Soul Sister

Friend and well hunting expert Pixy Led described Nun’s Well at Cannock Wood as being, “…perhaps the most hidden of all the springs and wells I have investigated”, and it was only thanks to his post about the site on his brilliant Holy and Healing Wells blog that this well hunting amateur was able to locate it. Between Pixy’s and my visits, it appears the site has been tidied up considerably and this is my attempt to do the same historywise, purely to satisfy my own curiosity.  It’s much more appealing than sorting out the cupboard under the stairs. Or cleaning for the Queen.

nuns well board

Nun’s Well is a spring rising in a chamber cut from rock with a sixteenth century Tudor style brickwork arch. Legend has it that the well has healing powers, specifically for sore eyes, and takes its name from a nun who was murdered there. Centuries after she was pushed to her death, two farm labourers discovered her earthly remains in the sealed up well and her ghost materialised before them. As Pixy points out on his blog, however, two of the best known works on Staffordshire folklore don’t even mention the well let alone its resident spirit.  I have found a reference in Robert Garner’s 1844 Natural History of the County of Stafford, which also doesn’t mention the ghost story but does offer an alternative explanation of how the well got its name,

“To descend to more recent times we lately visited a spot where one of our early monastic institutions was placed, Redmore, from which the nuns were soon removed to Polesworth because the gay cavaliers riding that way to hunt on Cannock Chase spoiled their devotions. With some trouble we found the solitary quadrangular site not far from Gentleshaw in some low ground embosomed in a wood through which a brook flows now ochrey from the scoriae of an ancient smelting place above and here also is a well considered medicinal and still called the nun’s well”.

It’s still not an entirely satisfactory version of events though (although there’s something undeniably satisfying about seeing something described as being embosomed in a wood. Must be the logophile in me).

nunswell sign

There does appear to have to have been a monastic institution near to the well. Records show that in 1141, King Stephen granted land at Radmore or Red Moor to two hermits called Clement and Hervey and their companions. Frequent disturbances from passing foresters, rather than gay cavaliers, interrupted the quiet contemplations of Clement, Hervey and co, causing them to ask Empress Matilda if she could find them somewhere a bit quieter. It’s recorded that she agreed to this on the condition that their religious house be converted to the Cistercian order. It seems the hermits kept their part of the deal, and the retreat became a Cistercian abbey but according to the History of the County of Warwick, the foresters continued to cause problems. As soon as Henry II ascended the throne in 1154, the now Cistercian Monks petitioned him to transfer them to his manor at Stoneleigh. Henry did so and traces of the original abbey can still be found at Stoneleigh Abbey, now a grand country house.

Whether anything of the original abbey remains at Radmore is where things get really messy. Ordnance Survey maps of the area from the 1880s onwards show the site of a priory near to the well (see the 1949 map incorporated in Brownhills Bob’s post on Gentleshaw Reservoir here). According to Walsall place names expert and tricycle rider Duignan this is actually a muck up on behalf of the surveyors who, “… have mistaken furnace slag for ancient ruins (of the abbey)”.  What he found on the site was, “heaps of furnace slag, evidently of great antiquity, with 300-400 year old oak tress standing on and beside the slag”. It seems from the description of the site given by Historic England that that these could mark the site of a medieval bloomery or iron furnace. A medieval moated site also exists in the vicinity and there are suggestions that this is the site of a royal lodge established by Henry II shortly after the monks moved on to pastures quieter. As Staffordshire County Council’s Historic Environment Character Assessment report says, ‘the precise location of the abbey is unknown, but it is believe to have stood near Courtbank Coverts near Cannock Wood where a scheduled moated site and bloomery survive’.

nuns well fence

So, in the area we have a moated site, a hunting lodge, iron working and a short-lived abbey (somewhere) but how and where does the nun fit in to all this? Duignan suggests the name arose as the land was owned by the nunnery at Farewell. I read an interesting line in the History of the County of Stafford’s section on the Abbey at Radmore which says, ‘King Stephen granted Radmore, probably between 1135 and 1139, to Clement, Hervey, and their companions as the site for a hermitage…Bishop Roger de Clinton confirmed this grant and gave the hermits permission to follow any rule they wished and to receive and instruct any holy women who came to them after adopting a rule”. That suggests to me that there may have been holy women here at Radmoor…nuns? Hardly the most watertight of etymological explanations I know but then I don’t think Duignan’s is that convincing either. Is it? Although Nun’s Well is not technically a wishing well, please do feel free to throw in your two pence worth.

nunswell water

 

Sources:

G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Radmore’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), p. 225 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/p225 [accessed 4 March 2016].

