Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More churches

Avebury Church

I have an obsession with country churches, it is there peaceful presence in a quiet countryside that triggers this response. Too often in this western secular world we rant against religion, but these small country churches the last vestiges of a dying religion please me greatly.

Fyfield Church, said to be by a Roman road

Fyfield Church porch

The font

Their grassy grave yards with leaning headstones bear the minimum of words as to birth and death, or if you are wealthy, written with a flourish of words witnessing the greatness of god or man; it tells us of our brief stay on this earth numbers so neatly carved. Nature folds round the stone foundations of these old buildings, sunk deep into the earth, surrounded by the dead bones of the past.

Yet there is still life when it comes to the major festivals of the year, Christmas, Easter and Harvest Festival, people are drawn to the church to celebrate, unwittingly, or maybe in memory of a pagan past, to once more garland the church and remember. So it was so when visiting several churches round Avebury on the Autumn Solstice, women in East Kennet, arranging flowers in the small church, talking amongst themselves, two children with a spaniel waiting outside the church, the greyness of the interior lit up by the colour of the flowers. Outside the sun shone on the small pond that is attached to the church with the great sarsen stone half hidden by vegetation; ducks sitting on a very small green, someone sat on a chair working outside their cottage in the sun, a peaceful idyllic life.

The sarsen beside the pond at East Kennet Church

East Kennet church banner - EKLB and Avebury stones

The old East Kennet church

In the other churches, West Overton, Fyfield and Winterbourne Monkton, women were cleaning the churches, arranging flowers, and by the altars you could spy tins of food, the autumn harvest come home to roost in a modern convenient form.
West Overton church has a cottage bordering its edge, whilst to the east another cottage sits beneath its benevolent gaze, a steep drop of about 15 feet to a patio beneath, this I noticed because Moss bounding around had to put his brakes on sharply or he would have tumbled over to the garden below.
Perhaps I should mention one more church, the one at Avebury, sitting on the bench surrounded by the small village of old houses with the Manor peeping over a stone wall, the sense of time past is keenly felt. People pass by ambling slowly in the warmth of the sun, the church door invites you in, Moss is territorial about this bit of land, he has so often been here before and he barks at people he doesnt like - children mostly.
Churches have of course been 'restored' William Morris in the 19th century was anti-restoration of course and formed a society for the protection of churches. But if you read Pevenser most churches have been restored 'beribboned and adorned' by such people as Butterfield they lose the classic simpleness of the old plain churches.

And of course one can't write about country church yards without recalling to mind Thomas Gray's poem, which does tend to send me off into fits of giggles, the moping owl especially, and perhaps he should take his place under David Inshaw's paintings of Silbury hill with Owl on my other blog. A few verses, the rest is far too long!


The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

the rest can be found here;.. http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Poetry/Elegy.htm

Some church history......


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Theories and Silbury Hill

Whlst watching the furore around the latest theory of Stonehenge, an old blog I had written came to mind, this was of course theories about Silbury. I quite like the way they spark controversy, contempt and scorn on one side, gallant tenacious belief on the other.




Notes on 17th emigration to America

William Penn acquired the vast tract of land in America called Pennysylvania, through the debt of King Charles of £16,000 to his grandfather. Britain was in a religious turmoil at the time, with dissenters being persecuted, but slowly the climate changed and rather than outlaw such people as the Quakers the king thought it more prudent to allow them to move out of the country. That is probably why we see Oliver Cope and his family leaving Britain for the promised new land.
William Penn writes of the benefits of Pennsilvania promising that "the place lies 600 miles nearer the sun than England" or "whatever I could truly write as to the soil air and water, this shall satisfie me, that by the blessing of God and the honesty and industry of man it may be good and fruitful land"
And there is one interesting promotional letter to John Aubrey, written 1683, which said;
The Aier, heat and Cold Resemble the heart of France; the soyle good, the springs many and delightfull, the fruits roots corne and flesh as good I have comonly eaten in Europe. I may so of most of them better. Strawberry's ripe in the woods in Aprill, and in the last month, Peas, bean, cherrys and mulberry are here. Much black walnutt, Chestnutts, Cyprus or white cedar and mulberry are here. The sorts of fish in these parts are excellent and numerous. Sturgeon leap day and night that we can hear them a bow shot from the Rivers in out bed"
Though Aubrey was poor at this time after having lost all his estates, he does'nt seem to have made the journey, probably he was not up to the life of a gentleman farmer and preferred the country houses of his friends. His writing was prodigious and it would have been interesting to see what he would have made of the New Country.

