Objects of My Affection Pt 1

Our next Lichfield Discovered meeting is fast approaching (7pm on 10th March at Lichfield Heritage Centre) and this time round we’re having a bit of a show and tell. We’ll be having a go at telling one hundred years of Lichfield History in twelve objects and we want people to get involved by bringing along their Lichfield related objects to show us all.

There are loads of objects that I’d love to be able to bring along with me, but can’t, either because they’re lost, immovable or I’d be arrested. So instead, over the next week or so, I’ll share some of them here instead.

First up, the earthenware jars found in the south wall of Farewell Church during its partial demolition.

Farewell Church

St Bartholomew’s in Farewell was once the site of a Benedictine Nunnery. The place name refers to the ‘pure or clear’ spring which still flows here. The original church incorporated material from the nunnery, but much of it was demolished and rebuilt in brick in the 1740s.

Trust me, there is a spring beneath here.

Trust me, there is a spring beneath here.

In my opinion, it takes something pretty special to top an ancient spring, but here at Farewell, the most interesting thing for me is the discovery of three rows of different sized earthenware vessels in the south wall of the church at the time of the renovations. The jars were lying on their sides, their openings facing inside the church, covered with a thin coat of plaster. Sadly most were broken during the work but one of the jars found its way to Mr Greene’s Museum of Curiosities on Market St, Lichfield. Its whereabouts is now unknown but luckily, someone did make a woodcut engraving of it, as seen here on Staffordshire Past Track. The purpose of the jars remains a bit of a mystery. The accepted explanation is that they were ‘acoustic jars’, used, as the name suggests, to improve the acoustics in the church, based on a theory from a Roman architect called Vitruvius. However, others have suggested that they may be related to the idea of votive offerings (interesting article here).

It’s a good example of how important is it to not to separate objects from their stories . Without knowing the context in which it was found, the jar becomes just another piece of pottery and without being able to examine the jar itself, the real reason why (and when) it was placed in a church wall in Farewell centuries ago may never be known.

When Spring finally does arrive, do try and visit Farewell via Cross in Hand Lane, the old pilgrims route & former road to Stafford. It’s a lovely walk to a lovely place with the banks of the ancient holloways covered in flowers and the Ashmore Brook running alongside if you fancy a paddle.

farewell

Farewell Tour

From doing a bit of research on Cross in Hand Lane, I knew Farewell had been the site of Benedictine nunnery and also that the placename (sometimes spelt as ‘Fairwell’) refers to a nearby ‘fair or clear spring’. I had no idea what was left of either, the nunnery or the spring, so on the way home from Castle Ring, we stopped off for a look around.

St Bartholomew, Farewell

The most striking thing about the church is the mixture of  the two different building styles and materials. It seems the original church (which you can see here on the Staffordshire Past Track website) is thought to have contained parts of the nunnery which was dissoved in 1527.  Most of the old building was demolished & rebuilt in brick in 1745. However, the stone chancel remains. Below are a couple of photos  showing the contrast between the chancel and the rebuilt part of the church . I’m not sure but the bottom right corner of the older, stone built part of the building looks different again?

The two different parts of the church.

Have a look from a slightly different angle.

Whilst these renovations were being carried out, workman made a discovery. According to Richard Greene, in the south wall, six feet off the ground were three rows of earthen vessels. Each row contained vessels  of a different size (the smallest was 6 1/4 inches high) lying on their side, openings covered by a thin coat of plaster, facing towards to interior of the church.  All but three were broken in the process and one of them was kept at Richard Greene’s museum. You can see the picture here on the Staffs Pastrack website plus the letter written by Richard Greene to The Gentleman’s Magazine outlining the finds.

Initially, I found a couple of reference to the discovery of the Farewell Jars but no explanations or suggestions to why they were there.  Eventually, after a bit of searching, I came across a book on Church Lore (1), with a whole chapter devoted to ‘Acoustic Jars and Horses’ Skulls’ which specifically mentions the jars found at ‘Fairwell, Staffordshire’, describing how jars were used for enhancing the acoustics of a building. The idea is thought to date back to a Roman architect called Vitruvius. There are other examples of this idea throughout the country, and Europe, including St Andrews, Lyddington as below.

Acoustic jar in chancel wall, parish church of St. Andrews, Lyddington, Rutland 05/04/2009. Credit: Walwyn (taken from their Flickr photstream)

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be wondering what the ‘Horses’ Skulls’ element of the Church Lore chapter title was about. Apparently, animal skulls were also used to improve acoustics in a building and examples have been found in various places. Although this is fascinating, I’m not going to go into too much detail here as it isn’t directly related to Farewell. However, it is worth noting that there is some debate as to whether these skulls and to a lesser extent, the jars relate to something altogether different. Something along the lines of foundation sacrifices…

I’d love to know what others think about this and want to look more into this acoustic jar business. I’m also wondering where the rest of the nunnery, dedicated to St Mary, is ? I’m not saying farewell to Farewell, just yet….

Sources:
(1) Thomas Firminger Dyer Church Lore Gleanings, Chapter VII,

(2) Ralph Merryfield Folk-lore in London Archaeology Part 2, The Post Roman Period

Staffordshire Places website http://www.places.staffspasttrack.org.uk/

William Dugdale Monasticon Angelicanum