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1003750

‘Parishes: Stoneleigh’, in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 6, Knightlow Hundred, ed. L F Salzman (London, 1951), pp. 229-240 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol6/pp229-240 [accessed 7 February 2016].

http://cistercians.shef.ac.uk/abbeys/stoneleigh.php

Take Me to Church Mayfield

On my recent explorations of the North, I exchanged SatNav Woman for my Mum and a map. It’s a swings and drive several times around the roundabout looking for the right exit approach. SatNav Woman doesn’t get excited by finding places like ‘Gallows Green’ on the map or stopping to ask directions from bonny locals who call you ‘Me Duck’ (ok, that was both of us), but then she doesn’t send you text messages from the car when you’re having a moment with a thousand year old font or leave her wet socks to dry on the dashboard either.

Mum's Socks

From Croxden Abbey we headed to Mayfield, and specifically, Church Mayfield as I wanted to see the early sixteenth century tower at St John the Baptist. Completed by Thomas Rollestone in 1515, he added the inscription ‘Ainsi et mieux peut etre’. I don’t speak French but I understand this translates to something like ‘thus it is and better it could be’ and appears to be a variation on the Rollestone family motto. Some have interpreted this as an indication that Thomas thought he could have done a bit of a better job on the tower. My maths is as bad as my French, but I can just about work out that this year was its 500th anniversary and at the celebrations in April, someone made an edible replica of the church in gingerbread, something so brilliant that surely neither perfectionist Thomas Rollestone nor Mary Berry could find fault.

Tower door, Mayfield

Tower door, Mayfield

The door to the tower is peppered with holes and the story goes that on 7th December 1745 the retreating army of Bonnie Prince Charlie passed through Mayfield, murdering an innkeeper and a man who refused to hand over his horse before turning their muskets on the church door, behind which the terrified villagers had barricaded themselves. Although I came in peace, the door was also locked to me and so I had to be content exploring the churchyard.

Holes in the door

Holes in the door

Underneath a yew tree there’s a medieval wayside cross moved here in the mid nineteenth century from Middle Mayfield, where it stood at a junction opposite a house known as ‘The Hermitage’ (an inscription on the door lintel reads ‘William Bott, in his old age, built himself a hermitage 1749).  Something else in the churchyard which I’ve never seen before but is so simple and effective that I’m not sure why, is a tree stump timeline, marking events in the church, village and the world during the lifetime of the Lebanese cedar which was one hundred and seventy seven years old when it was felled in 2008.

Tree time line Mayfield

En-route to our next destination (Cheadle),  we tried and failed to find the Hanging Bridge, spanning the River Dove, and also the Staffordshire/Derbyshire boundary. It was rebuilt in 1937 but, as you’ll see from the photo I’ve pinched from elsewhere, the arches of the original fourteenth century packhorse bridge are still visible. The name is said to refer to the executions of the Jacobite rebels which took place here following the trouble at Mayfield. However, as much as I’m a fan of folklore, I’m also a lover of linguistics and my suspicion the story was derived from the bridge’s name, and not vice versa, was confirmed by David Horovitz’s epic research into the place names of Staffordshire which reveals that the structure was first recorded as Le Hongindebrugge in 1296, nearly 450 years before Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops are said to have met their end here. Of course that only raises more questions about what ‘hanging’ actually refers to here. I’ve been thinking about it for over an hour and now I’m handing it over to you, as the best I can come up with is a rope bridge. Ainsi et mieux peut etre….

Hanging Bridge, Mayfield by John M [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Hanging Bridge, Mayfield by John M [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sources:
http://www.mayfieldparishchurch.org/history-churchyard.html

Click to access 397633_vol2.pdf

‘Discovering Mayfield’ leaflet 2012 produced by Mayfield Heritage Group

Abbey Road

I was still feeling the effects of the lunar eclipse in the early hours of Monday on Tuesday morning. Not in a spiritual way, I was just knackered from staying up. However Croxden, the first stop on my rambles around the North of the shire last week, was a sight for my sore eyes. The tiny village is dominated by the ruins of a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1176 by Bertram de Verdun of Alton Castle (1) for the souls of his predecessors and successors.

