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Lakehead Kistvaen

Lakehead Kistvaen

If ever there was a top ten of Dartmoor kistvaens then the number one slot for me would be taken by ‘Kist 14a’ which sits on Lakehead Hill. Whoever was buried here must surely have been a person of high status to command such regal ‘burial furniture’. If anyone has visited the Lakehead Hill area they will surely have seen the occasional wooden stakes with various numbers on them, this particular kist is 14a, hence the webpage’s name. I can clearly remember the first time I encountered ‘Kist 14a’ and the wow-factor that came with it. I was that impressed that I drew it (see below) and had the design printed on a T-shirt which I still have but thanks to Guinness it no longer fits. 

To the best of my knowledge, size-wise 14a is unique on Dartmoor, I am not saying that others never existed or that maybe similar ones are waiting to be found. Just simply that none of the other known kists are like this one in size and grandeur. What can be seen of ‘Kist 14a’ today is very different to how it looked back in the late 1890s, below is the transcript of a report of what was discovered by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee in 1896:

On Lakehead Hill, at the summit, was a fallen kistvaen, much overgrown with a quilt of grey moss. This had preserved it from destruction; for, during many years, Mr. Coaker, of Bellever, swept this moor, carrying of vast quantities of granite to build newtake walls. The hill must originally have been quite a necropolis: notwithstanding the persistent and ruthless spoilation to which it has been subjected, there are remains of many kistvaens strewn over it, but one alone is perfect – that on the summit; and that is due to the quilt of moss that concealed the stones. When this bed of moss was removed, it was seen that the covering stone had been taken off at some remote period and laid on one side, whilst the kistvaen was plundered; then the supporters, having nothing to hold them in place, had collapsed like a house of cards. The internal measurements are 4ft. 6in. by 4 ft. The stone chest points N.W. by S.E, and was originally surrounded by a circle and buried in a cairn. One curious feature is that a stone row starts from within the circle, and extends south for 44ft., and consists of 11 stones, and the socket holes of two more have been discovered. How much further the row went is not known. Instead of running in a straight line, it describes a curve. The covering-stone of the kistvaen is 8ft. long and it’s extreme width is 6ft. The supporters are five – one to the south-east, one on each side, and two to the north-west.”, TDA 1896, p.182.

It would appear that if it were not for the ‘quilt of grey moss‘ there is every chance that today the components of the kist could well be sat in some newtake wall and lost forever thanks to the actions of the de-spoilers. Although having said that somebody had removed the cairn stones at some point. It is interesting to see that the DEC seemed to have adopted a ‘name and shame’ policy for those who were ‘recycling’ stone from prehistoric monuments, i.e.. Mr Coaker. Unfortunately the kist had also been a victim of the attentions of early tomb raiders who had opened the tomb in search of supposed treasure. Following the discovery of the kist , members of the Dartmoor Exploration Committee examined the remains and then ‘restored’ the monument to what they considered was its original state in 1895.

As noted above, associated with the kistvaen is the stone row and circle although in the case of the latter very little remains today.Things haven’t structurally changed too much over the past one hundred and seventeen years with the kist but there a few minor discrepancies with the other features. Firstly, it has been suggested that the ‘restoration’ was not as accurate as it could have been insomuch as one, if not more, of the stones belonging to the stone circle had been wrongly sited in an outward direction. This had the effect of appearing that the small stone row begins inside the circle. Secondly, two of the stones belonging to the row that were originally discovered are now invisible, Butler, 1991, p.51. Today the vital statistics of the monument are as follows:

Lakehead Kistvaen

What certainly has changed in recent times is the actual landscape which the monument sits in, From what I can recall in the dim and distant past some 20 years ago ‘Kist 14a’ used to be enclosed by the Bellever plantation and stood in a small clearing. Today many of the trees have been felled leaving the kistvaen standing in a small, fenced enclosure, it’s nearly a case of ‘what goes around comes around’. As can be seen from the picture below, the location was perfectly devoid of trees in 1895 when the photograph of Sabine Baring Gould was taken, TDA, p.183. Then as early as the 1930s the tree cover was evident and now in 2012 it is somewhat back to what it once was. As mentioned on a previous webpage, it also seems that the monument can also serve as a ‘Kist Kitchen’ by some visitors, namely a group of girls happily cooking their meal beside it.

Lakehead Kistvaen

Kist 14a & Row – 1895

Lakehead Kistvaen

Kist 14a – 199?

Lakehead Kistvaen

Kist 14a – 2006

Lakehead Kistvaen

Kist 14a 2012

Lakehead Kistvaen

Kist 14a 2012

Lakehead Kistvaen

Kist 14a & Row – 2006

Lakehead Kistvaen

Kist Kitchen 14a 2012

Lakehead Kistvaen

Kist 14a – Aerial View

Apart from the obvious burial function of this and other kistvaens nobody can be sure of their exact purpose or purposes. In his book, ‘Stones of Dartmoor and their Story’, William Crossing heads the chapter relating to kistvaen – ‘The Narrow House of Death‘ which aptly describes this monument. Apart from a front door and a doormat the kist appears very much like a ‘house’ which could well have been intentional. Was its design intended to be a ‘house’ where the spirit of the deceased could dwell in the afterlife? If you visit the location today and imagine the landscape without the present-day tree cover there can be no question that this monument had an extensive view of the distant moorland. Not only that, it would have been visible from a distance, especially when the granite from which it was built was in a pristine condition. There can be no question that ‘Kist 14a’ was simply plonked down where ever was handy, a lot of thought would have gone into it not to mention logistical organisation. The large, heavy  granite slabs from which the kist was constructed would have involved a great deal of man power in order to cut, fashion and build. This in turn would require some kind of social order to oversee and organise the work, it would have surely involved a person of high status to enlist a work force. There also may have been involvement by a shaman who determined the location and design. As always, so many questions, so few answers.

As mentioned above, some of the monuments on Lakehead Hill still have their number posts in-situ and some have lost them. Either way from what I can establish there is no accessible key to what the numbers relate to which can be slightly frustrating if one is not conversant to the area. However, I did manage to get hold of a copy a sheet that lists each monument, its corresponding number and the OS grid reference along with a map. Should you want to see and/or copy this information simply click – HERE. Please note that the map had been adapted from an old Ordnance Survey map and so the tree cover show is much less today.

Lakehead Kistvaen

Butler, J. 1991. Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Vol. 2. Exeter: Devon Books.

Report of the Dartmoor Exploration Committee. 1896. Third Report. Transactions of the Devonshire Association – Vol. – 28.

 

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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