Away on excavation!

Well, it’s summertime and that can only mean one thing in the world of archaeology – excavation time has arrived! This summer I am spending a month in the country with Prof. Julian Thomas and his excavation in Herefordshire. The site is on Dorstone Hill in the southwest of the county and is a fantastic Neolithic site. I’ll be blogging from there on the project’s blog which you can read at

It is still early days, but already there are exciting finds emerging from the upper layers and hold out the promise of more to come! Do follow the blog and keep up to date as the project will be running until the end of the summer term.

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What’s in your parish? Ockbrook.

Welcome to the first of our new monthly blogs “What’s in your parish?” in which we’ll take a look at what archaeology can be, or has been found in parishes around our region. We’ll focus on Derbyshire initially as that’s where we’re based, but will spread our wings as time goes on. We floated the idea with schools in the county and asked for suggestions for parishes to include. The first parish to get in touch was Ockbrook, near Derby, so here goes with just some of the archaeology of that parish!

Alleyway or gitty in local dialect.

The parish lies about 5 miles east of Derby and sits just north of the A52. To the south of this road is Borrowash which is technically the other half of the civil parish. However, the village has had its own identity for over a thousand years, so who am I to quibble!

What’s in a parish?

There are many aspects to parish life in the past, and archaeology can tap into this in many ways, some of which may be unexpected. For example, in the image on the right an alleyway is an ‘informal’ means of moving about the village that has become incorporated into the ‘formal’ fabric of the parish. So it pays to look more closely at the everyday things that surround you. To help you out, I’ve included some Ordnance Survey grid references should you wish to visit.

Prehistory in the parish

Unlike many other parishes in Derbyshire, there isn’t much to report on prehistory in this small parish. Most of what has been found is from findspots, so we cannot infer too much from them. The oldest evidence we have is two small flint cores from the Mesolithic period (c10,000 – 4,000BC). Cores are, as it sounds, the core or centre of a nodule of flint that remains after all the useful material has been removed. Similarly, a small axe made from Greenstone and dated to the Neolithic period (c4,000 – 2,000BC), can only tell us that it must have been brought to the area as this is not local geology.

As part of the excavations looking for Romano-British evidence, which is in more detail below, an Iron Age (c800BC- 43AD) ditch system and some pottery was found, but no further signs of settlement were apparent.

All Saints Church SK 423 357

Parish church tower
The tower of All Saint’s church, Ockbrook.

Like many a parish church, All Saint’s shows its story in its fabric and if you know what to look for you can read it. In the image on the left you can see at least four phases of development. There are several elements to a church that can help with this, so among the things to look for are a tower, nave, chancel and windows.

The earliest remaining elements are the 12th century tower along with the font. One of the signs to look for is the size and shape of windows. In the lower part of the tower they are typically Norman – narrow on the outside and splayed on the inside. The tower itself is an interesting example of the transition from the Norman style to the Early English. Some of the changes occurred during the reign of Henry II (1154-1189).  The upper part of the tower dates to the 14th century and the broached octagon spire is of later date – probably of the time of Edward I (1272-1307). Staying with the tower, one of the bells is of historical significance. The 1653 bell cast by G Oldfield of Nottingham is a good example of the founder’s work and you can read more about him here.

Other windows also help to tell the story of the building. Records tell us “there was a two-light pointed Decorated window nearer the chancel and …on the south side of the nave there are two two-light square-headed windows of Perpendicular style which dates to them having been inserted between c1350-1540″. However, much of the remainder of church was rebuilt between 1800 and 1835. Luckily there is a tablet at the west end of the nave states that the church was enlarged in 1835! The chancel of the old church was rebuilt by a local beneficiary, Thomas Pares, in 1803. The nave was widened to the north in 1814-15 and to the south in 1835. It was also given a flat ceiling and a west gallery in two parts, on cast-iron columns.

