Graduation day

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Something a bit more cheerful – some lovely photos of our last graduation day. Here’s the sports hall as the graduands process in.


With Kerry, Justin and Dominic in the Board Room after.


Team photo with Nathan practising for next year.


Justin got the dissertation prize for a stunning dissertation on population movement and crime in nineteenth-century Monmouthshire. Here he is with his wife (one of our graduates from a couple of years ago) and the head of History, Dr Lock-Lewis


and here in a team photo


and here’s me with Kerry, probably the student who is closest to my own research interests



Weep, weep, o Walsingham

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In the wracks of Walsingham
Whom should I choose
But the Queen of Walsingham
to be my guide and muse.

Then, thou Prince of Walsingham,
Grant me to frame
Bitter plaints to rue thy wrong,
Bitter woe for thy name.

Bitter was it so to see
The seely sheep
Murdered by the ravenous wolves
While the shepherds did sleep.

Bitter was it, O to view
The sacred vine,
Whilst the gardeners played all close,
Rooted up by the swine.

Bitter, bitter, O to behold
The grass to grow
Where the walls of Walsingham
So stately did show.

Such were the worth of Walsingham
While she did stand,
Such are the wracks as now do show
Of that Holy Land.

Level, level, with the ground
The towers do lie,
Which, with their golden glittering tops,
Pierced once to the sky.

Where were gates are no gates now,
The ways unknown
Where the press of peers did pass
While her fame was blown.

Owls do scrike where the sweetest hymns
Lately were sung,
Toads and serpents hold their dens
Where the palmers did throng.

Weep, weep, O Walsingham,
Whose days are nights,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to despites.

Sin is where Our Lady sat,
Heaven is turned to hell,
Satan sits where Our Lord did sway —
Walsingham, O farewell!


Last graduation day on campus. Office empty, library almost empty. Tearful students. The ceremony featured what I can only call the B team – pro-Chancellor, pro-Vice Chancellor, reading speeches clearly written for them by Marketing and Communications. That would be the same Marketing and Communications team that told us all we weren’t to comment on the plans for disposal of the campus – apparently we were supposed to say “Sorry, I’m not really involved in the campus changes programme. Let me find and / introduce you to my colleague who knows more about it all.” [then introduce to a member of the Corporate Communications team]

Some of us felt we had to try to explain to them as gently as possible the many ways that could have gone wrong. I mean, suppose we had forgotten our words? Or written them down, then couldn’t find our reading glasses?  What would they do to us?

Of course, there was no reference to the campus closure in the speeches. They were generic, not geared to the actual subjects that were graduating, they edged up to the problem with a few words about the necessity for change and development then bottled it.

To get myself through it I started thinking about the parallels with the events in the past that I study. Some of my learned colleagues have been speculating about the parallels between Brexit and Henry VIII’s declaration of independence from the Pope in the 1530s. Part of the fallout from that was the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the destruction of shrines like Walsingham and our own Penrhys. So how did people deal with that? We know about the few brave rebels who died for their beliefs, but what about everyone else? Should we assume (as traditional histories of the Reformation did) that non-resistance meant approval, that the late medieval church was so corrupt and unpopular that it only took one push to overthrow it? Was the low recruitment in the last years of the monasteries, and the drying-up of bequests to some of the shrines, an indication that people had lost interest in them?

I don’t think anyone will be chaining themselves to the gates of my university campus, or lying down in front of the bulldozers. That doesn’t mean that people like what has happened. Ironically, there has been more of a campaign to save the building than there was to save the institution. That in itself is telling. When we were told we were being closed down, we soon realised there was very little we could do to fight it. After all, if the University management said they were reprieving us for a trial period, who would have wanted to sign up for courses on a campus that was at imminent risk of closure? The more our supporters tried to keep us open (and they did try), the more publicity the closure got. So of course we recruited badly the next year.

