The Journal of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Grave of St Nicholas, Newtown Jerpoint, Co. Kilkenny, Southern Ireland

Tomb of St Nicholas (Santa Claus). Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Tomb of St Nicholas (Santa Claus). Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Irish grid reference: S 5679 4042. In the old churchyard at the west-side of the ruined medieval church of St Nicholas at Newtown Jerpoint, Co. Kilkenny, stands the medieval carved gravestone, reputed to be where the remains of St Nicholas of Myra (yes, the original Santy, St Nick, Santa Claus or Klaus), were laid to rest here back in the year 1300 and, a beautifully carved graveslab was placed over the saintly bishop’s remains. The legend says that St Nicholas’ remains were brought back to Ireland from Bari in Italy by two knight-crusaders of Irish/Norman birth, although [the] church dedicated to the saint was already established at Newtown Jerpoint at that time. There is also a holy well named after the saint. St Nicholas’ ruined church with its famous medieval gravestone is located (on private land) 2 miles south-west of Thomastown, just west of the Little Arrigle river and the N9 (R448) road, at Jerpoint Park. The monastic ruins of Jerpoint Abbey are about half a mile to the east; while sadly the village of Newtown Jerpoint was abandoned in the 1680s and the church left to fall in to ruin and decay. Kilkenny town is 13 miles to the north-east.

The story goes that in the 13th century two Irish knights (both known as De Fraine) on their ‘retreat’ back from the crusades in the Holy Land stopped off at Bari in Italy and managed to secure some of St Nicholas’ holy remains; these remains were brought back to Ireland (by way of Normandy) and then buried in the churchyard adjoining the church of St Nicholas of Myra in Newtown Jerpoint; the two knights thought this to be a safe place for which to bury such a saintly personage. The family of De Fraine had a beautifully carved gravestone placed over the grave of the saint – the date being either 1200 or more likely in 1300 as the church had been established for some time already (1172), being built by William Marshall, earl of Pembroke and ancestor of the De Fraines’ family. Marshall, the son-in-law of Strongbow (Richard Fitzgilbert de Clare) also established the “new town” of Nova Villa Juxta Jeripons situated opposite the mid-12th century Cistercian abbey of Jerpoint, in 1200, at which time he also built the little church dedicated to his favourite and esteemed patron saint, Nicholas of Myra.

The grave of St Nicholas and the adjoining church became a place of pilgrimage from the 13th/14th century onwards, as was the saint’s holy well close by the churchyard; however, in c1680 the village of Newtown was abandoned and   the little church with its famous grave left to fall in to steady decay and ruin – its ruined tower, walls and gallery now almost obliterated by trees and foliage – the gravestone of St Nicholas cracked across the middle. But its beautiful carvings survive. The bishop or cleric on the large, cracked gravestone wears a robe that is shaped like a crusader shield, while at the top two carved heads at either side of the saint’s head are thought to be the knights who brought the remains from Italy to Ireland. At the upper left-side a carving of a boat and at the opposite (upper right-side) a sun carving; there is also a carved cross with more intricate stuff around it and what may be a French fleur de lis. A Latin inscription can also be seen on the stone.

The age-old legend of St Nicholas (Santa Claus) is known to most people. He was bishop of Myra (Mugla) in Lycia, Turkey, during the 4th century AD, and was well-known for his charitableness to the poor and the under-privileged, especially towards children; so much so that he came to be regarded as a “miracle-worker”. He is said to have died in 320, 342 or 350 AD, and his relics later (1084) translated to Bari on the Italian coast. According to the legend, Nicholas “reputedly gave three bags of gold to three girls for their marriage dowries” (Farmer, 2004). These dowries were tossed through an open window, or maybe down a chimney! and that is, perhaps, where the idea of Santa Claus putting gifts down a chimney comes in to its own. Another legend says that he ‘raised to life’ three boys who had been drowned in a brine-tub by a butcher” (Farmer, 2004).

