The Giant’s Grave – East Barnby

Wade’s Stone – East Barnby

The hamlet of East Barnby is located four miles to the west of Whitby.

A solitary standing stone known as Wade’s Stone stands in a field to the north of the hamlet. Wade was a legendary giant who lived on the North York Moors, along with his wife Bell – who was also known as the ‘Old Wife’ in local folklore. The Standing stone is located on a low ridge which comes to a slightly raised and rounded end, 50m south of the stone. The stone itself is unusual in that it seems to have been a column of softer sandstone encased in ‘Crow Stone’ – a hard white flint (or Ganister), some of which still clings to the surface.

  The antiquary John Leland, writing in the late 1500’s noted that …

“Mougreve Castelle stondith on upon a craggy hille: and on each side of it is an hille far higher then that whereon the castelle stondith on. The north hille on the toppe of it hath certen stones communely caullid Waddes Grave, whom the people there say to have bene a gigant and owner of Mougreve.”

A few years later, William Camden linked the castle and stones with a Saxon Duke called Wada …

” Hard by upon a steepe hill, howbeit betweene two others higher than it, toward the sea, stood by report the Castle of Wada a Saxon Duke, who in that confused Anarchie of the Northumbers and massacre of Princes and Nobles, having combined with those that murdred King Ethered, gave battaile unto King Ardulph at in Lancashire, but with so disasterous successe that after his owne powre was discomfited and put to flight, himselfe was faine to flie, and afterwards by a languishing sicknesse ended his life, and heere within the hill betweene two entire and solide stones above seven foote high lieth entombed: which stones because they stand eleven foote asunder, the people doubt not to affirme that hee was a mighty Giant.”

  There seems to be no real evidence to connect the Saxon Duke with this area, apart from the similarity of his name with that of Wade the giant. However, Camden does repeat the tradition of a giant being connected with the stones, and provides the extra details that there were two stones – 7 feet tall and 11 feet apart. Tradition states that the two stones marked the head and foot of Wade’s grave. On reflection, this might suggest either a very tall duke or a rather short giant! Today, only one 5ft high stone stands on the site, but its buried portion might have allowed it to stand a little higher in the past. The fate of the second stone is unknown, but it may have been removed sometime during the 17th or 18th century.

Wade’s Hill

In a field to the west of Wade’s Stone there is a rounded hillock called Wade’s Hill. This is apparently a natural feature, but when viewed from the north or east side, its rounded contours are suggestive of a very large burial mound (giant size perhaps?). These kind of rounded hills are often associated in folklore with supernatural beings, a local example being the Round Hill at Fairy Cross Plain near Danby. The Wade’s Hill name suggests that this hillock was also connected with the giant Wade in some way, although no folklore has been recorded.

The Goldsborough Wade’s Stone

  A second Wade’s Stone does still exist, but it is located in a field to the west of Goldsborough village, which is almost a mile to the north of the Barnby stone. This Wade’s Stone also had a second stone standing near it, but it too has been removed for some reason. There seems to have been some disagreement in the local folklore, as this site is also claimed to be the resting place of Wade, and with these two stones having being 100 feet apart, it would be a little more accommodating for a ‘full sized’ giant. The Goldsborough standing stones are thought to date to the Bronze Age, and as such they stood in an area now designated as a Bronze Age barrow cemetery. A number of large burial mounds once stood in the fields around the stones, including the Whinny Hill barrow. This barrow cemetery extended for more than 1km over the gently rising ground to the south, and included the Barnby Howes, which were located mid way between the Goldsborough and East Barnby Wade’s Stones. It is interesting to note that the two Barnby howes were located on another rounded hillock, similar to Wade’s Hill. In his History of Whitby,  the Rev. George Young (1819) included a map which appears to show a short linear earthwork running north-south alongside the Barnby Howes, although no trace of this exists today. A little further south, another burial mound stood on Potato Hill, which forms the highest point on the wide hill top occupied by the Barnby Wade’s Stone and Wade’s Hill.

The Barnby Wade’s Stone and the raised ridge end

The Rev J.C. Atkinson (vicar of Danby from the mid 1800’s) investigated several archaeological sites in this region, including the ring cairn and its standing stone on Danby Rigg, The standing stone at Barnby seems to have also caught his attention, and in his History of Cleveland (Atkinson, 1874) he notes …..

“This last, the so-called Wade’s Stone, is, I have no doubt at all, sepulchral, and from personal inspection of its site and characteristics, I feel confident examination would result in the discovery of one or more burials near.”

  The Reverend provides more information via an unusual source – a children’s book called ‘The Last of the Giant Killers’ (Atkinson, 1891). He wrote this in a style to be read to children ……

“Giant Wade, as you bear in mind, was the master builder, and his wife Bell his helpmate. But he, this very Giant Wade, must, I think, have been a giant and a half — at least if nearly all I have heard about him is true ; and if one may judge by his grave, which I myself have been to, and by the stones which used to stand ten yards apart, the one at the head and the other at the foot of the same (which everybody said they did even as long ago as three hundred years since), he could have been no ordinary giant… But perhaps the best way will be for me to tell you just what I was told myself, less than twenty years ago, by a great nobleman who had been much interested, as well as myself, only just before, in digging up what proved to be one of the great stones that had marked Giant Wade’s grave. It was so long and so big and heavy that three strong farm-horses could not drag it out of the hole we had dug around it, when we wanted it out of the way, so as to be able to go on with our digging.”