Remains of 12thc Alton Castle founded by Bertram de Verdon. Not open to the public. As I found out...

Remains of 12thc Alton Castle founded by Bertram de Verdun.

What is left of the semi-circular East end of the abbey church, unusual in England and probably inspired by the French designs the Abbey’s patrons would have known, lies to one side of the road that someone decided to cut through the site. The nave, south transept and other monastic buildings lie on the other and you can see a plan showing what is still visible above ground and what has been lost here. In 1288, a priest from Walsall called William de Schepisheved, was given the task of chronicling life inside and out of these Abbey walls.  He worked backwards to 1066 and contemporaneously until 1320 when the entries in his hand stop, although the chronicle continues until 1374.

Blood Moon. Just in case you didn't see one of the three million photos of it shared online,

Blood Moon. Just in case you didn’t see one of the three million photos of it shared online,

We tweeted and shared our photos of the lunar eclipse. William the Chronicler recorded the celestial events he witnessed in the annals. Understandably for him and those of his time, eclipses were considered bad omens, often linked to any conflict, pestilence or bad weather that occurred. William records a solar eclipse in July 1330 and connects it to the floods and unseasonable weather which occurred two months before and for three months after, resulting in a late harvest, “…they had scarcely reaped the last of their corn with the greatest toil on the feast of All Saints and they had at last collected their peas into barns and outhouses on the feast of the blessed apostle Andrew. And what is so remarkable to see and hear, on the feast of All Saints and of St Martin fresh peas in their shells were given to the convent in the refectory instead of pears and apples”.  Another notable event in July 1301 appears in the Abbey’s annals describing how, “on the day of the Blessed Mary Magdalene, about the sixth hour, a great earthquake took place, to such an extent that all the persons in the convent, being at their first refection, were dismayed with a sudden and unlooked-for trembling”.

The chronicle also documents a connection between the abbey and Lichfield. William recorded that on Easter Eve in 1313, the great bell of the Monastery was broken by mischance and a man called Henry Michel came from Lichfield with his youths to cast another. It was reported that his first attempt failed but he started afresh and completed by the Festival of All Saints. It seems likely that this was Henry the Bellfounder who granted Lichfield’s Franciscan Friars the springs near Aldershawe which would later supply water to the whole of the city.

Plaque on Lichfield's Clock Tower, the base of which was once the water conduit which stood near the Friary.

Plaque on Lichfield’s Clock Tower, the base of which was once the water conduit which stood near the Friary.

As well as life at the abbey, Death inevitably also features in the chronicle. There are the descriptions of the burials of the Verdun family including that of Lady Joan Furnival, eldest daughter and heir of Theobald de Verdun, who on October 2nd 1334, “was taken by untimely death in childbirth; for on the day she died she was only thirty years and almost two months” and was “buried near her ancestors between Lord Nicholas de Verdun, son of the founder, and her ancestor and Lord John de Verdun, her great-grandfather”. Their now empty stone coffins can be seen alongside the ruins at the east end of the church.

DSCF0302

Stone coffins at Croxden.

The entry for 1349 simply and bleakly says, ” There was a great pestilence throughout the whole world.” Nothing more. No indication of how many succumbed to and how many survived the plague here in Croxden.  The following year, 1350, another single sentence notes, “This year was a jubilee” (2), and then there is nothing until the harrowing entry made in 1361 which records, ” A second pestilence took place, and all the children that were born since the first pestilence died.” In the absence of detail, I did a little reading between the lines. After ten years, plague had reared its ugly head again and although overall mortality rates were lower than in the first outbreak, the disproportionate number of deaths amongst the young in this second wave led to it being known as ‘the Children’s Plague’. Was this was because those who had survived the plague the first time around had some sort of immunity that the children born subsequently did not? I don’t know. I’m not sure that anyone does for sure. In 1369, another ‘visitation’ is recorded.

West front of the Abbey Church

Five years later the Chronicle ends but not before recording two further natural disasters affecting the Abbey – a flood destroying all the grass growing near the water together with all the bridges across the River Churnet, and a tempest which took the lead off the dormitory, infirmary, and abbot’s chamber, throwing down half the trees in the orchard. Plague and poor harvests took their toll and by the end of the fourteenth century, the Abbey was in decline.