The author Colin Waters in his work ‘A Dictionary Of Saints Days, Fasts, Feasts And Festivals’ says of St Nicholas: “In early Europe it was traditional for people to leave gifts for others without saying who they were from on St Nicholas’ Eve (5th December). This was said to have been started by St Nicholas (also Klaus, Klass etc) when he was bishop of Myra in Lycia.” Waters goes on to say: “He is also patron saint of all prisoners and of all travellers, merchants and those overtaken by sudden distress or danger. His emblem is three balls, indicative of the gold he so freely gave away as a rich man. Panbrokers adopted his symbol. He is represented by three children in a tub.” St Nicholas is patron St of Russia and of Galway city. There are many churches dedicated to him in Ireland, including the medieval collegiate church of St Nicholas in Galway city which dates from c1320 – said to be the largest parish church in Ireland.

The grave of St Nicholas at Newtown Jerpoint, Co. Kilkenny, has been mentioned by many Irish antiquarians and historians, including Canon Carrigan and Owen O’Kelly in his esteemed work ‘A History of County Kilkenny’. And interestingly, this tale has appeared regularly in the ‘Ireland’s Own’ magazine, being authored by Gerry Moran.

Sources:

Farmer, David., Oxford Dictionary Of Saints, Oxford University Press, New York, USA, 2004 

Moran, Gerry., ‘Santa Claus is buried in Kilkenny’, Ireland’s Own, Wexford, Ireland, (various dates).

http://omniumsanctorumhiberniae.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/saint-nicholas-irish-connection.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newtown_Jerpoint

O’Kelly, Owen., A History of County Kilkenny, Kilkenny Archaeological Society, Kilkenny, Ireland, 1969-70.

Waters, Colin.,  A Dictionary Of Saints Days, Fasts, Feasts And Festivals, Countryside Books, Newbury, Berks, 2003.

 

 

                 

 

 


Blackstone Edge Roman Road, Littleborough, Lancs-Yorks Border

Blackstone Edge Roman Road.

Blackstone Edge Roman Road.

Os grid reference: SD 9617 1680. Blackstone Edge Roman Road is located 2 miles east of the town of Littleborough – running almost parallel to the A58 Littleborough to Halifax road. Blackstone Edge ‘Roman Road’ is a cobbled ‘road’ surface traversing the bleak moorland for about 2 miles or so along Blackstone Edge on the Lancashire-West Yorkshire border. The road has a deep groove running down the centre. It is a Scheduled monument initially thought to be of Roman Origin. This road is still marked on Ordnance Survey maps as a Roman Road but nowadays the most widely accepted theory is that it is an early turnpike road from circa 1735.

Until recently popular opinion had it that before the Romans there were no roads in the British Isles. This is not a correct interpretation of the situation. Ancient routes such as the Ickneld Way existed long before AD43. The Romans did build roads and this was one of the reasons for their great success. Roads aided administration as the Empire became ever larger. Roads aided the quick movement of troops to deal with insurgencies and incursions, and they helped to facilitate trade. However the evidence shows that similar structures usually of timber existed from Neolithic Times. More sophisticated structures existed in the Bronze Age using stone and Timber. The Iron Age saw the introduction of gravelled streets as at Danbury and Silchester.

Roman Roads typically consist of a consolidated embanked and cambered core of earth, chalk or stones (the agger), which was then surfaced with compacted stone or gravel. The wider zone was then often defined by boundary ditches, and sometimes further drainage ditches, or trenches from which material for the agger was dug.

Blackstone Edge ‘Roman Road’ (at almost 6 metres in width) does not conform strictly to this approach and the other problem with Blackstone Edge ‘Roman Road’ is that the groove running down the centre is unusual, and has therefore led to other theories about its origin, though similar grooved drainage ditches are known from Roman sites around the country.

