Friday, August 17, 2007

The Mystery of Broom Hill

Everyone knows that Garstang was originally a mediaeval market town filled, on fair days, with bellowing, rutting cattle and, for the rest of the time, with bellowing, rutting peasants. But how many people realise that Garstang has a far more ancient history? For example, on the outskirts of town stands an enigmatic mound known as Broom Hill that might well be of prehistoric construction.
For anybody wondering where Broom Hill is, it’s just north of the ford at Wyre Lane and can be easily recognised because…well, it looks like the photograph below.

The north-west side of the hill has been eaten away by the River Wyre over the centuries, revealing an extremely rare sight; the cross section of what appears to be a Bronze Age tumulus. (That’s a ‘burial mound’ for those not as familiar with archaeological terms as us know-it-alls.)
From the riverbank the observer can even see how this tumulus was built. Huge boulders were first laid down for the base, growing smaller in layers towards the top, the whole earthwork being filled in with sand as its engineers progressed. The photograph below (which isn’t exactly of high resolution we have to admit) does, to some extent, show this.

On the seventeenth of July, 1999, several members of the Pilling Historical Society visited the site. In their own words: “Over the years many ideas as to the purpose of this artificial mound have been submitted, from an Iron Age fort to a Saxon Moot Hill where the elders of Garstang met. A more likely theory is that here we have a Bronze Age burial tumulus or a round barrow, that was used much later in history as a Saxon Moot.”
The ‘prehistoric burial mound’ idea is borne out by the fact that the hill can be found at the junction of two waterways, the River Wyre and Grizedale Brook, typical of such burials everywhere.
Interestingly it also falls alongside the conjectured prehistoric highway running from Harris End Fell down to Nateby; again, not an uncommon practice.
Then again the ‘Saxon Moot Hill’ (a place where the Saxon elders met to hold their courts) might indicate that Broom Hill is the missing ‘Yolrungegreve’ as mentioned in the Court Rolls of 1324. This somewhat bizarre name can be broken down into ‘Yol’ (an elk), ‘run’ (a council meeting) and ‘greve’ (a barrow, from which we derive the modern word ‘grave’). So, was Broom Hill where the ‘Council of the Elk on the Barrow’ met?
The truth is, we just don’t know. It might just as easily have been of Viking construction. There are theories linking it to Thorolf Skallagrimson’s grave following the legendary battle of Vin Heath where his brother Egil: “…dug a grave there and laid Thorolf in it with his weapons and raiment…this done they heaped on stones and cast in soil.” Of course, this is speculation, but it would be nice to think that one of the most important lost battlegrounds of Britain took place just outside Garstang.
Whatever the case, Broom Hill was manmade and is very old, so if you’ve nothing better to do this weekend it might be worth taking a look.


John said...

Interesting post! Just 2 questions...

1) Wouldn't a site like this warrant some further investigation? Since natural erosion is affecting the site, a) you can perform some non-invasive exploration, and b) if you find anything, perhaps the site warrants protection from further damage.

2) Why were tumuli built 'everywhere' at the junction of two rivers? Did ancient peoples not know of the forces of erosion? If not, surely they knew about flooding, so why buildsomething important soclose to water?

It was my impression that burial mounds were built on hills so that they could double as boundary markers?

Look forward to more! JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


First answer, in brief, 'Yes'.

The only trouble is that Broom Hill falls in the Over Wyre district the whole lot of which, apparently, is owned and controlled by the current Chairman of Wyre Archaeology. As we have been banned from all known and unknown sites earmarked or otherwise speculated upon by said Chairman our investigations have reached an impasse.

On the other hand, as far as we can tell, Chairman Thompson has absolutely no authority in this matter and is just slinging his ever-decreasing weight sooner or later we'll have to track down the hill's actual owner and make enquiries about a dig I reckon.

Answer two: The constructing of individual burial mounds (as opposed to mass burial mounds) between and close by two rivers appears to have had some sort of religious significance.

Our own theory runs that individual burials, such as Broom Hill and Bleasdale Circle, were reserved for druids or shamans. It's just possible that the mound was meant to represent a womb; the body contained within it being 'planted' in the same manner as a seed, for spiritual rebirth. Neolithic people were generally farmers and it seems likely, therefore, that their spiritual/scientific understanding of death was based on their agricultural knowledge. The rivers would act to 'water' the seed/corpse in order to regenrate the soul.

Or something like that.

Other prehistoric burial practices involved decapitation and cremation...both agricultural practices when you stop and think about them, designed to regerminate crops.

It's a thought. Might be right. Might be wrong. To be honest we don't really know but it beats Von Daneken's theory about spaceships and stuff so we're sticking to it.

Ann O'Dyne said...

The Time Team are on their way

*runs away laughing*

Brian Hughes said...


After watching the Time Team special about Stone Henge and the somewhat sweeping (not to mention obviously incorrect) conclusions that they reached, they can turn their four wheel drives round again and bugger off.

Ann O'Dyne said...

I came here to be spifflicating but now cannot remember in what manner i intended this, because while waiting for the haloscan to load I was stunned by the calisthenical cuties on the book in the sidebar.

Brian Hughes said...


That's not a book, it's just a logo...unless of your course you're referring to the stones of the Avebury's difficult to tell since you swallowed that thesaurus. (How come there's only one synonym for thesaurus, anyway?) There's nothing so good for warming the soul as a gaggle of dancing midgets on a cold summer's evening I always reckon.

Ann O'Dyne said...

ooooooooooh I do love a collective noun ... a procession of snails ooh.
semantic pronography.
So I do think midgets deserve something better than 'gaggle'.

Just swinging by in regard to your Stanley ancestry - Victoria had a Stanley as Governor and after reading a book about their time here, I wouldn't be surprised if one of his children was very closely related to One Who Digs.

Further remark at Copperwitch blog for you.

Brian Hughes said...


A shovel of archaeologists, a bevy of Australians, a corruption of chairmen...they're all in Roget's Collective Noun-a-saurus (more than one copy, apparently, and they become a 'Verbage of Noun-a-sauri')...honest.

As for my descendancy from the first earls of Derby, it's not something I particularly like to boast about. Only when I feel the need to justify my many inherited diseases, both mental and physical, to an uncomprehending society. It impresses the judges and generally gets my sentence reduced at any rate.