The Calderstones are rare survivors from the Neolithic (New Stone Age). These carved stones are the remnants of a passage grave tomb. Very few monuments of this kind survive in Lancashire, and the fact that the stones associated with this one have not been completely destroyed is nothing short of miraculous. The original earthen mound that covered the Calderstones is long gone, but the preservation of the stones and their patterns of motifs are remarkable.
The Prehistoric Era
The Allerton area was cleared of trees and settled some five thousand years ago. The Calderstones were a burial mound, where the remains of tribal ancestors were interred. Passage graves are so called because the entrance would lead into a passage, which would connect to one or more chambers. In these rooms were laid the bones of the dead. The burial mound would be used repeatedly, with more bones being added over time. Religious ceremonies would have been held both within and outside of the monument, as it acted very much like an artificial cave.
The motifs on the Calderstones are similar to ones found on Anglesey and in Ireland, which hints at tribal and trading links between the areas during the Neolithic. The monument is thought to have been in use for over a thousand years. In the Bronze Age, distinctive ‘cup marks’ were added to the stones. Burial urns containing cremated bones were placed into the mound in this same period.
The Calderstones give their name to this area of Allerton. The name come from the Welsh word ‘Caled’ meaning hard, and is linked to place names associated with rocks.
The stones enter the written historical record in 1568, when they were involved in a boundary dispute. The document refers to the tenants of Richard Latham and names the monument as the “Dojer Stones, otherwise Roger Stones or Calldway Stones”. A witness to the dispute comments that a single stone had been removed from the site some 18 years previously. This could have been an outlier stone, placed a short distance away from the main site, a common practice in the building of such monuments.
In 1765, the burial mound was dug into and Bronze Age urns containing cremated bones were found within. The mound was dug again in 1805 to extract sand, which was used to make mortar for the construction of some local houses. During the excavation, another Bronze Age urn was found.
The first real interest in the Calderstones’ historical value occurred in 1825, when Captain William Latham sketched the Calderstones, referring to them as the ‘Druidical Stones’. His drawing gives some idea of the original positions of the stones and indicates that they would have stood close together to form a chamber. However, this interest did not lead to preservation of the monument. Eight years later, the road the Calderstones stood on was ear-marked for widening. This involved the removal of the mound.
John Peers recalled being present when it happened. He stated “I remember the mound being destroyed. They were widening the road about the time it was done away with. When they dug down into it they found more of the stones, and the marked ones were among them…When the stones were dug down to.. 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.’ Two cart loads of bones were taken away. The stones themselves were laid out at a nearby farm. A Mr Booker had the largest one set in a field for his cattle to rub themselves against.
The destruction of the site seemed to ignite interest in the stones. Mr F. Harrison Ranskin read a paper to the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society in 1841 on the ‘singular remains, variously known as the Calderstones, Crumbling Stones, or Robin Hood’s stones’. He lamented how up to that point they had received very little attention from antiquarians.
Four years later, the Calderstones were re-erected by Mr Need-Walker, the owner of the Mansion House in the Calderstones estate. He stood them in a circle, surrounded by low stone circular wall, just metres away from where they had originally stood. The wall still exists today at one of the entrances to Calderstones Park.
In 1865, J.Y. Simpson published the first detailed drawings of three of the stones. He claimed that the site was a Druidical circle. This was one of two leading Victorian explanations for who was responsible for constructing the monument, the other being that it was the work of the Danish Vikings. Neither the Druids or the Vikings ever constructed stone circles.
The Calderstones became a popular draw for the public, and featured on postcards from the 1900s onwards. In 1910, Charles R. Handy published The Story of the Calderstones, which included etched drawings of some of them.
Modern Recordings and Restorations
The first serious academic attempt to interpret the stones came in the 1950s. Liverpool Corporation removed the stones and had them cleaned. Latex moulds were then made of the carvings. J.L. Forde-Johnstone of the Royal Commission of Historical Monuments gave the first detailed report in 1957. He meticulously described each individual carving, giving each one stone a letter, and each carving a number. His system is still used today in any discussion of the stones.
In 1964, the stones were set up in the vestibule of one of the Harthill Greenhouses in Calderstones Park. Once again they were placed in a circle. This relocation was done with the best of intentions to protect the stones. However, the alternation of extreme of heat in summer days and cold on winter nights, coupled with the humidity generated by the plants, did not help to conserve them.
In 2007, George Nash and Adam Stanford made a digital photographic survey of the Calderstones. Many of the motifs are difficult to see, but by working at night with artificial sources of light they could obtain just the right amount of illumination to throw the carvings into relief. This way of viewing them showed that the original prehistoric viewers would have seen the carvings by the light of a burning torch.
