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

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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.

SAM_1678 SAM_1679 SAM_1682

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.


Medieval Trelech

posted in: Welsh History | 0

In the summer of 2003 the Gwent County History Association went to Trelech to look at Ray Howell’s excavations there. The late great Mike Anthony spoke very convincingly on his ideas on the layout of the medieval borough and subsequently sent us an outline of his theories – click on the link below for his article.

I have a cunning plan, my lord

Mike’s death in 2010, at a tragically early age, deprived Welsh medieval archaeology of one of its most enthusiastic advocates. Mike worked as a librarian before coming to what was then the Gwent College of Higher Education in 1994 to study for the MA in Celto-Roman Studies. He went on to do an M. Phil. on medieval Welsh ceramics and worked for some years as a freelance archaeologist. He was then appointed by the Council of British Archaeology to supervise planning consents for listed buildings in Wales. Tragically, he was then diagnosed with motor neurone disease. He dealt with his illness by ignoring it when he could and working round it when he had to. With the aid of a squad of volunteers, the help of his wife Fay and the wholehearted support and assistance of the CBA he continued working until very near his death.

Though not religious, Mike was fascinated by the history of religious belief and church archaeology. We worked together on one of his later projects, an online database and survey of medieval tomb carvings in Wales. I have carried on the project: it’s somehow fitting that a survey of tomb carvings should have become a memorial to him.

Grosmont: borough and village street

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We had some epic days out with the Gwent County History Association. In 2004 a day school on the history of Grosmont was followed by a tour of the ‘village’ . Grosmont should probably be called a village now, but it was until the nineteenth century a fully-fledged borough with a mayor and a market hall. It was one of the boroughs of the Marcher lordship of the Three Castles, between Monmouth and Abergavenny. Grosmont Castle was the one that the lords used as a residence –  mainly as a hunting lodge – and the first Duke of Leicester was called Henry of Grosmont because he was born there in about 1310. The town has a suitably large and impressive church with some fascinating tomb carvings – more on those again.

Here are the notes which local historian Philip Morgan, who guided us round the town, sent us afterwards for the Newsletter

Grosmont Borough and the Village Street

Post-Reformation wall paintings

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Sometimes it’s the early stuff that’s exciting, the earlier the better – but just occasionally it’s the more recent stuff that’s unusual and more interesting. On a visit to Llancarfan with George Ferzoco I was ever so excited to spot a bit of blackletter text on the west wall of the south nave, just north of the window.


Then I realised it was English and therefore probably post-Reformation – then I was really impressed when I worked out from about 4 identifiable letters that it was part of the Lord’s Prayer (bu…del… – but deliver us from evil …)


This is potentially a bit awkward as it probably overlies some of the medieval painting. The full set of the Seven Deadly Sins can now be seen in all their awful warning south of the west window and we are speculating that the Seven Corporal Acts of Mercy could be facing them, north of the window and round onto the north wall of the aisle.

But it has been possible to preserve a few fragments of another unidentified text overlying the scene of St George and the Dragon so we may be able to keep this one as well.

George and I went on to Llanilltud Fawr to look at the new Galilee chapel and spotted a couple more in the east part of the church.




I had thought these were background for medieval statues and possibly the location of side altars but the texts look English. I still can’t make sense of either of them – waiting for inspiration to dawn!

I love the antelope on this one but I can’t make anything of the text –

postref2_1 postref2_2 postref2_3

all ideas welcome.

The Abergavenny Pax

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More from the newsletter archive of the Gwent County History Association.

An insight into medieval piety

Since this was written, the Abergavenny Pax and the Kemeys Inferior crucifix have been moved to our National History Museum at St Fagans. The Kemeys crucifix was the inspiration for the newly carved crucifix in St Teilo’s Church at the National History Museum.

As part of the Experience of Worship project ( a lot of liturgical artefacts were commissioned, including a rather simpler version of the pax. We used this in the two iterations of the Mass that we did as part of the project. Those of us who were part of the congregation were encouraged to work on roles that we could play. I spent some time as a rather obstreporous pilgrim, then moved on to be a servant in the big house. One of the singers from the afternoon services was in the congregation for Mass and decided to cast himself as a bedesman who had been influenced by Reformed thinking. As a result he didn’t actually kiss the pax when it was offered to him. I decided to take him up on this and (in role as a trusted old servant of the lady of the manor) said I’d seen him just pretending to kiss it. He admitted that he’d had three seconds of absolute panic thinking he was going to be hauled before the courts and accused of heresy, before he realised it was only play-acting.

