The History and Antiquities of Eyam

By William Wood (1903)

Transcriptions by Andrew McCann, © Copyright 1999


On the western part of Eyam Moor, on what is called “Smith's Piece”, there is an enormous gritstone rock, containing a rock basin, bearing evident marks of human agency. It is the only one in the immediate locality, is 30 inches by 29 inches in diameter and 15 and a half inches deep, varying to 9 inches from the inclination of the surface of the stone; and is remarkable from having the lower part of its upright sides hollowed out by the action of the water rotating within it, showing that this change has been effected at a later time in its sides, which were originally made perpendicular to the bottom by the hand of man. Sir Gardiner Wilkinson after devoting much time and study to the subject of rock basins, has declared his opinion to be that some are unquestionably natural, some artificial, and some partaking of both characters. Sir Emmerson Tennant supposes them to have been (in some instances at least) enlarged natural hollows, as the one called “the sacred foot print”. on Adam's Peak, Ceylon, which when visited in 1325-6 by John Batuta, had nine other hollows or excavations near it in which pilgrims placed gold, rubies and other jewels as votive offerings.

On the north-east part of this once interesting moor there still exists what is called an Ortholitic Circle, or stone circle of about 100 feet in diameter; it has from 12 to 16 stones standing, the whole being surrounded by a low mound of earth, making the total diameter about 115 feet. The surrounding stones being rather small (three feet in height) and other characteristics, render it certain that it is not of a sacred, but of a sepulchral character. A large stone was taken from within this circle some years ago, which is said by some to have been the covering or lid of a cist. Near this circle there is still to be seen an often explored stone cairn, which from the enormous mass of stones still remaining show it to have been when entire an unusually large tumulus. A large urn was found therein some years since; it contained burnt bones, ashes, a flint arrow-head, a large beak of a bird and other articles.

As respects the originally large stone cairn or carn just alluded to, on the immediate eastern verge of the circle, it is by some conjectured to be the burial place of some detested chief; for according to numerous authors, it was the custom of the Aborigines of this Island to express their abhorrence of a tyrant or other wicked person, after death, by casting a stone at the place of his sepulture as often as they passed it; and thus were accumulated the large piles of stones, under which urns, containing ashes and bones, have been found.

In the Highlands of Scotland it is common, even now, to say, “I shall cast a stone at thy grave some day”. This barrow, however, could not by any possibility have owed its existence to the “casting of stones”; it must have been raised to commemorate the death and place of sepulture of some warrior chief.

“The sun sets o'er the warrior's grave,
And as he sinks beneath the mound,
The spirits of the ancient brave
Seem dancing in the shades around.

His name is lost - his race unknown,
Yet fame survives with ling'ring breath.
Like twilight, when the sun is gone,
His glory gilds the vale of death”.

Southward of this circle, and its adjoining stone barrow, there are on the same ground to be seen many small stone and earth-mound-encompassed circles, some about ten paces in diameter, which are very interesting from having the appearance of British houses or hut circles.[1]

A farmhouse on the western verge of Eyam Moor, derives its name - “Stanage” - from the circumstance of its being erected near the site of some enormous stone tumuli now destroyed and the materials used in making stone fences.

The site of a large tumulus may still be seen on a piece of enclosed but yet uncultivated land called “Hawley's Piece”. The diameter at the base was twenty-two yards, and about twelve yards high. When the moor was enclosed, it was taken away to make fences.

An urn of great size was found near the centre on the ground and was carried away to the residence of the person who found it; but was afterwards ignorantly buried.[2]

Another large cairn, partly explored, may be seen in Eyam Edge, near the Old Twelve-Meer's Mine. It is about forty yards in diameter at the base and about eight or ten yards high. In the top there is a dimple or cavity which, according to Pilkington, is a proof that it is British. Dr. Borlase, however, thinks that such are Roman. This barrow conspicuously crests a cloud -aspiring ridge or eminence west of Eyam, and overlooks a vast extent of country. What the erudite author of the ‘King of the Peak’, etc., has so beautifully observed of the cairn on Chinley Hills, may with more daring presumption be said of the tumulus on Eyam Edge. It may contain the ashes of some fearless warrior, whose name has faded away amidst the mist of time; but what was said of another maybe contemporary man of war, may be aptly said of him: “He whose grave is on yonder cliff, his name was the foe of many; it is Tarw Trin (the Bull of Conflict), mercy be to him”.[3]

Numberless urns have been found at various times around Eyam. About fifty-five years ago, in making the road called the Occupation Road, a beautiful urn, richly decorated, was found by Mr. S. furness, Eyam; it contained nothing but ashes. Around the place where the urn was found the earth appeared to have been burnt, which circumstance, according to Wormius, would lead us to believe it was Danish. This author states, in his funeral ceremonies of the Danes, that “the deceased was brought out into the fields, where they made an oblong place with great stones, and there burned the body, and then collected the ashes into an urn, round which they set great stones; casting up over it a mound of earth and stones”.

