It doesn’t seem long since our very enjoyable Christmas “do” and here we are already in March and I am sending out the first instalment of News & Views for the year. May I thank my loyal contributors for their continued support. However, I have now reached the bottom of the barrel so please, please, could I have some more articles, however short, in time for the next edition in June. I am sure there are more of you who have something to say that the rest of us would enjoy!
In fact, I have had a suggestion from one of our members that we have a readers’ question page in the hope that another member might know the answer. This is an excellent idea and, in fact, you will see in Elizabeth’s article she does ask an interesting question and I would like to know what happened at Bovey Tracey – see my article on Martock. So, please, keep the questions coming!
A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE
After last year’s delightful Blanche Mortimer Day at Hellens Manor in Much Marcle I got to thinking about our first official outing many years ago. In fact I can’t even put a date on it, could be anytime from 1989 to about 1992? However I do remember with fondness all of those happy faces.
The Manor at Hellens and St Bartholomew’s Church with its Blanche Mortimer effigy and tomb, the incredible Yew tree all just ‘blew me away’ to use a ghastly modern phrase. I’ve visited many times since then and it never fails to delight and amaze. I’m happy to say that it has some marvellous events both historical and musical, many garden events including an annual Garden Festival in May.
Check them all out on www.hellensmanor.co.uk It’s not too far past Gloucester direction Hereford.
A SAINT, THREE SHRINES AND A PRIORY
Leominster, capital of North Herefordshire, gateway to the Black and White Trail of villages, is a 21st Market Town hiding its historical light under a bushel. However in October in a series of talks connected with the founding of the Priory and its development as a Medieval shrine, our old friend Tim Porter came to talk on ‘The Act of Pilgrimage’, a general journey through the symbolism, the purpose, the veneration of the relics and just who,what,why and where?
Leominster Priory has origins going back to Saxon times, recent excavations discovered animal bones which can be dated back to the 7thc and lend credence to the founding myth that a Christian Community was established here by a monk from Northumberland – St Eadfrith. Very little is known about him (all can be revealed on Google and /or the Anglo Saxon Chronicle) but he died in Leominster in 675 AD, was buried in Leominster and his feast day is October 26th, the day of our talk.
St Eadfrith was mentioned as part of the ‘big picture’ of Medieval Pilgrimages, many of whose origins lie with early Saxon saints. The old Saxon Leominster Minster was granted by Henry 11 to Reading Abbey who founded the Benedictine Priory her in the 12thc. By 1286 it had 50 relics listed here including a bit of the cross of Christ, and three shrines i.e. tombs. A not insubstantial draw for the average Medieval pilgrim! It survived until the Dissolution, the monastic buildings were destroyed but the main part of the Church survived and is now a venerated place of worship rather than pilgrimage.
Tim continued in great detail to explain the Hierarchy of ‘saintly places’ – these could range from the great Cathedrals down to wayside shrines and Holy Wells. As for the Act of Pilgrimage itself, Tim explained more than I had ever given much thought to. Fortunately he gave us some notes to remind us of the complexity of Pilgrimage – the motivation, the symbolism, the choices. Here are a few of his highlights.
What motivated a Pilgrimage? A quest for spirituality, a major act of self expression, sometimes a way to state a political sentiment? Many shrines were behind curtains which symbolised a ‘Veil’ , an entrance to an ‘Otherworld’. Island shrines have the symbolism of water-crossing = Death (noted example being the River Styx). Shrines are often scenes of martyred Saints which create their own special significance and draw, Rome of course was the Christian heartland when the Holy Land was largely unavailable.
Relics have special potency, create a ‘special place’ where Pilgrims can pray and find any number of benefits; knowledge, forgiveness, communion with God himself. Chapel Plaister in Wiltshire – I had never heard of this but is a particular favourite of Tim’s – situated on the Corsham to Bradford on Avon road just outside Box. Dating from the 13thc it was originally a resting place for Pilgrims on route to the shrine of St Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury. It continues as a place of worship and has limited opening times for visitors.
Before going best to check on www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/chapel-plaister-pilgrims-chapel-p1693033. To summarise -yet another fascinating tour into the Medieval world and mind, well worth visiting.
One of my guilty pleasures on a Sunday morning is the Treasure Hunt of the Travel section of the Sunday Times. The setter, Chris Fautley is mildly obsessed by Canals, Railway lines, many B list historical achievers, and obscure martyrs and Saints, but there’s often a decent portion of UK castles and battlefields with which to pinpoint the area. Narrowing down the fields to specific details is sometimes trickier, but it’s an hour well spent. The prize varies from luxurious weekends near to home, to Hotels as far away as the Maldives!
A recent trail led me to an area of which I have no connection, nor any knowledge, yet has some remarkable Medieval treasures. The name Barking conjures up a very dismal picture (apologies to those from Essex) yet I found myself googling the area for “ the remains of an abbey, a Benedictine nunnery of 7thc origin……its first abbess was also a saint………..an explorer, born 1728 was married in the adjacent church.” I’d already established the neighbourhood from the clue about the last resting place of a penal reformer, born 1780, but was surprised to uncover the fascinating story of Barking Abbey.
Here are a few facts:- among the many illustrious Abbesses were three Matildas: Matilda of Scotland, wife of King Henry 1, Matilda of Boulogne wife of King Stephen, Matilda of England daughter of Henry II. Maud, illegitimate daughter of King John held office from 1247 till her death in 1252. Mary Becket sister of St Thomas Beckett was appointed in 1173 in reparation for his murder. Margaret Swynford, daughter of Katherine Swynford (and her stepfather John of Gaunt) held office from 1419 until her death in 1433. Her niece Elizabeth Chaucer became a nun there in 1381. Katherine de la Pole daughter of Michael de la Pole, 2nd Earl of Suffolk, 1433–1473, died in office. The young Edmund and Jasper Tudor were sent into her care by their half brother Henry V1, for which an allowance of £52.12s was paid.
