarities in their construction, size and layout with. These similarities have lead archaeologists to conclude that the Calderstones – rather than being a “small megalithic circle” – are in fact the remnants of a Neolithic passage grave constructed 4000 to 5000 years ago.

    Given that it has already been mentioned that “urns made of the coarsest clay [and] containing human dust and bones” were discovered among the Calderstones some time prior to 1825, the revelation of the tomb might not seem quite so… revelatory. However, the urns in question would almost certainly date from the Bronze Age and could in fact be as much as 2000 years younger than the passage grave itself. The later record of the farmhand’s testimony of excavation with its mentions of “a little hut or cellar” beneath, and “a large quantity of burnt bones” should, however, have made it very clear to Sir Simon and his fellow antiquaries that they were not dealing with a simple stone circle. In fact, it may well have done so when they eventually read it because, although recorded in 1833, the account was not published until 1896 in W.A Herdman’s A Contribution to the History of the Calderstones, near Liverpool.

    The presence of the Bronze Age cremation urns is now seen as evidence that the Calderstones Tomb remained in use as a sacred site for many thousands of years after its initial construction. This was a place where generation after generation after generation performed now long forgotten rituals. Where they committed the remains of the chosen few to the already ancient earthen sepulchre which must, to them, have seemed as old as the world itself.

    ---

    In 2007/2008 a high resolution digital photography survey of the stones was undertaken by Messrs George Nash and Adam Stanford. Key to the success of Nash & Stanford’s survey was their use of oblique lighting techniques to optimise shadows cast on and by the designs. Their paper Recording Images Old and New on the Calderstones in Liverpool was published in 2010 and is an exhaustive chronicle of every visible motif upon the stones’ surface.

    In addition to the Early Bronze Age cup and ring markings, the six surviving Calderstones also bear many other petroglyphs including spirals (single and conjoined) carved circa 3000 BCE (the previously mentioned Irish passage graves at Newgrange and Knowth, and the Welsh Barclodiad y Gawres feature stones engraved with similar complex spiral designs), curved and straight lines (single and in groups) again from the Early Bronze Age, and Bronze Age footprint images.

    There are eight well defined individual footprints (more correctly referred to as petrosomatoglyphs, rather than petroglyphs), seven of which have five forward facing toes, while one print on the stone known as Stone B has six. Each footprint has a blunt, squared heel giving them a slightly flipper-esque quality. There are only a few British stones and artefacts with similar carvings, most notably a cist which originated from the Pool Farm barrow in West Harptree, Somerset and features six such footprints. Because the footprints are all singular, each is thought to represent specific individuals. Whether these were people who were entombed there, who oversaw rituals, or perhaps acted as guardians of the site, we can only speculate.

    On Stone D, half buried beneath the ground, is perhaps the most fascinating yet easily overlooked of all the Calderstones adornments: an image of a dagger. The alleged knife, or dagger, is very difficult to make out even with Nash & Stanford’s expert photography. The carving is described in their 2010 paper as “a south east European-style dagger” dating from the Early Bronze Age. Such daggers do occur in funerary art across Bronze Age Atlantic Europe but are not common in the UK. A notable example, showing three such daggers, is visible on the Castriño de Conxo - a Castro (a kind of ancient settlement composed of a fortified area with round stone huts inside it) in the Galicia region of Spain. Actual Bronze Age daggers are occasionally found at grave sites (such as the flat bladed, horn hilted dagger found in a cist at Rameldry, Fife, Scotland, in the year 2000 ) and are usually interpreted as marking the burial place of a high status individual because of the time and resources which would have been devoted to creating such an object. A carving of a dagger then possibly indicates that a high status individual buried there owned such a weapon but that it was considered too precious to commit to the tomb, perhaps even having been already passed on to another individual. That being the case, could the dagger represent the final person laid to rest in the ancient sepulchre? The dagger is certainly amongst the latest of the BCE carvings and quite possibly the most recent. Could an Iron Age chieftain have been the last interment in Claderstones Tomb? Sadly, it seems highly unlikely that we’ll ever know – all of the “human dust and bones” the grave once contained having long since been removed.