  This ‘digging’ is confirmed By F.K. Robinson (1876) who noted that ‘Wade’s Grave’ was excavated in 1875 “but without any yield”, although two urns had been found there 25 years earlier. The ‘great Nobleman’ mentioned by Atkinson would be the land owner – the Marquess of Normanby, who also gave the reverend permission to dig at Mulgrave Castle.

Photo edit to show two stones 10 yards apart (east to west)

From Atkinson’s information it would seem that his investigation of the site uncovered the ‘missing’ Wade’s Stone – apparently fallen and partly buried. The fact that the marquess had been interested in digging up this stone before Atkinson, suggests that it was at least visible on the site, and when Atkinson dug his hole around it – it proved to be one of the ‘great stones’.

The curious thing is that he states the stones stood 10 yards apart, not the 11 feet mentioned by Camden. The Reverend Atkinson’s measurement might be the more reliable, as he dug the site, while Camden perhaps made the gap fit his Saxon duke? The 10 yards (30ft) measurement also suggests that Atkinson dug a large area around the surviving stone, while the 3 horses being unable to drag the fallen stone out of its hole might indicate that it still remains buried there? Atkinson’s digging around the surviving stone might also explain why it eventually toppled over in 2008.
Although no burial mounds survive in the area around the standing stone, the report of two urns being taken from Wade’s Grave during the 1850’s suggests that a burial pit, or the remains of a burial mound existed there at some point. Atkinson could apparently find no trace of this, so could there have been more to ‘Wade’s Grave’ than meets the eye?

The remains of the “Giant’s Grave” long cairn – Parkmill, Wales

The Historic environment record marks the site of a Neolithic long cairn on Wade’s Hill, and this begins to paint a rather different picture of this hilltop area. Perhaps Wade’s Hill and the long cairn, plus the standing stones further east, were known collectively as Wade’s Grave? In this case the urns may have been found within the remains of the long cairn as it was being cleared away. There are several long cairns known as the ‘Giant’s Grave’ in the British Isles, so the folklore association is not unknown, where this type of long grave mound was believed to be the burial place of a giant.

As noted above, Wade’s Hill, along with the long cairn, plus the Wade’s Stone(s) further east, and the Potato Hill barrow to the north, were all located on a wide hilltop which forms the highest point in the area. This high ground provides a 360 degree panoramic view taking in the moors, the coastline, and the sea beyond. At the northern edge of this high ground, the Bronze Age barrow cemetery extended down towards the Barnby Howes – also located on a rounded hill just like the long cairn. On the lower ground further north, the Goldsborough standing stones and associated barrows stood alongside the springs at Stangoe (stang howe?) Carr, while several more burial mounds were located in the fields running down towards the coast. The barrow cemetery may have been seen as a kind of ‘ancestral link’ connecting the long cairn on the hill top, with the cliff top area above Runswick Bay. This perhaps points to these monuments been the work of an established fishing community based around the bay during the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

Wades Lane and Wade’s Hill in the background

Today, very little survives of these ancient features that once would have been so prominent in the local landscape – there to tell their own story. Most have been destroyed in the last 150 years or so. The burial mounds have been ploughed over and spread, earthworks levelled, and the Long Cairn totally removed, along with several standing stones.

Not many places can claim to have a resident sleeping giant, so it’s may be time to remember old Wade and put him back on the map.

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The Swarth Howe burial mounds and Aislaby Moor cairns (and Galley Hill?) could be all that remains of a similar ‘coastal’ pattern further south? While the prehistoric remains on the high ground around Robin Hood’s Bay might be another example?
Hob Hole at Runswick Bay, Boggle Hole at Robin Hood’s Bay – any significance?
Goldsborough, originally Goldeberg, meaning gold Hill? It was a common belief that burial mounds contained gold.
Tinley Close – a lane in East Barnby, and Tinley Lane, a little to the west of Wade’s Hill. Compare Tingley (West Yorks) originally Thing hlaw / Tinglawe, meaning assembly hill. Was Wade’s Hill also a moot site?

Wade = Wode? In the early 1800’s, the name Wode was still being used in rural areas of Germany to refer to Woden, the old Germanic god (Grimm, 1835).

Atkinson, J.C. (1874) History Of Cleveland Ancient And Modern.
Atkinson, J.C. (1891) Last of The giant Killers Or, the Exploits of Sir Jack of Danby Dale.
Grimm, J. (1835) Teutonic Mythology.
Robinson, F.K. (1876) A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighbourhood of Whitby.
Young, G. (1817) A History of Whitby.

The Lay of the Land


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