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The Work of Giants

  • O. G. S. Crawford

Of their kind there are few things more beautiful than the field-walls in a stony country. They are constructed, as a rule, without mortar, and for that reason are called ‘dry stone walls’; the term is useful, as a distinction, and will serve, but many of them are reinforced by an admixture of earth, or of a kind of daub that sets fairly hard. The walls of the moister West Country are the most beautiful of all, for innumerable plants take root in the earthy crevices and enrich the lovely grey stonework with a natural ornament that is entirely pleasing. Vivid green splashes of pennywort, yellow stars of celandine, clusters of violet, and the twisted white cords of ivy are Nature's version of carved vine-scrolls and interlaced designs, with the added beauty of colour. Far be it from me to institute odious comparisons between the works of Man and of Nature; both are good to look upon, and I yield to none in admiration of the masterpieces of Anglian sculpture. But these, alas, are few and far between; they are not always accessible or easily seen; whereas there are, by way of compensation, hundreds of miles of most enchanting field-walls in Cornwall alone. I began my study of them without fully realizing their aesthetic qualities; when my eyes were opened I found it difficult to look at anything else.

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1 See Popular Romances of the West of England, by Robert, Hunt 3rd edn., 1881, p. 56, note. I have made extensive use of this delightful and fascinating book, and shall refer to it in later references by the author’s name only.

2 Hunt calls them ‘hedges’, a local term and in many ways a better one; but the modem connotation of ‘hedge’ is narrower, and I have therefore not used it here.

3 Hencken, Archaeology of Cornwall and Scilly, 1932, p. 133.

4 Hencken, 233.

5 Hencken, 236.

6 They have, however, been disputed.

7 Hencken, 287.

8 Unless, as is possible, they were found and rehidden in modern times; but personally I do not think this at all probable, nor is it supported by evidence.

9 This term, and that of ‘Round’, is commonly used in Cornwall to describe the small circular enclosures that are so common everywhere. They are believed to be of prehistoric date, but have not been proved so by excavation. Some of them, however, differ only from such structures as Chun in respect of state of preservation.

10 If so the almost complete disappearance of the covering mound or cairn of Mulfra Quoit would be explained; it was used as a quarry for wall-stones by the prehistoric (Iron Age?) villagers.

11 This raises an interesting problem. Which, in the long run, produces the greater effect, alters the mode of life more fundamentally—an invasion or an economic factor, such as an effective demand for a commodity? Much of the modern life of the Cornish countryside is determined by the demand for tin, flowers and cabbages. The demand for early spring flowers is revolutionizing the field-system of the Scilly Isles, as it has already revolutionized the life of the cultivators. The price of tin affects the life of every miner and of those who supply him with goods. In the past the commercial prosperity of Cornwall must have been dependent upon the demand for tin. It must also have been influenced by the activity of intercourse along the western sea-ways. Here invasions of the east of England would have an indirect and stimulating effect. But such matters lie outside the scope of the present article.

12 Hencken, 24.

13 Turf walls were once common in the almost stoneless South of England where they were erected round intakes from the waste, the turf being pared off the surface as a necessary prelude to cultivation; this is exactly paralleled in the west by the use of grounders dragged from the field and used in the walls.

14 ‘Clob’ consists of the local earthy clay with a liberal admixture of the local stone broken into small angular fragments. It is the Cornish equivalent of the familiar mud walls of the Wessex cottages.

15 Another article, or a note, may deal with survivals of such primitive structures today in Cornwall; they consist for the most part of pig-styes, goose-houses, cow-sheds and derelict buildings, out in the fields, whose purpose has been forgotten.

16 Hunt, 48.

17 l7 Hunt, 55 ff.

18 Hunt, 176 (Zennor Quoit).

19 It is possible that the ditches of Chun Castle contained water. See Smith, R.A. in Archmologia, 76, 240.

20 See the instance at Köln-Lindenthal, ANTIQUITY, 1936, 10, 8993.

21 See the Ordnance Survey Map of Celtic Fields of Salisbury Plain, I : 25,000. Old Sarum Sheet, 1934.

22 Hunt, 75-6. The Hack and Cast is rather a promontory fort than an earthwork of the longer kind.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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