    ---

    In their 5000 or so years of existence the Calderstones have moved - with the possible exception of one or two – less than half a mile (0.8 km). The park which is named after them – landscaped and gardened as it now is – has nevertheless been a continuous, inextricably linked green-space for the duration of that time. And what about their original purpose? What of the prehistoric Britons who carved those labyrinthine spirals whose meaning still eludes us and whose graves the stones once marked? The buried ends of those stones touch that self same soil which was piled up, by hand, millennia ago to form the earthen roof of their tomb. That self same soil in which those bodies – and later those urns of ash – were laid to rest.

    ---

    *Visiting Calderstones Park recently (July 2012) I noticed that the stones were wrapped in plastic and that some work seemed to be being carried out on and in the vestibule. I emailed Liverpool City Council to find out exactly was going on and received the following reply.

    Hi John,

    Thank you for your recent enquiry.

    I’m pleased to confirm that limited remedial works are indeed underway to the former Harthill Vestibule building which currently houses the Calderstones.

    Primarily these works aim to improve the environmental conditions and security for the Stones.

    Specifically works will reinstate the structure while improving ventilation, alleviating conditions which were adversely affecting the historic monument.

    Structural improvements should also make the Stones more secure, which, coupled with access improvements, will enable us to continue to promote and raise awareness about this registered historic feature.

    These works have been supported by the City Council’s Premises Management Unit following a successful bid by Parks & Greenspaces. Sadly this was in response to an unsuccessful Heritage Lottery Fund bid for a far more extensive project in 2011.

    Throughout this process we have liaised with Merseyside Archaeological Society and National Museums Liverpool who remain important partners for us in terms of any future proposals, however, as I’m sure you are aware, public funding is very challenging at present, hence the urgent need for interim measures to the Vestibule building.

    I trust this is of interest and should you require any further details please let me know.

    Regards,
    REFERENCES
    The Calderstones – A Prehistoric Tomb in Liverpool [ (Merseyside Archaeological Society, 1984)
    R. W. Cowell: The Prehistory of Merseyside (Merseyside Archaeological Society, 1988)
    Journal of the Merseyside Archaeological Society Vol. 13 (2010)
    Ron Cowell: The Calderstones – A Prehistoric Tomb in Liverpool [2nd, revised edition] (Merseyside Archaeological Society, 2008)
    W.A Herdman: A Contribution to the History of the Calderstones, near Liverpool (1896)
    Dave Roberts: Discussion of the Prehistoric Origins of Calderstones Park (Journal of the Merseyside Archaeological Society Vol. 13 2010)
    Last edited by johnreppion; 07-05-2012 at 09:02 PM. Reason: Reintroduced paragraph onpaper: Recording Images Old and New on the Calderstones in Liverpool
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    A month later and the vestibule and ancient stones are still in exactly the same condition they were when I first contacted the council.

    I am currently in touch with the Merseyside Archaeological Society who have expressed some concerns about the suitability of the current conditions for the precious prehistoric stones (especially given the wet weather we have experienced recently) and I have to admit that I share their worries.

    I'll keep you updated as I learn more but, if you have any info, questions or comments about the current state of the Calderstones and their home, please do email me.
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    Liverpool's Parks have today got back to me stating that

    "Unfortunately owing to our current budget situation these works are being undertaken in an incremental manner subject to funding approval which has resulted in a temporary impasse."

    I believe they are doing all that they can in the situation but, nevertheless, conditions are not ideal for the stones currently.

    More info as and when I have it.
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    I took some photos of the vestibule and the stones on my way through the park yesterday.

    The hole in the roof (missing panel of glass/plastic) isn't very clear on the photo and is almost certainly part of the damage the renovation is supposed to be tackling (as opposed to having been caused/left by the renovation)


    calderstones vestibule august 30th 2012 by John Reppion, on Flickr

    The plastic sheeting the stones are wrapped in looks like it may have been loosened since the first time I saw it (last month), possibly to let the stones "breathe" a bit more. Nevertheless the conditions seem terribly humid for a fragile prehistoric sandstone monument which is very susceptible to moisture damage.


    the calderstones august 30th 2012 by John Reppion, on Flickr
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    I visited the park again today and took some more photographs.