DSCF0278

One thing that doesn’t seem to appear in the Chronicle is the ‘fact’ that King John’s Heart is buried at Croxden. Possibly because it isn’t. I first came across the claim in Arthur Mee’s guide to Staffordshire and since have found several other sources saying the same, including William White’s Directory of Staffordshire (1851), Samuel Lewis’ Topical Directory of England (1831) and The Gentleman’s Magazine (1823). Trouble is other, more reliable sources say it’s at Croxton, Leicestershire including the Charter Roll of 1257. I’m sorry to say, I think we have to concede this one to our foxy neighbours.

A drawing of the effigy of King John in Worcester Cathedral from "HISTORY OF ENGLAND by SAMUEL R. GARDINER

A drawing of the effigy of King John in Worcester Cathedral from “HISTORY OF ENGLAND by SAMUEL R. GARDINER

The King’s bowels were also said to have been removed at the time of his death and buried somewhere in Croxton, and to quote Simon Schama, their removal left John, ‘as gutless in death as he was said to have been in life’. The majority of John’s body rests in Worcester Cathedral, although more in pieces than at peace. When the tomb was opened in 1797, it became apparent that the bones had been disturbed, with the jaw lying by an elbow and all but four of the teeth and most of the finger bones missing – the King’s hands presumably having fallen into the hands of souvenir hunters.

The end of the road for Croxden came on 7 September 1538 when Dr. Thomas Leigh and William Cavendish received the surrender of the abbey and the roof was removed to prevent the Abbot and resident six monks from continuing to use the site. Although Croxden Abbey has been privately owned since then, it has been under state guardianship since 1936. Today, the ruins are cared for by English Heritage and it’s absolutely free to go and explore them (although I’m sure they’d appreciate a donation). Unlike staying up all night to watch a lunar eclipse, I can highly recommend it. More information on visiting and directions here.

Notes

(1) I had no idea there was a castle at Alton until I went to Alton with a friend and saw a sign for it. As we found out, it is not open to the public.

(2) I suspected that a jubilee in this context did not mean what I thought it did so I of course googled it and discovered that jubilee years had been started by Pope Boniface in 1300, and to be celebrated every hundred years thereafter. However, Pope Clement VI later amended this as people’s average lifespan was too short and so many would not live to see one. Plus there was money to be made from pilgrims. Pope Paul II later amended the frequency of jubilee years to be every twenty five. For anyone interested, the next one will be in 2025.

Sources:

https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/094-2009web.pdf

Self-representation of Medieval Religious Communities  Anne Müller, Karen Stöber

CROXDEN ABBEY: ITS HISTORY AND ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES.

BY CHARLES LYNAM )(North Staffordshire Field Club)

The Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 89, Part 2

Trailgating

Perhaps the biggest faux pax you can commit about the place that gave the world Samuel ‘Dictionary’ Johnson is to spell the name incorrectly. Outsiders, please note that these days the only acceptable ‘T’ in Lichfield comes with biscuits and/or cake. The other way to wind up a Lichfeldian is to refer to Staffordshire’s premier heritage city as a town. En-route to the Guildhall Cells, perpetrators of this crime are taken past our central railway station to illustrate just how wrong they were.

"Lichfield City Station (6668724487)" by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom - Lichfield City StationUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lichfield_City_Station_(6668724487).jpg#/media/File:Lichfield_City_Station_(6668724487).jpg

“Lichfield City Station (6668724487)” by Elliott Brown from Birmingham, United Kingdom – Lichfield City StationUploaded by Oxyman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Once they are in the stocks, heretics are then read to from the charters, currently held at the museum in St Mary’s, which include Queen Mary’s declaration of 1553 that Lichfield was not only to be a city, as granted by her brother Edward five years earlier, but also a county in its own right.

stocks

“OK it’s a city. I get it. I’m sorry. I’m from Tamworth”

This is the charter which gave rise to the annual Sheriff’s Ride (and its much more recent and considerably shorter spin-offs), a twenty mile perambulation of the current boundary of Lichfield. I had often sat and wondered whether at any point, the boundary was physically marked in someway (I do need to get out more) and just recently found an article written in the late nineteenth century which says it was, “formerly marked by wooden posts, but they have much deteriorated and in some instances disappeared. A renewal in iron of the most important has recently taken place”.

The Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane in 2014

The 2014 Sheriff perambulating Cross in Hand Lane.