It has been suggested that this channel may once have accommodated a cable that was used to winch vehicles up the incline. In keeping with this theory a circular foundation block can still be seen at the top of the incline this solution to the problem being hinted at in the Turnpike Act of 1734. On the other hand, some experts believe that the central channel was used to help vehicles brake as they descended the steep incline down towards Littleborough and others propose that it was merely a drainage duct.

Excavations first took place in 1923/24 under Ian Richmond. In 1965 James L Maxim ‘A Lancashire Lion’ proposed that it was a turnpike road dating from 1735 – immediately following the Turnpike Act of 1734. Possibly built on or next to an earlier, probably Medieval Packhorse Route. Maxim proposed that the central groove was for cables assisting cables to negotiate the steep incline with the circular “foundation” acting as a pulley. However, a further survey in 2012, which involved fieldwork and reviewing the evidence, questioned some of these assumptions. Why was work undertaken to create deep and wide cuttings, and what appears to be a terrace on one side? Further the packhorse way closely follows the road using one of the cuttings. The survey came to the conclusion that it might have to be reconsidered as a Roman Road. Another possibility is that none of these apply and it is, in fact, a more modern, perhaps 19th century moorland track that has long been associated with the quarrying of stone.

Roman Road on Blackstone Edge by Raymond Knapman (Geograph)

Roman Road on Blackstone Edge by Raymond Knapman (Geograph)

The Roman road that runs over Blackstone Edge linked the large Roman legionary fortress of MAMVCIVM (Manchester) to the smaller fort of VERBEIA (Ilkley) and is some 36 miles long. Some historians have, perhaps, wrongly called the fort at Ilkley (OLICANA).

About a mile up the moorland path from the A58 (where the Roman road officially begins) stands Aiggin Stone, a boundary-stone that is inscribed with some Latin letters and a cross; its name is perhaps a derivation of “agger” the material from which the Roman road was constructed.

Photo credit: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2325611  © Copyright Raymond Knapman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

 


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Bedd Branwen, Glanalaw, Treffynon, Anglesey

The site of Bedd Branwen by Eric Jones (Geograph).

The site of Bedd Branwen by Eric Jones (Geograph).

Os grid reference: SH 3611 8498. In a farmer’s field close to the west bank of Afan Alaw (river Alaw) near the hamlet of Glanalaw, Treffynon, Anglesey, stands the Bronze-Age ring-cairn known as Bedd Branwen, which is said to date back 4,000 years. It is named after the legendary princess Branwen or Bronwen, the daughter of King Llyr, and sister of Bran the Blessed (Bendigeidfran) from the Mabinogian. She was related to King Arthur. The cairn site is located on private farmland to the south-west of Bod Deiniol farm, close to the west bank of Afon Alaw – roughly half a mile south of Glanalaw, although a track/footpath runs past Hafan to Glanalaw hamlet and reasonable viewing looking south across the fields can be had from [here] with good zoom photography. However, you can probably walk across the fields to the cairn as long as the farmer doesn’t mind! The village of Treffynon is 1 mile to the east of Bedd Branwen, while Llanbabo and its ancient church are about one-and-a-half miles to the north-east.

Described as a ring-cairn or round barrow approx 24 metres by 28 metres – the kerb of which is still visible at the outer limit of the circle with a large, chunky standing stone (cist grave) at the centre which is now, sadly, cracked down the middle. The monument was apparently damaged back in 1813 by a local farmer who needed some stones for his house; at this time an urn was also dug up which was ‘said’ to have contained the ashes of a female – could these ashes have been those belonging to Branwen, the fairest and most beautiful woman in all Wales, if not the whole of Britain. Or, according to another account: she is one of the three most beautiful women in Wales!

