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The Calderstones of Liverpool
Forgotten history hidden in the parks of Great Britain
by John Reppion
After living in the district of Toxteth for ten years, my wife and I have recently moved – along with our son and cat – back into the area of Liverpool where I grew up. We now reside in deepest Beatle country. The unremarkable childhood homes of Lennon and McCartney within easy walking distance; Harrison and Starr’s each just a short bus ride away. Strawberry Field is just around the corner, and I regularly shove a pushchair up and down Penny Lane. Indeed, much of the area is practically unchanged since long, long before the days when moptops walked the earth – a good chunk of it being made up of parks, playing fields, cemeteries and other greenspaces. One of the most impressive of these parks stands next to the institution formerly known as Quarry Bank High School which Lennon attended and named his proto-Beatles skiffle group The Quarrymen after (other Quarry Bank alumni include horror novelist Clive Barker and actor Doug Bradley, most famous for playing Pinhead in the Hellraiser films which are (increasingly loosely) based on Barker’s books). After numerous mergings with other schools the institution was eventually renamed in 1985. Calderstones Community Comprehensive School took its new name from the adjacent Calderstones Park which is in turn named after the most ancient and perhaps easily overlooked monument in the city of Liverpool: The Calderstones.
Formerly a private estate, the land which makes up the park was purchased by Liverpool Corporation in 1902 for the sum of £43,000 from shipping magnate brothers Charles and David McIver. Calderstones Park was officially opened to the public three years later in 1905.1 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”. It is beneath the spreading branches of this majestic tree that crime and punishment are alleged to have been discussed in the days before court buildings. Local folklore has it that, although the Law Oak (also known as the Allerton Oak) looks for all the world as though it has been struck by lightning at some point in its long life, the damage was actually done by the explosion of a gunpowder ship in the Mersey in the 1860s.2 The fact that the park and the Law Oak are more than a mile inland rarely, if ever, get in the way of the telling of the tale. Then there’s the tennis – the park is home to the annual Liverpool International Tennis Tournament in which globally renowned players such as Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe and Martina Hingis regularly participate. Buried amongst this myriad of amusements, attractions and events – set back from the pathway which leads from the park’s heavily ornamented main gates – 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 Calldwaye Stones
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.
The map shows only five upright “Calldwaye Stones” – four of which appear to be on a circular or oval mound. It also indicates another, solitary, standing stone marked “The Roger Stone” nearby. Furthermore there is a green circular hillock marked “The Pykklaoo Hill” which seems to be marked with a spiral-like pattern, possibly illustrating a pathway cut into its surface. It is worth noting that in much of the literature published since, Pykklaoo Hill is mentioned as being “flanked by two upright stones about 30 metres [98.4 feet] apart”.3, 4, 5 These stones are, however, not shown on the 19th century copy of the map I have before me today. The Caldewaye Stones, The Roger Stone, and Pykklaoo Hill are shown in a row hugging the South East edge of the land around which the dispute centred and which was later to become the boundary of the modern day park. The documentation accompanying the map records testimony from “Robert Mercer, of West Derby” – a district about 5 miles (8 km) north of the stones location – in which he states that a sixth Calderstone was removed from the site circa 1550.7
Written evidence of the stones over the next two hundred or so years is fairly scant. In 1700 the documentation accompanying another boundary dispute mentions just three stones set out on a little ascent or rising ground called “Dogger Stones, Caldway Stones”. In 1804 or thereabouts the “high and extensive mound on which stones formerly stood” is all but destroyed to provide sand for the mortar of a house being built nearby.8 Then we get a very interesting and revealing entry in Baines’s Directory of 1825:
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.9
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.10
The stones were removed and stored on a nearby farmstead, with the exception of one which was taken by a Mr Booker for use as a rubbing stone for his cattle.11 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” .12
Evidence from Antiquity
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.13 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.14
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).15 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.16 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.17 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”.18 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.