Descriptions of the boundary of the City of Lichfield date back to the late 1700s. Back then it was only a sixteen mile round trip. Although in 1806, local historian Harwood said they were based on ‘ancient writings’, I understand there is no earlier written description of exactly what constituted Lichfield. However, there are piecemeal records showing some of the boundary changes over the centuries. And there must have been a fair few changes to get from a medieval town you could walk around in an hour to a city with a circumference of sixteen miles.

Last week I spent a sunny morning trying to trace the boundary of what would have been the medieval town. With the help of John Snape’s 1782 plan of Lichfield, it’s actually fairly easy to do, even for someone as illiterate at map reading as me.  Bishop Roger de Clinton surrounded the south part of the new town he had laid out in the late twelfth century with a bank and ditch and fortified the shared northern boundary of the town and Cathedral Close. Apart from a couple of inconveniently placed walls, you can pretty much walk the whole way around.

The moat marking the northern boundary of both medieval Lichfield and the Close. Described on Snape's map as a dry ditch or dumble.

The moat marking the northern boundary of both medieval Lichfield and the Close. Described on Snape’s map as a dry ditch or dumble.

Remains of the NE Tower, part of the Close's fortifications.

Remains of the NE Tower, part of the Close’s fortifications.

Thanks to archaeological investigations, we know that the town ditch in the St John’s Street area was about five metres wide, two metres deep and inevitably, was also used as a public tip.

Castle Ditch plaque

The driveway passing the LD Council Offices follows the line of the town ditch, and there's a plaque there telling you that.

The driveway passing the Lichfield District Council Offices follows the line of the town ditch, and there’s a plaque there too.

When a section in the Council House car park was excavated in 2008, archaeologists discovered the sole of a woman’s shoe from the twelfth century, part of a medieval jug and the remains of a medieval dog’s head.

This plaque is located at the junction of Lombard St, Stowe Rd and George Lane

This plaque is located at the junction of Lombard St, Stowe Rd and George Lane.

Back to plaque, looking up George Lane which was actually once part of the town ditch

Back to plaque, looking up George Lane which was actually once part of the town ditch, possibly until the 16thc

Snape’s plan also marks the gates, or bar(r)s, at the main entrances into and out of Lichfield, and there are plaques at each of the locations, with the, hopefully temporary, exception of the Sandford Street gate. The building it was mounted on has recently been demolished but I’m sure the plaque is being kept safely somewhere….

Perhaps the best known of the gates is the one at St John Street which is still recalled in the name of St John the Baptist without the Barrs. You know, the place with all the chimneys. As the name indicates, this stood just outside the gate and started out as a hostel for those arriving when Lichfield was closed for business for the night, many of them pilgrims on their way to see the shrine of St Chad at the Cathedral.

st john sign

On the subject of names, the section of the ditch running from the gate on Tamworth Street, to the gate near St John’s Hospital was known as Castle Ditch, and this, alongside hard evidence in the form of stones turning up nearby and evidence of a slightly more fluffy nature in the form of myth and folklore, has caused endless speculation as to whether Lichfield ever had a castle proper alongside the fortified Close with its towers, turrets and strong walls.

Remains of south gate tower leading from dam Street to The Close. Excavated in the 1980s

Remains of one of the towers which were part of the south gate between Dam Street and The Close. Excavated in the 1980s.

So, plenty of opportunities to get out more here. I think the two mile-ish walk around the ditch will make an excellent Lichfield Discovered adventure. I would also happily walk sixteen miles to find one of those old iron boundary markers although I may be on my own with this. It’d also be interesting to see how Lichfield has burst its boundaries over the years gobbling up all of the surrounding settlements, so much so that it’d take you six hours and twenty four minutes to perambulate the current perimeter, according to this walking calculator I’ve found.  And that doesn’t even include getting distracted by other things or stopping off at the pub. It’ll have to wait though, as right now I’m off on an expedition to Borrowcop to see if I can capture Lichfield Castle.

1)  If we’re doing names, then I have to mention that Bakers Lane was once known as Peas Porridge Lane. Just because.

Heaven and Earth

Without wishing to state the obvious, this blog is called Lichfield Lore. Sometimes I’m worried that I might go too far (in a geographical rather than controversial sense) but although I’ve overstepped the Lichfield boundary from time to time, I have at least remained in Staffordshire. Until now.