But in reality the cairn pre-dates the legendary princess Branwen by a few thousand years or more, and other urns with grave-goods have been excavated here in more recent times – the early 1960s in fact. These urns almost certainly date from the Bronze-Age at around 2,000 BC. So, perhaps the discovery of the ashes of a female purporting to be those of the princess were ‘just a coincidence’. Today nothing is left of the earthern mound that once covered the cist grave, only the outline of this being still visible and some stones around the edge, though there are a few other curious stones in this field which ‘might’ well be associated with the monument. In the early 1960s excavation some more cremation urns were dug up along with pottery, grave-goods, and also a necklace made of jet. These antiquities are housed in Bangor Museum in north Wales. In the work ‘The Ancient Stones of Wales’, author Chris Barber describes the monument as a “dolmen” and also referrs to it by another name: Bod-Deiniol.

Branwen is a legendary and mythical character who figures strongly in the Mabinogian along with her father King Llyr (Lear) and her brother Bran the Blessed, who is known as Bendigeidfran in Wales, but it is a very sad tale. Princess Branwen is given in marriage by her brother to the Irish king, Matholwch, but after an insult to the Irishman by her half-brother, Efnisien, they soon begin to quarel and then fall out, and poor Branwen is treated badly by being put to work as his cook. Bran then makes war on Matholwch but is killed in the battle (MacKillop, 1998). Later, she manages to escape back to the Isle of Anglesey where ‘she dies of a broken heart’, and is allegedly buried beneath the mound and cairn that now bears her name (Bedd Branwen).

According to The Mabinogian (second branch) Bran the Blessed is credited as going on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, but life ends badly for him; his severed head is buried on Tower Hill in London which then acts as a sort of talisman for the city against foreign invasion on the grounds that Britain should not rely on magic, according to the author Geoffrey Ashe in his work ‘The Quest for Arthur’s Britain’. Traditionally Bran is recorded as being the son of Belinus (Gruffudd, 1980). If that is the case, then he and his sister Branwen are descended through Manogan, King of Britain, with the Blessed Virgin Mary? And Belinus or Beli has sometimes been identified with the Celtic sun god of that name. But as we know the Mabinogian gives the father of Branwen and Bran as King Llyr, who has sometimes been identified with the legendary King Lear of Shakespearean fame.

Sources:

Ashe, Geoffrey., The Quest for Arthur’s Britain,  Paladin, St Albans, Herts, 1976.

Barber, Chris., Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London W1X, 1987.

Barber, Chris & Williams, John Godfrey., The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1989.

Gruffudd, H., Enwau Cymraeg I Blant – Welsh Names For Children, Y Lolfa, Talybont, Dyfed, 1980. 

MacKillop, James., Dictionary Of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.

Photo Credit: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1358949  © Copyright Eric Jones and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


Sudbrook Camp, Portskewett, Monmouthshire

Iron Age hillfort, Sudbrook. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Iron Age hillfort, Sudbrook. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: ST 5053 8732. About half a mile south of Portskewett, Monmouthshire, on the cliffs overlooking the Severn Estuary, is the Iron-Age Sudbrook Camp, a promontory fort with its well-defined earthworks still largerly intact, although suffering somewhat at its south-side due to coastal erosion. It is known to have been inhabited from roughly the mid-2nd century BC up to at least the 1st or perhaps mid-2nd century AD – at which time it may well have been in use as a Roman trading post. The earthworks are located by going along Sudbrook road and, at the end of Camp road, they are some 50 metres to the south-west, close by the ruins of a 13th century church, some railway buildings, and the Severn Railway Tunnel (Gwent Levels). A coastal path traverses the camp. Caldicot village is 1 mile to the west, while the M4 motorway and the Severn Bridge, are half a mile to the east; the town of Chepstow is roughly 4 miles to the north.

Plan of Sudbrook Camp (After V.E.Nash-Williams) 1936.

Plan of Sudbrook Camp (After V.E.Nash-Williams) 1936.

