With the kind permission of the authors –
Victoria & Paul Morgan
ISBN 1 84306 140 6
The Bullstones can be found high above the town of Macclesfield
on the southern boundary of a moor called Cessbank Common,
close to Clulow Cross. Geographically and topographically
this site lies within the Peak District National Park.
The ring of small cobbles encircling a central standing
stone is located on the eastern flank of Brown Hill,
with an uninterrupted view through approximately 180
degrees. The vista to the north, east and south is stunning,
taking in the sweeping moorland and summits of Shining
Tor and Shutlingsloe to the north-east and the outcrop
of The Roaches and Hen Cloud to the south-east.
According to the Cheshire County Sites and Monuments
Record The Bullstones is classed as the ‘site
of a Bronze Age cremation burial’ and as far as
the Victoria County History is concerned its stones
are ‘obscured by vegetation’. This is not
at all the case. The Bullstones is a spectacular monument
in a breathtaking setting, and quite possibly one of
the most important and unusual monuments in the Cheshire
area, after the Bridestones.
The Bullstones, or Bullstrang as it is sometimes known,
first came to the public’s attention through the
works of Dr John D Sainter in the 1870s. The following
extract was published in his Scientific Rambles Round
Macclesfield in 1878:
‘A short time ago, in a field close to the
[Clulow] Cross, an ancient burial was investigated by
myself and others. The interment proved to be that of
a child or young person, and it was similar to that
which had been found at Langley. The urn, which was
also of Celtic type, had been inverted, and among the
burnt bones was found a calcinated flint knife and a
Interesting a badly damaged urn, reputedly retrieved
from The Bullstones, is part of the reserve collection
of the Congleton Museum. However, it was not the burial
itself that was most interesting, but the setting in
which it was placed:
‘The circumstances connected with this burial
were rather peculiar. It lay about three feet below
the surface, and was surrounded by a stone circle 20
feet in diameter, with apparently a headstone, more
of less mutilated, four feet in height and the same
in breadth, placed not in the centre of the circle,
but between two and three feet to one site of it, northwards.
Directly opposite the headstone, the circle was entered
northward by a short avenue of stones; a line of stones
also ran up to the circle in an oblique curve from each
corner stone at the entrance to the avenue, leaving
a small semi-triangular space on both sides of sufficient
dimensions to accommodate four or five persons standing
upright in each’.
Sainter and a team from The Macclesfield Scientific
Society did investigate these triangles but ‘upon
a trial being made with a spade no burial was found
in either of them.’ The site survives today
more of less as Sainter described it. The most striking
feature is the central standing stone which dominates
the monument. It is a square looking monolith measuring
1.4 metres wide, 0.7 metres deep and 1.1 metres tall.
Its ‘flat’ top contains a bowl-shaped depression
formed along the stone’s natural bedding, similar
to the weathering ‘bowls’ found on many
standing stones in this region. This ‘headstone’
sits in a rough oval of cobble-sized stones. Surrounding
the central stone is an incomplete outer ellipse of
rounded cobble to small boulder sized stones with a
diameter of 7.9 metres by 8.5 metres which appears to
mark the perimeter of a small platform. Parts of this
ring are barely visible but can be followed or inferred
through the encroaching grass. The entrance avenue,
as described by Sainter, is difficult to make out amongst
the mass of small boulders found today.
Being rectangular, the ‘headstone; has a number
of faces that could hold alignments. The long axis of
the stone appears to be orientated in the direction
of Roach End (the northern tip of The Roaches outcrop).
The sight line takes the eye across the Dane valley,
over Back Forest where the gorge of Lud’s Church
is situated and on to the northern end of the millstone
grit ridge. The north-eastern long plane is orientated
in the direction of Cessbank Common, past the characteristic
summit of Shutlingsloe to the smooth featureless ridge
of Shining Tor, the highest peak in the area. The south-western
face of the stone points to the unimpressive flank of
an adjacent hillock where the southerly end of Wincle
Minn is just visible.
So what exactly is The Bullstones? It has been classified
here as a stone circle, because on the face of it that
is what it is – a circle of stones. As mentioned
previously, the Cheshire Country Sites and Monuments
Record describes it simply as the ‘site of a Bronze
Age cremation burial’, perhaps a barrow or cairn.
Dr Sainter also posulated this when he suggested that
the circle and standing stone may have been enclosed
in a ‘tumulus ten or twelve feet in height,
with the circle of stones placed round its base’.
However, just because the site has a burial there, this
does not make it a burial monument. There are many examples
of burials found at stone circles which were used as
ritual monuments by the living. For example, at Doll
Tor in the Peak District, burials and accompanying urns
were found at the base of several of the standing stones,
while at Arbor Low an inhumation was found close to
the central cove.
