Brideshand Revisited

Last Summer, I wrote about the ‘Bride’s Hand’ carved into the stonework of the south porch of St James the Great at Longdon. It’s an old tradition that brides arriving at the church would place their own hand against it, in the hope that it would bring good fortune and fertility to their impending marriage. Apparently, some twenty-first century Longdon brides-to-be still partake in this ritual.

The 'Bride's Hand' Carving, St James the Great, Longdon

The ‘Bride’s Hand’ Carving, St James the Great, Longdon

Yesterday, I was idly scrolling through Twitter when two hands, similar to the one at Longdon, grabbed my attention. The image had been taken from Timothy Easton’s article on symbols which appears in the Winter edition of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings‘ magazine (1), and the carvings themselves are to be found on the south doors of two churches in the neighbouring Gloucestershire villages of Ampney St Mary and Ampney Crucis.  Until now, I wasn’t sure whether the Bride’s Hand was just a quirky bit of history unique to Longdon but the appearance of similar symbolism, in a similar position, at churches one hundred miles south of here suggests not. Timothy Easton believes that the carvings were added to send a very definite ‘Stop!’ sign to any evil spirits attempting to sneak inside.

South porch of St James, Longdon where the carving can be found.

South porch of St James, Longdon where the carving can be found.

As anyone who follows the Medieval Graffiti project will know, these hands are just one of the many types of markings that can be found in our churches. Some were an attempt to ward off evil spirits and no doubt some were an attempt to ward off boredom. St James the Great may be filled with beautiful carvings but I can’t help being drawn to these ones that aren’t really supposed to be there. For me, a crudely etched protective symbol and Joseph Nevill’s graffiti trump the Forster family’s weeping cherubs and marble tombs. Hands down.

Longdon graffiti

Graffiti at St James the Great, Longdon

Longdon carvings

The Stoneywell Chapel, used as a private chapel between 1520 and 1944, by families including the Ormes and the Forsters, former owners of nearby Hanch Hall

Longdon graffiti 2

Graffiti at St James the Great, Longdon

The tomb of John Forster, Hanch Hall

The tomb of John Forster, Hanch Hall

(1) Which their press officer very kindly sent to me after I sent an excited tweet telling them I’d seen one just like that.

The King's Touch

This Christmas, for the first time ever, I watched the Queen’s Speech. I’d read somewhere that there had been a flurry of bets on the Queen abdicating and though sceptical, I interrupted a FIFA match between Walsall and Barcelona to seize momentary control of the television just in case. Of course, it had been nothing but a rumour and Charles remains a king in waiting.

Earlier that week, I’d been to visit a house associated with another King Charles to be. Following defeat at the Battle of Worcester on 3rd September 1651, Charles Stuart had fled north to Shropshire, hoping to sneak across the border into Wales and sail from there to Europe. The Parliamentarians were one step ahead of him and were closely guarding the River Severn crossing places and ferries, thwarting this plan. In the early hours of 8th September 1651, Charles arrived at Moseley Old Hall in Staffordshire, looking for a place to hide and a new escape route.  He was met at the back door by owner Thomas Whitgreave and the family priest John Huddleston (1), who gave up his four poster bed (2) and shared his hiding place with the future King when Cromwell’s soldiers came seeking him.

Moseley Old Hall as it was....

Moseley Old Hall as it was…. taken from ‘The Flight of the King by Allan Fea (1908)

....and as it is today. Well, last Sunday anyway.

….and as it is today. Well, last Sunday anyway.

The house which hid the King is now hidden itself behind a Victorian redbrick facade. As we waited outside, making jokes about standing under the mistletoe, the guide informed us that we were about to enter the hall through the very same door as the King had, and told the assembled children to let their teachers know about it. Mine were only here because I’d promised they’d be able to toast some bread over an open fire at the end but they seemed suitably impressed (3). One little lad wanted to know if there was going to be a ride. I suppose in a way there was.

The back door through which Charles entered Moseley Olf Hall on 8th September 1651

The back door through which Charles entered Moseley Old Hall on 8th September 1651

As everyone knows (4), before the King came to lie low at Moseley he’d been hiding high at Boscobel, nine miles away on the Staffordshire/Shropshire border. A tree house inspired by the Royal Oak, the most famous of all the places the King found refuge, is a recent addition to the King’s Wood at Moseley.  There are signs warning of peril, and whilst the element of danger here is not quite on a par with that of a man with a thousand pound bounty on his head hiding in a tree, it’s enough to get overprotective parents like me muttering, ‘Be careful!’, as if it were a charm to invoke protection.

