Friday, October 31, 2008


In a blog on my other site, I mentioned Saint Cedd as he sat beneath a great oak tree, and I shall perhaps write about this saint later, but on Tuesday we visited the Saxon chapel of St.Peter on the Wall, founded by Cedd in AD 654 ,the chapel still standing in a bleak location by the sea.
Firstly you must imagine the scene, the flat Essex landscape merging with the great estuary, and then the drive through the village of Bradwell on Sea to the position of the chapel on its promonotory facing the grey expanse of the sea.
Park the car in the grassy car park, walk along the straight long track between brown ploughed fields to the building sitting on its grassy knoll; you are one of many pilgrims to have walked this way, this may be somewhere to visit as a tourist but never forget that pilgrims came with a great deal more in their hearts.
The building is not beautiful, uncompromising it has stood for 1400 years. Grey in the sunlight, it is made up of reused roman stone and tiles, refurbishing tiles and bricks complete the top half.
It is built on top of roman gateway, foundations to a fort, the old Fosse running parallel to the entrance of the chapel, the Roman fort of Othona it is thought, one of The Forts of the Saxon Shore.
Touch the rough texture of the worked stone at the corner, look down at the half hidden buttresses in the grass layered with the red of Roman roof tiles, turn the ring on the great oak door pushing its heavy weight till the interior unfolds before your eyes. The austere simplicity of rough grey stone and flint walls dimly lit by the light from the windows. Benches in front of the modern altar to sit quietly on and take in the atmosphere.
Now let the mind travel along its walls, here are the arched domes of the waggon doors when it was used sometime in the medieval period as a barn. There is another arch facing you, now blocked in, that would have led to the basilica type apse at the East end. Focus on the great colourful cross high on the wall, for this chapel is still used twice a day by a local 'Othona' christian community. then note in the right hand corner, a long vertical stone with a candle on top, at the base is a large rounded stone, with flowers grouped around it. A puzzling enigma, is there a touch of paganism here?
One more thing to note here is the modern altar, a square rectangular slab of stone on three pillars, and here we come to the Celtic heart of this chapel, for it is these three modern stones that represent Saint Cedd's other communities..
The left stone is a gift from Holy Island, Lindisfarne, it was here that Saint Cedd was trained by Saint Aidan.
The centre stone is a gift from the Island of Iona, the Celtic mission in Britain started here; it was here that St.Colombus founded a monastery where missionary monks were trained.
The right stone is a gift from Lastingham, Cedd left Bradwell to build a monastery at Lastingham in the Yorkshire Moors, and it was here he died of the plague in AD.664

The bank of the promontory folds down into a boggy sea marsh, a nature reserve, filled with wild plants, a pleasing palette of greys and browns, shot through with the red of plant stems. A lone birdwatching hide stands almost birdshaped itself on its long poles, gaunt and lonely looking out to sea.
Going back to the car and settling into its warmth from the chill Essex winds, picnicking on hot tea and rolls a great flutter of wings and young starlings fell around us settling to drink from a puddle. Soon two more waves of these birds landed, harassed, ever so slightly by a blackbird, a thin flutter of nervous excitement running through the flock as they percieved danger, each a perfect image of his companion.

Information taken from; A booklet by H.Malcolm Carter - The Fort of Othona and the Chapel of St.Peter-On-The-Wall....