Might the same have been true of religious houses and shrines in the 1530s? After the closure of the smaller houses – and probably after the great survey of church property in 1535 – it must have been obvious what was going to happen. There were a few very brave men like John Houghton and his fellow Carthusian monks who resisted on a point of principle and died slowly and horribly for it. Then there were men like the abbots of Glastonbury, Reading and Colchester, who thought they could play who blinks first with Thomas Cromwell. We had a vice-chancellor like that. It ended badly. It generally does.

But for most of us it has been a case of salvaging what we can and getting on with things. When monastic lands were sold off, some devout Catholics were prepared to buy them, saying ‘Might I not as well as others have some profit of the spoil of the abbey? For I did see all would away; and therefore I did as others did.’ Some, indeed, bought the ornaments of monastic churches to look after them in case the monasteries were ever restored, but for most it was an investment, salvaging some small profit from the mess. In the same way I took boxes of books from the University library, including a near-complete set of Archaeologia Cambrensis which now sits on my study shelves.

In 1536, monks and nuns were expected to  move from the smaller religious houses to larger and theoretically better-run ones. Only the heads of houses were pensioned off. Then as the larger houses were picked off one by one, all their inmates were pensioned. It was the other way round for us. There was an initial offer of voluntary severance but now people are just being made redundant.

There’s a bit of irony in some of the pop-up posters on campus for the day:


Now the corridors are empty again and at the end of the month the site will finally be locked down.

Weep, weep, o Walsingham.

Penrhys – the meadow on the nose of the forest

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First post on the new (renamed) site – there wasn’t enough room for all the blog posts and photos on the web site. So the wonderful Sarah Chong is going to reorganise my blogs, keep this one for the Cistercian Way, create another one for tomb carvings and related matters, and keep everything else on the web site. Two project blogs and three web sites – will I ever keep track of it all?

So instead I went walking. Last summer with the Rhondda Cynon Taf tourism and footpaths team I spent some time looking at routes from Penrhys up the ridge and down into Ton Pentre (it’s all on the blog but I can’t put links in just yet). The plan was to get the footpath down the slope from the wind farm to the lane above Ton Pentre waymarked in order to reinstate the footpath which had been damaged by a landslip. Unfortunately we then learned that the area of the landslip hadn’t quite settled yet – so walking through it might not be recommended.

This leaves us with two possible alternatives. Up the ridge, down the bridleway from the top of the windfarm, down Cwm Bodringallt and along the track above the houses of Ystrad Rhondda; or on up the ridge and down the old Maerdy road through the forest. Both start at the statue, take the road round the west of the estate, and turn left on a roughly metalled road at the top, between the sub-station and what remains of the sports centre, at grid reference ST 00027 95074. Walk up the metalled road and bear left along the forest edge. The road becomes a  rough track along the ridge. Follow it bearing slightly west of north with the fence and the wind farm to your left. This is an exhilarating walk along the ridge between the two Rhondda rivers with larks singing and buzzards wheeling overhead. (Gwilym Tew, the poet who wrote about the shrine at Penrhys in the late fifteenth century, had a very odd image in which he described the infant Jesus in his mother’s arms, first as like a hawk then like a lark –

A’i Mab ar ei dwrn, medd swrn a sydd
Ymyl ei hadain mal ehedydd

it’s often hard to work out just what Gwilym Tew was getting at  – to be honest, he wasn’t a very good poet and the complexity of the Welsh rules of cynghanedd often seem to have defeated him – but it’s nice to see him drawing his imagery from the actual landscape round the shrine.)

At about SS 99221 96229 you cross the road to the wind farm. At SS 98589 96828 a gate in the fence to your left leads to the bridleway down Cwm Bodringallt.

For the ridge route, keep on to the right of the forest. At SS 97472 97377 the track goes through a gap in the fence ahead of you and into the forest.

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At SS 97322 97446 a muddy track crosses the ridge route.

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(There is a dilapidated and unmarked waymarking post to the right.) Turn left and walk through the trees along a track which has been worn into deep ruts by off-road riding. At SS 97379 97209 cross a forest road and continue on the same line, bearing a little to the left and steeply down hill.