In 1680 we see the migration from Bristol as to be estimated at about 700, and by 1718, the date of Penn's death, the population of Pennsylvania had rised to 30,000.
Penn wanted tradesman and craftsman to emigrate, so that he welcomed the carpenters, shoemakers and tailors like Cope to take the voyage. There was also speculation by London purchasers, this time lawyers, physicians and merchants who bought land but did not go across the Atlantic themselves.
Of the the first 589 purchasers, 55 were from Cheshire and the second highest 53 from Wiltshire. Although London of course had a higher proportion, but many of these would have been speculators and would never have left the country.

ref; William Penn - Mary K. Geiter

Thursday, September 25, 2008

East Kennet longbarrow

Click on photos for large picture

No facts and figures for this large barrow, sitting so quietly in the landscape hidden by trees. It is probably as magnificent as West Kennet longbarrow, but has yet escaped the trowel and brutality of archaeology which would delve into its innards to discover yet more secrets.

Silbury and West Kennet longbarrow viewed from the path
The sun is bright overhead, bales lay round the great golden fields of stubble, and in the distance a farm machine lies idle. Walking up the path, the dog loping ahead, leaving the crowded atmosphere of Avebury behind, the only person we meet is riding a white horse.

One of the great treats in walking this part of the Wiltshire Downs, apart from the great sloping fields is the fact that you can look back towards Silbury outlined against a blue sky, because the mound is in a dip she seems to be facing West Kennet longbarrow entrance, the two brought together by present time, yet apart in past time.
Turning into the field you can look down on the hamlet of East Kennet its church spire snuggly surrounded by houses and cottages, a great fringe of trees protecting them.

The barrow itself is enormous when you get close covered in a mass of wild vegetation and great trees, both dead and alive, it is strangely a living force in the landscape, a marriage that makes England what it is, the neat hedgerows and fields defining a 5000 year old tomb buried in nature's exuberance. Both live and dead nettles greet you in the green growth stinging sandalled feet, a tree lies fallen, a silvered skeleton of branches echoing the bones beneath.
The barrow faces down towards the village and church, but of course also towards the little river Kennet. Stand at its side, Silbury and West Kennet barrow in the distance, is this territorial spacing, land divided, or a tribal divide, we will never know but both barrows face towards the Ridgeway asserting their dominance in the landscape. Also there is a neat trick that EK plays on you, walking up you think that it is on a slope but walk its great length and it seems to be on the straight. A couple of sarsens can be seen protruding, the badger has helped here, evidence of badger holes, scraping out the chalk so that it lies like white litter amongst the green grass.

There is evidence of badger all round, scraps of fur where they have been fighting, should we remove them? my answer is no, their damage is no greater, and indeed far less, then any excavation would produce. And if like its sister barrow at West Kennet, East Kennet was exposed to full glory there would be thousands of visitors spoiling its peace and harmony, its secrets are best left to the future.

What about the trees you may ask, they must surely damage the stones beneath, my answer has always been how many trees do you think have grown, died and rotted on this barrow over 5000 years, true, the present trees are probably planted deliberately for cover of wild birds but if you look at the plate of their roots you will see how shallow they are, a dying tree rots above the ground as well as below.