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Sunday; Strong winds and rain, the weekend has already unfolded itself into storm and greyness. Train journeys, a London packed with the hustle and bustle of people, each time I have wandered through the concourse of Liverpool Street, I have seen someone with a dog and thought about my Moss travelling through this maelstrom of people. Stand on a tube and look at the faces of those around, each has a story to tell, millions of people moving through a network of trains, linking back to their familar lives through mobiles. Here is a young girl, pale and scruffily dressed, three large crumpled carrier bags, is she moving from one place to another? There are the older people with their doggy bags (the ones you pull behind you) going for a weekend visit.
All races are represented in London, a hotch-potch of people that you only become aware of as you travel through the bleak landscape of the tube.
This is the capital of our country, for those who live in other parts of this fair land, and especially down in the West, we get angry that so much money gets spent on this city. It seems dirty, grey full of cars and a great confusing mass of people that disorientates you, it's fast moving, the blank stares and coldness reaches into the depths of your soul and sends a shudder through it.
Train journeys through the countryside are gentle affairs, the long haul up to Yorkshire to see my grandchildren, travels through the different aspects, so that here we find the flat plains of the Midlands, the rolling medieval rig and plough still captured in the fields. Sluggish brown rivers, almost overflowing in winter, will carry the flotsam of our modern age; a scatter of plastic, foam that has washed down from a factory, the trailing willows catching in their branches wisps of things. Gritstone brown stone houses through Derby, the Yorkshire moors still a dull brown unless the gorse or the heather lend their bright colours to the scene.
The tumbling down of the moors to the sea, as the bus winds down through steep lanes, sheep scattered amongst the grey stones of the moor, grass eaten to a velvet smoothness. And then the sea itself, blue or gray depending on the weather, the sharp lines of the cliffs, Whitby Abbey standing like some great guarding sentinel on top of the cliff, and then the homeliness of Whitby, old houses clustered round the harbour, the smell of fish and chips and holidaymakers crowding the narrow streets.
There is one more train journey from the past; this is the Orient Express on which myself and my daughter would travel to Switzerland on for Xmas and summer holidays to my in-laws house. I cannot remember much of the beginning of the journey only that when we reached France it would be dark and you would go to sleep on an uncomfortable couchette, the train waking you in the night as it shunted around a station, Paris I think it was. But it was the early morning as light broke and you crossed the border between France and Switzerland that stays in the memory - the morning sun on the mountains.
The journey back started at midnight catching the train at Vevey as it came into the station for a couple of minutes; a great monster, fond farewells, lifting the luggage onto the train. One disastrous Christmas with a wheelie case chock full of xmas presents, the whole lot was stolen, probably by a cleaner who came on in the middle of the night, nothing to be done the train rolled on the presents were lost.
Switzerland is the land of little trains, chugging up into the mountains, winding over narrow bridges and tumbling water. A family friend lived in a small Swiss house in Blonay by the train track that came up from Vevey, her garden down the driveway was full of flowers, tall sunflowers, and her house the traditional wooden one, plain, simple and white. She had been a dancer in her day and photos on the wall showed her in the heyday of youth.
Leni was my mother-in-law's best friend, though they would often have little arguments, she would come over to Sunday lunch, out under the loggia, a family gathering of friends and family. Arguing gently, Con my father-in-law, sometimes throwing his napkin over his head and explode with the words S.I.D., S.I.D, which meant 'sometimes I despair,' it normally produced laughter and the argument would be stopped. At these gatherings and tea in the afternoon, tricks would be played on the guests by Con and Marc, my daughter's cousin. Plastic dog poo, was one, false mustard and plastic cakes much to the fury of Lotta, who could not tolerate such games at the table. One trick fell foul of its target, the vicar from the church at Territet, manipulation of the cake plate had managed to make him pick up the plastic cake, and he plunged his teeth in as we all watched expectantly. The result was a very cross vicar who almost broke his teeth and did'nt see the funny side of it as the children howled.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Neolithic Dew-ponds and Cattleways by Arthur and George Hubbard 1905

The following photographs are taken from the above book, apart from the one glaring mistake they made i.e. Neolithic dewponds with which they entitled their piece then went on to describe Iron age hillforts, the book should not be read except for information..... but the photos show that the landscape was very different in those days with more trackways defined on the sides of the hillforts. And as I love old books and way out theories, this particular book is a great treasure....

This last sketch plan of Oare Hill and Martinsell Hill is interesting, take no notice of the wolf/sentry platforms, though they added a nice little piece about wolves, but for the dew-pond marked. It seems that a dewpond marked as a Saxon boundary on Milk Hill was noted in 825 see this link...