Sudbrook Camp is made up of triangular-shaped earthworks. The whole site is 1.4 hectares: the inner section is approx 78 metres between the cliff and the first ditch, 109 metres across south to north and 280 metres in width west to east, but a section at the south-side has eroded away due to cliff falls, and so the camp would have been larger. A section at the north-side ‘may’ have been destroyed due the houses and also Sudbrook and Camp lanes . However, the rest is still resonably well-preserved, in particular the fairly deep ditches, three ramparts at the west and two ramparts at the east – indeed the defensive ramparts still stand up to 5.2 metres high, according to the work ‘Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire’ by Children & Nash. At the far south-western side of the camp stands a World War II concrete lookout post. Rather oddly the interior of the camp is sometimes used as a football pitch!

Camp road to the north-west cuts-off the earthworks, as do the ruins of Holy Trinity Church at the far south-eastern side. The entrance to the camp can clearly be made out at the north-side between the ditches and ramparts; this connected up to an ancient trackway which was used by the Silures tribe, and later by the Romans, linking the site to their newly established town at Caerwent ( Venta Silurum) ‘market town of the Silures’, which later became Caer Guent (Fortress Venta), some 5 miles to the west.

Sudbrook Camp would have been inhabited by an ancient Celtic tribe in the Iron Age (150 BC) and, later in 30 or 31 AD, by the Silures, a fierce tribe who worshipped a cat-like diety. The Silures ruled the south-eastern part of Wales. But at this time they were being put under pressure by the Roman legions making their way up the Severn estuary – led by one Julius Frontinus – who set out to invade Siluria, and at which time the Celtic chieftain Caradoc (Caractacus) had fled from north Wales to Sudbrook Camp, or maybe Llanmelin hill-fort, one-and-a-half miles north-west of Caerwent. Caractacus eventually ended up in Rome where he was pardoned by the emperor Claudius (after 51 AD). The Silures were ‘allowed’ to remain at Llanmelin hill-fort until about 70 AD. However, Frontinus did not make much of an inpact, and it was not until 51 AD that the Silures tribe had their so-called ‘last stand’ when attacked and routed by Ostorius Scapula and the XX legion, according to Roy Palmer in his book ‘The Folklore of (Old) Monmouthshire’.

There is evidence to think that after the routing of the Silures tribe from the camp the Romans used the place as a trading-post and, 17 metres below the cliffs in the estuary, there was a natural harbour facility that was used by the newly conquering Roman legions as ‘a possible docking facility’ and naval base (beach-head) for their sailing vessels – up until at least the late 1st century AD, or even the mid-2nd century AD – Bryan Walker’s work ‘The Archaeology And History Of Ancient Dean And The Wye Valley’.

Archaeological excavations were carried out at Sudbrook Camp between 1934-36 at which time many artefacts were found including: bones of oxen, pigs, sheep and goats and, also fragments of iron, glass, Roman bricks and coins. During the excavations the remains of two V-shaped ditches were discovered between the ramparts (north-west side) of the main bank which, would have been done in four stages. Two steep-sloping revetments of uncoursed drystone walling were uncovered on the inner scarp – ‘Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire’ by Children & Nash.

The sad-looking grey ruins of the 12th or 13th century Holy Trinity Church stand at the far south-eastern side of the earthworks, now alas almost hidden by ivy, bushes and trees, with only the front bell-tower gable-wall and a few ruined rear walls still standing; its graveyard has nearly gone over the cliffs. But the main part of the ruin dates from the 17th century, other earlier parts being from the 13th-14th centuries, notably the chancel, while the nave walls may be 12th century. Sadly the church was abandoned and left to the elements in the 1790s, due probably to the erosion of the nearby cliffs – Fred Hando ‘Hando’s Gwent – A Centenary Tribute’.