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This is the old road from Pentre to Maerdy – it could never have taken wheeled traffic but packhorses and colliers walking to work would have used it. It goes steeply down to cross a little stream, follows the stream for a bit

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the bears away to the right. The woods above Pentre church are full of laurel and rhododendron – was there a big house here? The path bends back to the left then turns left at the churchyard wall. Pentre church is the ‘Cathedral of the Rhondda’, its tower dominating the valley. Walk down past the church, turn right on the main road then left on Elizabeth Street. Walk down to the river, cross the footbridge and turn left on a metalled path which takes you under the railway line and up to the main road.

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Turn left and follow the main road for about .4 km then turn right at the police station and walk up The Parade. This becomes a roughly metalled road, then the track over Mynydd Maendy.

The route up the ridge is certainly the fun choice. The track is peaty, badly eroded and gets a lot of scrambler and 4×4 use. Nell liked the puddles.

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Probably as well she’s peat coloured anyway.

It’s quite hard going underfoot but the views from the top are spectacular – Pen y Fan, Corn Ddu and Cribyn

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round to the Black Mountains

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down the Rhondda Fawr

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the Maerdy valley

2016-04-19 11.45.07and the squat majesty of Tylorstown Tip.

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Also old stone walls striding across the hills

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and some totally unphotographable Bronze Age burial mounds.

The track down to Pentre is pretty but very rough under foot and very very steep – it’s a long pull up the ridge only to lose your height very rapidly in the woods. And it’s about 2 km longer than the route down Cwm Bodringallt. We’ll try that one again next and see how it goes.




Some Trust In Chariots

We are still having fun with the wall paintings at Llancarfan. The most recent phase of conservation work has revealed (what we suspected would be there), facing the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy. The last two, Visiting the Sick and Burying the Dead, are in superb condition with a wealth of intriguing detail. Clothing the Naked is less well preserved and the others may have been lost under George Pace’s little lean-to vestry.

Recent conservation has also revealed some more blackletter texts on east, south and west walls. We already had some blackletter text overlying the painting of George and the Dragon – here in George Ferzoco’s photos.




put their truste_compressed


I have puzzled over this ever since it was revealed at the beginning of the project. Something including the words ‘dwelleth’ then  ‘put thy truste in Christ’ – or perhaps ‘put their truste’ – but it rang no bells.

Then photos arrived of the more recent discoveries. (These are photos by Kevin Thomas, FRPS, (c) St. Cadoc’s Church, Llancarfan.)


the place where_compressed


This looked like ‘the place where …’. I got quite excited at the possibility of a Nativity narrative – the star that led the Wise Men and ‘went ahead of them until it stopped above the place where the child lay’. But then I realised it was much more likely that it came from Psalm 26 – ‘Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth’. Much more suitable for a church.

So the word ‘dwelleth’ came at the end of the text and we needed to look for something different for what followed. Somehow I had got it fixed in my head that we were looking at something about putting our trust in Christ. But on Tuesday I went back to Llancarfan to pre-walk the May Day walk route with Ian Fell (more on that anon). We had a lovely walk in the sunshine, stopped for a drink at the Bells in Penmark and met the Cowbridge Ecumenical Cycling  Club.  Mostly retired men from all the churches and chapels around Cowbridge, they get together for a gentle ride in the country and lunch in a pub somewhere. All very civilised.

We  popped into the church on the way back. I started to wonder if the ‘Ch…’ could be something else.


Psalm 20 verse 7, ‘Some put their trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the Name of the Lord our God.’

The really intriguing thing is that this isn’t the King James Bible version (that is just ‘some trust in chariots’ ) but the older translation by Miles Coverdale that Cranmer used in the Book of Common Prayer.  (Plagiarism? Maybe – though I’m sure he asked – but Cranmer was tasked with translating the BCP in 1547 along with all the other tasks involved in trying to complete the English Reformation. I suspect he had done some of the work as therapy in the dark days of the mid 1540s when his wife and children had had to go back to her family in Germany and he was rattling around Lambeth Palace getting just a bit depressed – but he still had plenty else to do in 1547 and one can hardly blame him for not wanting to reinvent the wheel.)