Most existing dew ponds date from the 19th or early 20th centuries, although a few may be 18th century. The only apparent ancient one is Oxenmere on Milk Hill on the downs to the north of the Vale of Pewsey. A Saxon charter of 825 refers to this pond as marking the boundary of Alton Priors, which it still does. It is possible that a pond has been here since that date but only if it has been cleaned out and its lining renewed every 100 to 200 years for Ralph Whitlock estimated that the life of a dew pond is 100 to 150 years.
Quotation from the Hubbard book;
The month which we now call January our Saxon ancestors called wolf-monat, to wit, wolf-moneth, because people are wont always in that month to be in more danger to be devoured of wolves, than in any else season of the year; for that, through the extremity of cold and snow, these ravenous creatures could not find of other beasts sufficient to feed upon. Richard Verstegan, Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities 1673

So the moral being don't go wandering down that old Saxon trackway beneath Martinsell Hill in January for you never know there might be a wolf or two lurking......

SU 07303 69348 grid reference for Beckahampton dew pond?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Alphamstone Church

A return visit to this church reveals yet one more undiscovered stone. There are large stones set against the hedge, tidied away, they are thought to be part of a stone circle. The wooden towered church of St Barnabas set on a knoll overlooking the Stour Valley, lies in the heart of the Essex countryside surrounded by a small group of houses. Perhaps one should describe it as a modest unassuming building, except for the extraordinary facts of the stones in the graveyard, and the two just outside the church. But go inside the church, and against the west wall tucked neatly underneath the pews are two stones protruding through the wall. And here I will quote from the little church leaflet on these two stones;....

'The base of of the West wall is part of the original Norman church. Here, on either side of the original tower arch can be seen two large sarsen stones built into the base of the wall. This suggests that these stones had some religious significance, for the early Norman builders liked to incorporate pieces of early pagan worship into there buildings where possible.

Photos credits; Littlestone

Outside on the south wall, there is an old (16thC) porch, not used, it looks old and inviting but note the bricks that underpin the walling, two small badly worn faces decorate the entrance to the doorway.

Today you enter the church through the north porch (15th century), which is in fact earlier than the south porch. On entering the church you are at first struck by the cold and damp, the little kneeling pads are all embroidered with flowers and birds. The font is Norman plain arcading, and there are three tracied wood roods/screens facing you on the south side replacing the old Norman wall. These were in fact purchased from another church in the early 1960's.

I come to another digression here, and one that has a faintly unsettling effect on my secular rationale. On looking at the open bible on the lectern, I was greeted by a disturbing passage from the old testament, suffice it to say it was from Ezekiel, and the words whores and harlots figured quite frequently. THIS in the 21st century, was it given as a sermon, or is it a morality lesson left for innocent visitors to view - can the church still be seen to go along with the mad ravings of some local prophet who obviously had a hang up about women. As a female this was pure sexist, misogynist male terrorism and left a nasty taste in the mouth.

South Side

Stour Valley

North porch

Filled in doorway

Norman 'plain arcading' font
History of church; Like many churches Alphamstone has a long history, the little leaflet on the church says about 4000 b.c. . Bronze age man settling on a spur overlooking the Stour Valley. In about 2000 b.c they built a burial mound near the site of the existing church, and three incinerary urns were discovered at the beginning of the 20th century.
Of course the sarsen stones may be related to this burial mound, a stone chamber being formed in the centre. But on examining the stones this seems unlikely, they are large and rounded. According to the information in the leaflet, there are several boulders in the gardens surrounding the church, and that the builders would have had to go along way to find these boulders, which gives rise to the fact that they are actually stones from a circle. The village was probably inhabited for the next 2000 years with traces of first century A.D. Belgic Roman pottery, and it is conjectured that the churchyard fence may follow the line of the ancient Roman buildings, there is a sandpit not far from the church with evidence of a tile kiln dating from this period.

Two stones in front of the church

Stone near east buttress

Stones in hedgerow

Interesting marks

Hidden stones

There are fascinating articles by Thorgrim on the Megalithic Portal site about the sacred stones of Essex, follow the links for more information.