Lancashire History - the Bronze Age around Anglezarke

Noon Hill

Noon Hill - Credit: Archant

John Lenehan digs deep into the history of Noon Hill

I am standing on a raised mound 380 metres (1250 feet) above sea level on the summit of a Lancashire hill. Below me are the open moors of Anglezarke an area of heather and grass on a bed of dark peat.

It is relatively treeless and the prevailing wind from the distant Irish Sea, blows freely and in winter brings rainclouds that soak the land. This can turn the peat into glutinous bogs often knee deep. It can however be staggeringly beautiful on these moors and on summer days with just the monotonous sound of a Skylark there can be few nicer places to be.

In front of me is a breathtaking panorama stretching north to the mountains of the Lake District and on a good day the Isle of Man, and south to the mountains of North Wales. In between the Fylde Plain stretches out and I can see the mouth of the Mersey, Blackpool, Heysham, and Barrow.

I turn around and behind me the land rises to the summit of Winter Hill and its assortment of radio and television masts and above these a passenger plane begins its descent to Manchester Airport. A perfect picture of the modern world, but not quite.

The mound below my feet is not a natural feature and to the people who built it television would be over 3500 years in the future. This is Noon Hill and the mound is the remains of a Bronze Age Barrow an ancient burial site.

The climate was warmer when the Barrow was built and people lived on these moors. The view would have been radically different in those days as the majority of the land in all directions would have been covered in forests. There are areas today on the moors where streams have cut below the peat and roots of ancient trees can be seen. It would though be nice to think that the Barrow was built above the forest with intention of giving the occupants the panoramic view I am enjoying.

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This was the second time in a few weeks that I had stood on this spot. The first was when on a moorland walk I had come across the pile of stones that stand on the Barrow site. I knew there was something relating to the Bronze Age about this place and decided that it might be interesting to find out a little more.

My quest led me to Bolton Museum and an email to Ian Trumble the Museums resident Archaeologist and a man as I later found to have a love of the Bronze Age on the local moors. I explained that I wanted to know more of the history of Noon Hill with the intention of writing this article and was kindly invited to the Museum to view the artefacts and the historical evidence held there.

I have to admit that the two hours I spent with Ian was possibly some of the most fascinating I have experienced. He told me that the Barrow had been first excavated in 1958. Bolton and District Archaeological Society had carried out the excavation and donated their findings to the Museum.

The Barrow was found to contain the cremated remains of four bodies and a wealth of flint artefacts in the form of arrowheads, flint knives and curious perfectly round sandstone balls. Two unusually carved stones were discovered but after being photographed were lost. The main find was a pottery urn and although broken it was found to contain the cremated remains of a child. It was decided by the Museum that the urn should be restored resulting in the fine object being now on show.

I was allowed to photograph some of the finds and in doing so albeit wearing protective gloves I held in my hands over 3500 years of history. A flint arrowhead beautifully formed was still razor sharp and could quite easily be fitted to a modern shaft and in the hands of an Archer of today have the same deadly effect it was designed for.

It became apparent that Noon Hill was just one of many sites on these moors that had given up evidence of the Bronze Age. Ian showed me a bronze spearhead that had been found at Belmont in as good a condition as the day it was carried on a shaft over 3000 years ago.

I think the item that surprised me most was a perfectly crafted axe head in incredible condition. This however was not Bronze Age but as Ian explained, it was a lot older than that. This was Neolithic (New Stone Age) and was around 5000 years old. It was found at Lostock near Horwich not too far from Anglezarke. The amazing thing was that the stone it was made from was not local but from the Lake District. It is made of Greenstone found on the peak of Pike of Stickle in the Langdale Valley. It is hard to think that once this was a stone axe industry that served Great Britain.

All the artefacts pictured are on show at Bolton Museum and on Friday 29th March at 1:00 pm Ian is holding a free half hour lecture at the Museum entitled Bronze Age Bolton. My seat is booked.

All photographs were taken with the kind permission of BOLTON LIBRARY AND MUSEUM SERVICES.