The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian




Whilst scouring my lil' collection of Cornish literature for any interesting references to visits, folklore &c, I found the following in William Bottrell's "Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall (2nd series)". referencing a tradition of meeting stones, known as Garrack Zans: it doesn't have any proveable prehistory but looks damn likely to be a really late survivor of megalithic tradition, and thus very much of interest; brackets are mine.

"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 (Escalls, near Sennen) have often told me of one which stood near the centre of that hamlet on an open space...(this) they described as nearly round, about three feet high, and nine in diameter, with a level top. A bonfire was made on it and danced around at Mid-summer. 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 Garrick Zans: each person who assisted took a stick of fire from the pile, and those 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 evening young persons, linked hand in hand, danced around the Garrack Zans, and many old folks passed around it nine times daily from some notion that it was lucky and good against withcraft.
The stone now known as Table-men 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...
There was a Garrack Zans in Sowah (Ardensawah near St.Buryan) 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 - that it is unlucky to remove them, denote that they were once regarded as sacred objects."

Bottrell's work first appeared in 1873, from tales collected by him in the quarter century preceding; thus the Garrack Zans was a central feature up until at least about 1800.
Questions arising;
1 - the etymology of the name? (Obviously Careg, Carrick in the first instance - but Zans?)
2 - Is the Table-men still extant in Sennen? I would imagine it to be in Churchtown rather than Cove...and indeed that in Roskestal, a small farmstead?
chris s Posted by chris s
8th December 2007ce
Edited 11th August 2013ce

Comments (7)

The table maen is shown on Old maps( or edina historic digimap located at (appropriately), Mayon (ie maen?) just to the north of churchtown. Do you know John Mitchell's "old stones of Lands End" 1974?
It is marked on the OS leaves that are in the book. Whether he used a current edition 1:10,000 map I don't know.
Happy hunting!
Maengurta Posted by Maengurta
9th December 2007ce
Hiya Maengurta, no I'm not aware of John Mitchell's book, will go scouring ABE and Ebay for one though! Thanks for the tip on the Table-men. Hopefully a couple more Garrack Zans survive out there on farmsteads, a lot of even the deep Penwith farmsteads are bisected by old corpse roads and paths so a bit of detailed fieldwork might turn up a few candidates.
So is the John Mitchell book any good?
chris s Posted by chris s
9th December 2007ce
Further to previous post - checked out the Table-men as markd on old- maps, and have walked the path there in recent months...didn't notice the stone, though the path actually (and as is common elsewhere) slightly diverts from the through route. Will have to go back and have a proper check,
chris s Posted by chris s
9th December 2007ce
Just a thought chris,
but perhaps garreck zans is derived from "saints rock". San or Sen being cornish for saint,... possibly, although my archaic brythonic is more than a little rusty.
Maengurta Posted by Maengurta
10th December 2007ce
Hi Chris,
The John Michell book is ace, allthough he does have a rep for being slightly out there,....
but it contains photos of a few menhirs now destroyed which would probably have been completely forgotten had he not documented them. In particular the unfortuante Chapel Carn Brea stone and also the ex outliers of Boscawen-un, Two stones formerly on bunkers hill which were torn down by some degenerate farmer in the late 70's. He is also generally credited with discovering the Redhouse menhirs. I managed to score a first edition one of just a hundred and fifty, which is worth a fair whack allthough it has been reprinted in various editions so good luck.
Maengurta Posted by Maengurta
12th December 2007ce
Garrack Zans = (an) garrek sans, "the holy rock". The Table Maen still exists, in a private garden at Mayon, just N of Sennen Churchtown, and in its original position. Garden resculpting means that only the top half of it is now visible. I have looked for, but never found, the equivalent stones at Escalls, Treen and other places mentioned bu Hunt and Bottrell. The Table-maen is the stone on which Arthur is said to have held his victory feast after the battle of Vellan-druchar (I mile E of St Buryan), and after destroying the invaders' ships at Gwenver. Merlin is said to have intoned one of his doomy prophecies at the feast, basically saying that when that battle is re-enacted, we've all had it! The battle is historically feasible - Saxon pirates based in the Loire estuary raided Ireland twice in the latter half of the 5th century, and are hardly likely to have passed Land's End by, as it would lie in their path. Posted by craig weatherhill
7th August 2010ce
Mayon is derived from cornish: men (pron. main), 'stone'. Maen Castle, the Iron Age cliff castle and on the former Mayon estate, is 'castle at Mayon'. Don't believe the books that tell you Lanyon Quoit was the victory feast stone after Vellan-druchar - there is no such genuine local legend about it. Nor the Four Parishes Stone - if any victory feast was held there, it would have been after the legendary battle of Gunajidnyal (Anguidal Downs), in which Rialobran named on the nearby Men Scryfa was reputedly killed in the mid 6th century. The battle-site, now called Nangidnall Croft, is between that stone and the Men-an-Tol. Posted by craig weatherhill
7th August 2010ce
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