East Kennet

In winter the great long shape of the longbarrow will be revealed and perhaps that is the best time to visit it to appreciate its height and size.
West Kennet was 'closed' down by a later different religion, its ancestor worship no longer valid in a world that had tasted the excitement of bronze and gold, life was taking a different path from worship of the earth and its fertility, but these great longbarrows with their facade of stones and neat stalled chambers remind us of other cultures that once lived in this land, and no I can't verify that East Kennet will have a facade or stalls but surely it must have echoed its sister barrow in elegance.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stanton Drew

The lion stone

This weekend visiting sites two stand out in my memory, East Kennet Longbarrow and Stanton Drew stone circles, both seen on beautiful sunny days, so rare this summer.
But it is with Stanton Drew that I first start out. Two years ago I photographed all the stones in the Great Circle, marvelling at their extraordinary size, colour, I gave some names to them at the time.
What can you say about this third 'cinderalla'of stone circles in the West country, Jodie Lewis in her book "The Neolithic of Northern Somerset" will give you facts and figures, Gordon Strong in his little book: Stanton Drew and its Ancient Stone Circles" will give you nibbles of fascinating information.
So for instance here we have an explanation of the name Stanton Drew;

" it was a fact that during the Middle Ages the land surrounding the stone circles was owned by the Drogo family, a Norman name which evolved into the Anglo-Celtic word for magician, sorcerer or druid 'Dru, Dryu', or more commonly today Drew. Hence ..Stanton Drew or Stone Town of the Drew Family" Gordon Strong.

Be that as it may the little pub in the village that houses the Cove, and quite a few chickens - the speckldly ones as well - is also called the Druid Arms.
He also gives the etymology of cove "derived from Old English 'cofa', an alcove (ancient German for hollow place). The Cove sits somewhat uneasily encased by the wire fence of the pub garden, with the church centrally place between it and the stone circles as drawn by Stukeley.

The Great circle is impressive, though many of the stones lie fallen, there colour and texture is remarkable so different from the Avebury Stones, whilst there wandering amongst them, we came across a dowser, Paul Daws was his name and had a long and interesting chat with him, he had apparently found some hidden circles up by Castlerigg. Only one person in seven can dowse so he informed me, obviously I'm one of the other six which is a shame

Three stones in the smaller circle

A lovely jumble of stones down by the two (hardly there) avenues down to the river

Many of the stones at Stanton Drew were broken up, burnt or buried in Medieval times, but it is believed the strong folklore tradition of the 'Wedding Stones' story probably helped save the rest. It was a multi-phase site, the earliest being the timber circle of nine concentric rings, or maybe of the henge, though the bank is not visible, and therefore a ditch and bank might not have been there, but it is suggested by Jodie Lewis, that the ditch might have been filled in between the wood and stone stage, as Aubrey says "it is a ploughed land and so easily worn out"
Lewis goes on to outline the case between 'closed' and 'open sites' an archaeological construct which sees the closed nature of timber circles and henges against the open nature of stone circles, this theory was somewhat exploded in the latest idea on Stonehenge where a 20 foot palisade was thought to be erected around the stones, though it seems a further revision may see the huge post holes as tree throws.
Composition of stone; the fluours and transparent crystallisation... shine eminently and reflect the sunbeams with great lustre" Stukeley
The stones are made of several different rock types; and it is interesting to note Lloyd Morgan (1887) list
The Great Circle; Silicious breccia, dolomitic breccia, oolitic limestone, coarser sandstone.
The north-east circle; Silicious breccia
The south-west circle; sandstone, silicious breccia, dolomitic breccia.
Hautville Quoit; Fine grained cherty sandstone
Tynings stones; oolitic limestone
The Cove; dolomitic breccia.
Many of the stones are striking because of the mixed appearance, they are conglomerates, with brightly coloured ragged surfaces - very dramatic - shot through with iron colouring, almost giving the appearance of blood, the quartz and dark coal conglomerate fissured deeply.
Some stones also have strong anthromorphic shapes, whilst others are solidly square, yet the instinctive response to them is that some stones represent something , either gods or ancestors, to the people who put them them up. They probably came from within few miles of the site.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mary Stoke Cope