So does the use of the BCP version of the psalm rather than the King James version suggest that we are looking at something late 16th century?

Canon Belcher has another suggestion. He thinks the whole thing may have been part of a process of rededication of the church after the damage caused during the Civil War,  when one of the windows was battered down by a farmer named Bush, crying ‘Down with the great whore of Babylon’.

Not sure what the Ecumenical Cycling Club would make of that …

Ian has yet another suggestion. The bit about not putting your trust in horses would have overlain the huge equestrian figure of St George. Was this done within the lifetime of those who would remember the wall painting of the saint – and was it a deliberate dig at the cult of the saints?

All this suggests that we might need to look at the Book of Common Prayer for sources for the other post-Reformation texts. There are fragments on the east and west walls of the south aisle. So far I can’t make anything of them, but little by little we are getting there.

Knowing where you live

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It is just a bit disconcerting to realise that you can live somewhere for getting on for 40 years and not know everything about it. First there was the little house in the big woods: walking through the top of Castell Coch woods above my house in Tongwynlais, at just the right time of year, I realised that this


was not upcast from an iron mine but the remains of an old cottage, built long-house style on a platform dug into the slope. Once you know it’s there you recognise it even when it’s covered with a deep carpet of wild garlic.


Then it was the slope between the castle and the mini golf course. From the castle it looks as though the ground simply falls away steeply through the trees. But walking along the path above the golf course I realised there was something on the other side. Scramble up the bank, down the precipitous slope on the other side and you find this –

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a deep cutting running for several hundred yards

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terminating in a cliff face

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then above it a smaller cutting running up to the castle.

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I knew all about the quarrying that created the dramatic cliffs below the castle to the west. According to some correspondence in the Bute estate archives, an agent from Dowlais travelling to Cardiff in the early nineteenth century noticed that blasting in the quarry below the castle was shaking the ruins to their foundations. He contacted the Marquess of Bute who ordered the quarrymen to stop. But no-one seems to have recorded anything about quarrying on the other side of the castle. Was it digging for stone – or was it more digging for iron?

Back to the maps …

Penrhys – Ton Pentre (again)

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I’ve now had another look at the ridge above Penrhys with Ceri and Ron from Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Main aim was to look at the blocked section of path around SS 972 955, just above Pleasant View. We walked up to the ridge and back along the top footpath. The blocked section (probably about 200 yards) is now completely impassable, heavily overgrown with brambles. Clearing it would be a huge job – and keeping it clear would need local effort. The stiles are there

and there’s even a waymark at the bottom but that hasn’t helped. The problem is probably that where it joins Pleasant View it runs between a house and its garage. Walking through people’s gardens is always difficult. An informal alternative (marked as a track on the online Ordnance Survey but not on the latest printed version) runs east from the blockage and down to the entrance to the quarry. From there you follow a very well-marked track down to the other end of Pleasant View. This runs through open access land but there are difficulties in waymarking routes through open access that aren’t rights of way. There is an alternative. On the way up, Ron’s pathfinding skills took us along most of the line of the lower footpath. I have tried and failed to find this in the past. It contours over some very uneven ground (the result of at least one landslip) and eventually joins the upper footpath near the top of Cwm Bodringallt. We lost the path at the end and walked up the bridleway from Cwm Bodringallt but Ron felt it would be possible to follow it down from the top using GPS then to waymark it. That looks like the best option. You would start up the ridge on the route described in . When you cross the stream at SS 982 959 bear slightly to the left to pick up the lower path. There are several places where the track seems to go on but you need to bear left down the slope – these will need waymarking. Eventually you join the well-walked track below the quarry and follow it down to the south-east end of Pleasant View at SS 973 954. Job done (almost). Route now clear Llantarnam – Margam (Caerphilly might be persuaded to do a bit of maintenance to the Raven Walk over Mynydd Machen. Ceredigion pretty much done. Volunteers forging ahead in Denbighshire and Flintshire. Web site nearly finished. What do we move on to next?