Inside the church there is more evidence to help tell the story. The font at All Saints is a Norman one dating to c1100-1150. The tub-shaped font is decorated with interlaced arches and it resembles fonts in other Derbyshire churches. These include St Michael’s in Church Broughton and St Peter’s in Somersall Herbert. There is an early 16th century oak rood screen of fine workmanship. This was originally in Wigston’s (or Wyggeston’s) Hospital in Leicester. It was purchased in the early 19th century under somewhat mysterious circumstances. An article in the Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society suggests that somebody, either a trustee or the master acting on their own initiative or maybe the trustees acting in concert, sold off the screen and some stained glass in c.1805. No-one it seems realized what had happened until the early 1820s. Despite the subsequent hue and cry the windows and screen stayed put in Ockbrook. The incorrect installation of the screen has resulted in the best of the carved detail facing east, away from the congregation. Further detail on this part of the story of the parish can be found here.

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The Royal Oak

The Royal Oak – started life as a house in 1762.

The other stalwart of village life is the pub and so nearly every village has one (and sometimes more!). The Royal Oak is like many others in that it started life as a house. It was built in 1762 and was converted to a public house before 1821. Later in the same century it was substantially extended to the rear. The building is faced with roughcast render beneath a gabled plain tile roof. It is two-and-a-half storeys tall. There is an off-centre entrance door with a segmental head. To the left is a two-storey range built of painted brick.

Giant’s Hill          SK 430 359

The name Giant’s Hill is first recorded in 1826 and is depicted as an irregular earthwork on the 1st ed. 6″ Ordnance Survey map of 1887. A mound suggestive of a tumulus on Giant’s Hill is shown on maps as ‘Giant’s Grave’ and lies on a steep slope of the hill to the east of the parish of Ockbrook, in what was an old enclosure before the 1773 Parliamentary Enclosure Award. The field to the south is called ‘Castle Field’ and is also an old enclosure.

The existing mound, or rather combination of three mounds, measures about 100 feet east and west, by about 80 feet north and south. To the west there is a mound or rampart that looks like a portion of defensive earthwork, but it tails off suddenly both north and south. To the north-north-east of this is another mound but with vague continuations, it is suggestive of a once circular embankment. The third mound lies to the north of the second and is higher than the others and again is irregular in shape.

It has been suggested that this was some form of defensive earthwork from which most of the material (a red marl) was taken by the local inhabitants to fertilize the communal town field to the south. The old name of Castle or Castle Hill Field seems to corroborate this theory. On the other hand, the name ‘Giant’s Grave’ suggests a tumulus or an aggregation of barrows; but probably this popular name is a comparatively late invention. There is now no trace of the hillock; it has almost certainly been ploughed out. Recent examination of the furrows revealed nothing of interest. No recorded excavation has taken place on the site.

Church Farm House SK 423 357

Church Farm House, Ockbrook
Upper floor of Church Farm House. Notice the changes in brickwork.

The house began as two separate small timber-framed small houses/large cottages of similar size, about 5.5m long and the same distance apart. They are both probably dateable to the 17th century. They had square panels set on stone plinths with wattle and daub infill between the timbers. Later, this was replaced by brick ‘nogging’ or filling. Both buildings were two storeys high with a single or partitioned room on each floor and with a garret in the roofspace. Internal features such as the ceiling heights suggest that they are of slightly different dates, with the southern building being slightly later. It was probably somewhere between 1750 and 1775 when the two buildings were brought together by the infilling of the central area, to create a 3-bay long building. A short west wing was added, together with a cellar.

We know more of the history of the people associated with the farm. In the years around 1700, the farm and its land had been bought by Dane Mary Lake from Robert Piggen, a descendant of one of ten yeomen who had between themselves bought the manor in 1583. The farm may well have existed at that time. By 1773 Church Farm is referred to as ‘The Homestead’ although it is unclear who changed the name. It continued to be farmed until about the Second World War, after which it became part of a dairy and later a riding school. Various farm buildings were sold off, and the farmhouse was disused for over 30 years.

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Little London SK 433 372

Little London – originally a barn.

The grandly named Little London, on Far Lane, is a timber-framed house and was originally a corn barn on the site of a grange which belonged to Dale Abbey in the adjoining parish. It was probably constructed in the late 17th century with the brick infilling between the timbers being original. It is not clear when the farmhouse to which it belonged decayed or was demolished, but it appears that the barn was converted into cottages by 1909.