What remains now is almost subsumed by mass development of the 20th/21stC. The Curfew Tower, also known as the Fire Bell Gate, was one of the abbey's three gateways and is the only part of the abbey not in ruins. The original tower was built in 1370, however the current tower was built around 1460. Above the gateway is "The Chapel of the Holy Rood", named for the 12th-century stone rood displayed within it.
The Curfew Tower
The building has been repaired several times. In 1955/56 the chapel was redecorated and the windows repaired. In 2005/06 the tower was extensively repaired at the cost of £130,000. The staircase roof, and the covering of the main roof were replaced, and the tower's masonry was repointed, with the irreparably damaged stone replaced. Inside the chapel was again redecorated.
We know that much of history has disappeared beneath our feet but this clearly demonstrates what half a millennium has wrought on the surface. Here are the ruins of the Abbey with the Abbey retail park in the background.
There is no doubt that Barking Abbey was a prestigious religious establishment. Just prior to the Dissolution its annual income was over £1000 and this ranked it third in wealth, behind? Sion Abbey and Shaftesbury Abbey.
For further reading I can recommend this link. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol2/pp115-122
On my window sill is a little basket that used to contain blue flowering hyacinths with a heavenly smell. Now it contains a collection of rusty items which I get out sometimes, when homesick, and think fondly of rural East Devon for that is from where these things originate.
When we arrived in my ex-husband’s first living, the 15th/18th century vicarage was damp and cold and I and the children organised fires using chunks of timber we found in the stable. The next morning in tending the grates and sifting through the ashes, the poker met with something hard! It turned out to be a huge and ungainly nail. Further hard word revealed others, then two staples and two large hooks, which I assume must have been for gates. What a find! Someone had quickly sawn up the timber not knowing these ancient and historical items were there. They remained in my basket for years and a knowledgeable parishioner - the headmaster of the local secondary modern school – looked at them and said they were medieval, which was exciting.
Then one day I was watching Time Team and they were unearthing an ancient site and someone found some nails just like mine and the team was able to reconstruct how they were made. I discovered these were beaten out by the local blacksmith and the tops were shaped into four or six sections by the blows from a hammer. How I wish I knew more! Perhaps some fortunate Richard III member has the knowledge and can recommend a book about such things. The blacksmith’s forge was pulled down years ago yet these hardy items remain as a reminder of the hard work that, centuries ago, went into rural life in Bampton, Devon.
THE BEAUFORT’S ESTATE IN MARTOCK, SOMERSET
Some time ago, the composer, Paul Lewis, had a letter published in the Ricardian Bulletin in which he said he had owned and restored a house in Martock which had been built by Margaret Beaufort. I had never heard that the Beauforts had any sort of stake in Martock so I thought I would do some investigating.
Martock is a lovely little town not far from Yeovil and mainly built in golden Ham stone. I visited the Church twice last year to try and establish what, if any, connection the Beauforts had with the village. The Church guide book told me very little and on the second visit I asked some locals who were arranging wedding flowers and they were as mystified as I was.
Eventually, I took myself off to the Somerset Heritage Centre and although the information on Martock is somewhat sparse, I did find a fairly old history of the village that gave me enough to go on. The earliest records of Martock show that the manor belonged to Edward the Confessor’s wife, Edith, the daughter of Duke Godwin. Needless to say, the family was stripped of the manor when William the Conqueror arrived. According to “The History and Antiquities of Somerset” 1791, the manor passed through several families until Sir John de Montacute who received it for “services to the King”. He was subsequently attainted and in 1394, the whole estate passed to John Beaufort, the eldest son of John of Gaunt, later the first Earl of Somerset. He was succeeded by his son and after his death and that of his wife, it passed to their daughter, Margaret.
It is unclear how long Margaret owned the Manor. Some accounts say she re-built the 13th Century Church and others simply that she gave generously to the Church. It is said that she built the Court house for that very reason – to hold courts there. One account says that the manor passed back to the Crown in 1483, where it remained until the time of James 1st. Certainly, Margaret seems to have been deprived of the estate in 1484 although her husband, Thomas Stanley, retained a life interest. A Grant dated 5th December 1484, stated that on the death of the King’s Councillor, Thomas Lord Stanley, the manor should pass to John Lord Scrope, also the King’s Councillor, “for his good service against the rebels of Bovey Tracey….”. Unfortunately, John Lord Scrope died before Stanley so the manor (inter alia) passed to one of Stanley’s sons, Edward Stanley (1460-1523). Edward was created Baron Monteagle in 1514. The manor remained in the hands of the Monteagles until 1637 when it was acquired by William Strode of Barrington Court.
The house that Mr. Lewis owned originally appears to have been The Court House and, indeed, in his letter to the Bulletin he refers to it as the Court House. However, William Strode turned it into a school and today the building has a plaque saying it was a school but also calling itself The Court House.
Dates of Forthcoming meetings:
7th May – Clandestine and Disparaged Marriages by Dr. Lynda Pidgeon
4th June – Aspects of Tudor England. What happened after Bosworth with Carol Southworth
2nd July – The real White Queen with Dr. Joanna Laynesmith
P.S. A friend of mine has just passed me a copy of a biscuit recipe which she spotted in Paul Hollywood’s British Baking book. This is for “Jumbles” – otherwise known as “Bosworth Jumbles”. These are reputed to be Richard III’s favourite biscuit and it is alleged that the recipe was found at Bosworth after the battle! I wonder where he got the recipe? Perhaps Anne learnt the recipe when she was supposedly holed up in the cook-shop!