The Calderstones name refers these days to a group of six megaliths (large stones) which stand in a greenhouse in Calderstones Park. These are the remains of a Neolithic burial chamber which once stood on the edge of the Harthill estate (which later became the park).
Before they were placed in the greenhouse in 1954, the stones stood in a circle inside the roundabout at the entrance to the park, on the junction between Druids Cross Road and Calderstones Road. Research by the Merseyside Archaeological Society suggests that the monument originally stood about 20 metres west of that roundabout, on site now occupied by modern flats.
The monument would originally have seen the stones built up into a ‘box’ shape with a turf and soil mound piled on top. In appearance it would have looked similar to the mound at Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey, which is a passage tomb similar in size and date to the Calderstones.
The demise of the Calderstones mound was probably due to the taking of sand, and perhaps stone, from it for use as building materials. Paintings show that the stones were already exposed by the 1840s, although another image from 1825 seems to show the very last remains of the mound still visible.
Meaning and use
It’s safe to say that no one really knows the full meaning or intention behind the building of the Calderstones passage tomb. However, a look at the stones can tell us a little about it, and allow comparisons with other, better-understood sites.
The carvings (and some say these stones are the most decorated of their kind) earn comparisons with monuments all around the Irish Sea, from Scotland, Ireland and North Wales. One of the dagger shaped carvings even bears a resemblance to a tomb carving in Spain! It’s thought that many of the megalithic building traditions started in the Mediterranean area, making their way up the Atlantic seaboard before becoming heavily associated with north west Europe.
Secondly, a look at the landscape in which the Calderstones sit yields further clues, though interpreting them is another matter. The monument’s original site, like many similar tombs, is towards the top of sloping ground, just shy of the summit. In the Neolithic period, the tomb may have been extremely easy to see from the well-used pathways of the valley floor.
We know from a map used in a boundary dispute in 1568 that at least three other monuments once stood in this landscape. Robin Hood’s Stone, which still stands, and the Rodger Stone, which does not, are standing stones. (The third monument, the Pikeloo Hill, also no longer exists). Examples in other parts of Europe suggest that standing stones were in valley bottoms, or on trackways. People could have used the stones as marker points, perhaps explicitly to take a moment to gaze uphill to where the ancestors were buried. Liverpool’s two standing stones may have played this role in the Calderstones landscape.
The Calderstones tomb was extremely long-lived, and may have been used for up to 800 years after it was raised. It may even be the case that this tomb was one of the last of its kind, still being visited as the Bronze Age began and new religious practices emerged.
The greenhouse in which the stones currently sit has done nothing to help preserve them. The sandstone from which they are made is prone to flaking in an environment like this where temperature can change often and humidity is high. Projects to investigate the ancient history of the area have included the Calderstones in their plans, and as this article was being written came news that the stones should be about to move to an open air site closer to their original location.
The Reader Organisation, a reading charity which currently runs its operations from the Calderstones Mansion, intends this as part of a £2 million project to create an International Centre for Reading.
Journal of the Merseyside Archaeological Society, Volume 13, 2010
Greaney, M., 2013, Liverpool: a landscape history, The History Press, Stroud, p17-20
Liverpool’s Calderstones to get new home as part of £2m lottery plans, Liverpool Echo, accessed 20th January 2016