The barn, and a court of brick farm buildings to the south, were restored in the 1980s. In the centre of the building, the windows have replaced the barn doors, but the timbers that supported the doors are still in-situ.

Ockbrook Corn Mill  SK 429 357

Extant remains of parish windmill
The base of the old windmill. The scale is 1m.

Many villages had a mill in the past and at Windmill Farm, just east of the village, there’s the stump of a brick-built windmill tower. It is named on the Enclosure Award map of 1773, although it is not shown on the earlier (1767) map by Burdett. The Ordnance Survey map of 1880 shows the mill to be disused.

Not only do sources give us a good description of what the windmill looked like there is a painting of it too. Although only two sails are shown, it would have originally had four. So this image dates to a point in its decline. It was four storeys high, with a loading door on the first floor. The walls were pretty thick at 14-inch deep. The top,or cap, was ‘boat-shaped’ which was a little unusual.  Most of the mill has now disappeared and only the base of the tower survives. Currently the mill has been reduced to a brick annulus, a little over 2m high with no roof or covering such that rainwater can get into the walls.

The Ockbrook & Borrowash Historical Society have been researching the mill and requested that the windmill be listed, and collected various documentary references to the mill. These included a letter written in 1810, deploring the fact that the miller was working on Sundays, a report on the execution of two men in 1812 who had robbed the dwelling house at Ockbrook Mill, and a survey of 1826.

If you like to know more about windmills in Derbyshire there’s Alan Gifford’s handily titled ‘Derbyshire Windmills: Past and Present’ Published by Heage Windmill Society (2003) and you can buy it here.

Romano-British Ockbrook 

In 1729 in fields near the Little Hay Grange Farm a local man found an antiquity from Roman times – a silver tray or lanx. It was not until the last century however, that any modern, systematic archaeological work looking for evidence of Roman activity in the parish took place. In the 1990s a number of fields in the parish were investigated by Ockbrook and Borrowash Historical & Archaeological Society through fieldwalking.

This investigation yielded a general spread of Romano-British finds, mostly pottery, with large concentrations in a field 250m south of Spondonwood Farm (SK 415 370) and another one 100m southeast (SK 416 371). There was also a spread of artifacts near Little Hay Grange Farm and Little London. The pottery finds gave a range of dates from the 1st-3rd centuries AD, and included everyday and quite high status material. One example was a piece of Samian ware which was shown to be made by a potter called Germanus i who worked at the La Graufesenque factory in South Gaul in the first century AD.

The site of the Romano-British building.

The outcome of this successful fieldwalking was an excavation in Thack Meadow, about 400m away from Little London. Carried out by the Ockbrook and Borrowash Historical Society along with the Derbyshire Archaeological Society, the Ilkeston and District Local History Society and the Trent & Peak Archaeological Trust,  the excavations revealed an Iron Age ditch system and the remains of a Romano-British, stone-built aisled building. So far, this is the oldest building found in the parish as it was dated by artefacts to being used between the 2nd-3rd centuries AD. It was quite a large structure with dimensions of 29m x 12m. It was a dual purpose building, housing both people and animals, as well as grain storage etc.

If you’d like to read more about the excavation, here is the reference:

Palfreyman, A. 2001. ‘Report on the Excavation of a Romano-British Aisled Building at Little Hay Grange Farm, Ockbrook, Derbyshire 1994-7’. Derbyshire Archaeological Journal 121: 70-161.

The Moravian Settlement

The 18th century saw the beginnings of what has come to be known as ‘The Moravian Settlement’ at Ockbrook. The story of the Settlement can be found here. Today it covers an area of approximately 6 acres and includes the Moravian Church, Manse, school, private residences and a lecture hall. This enclave of central European origin is of both historical and architectural interest. Benjamin Ingham and Jacob Rogers introduced Moravian tenets by 1739 and Rogers was the first preacher. Religious services first took place in a barn lent by local man Isaac Frearson on whose land the settlement was subsequently built. The society was formed into a regular congregation in 1750 and the chapel was built in 1751-2.

The Chapel.