The Moseley Old Hall Tree House

The Moseley Old Hall Tree Hide

The Royal Oak in 2011, Boscobel House, Shropshire by The Royal Oak in 2011, Boscobel House, Shropshire  Uploaded to Wikipedia  in May 2011 Sjwells53 by  CC BY-SA 3.0

The Royal Oak in 2011, Boscobel House, Shropshire
Uploaded to Wikipedia in May 2011 Sjwells53 CC BY-SA 3.0

I’ve yet to visit Boscobel, owned by English Heritage. I understand that today’s Royal Oak grew from an acorn of the original tree which was destroyed by visitors in the seventeenth century who, in the absence of a gift shop, took away branches and boughs to fashion into souvenirs. In his book ‘Boscobel’, Thomas Blount described,

‘this tree was divided into more parts by Royalists than
perhaps any oak of the same size ever was, each man
thinking himself happy if he could produce a tobacco
stopper, box etc made of the wood.’

These trinkets still turn up at auctions. In 2012, a snuff box sold at Bonhams for almost £7,000.  Another prized relic at the time of Charles’ great escape was a rag he’d used to mop up a nosebleed. Father Huddleston passed this ‘bloody clout’ to a Mrs Braithwaite who kept it as a remedy for the King’s Evil, another name given to the disease known as scrofula. Since the reign of Edward the Confessor, it had been thought that the disease could be cured by a touch from a King or Queen. Of all the royal touchers, Charles II was the most prolific. The British Numismatic Society estimate he touched over 100,000 people during his reign. The tradition was continued, somewhat reluctantly, by King James II who carried out a ‘touching’ ceremony at Lichfield Cathedral in 1687 (5). The last English Monarch to partake in the ritual was Queen Anne, who ‘touched’ a two year old Samuel Johnson at one of the ceremonies in 1712. The touch piece or coin which the Queen presented young Samuel with, which he is said to have worn throughout his life, is now in the British Museum.

John Huddleston's room now known as the King's Bedroom

John Huddleston’s room now known as the King’s Bedroom from The Flight of the King by Allan Des (1908)

By the mid twentieth century, Moseley Old Hall was suffering from neglect and subsidence. This ‘atmospheric Elizabethan farmhouse that saved a King‘ was itself saved by the National Trust, when they took over in 1962. Every year, thousands of people pass through that door to see that bed and hiding place. Seems that three hundred years on the King hasn’t lost his touch. Or maybe they are just here for the toast?

Moseley Toast

Notes

(1) As the king lay dying in February 1684, Huddleston was said to have been brought to his bedside with the words, “This good man once saved your life. Now he comes to save your soul”.

(2) The bed at Moseley is the original one the King slept on top of. It was bought by Sir Geoffrey Mander of Wightwick Manor in 1913, but was returned to the hall in 1962 by his widow, Lady Mander.

(3) It seems the King’s victory was only short-lived. One of them just asked what I was writing about and when I told them it was Moseley Old Hall they replied, ‘Oh yes, the place with the toast’.

(4) If you didn’t know, take a look at this great map from englishcivilwar.org which plots all of the stages on the King’s journey from the Battle of Worcester to his arrival in Fécamp, France

(5) More information can be found in ‘Touching for the King’s Evil: James II at Lichfield in 1687’, in Volume 20 of the The Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society transactions.

Sources: 

Moseley Old Hall, National Trust Guidebook

Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions Volume XL

http://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v17n40a13.html

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/cm/d/dr_johnsons_touch-piece.aspx

The Odd Couple

According to Pevsner, the Church of St Lawrence features some of the most exciting Norman work in the county.  Here be dragons and other fantastical creatures, Saxon and Scandinavian influences, a green man and other ancient faces. There are no wolves though.

Norman arch, Gnosall church

Norman arch, Gnosall church

Carving at Gnosall

Carving at Gnosall

Possible Saxon stonework, Gnosall

Possible Saxon stonework, Gnosall

Legend has it that the last wolf in Staffordshire was killed here in Gnosall in a pit near Brough Hall and that the effigy in the Lady Chapel is that of its slayer, Baron Brough  As much as I wish it were true, there is no evidence for this tale and no reason to believe the Baron ever even existed outside of Gnosall mythology. Several other names have been linked with the alabaster knight over the years, but his true identity remains unknown. Whilst such personal details are lacking, there is physical detail here in abundance, from the broken angel and the helmet at his head, to the lion at his now missing feet and experts have used these features to date the monument to the early fifteenth century. In recent years, the knight has been joined by the church’s only other effigy, taken from the recess on the opposite side of the church known as the Easter Sepulchre.

Two effigies at Gnosall church

Two effigies at Gnosall church

The unknown knight of Gnosall

Defaced – the unknown knight of Gnosall

Gnosall effigy belt

Even less is know about this second effigy, but due to its diminutive stature, it is often described as depicting a child. However, after visiting the church, words that I’d read in a paper by Dr Sophie Oosterwijk in relation to the famous Stanley Boy monument at Elford came back into my mind – “A small-sized tomb may deceive the beholder into thinking that it must commemorate a child, but there may be other explanations”. One of Dr Oosterwijk’s other explanations is that these tiny tombs may represent heart burials. It’s not only the size of the effigy that’s convinced me that someone left their heart here in Gnosall, but also the position of his or her hand over the chest, a feature it has in common with another example thought to be a fourteenth century heart burial at Coberley in Gloucestershire.