The Cross of Destiny

posted in: Welsh History | 1

Sometimes it’s the things that everyone knows that turn out to be the most puzzling – and also the most illuminating. A couple of years ago we had an interesting discussion on the medieval-religion Jiscmail list ( about the Croes Naid, the fragment of the True Cross which was the most valued part of the regalia of the Welsh kings of Gwynedd. The name has been variously translated as the Cross of Destiny or the Cross of Refuge (by the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, Wales’s equivalent of the OED: see and ). Seized by Edward I after his defeat of Llywelyn and Dafydd ap Gruffydd, it ended up in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where a carved boss still depicts its reliquary. But its journey there was anything but simple.

For Christmas my lovely husband gave me a book on the graveyards of the City of London (how well he knows me). I want to visit them all. We made a start on a recent visit by taking a line from Bunhill Fields to St Olave Hart Street. On the way we passed St Helen’s Bishopsgate: nice little graveyard, now a garden between high office blocks and in the shadow of the Gherkin.


People were coming out of the lunch-time Bible study – men in expensive tailoring, students in jeans, lots and lots of people. In we went. The church was still full and buzzing, people eating sandwiches, other tourists wandering around, a couple of meetings in the transept. Eventually a welcomer came up to us, answered a few questions and lent us a copy of the church guide book. (Yes, we did go and buy a copy of our own.) The welcoming strategy was Good – let people look around first, approach them with a welcome, ask a few open-ended questions, decide they were academics, offer some literature, let them get on with it. Then she discovered we were Welsh and introduced us to the minister. He is Welsh. He speaks Welsh. We still get everywhere.

St Helen’s (formerly the nunnery of St Helen) is one of the City of London’s few surviving medieval churches, with a stunning collection of medieval and post-medieval tombs and a remarkable claim in the guide book. We were told that in 1285 Edward I gave the church a cross called Neit which he had ‘found’ in Wales. So if the Croes Naid was in Bishopsgate, what was in Windsor?

Back home, I sent a hopeful email enquiry to the church. I was worried that relics and relic cults could be tricky for evangelical Anglicans but the current and previous building managers got back to me with encouraging speed. The guide book was based on the Survey of London volume – which referenced Edward I’s wardrobe accounts and the Rolls Series edition of his chronicles – then I found my notes from the earlier discussion on medieval-religion with some online articles and a few more references to edited texts. Back to the literature. I’m still happiest if I have some paperwork.

We still don’t know where the Croes was before it was surrendered to Edward I. In Celtic Britain and the Pilgrim Movement (p 100) Griffith Hartwell Jones says it was on Llywelyn’s body when he was killed, but he gives no source for this and the sources he quotes for the hand-over of the Croes don’t say where it was found. Personal reliquaries were common, and it is quite possible that Llywelyn would have wanted this precious relic as near to him as possible: but if he was killed by an English raiding party (and his body was subsequently mutilated and his head taken and placed on Traitor’s Gate in London) how did the relic remain in Welsh hands to be surrendered the following year? Other traditions suggest it was kept by the Cistercian monks of Aberconwy. It was certainly at Conwy that it was handed over to Edward. The Aberconwy community had been moved from Rhedynog-felen, near Clynnog, by Llywelyn’s grandfather Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, who wanted them nearer to his palace at Deganwy. Llywelyn ab Iorwerth himself took the monastic habit at Aberconwy shortly before his death and was buried there.

The Welsh Rolls of Edward I describe the Croes being handed over at Conwy by ‘Einion son of Ynor, Llywelyn, Dafydd, Meilyr, Gronw, Deio and Tegnared’: as a reward they were released from any other royal service. (Rot. Wal. 2 Edw. 1 m. 1; Rymer, Foedera, i, 63). On the other hand … according to the chronicle of William Rishanger, a monk of St Albans (online at ), it was Dafydd ap Gruffydd’s secretary who brought the relic to Edward. This was presumably the Hugh ab Ithel who was given a scholarship at Oxford as a reward (Hartwell Jones found this in the royal wardrobe accounts for 1284). The royal warrant recording its surrender stated that the relic had been passed from prince to prince down to the time of Dafydd ap Gruffydd. It looks rather as though the relic had been in safe keeping somewhere, but not necessarily at Conwy, which was in Edward’s hands by the end of 1282. The rulers of Gwynedd had close links with the abbey of Cymmer and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was buried at Cwm-hir. Both are possible candidates.

