Tantalising glimpses of Cornwall’s forgotten history can often be found preserved in the names given to villages, roads, woodlands, tors and rivers. The Cornish translation can offer clues, hints of former industries perhaps, a remembrance of a historical figure or subtle signpost to past events. In the graveyard of Camborne parish church there is an unusual granite standing stone. Thought to be a prehistoric menhir, now Christianised, it is called ‘Maene Cadoarth‘ ‘Meane Cadoacor‘ or ‘Maen Cadoar’ in Cornish. And this apparently this translates as the ‘Battle Stone’. But what battle, fought by who, when and where?
The Battle Stone
This stocky granite cross has moved several times, before finally coming to rest at its present location beside St Martin & St Meriadoc Church in 1904. It has an unusual shape for an ancient cross which probably indicates how it really began its life. The stone is considered to have been a Bronze Age standing stone long before the rough crosshead was carved on to it’s top. This none to delicate Christianisation probably occurred sometime during the medieval period. According to Andrew Langdon the first written reference to this stone as ‘the Battle Stone’ comes in 1613 in the local parish terriers, and since then it has been variously known as Maene Cadoarth, Maene Cadoar and Maen Carduan.
It has been suggested that this nomadic menhir, after being uprooted from it’s original prehistoric position, once stood as a boundary marker between the Gwithian and Gwinear parishes before becoming a wayside cross. In 1755 it was recorded as lying beside the road somewhere between Camborne and Redruth, and then by 1896 it was being used as a gate post. Eventually the stone’s journeying ended when it was re-erected in the churchyard in the centre of Camborne on All Saints Day, 1904, by permission of the local landowner of the Rosewarne Estate, Mr Van Grutten.
So how do we really begin to decipher the story of this stone. Well, I decided to try and find out something about the battle which it is said to honour.
Battle of Reskajeage
The Reskajeage Downs (pronounced Res – ka- jeeg) a few miles from Camborne, covers an area of cliff top on Cornwall’s north coast. The translation of the name Reskajeage could offer us a clue to the mysterious battle our stone seemingly commemorates. The name first appeared in 1236 and there have been variations in spelling and several attempts at translation. Roskedek, Ruschedek, Roscajek, Roscogego meaning . . . heath of many battles or the place where Cogego fell or Cadoc’s hillspur.
Cadoc is thought to have been a real historical figure and according to English chronicler, William Worcester writing in the 15th century, was a survivor of the ancient Cornish royal line. A descendant of King Doniert he was supposedly alive at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 and William Worcester also suggested that Cadoc was appointed the first Earl of Cornwall by William the Conqueror.
It is probably important to note that the name Cadoc has similarities to Cadoarth, Cadoac and Cadoar – the names given to the Battle stone. And just to add a little more oil to the water, there was actually a Saint Cadoc too, who established churches and monasteries in Cornwall, Brittany and Wales. He appears in Arthurian legend as one of the keepers of the Holy Grail.
Interestingly the surface of the Battle Stone is pitted with lines of small cup marks, hardly distinguishable today. Tradition has it that each dot represents a life lost in the historic battle. What battle, when and against who is a mystery of course. I haven’t been able to find out anything concrete but there is one other strand of this story that I think is worth considering.
Crane Cliff Castle.
There are around sixty cliff castles recorded in Britain and amazingly forty of those can be found on the coast of Cornwall. The example at Reskajeage dates from the Iron Age and if or how it connects at all to the story of the Battle Stone is an idea entirely of my invention. But if Cadoc was indeed a real Cornish hero could he perhaps have used it as his stronghold or is just a coincidence that the downs here bear his name?
“The building of cliff castles, also known as promontory forts may have given rise to the first naming of the Cornish – Cornovii, ‘promontory people’.”Craig Weatherhill, The Promontory People, 2018
Not much of Crane Castle remains, it is quite literally hanging on by a thread on the cliff edge. One more big landslide and it will disappear entirely into the sea. All that is visible today is the inland edge of banks and ditches of what has been interpreted as a much larger promontory enclosure. The offshore island below, known as Crane Island, is assumed to have once been part of the headland on which the rest of the castle once stood.
“We came upon a fragment of a cliff castle consisting of two banks, ten and twelve feet high divided by a ditch. From the shape of the cliff it is probable that the segment now remaining was a portion of a complete circle, of which the greater part has fallen into the sea.”John Lloyd Warden Page, 1897.
The name Crane is likely to be a corruption of the Cornish ker hen meaning ‘old fort’. And it is first referred to in writing in 1635 in a document concerning the rights of wrecks along that stretch of coast. William Borlase also writes about the castle in the mid 18th century and although he calls it ‘very remarkable’ from his description there was already little of it remaining then.
What can be seen today are an inner and outer ditch, one much larger than the other. What remains of the inner bank is roughly 7m deep by 233m long, the edges disappearing into the abyss. The site itself, despite being greatly reduced, is still very impressive and it goes without saying that the views are absolutely cracking! Just be careful where you stand!
So for once I am leaving us with many unanswered questions. Who was Cadoc and does he connect to the history of the stone? Was a battle really fought on those cliff tops at Reskajeage? And was the Maen Cadoar erected to mark the spot where the blood was split or was the battle just another chapter in this already prehistoric stone’s history? While puzzling these questions another standing stone with a similar folkloric history springs to mind – Men Scryfa, this inscribed stone is also said to mark the site of a great battle and a fallen Cornish hero . . .
Mysteries like this one are likely to remain just that, but I like to believe, to hope, that perhaps we can still tease a little of the past from them in some way. That although their true significance and purpose may be lost to us this doesn’t leave them without meaning or importance. Their history, great or trifling, is our history and worth pondering at the very least.