About fifty years since, two men, Joseph Slinn and William Redfern, were working near the Bole-hill, Eyam, when they discovered an urn surrounded with stones. Slinn, wishing to secure it entire, went a short distance for a spade; in the meanwhile, Redfern, thinking it might contain some treasure, dashed it to pieces, when, to his utter mortification, he found it contained only some ashes and two copper coins. One of the coins was lost on the spot, but was found some years after. It bore the inscription, Maximianus and something else not legible; probably Dioclesian, as Maximianus and Dioclesian were joint Emperors of the Roman Empire. As those two urns were very similar, and buried so near together, it is highly probable that they were Roman; at least containing Roman coins implies as much.[4]

Another urn was found in the Mag-clough, Eyam - a very large one: this was buried again afterwards. Robert Broomhead, Eyam, broke one to pieces in taking up the foundation of an old wall, at Riley, about fifty-five years ago.[5]

That the Romans had, at least, a temporary residence in or around Eyam, we have satisfactory evidence in the finding of Roman coins and other articles. In the year 1814, some persons employed in burning limestone in Eyam Dale, found a great quantity of Roman coins, some silver, and some copper, bearing the inscriptions of Probus, Gallienus, Victorinus - Roman emperors.

Nearly a hundred years ago, a copper coin was found on Eyam Moor, bearing the inscription of Probus; and about thirty-five years since, a Roman copper coin was found in the Dale, Eyam, with the inscription on one side Divo Claudius, or God Claudius; on the reverse, Consecratio, or Consecration, with the Eagle.

In that part of Stoney Middleton which is in Eyam parish, Roman coins have been at various times discovered; and a place of eminence there still bears evident traces of these once mighty masters of the world.

That the descendants of the Romans continued to reside in and around Eyam, may be conjectured from the language of the inhabitants. Plaust from plaustrum, a wagon, as to plaust, hay or corn; and sord, from sordes, the rind of bacon, and other things.

Many unlettered persons invariably use quantum for quantity, and many other Latin words.

Rhodes says that he has somewhere read that the Romans erected elegant mansions among the Peak hills. And it is believed that the Romans continued to reside among the mountains around Eyam, even when the Saxons and Danes successively possessed the surrounding plains.

Roman remains have been found in abundance in many places in the neighbourhood of Eyam, Stoney Middleton, Brough,[6] and other villages.

Indeed, it has almost been satisfactorily proved that the sixth legion remained in Derbyshire some time before they marched to the north.

CASTLE-HILL, near Stoney Middleton, in the parish of Eyam, is the name of an elevated, oval-shaped eminence, evidently a work of art. Tradition insists on its being the site of a Roman encampment, and Roman coins have been found in its vicinity. Some years ago a battle-axe of antique form was found in pulling down a barn, near to Castle-hill.

[1] If these circles be the remains of British huts or houses, they were in advance of those pit-habitations of the Aboriginals of this part of the Island, described by the late T. Bateman in his excellent work, ‘Vestiges of the Antiquities of Derbyshire’.
[2] The person who had this precious relic of antiquity was persuaded by his silly neighbours that it was unlucky to have such a thing in the house; and on losing a young cow, he immediately buried it.
[3] The readers of that marvel of periodicals, ‘The Reliquary’, will remember these lines, in a most able article entitled, ‘Archaeology of the High Peak’, by William Bennett, Esq., a writer of great power, author of many works of an imaginative caste; and withal or rather above all, a resident of the Peak.
[4] These urns might possibly be Saxon, as Roman coins were in some degree current with the Saxons.
[5] The enclosure of a great part of that immense tract - Eyam Moor - has swept away innumerable relics of the Druids. Hence we still find some enclosed parts still denominated “Druids' Fields”, “Druids' Flat”, and the like. Many ancient tumuli have been levelled to the surface, while perhaps a thorough exploration would still yield many remains, sepulchral and other kinds. The contents of Derbyshire barrows generally are now pretty well known. The late Thomas Bateman,Esq., of Middleton-by-Youlgreave, in his ‘Vestiges of the Antiquities of Derbyshire’, has thrown much light on this interesting subject.
[6] There is a well-marked Roman camp at Brough.


This information was transcribed by Andrew McCann in May 1999.

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