The Language of the ’Liths
In 1954 the Calderstones were moved from where Walker planted them but much damage had been done in those one-hundred and nine years. The stones were “covered by a black patina or film, as well as by a growth of moss”.19 Removed under orders of Liverpool Corporation, the stones were cleaned and latex impressions taken of their surfaces, revealing details of carving which had previously been all but invisible to the naked eye. A survey was made of the stones based entirely upon these (now lost) moulds by J. L. Forde- Johnson, the results of which were published in his 1957 paper “Megalithic Art in the North West of Britain, The Calderstones, Liverpool.” In his document Forde-Johnson allocated a letter to each of the six surviving stones and gave each carving on that stone a number. The stones were on display within the park for close to a decade until it was eventually decided that they should be moved – for their own protection – to their current location in the vestibule to the Hearthill greenhouses. Forde-Johnson’s survey remained the definitive work on the Calderstones petroglyphs up until 2007/2008 when 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 cup and ring markings already mentioned, the six surviving Calderstones also bear many other petroglyphs including spirals (single and conjoined), curved and straight lines (single and in groups), footprint images, and shoe, or boot, prints.20 Many of these symbols provide further evidence of Calderstones Tomb’s continued significance and use throughout aeons, while some simply represent a callous profaning of objects which may predate the oldest of Egypt’s pyramids by a millennium.
The Caldestones’ spiral patterns are thought to be their original markings, 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. The meaning of these designs is still a matter of some debate. On the most basic level they are clearly decorative, marking out the stones and the tomb as a special place. Depending on the original location of these designs, some may also have acted as an externally visible indicator for the tomb. In his 1993 work Subjective Vision and the Source of Irish Megalithic Art Jeremy Dronfield puts forward a theory that spirals in passage graves such as the one at Knowth may be representations of visions seen with the aid of psychoactive substances.21 Spirals have been variously interpreted as representing everything from local topography to astrological maps to cloud forms but are increasingly considered to be connected with the Sun and solar events. In short, though their exact meaning is unknown, the advent of spiral carvings is thought to represent a pivotal moment in prehistory – a time when humans were trying to find a way of expressing their thoughts and beliefs in a meaningful and lasting way.
The cup and ring markings and the curved and straight lines are the next oldest, possibly dating from as late as the Early Bronze Age. They are also the most easily recognisable petroglyphs in terms of their occurrence elsewhere. However, these carvings are also almost impossible to interpret accurately – “old enigmatical handwritings on the wall” indeed. Speaking in a 1970 BBC television documentary called Cracking the Stone Age Code, the Scottish engineer and megalithic expert Alexander “Sandy” Thom put forward his own theory:
I have an idea, entirely nebulous at the moment, that the cup and ring markings were a method of recording, of writing, and that they may indicate, once we can read them, what a particular stone was for. We have seen the cup and ring markings on the stone at Temple Wood [for example] but we can’t interpret them… yet.22
The footprints (more correctly referred to as petrosomatoglyphs, rather than petroglyphs) are also thought to be Bronze Age. There are eight well-defined individual footprints, seven of which have five forward facing toes, while one print on Stone B has six. Each footprint has a blunt, squared heel giving them a slightly flipperesque quality. (The Calderstones’ footprint markings are mentioned in Ramsey Campbell’s Creatures of the Pool as “blurred marks that suggest some bulky person has been fumbling wet-handed at the stones”. Joseph Williamson’s extensive tunnels beneath Liverpool [see: “The Underground Empire of Joseph Williamson” in Darklore Volume IV] also feature heavily in the novel). 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.23 Whether these were people who were entombed there, who oversaw rituals, or perhaps acted as guardians of the site, we can only speculate.
The shoe or boot prints on the front face of Stone D are late 19th or early 20thth century, presumably dating from the era when the stones were on display outside the park. Nash & Stanford’s “Recording Images…” has the following to say on the carvings:
Of the seven shoe or boot prints, three are buried beneath the present gravel (D4 – D10). The style of each carving is roughly similar, although four (D4, D6, D7, D10) have [separated] heels. […] Inscribed into each print, usually on the sole area of the shoe are a series of letter. It is probable that these marks each represent the carver’s initials.24, 25
These Victorian (or possibly Edwardian) vandals were not the last to make their mark upon the ancient stones either. Several of the Calderstones are covered with initials, many of which have been carved during their unprotected, post-cleaning display in the park between 1954 and 1964. The fact that the initials “JL” are clearly visible on one stone has not escaped the notice of those few visiting Beatles fans who have been lucky enough to see stones up close.26
On the opposite face of Stone D to the boot prints, half buried beneath the ground, is perhaps the most fascinating yet easily overlooked of all the Calderstones adornments: an image of a dagger.27 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.28 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.29, 30 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)31 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.