Dafydd was still alive when the Croes was handed over. In September he suffered the horrific death of a traitor, being hanged, drawn and quartered, the four parts of his body sent to the four quarters of the kingdom and his head placed on the Tower of London. All this rather puts paid to Edward’s claim to have ‘found’ the relic in Wales. This was more than a simple surrender: it was forcible translation of the relic, on a par with Edward’s ‘acquisition’ of the Stone of Scone a few years later.

Edward took the Croes to London in the spring of 1285 and carried it in a great procession to Westminster Abbey on 30 April (Flores Historiarum iii, 63). A few days later, on 4 May, with another great procession, he took it to St Helen’s Bishopsgate and presented it to the community of nuns there (Chronicles of the Reigns of Edw. I and Edw. II (Rolls Series) i pp 93-4). We have no idea why the nuns were the recipients of this stunning piece of royal generosity: it may have seemed appropriate, as the community was dedicated to St Helen, mother of Constantine and finder of the Cross. The first mention of St Helen in connection with the Croes Naid was not until 1354, when Edward III petitioned the Pope for a relaxation of penance for those visiting St George’s Chapel. In the petition he said that the chapel contained a cross brought by St Helen and destined for England. It is possible that this reflects an earlier tradition linking the Croes with Helen: she appears in Welsh legends, including the Dream of Macsen Wledig in the Mabinogion. In his Historia Regum Britanniae Geoffrey of Monmouth had included the story that Helen brought a fragment of the True Cross to Britain, but did not identify it as the Croes Naid.

But Edward’s generosity was a fragile thing, and the Croes did not stay in Bishopsgate. The priory was still being described as thepriory of Holy Cross and St. Helen in 1299 ( ), but by 1296 Edward had reclaimed the relic. That year, he took it on his Scottish campaign, and it was on the Croes that Wishart, bishop of Glasgow, was forced to swear fealty to the king. Edward may initially have intended to ‘borrow’ the Croes, but once it was back in his custody he hung on to it. We can trace its movements round southern and eastern England in the royal wardrobe accounts for 1300 (online at ): at Windsor on 2 Feb (p. 28), at Stratford Langthorne Abbey on 3 April (p. 32), at the Dominican friary at Stamford (Lincs) on 3 May (p. 35) and in the chapel of Wisbech Castle (Cambs) on 19 May (p. 36). On each of these occasions Edward offered money to the Croes and to a thorn from the Crown of Thorns. Was this another relic which had been surrendered to him in Wales, or had he acquired it elsewhere? The Croes went north to the Scottish borders in the autumn of 1300: in September it was at the abbey of Holm Cultram, near the Solway Firth. Edward took it to Scotland again on his final campaign in 1307. After his death it was kept in the Tower of London until Edward III gave it to Windsor.

It is just possible that the Croes was returned to Wales for a while. A story in the collection of miracles of St Thomas Cantilupe describes an incident in Conwy in 1303. (Susan Ridyard and Jeremy Ashbee have just finished a study of the story as part of a larger work on the miracles of St Thomas Cantilupe. Susan Ridyard has kindly sent me the final draft of this fascinating study, with all its circumstantial detail of everyday life and social tension in what was still a garrison town.) A small child fell into the castle ditch and was thought to be dead. According to some of the subsequent depositions a burgess of the town vowed to St Thomas that if the child recovered he would go on pilgrimage to St Thomas’s tomb in Hereford. Immediately the boy recovered. But an alternative version of the same story credited his recovery to the Holy Cross of the church of Conwy ‘for which God very often works miracles in the town’. The Holy Cross of Conwy may have been one of Wales’s many miracle-working rood carvings, though it is surprising that no poetry mentioning it survives. Alternatively, it could be a memory of the Croes Naid, recalling either its time at Aberconwy Abbey or its return to Wales on one of Edward’s visits. The last of those visits, though, was in the spring of 1295 (according to the List & Index Society’s Itinerary of Edward I). By 1303 the Croes was back in England. It is still possible, though, that what Conwy had was a contact relic, possibly something that had housed the Croes and still retained some of its power.