Fred Hando says of the ruin: “There is no great charm in the grey ruins of Holy Trinity, Sudbrook. It is difficult to account for its erection here, unless it was a private chapel for John Southbrook, who is mentioned in the Wentwood Survey of 1276″. He goes on to say that: “Holy Trinity at Sudbrook was in use, it seems, to the end of the Eighteenth Century. Bradney tells us that one of the last to be buried there was Captain Blethin Smith of Sudbrook, who left instructions that his corpse was to be borne to the grave by six seafaring men”. Captain Smith’s will was dated 1755.

Sources:

Barber, Chris., Exploring Gwent,  Regional Publications (Bristol) Limited, Clifton, Bristol, 1984.

Children, George & Nash, George., Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Little Logaston Woonton Almeley, Herefordshire, 1996.

Hando, Fred., Hando’s Gwent – A Centenary Tribute, (Ed by Chris Barber), Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, 1987.

Houlder, Christopher., Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber And Faber, London, 1978.

http://www.sudbrook.info/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudbrook,_Monmouthshire

Palmer, Roy., The Folklore of (old) Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Little Logaston Woonton Almeley, Herefordshire, 1998.

Walters, Bryan., The Archaeology And History Of Ancient Dean And The Wye Valley, Thornhill Press, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, 1992.

 


Mab’s Cross, Standishgate, Wigan, Lancashire

Mab's Cross by David Hignett (Wikipedia)

Mab’s Cross by David Hignett (Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: SD 5853 0628. At the east-side of Standishgate and just off Wigan Lane, Wigan, Lancashire, stands the rather weather beaten monument known as Mab’s Cross, Mabel’s Cross, or Wigan Cross, which dates probably from the 13th century. It is named after Mabel de Bradshaw, wife of Sir William de Bradshaw, of Haigh Hall in Wigan. But there is an interesting, though an also somewhat sad and painful story to tell that has long been associated with the old Wigan Cross, a tale of deep remorse and, at the same time, unrequited love. In All Saints parish church in Wallgate, Wigan, stands the altar-tomb of Mabel and her husband William de Bradshaw, a now rather forlorn and sorrowful monument with effigies of the two – whose legend has continued down through the ages since they both rested here in the 14th century. The cross is located by a footpath in a garden at the front of Wigan Girls’ High School, just to the north of Wigan town centre, and a little to the west of the A49 (Central Park Way).

Mab’s Cross or Wigan Cross is very battered and worn from centuries of wear and tear, weather, and other damage. It stands at 2.3 metres (6 foot 5 inches) high; its stump could be a remnant from the Saxon age, though more likely it is medieval – mid 13th century. Its large step is more modern, probably not the original step(s), but the plinth is well-worn and is made up of a large slab on top of gritstone blocks with a plaque attached to this, while the worn and broken stump is socketed into a large, rough base. The monument was moved to its present position in 1922 from the opposite side of the road. It is surrounded by railings and is grade II listed.

The often-told and very sad story, with minor variations, about the life of Lady Mabel de Bradshaw (Bradshaigh) of Haigh Hall, Wigan, is this: Mabel’s husband Sir William became involved in a local rebellion against the powerful Earl of Lancaster, known as the Banastre Rising, but this proved unsuccessful so he was forced to flee abroad to escape his enemies, according to author Kenneth Fields in his work ‘Lancashire Magic & Mystery’. Almost certainly Sir William goes off to fight in the crusades (c1314), but 10 years pass by with no sign of him returning – Mabel believing him to be dead – she decides to marry a Welsh knight, Sir Osmund Neville. Then, eventually Sir William turns up in Wigan market-place dressed as a beggar; Mabel recognises him and they finally return to Haigh Hall. But upon finding out what has transpired in the intervening years, he confronts Sir Osmund on horseback, and in the deadly combat Sir Osmund is killed at the place called Newton Park (Newton le Willows). The two are then ‘said’ to have lived happily together at Haigh Hall – at least that is the theory!

