Postcard showing 'druidical altar stone' at Carn Brea, Illogan, c.1905
This postcard was published by Tregaskis and would have been sold from the shop on Fore Street in Redruth. The photograph was probably taken sometime in the 1890s. The interest in 'druidical remains' began in the later 17th century with the works of John Aubrey and reached its peak in the following century with the speculations of writers such as William Stukeley and the pioneering Cornish antiquarian William Borlase, who considered the impressive granite hill of Carn Brea to be a major centre for druidical worship. The attribution of these natural, weathered rock formations to the druids had, for the most part, been discounted by the time William Copeland Borlase, the great-great-grandson of William Borlase, wrote Nænia Cornubiæ in 1872. The town of Redruth was unusual in that, here, for many of its inhabitants, the belief in druidical antiquities persisted until well into the 20th century. Image courtesy of and © David Thomas.
I have been indeed fortunate in having access on a regular basis to a wealth of early illustrations of Cornwall's ancient monuments, be they in print, in manuscript drawings and paintings, or in early photographs or postcards, and such images can enable us to attempt to understand the minds of those who created the images, as well as giving some small insight into those who constructed the monuments. Any attempt here to conjecture on the rituals and, to some extent, the purposes of the designers and builders of these monuments has been kept to a minimum: theories appear, infiltrate, overthrow, metamorphose, and are themselves eventually overthrown at such a rate as to make any such attempt mere fashion. The theories may change, but the stones remain. As do the illustrations; fixed in time and more unchanging even than those mighty survivors that they depict; though it must not be assumed that any of the illustrations are wholly accurate in their depictions; even when photographic. I have, for instance, seen two roughly contemporaneous postcards showing much the same view of the interior of Crantock Church, and with one showing a set of pews, and on the other, rows of chairs, and where, on closer inspection, it can be seen that in the photo showing the chairs, these have been superimposed. Such chairs were indeed used in that church, but at a later date. And yet it would not be a surprise to find the superimposed version appearing in some published form to illustrate the seating arrangements in use in that church at the time of the original photograph. I have postcards of the Dolmen de Crucuno where, in the printed versions, the corner of a house adjacent to the dolmen and blocking the view of the extreme end of the capstone can be seen, and yet in the photographic version of the exact same image, the house does not appear, the capstone is shown in its entirety, and on closer inspection it can be seen where this area has been doctored. Anyone familiar with illustrations from the 17th and 18th centuries will be all too aware of the large pinch of salt to be taken with regard to the accuracy of their draughting. An illustration of Trethevy Cromlech from the early 1800s shows the relative sizes of the cromlech and the sheep around it such that, had the monument not survived, one might have surmised that either the dolmen was 60 feet tall, or that a remarkable breed of miniature sheep was prevalent in early 19th century Cornwall.
I have neglected, so far, to use illustrations by Borlase and Blight due to the profusion of these both in printed form and on the internet, though it would be true to say that no work such as this could be complete without some examples of their profuse arts, and, as it is hoped that additional images will be added here on an ongoing basis, it may be wise for me to add a few of the more obscure examples by these antiquarian trailblazers. Many of the images shown here are rare to find, and some are unique. Monuments such as the cromlechs at Lanyon and Trethevy and the Merry Maidens stone circle were illustrated and photographed on a regular basis, but many, such as the beautifully compact quartz circle at Duloe, the holed stone at Choone, and the stone circle at Boscawen-ûn, were not so well favoured. It was thought appropriate that much of the text accompanying these historical images should itself be of a historical nature and extracts from original sources have been liberally used throughout. Cornwall is indeed fortunate in having such a diverse and rich array of prehistoric monuments, and it must be hoped that early images of some of the more obscure of these still exist.
This website is copyright of the author and the images on this page must not be copied or reproduced without the prior written consent of the respective copyright holder. Copies of material held by the Cornwall Record Office, the Royal Institution of Cornwall and the Cornish Studies Library can be ordered via their respective websites by following the links given in the Links page of this website, or at the end of the desciption for the relevant image. The author would like thank the Cornwall Record Office for allowing me to reproduce some of the photographic images held by them. Many thanks must also go to David Thomas for allowing the use of images from his own collection, and for giving access to the original lantern slides featured on this page and allowing photographic reproductions to be made of these.
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