Three years later, a three dimensional laser scanning project was carried out by Conservation Technologies for National Museums Liverpool. The data collected allowed measurements accurate to a fraction of a millimetre to be taken. This would enable accurate copies of each stone to be made in the future if required.
Despite all of this careful scrutiny, in 2015 a school boy named Connor Hannaway made a stunning discovery. On a school trip to see the stones, he spied a Medieval carving of a dove at the base of Stone B, which had never been recorded before.
In 2018, a decision was made to move the stones to a new location, one in which they could be kept in more suitable conditions and monitored for deterioration. Work to prepare them for this was carried out by Orbis Construction and funded by the National Lottery Heritage fund. The stones were taken to London. There they were cleaned with brushes, vacuumed, and parts were injected with chemicals to consolidate them. Another laser scan was made of them. When they returned to the park, they were reset into a specially covered foyer area. The bottom of the stones are now protected with foil and an acrylic resin. They sit on stainless steel cradles that are padded with silicone. Underneath is a purpose built drainage system to prevent water from accumulating beneath them. The Stones now sit in two rows, with stones A, C and E in one line, and B, D and F in the other. They form a space reminiscent of the chamber of a passage grave.
Viewing the Carvings on the Calderstones Today
There are seven prehistoric categories of carvings on the stones. From the Neolithic are spirals, circles, arcs and lines. From the Bronze Age are simple round hollows known as cup marks, cup and ring marks (cups with a circle around them) and human footprints. The Medieval carvings include the dove, a church and a Maltese Cross. The Victorian graffiti is in the form of people’s initials and boot marks.
Stone A is the tallest stone and features footprints and a clear spiral near the centre of one face. Stone B has foot prints, cup marks, a church, cross and the dove. Stone C, the largest stone, has a spiral motifs and 60 cup marks on it. Stone D has three cup and ring marks, seven boot carvings and initials. Stone E has a spiral and a double concentric circle, along with cup marks. The Medieval Maltese cross is at the base. Stone F is bare, with no obvious motifs to be seen.
There is now a permanent exhibition about the Calderstones at the back of The Reader’s shop. This leads you into see the Calderstones themselves in their covered area, and then on into the Mansion House.
Other Prehistoric Monuments Associated with the Calderstones
There were other prehistoric sites very close to where the Calderstones once stood.
Pikeloo Hill was a burial mound just 350 metres from the original site of the monument. The ‘loo’ part of Pikeloo is probably a corruption of ‘low’, meaning a burial mound. It is likely that this was also a chambered tomb, but all its remains have long since vanished.
Standing in Calderstones park today, near the greenhouse, is a lone tall stone. This could have been one of the stones that was removed and set up as a rubbing post, that has been returned to the park.
A survivor from the Neolithic is the Robin Hood Stone, nearby at the junction of Archerfield Road and Booker Avenue. This is a large standing stone, acting as a sacred guide post on a route to the Calderstones. It will be written about in a future page on this website.
In 1867, two kilometres away from the Calderstones, a Bronze Age cemetery was discovered, which yielded eight cremation urns. Although the site is now presumably destroyed, two of the urns are in the possession of National Museums Liverpool.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2021
To see the stones in their new setting, park in either Calderstones Road car park or Yewtree Road car park. The Calderstones now stand, in a purpose-built covered foyer, behind the shop at the Reader. Enter the exhibition through the shop. You can also then go into the Mansion House itself.
The original site of the Calderstones was close to the circular wall that Mr Need-Walker of the Mansion House placed them in. The circular wall can still be seen at the junction of Calderstones Road and Menlove Avenue.
The cattle rubbing stone, possibly removed and returned from the Calderstones or even Pikeloo Hill stands close to the Harthill Greenhouses vestibule in the park.
To see what the Calderstones monument would have looked like before it was destroyed, there are two contemporary intact burial mounds that can be visited on Anglesey, owned by Cadw and open to the public. These are Barclodiad y Gawres (see here)and Bryn Cille Ddu (see here). Both are very much worth a visit.
Both the books below (which confusingly have the same title) are worth buying. The 2021 book is the most comprehensive, but both are excellent. They are available from The Reader shop in Calderstones Park.
The Calderstones: A Prehistoric Tomb in Liverpool, Liz Stewart. George Nash and Ron Cowell (2021) National Museums Liverpool
The Calderstones: A Prehistoric Tomb in Liverpool, Ron Cowell (2008) Merseyside Archaeological Society