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

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'


  1. Where the Great Stones Ever Near Holly Lane? ^Typo
    Were the Great Stones Ever Near Holly Lane?...Very interesting Jo,I was always told that the stone pictured in part 2 was a Gypsy cooking stone(by my dad). It seems criminal that a part of our heritage could be just destroyed in such a thoughtless way.

  2. Ah! Thanks! I've changed that.

    I hadn't heard that story. Does your Dad have anything else to say about them?

    Unfortunately so many stones were destroyed like this in the past. It wasn't until the 1960s that any legislation was put in to stop it, so anyone finding an ancient monument in the way could just lob it out.