Effigy possibly depicting a heart burial at Gnosall

Effigy possibly depicting a heart burial at Gnosall

Despite the abundance of surviving Romanesque architecture here, the church is missing its original font.  However, at nearby Bradley. and Church Eaton there are examples which date to the twelfth century and recall some of the patterns and themes found at Gnosall, perhaps giving us an idea of what the Norman font at St Lawrence may have looked like. Interestingly, the broken Church Eaton font was reinstated at St Editha’s after apparently being found buried in a garden, and so it’s possible that Gnosall’s is out there somewhere, awaiting discovery under someone’s lawn.

One of Gnosall’s most intriguing features can be found outside, high on the south side of the church where stonemasons (we assume) who extended the tower in the mid fifteenth century have carved a large chalice into the stonework alongside the belfry window.

South face of the church tower at Gnosall

South face of the church tower at Gnosall

Chalice carving on Gnosall church tower (photo by Kenneth Ingram)

Chalice carving on Gnosall church tower (photo by Kenneth Ingram)

Less mysterious in origin, but still of interest, are the grooves along the wall, said to have been created by the sharpening of arrows when the grounds were used for archery practice.

Arrow grooves, Gnosall Church

Arrow grooves at Gnosall Church

There is also a rumour that this wall of the church bears the scars of target practice during the Civil War (Rodwell: 223). What we do know for certain about the church of St Lawrence and the civil war is that there are two soldiers buried here. The parish register records that on 1st October 1642, a tall young man known as John Bayne (or Bayle), ‘one of the King’s souldiers’, was buried here and that on 25th March 1643, David James, another of ‘the King’s souldiers’, was laid to rest. The date of the second may be especially significant, coming less than a week after the Battle of Hopton Heath, fought just ten miles away. Amidst the other burials and baptisms of the parish register, an interesting entry appears on an otherwise blank page. At some time between 20th March 1684 and 19th April 1685, an ‘unlettered’ hand has written the following:

Fere god and honour the King
Honor your parents at all times
Wimins tongues air like [unfinished]

Whether the writer of the verse was interrupted or simply ran out of inspiration is unknown, but we are left to draw our own conclusions on the nature of  ‘wimins tongues’. However, when it comes to singing the praises of this incredible building, I shall not be holding mine. See it for yourself on the weekend of 4th/5th July 2015, when the Church of St Lawrence, including the tower, will be open for tours as part of the G-Fest celebrations held in the village each year. Now that is exciting.

Tombstone in the graveyard at the Church of St Lawrence, Gnosall/

Tombstone in the graveyard at the Church of St Lawrence, Gnosall

With thanks to Norman and Sheila Hailes, for their tour and invaluable knowledge of the church, and to Kathleen Ingram and Cllr Kenneth Ingram and the other residents of Gnosall, for showing us around not once, but twice!

References:

Rodwell,W. (2012) The Archaeology of Churches Stroud: Amberley

Oosterwijk, S. (2010)  Deceptive appearances. The presentation of children on medieval tombs Ecclesiology Today

http://www.gnosallweb.org.uk/articles/stlawren.htm

Broken Record

The ‘Heritage at Risk’ register for 2014 was published by English Heritage today. The Register includes grade I and II* listed buildings, grade II listed buildings in London, and all listed places of worship, scheduled monuments, registered parks and gardens, registered battlefields and protected wreck sites assessed as being at risk.

There are eight entries from around the Lichfield District this year, including scheduled monuments at Alrewas, Elford, Fradley and Streethay, the Fazeley and Bonehill conservation area and three buildings, namely, the Angel Croft Hotel on Beacon Street, the Manor House at Hamstall Ridware and the old church tower at St John’s in Shenstone.

Angel Croft Railings

The Angel Croft Hotel has been deemed ‘At Risk’ for many years, but there is now a glimmer of hope that Lichfield’s fallen Angel may be saved. This year’s entry notes that, ‘permission has been granted for conversion to apartments with an agreement to secure the repair of the gates and railings. Work should start in the summer’. Time will tell, but I really do hope that 2014 will be the last time that the Angel Croft appears on the register.

Whilst the plight of the decaying Angel Croft is well known in Lichfield, other local entries on the list may be less familiar, but no less worthy of salvation. Fazeley, according to Lichfield District Council, ‘represents a remarkably intact industrial community of the period 1790-1850. It contains all the principle building types necessary to sustain the community; terraced housing, mills, factories, a church, a chapel, public houses, a school and prestigious detached Georgian houses’. They go on to say that, ‘the waterways, pools and associated structures built by Robert Peel Snr are an important part of Fazeley’s industrial heritage and have archaeological significance. Their significance extends beyond just the immediate locality as they represent one of the most important water power systems dating from the early part of the Industrial Revolution. As a contrast to Fazeley’s industrial heritage, the appraisal tell us that, ‘the historic hamlet of Bonehill…. is an important remnant of the areas agricultural past and despite the developments of the twentieth century still retains a peaceful, rural feel. It has a direct association with the nationally renowned Peel family’.