Last month, a group of us from Lichfield Discovered, crossed the border into Derbyshire to visit Repton which, between the seventh and ninth centuries, had been one of the main residences of of the Mercian royal family. In 653AD, Peada, son of the pagan King Penda converted to Christianity in order to marry Alhflæd (sp?), the daughter of King Oswy of Northumbria. To help him to convert the rest of the kingdom, he employed four monks from Lindisfarne  – Adda, Betti, Cedd and Diuma, the latter of whom would become the first Bishop of Mercia (1). However, Peada and Alhflæd do not appear to have been a match made in Heaven nor Neorxnawang. The Venerable Bede reported in his Historia Ecclesiastica that Peada was murdered in 656AD “wickedly killed by the treachery, as is said, of his wife during the very time of celebrating Easter”. 

Church of St Wystan, Repton. Photo by David Moore

Church of St Wystan, Repton. Photo by David Moore

Rather fitting then that it was death which brought us to the ‘cradle of Christianity in the Midlands’. Although Peada is not buried here, the eighth century Anglo-Saxon crypt beneath the church was used as a mausoleum for later members of the Mercian royal family, including King Æthelbald ( ‘treacherously murdered at night by his own bodyguards’ says Bede), King Wiglaf (cause of death unknown) and his grandson Wigstan (murdered by a family member, who he objected to marrying his widowed mother. Seems his concerns were well-founded). The exact place where Wigstan was scalped is not known (Wistow in Leicestershire and Wistanstow in Shropshire both have claims) but wherever it was, it’s said that on the anniversary of his death each year, human hair grows from the earth at the spot where his blood was spilt (2). This supposed phenomenon and other miracles, led to the canonization of Wigstan, who became known as St Wystan. The crypt became a place of pilgrimage and the church above it took his name.

The crypt at Repton. Photo by David Moore.

The crypt at Repton. Photo by David Moore.

In the early eleventh century, King Cnut ordered the holy bones to be moved to Evesham Abbey and in the centuries which followed, the entrances to the crypt were sealed and its existence forgotten until 1779, when someone digging a grave for the headmaster of Repton School broke through the vaulting and fell into it. We made our entrance in a rather more conventional way.

crypt stairs

Down to the crypt and into the eighth century. Photo by David Moore.

From Repton, we headed to the Anchor Church, four connected caves alongside the River Trent, which both nature and humans had a hand in forming. I confess that the time I should have spent on the logistics of the trip was instead spent at the Whippet Inn, and so it took a bit of finding with just a postcode to guide us. However, when we did finally arrive we were pleased to see that, although thick with mud, the often flooded path that would take us to the ‘church’ was just about passable.

Inside the caves. Photo by Andy Walker.

Inside the caves. Photo by Andy Walker.

Legend has it that in the sixth or seventh century, the caves were occupied by a hermit, who spent his time here going to the river to pray. Later, the caves were supposedly inhabited by a monk called Bernard who spent his last days here, repenting for his part in the deception which persuaded returning crusader Hugh de Burdett that his wife Johanne had been unfaithful. The story goes that Hugh cut off her left hand, leaving her to bleed to death over the altar cloth she’d been embroidering for him using her own hair (what’s with the hair obsession around here?).  On a more cheerful note, in the eighteenth century, Sir Francis Burdett (presumably one of Hugh’s descendants) used the caves and riverbanks as a venue for picnics, as shall we when we visit again in the Summer.

The Anchor Church near Ingleby. Photo by David Moore.

The Anchor Church near Ingleby. Photo by David Moore.

On our way back to the cars, there was a blood-curdling scream. Had one of our party met with the ghost of Johanne searching for her lost hand or had they lost their footing and fallen victim to the mud?  No, Carol just had something in her shoe. One of those funny at the time but you really had to be there moments admittedly, but I mention it because this is what I remember first and most fondly when I think of our trip. I love places for their stories and their connections to the people of the past, but even more so for the memories made by visiting them with people in the here and now.

repton group

Looking for pirahanas in the River Trent. Photo by David Moore.

Notes

(1) In 669, Chad, brother of Cedd and the fourth Bishop of Mercia moved the See from Repton to Lichfield (phew, it is relevant to Lichfield after all!)

(2) There’s another Lichfield Discovered trip right there. Who is free on the first of June? We’ll have to split up though, gang….

(3) Another Lichfield link – in 1364 an armed mob at Repton attacked the Bishop of Lichfield and the Prior. Actually, finding places with a tenuous link to Lichfield could be a whole blog post in its own.