The chapel, which is a Grade II* listed building, is at the heart of the settlement and the other buildings respect it, and form an inward facing plan. The chapel itself has been described as “a neat commodious chapel of brick”. The building has five bays and three arched windows, with two arched entrances to the left and right. There is a pediment and white timber cupola above. It was enlarged to the rear, heightened and refitted in 1875-6 including a wide pediment and bell-cote. The latter probably replacing a similar feature on the original, more steeply pitched roof.

The growing community need houses of course, and houses for single brethren and single sisters were opened in 1759 and buildings for boys, and girls, day and boarding schools were subsequently provided. In 1867 the brethren’s house was replaced by a Sunday school. The main buildings of the settlement, of brick with slate roofs, are aligned on sloping ground facing south-east with the chapel near the centre, houses of two and three storeys, to the right which include the former single sisters’ house, and to the left the minister’s house of three storeys, dating from the mid 18th century.

The War Memorial

The village War Memorial.

This quick tour of some of the archaeology of the parish would not be complete without the War Memorial. Sited near the A52 in the south of the parish, it is as you can see, a fairly plain, modest monument to the men who fought and died in WWI. The use of an obelisk was quite common, as was the cordon of chains to demarcate the area. It may be worth comparing the names on this with those on the memorial in the church. Sometimes names were added or missed accidentally. There is grave to a victim of the war in the graveyard who is on neither. Can you find it?

In conclusion

So there we have it, just some of the archaeology that can be seen in the parish of Ockbrook. There is more of course, and you can walk around the village to see if you can work out how the village grew by looking at the style of houses for example. How does it compare to where you live?

We hope you’ve found this useful, and don’t forget, if you’re a Derbyshire teacher let us know if there’s a parish you’d like featured in our blog!


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Staffordshire History Day 2017

Staffordshire History Day 2017
Staffordshire History Day 2017

It seems that most weeks there’s a conference, meeting or seminar I’d like to go to. Why? Well they are either out of personal interest or its relevant to Enrichment’s work. This week it was Staffordshire History Day.  The event was held at the Riverway Centre in Stafford and I was accompanied by Elspeth Walker from Peeling back the Layers as we had a stand to display what the project had been up to over the past two years. There was a good range of topics covered, and I’ll try to give you a flavour or the day!

Flood and drought in Staffordshire – Alice Harvey-Fishenden & Helen Houghton

First up were Alice Harvey-Fishenden & Helen Houghton, PhD students at the University of Liverpool. They outlined a fascinating new multidisciplinary project which is researching how the people of Staffordshire managed their water and responded to the challenges of both flood and drought over a 200 year period between 1550-1750. They’ll be looking at a lot of material, including, surprisingly you might think, field names. Field names often include information about the origin of the field, such as ‘hey’, ‘close’ and ‘dole’. Its still early days, but it sounds like they have a lot of work to do. They have a blog where you can keep up with them, and of course they are looking for volunteers. So if you have some free time you don’t know what to do with . . .

Walsall Parks – Ken Worley

Ken Worley gave an account of the development of public parks in Walsall in the 19th century. As in many other towns in the 19th century, the good people of Walsall were subject to pressures of increasing urbanisation. Among these pressures were the evils of drink and prostitution. Most towns had more than their fair share of both gin palaces and brothels. The more civic minded citizens of many of these boroughs sought to improve the moral, spiritual and social welfare of less fortunate members of society. Among the responses to these challenges public parks were seen as a way of introducing a number of benefits. What could be more pleasant than a stroll through a park for example, enjoying the sun and fresh air?

Of course, there was more to it than this, but that’s another story. Walsall it seems was little different to other towns, and Ken Worley’s paper told the story of the relatively long and tortuous route by which the town acquired its first parks. There were twists and turns and seemingly charitable donations of land that dogged the efforts of the council. No change there you might think. In short, it was some 50 years between the first suggestion of the need for public parks until they were created. You can read up on one element of the story – Walsall Arboretum.