There is really not much information about Mary Cope (1852-1888) and her poem about Awbury, her parents were Thomas Pim Cope (1823-1900) , and her mother Elizabeth Waln Stokes (1823-1902). Her brother Alban, seems to have been commited to an asylum between 1890-1891 and later on to the Hartford Retreat after Mary's death.
Mary's father seems to have made a religious trip to Europe and England in 1890, and there is correspondence from this trip asking after Alban.

Her grandparents - Thomas Pim Cope (1768-1854) Mary Drinker (1766-1825 - are interesting, her grandfather became one of the wealthiest mechants in Philadelphi, he was a politician, strong Quaker and philanthropist. Mary and Thomas were married in 1792, she also came from a Quaker family, and from the following letter, it can be seen that she loved him very much. Perhaps her way with words inspired her granddaughter Mary Cope to write poems, and it is sad that there is no correspondence or other poems in the various collections that comprise the Cope extensive collection of correspondence at Haverford College.

A Dream of Love

Judge not my beloved Friend, from my silence, that thou art absent from my thoughts—waking & sleeping, I commune with my far distant Love; and copious are the effusions I mentally pour into his unconscious ear. Last night he appeared to me in a vision, like a sudden apparition; he kiss’d me many times with great fervency but still greater haste; he did not even tarry to sit down; and was gone again on some unxplain’d momentous business swifter than a meteor in a summer sky.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Last Night at the Proms

Silent Noon -Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass,-
The finger-points look through, like rosy blooms:
Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms
'Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.
All round our nest far, as the eye can pass
Are golden kingcup fields with silver edge
Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge
'Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.
Deep in the sun searched groves, a dragon-fly
Hangs, like a blue thread loosened from the sky:-
So this winged hour is dropt to us from above.
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower
This close-companioned inarticulate hour
When twofold silence was the song of love.

Each year there is this wonderful feast of pure nostalgia, an unashamed nationalistic pride of British songs and music that will bring tears to the eyes. Even as I type there is a merry Irish jig playing from Belfast, joyously the musicans throw the beat into the room.
This is the time that the four small countries of Gt.Britain give us back our traditional music, and bring back memories of not only our own history but of our inheritance as a sparky in yer face curmudgeonly, volatile mixed race that we are.
So what are the highlights? Bryn Terfei for one in his deep Welsh voice sings traditional songs, and I remember those days at school when we rehearsed and sang these songs. Auld Lang Syne brings back a memory of crawling through a chimney piece in the attics of our old Victorian house, aged about 8 and finding in the dusty room behind it a book of poetry by Robbie Burns.
For ages I would sit and try to decipher this unknown language puzzled by its nearness to the English language but never quite understanding it.
What else, Anna Meredith marvellous new piece of music - sheer brilliance - can't even describe it but its force and energy ringing out, echoed in the response of the audience.
That is of course also part of it, audience participation, exuberantly shouting, clapping, singing and crackers going off, silence when it is needed - joy in music and words that soars above the pettiness of our lives, and reminds us that our spiritual needs for beauty, poetry and art are still the most inspiring things humans can offer to nature.

Jerusalem - William Blake
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Monday, September 8, 2008


Tracking through genealogical records is time consuming and can be very boring, odd facts though stand out from the page, and I find my mind concentrating on Oliver Cope's mother, Elizabeth.