Yesterday, Gareth Thomas, GIS Manager at Lichfield District Council, uploaded a number of photos from their archive to Flickr. It just so happens that alongside the reminiscence-tastic images of Lichfield shops and businesses, Gareth has uploaded a number of photographs of the conservation area at Fazeley and Bonehill, showing us just what is at risk here, hopefully inspiring us to pay a visit ourselves.

Taken from Lichfield GIS photostream, Flickr

Taken from Lichfield GIS photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Also making an appearance in both the Lichfield District Council’s photo collection and on the ‘At Risk’ Register, is the Manor House at Hamstall Ridware. The pictures speak for themselves – the condition of watchtower is so bad that it is deemed at risk of collapse. Perhaps appropriately for something that may not be long for this world, I first caught sight of it from the churchyard of St Michael’s and All Angels and managed to find out a little about its history here.

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

That’s quite a crack! Taken from GIS Lichfield photostream, Flickr

Hamstall Ridware manor 3 Hamstall Ridware manor and church

Over in Shenstone, it seems there are ongoing discussions between the council, the Parish Council and the church regarding the old tower. At least for the time being, the structure is ‘considered stable’ – let’s hope that they all start singing from the same hymn sheet soon.

Old tower at St John's Shenstone, by Jason Kirkham

Old tower at St John’s Shenstone, by Jason Kirkham

Same time, same places next year folks? Let’s hope not…

 

 

Thanks to Gareth Thomas and Lichfield District Council for the archived photos of Fazeley and Hamstall Ridware, and to Jason Kirkham for his photograph of the old tower of St John’s at Shenstone.

Niche Interest

The origins of the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance are hazy and in trying to make sense of this centuries-old tradition, the phrase ‘fertility ritual’ often crops up. Apparently, one of the most potent elements of the dance is coming into contact with the pig’s bladder on a stick, wielded by the fool (1). Sitting below the ha-ha, separated from the dancers performing on the lawn outside Blithfield Hall by a big ditch, seemed like a safe enough distance to watch from this year.

Waiting for the Horn Dance...

Waiting for the Horn Dance…

Pigs Bladder

Take a bow Horn Dance

Waiting for lunch...

Waiting for lunch…

Abbots Bromley Horn Dance 1932. Taken from the 'The Birmingham Mail' via 'The Lichfield Mercury'.

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance taking place in 1932. Taken from the ‘The Birmingham Mail’ via ‘The Lichfield Mercury’.

Once the performance had ended, the dancers bowed to those of us in the cheap seats and went for lunch inside the hall, which has been home to the Bagot family since 1360. Afterwards, they would head back to Abbots Bromley, to perform the dance through the lanes and outside the pubs of the village, returning the horns to the church of St Nicholas at around 8 o’clock that evening. I was heading back to Lichfield, but thought there might just be time to pay a visit to a church myself.  “St Leonard’s is just over there at the back of the hall…”, explained a man selling guide books from a stall “….but you can’t go that way unless you live there”. He did explain how non-Bagots could get to the church but on the way back to the car I got sidetracked by another stall selling honey, and so the church had to wait for another day.

The Church of St Leonards

The Church of St Leonard

Another day came at the start of October. The church door, beautifully decorated with autumn leaves, was unfortunately locked.

Blithfield church door

I had to break the news to my Mum that we wouldn’t be able to see Staffordshire’s only surviving pillar piscina, dating from the early twelfth century. Oddly, she didn’t seem too bothered….It turned out that being restricted to the outside of the church was actually a blessing in disguise as the exterior of St Leonard’s turned out to be a very interesting place indeed.

Built into the red-brick, eighteenth century wall which separates the churchyard from the grounds of Blithfield Hall is a gateway (also locked!), which looks ancient but actually only dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. This is clearly the Bagot family short-cut to the church that I had heard about at the Horn Dance. A little more difficult to find is a satisfying explanation for the circular feature, also built into the wall, which appears to have been added around the same time.

Blithfield Wall 1

A hole in the wall

A hole in the wall

According to a description in the Lichfield Mercury, as part of their 1891 series ‘Sketches in and around Rugeley’, it was, “formed for the purposes of seeing when the parson came to church so that the Squire might not be kept waiting longer than was necessary in a cold church”. I’m not convinced by this but it’s all I’ve got at present.

After looking through the round window, anyone over the age of twenty five may be quite excited to hear that there’s also an arch and a square here.  Anyone younger than that won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Anyway, as these are niches than windows, it’s more a case of looking into, rather than through them.