Mabel’s confessor now orders her to do penance for what she has done. She is told to walk barefooted and barelegged on pilgrimage once every week from Haigh Hall to Wigan Cross [Mab’s Cross], a distance of 2 miles, which she does do for the rest of her life, but now Mabel is re-united with Sir William and is happy once again? Sir William de Bradshaw dies in 1333 and the almost saintly Mabel builds a chapel for him (1338) in Wigan parish church (the Bradshaw Chapel) also called The Lady Chapel; she then has effigies carved on his tomb, one of her husband cross-legged and wearing armour, with sheild at his shoulder – his sword almost drawn from the scabbard and, one of herself in a long robe next to his; and on the sides of this the whole ‘sorry story’ is told in detail with various sculptures, including one of Lady Mabel with candle in hand praying at the foot of her cross. Mabel died in 1348 at the age of 30.

Of other interest in All Saints church is a Roman stone, part of an altar dedicated to their god Mithras, built into the splay of one of the windows of the tower, a relic from when the Romans had a fort or settlement (Coccium) on the outskirts of the town at Castle Hill, and where legend says: King Arthur fought one of his many battles. Author Joseph P. Pearce in his work  ‘Lancashire Legends’ says: “The Roman road leading from Warrington to Preston and Walton-le-Dale, passed through the very centre of the town of Wigan, bearing the traffic of the Legions and the Guilds and Traders of old.” The present church is modern, but it stands on the site of a Saxon foundation. Close to the church stands the medieval ediface of Haigh Hall – where the famous Bradshaw family lived and which is still haunted by the ghost of Lady Mabel.

Sources:

Fields, Kenneth., Lancashire Magic & Mystery, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1998.

Howarth, Ken., Ghosts, Traditions & Legends Of Old Lancashire, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1993.

http://www.prestonhistoricalsociety.org.uk/gallery-image?id=fd1a0be60126e19506ac2d9e488c65f8

http://www.wiganarchsoc.co.uk/content/History/Mabs_Cross.htm

Pearce, Joseph P., Lancashire Legends, The Ormskirk Advertiser, 1928.

Photo Copyright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mab’s_Cross


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St Barnabas Churchyard Cross, Bromborough, Wirral, Cheshire

Cross at St Barnabas Church, Bromborough (Photo credit: Peter Craine - Geograph)

Cross at St Barnabas Church, Bromborough (Photo credit: Peter Craine – Geograph)

Os grid reference: SJ 3490 8221. On Church Lane in Bromborough, Wirrral, stands the 10th century St Barnabas Churchyard Cross, where at the south-side beside the church porch stands this heavily re-constructed Anglo-Saxon wheel-head cross. There are apparently some other carved stones, possibly of Saxon origin, in the garden of the nearby parsonage; and in the churchyard there is an interesting 18th century sundial and, close-by stands the 19th century market cross. St Barnabas’ church is located in the centre of the village on Church Lane to the west of the river Mersey – at the east-side of the Wirral Peninsula. Birkenhead lies 3 miles to the north on the A41 road while Ellesmere Port is 3 miles south-east on the M53. Bromborough is thought to be one of the many contenders for the Battle of Brunanburh (937 AD), though there is ‘much’ debate about that.

The first church ‘may’ have been established here in 928 or 934 AD, but there may have already been a monastery here, and then a Norman foundation which stood for several hundred years, though the present red Sandstone parish church is of 1862-4. There may have been Viking incursions into the area during the 9th and 10th centuries, which is why it is sometimes assumed the cross shows some ‘tenuous signs’ of Scandinavian influence, though it is generally regarded as being Saxon carving. Early chronicles suggest that the first church, and quite possibly [the monastery] were founded by Aelfthryth, or Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians, sometime around 912 AD. Lady Ethelfleda was the daughter of King Alfred the Great.

