Faldouet Dolmen

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This unusual image, taken some time towards the end of the 19th century, shows a group of clergymen visiting the dolmen at Faldouet in the north-east of Jersey. And unfortunately that's all we can tell you about this old photograph.

By Norman Rybot

Location

The position of this monument is shown on the Two-inch Ordnance Survey Map of 1913-14 about eight hundred yards north-west from Gorey Castle, at an elevation of 230 feet above sea level.

The plot of ground on which it stands, together with the lane which leads to it from the public road, are delimited by small square boundary stones, and enclosed by a lofty hedge of thorn. A flight of five rustic steps was built in April 1932 at the road entrance to the lane, the stones being a gift to the Society from E Hooper Nicolle of Temple View. An oak notice board was erected at the same time near the steps, and on it was carved "Dolmen de Faldouet. Pre-Historic Burial Site. Property of the Société Jersiaise."

The number of persons who enter this property increases yearly. During the summer months it is a nightly rendezvous for noisy bands of visitors from the hotels and boarding-houses of the east coast, who cause some annoyance to the residents of the neighbourhood. As many of the visitors are of untidy habits, the Society would be well advised to devise some means for the better preservation of the site.

Though the dolmen has been in the possession of the Société Jersiaise since 1891, when it was presented to us by the Crown, no detailed description, either of it, or of the objects which had been found in it, has yet been published in the Bulletin.

The placing on loan in our Museum of the entire Fauvel collection has aroused a renewed interest in the monument, which, until the discovery of the Dolmen of La Hougue Bie, held pride of place among the megalithic burial sites of the Island. The moment to remedy the omission has thus arrived.

Rubble and earth mound

The dolmen was originally covered with a mound of rubble and earth about 110 feet in diameter. In height it probably measured 15 or 20 feet. Natural agencies in the course of time, combined with the activities of persons in search of building material, reduced the height and left bare the great capstone of the inner chamber and the upper parts of its half circle of supports.

Faldouet Dolmen

Poingdestre, writing at the end of the 17th century, said:

"This stands just at the top of a round hillock made of hands and is supported by flue stones, which by length of time are suncke soe deepe int o the ground that a man must creepe to goe vnder it; ye couering being exceeding large and waighty."

Beneath the table-stone was thus a cavity or grot. Known as the pouquelaye, it retained this appearance until 1839 when Jean Fauvel, the tenant of the Crown, commenced his treasure hunt. He excavated the areas enclosed by the outer and inner chambers with their side kists, in a manner which excited the wrath of Mr Lukis of Guernsey, who in vain offered him expert assistance.

Captain Oliver, in his "Megalithic Structures of the Channel Islands", 1870, calls the Fauvels "ruthless searchers for treasure trove" and accuses them of throwing down a small capstone and of displacing some of the other blocks. Of the Rev G F Porter, Vicar of Yeddingham and Chaplain of the Gorey Naval School, who dug up the passage-way in 1868, he speaks with even greater severity, alleging that he deliberately altered the dry-walling at the exit of the passage, and faultily reconstructed one of the side kists.

Lack of method

The adverse criticisms directed by various antiquarians against Mr Fauvel are not wholly deserved. His excavations were lacking in method, and he appears to have made no notes or plans. What he did with the skeletons he found is unknown. His other finds, however, were treasured in his own home with the greatest care. Had Lukis been in charge of the work they would all have been spirited away to Guernsey, and lost to this island for ever. Had Porter had them, they would probably have been sold to the British Museum or dispersed among his friends.

At the death of Mr Fauvel, the collection was acquired by Miss Fauvel of Gorey, and she guarded them jealously against all-comers during her long lifetime. When she died in 1930, they passed to Charles and Norman Fauvel, of Sydney, NSW, by whose kindness they are now exhibited in our Museum.

A comparison of plans made at different times shows that, if these plans were correct, a few minor displacements have occurred in the last 63 years.

Entering the monument at the east end one passes over the outer limit of the original hougue. This circumference appears to have been marked out by two concentric dry walls, composed of packed rubble. There is an indication of another concentric circle of small loose blocks or peristaliths, and of yet another dry wall.