The Scots have managed to get the Stone of Scone back but the Croes Naid was almost certainly destroyed during the reign of Edward VI. Does it matter? Should the Welsh still feel sore that a scrap of wood was taken from Conwy when we lost so much else as well? Supposing it turned up at Windsor … or supposing we found the famous statue of the Virgin Mary, hidden at Penrhys … or the bones of St David … what would it mean to us now?

Kensal Green

posted in: Graveyards | 0

I’ve wanted to get here for years – ever since I saw it over the wall from a bus. Houses of the dead


SAM_1707 SAM_1708 SAM_1709

Modern mausolea at the northern end


this one designed by William Burges for a friend


a bit of orientalism: Major-General Sir William Casement of the Bengal Army


and the showman and equestrian Andrew Ducrow


Some Welsh memorials – ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’


some more modern …


And Julian Litten is going to be buried there – hopefully not for some time


Grave London

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Mostly photos for the next few blogs – a wonderful week in London spent mostly in https://heritagetortoise.files.wordpress.comyards, with a meeting of the Church Monuments Society for light relief.

Old St Pancras: the Hardy Tree


this lovely little angel on a ‘tea-caddy’ tomb



and inside the church this gorgeous winged death’s head




Cross bones

posted in: Graveyards | 0

Where to go on a Sunday morning in London? It was International Women’s Day (what? A whole day just for us – just so the blokes can be all blokey on the other 364 – oh, never mind, be grateful for what you’ve got) so it had to be Southwark Cathedral, where I first received communion from a woman, back in the early 1990s. Later that day, Libby Lane was to be installed as England’s first woman bishop, in Chester Cathedral. We actually voted for women as bishops in Wales earlier than the English, but we have yet to appoint one (but we do have a woman as Archdruid, which I think trumps the English – they haven’t got a woman as Archbishop yet).

But on the way to Southwark, something else. Just along the road from the Cathedral, through the Borough Market, is Redcross Street. And here, in the 1990s, archaeological excavation in advance of Transport for London building work found a strange and moving burial ground. A few Roman burials, many of them children, then a huge number of women, girls and babies from the medieval period. Redcross Street was in the infamous Liberty of the Clink, on land belonging to the Bishop of Winchester and outside the jurisdiction of London and of the county of Surrey. Here was freedom – but at a price. This is where the early theatres were, along with bull-baiting and bear-baiting pits. Bizarrely, the bishop had the power to license brothels: the bodies buried in Redcross Street were prostitutes (the ‘Winchester Geese’, many of them no more than children) and their babies.


There were later burials as well, of workhouse paupers and people too poor to afford churchyard burial.


These were the ‘Outcast Dead’ now commemorated by a plaque on the gate to the burial area.


Somehow, this story of rejection and despair struck a chord in the local community. The area was supposed to be cleared for use in the Thameslink 2000 project development, but a passionate local campaign has persuaded Transport for London to lease it to the Bankside Open Spaces Trust to create a ‘meanwhile garden’. There is a whole range of conservation activities and training including drystone walling and wood carving as well as gardening.


Monthly vigils commemorate the people buried there, paupers and prostitutes.


The garden fence has become a shrine with memorials to the women and to other people as well.

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Lots more on the web site at

And after Southwark we went on to Kensal Green, the first of London’s Magnificent Seven out-of-town cemeteries. A complete contrast to Redcross Street, this was a privately-run cemetery for those who could afford to pay more than a farm labourer’s annual wages for a plot. More on that one later.