Blood from a Stone: The Spectre of the Druid
There is, of course, another interpretation of the graven dagger image on Calderstone D – few of us can read of such an instrument carved on an ancient mystical site and not have some suitably Hammer Horror-esque image of primeval blood sacrifice called to mind. And who is that hooded figure wielding the blade in our shared vision? Why, it is the Druid, of course. The notion of the Druids as bloodthirsty “baddies”, however, predates the birth of Christopher Lee et al by several millennia. Greek Historian Diodorus Siculus wrote in the 1st century BCE of some of the barbaric rituals purportedly then being practiced by the Celtic Druids in Britain:
These men predict the future by observing the flight and calls of birds and by the sacrifice of holy animals: all orders of society are in their power… and in very important matters they prepare a human victim, plunging a dagger into his chest; by observing the way his limbs convulse as he falls and the gushing of his blood, they are able to read the future.32
Diodorus’s contemporary the Roman writer Gaius Plinius Secundus (better known as Pliny the Elder) went further, suggesting the Celts practiced ritual cannibalism, eating their enemies’ flesh as a source of spiritual and physical strength.33 Such writings have long been taken with a generous pinch of salt by most historians who understand them to be works of propaganda, portraying the British Isles’ inhabitants as superstitious, heathen barbarians badly in need of conquering. Nevertheless, the true nature of the Druids and their practices remains a hotly-debated topic within academic circles. The 1st century CE body known as Lindow Man, for example, has provoked much discussion in the decades since its discovery at Lindow Moss bog in Cheshire, England. Lindow Man now resides within the walls of the British Museum and is described on their website thusly:
The man met a horrific death. He was struck on the top of his head twice with a heavy object, perhaps a narrow bladed axe. He also received a vicious blow in the back – perhaps from someone’s knee – which broke one of his ribs. He had a thin cord tied around his neck which may have been used to strangle him and break his neck. By now he was dead, but then his throat was cut. Finally, he was placed face down in a pool in the bog. This elaborate sequence of events suggests that his death may have been ritual killing. Some people have argued that he was the victim of a human sacrifice possibly carried out by Druids.
The sacrifice story has long been put forward as a likely explanation for Lindow Man’s death, not just by the British Museum themselves, but in numerous books, and even television programs such as National Geographic Channel’s Secrets of the Druids.34 Robert Connolly, senior lecturer in physical anthropology at the University of Liverpool, has very different ideas on the matter. Connolly was quoted in The Times newspaper in March 2004 as saying:
We do not have evidence from this body of ritual sacrifice in Iron Age Cheshire. We mustn’t write it into the books until we have evidence. That is disrupting history. That is not historical evidence. It wouldn’t stand up in court.35
In the article Connolly and Professor Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol argue that many of Lindow Man’s wounds could have been inflicted during peat-cutting activities or from his having been trampled by a horse. They go on to say that Lindow Man’s throat cartilage shows no sign of the trauma associated with strangulation and that a decorative necklace, being made of animal sinew, could have shrunk over time, allowing it to be later interpreted as a garrotte.36
If we accept that the Celts – whose holy men the Druids were – are not believed to have reached Britain until the Iron Age (circa 500 BCE) it seems impossible that the Druids could have had any influence on the construction of structures and monuments created thousands of years previously. The design of the dagger engraved into the sandstone surface of Calderstone D likewise predates the age of the Druids, not by millennia, but certainly by centuries. How is it then, that stone circles such as Stonehenge and megalithic tombs like Barclodiad y Gawres have come to be associated in so many people’s minds with the Druids? William Stukeley M. D.’s work Stonehenge, A Temple Restor’ d to the British Druids, published in 1740, certainly has something to do with it.
Working with Astronomer Royal Edmond Halley (best known for computing the orbit of the eponymous Halley’s Comet), Stukeley came to the conclusion that Stonehenge was aligned with magnetic north and built by the Druids, being completed circa 460 BCE.37 Writing copiously on other supposed Druid remains (including passage graves) Stukeley became popularly known as the “Arch- Druid” and, indeed, later came to identify himself as a Druid.38 Other antiquaries devoted more and more time towards the study of what they perceived to be Druidism and soon groups such as The Druid Society of Anglesey, The Society of the Druids of Cardigan, and the London based Ancient Order of Druids (still in existence today) began to spring up all across Britain.39 Through these societies, and the writings of Stukeley and those who followed, the connection between Druids and menhirs (Menhir: “long stone” in Celtic Middle Breton – a term first applied to standing stones by 19th century antiquarians) was firmly established in the public consciousness. This association endures to this day, despite much archaeological evidence to the contrary.