References

http://www.reptonchurch.org.uk/

Repton and its Neighbourhood by F C Hipkins

The Oxford Dictionary of Saints by David Hugh Farmer

http://jimjarratt.co.uk/follies/page57.html

Click to access anchor_a3.pdf

Lily's Medieval Jigsaw Puzzle

Recently, twelve year old Lily made a very interesting discovery in Lichfield. Here’s her account of how the contents of a cardboard box found in an old gaol cell turned out to be far more exciting than than anyone could have imagined….

“In November 2014, I went to the Lichfield Gaol Cells in the Guildhall. It was a Lichfield Discovered event, and we were going to look and see if we could find any graffiti, names, or dates on the gaol cell doors. About 7 or 8 of us came to the event all in all, I came with my Dad. Everyone else managed to find lots of writing and names on the doors, I didn’t find much. Near the end of the session, we were looking inside the third jail cell, the one that is not normally open to the public. My Dad pointed out 2 boxes of old looking tiles on the floor, we took a quick look, but we didn’t pay much attention to them.

Tiles 1

Tiles in cardboard boxes in gaol cell now used for storage

The next time we came to the gaol cells was on 21st February, we had come back to see if there was any more graffiti that we had missed, also to take a second look at the boxes of tiles (Jo at the museum said it was ok). This time I had come with my Mom and there was around 8 people that turned up this time. Me and my Mom started looking through the tiles, we had picked about 5 up and we laid them on a chair to photograph them, but they werereally dusty so we couldn’t see if there were any other patterns on them.

There were so many tiles that we couldn’t fit any more on, we decided to move all of the tiles into the 4th cell, onto a wooden bed that the prisoners used to sleep in, (personally I would NEVER think of sleeping on one of them). We started taking some more tiles out of the box and moving them onto the bed. We moved them a few at a time, because the box was too heavy to lift. I had realised that there were a few tiles with the same pattern on. I really wanted to get a better look at what the patterns looked like, so my mom went to Wilko (just up the road) to buy 2 paintbrushes. When she got back we started brushing off the dust and dirt from the tiles we had got out, we could see the patterns a lot clearer. We had nearly finished emptying out the first box of tiles, and at the bottom my Mom found a bit of tile with ‘Lichfield Friary’ written on the back. She showed it to Kate and she said “Maybe it came from the old Friary!” and then we all got really excited!

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Tile with Lichfield Friary writing on the back

We had found lots of bone shaped tiles that were exactly like the one that said ‘Lichfield Friary’ on it.

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“Bone” shaped tiles

Whatever the floor was, it was really big. We had found LOADS of tiles that looked the same, and maybe they belonged to the same floor. I started trying to see if any of the tiles might fit together, there were loads of circular tiles, some with patterns on, and some without. There was one round tile, with a triangle and circles intertwined in a pattern. There were also pizza shaped tiles, without a tip, like someone had taken a pizza and cut the middle out with a cookie cutter, if you get what I mean. Those tiles had a kind of moon, with a starfish shape in the middle.

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Circular “pizza” tiles with moon and star pattern

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Plain “pizza” tiles

We had found one of these tiles that was complete and one that was broken, but fitted back together again. All the rest were broken, but I managed to get a full circle out of the fragments we had found. It was like a massive jigsaw-puzzle, but I did it in the end, and what was even more exciting, was that the circular tile fit perfectly inside the ring of pizza shaped tiles! Same with the tiles with no pattern on, but we didn’t find another circular tile.

There was also another set of tiles. We had found about 8-10 of the same type, they were square, and they all had the same pattern on, the kind that can make 2 different types of patterns, depending on which way you put them.

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Square tiles with pattern – my faves 🙂

Most of them were complete, apart from 3-4 of them which we only had corners of. I put them together, and they nearly made a 9 square pattern. These were my favourite tiles, and I hoped we found some more of them, we only had half a box or so left to get out. We did find a couple more of these tiles eventually. We finished emptying out the box, and then we started taking pictures of all the tiles. There wasn’t much time left, so we took all of the photos really quickly. As a result, not many of the pictures were very good. And the light was quite dim in the cells, so the light wasn’t the best either.

It was nearing the end of the session, so we had to put all of the tiles back in the boxes. I couldn’t help thinking that the tiles were from the old medieval Friary. At least some of them.

Kate asked me if I could do some research to see if the tiles were from the Friary, Me and my Mom went to the Lichfield Records Office, to go and look at ‘The Lichfield Friary’ by P. Laithwaite, which was reprinted from the Transactions of the Birmingham Archaeological Society where a report of Councillor T. Moseley’s findings from his exploration of the site in 1933 was given.