Effigy Blithfield

The arch is found on the south side of the church, sheltering the thirteenth century effigy of a priest. A comparison with this drawing of 1823 shows that sometime time can diminish rather than increase the lines on a face.

Blithfield tomb decoration

A late seventeenth century marble plaque with Latin script implores us to pray for the soul of Alfred, priest of Hulcrob. Records show that the words on the tablet were originally written around the arch in letters of gold but these have long since been erased by time. Faded painted patterns still remain on the interior curve of the arch though and it seems reasonable to assume that these would have been part of this decorative inscription? There are also several ‘graffiti’ marks carved into the stone here, at least one of which appears to be a ritual protection mark associated with the Virgin Mary.

graffiti blithfield Blithfield effigy arch

On the north side of the church, near to the tower, is the feature I’m calling a square but which the Lichfield Mercury article describes as, “a curious recess, the use of which it seems very difficult to determine. It could have had no communication with the inside of the church, for it is in the thickness of the wall of the nave, and being outside it can hardly been of any use as an aumbry“. In ‘Collections for a History of Staffordshire’ (1919), its similarity to an aumbry is also noted, leading the author to speculate that this may once have been an interior wall and that possibly there may have been an annexe or a anchorite’s cell here. All I can spy with my non-expert eye is that it does look as though it may once have been covered by a grille or a door, although I’m not sure whether the actual bits of rusty grate lying inside it are a clue or a red herring.

niche blithbury church wall

Alongside the various memorials belonging to members of the Bagot family (although many of these are inside the church itself) are those belonging to people who, like most of us, would have had to come the long way round.

headstones blithfield

Headston Blithfield

Blithfield Gardeners headstone

Allen headstone Blithfueld

I was always concerned that an interest in graveyards was a little morbid but the excellent talk David Moore did on symbolism in cemeteries for Lichfield Discovered recently reassured me that graveyards are as much about life as death. And not just human life either….

Lichen gravestone Blithfield

Blithfield red lichen

(1) Funnily enough, I understand that pigs’ bladders (amongst many other things) were also used as a form of contraception in times gone by. Perhaps it’s only the inflated ones you have to worry about…

Sources:

Blithfield: An Illustrated Guide and History by Nancy, Lady Bagot (1979)

http://www.medieval-graffiti.co.uk/

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/

Lichfield Mercury Archive

Collections for a History of Staffordshire (1919) Edited by The William Salt Archaeological Society

Prior Engagement

Yesterday, I visited Hawkesyard, a place known to previous generations by a variety of names including Le Hawkeserd in Hondesacre, Armitage Park, Spode House and Hawkesyard Priory. The first house known to have existed here was a moated manor owned by the Rugeley Family, who appear to have had a variety of spellings for their own name. According to an article in the Lichfield Mercury on February 3rd 1950,  a document describing the funeral of Richard Rugeley, who, ‘…departed this mortal and transitory life on Saturday night, the 5th July 1623 at his house at Hawkesyard’, was signed by Symn Ruggeley, Thirkell Rugeley, Henry Rugley and Thomas Rugsley.

Information on the early days of Hawkesyard is sketchy but it’s thought the original hall, pulled down in 1665, was much closer to the River Trent, about half a mile to the west of Armitage Church. Nothing is thought to remain and nothing much more is known about Hawkesyard until 1760, when the estate was renamed ‘Armitage Park’ by Nathaniel Lister, who built a gothic style mansion on the sandstone hill above the site of the original hall. Beneath Lister’s new house was a plaque recording that, ‘These cellars were cut out of the rock by Richard Benton and Sons, anno Domini 1760, for Nathaniel Lister, Esq.’ Perhaps it’s still there?

Hawkesyard Hall, Armitage by Jason Kirkham

Hawkesyard Hall, Armitage by Jason Kirkham

From the 1840s, Hawkesyard was home to Mary Spode and her son Josiah, the fourth generation of the Stoke on Trent pottery dynasty, and the first not to work in the family business. Mary died in 1860, and Josiah’s wife Helen died eight years later. Both are buried at St John the Baptist in Armitage, the Anglican parish church where Josiah was the organ player and warden. Despite these strong links to St John’s, Josiah Spode converted to Catholicism in 1885, along with his niece Helen Gulson, who lived with him at Hawkesyard. On his death in 1893, Spode requested that Helen should continue to live at Hawkesyard until her death, after which the estate should be passed to the English Dominican Order of Friars. However, Helen decided to move out of the hall and into a cottage on the estate, allowing work on the new Priory and Church to begin almost immediately. Some say that this decision was inspired by a vision of the Virgin Mary appearing to Helen in the grounds of the estate, and that the altar of the new Priory Church of St Thomas Aquinas was supposedly erected over the site of this apparition.