Smethwick politics – David Hallam

So, what of Smethwick in Staffordshire History Day? Well, did you know that the borough was at the heart of post-WWI politics and women’s suffrage? No, neither did I. In 1918, after the Qualification of Women Act became law, Smethwick was amongst the first constituencies nationally, to have a woman candidate – one Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter. The world of political struggle was little different back then from what we were told, and although she was unsuccessful in her bid, it was interesting to hear how parties maneuvered themselves to make way for a new age.

 Princes End industrialisation and its impact – Dr Ian Abbotts

Staying in the south of the county, near Tipton as you ask, Dr Abbots presented us with the fruits of his work which had looked at the impact of the industrial revolution and urbanisation in one corner of Staffordshire. Drawing on census data, the area had a population of just 50 by 1817, mostly farmers and agricultural workers. By 1841, the hamlet had grown to a small village with perhaps a dozen streets and was home to 1,000 people. Ten years later this had doubled and by 1871 3,000 lived there. This was followed by a decline back to 2,000 by 1911. So what is the story behind the numbers?

Well, the local geology and the absence of surface deposits it seems. The Staffordshire coalfields are such that those at princes End were not able to be mined until mining technology had developed to allow deeper mining. One it had, then Prince’s End ‘bloomed’ if that’s the right phrase, but it seemed to have been something of a ‘frontier town’. It attracted migrants from coalfields such as Shropshire and South Wales. When it became unprofitable to continue mining, the village slipped into a long decline – just have a look at the Wikipedia page, indeed, only a single 19th century building is still standing – the Tilted Barrel.

Archaeological News – Stephen Dean (Principal/County Archaeologist)

Highlight of the day for me, and the chance to catch up with an old colleague who I worked with when I first started out in archaeology! Stephen is now what in some places is called the County Archaeologist, and this was his chance to give us a whistle-stop tour of some of the events of the past year.

Branston near Burton-upon-Trent was the location of an excavation which revealed a nice multi-period site, with a Palaeolithic flint scatter, Neolithic pits and post holes and some traces of Bronze Age activity too. Also evident was that the site had been used during the Roman period, and that it appeared to have been used as a crop processing area during the 2-3rd centuries AD. In addition it had high status ceramics among the finds, which begs the question of what was this site processing crops for? Close to a major Roman road, there are a number of possibilities, so watch this space as work continues!

Urban archaeology in Newcastle and Litchfield also featured. In work near the A34, archaeologists had unearthed among other things, a medieval toilet and walls around one metre thick. With evidence of at least two episodes of burning, the centre of Newcastle seems to have seen some action in the 17th century. Over in Litchfield at St John’s hospital, a small cemetery was excavated.

There were mixed burial and all except one buried in the same style. The odd one out was one that was almost ‘crouched’, with the body laid in a foetal position. There were more surprises in store, with half the burials being identified as adolescents or children, somewhat unexpected in 13/14th century cemeteries. The biggest surprise was the finding that 5 of the individuals buried there had African ancestry, as revealed by isotopic analysis of tooth enamel! Little more can be said as yet, but more research is underway.

More recent archaeology in the form of WWI camps and training trenches on Cannock Chase came next. As part of the HLF funded Chase Through Time aerial and LiDar surveys had revealed more of the remains of how the chase was utilised during the First World War.

The stars of this year’s Staffordshire History day however, were the four gold torcs now known as the Leekfrith Hoard. Found by metal detectorists in December 2016, these objects have helped to re-write Staffordshire History. Since being found the torcs have undergone extensive examination and analysis, both locally and at the British Museum.

This has revealed that they have continental sources, with one pair coming from France and the other from southern Germany. They date to between the 4th-2nd centuries BC, though to  be something of a ‘gold draught’ in Britain. The torcs are items of dress used by women in this case, and far from being new, they show a degree of wear on the underside, which associated with frequent use. On each torc there are 3 small dots close to the terminal decoration, and one interpretation is that they may be maker’s marks.

Archaeologists also examined the site where they were found, and think that the torcs were deliberately deposited, not lost or accidentally dropped. The place they were found sits between two springs/streams, and it may be this held some significance for those who deposited these beautiful artefacts. Beyond that, we are left to ponder why . . .