The Saxon preaching cross was put together from three fragments of Saxon stones that originally resided inside the church, and was re-erected beside the porch in the churchyard in 1958. It looks to be quite a crude monument and something of a mish-mash of the three seperate carved stones ‘haphazardly put together’ that are thought to date from the 9th-10th centuries. These pieces of carved stone originally stood in the present church and, indeed in the earlier Norman foundation before that. The sculptured wheel-head is quite basic really, with only faint carvings across its middle; the only other bit of carving is a long panel of worn interlacing on the shaft, below which a plaque* is attached recalling its history and which, rather sadly spoils the monument. The two parts of the wheel-head above and below the middle (carved) section look to be of a later date, possibly the 12th-16th century?

Also of interest in the churchyard is a 18th century sundial. This may originally have been part of the market cross. It stands upon two square-shaped steps on a base, and has a thin tapering shaft with a square top and dial. The date is recorded as being 1730.

In front of the churchyard stands the very tall market cross with square-shaped pillar standing on an eight-stepped plinth, supporting a fine ornamental top. Author Derek Bryce in his book ‘Symbolism Of The Celtic Cross’ says of this monument: “The cross at Bromboro in Cheshire stands on a stepped pyramid base, the steps of which are clearly not intended for treading…..the cross is surmounted by a sphere and sundial, which have since been replaced by a cross ecclesiastical.” The steps (plinth) of the cross are clearly medieval, maybe 13th century, the rest is from 1874.

Sources:

Bryce, Derek., Symbolism Of The Celtic Cross, Llanerch Enterprises, Felinfach, Lampeter, Wales, 1989.

* http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2257157

http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1015600

Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Barnabas’_Church,_Bromborough


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Meir ny Foawr, Knocksharry, Isle of Man

Os grid reference: SC 2758 8495. The prehistoric site of Meir ny Foawr, near Knocksharry, at the far western-side of the Isle of Man, is a former Bronze-Age stone circle – however not much of it has survived – and some of its quartz boulders may have been robbed away over the centuries. This collection of boulders in a sort of part circle is located on the side of the hill called Lhergy Dhoo Uplands and is nearly half a mile south-east of Lhergydhoo house, in Kirk German parish. It can be reached on footpaths to the east from Switchback road, and the stones can be seen for many miles around. However there is a dearth of information regarding the site. The little village of Knocksharry is 1 mile to the north on the A4 road, while the town of Peel is 2 miles to the south-west along the same A4 coastal road, overlooking the beautiful Doon Bay.

Meir ny Foawr stone circle is also known locally as ‘the Devil’s Fingers’ or ‘the Giant’s Fingers’ indeed many Megalithic  monuments in the Isle of Man are in some way associated with the devil, or some mythical giant. The structure covers an area of around 30 feet (9.4 metres) and is formed by five large white quartz boulders in a sort of horseshoe shape, rather than a circle, though it may originally have been a circle? Three of the stones lean over at the north-side, while that in the centre is 7 feet high and may represent the altar; the three leaning stones are considered to be part of the original burial chamber. When the site was excavated some Bronze-Age urns were dug up. On the periphery there are a couple of smaller stones known as outliers. So, infact, we might consider calling this a ring cairn or cairn circle? We must assume, therefore, that there was at one time an earthen-mound covering the stones here at Meir ny Foawr?

The area around Knocksharry is rich in ancient remains. There is the prehistoric site of Crosh Mooar about 1 mile to the north-east of Meir ny Foawr – this was a Bronze-Age burial mound – but sadly it was almost destroyed in the early 1900s. And there are several cairns and tumulus’ dotted around the immediate area; at Knocksharry there is a Bronze-Age cemetary which is located close to the ruins of an early Christian chapel. Here three badly damaged funery urns were excavated.

Sources:

Hulme, Peter J., More Rambling In The Isle Of Man, The Manx Experience, Douglas, Isle of Man, 1993.

The Ancient And Historic Monuments Of The Isle Of Man, The Manx Museum And National Trust, Fourth (Revised) Edition, Douglas, 1973.

http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/iomnhas/v035p446.htm

http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/fulltext/pn1925/gn.htm

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