Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tenon Topped Gatepost – A Leyland Hundred Enigma

During a walk around one winter’s day, I spotted a stone gatepost hidden in the hedgerow, not just any gatepost; this one was different. It was a rough cut stone post 8 inches square and about 5ft tall with a cube on its top surface. Strange I thought and put it at the back of my mind. Out walking a few weeks later in Eccleston, I spotted two more. One I could put down to an artistic stone mason, but three in different parishes! Something strange was going on. My walks have now changed and have become a post hunt.

After talking to members from Leyland Historical Society and Chorley and District Archaeological society, I found out that I was not the first person to notice them and in fact these posts had a name locally ‘Tenon Topped Gate Posts’ (T.T.G.P.). I was also told of the approximate location of another 30 or so in the surrounding district. As no one was keeping a definitive list, I decided to take it upon myself to record them. To date, I have managed to survey 18, some of which not previously identified. As most are found inside hedges and the broken or fallen ones found in ditches or in the bottom of hedges, I have found winter the best time to find them.

At the present time I don’t know the age of the T.T.G.P’s as it is difficult to date stone without any contextual material, or if they are unique to west Lancashire. For this reason I have decided to undertake a full survey of the known posts because once they have been grubbed up in farming changes they will have gone forever and the chance will have been lost. The survey data consists of measurements of the height, width and depth of the post and its tenon, orientation on the long axis of the tenon, a photograph of the tenon and the post and the O.S. grid reference of its location.

I have identified three styles of tenon. In type 1, the tenon extends across the full width of the post. Type 2 tenon is central on the post and type 3 tenon’s are offset to one side of the post. So far the post only occur singularly in hedgerows or as one in a pair at a gate entrance and appears to be the right hand post when you are on the lane or track and entering the field.

The enigma of the posts is the tenon. Why waste time and energy to carve a tenon on the top of a rough-cut gatepost? Why the three different styles of tenon? What if anything was fitted on top of the tenon? These questions have been the cause of many heated discussions between many members of the local history circles.

The following theories have been put forward as to the use of the gateposts.

The posts were created by one mason who used the tenon as a trademark. From the wide distribution of the post in so many districts and the different types of stone used I don’t believe that the same mason would have worked at several local quarries and over such a large geographical area.

The tenon may have been used as a hitching point for a rope used to fasten a gate,. The height of the tenon would suggest that it would be easy for a horse rider to reach without dismounting, but why would the post need a tenon when the rope could just as easily be placed over the post or how would a type 1 be used in such a fashion.

The tenon topped gatepost may have been used to indicate land use or ownership. A mentioned above that single posts have only been found and so could be used as a marker to signal a message to people in ‘the know’. One idea is that they were used to indicate land owned by catholic families, who were deprived of many civil rights for almost 300 years and could show a place where safe refuge or passage could be found. It is possible that an inverted wooden ‘T’ could have been placed on the tenon to give the impression of a cross from a distance and quickly removed in times of trouble.

It has also been suggested that the posts may have indicated land under the ownership of the knights templers. I believe that large areas of land in and around Leyland Hundred were once own by the knights of St. John, more research is required to see if the two tie up.

I have found an old lane; now largely overgrown linking the township of Leyland with Eccleston. Along its route, I have found four posts still upright and another two broken and in a ditch, others may now be missing. Walking along the length of the lane, the location of the next post can be seen either over the crest of rise in the lane or around a bend. I’m not sure if this is significant or just a random effect, but it leads me to think that this may have a something to do with their function. Were these posts used as a method of marking a prescribed route for certain people to follow such as drovers or cattle herder moving livestock around the district.

If you know the location of any similar post in or around Lancashire please let me know.

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