The Priory Church at Armitage by Jason Kirkham

The Priory Church at Armitage by Jason Kirkham

Priory Church by JAson Kirkham

Priory Church by Jason Kirkham

Priory Church by Jason Kirkham

Priory Church by Jason Kirkham

Priory Church by Jaosn Kirkham

Priory Church by Jason Kirkham

The Dominicans left Hawkesyard in 1988, but their benefactors and some of their brethren remain. Josiah Spode and Helen Gulson are interred in a small chapel within the Priory Church, and outside in the gardens, are the simple concrete crosses marking the graves of monks.

Monks' Cemetery, Hawkesyard

Monks’ Cemetery, Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

As beautiful as the church is, it’s the gardens at Hawkesyard with their subterranean features, which have captured my imagination. They appear to have had the same effect on this reporter from the Lichfield Mercury, who visited in the Summer of 1935, and wrote the following description:

Down weather-worn and feet-worn steps, through charming little rockery glades, rich with lichens, ferns and its more wild brother – bracken- time and nature has made this wonderful spot more beautiful in its wildness. Some pathways lead down through fine old arches, gloriously hewn or erected deep into the bowels of the earth, or so it appeared; while others lead gradually upwards through narrow passages. Opening into a small glade we suddenly came across the entrance to the well-known underground passage which, descending steeply, rises just as abruptly in another part of the rockery, far remote from each other. Today this passage is awesome in appearance, the ground underfoot being feet deep with decaying leaves, and only the most venturesome pass out of the light of day into its unknown blackness. It was a curious and certainly thrilling experience to traverse this maze of paths. Another similar grotto housed a large shelter, carved in stone and the actual rock; a sort of summerhouse with a double archway entrance. In another we discovered some beautiful carving in white stone of three saintly figures, obviously beautifully carved, but decaying and rotting with age. We could not discover their identity or purpose, although they surmounted what could easily have been a small natural altar, secluded in the quiet of this wonderful grotto.

Eighty years later, there are no saints to be found in this wild part of Hawkesyard. Time and nature have now ravaged its beauty but have not diminished its curiosity. Several theories exist as to who carved these grottos and tunnels out of the rock and why, but as an investigation into the overgrown site in the mid 1990s concluded, ‘the function of all the above is not clear’. Any ideas?

Sunken Garden, Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

Sunken Garden, Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

Hollow rock at Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

Hollow rock at Hawkesyard by Jason Kirkham

 

Sources

Photos by Jason Kirkham

http://www.hawkesyardestate.com

Hawkesyard, Armitage, Staffordshire: A Documentary and Field Assessment. Chris Welch

Staffordshire Parks and Gardens Register Review (1993-96). Parts I and II. Staffordshire County Council

http://www.armitagewithhandsacre.co.uk

http://www.staffordshiregardensandparks.org/images/Newsletter/Issue40

Lichfield Mercury Archive

There was a Cruck-ed House

Of all of the buildings open to the public during the 2014 Lichfield Heritage Weekend, Cruck House is perhaps the one that best fits this year’s theme of ‘Hidden Histories’. I understand that this timber framed building, dating back to the fifteenth century, was restored in the 1970s, after it was discovered during the redevelopment of Stowe Street. Now surrounded by a modern housing estate, Cruck House is used by a variety of community groups, including Friends 2 Friends (F2F), an organisation which supports adults with learning difficulties. The F2F have a history group, and one of their projects has been to research the building’s past.

Cruck House, Stowe Street, Lichfield

Cruck House, Stowe Street, Lichfield

Cruck House is open again tomorrow between 11am and 3pm, so go along and have a cup of tea, and find out what F2F have discovered so far. They’re doing a great job, but this is somewhere that doesn’t give up its secrets easily and, with five hundred years worth of history to explore here, they are always looking for any help with their research. If you know anything about the hidden history of Cruck House, please get in touch!

Discussing the history of Cruck House with the Friends to Friends group

Discussing the history of Cruck House with the Friends to Friends group

Timber beams in Cruck House

Some of the original timber beams in Cruck House

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Bad Neighbours

Legend has it that in July 1403, two feuding neighbours from opposite sides of the River Trent set out to fight on opposite sides at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Sir William Handsacre was for the rebel Sir Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy and loyal to King Henry IV was Sir Robert Mavesyn, whose name was said to derive from the French malvoisin meaning ‘dangerous neighbour’. At Bridge Meadow, near to the site of High Bridge, it’s believed that the paths of the two enemies crossed, as did their swords. Living up to his name, Mavesyn killed Handsacre but his victory was short-lived and he met his end at the Battle of Shrewsbury, ‘standing with the King and fighting by his side even unto death’, if the epitaph on his tombstone in the church of St Nicholas at Mavesyn Ridware is to be believed.

The church dates to the mid-twelfth century and stands near to the site of the manor house, which Sir Robert would have once called home. The medieval house was replaced in the early eighteenth century by what William Pitt described in 1817 as, ‘a convenient box, pleasantly situated for a summer residence’. However, still in existence and visible from the churchyard is the ancient timber framed gatehouse, built using trees felled in late 1391 or before the spring of 1392, according to dendrochronology.

