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….

(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

8 thoughts on “Farewell Tour

  1. I think that the stone in the area of the wall that seem to be different was layed at
    the same time as but may have come from a older building as there is smooth stone
    below the rough dressed stone the morter looks the same I supose that if you can
    re-use stone that is the right size for the job it speeds up the building plus who is
    going to tell a mason how to build a wall,


    • I think I can see what you mean. And on the Pastscape record it does say that material from the priory is thought to be incorporated into the church, either in situ or reused. So now I want to know where the rest of the stone is? Has it been used in the surrounding buildings? And where are the other buildings from the priory complex? I know it was only small, but there must have been a dormitory etc? Don’t worry Pat, I don’t expect you to answer all this. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if you could!


      • As you pass down Cross in hand lane a number of the buildings
        have stone incorporated into them also in 1745 the lane was
        lined with more building like the brewery you could look for
        garden features that have stone in them they were re-cycling
        before the word was invented !.


  2. Fairy well, surely? There are lots of them about. Alan Cleaver’s your expert there.

    I think the horse’s skull thing is suspect, as I’m sure you do, too! Like cats up chimneys, do you reckon?

    I wonder if the jars were there simple to reduce the weight, for structural reasons?

    Fascinating stuff!


    • Its great when unexpected gems like this pop up. The well thing is really interesting – there are at least another four in the area – Stoneywell, Coldwell, Nuns Well, Cresswell possibly Giddywell. From doing a bit of reading & talking it seems some of them seem to have their own folklore attached. Doing a bit more reading and will be taking a trip to see if anything remains of them.


  3. Along the lane from the church is a building called stone house also opposite
    farewell manor is a stone built wall but the main builings are of brick
    I am not saying that this is stone from the church or priory but it would
    be one use for a pile of stone before 1745 or after the re-build of the church.


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