Archive and Heritage News – Joanna Terry (Head of Archives & Heritage)

Last but by no means least for this blog on Staffordshire History Day, the head of the Staffordshire Archives & Heritage services, Joanna Terry, outlined the developments taking place that will radically change the service.

After a successful bid to the HLF, the service was awarded £4m and will be delivering a new, up-to-date service as a result. There will be new storage facilities which will allow 25 years growth and a new access centre to be built in Litchfield with display, archive and performance areas. More digitization of archives will be funded and there’ll be integration with existing databases and projects such as the Minton collection. Of course, all this takes time, and the project has 2021 in mind as an opening date for these new facilities. It all sounds very exciting, and I look forward to visiting!

In conclusion

All in all a good day, especially as we lots of visitors to the Peeling back the Layers stand and interest in coming to the open day on July 16th! Some really interesting work has been and is being done in the county, and already looking forward to next year’s Staffordshire History day and making a presentation!

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Graffiti – old and new.

Last weekend I had the chance to indulge in two of my favourite things, art and archaeology, at the same time. As part of the Format Festival in Derby I was able to take in an exhibition including NASA images of the moon and some of the landings and catch some of the graffiti that lines the walls of the cathedral tower. Not much to write home about you might think, but graffiti is something of a hot topic in the archaeological world at the moment. There are a number of projects that are studying graffiti on a range of buildings, from dwellings to churches. Just Google ‘Medieval Graffiti images’ and see what I mean.

Graffiti projects

The subject of graffiti as a means of tapping into the past has a long history. You might be surprised to learn that historians have been looking at it for over 100 years. Some of the earliest examples of systematic surveying include the work at St Mary’s in Ashwell, Hertfordshire. Some counties have quite large numbers of churches surveyed to date e.g. Suffolk. Do follow the links to find out more about these projects.

Closer to home, our friend Matt Beresford is working on a Notts & Derbyshire Medieval Graffiti Survey. Even Greater Manchester has it’s own Graffiti Survey. It isn’t about modern graffiti, ‘tags’ and territory, rather is is about marks made and evidence left by a largely illiterate and unrepresented population in the past. The majority of people do not feature in many of the ‘official’ historic records. Making marks on buildings was one way in which they could quite literally leave their mark as having lived.

The survey is mainly surveying buildings erected before 1700. Volunteers are looking for a range of marks which could be scratched, etched, pecked into wood, stone or metal work. They also look for burns into wooden features such as doors/frames etc. Many of the marks are what are called apotropaic or ‘magic’ marks, associated with religious or superstitious ideas and often act as protection against harm or evil befalling the person who made it.

The survey has been exploring churches in the southern area of Greater Manchester including St Wilfred’s in Northenden. members of the team have found a range of marks, and in some surprising locations – including the roof! Here there were several ‘drawings’ of ‘feet’. It seems people drew around their shoe and then added symbols. The examples at St Wilfred’s can be dated to around 1650, when the lead roof was installed. There is some sense of urgency as the older lead roofs, such as St Wilfred’s, are nearing the end of the useful life and many are being replaced before being surveyed for such evidence.

Derby Cathedral graffiti

Ok, back to the scene of last weekend’s encounter with graffiti. Not medieval it must be admitted, as much of the cathedral is of 18th century construction, having been demolished in the 1720’s due to it’s poor state of repair! However, some of the tower remained upstanding and dates to the 16th century.

The tower had a range of graffiti, covering over 200 years that I could see. I’ve put some of them in a slideshow below. As you will see, there is an example which pre-dates the building of the current church/cathedral. It is difficult to tell on a quick look as to whether or not the date of 1677 related to the monogram and/or the large face nearby. A much closer examination is needed for this to become clearer. However, it is interesting to see such a range of graffiti in such a relatively small space. It is certainly worth another visit and a closer inspection.


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Some of Gloucestershire’s archaeology: pt 2 Hawkesbury

On our journey to Yate last week we made the effort to visit the hamlet of Hawkesbury, which was just a short journey from our B’n’B on Hawkesbury Common. It was late evening when we got there but we were glad we did. Why visit there, well here are a couple of reasons.