"As has been seen, the evidence proves that Oliver Cope, the immigrant was son of john Cope of Chisledon, Wiltshire, yeoman, who made his Will in 1649 and of Elizabeth Cope, a widow living in Avebury, Wiltshire in 1681. "

A slight statement, but the fact is Oliver's father died in 1649, and his mother must have died in 1681 the year before Oliver emigrated, she seems to have died in Chisledon, a village three miles from Swindon. There is also a mention of a Maude Truslow, obviously taking her name from the village of Trusloe in 1636. There are earthwork remains of a medieval village here at Trusloe, perhaps it has always been a small hamlet.
Slowly a picture begins to unfold of this time period, a restless, unsettled century, in which England experienced a Civil War, and perhaps more important a radical change in religion.
The Quakers, maybe be seen as an offset of the Puritans, the early beginnings of Quakerism were difficult they were persecuted by law and ordinary people alike. Yet they persevered, setting up meeting houses, schools, apprenticeships and businesses. They prospered because they were a close network, a community with family and friends ties that helped in business deals, though of course this 'making money' went slightly against the grain of their religion.
So that when we see Oliver Cope as a tailor, it could well be that he was apprenticed through this system, that he was never seen as a Quaker by Gilbert Cope, could well be down to the fact of this persecution that surrounded the religious faction in its early phase in England and the need to be quiet about religious affliations.
Oliver had bought land of William Penn a prominent Quaker, and Penn travelled to America in 1682 on the ship Welcome, and it would seem very likely that Oliver and his family travelled shortly after his mother's death, maybe not on the same boat but in the small fleet that seem to have left at this time. This long boat trips were no easy undertaking, a third of the passengers died of typhoid fever on the voyage on the Welcome, cramped up in narrow cabins, disease would have been rife.
Oliver died in 1697 probably aged 50 years, which gives him 15 years in which to establish a home in Pennsylvania with his wife and four children.

Note; Oliver's father died round 1649, Oliver was born in 1647, meaning that his mother was widowed all through Oliver's childhood, there would have been poverty in the household, yet he managed to train for a trade, giving credence to the fact that it was probably a Quaker training...


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Black and White

The many gabled manor house,
With winking casement sheen,
Seem in the summer light to drowse
And dream of what has been
Writing about Oliver Cope, my mind has always been on Avebury and its history in the 17th century, when Cope dwelt in the village with his family. Would the stones have been hidden by trees, would the inner circle of the henge been covered with a patchwork of small gardens, picket fencing to keep a few sheep in. Aubrey would have visited in the first half of the century, Stukeley later, we have Stukeley's drawings depicting fallen stones; how would Oliver's three children played about these stones. How would they have been viewed? these pagan relicts from the past.
We have the emergence of Quakerism all through this century, a simplifying of the Anglican religion of the time causing unrest and dissent. What makes people go against the accepted 'norm' the so called Puritans. History is a vast web of human thinking and imagination, we can trace some of the pathways by that which is left, but this new movement of Quakerism did it inspire Oliver to buy land in the new Eden of America, unspoilt, untrammelled by religious thought, new churches to be built, new philosophies to be worked out, the hard back breaking work to till the soil and live in a simple manner. No, Oliver our tailor from Avebury, seems an unlikely man to breakout of the mould of tradition, that he did showed courage, and one thing that seems so poignant is his last will as he left his horses and land to his wife and family in this far off land at Naamede Creek, away from the Wiltshire countryside.

Oliver Cope's last will; 1697

I, Oliver Cope, now of y countie of New Castle, being weak in body ie but of sound and disposing mind and memory, praised be y lorde for it make and ordain this last will................
Item; I give and bequeath that what horses and mares my daughters have, shall be and remaine their own.
I give and bequeth unto my daughter Ruth, three wether sheep, and one ewe and lamb
To my son William, one ewe and lamb, and as for my stock of cattle, I will that
my wife shall one half of them, and y other half of y cattle chall be equallie
divided between my foure children.
I give to my son William £17
I give to my daughter Ruth, £3.10s.
I give and bequeath to my son John, y old bay mare and her two colts
I give more to my other son William, all my other horses and mares
I give and bequeath y one-half of all remaining part of my estate, both real and
personal, between my foure children - my two sons to have a double share of it
I give one horse to my wfe. The other half of my estate, I give and bequeath
unto my wife during her widowhood. When I make my full and sole and if my wife happen to marry that then part shall be equallie divided between my foure children........
In the year of our lord 1697 - Oliver Cope
Also signed by Rebecca Cope

