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Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol. 2, by William Bottrell, [1873], at

The Men-an-tol, Constantine Tolmen, &c. Page 242.

"D’un passé sans mémoire incertaines reliques,
 Mystères d’un vieux monde en mystères écrits."

Mr. L. T. Blight, F.S.A., gives the following graphic description of various perforated stones in Cornwall, and elsewhere.

"In the western part of Cornwall there are several ancient monuments known by the name of 'Holed Stones.' They consist of thin slabs of Granite, each being pierced by a round hole, generally near its centre. They vary in size and in form. That near the Men-Scryfa in Madron, better known than others, is placed between, or rather arranged triangularly with, two other upright stones. Other holed stones which have hitherto been noticed are not so accompanied. The late Mr. Buller, in his

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[paragraph continues] 'Account of the Parish of St. Just,' describes some such stones which he found near Carn Kenidjac. One may still be seen in the Vicarage grounds of St. Just; and two others near Bolleit, in St. Buryan.

The monument to which I would now more particularly call attention is at Tolven Cross (Tolven is Cornish for Holed Stone), in the parish of St. Constantine, a few yards west of the road from (week to the Helston and Falmouth turnpike. Dr. Borlase refers to a holed stone about a mile west of St. Constantine Church. The subject of the present notice is twice that distance from the Church; it is therefore uncertain whether or not the Doctor alludes to the same monument. It is the largest 'holed stone' in Cornwall, being 8 feet 6 inches high by 8 feet 11 inches wide at the base, diminishing to a point at the summit; thus it is of a triangular form. Its average thickness is about one foot; but it is a little thicker at the bottom than at the top. The hole, almost perfectly circular, is 17 inches in diameter. Though within the slate district, the stone is of granite.

Formerly it was a conspicuous object by the way-side; but within the last 12 or 14 years a house has been built betwixt it and the road. It now forms part of a garden hedge.

In a field adjoining the opposite side of the road, perhaps 18 yards from the stone, is a low irregular barrow, about 20 yards in diameter, and studded with small mounds.

Dr. Borlase has alluded to the superstitious practice of drawing children through the Holed Stone at Madron, to cure them of weakness or pains in the back—a practice still observed at the Holed Stone at St. Constantine. I was told that some remarkable cures had been effected there only a few weeks since. The ceremony consists of passing the child nine times through the hole, alternately from one side to the other; and it is essential to success that the operation should finish on that side where there is a little grassy mound, recently made, on which the patient must sleep, with a six-pence under his head. A trough-like stone, called the 'cradle,' on the eastern side of the barrow, was formerly used for this purpose. This stone, unfortunately, has long been destroyed. That holed stones were not originally constructed for the observance of this peculiar custom is evident, for in some instances the holes are not more than five or six inches in diameter.

A few years ago, a person digging close to the Tolven, discovered a pit in which were fragments of pottery, arranged in circular order, the whole being covered by a flat slab of stone. Imagining that he had disturbed some mysterious place, with commendable reverence he immediately filled up the pit again. Taking the proximity of the barrow in connection with the pit,

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it seems most probable that the Tolven is a sepulchral monument, stones of this kind being erected perhaps to a peculiar class of personages.

It is well known that the Circle is an ancient symbol of eternity, and it was sometimes adopted as typical of Deity itself. The triangular form of the stone may not be accidental. The holed stones at Madron also form part of a triangular arrangement. Whether a significant connection was intended in this union of the circle and the triangle is perhaps worthy of consideration. Though holed stones are sometimes found near what are termed Druidic Circles, I perceive no traces of monuments of that description near the Tolven. The holed stones at Kenidjac, St. Just, are near ancient circles; and the two holed stones at Bolleit are not more than 100 yards from the well-known stone circle, called 'Dawns Myin.'"

Standing stone with hole
Click to enlarge

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Within the memory of many persons now living, there was to be seen, in the town-places of many western villages, an unhewn table-like stone called the Garrack Zans. This stone was the usual meeting place of the villagers, and regarded by them as . public property. Old residents in Escols have often told me of one which stood near the middle of that hamlet on an open space where a maypole was also erected. This Garrack Zans they described as nearly round, about three feet high, and nine in diameter, with a level top. A bonfire was shade on it and danced around at Midsummer. When petty offences were committed by unknown persons, those who wished to prove their innocence, and to discover the guilty, were accustomed to light a furse-fire on the Garrack Zans; each person who assisted took a stick of fire from the pile, and those who could extinguish the fire in their sticks, by spitting on them, were deemed innocent; if the injured handed a fire-stick to any persons, who failed to do so, they were declared guilty.

Most evenings young persons, linked hand in hand, danced around the Garrack Zans, and many old folks passed round it nine times daily from some notion that it was lucky and good against witchcraft.

The stone now known as Table-mên was called the Garrack Zans by old people of Sennen.

If our traditions may be relied on, there was also in Treen a large one, around which a market was held in days of yore, as mentioned at page 77.

There was a Garrack Zans in Sowah only a few years since, and one may still be seen in Roskestal, St. Levan.

Nothing, seems to be known respecting their original use; yet the significant name, and a belief—held by old folks at least—that it is unlucky to remove them, denote that they were regarded as sacred objects.

Venerated stones, known by the same name, were long preserved in other villages until removed by strange owners and occupiers, who are, for the most part, regardless of our ancient monuments.

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