The Bullstones shared many similarities with a group
of monuments known as centre-stone circles which are
commonly found in south-west Scotland. One of the best
examples is Glenquickan near Kirkcudbright in Dumfries
and Galloway. Reading the description of this site by
stone circle expert, Dr Aubrey Burl, in his Guide to
the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany one
gets the feeling of déjà vu:
‘Standing on a level grassland it is composed
of 29 very low, closely set stones in an ellipse …
the apparent gap in the ring at the south-west is filled
by a stone whose tip just shows above ground. The interior
of the ring is tighly laid with small stones like cobbling.
At the middle of he circle is an immense upright pillar
In his larger volume, produced in 2000, Burl expands
his description and explanation of centre-stone circles,
which are also found in Shropshire, Wiltshire, south-west
Ireland and Cornwall. He states ‘circles with
centre stones appear to be late and frequently have
a cremation deposit at the foot of the centre stone’
and that ‘the circles are composed of unobtrusive,
rounded stones whereas the interior pillar is distinctly
bigger.’ He adds ‘such monuments
can never have been conspicuous and wee probably for
John Barnatt of the Peak District National Park Authority
describes The Bullstones as ‘a truly cracking
site which does not fit with our normative typologies’.
He believes it has affinities with the platform cairns
found in areas such as Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor as well
as the centre-stone rings in south-west Scotland.
The importance of Cessbank Common area does not end
there, however, for a close inspection of Sainter’s
text reveals that there may have been at least one other
stone circle in the immediate vicinity. In addition
to the ‘small stone circles’ in the adjoining
field to the south, which might possibly represent the
remains of hut circles as discussed previously, Sainter
also briefly mentions that ‘at a short distance
to the north-east [of the hut circles], in a hollow,
there is a traceable stone circle, 30 feet in diameter’.
Approximately a 100 metres to the south of The Bullstones,
a single standing stone still sits in a hollow today.
The stone seems to be a glacial erratic with a face
that is highly polished and very pale in colour, making
it stand out quite noticeably from the surrounding vegetation.
A plough scar can be seen at the top of the stone suggesting
it has been buried and re-erected at some stage, but
perhaps represent the remains of this second circle.
The diamond-like profile of the stone is very noticeable
on the horizon from the road to the south-west (A54
Congleton to Buxton road) at the point where the road
crosses the tributary of the Hog Clough brook.
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There is a suggestion that a Bronze Age settlement in
east Cheshire may have existed at Clulow Cross in Wincle,
close to The Bullstones.
The broken millstone grit pillar of Clulow Cross stands
about 3 metres high on a large conical mound close to
the A54 Congleton to Buxton road. Some, including Sainter,
believed it to be an enormous tumulus; ‘This
wayside cross, once so common, is placed upon the summit
of an artificial mound of earth …This mound, or
tumulus, is 250 feet in diameter, 25 feet high’.
This does seem unrealistically large for a barrow and
is more than likely a natural feature, but that does
not mean that it was not utilized by prehistoric people.
Often secondary burials were added into the mounds hundreds
of years after they were originally constructed. Who
is to say that Later Bronze Age communities did not
mistake a natural mound for one built by their ancestors?
The whole area around Clulow was examined in detail
by Sainter and members of The Macclesfield Scientific
Society in the 19th century. The Proceedings of the
Society, of which Dr Sainter was the President, reveal
that some members spent several days examining the area
and discovered ‘a well-defined grave mound’
midway between Clulow Cross and the Four Lane Ends.
‘In height it was about two and a half feet,
oval, measuring from north to south about fourteen feet,
and from eat to west about ten feet. Around the mound
was an irregular circle of stones, but most of them
entirely covered with grass and bilberry bushes.’
This site, now quite badly eroded, lies on the southern
edge of Cessbank Common close to a public footpath and
is surmounted by the grave of a dog named Rex.
During excavations a 1.2 metre wide trench was cut
across the middle and beneath a layer of dark topsoil,
a thin layer of sand and gravel was discovered covering
a grave mound composed of boulders. The largest boulders
had been placed around the base with smaller ones on
the top and in the centre. The trench was further extended
until it was two metres across revealing, in the words
of an excavator, ‘a soft mixture of white
sand with a black layer in it’. The white proved
to be a ‘calcination of the neighbouring grit
and phosphates’ and the black ‘oak charcoal’.
Further examination continued the next day, and after
another widening of the trench, ‘a funeral
urn was discovered in situ’. Unfortunately
it collapsed upon removal but enough fragments were
presented to identify it, particularly at the base where
root fibres from plants had held it together. ‘The
urn measured four inches at the top, and the same at
the bottom; it was eight inches in height and eight
in width across the middle. The top portion is ornamented
with the usual Celtic herringbone pattern.’
Within the urn a ‘good specimen of a sling-stone’
and a number of small triangular shaped stones, which
the writer suggests may have been broken arrowheads
but were more likely to have been included accidentally.
He concludes my stating ‘Not far from the
spot I have been describing are the remains of a cist
under which our President (Mr Sainter) and others found
a portion of an urn.’