The Parish of Hawkesbury

The parish of Hawkesbury has a long history. The parish as it is known today dates from the time of the Norman conquest and there is a really useful website provided by Hawkesbury Local History Society that details much of this.

The original charter, and earliest known reference to Hawkesbury dates from 972 AD. King Edgar granted land to the Benedictine Abbey of Pershore, and confirmed to the Abbot and Convent of Pershore the same privileges that had been granted some two hundred years earlier by King Cenwulf (AD 796-821).So stable has the current parish boundary been, that even though it stretches for over thirty miles, it still follows almost all of the original 972 AD line.

We didn’t have much time to see a great deal in the failing evening light, but we were really impressed by the buildings, the most prominent of which was the parish church of St Mary the Virgin. Almost as impressive were the old farm buildings. These are often overlooked features of village life and history, but here in Hawkesbury, they were really prominent. There are some images of them in the gallery below.

 The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Hawkesbury

Hawkesbury church
St Mary the Virgin, Hawkesbury, Gloucestershire

Given the setting of the church, one of the first things that struck us was its size, and on reading up on it, it is said to hold a congregation of over 300. This is a legacy of its history of almost a thousand years and connections with the Benedictine Abbey of Pershore in Worcestershire.

Pershore Abbey established its manorial centre to the west of  St Mary the Virgin and staffed it, as many Abbeys did, with a mixture of both clergy and lay brothers. Hawkesbury manor is mentioned in the Domesday Book under the landholdings of Pershore Abbey. It was a large estate and a centre for teaching.

Hawkesbury church
Stonework revealing signs of extensive re-working

It is unclear when the first church was built in the parish, but some of the stone work reused in the church would suggests that there may well have been a church in existence during Saxon times. Like many older churches, St Mary the Virgin shows signs of extensive reworking over the years. There are many additions to the original building. As you can see on the image on the left here, an original has been removed and replaced with a more ‘modern’ one. In 2011 a new window was installed, dedicated to St Wulfstan.

The Churchyard

The churchyard can be considered as two separate features. The older one, which surrounds the church, is roughly an oval plot and has some beautiful, and well maintained Yew that form part of the south eastern boundary. The burial ground itself has almost two hundred gravestones and monuments. It was very noticeable, and surprising, that many of them are chest tombs. More than half of these are considered important enough, eith for the individual whom the commemorate, or for design etc, that they are on the official schedule of listed buildings and monuments. The later one, a to the north of the church, can be reached through the lychgate. In the gathering gloom, we didn’t have time to have a look there.

Hawkesbury church
An example of a chest tomb dating to the 18th century.

We were surprised to see quite so many chest tombs in one churchyard. You’ve probably seen examples in your local churchyard as they are quite common. However, it seems that there is a greater concentration of them in the Gloucestershire/Wiltshire/Cotswolds region. We don’t know why this is, but our interest has been piqued!

Chest, or Table Tombs have a long history. They first appeared in Tudor times and there are fine examples to be seen across the country. They can be found inside and outside the church, but in all cases the individual is buried beneath the tomb, not inside it as you might think! Because of their long history there are many changes in design and artwork. One handy way to date them is the lid. It wasn’t until the 17th century that lids become significantly thinner as the whole design of the chest becomes lighter.


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So what next?

Well we really enjoyed our brief stopover in Hawkesbury and we are planning to go back. It may prove difficult to get our four children enthused about it, but we won’t let that deter us. We’d like to go inside the church and learn more of its history, and that of the nearby properties. There was mention of a manor, but we couldn’t see it. So, more research on this is needed! If you want to find out more about chest tombs and other churchyard memorials, here are some suggestions to get you started.

Some reading on Churchyard memorials

  • Frederick Burgess, English Churchyard Memorials, Lutterworth Press, Cambridge, 2004
  • Mark Child, Discovering Churchyards, Shire Publications, Aylesbury, 1982
  • Margaret Cox, Grave Concerns, Council for British Archaeology, York, 1998
  • Hilary Lees, English Churchyard Memorials, Tempus, Stroud, 2000
  • Julian Litten, The English Way of Death, Robert Hale, London, 1991

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