We all learned a lot from the project – about the dynamics of the medieval congregation, about the mixture of deep devotion and very secular concerns, and about the logistics of medieval worship.


Llangwm School

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Continuing with extracts from the newsletter archive of the Gwent County History Association:

Children of the Parish

Gwent historians owe a great deal to the Rev. William Price of Llangwm, the late nineteenth-century clergyman who was responsible for restoring Llangwm Uchaf church and reconstructing its magnificent rood screen. (He seems to have lost the Doom wall painting in the process but hey, no-one’s perfect.) But William Price also did a great deal for the secular life of the community in which he worked – notably by establishing and promoting the first village school. This study of the early years of the school was written by a student at the then University of Wales, Newport, Lisa Drewett, as part of a module on Reading Everyday Lives.

The Politics of the Royal Bed

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… or ‘the politics of The Royal Bed’ – this being the title of Sion Eirian’s English-language adaptation of the Saunders Lewis play Siwan. Yes, it’s a play that puts the female perspective centre stage; yes it’s a good part for a mature woman, yes it’s about medieval Wales, yes Sion Eirian’s translation shares all this with a wider audience. Well worth going to the premiere at Newport’s Riverfront theatre in mid February, or catching it on its Welsh tour.

But. I can’t help feeling it’s a pity that modern drama about the period still focusses on Siwan’s affair with the young Marcher lord William de Breos and its emotional fallout. It’s the same episode that forms the centrepiece of Edith Pargeter (aka Ellis Peters)’s novel The Green Branch and Sharon Kay Penman’s Here be Dragons. There was so much more to Siwan than that. Illegitimate daughter of King John of England, she was married to Llywelyn ab Iorwerth of Wales when she was only 15, as part of a peace treaty. Her knowledge of the framework of power at the English court was invaluable to her husband. She was able to act as his channel of communication first with John and then with her half-brother Henry III, and she was a major power behind the scenes in a crucial period of the struggle for Welsh independence.

It’s a pity to neglect all that in favour of a love affair.

On leaving memories behind

posted in: Family | 0

I now have my mother’s ashes in a neat little box on my bookshelf, between Ralph Griffiths’s Principality of Wales in the Later Middle Ages and the skull of a medieval nun from Cambridge. It’s a very small box to hold so many memories. Going through her clothes and papers was an amazing experience and I need to write another chapter of her life with all the things she never told me.

My daughter’s boyfriend Sean Wolfendale (@KingWolfy) helped with some of the most difficult bits – all those shelves of handbags and scarves. We still haven’t tackled the top shelf with its old letters and boxes. Sean wrote some poems about the experience, and then about the funeral.

Ninety Nine Boxes

She was put into numerous boxes

And stacked on all the surfaces.

Facing her was an eventuality

That they took on all at once

Before she became a permanent resident.

Picking her apart paper and page,

Evidence of her history and times,

Left over medicines and memories

That are ordered and divided

For decided removal

To provide some order

In a future without her.

Ninety Nine Bags

We dug through handbags,

Far too many for regular use

With some even retaining tags.

I was a poor man’s Indy

Digging out bric-a-brac,

Being attacked by fluff and mould.

An abundance of used tissues

And nail files hidden in folds,

I boldly dug deep to discover,

She was who we knew,

But from these things I take it,

Ready for runny noses and prison breaks.

Ninety Nine Pages

When the archive is explored

I’ve found an abundance of notes

That are bound by moments in time.

This letter! A first-hand account

Of the mounting tension lived

Before bombardments in World War 2.

But despite diamonds hidden in compartments,

For every gold filled memory

Is an old bill or drivers licence,

Empty envelopes that have lost their worth

And could we only stand the cold

They would not turn to firewood.

Ninety Nine Steps

She’s been resting for days now

This near centurion we’ve carried

Through fire and across fields

Through storms of feelings and tears

To a place where the wind is strong

And she can be released.

As our march comes to an end

And the blend of sieges upon our hearts

And honours upon our shoulders

Only bolden our movement to the future,

Whatever it might be that will harry us,

Through it she will carry us.