Any alleged connections between the carving of the Early Bronze Age “south-east European-style dagger” on Calderstone D and the Druids would then, it seems, be little more than a fantasy – albeit one whose origins lie in literally thousands of years worth of propaganda and misinformation. Of course, it is still impossible to prove conclusively that the Calderstones Tomb was never visited by Celtic wise men during its existence. It is perhaps fair to say though, that the only genuine sign of Druids near the former tomb site remains that of the adjacent Druids Cross Road.
A mile or so South East of Calderstones Park, at the junction of Booker Avenue and Archerfield Road an ice-cream van’s engine idles as the pupils from the nearby Booker Avenue Infants and Juniors queue for their after-school treats. Neither the over-excited children nor their harassed parents seem to give the curious prehistoric relic in their midst so much as a second glance. Here in the heart of suburbia, enclosed by green painted iron railings, is an ancient sandstone menhir. A weathered bronze plaque within the railings explains the stone’s recent history:
THIS MONOLITH KNOWN AS “ROBIN HOODS STONE” STOOD IN A FIELD NAMED THE STONE HEY AT A SPOT 198 FEET DISTANT, AND IN A DIRECTION BEARING 7 DEGREES EAST OF TRUE NORTH FROM ITS PRESENT POSITION, TO WHICH IT WAS MOVED IN AUGUST 1928.
Robin Hood’s Stone seems a rather misleading name since there are no tales of the fabled outlaw and his merry band straying quite so far from Sherwood as Merseyside. The monolith was formerly known as “The Archer’s Stone” on account of a series of deep grooves worn into it, once believed to have been used during medieval times for sharpening arrowheads. As fanciful as this idea might seem, it is perhaps worth mentioning that during the 19th century the common consensus amongst antiquarians was that these grooves were created by Druids to aid the draining of blood from their sacrificial victims.40, 41 The grooves are now generally considered to have occurred naturally when the rock was formed and been further ingrained as the fragile sandstone was worn away by aeons of wind and rain. Archerfield road is so named because it was built upon the site of the field where The Archer’s Stone once stood – the construction of that neighbourhood being the reason for the stone’s relocation in the 1920s. Booker Avenue, incidentally, is named after Josias Booker – a 19th century West India merchant and shipping magnate who lived for a time in nearby Poplar Grove. It might be remembered that, prior to the Calderstones being relocated by Joseph Need Walker in 1845, one of the stones was taken by a Mr Booker for use as a rubbing stone for his cattle. Josias was certainly no farmer and actually emigrated to Demerara (now Guyana) in 1815 but, the fact that his family – he was one of seven brothers – lived so close to the field where The Archer’s Stone stood seems quite a coincidence.42 There are, however, those who would point out that the plot where the menhir formerly stood is recorded on a map of 1772 as “Stone Hey” which could well indicate that the stone was already in situ. On the other hand, there is the 1568 testimony of Robert Mercer, of West Derby which states that a Calderstone was taken from its original site circa 1550. So, could Robin Hood’s Stone actually be one of these lost Calderstones?
Although the supposed arrow sharpening/bloodletting grooves are now considered to be natural, there are other, more intriguing, markings on Robin Hood’s Stone which are currently buried beneath a thick layer of concrete. A 1910 photograph of the now hidden end of the menhir clearly shows cup and ring markings just like those on Calderstones B, C, D and E.43 The photograph was taken by R. Stuart-Brown and published, along with at least one other of Robin Hood’s Stone, in his 1911 work A History of the Manor and Township of Allerton in the County of Lancashire, Liverpool. This other photograph shows the stone standing in its field with roughly the same portion of its surface underground as today – the cup and rings still very much hidden from view. Only when the earth was dug out around the base of the menhir were the ancient carvings made visible. This would seem to suggest that the person who placed the stone in that position saw no significance, or perhaps simply had no interest, in the menhir’s prehistoric markings which certainly fits in with the cattle rubbing stone hypothesis. Even if we rule out our 19th century Mr Booker, is it perhaps fair to deduce that whoever took the other stone circa 1550 might have wanted it for the same purpose and therefore set it in a cattle field. The type of sandstone used for Robin Hood’s Stone and five of the Calderstones is identical, having probably been quarried locally.44 This is perhaps unsurprising – one might well expect all such stone to come from the same source, but consider then Calderstone F which has a distinctly finer grain than its supposed counterparts. Calderstone F also has a distinct lack of prehistoric markings.45 In reality, it seems that a much more compelling case can be made for Robin Hood’s Stone having originally been a part of the passage grave than can for Calderstone F. Could this be because Calderstone F was actually a lone standing stone (or part thereof) which was later lumped in with the remnants of Calderstones Tomb? In which case, might Calderstone F actually be the remains of The Roger Stone which we know from the 16th century boundary dispute documentation to have been the closest such menhir? Certainly, it seems possible and, given the way we know the Calderstones have been treated in the past four-hundred-and-odd years, not unlikely, that such a mix up might have occurred.
