Denis Briggs - dowsing churches

for Archaeology news reports and discussions.
Post Reply
User avatar
Site Admin
Site Admin
Posts: 1373
Joined: Wed Jul 28, 2004 5:52 pm
Location: Glasgow, Scotland

Denis Briggs - dowsing churches

Post by Grahame »

A report in the Morpeth Herald about the late Denis Briggs - I haven't heard of him before.
Morpeth Herald wrote:In the 1980s, the late Denis Briggs, a retired engineer, surveyed a number of churches by dowsing. Dowsing is usually thought of as searching for water or buried treasure, but archaeological dowsing detects changes in the density of the soil etc. under the ground. Although dowsing almost always fails in scientific tests, my own experience, at a seminar in Woodhorn Church conducted by Mr Briggs himself, was totally convincing.

The traditional Y-shaped dowsing rod is held at chest height, the stalk pointing forward, and the tips of the Y gripped between the thumb and the side of each hand, just firmly enough to keep it horizontal. If you pass over something denser than the surrounding soil, like a stone foundation, the rod goes up. If less dense, such as an old well, then down. Crossing the foundation of a wall generates both reactions, first up, then down.

I chose a large Y-shaped rod and holding it in the most approved fashion, started near the south door and walked slowly forward in a trance-like manner. The floor was concrete, perfectly featureless, and gave no indication of what lay underneath.

About three paces in, the withy came down sharply, giving me a tremendous whack upon a sensitive part of the male anatomy. I put it down and have never attempted dowsing since. It seems I had passed over the edge of a burial vault. The change in the density of the ground beneath my feet was as great as it could possibly be — from well-compacted soil to an absolute void. I have, consequently, never doubted the efficacy of dowsing from that day to this.

Archaeological dowsing is done with L-shaped rods. You make two fists, thumbs on top, and point the rods forward like a pair of pistols, but free to swivel. If you pass over something denser, they swing outwards, if less dense, inwards. Using small sticks as markers, you lay out the pattern of density changes on the floor of the church, and plot them on a plan. Being an engineer, Mr Briggs was meticulously accurate and often had to correct existing plans before proceeding. At Ulgham, for instance, the plan showed the windows in the north wall wrongly.

He detected five features in the church, none of them visible to the eye — a void, probably a burial vault, by the entrance; the foundation of a wall under the north arcade; two rectangular offshots, which he interpreted as vestries; and an apsidal (semi-circular) east end.

Dowsing cannot reveal anything where modern walls stand on top so the only parts of the earlier church marked on the plan are the north wall and the apse. However, we can reasonably conjecture that the south and west walls were exactly where the modern ones are.

Nor can it give you a date. The two offshots, for instance, could belong to any period, and are unlikely to be of the same date as each other.
Hmmm... I would have to disagree on that last statement.

Full story HERE.

And HERE is a related article about another church dowsed by Denis.
The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it - Terry Pratchett.
Ian Pegler
Posts: 2822
Joined: Fri Sep 17, 2004 12:04 pm
Location: Borth, Mid Wales

Re: Denis Briggs - dowsing churches

Post by Ian Pegler »

the late Denis Briggs - I haven't heard of him before.
More than likely the co-author of Dowsing and Church Archaeology with Professor Richard Bailey and Eric Cambridge.

Post Reply