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The Church of St Nicholas, Mavesyn Ridware

The old gatehouse at Mavesyn Ridware, seen from the churchyard of St Nicholas

The old gatehouse at Mavesyn Ridware, from the churchyard of St Nicholas

The final resting place of Sir William is unknown but in 1866, William Painter of The Red Lion Inn at Handsacre wrote a letter on the matter to George Griffith, author of ‘The Two Houses: A Staffordshire Tragedy’, a dramatic work based on the events of 1403. According to Mr Painter, when the church of St John the Baptist in Armitage was rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century, a stone coffin was discovered in the north wall. Inside was a skeleton, with a full set of teeth and a sword. Local tradition had it that these were the mortal remains of Sir William Handsacre. (1)

In 1972, Sir William must have turned in his grave (whether in St John’s or elsewhere) when vandals destroyed much of his former home, Handsacre Hall. In a bid to preserve what remained, I understand that the surviving fragments were moved to Avoncroft Museum in Bromsgrove, where again dendrochronology was used to date the timbers, giving a suggested date of around 1310, with some reused timbers from an earlier hall. According to the report by the Staffordshire Archaeological Society, the house had been derelict for at least six years prior to this and a photograph of the building taken around this time can be found on Staffordshire Past Track here. In its heyday it looked like this.  

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Information board at the site of Handsacre Hall

Nowadays the site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, still surrounded by a moat, ten metres wide and four feet deep, but also by a housing estate. It’s said that on the island in the centre there are visible brick and sandstone remains and no doubt there is plenty of evidence of past lives at the hall below ground. Visiting in high summer, the only thing I could see (and feel unfortunately), were stinging nettles. Will be interesting to see what a return visit in winter will reveal.

Part of the moat which once surrounded Handsacre Hall

Part of the moat which once surrounded Handsacre Hall. And nettles. Lots of nettles…

Sources

Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Volume XV Transactionf for 1973/4 – Stanley R. Jones Handsacre Hall, Armitage: a note on its destruction

http://ridwarehistory.yolasite.com/mavesyn.php

Staffordshire HER 09638

Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300 – 1500: Volume 2 by Anthony Emery

A topographical history of Staffordshire by William Pitt.

Ale Tales

One of the many lost pubs that John Gallagher found for us on the brilliant Lichfield Discovered tour he led on Monday was the former Windsor Castle on Dam Street (1). There is a great story about this pub, which J W Jackson shared in his Lichfield Mercury column in 1939. I feel like I should take it with a pinch of salted peanuts, but it’s worth sharing again here.

‘Its (the Windsor Castle’s) backyard runs along the back of the workshops of Messrs R Bridgeman and Son, the well-known ecclesiastical sculptors, and it appears, years ago, the carvers in order to obtain liquid refreshment without leaving their work, ingeniously removed several bricks from the wall which separated the shop from the Windsor Castle, and through the aperture received bottles of stout or beer from the licensee (a lady at that time) at a certain time each morning and then replaced the bricks. This arrangement worked very smoothly for a long time until one morning the late Mr R Bridgeman brought a visitor into the shop to see the sculptors at work just at the time when the ‘refreshment’ was due and, of course, the men could not remove the loose bricks. Suddenly, a voice sounded clearly through from the other side of the wall, ‘Now, then you b___s, don’t you want your porter this morning?’ Mr Bridgeman, who had his back to the men at that moment, swung around quickly and taking in the situation shouted ‘Joe, come here at once and block up this hole and use cement’. (Joe was Joe Stokes who lived for many years in the little old cottage which still stands in Quonian’s Lane, adjoining the offices)’.

Mr Jackson goes on to describe how the workers got around this setback by bringing bottles into the workshop in their wheelbarrows, storing the empties in their tool chests until the coast was clear, and then returning them to the establishment for a refill.

The former 'Windsor Castle' public house

The former ‘Windsor Castle’ public house

Mr Jackson refers to the Windsor Castle as Lichfield’s oldest licensed house, a claim which I was puzzled by after reading in the official listed building description that the property only dates back to the ‘mid to late 18thc with late 19thc alterations’. However, by delving into Lichfield’s District Council’s online planning records, I have found a survey of the building (2) carried out around seven years ago, which suggests that part of the building may in fact date back to the 16thc. According to the surveyors, the original building would have been a simple one room wide structure running north/south along Dam St. The current facade was added in the early 19thc and it’s thought that the height of the roof was increased and the oriel windows added at this time too (although I’m sure John showed us a photograph of the pub without these windows on? Can anyone else remember?)