The Minn End Lane Stones
Five standing stones are located in Wincle adjacent
to the popular hikers’ and cyclists’ path,
‘The Griststone Trail’ which runs for
56 kilometres from Disley to Kidsgrove. Three standing
stones, believed to be prehistoric, and two possibly
more recent additions, are all situated within two metres
of the western edge of Minn End Lane. This would certainly
add credence to the theory that standing stones were
used to mark ancient track ways.
Of the three scheduled stones, the southern single
stone (Minn End Lane I) is a slim specimen that leans
heavily to the east and, when vertical, would have stood
at 1.2 metres high. The stone and ground around it bear
the hallmarks of its adaptation to a gatepost at some
point in the recent past. The stone appears to make
the southern edge of a narrow, levelled entrance to
the previously enclosed field to the west and have two
hinge settings carved into its north face. Approximately
two metres north of the stone the levelled area ends
and a low bank starts, presumably making the line of
the former wall.
The other ‘genuine’ stone pair (Minn End
Lane IV and V) are located approximately 300 metres
further north. These stones are also short and slim,
leaning heavily and resembling gateposts. The southernmost
stone of the two leans to the west, and would again
have been about 1.2 metres high when upright, Its colleague,
2.4 metres to the north, leans southwards and would
have stood about the same height were it not for the
list. All three of these scheduled stones have weathered,
rounded edges suggesting they have been exposed to the
elements for a great number (possibly hundreds) or years.
Between the single stone and the pair stand two unscheduled
stones, probably more recent additions to the lane-side.
Both of these stones (Minn End Lane II and III) stand
vertical at one metre tall, almost two metres apart,
and have sharp, ‘freshly’ quarried edges.
The northern stone of the two has an Ordnance Survey
‘benchmark’ symbol carved into it.
All five of these standing stones could be said to
mark the trackway that today is Minn End Lane, but also
appear to have been used as gateposts. However, the
antiquity of the middle two stones can be thrown into
doubt immediately with their lack of lean, ‘freshness’
and carving, suggesting that they are far more recent
additions than the other three. On looking carefully,
a line of rubble can be traced linking the three now
redundant entrances parallel to the lane. Historical
Ordnance Survey maps confirm the evidence of a fully
enclosed field on the western side of the track (currently
between the two iron gates). The 1910 map of the area
shows the lost field boundary which enclosed an area
of approximately 11 acres (4.5 hectares).
The question is, of the six stones that were needed
to make the gatepost pairs, were the three Bronze Age
ones already perfectly placed or were they moved from
their original positions to save money, time and labour?
Perhaps the answer lies in the lean. Only the three
scheduled prehistoric ones are not truly upright, implying
they were perhaps left in their original positions.
As for the other two, although they appear to be more
modern it seems strange that someone would remove all
the other stones along the line of what was quite obviously
once a dry stone wall, leaving only those five. All
that aside, the current location of each of the stones
is perfect. This saddle is ideally placed to take in
superb views to the east covering the Peak District,
the Dane Valley, The Roaches and Hen Cloud and to the
west across the Cheshire Plain, Bosley Cloud and Croker
Hill. With such imposing vistas it is easy to see why
our ancestors constructed so many ritual monuments on
the Pennine fringe.
There is a potential Neolithic unchambered long barrow
in Wincle, lying on land adjacent to Bartomley Farm.
These normally consist of rectangular or trapezoidal
mounds ranging between 20 and 120 metres long, and between
one and seven metres high, long barrows were normally
orientated east to west. According to Gordon Rowley,
this mound on high ground could be the remains of a
possible long barrow. A natural spur of rock forms part
of the hillock, but the area around it has been adapted
with an artificial covering of stone. The site has never
been scientifically excavated, but a flint blade core
was found half a metre down in its eastern side some
years ago, suggesting it could be authentic.
Not far from the suspected long barrow, is a tumulus
which over the years had reputedly produced some high
status treasures. The following account comes from the
pages of Scientific Rambles Round Macclesfield:
‘where the ground has been used for agricultural
purposes, there has been formed a small tumulus containing
either a Roman or Saxon burial; and this, (probably
for the object of plunder), has been levelled, and the
above ornaments had escaped the notice of the marauders.
Or, without any tumulus, the articles may have been
stolen, and hid or secreted for safety by the owners’.
Sir Philip Brocklehurst, owner of the Swythamley estate,
elaborated further in his book about the neighbourhood
of Swythamley, describing a number of artefacts discovered
following ploughing in the area: ‘At Bartomley
… have at various times been discovered in considerable
number of Roman antiquities, consisting of gold rings,
in one instance with a curious green stone called prez.,
together with gold ornaments, the last discovery being
a very beautiful fibula of virgin gold.’
Gold objects such as these are incredibly rare in Cheshire.
The only other record that we have come across to such
rich artefacts comes from William Thompson Watkin’s
Roman Cheshire where he reports the discovery of two
gold bracelets of twisted torque pattern, found while
excavating for a cottage near the site of Egerton Old
Hall near Malpas.
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