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Coffee in the sun

Such a rare event this summer, coffee on the terrace in the sun but today the weather was good, and so coffee mug in hand went to sit out for a few minutes. The first thing to greet me was the flower bed next to the house had been dug out and a fir planted a couple of months ago was lying on the terrace. This is Moss, he has always dug great holes in this particular bed ever since he was young, he had already dug out all the marigolds when I was away - spite?

In disgrace

The next visitor on the terrace is my little bantam Daisy, solitary now after her mate Hetty was eaten by the fox a couple of weeks ago. She enjoys the dogs' and my company, and settles down to clean her powder puff tail of feathers in the sun. She lays an egg every other day, bright yellow yolks that make eggs bought from supermarkets insipid in colour. This accomplishment she always announces with great cackles of triumph.
Colour is also part of my day as well, dyeing silk yesterday, it has dried, one batch was alder fruits from Avebury, mordanted with copper it produces a delicate green. The other is an acid dye, a mixture of purple and navy sparingly applied to try to produce a lavender colour, the dark raspberry red is a silk shawl.

There are also butterflies around the garden, white being predominant, here is a small brown wood butterfly basking in the sun ...

Monday, September 1, 2008


We have had miserable weather for weeks now but to day the sun shone early this morning as I walked the dog and though a very gentle mistiness was apparent from the viewpoint to Kelston round hill, I could still see to Cley Hill's softly rounded shape between two fingers of the downs about 25 kilometres away, but not the Bronze age barrow on top though. King Alfred's tower (33 k) was not to be seen, neither was the great radio mast on top of the Mendips with its long barrow underneath. These will be seen in the sharper clearer air of winter, as will the sea that laps the Bristol Estuary, should I happen to stand on the old spoilheap of 1911 - still there after all this time adjacent to the barrow that was excavated.

Smoke curls up from the Westbury concrete factory, and just to the right of the smoke will be Westbury White Horse reminding me of another horse, the Uffington White horse, I saw from the train from London last week, still galloping across the downs 2000 years later.

History written into the landscape by those who were unable to pick up a pen and write, or knock a few keys on a computer as I am doing. Their mark has lasted thousands of years my few words will be wiped out in a second, perhaps a good enough reason to plug the need for protecting our past and standing guard over it for our future grandchildren.

But what else on my walk, the buzzard aloof on his telegraph pole scanning the grass for mice was there, and as we passed he slowly and gracefully flew to a far wood. Along the path the patch of toadflax has once again appeared, moving further south so that it is no longer on either side of the path. Stopping to pick a flower head and see how it mechanically works for bees, I see that its lower petal needs a certain amount of weight for it to be dragged down for pollination - clearly the role of a heavy bumble bee. The plight of wildflowers is underlined dramatically here, for this small occurence of toadflax in a large 100 acre landscape tells us that unless there are more wildflowers the bees will surely starve.

The swallows are swooping round the racecourse, gathering in a small bunch up in the sky, and again it doesnt seem a good year for the production of young. But wait two hawks are playing in the sky, dancing on the wind they swoop around each other,sometimes being held by the wind in that wonderful stillness of feathered magic as they hang motionless midair.

The dog chases his ball with canine grace, leaping up in the air to deftly catch it as it flies through the air, nine years old now, he has walked this area asserting his dominance over young boisterous labradors, a collie naturally trained in exacting obedience from those around him - his life a simple duty of guarding hearth and home, of keeping his world safe and secure from the dangers of outside, not a bad reason for owning a dog who guards me as well on our walks...