Whenever they were added, those windows feature a curious and seemingly eclectic collection of carvings.  I’m not even sure what some of them are supposed to be, but in Lichfield’s very own pub quiz version of ‘Only Connect‘, I give you a man with a fish, a man drinking beer, some sort of castle, Lichfield Cathedral and an owl, a man composing music (possibly the same man as the one with the fish?) and a building with some foliage. Are they telling a tale of some sort, and if so, what is it?

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windsor castle carvings

windsor castle carvings 4windsor castle carvings 2

windsor castle arvings 3

Notes:

1) A great write up of the walk can be found here, together with some photographs of the other pubs we visited on the night.
2)Something else I noticed on the survey were references to, ‘inappropriate repair works undertaken to the brickworks using a cement based mortar’, which, in view of how the Bridgeman workers’ cheeky ruse came to an end, made me smile.

Sources:

Lichfield Mercury Archive
Smiths Gore Condition Survey, 16 Dam Street, Lichfield (08/00186/LBC)

All Alongside the Watchtower

At the church of St Michael’s and All Angels, in Hamstall Ridware I was greeted by four arms waving (a sword) at me from a tomb. It belongs to the splendidly named Thomas Stronginthearm, who left this small village for the bright candles of Chicago in 1803, before making a final journey back home home to rest in the Staffordshire soil which his family had toiled upon – according to the church booklet, the Stronginthearms were yeoman famers.

Stronginthearm

The name appears several times in the Hamstall Ridware parish registers, available online here, recording all those who were baptised, married and buried here between 1598 and 1812. There are also other snippets of information on life in the village, including an entry in June 1806 when the Rector Edward Cooper led twenty five parishioners on a procession around its boundaries, beginning at Gallows Green, going along the Yoxall Rd as far as Sutton’s Farm, and then proceeding towards the Trent. Later that Summer, Edward’s cousin Jane Austen came to stay with him for five weeks, and it’s believed that she may have used Hamstall Ridware as inspiration for the fictional ‘Delaford’ in Sense and Sensibility. http://www2.lichfielddc.gov.uk/hamstallridware/about/

font 1

 

font 2

On the subject of baptism, there are three fonts here. Inside the church is the one that is currently used, which dates from nineteenth century and there’s the lovely Norman bowl which was relocated here from the church of St James at Pipe Ridware. Outside, and being used as a flowerpot, is the third, also said to be Norman. At the time of the Burton Scientific Society’s visit to the church in 1924, this font was on the vicarage lawn. One of the society members, a Mr Noble claimed that it was the relatively recent work of an Armitage mason who did a good trade in producing mock ancient stonework, for people with antiquarian tastes. However, the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland seem happy that the font is twelfth century, and presumably they know what they are talking about.

churchyard

There’s also the base of a medieval churchyard cross here to which a much later shaft and cross have been added, although a fragment of the original shaft remains nearby.  It was while I was having a look at this, that I noticed the ruins of a brick building, looming up behind the church tower.  This is the late 15thc/early 16thc watch tower, once part of the now derelict manor house, Hamstall Hall. When the Burton Scientific society visited, they climbed a wooden staircase to the roof where they enjoyed ‘a good view of the surrounding area’ – it’s said that you can see four counties from the top. Given that that the hall features on the ‘Heritage at Risk’ List and is considered to be at risk of collapsing, it’s probably best to take their word for it. There are other remains of the hall here too, which I missed, including a Tudor gateway, and the porch to the old hall.

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Showing St Michaels Church and the tower of Hamstall Hall in the background.   © Copyright Graham Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Showing St Michaels Church and the tower of Hamstall Hall in the background.
© Copyright Graham Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In June 1939, the Derbyshire Times did a feature on a ninety three year old woman known as ‘Grannie Shelton’, who worked as a parlour maid and nurse at the hall, and married her husband on 19th March 1863 at St Michael’s. She told the paper that she had never seen a ghost but had once, ‘been down amongst the dead men’ – when a member of the Squire of Hamstall Hall’s family died she entered the family vault to have a look around and saw six coffins inside, each covered by a black cloth but with the white face of each of the corpses visible through the glass. Mrs Shelton also once dressed up as a ghost to scare the pantry boy that she suspected of stealing fruit from the Hall, causing him to run for his life shouting ‘The Devil is in the pantry!’ The devil may not have been in the pantry, but apparently he was found in a small hollow compartment in one of the bedrooms of the old manor house in the form of a stone image, complete with horns, depicted as ‘shaving a pig with red skin’ (I swear that I haven’ t made this up!). The report suggests that the Hall was formerly a Nunnery, and this hollow would have been somewhere nuns would carry out penance for breaking the rules. I can’t see any reference anywhere else to hall being used as a convent and I can’t help but wonder if it could have been a priests’ hole?  The hall belonged to the Catholic Fitzherbert family from 1517 to 1601. Sir Thomas Fitzherbert was imprisoned in the Tower of London for thirty years until his death on 2nd October 1591. All pure speculation on my part.

Feel like I’ve only just dipped my toe into the (holy) water when it comes to the history of Hamstall Ridware…