Laithwaite BAS 1934

D77/23/67 Copyright Lichfield Record Office

There were only 6 pages in the book. Page 5 had a drawing of some if the exact tiles we had found (the ones that looked like pizzas with the middle cut out) some with patterns, and some without.

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D77/23/67 The Lichfield Friary by P.Laithwaite Copyright Lichfield Records Office

Me and my mom were like O-O (AMAZED!). On the next page (page 6) there was a drawing on 3 tiles with different patterns on, all of which we had found in the box of tiles! 😀 (and my favourite one, the one that we had got like a 9 block square of the floor.)

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D77/23/67 Drawing of square tiles from The Lichfield Friary by P.Laithwaite Copyright Lichfield Records Office

We had found what we had come looking for, proof that the tiles in the boxes were Medieval from The Grey Friars’ Church at The Friary!”

Note – this is not where the story ends! Lily is having an afternoon on the tiles with Jo Wilson, Lichfield City Council Museum and Heritage Officer and medieval tiles expert, Karen Slade this week, so look out for an update soon. Lily’s doing such a great job – the initial discovery, the ongoing research, and writing it all up afterwards – that I’m thinking of joining the Right Revd Jonathan Gledhill in retirement and leaving Lichfield Lore in her more than capable young hands.

 

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

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

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.

Daisy, Daisy

Recently, I’ve spent more time in churches than ever before in my life (with the possible exception of the Summer of 2004, when I went to so many weddings that I was able to recite 1 Corinthians 13 off by heart). When I was younger, history for me was all about the castles. Churches were boring. The only remotely interesting thing about them was that, with their crenellations, some of them looked a bit like castles. Now I know that they can tell stories just as good as any castle, but you just need to know where to look.

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Before even stepping inside All Saints in Kings Bromley, there are plenty of interesting tales. ‘Lady Godiva’s’ cross in the churchyard, originally dates back to the 14th century, but was restored in 1897.

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I was delighted but intrigued to see a reference to one of my childhood heroines here. The story I knew as a little girl was that Godiva pleaded with her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia, to reduce the taxes he imposed on the people of Coventry. Leofric tried calling her bluff by saying he would do so, if she rode through the marketplace in the buff. Unfortunately for him, his wife not only had compassion, but also really, really long hair which according to Roger of Wendover who first recorded the story, ‘covered the whole of her body like a veil’, as she climbed onto her horse and successfully carried out her legendary protest. The connection with Kings Bromley is that Godiva and Leofric had a summer residence or hunting lodge here, where Leofric died in 1057 and may well have been involved with an earlier church which could have stood on this site.

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Unlike others I’ve seen recently, I’m pleased to say the church itself hasn’t been fully restored by those pesky Victorians, but has a range of architectural styles and features dating back to at least the eleventh century, but possibly even earlier than that – the HER description says that this is an Anglo-Saxon wall, and somewhere within it there is possibly even a Romano-British brick. On a buttress near to this ancient wall is a medieval scratch dial which, with the assistance of the sun, would once have helped the priest be on time for mass. On the buttress in-between the porch and the sixteenth century tower there is another carving, but unlike the scratch dial, no-one is quite sure of its significance.

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The daisy wheel carving is described as a mason’s mark in the churches information sheet. Although this is the first I’ve seen, this symbol regularly crops up on old buildings, especially churches. Whilst some believe these carvings have a practical function, others believe they were carved for good luck or protection against evil spirits.

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On a bit of a tangent, on the subject of childhood and daisies and folklore, I did wonder about some of the little rituals surrounding these flowers that we unthinkingly carried out as kids. The name is thought to come from the old English ‘Daes Eage’ meaning ‘day’s eye’, and refers to the way the flower opens and closes with sunlight. I’ve read that wearing daisy chains was thought to protect you from being abducted by fairies (must work, I’m still here!) and that one of its folk names is ‘Measure of Love’, from the game where you pull off the petals one by one, chanting, ‘He loves me, he loves me not’. Apparently, there is another less risky version of this game in which you chant, ‘He loves me, he loves me lots’. If only someone had told me this at the time, I wouldn’t have had to cheat so much.

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Anyway, as it says in those half remembered lines from Corinthians, I’ve put away childish things. Well, most of them anyway….

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Sources

http://www.medievalgraffitisurrey.org/circles.html