    The temporary fencing around the vestibule has been removed. This fencing presumably belonged to the company who were doing the restoration / refurbishment and had a sign on it giving their business name and contact info.

    All the windows at the sides of the vestibule look to have been replaced with plastic (some still having their protective film attached) but there are still pains of plastic / glass missing from the roof.


    the calderstones 9th Sept 2012 by John Reppion, on Flickr

    The stones are still wrapped in plastic as before. You can clearly see one of the spaces where the ceiling is missing a pane here.


    calderstones 9th september 2012 by John Reppion, on Flickr
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    The unabridged version of the article is now available for free online at http://www.dailygrail.com/Guest-Arti...ones-Liverpool

    The vestibule at Calderstones park is now fully glazed. The stones remain in their wood and plastic cocoons at present.
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    It has been nearly two years now since I first posted about my concerns for the condition of the vestibule and the Calderstones themselves.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Currently the vestibule is once again open to the elements. One of the stones (Stone D, I think) is fully exposed to the weather. Two of the six stones are currently wrapped in plastic (not the one beneath the hole in the roof though).

    Nigel Sharpe, the Parks Development Officer at Liverpool City Council Parks & Greenspaces, sent me a document which was prepared for a viewing of the stones which happened recently in conjunction with The Reader Organisation (who now run the manor house at the park, will soon be reopening the cafe, and will eventually, it seems, be in charge of the Calderstones themselves.

    The Calderstones – a City Council résumé (January 2014)

    It is now fifty years since the Calderstones were relocated to the Harthill vestibule building, which then provided the impressive entrance to the city’s new Indoor Botanic Collection. Sadly the glasshouse complex is no more but fortunately the Stones endure.

    Since the closure of the Botanic Collection show-houses in the mid 1980s, the Stones have been relatively low key, largely as a result of limited Council resources. More recently, in 2009-10 we worked closely with Merseyside Archaeological Society (MAS) and National Museums Liverpool (NML) to prepare a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) project to conserve and raise awareness about the Stones. This bid proposed using replica Stones to create a facsimile of the Neolithic chambered burial mound, with the original Stones transferred to NML for conservation. Unfortunately this bid was unsuccessful owing to HLF concerns about the limited access available to the original Stones.

    The HLF bid process helped raise LCC awareness about the significance of the Stones and it was recognised that the vestibule building was in urgent need of remedial works to protect the Stones. In 2013 works commenced to reinstate the integrity of the vestibule, including arboricultural works to adjacent trees. Severe City Council budget constraints works have meant that work has been progressed in phases and remain incomplete.

    Once works are completed it is intended to include general interpretive information about the Stones for park users with contact details for enquiries and visit requests. It is hoped that these works may actually comprise only an interim measure - the Calderstones are included in an ambitious masterplan developed by The Reader Organisation to create an International Centre for Reading and Wellbeing focussed on the Mansion House in Calderstones Park.
    I was surprised to read that there had been a plan to relocate the stones (something which I am against, unless it is an absolute final measure to protect them).

    As things stand, the way I understand it, Liverpool City Council’s Park’s & Greenspaces are still responsible for the stones at present but lack the budget to make the vestibule weather tight. There is a plan (outlined in the document quoted above) to repair the vestibule, improve signage, and make the stones viewable by appointment, but there is no budget for this at present. At some point after this proposed renovation the Reader Organisation will take over care of the stones. I have a meeting with The Reader Organisation later today and I will find out what they would plan to do if and when that happened.
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    I had a very encouraging meeting with George Hawkins of The Reader Organisation yesterday and was very impressed with their proposed plans for the Calderstones in 2015/16
    However, the stones are still currently in a very dangerous position and it seems that they may remain in that state for many months, if not years, to come if some action is not taken.
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    Hello John or anyone


    ADVERTISING




    What is the latest situation in regard to the Calderstones?

    Thanks

    Chris
    Christopher T. George
    Editor, Ripperologist
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    http://christophertgeorge.blogspot.com/
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