Oliver accuses Porter of tampering with the outer walls so as to "improve" the entrance way. Porter gives him the lie direct, and says he left them exactly as he found them.

Nicolle and Sinel, in their report on the dolmen, dated July 1910, state that they found evidence which supports Oliver's accusation. On the other hand a splayed entrance is not an abnormal feature in these monuments, as was proved when Hougue Bie was excavated.

Faldouet Dolmen

Description

The structure itself may be divided into three main parts: the passage, the outer chamber, and the inner chamber.

The passage is some 17 feet long, being two and a half feet broad at the entrance, and three feet broad at its west end. Its southern wall is in fair alignment, but its northern wall bulges outward about one foot in the middle. In the south wall are eight uprights, in the northern, nine. The average height of the passage is now only 2 ½ feet, which is lower by 1 1/2 feet than that of La Hougue Bie. This, however, is evidently due to a general filling-in of the interior surface of the whole monument in 1910, for purposes of drainage.

When Lt S P Oliver, made his drawings and plans, which are preserved in the Lukis Museum, Guernsey, all the uprights seem to have been laid bare to their foundations. Consequently his vertical measurements, based on the then ground level, are all one foot or more in excess of the present measurements. The height of the supports of the inner chamber capstone which is now four feet, was then five feet six inches. The passage uprights were then about three feet six inches in height. There is every reason to suppose that the passage as well as the outer chamber were roofed with transverse blocks of stone.

When Poingdestre wrote in 1682, the inner chamber coverstone and the tops of its supports were wholly exposed. Had the two or three great coverstones of the outer chamber been in situ then, they would also certainly have been in evidence. No mention of them was made, either by him, or by any other subsequent writer or excavator. What, then, has become of these blocks? Unfortunately the coverstones of partially exposed dolmens were often, in size and texture, admirably adapted to other utilitarian purposes.

If some have survived, as in the great capstone here, and as in the coverstones of Les Monts Grantez, their unwieldiness or their unsuitability alone has saved them. The dolmen des Geonnais had been almost completely destroyed by quarrymen. Mont Ube was entirely unroofed. On one of the remaining coverstones of the dolmen des Monts Grantez, wedge incisions are still to be seen, clear evidence of intended removal.

The dolmen in 1891

Missing stones

In the middle of the 16th century when immense building operations were in progress in Gorey Castle, the island was being ransacked for material. Ancient altar stones and tomb slabs filched from the parish churches, were incorporated in the gun platforms of the Somerset Tower, or used for paving or other purposes elsewhere in the castle. Medieval religious statues were broken up and built into the new fortifications. One is tempted to think that the conveniently situated dolmen of Faldouet supplied its quota of material, and that the missing coverstones went the way of the church altars and statues.

The outer chamber, which has also lost its two or three huge roof-stones, appears to have been about 12 feet long by about ten feet broad. Roughly elliptical in plan, it is flanked by the remains of five small side-kists or chambers. These have undoubtedly been tampered with, and their original appearance is uncertain.

It is known that the Fauvels found human bones in some of them, and threw down at least one of their coverstones. The heavier blocks which form their side-walls are probably in situ, but some of the smaller stones have been subjected to rearrangement.

Inner chamber. Here all the great stones remain as their builders placed them. The interior of the chamber is circular in plan, its diameter being about ten feet. The uprights average about four feet in height, and the capstone rests on four of them. This great slab in its broadest north-south diameter is 13 feet across and in the broadest east-west diameter nine feet. Its average thickness is two feet, and its weight has been estimated at 23 tons.

The dry-walling which would have filled the interstices between the uprights, 'disappeared when the mound was removed’. A small block of stone, not shown in the plan, is lying loose on the floor of the chamber. Its proper position is unknown. The centre of the hougue under which the whole structure originally lay was approximately about one foot behind the westerly edge of the western upright. The flooring throughout is a mixture of soil and small angular pieces of rubble.

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