Wall, located just two miles to the south of Lichfield, is an incredible place to visit at anytime of the year. This Sunday (19th July) however, the Friends of Letocetum will be bringing the remains of the Roman settlement here to life with their annual open day, held in conjunction with English Heritage and the National Trust. Entrance is free and the event runs from 11am to 4pm, during which time you’ll be able to experience life as a Roman soldier, get creative with a Roman artist and explore what everyday life would have been like at Letocetum. A group of Saxons are also setting up an encampment at the site and for literature fans there will be a Saxon book binder and storyteller. Children can take part in a range of games and activities* and there will also be a stall selling Roman games, perfumes and beads.
Roman style bootcamp at last year’s open day
John Crowe, chair of the Friends group and Wall Parish Council said, “Last year we welcomed over twelve hundred visitors. The whole village comes together each year for our annual open day, and we want people to come along and have fun, whilst learning more about the significance of this major Roman settlement, situated at the crossroads of two of the most important roads at the centre of Roman Britain. The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered just one mile to the west of the village, and other finds from the local area suggest that Christianity may have been established at Letocetum prior to St Chad’s arrival in Lichfield”.
This stone, one of several found built into one of the walls at Wall, is just one of the many fascinating artefacts on display at the museum. It is thought to be Romano-British and features two carved heads with horns and what has been interpreted as a shield.
“The church of St John, built in 1837 and designed by William Moffatt and George Gilbert Scott, will be open to visitors, and refreshments will be available in the village hall. There will also be volunteers on hand in the museum to talk visitors through the fascinating collection of artefacts discovered at the site, so please do come and join us for what will be an enjoyable and informative day”.
Life at Letocetum…see if you can spot the two thousand year old (ish!) paw print somewhere on the site…
*there is a small charge for these activities to cover costs
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 ofof 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Looking for pirahanas in the River Trent. Photo by David Moore.
(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.
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
Carving at 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
Defaced – the unknown knight of Gnosall
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
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
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 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
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!
Rodwell,W. (2012) The Archaeology of Churches Stroud: Amberley
Oosterwijk, S. (2010) Deceptive appearances. The presentation of children on medieval tombs Ecclesiology Today
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Anyway, as it says in those half remembered lines from Corinthians, I’ve put away childish things. Well, most of them anyway….
Always happy to be distracted from shopping, I had a wander down Quonians Lane to take a photo of a door (that’s a whole different post!). Everyone loves Quonians Lane with its strange name and its carvings and plaques. Annette Rubery wrote a lovely piece about it back in May, which you can read here. I love Quonians Lane too, although now my visits are tinged with sadness that the company, whose workers created these wonderful objects and many more across the city, the county and the country, is no more.
I saw the triangular roof of a small outbuilding above the brick wall and went to have a look, thinking it would be quite interesting in its own right. It was a lovely surprise to find these two marble statues stood in the doorways. If you want to see them for yourselves, go down Quonians Lane, and just after you get to the headless angel take a right, through the wall.
So the moral of this story once again is what I say in my ‘About Lichfield Lore‘ spiel. “Go out and have a look at what’s around you. Then when you’ve done that, go back and have another look!” I believe this more with each day I do this blog. I think that you can make new discoveries in the same place, depending on a whole range of things including the weather, your mood, what you’re thinking about at the time, the time of day or year or who you’re with. Actually I might change that to include having a smell/touch/listen too. Not sure about taste because I’m not sure I should be encouraging the kind of thing this young man got up to here…..
Anyway, today is a perfect day for me to bang on about this, as it’s the day we heard the news that around ninety further objects had been found at the Staffordshire Hoard site, three years after the original discovery was made. If that doesn’t convince you of the merits of having at least a second look, then I don’t know what will….
On my way to pick up some tickets from the Garrick the other day, I passed Lichfield Library. I couldn’t resist popping in to have a quick peek at the local history section to see if they had any more information on the history on the grammar school, following on from Gareth’s graffiti photographs. (They did. A whole book in fact and I’ve updated the post accordingly!). So inevitably, my quick peek turned into two hours.
There was an added bonus to the visit too. Anyone who read my Cross City and Cross County posts will know that I was hoping there would be an ancient cross somewhere in Lichfield. Well, I finally found one! Actually that’s a fib. What I found is a photograph in a book of archaeologists finding one. A decorated cross shaft was discovered built into the foundations of the north wall of the nave of Lichfield Cathedral. It’s thought to be Saxon or Saxo-Norman, and could be a surviving remnant of the earlier church on the site. I wish I could share a photograph here, but all I can do is tell you that it’s on plate 1 in the ‘South Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions 1980-1981 Volume XXII’ book, on the local history shelves at the library!.
Despite the blue lines on the map, water was scarce, although some evidence of its presence lingered on in the channels it had forged over the centuries.
For much of the walk, we were separated from the route of the stream by steep embankments and rampant nettles, and at particularly challenging points, both! Concerned about both the possibility of broken limbs and the availability of dock leaves, I didn’t stray far from the path, and used the zoom on my camera instead. Not very adventurous I know, but at least I lived to tell the tale!
Steeper than it looks! No, really it is!
Amidst the nettles is this green post. Any ideas?
A little way into the walk, watery looking plants and a visible outline convinced us that we’d found the site of the well marked on our Ordnance Survey map.
The smell of mint is what first alerted us to what we think is a well
At the point where we lost the route of the brook altogether we retraced our steps back and tried to pick it up again further upstream. This time the route took us along a flat, public footpath with woodland and fields to our left and the busy western bypass and underpasses to our right, reminding us that we were right on the fringe of the city here.
A footbridge gave us easy access to the stream here, but once again it was dry.
Had we not turned back, we’d have found ourselves in Elmhurst. What I hadn’t realised at the time was that part of the route apparently dates back to Saxon times, and incorporates an archaeological feature known as ‘The Dimble’. It’s great that the name is still evident in the area today. I’d like to find out more about this ancient walkway (the information I’ve included here is pretty much all I’ve been able to find so far), and also clarify exactly what a ‘Dimble’ is, as I’ve seen a couple of different definitions.
I was also unaware until reading up on it, that the Christian Fields LNR was a landfill site until the 1980s when it was capped. Twenty or so years of allowing nature (and volunteers) to reclaim the site, has resulted in a place reclaimed for people to enjoy and explore. So go and enjoy & explore!
Big thanks to Brownhills Bob for providing me with a map of the site and information about the nature of water, especially the advice to keep an eye on that well…..