Lost in the Mists of Time
The Calderstones themselves are currently not mentioned on Liverpool City Council’s Calderstones Park webpage.46 On the black painted signs which mark each of the park’s four official entrances, a circular symbol depicting a Stonehenge-like dolmen (Dolmen: from the Celtic Middle Breton “taol maen” meaning “stone table”) seems somehow lost amongst others showing ducks, a seesaw, and more typical attractions. Of the many, many times I have visited the park I can only clearly recall one instance of seeing anyone, other than myself and the people I was with, paying any real attention to the stones. It was 2007 and I was in the middle of researching a book I was writing on Liverpool ghosts. A “spooky” evening tour of Calderstones given by the park rangers seemed too tempting an offer to pass up. Having heard the yarns of a kitchen boy crushed to death by a Christmas Eve coal delivery in the cellar of the Mansion House, a girl drowned in the boating lake, and so on, we gradually progressed toward the Calderstones. When we reached the vestibule its doors were unlocked and myself, my wife, and the dozen or so other tourers were ushered in. The space was warm and damp – electric heaters working against the foggy October air to protect the megaliths from winter’s chill. Fine spider’s webs spun across the pitted surfaces of the menhirs were frosted with moisture which glistened in the glow of the heat elements. The engravings shimmered fierily as if each stone had a core of liquid magma beneath its brittle sandy surface. Our guide hurried through a truncated history of the stones, explaining that they were once part of an ancient tomb and that pottery urns containing human ashes had been found buried beneath them. For a precious few moments the crowd stared at the battered orphic stones in absolute wonder. But, all too soon, the spell was broken. The ranger had no eerie tale directly connected to the stones to tell, so instead urns supposedly similar to those which once been entrusted to them became the focus of his next story. By the time we left the vestibule, the ranger’s colourful yarn about a spectral Iron Age horseman wielding an axe had all but erased the brief, vague history of the circle of crumbling stones from most people’s minds. And, with each step away from the dilapidated structure, the illusionary fire within the ancient sigils seemed to dim.
Despite the fact that the decaying vestibule might seem a less than salubrious home for the prehistoric Calderstones it is still, in many respects, actually the best place for them. The stones need to be under cover to protect them from weathering, and from vandalism. They also need to be kept in an environment where the temperature can be controlled (to some extent) to prevent damage by frost. The vestibule, unattractive as it is, fulfils these criteria amply. Even so, some might wonder why the Calderstones have not, by now, been removed from the park entirely and placed on display at one of Liverpool’s numerous museums. Such a removal would, in my opinion, be something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand the stones could be better protected, could be more thoroughly studied, and, above all, could be seen by many, many more people. However, they would also be robbed of their context – becoming mere skeletal remains of some long-lost tomb which once stood in the Allerton area.
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. The Calderstones may not be in the best condition, they may not have as many visitors as they used to, and their home certainly isn’t in brilliant shape. However, they’re still there. Still in the same neighbourhood, amongst old friends like the Law Oak, and though they need a bit of help now and then, they’re doing okay. Ripping them out of their native surroundings, putting them somewhere cold and clinical might well be the best way of preserving their facades. It might well be “for their own good”, but what about their function? What about their 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. The park and the stones belong to each other, and long may they remain together.
John Reppion is a freelance writer with an interest in all things Fortean, folkloric and esoteric. In the past he has written for the likes of Fortean Times, Strange Attractor Journal, Paranormal Magazine and The End is Nigh on subjects as diverse as medieval revenants, exogenesis and Spring-heeled Jack. His book 800 Years of Haunted Liverpool was published in 2008 by The History Press and covers much of the uncanny history and folklore of his native city. More information can be found online at www.MooreReppion.com.
With thanks to Julia McLaughlin Cook at the Merseyside Archaeological Society, and Roger Hull at the Liverpool Record Office. Also, as always, love and thanks to Leah for all her help and support.
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